My eight year old son, right before going to sleep, says he wants to go on a trip to Lima, Peru -- the place I was born in and grew up before coming to Los Angeles -- so he can see me as a little kid.
What can I say? There is something so charming about the thought that travel, from his perspective, could be not just about going from point A to point B on a map, but from being a forty-something year old man to a child his same age. So, as he is all bundled up inside the blanket, and his eyes struggle to remain open, I hold his hand and wonder what such a trip would look like.
There are some complications, of course. For starters, I would have to figure out at what stage to transform myself from my current physical state of a somewhat responsible parental figure to the little kid I once was, the one my son wishes to get in contact with. I would venture to say it should happen sometime after we got through security at LAX; if not, that would most likely guarantee us a false start, and the two of us kids would be put in a taxi by a TSA representative and sent back home to my wife. The bathroom in the airplane? There, I would walk out with oversized pants dragging along the aisle and empty ends of the shirt sleeves dangling alongside my reduced body. Can I sit here? Hey, it's your papi, for real. In that transformed state, it would be hard to scold him for playing his video games too long, or deny him the coke he is asking the air hostess, who is trying to figure out what is going on here. Needless to say, it might be better to leave this transformation business, for now, as a literary device. If not, we will never get to Lima.
Not to be a party-pooper, but interspersed with the sweet moments of recovering and sharing lost time with my son, there are serious matters to consider. Take the fake police alarm on top of my cousin's black Toyota when he comes to pick us up at the airport. I imagine he would be the one to pick us up, as that was the way the last time I was in Lima, about twenty years ago, after I finished college. Things were pretty awful back then. There was terrorism, cholera, bombs, black-outs, bodyguards, kidnapping -- you know, the usual stuff. My cousin had this fake alarm to help him get to places quicker, along with the gun in the glove compartment next to the bag of peanuts. Things seem better these days in Lima, but my cousin's nostalgia for those days keeps him from giving up his fake alarm. At some point along the way my son would take notice that even the police cars are pulling over to let us pass by. Knowing him, he would relish this state of lawlessness, which would mean, among other things, that the tireless efforts on the part of my wife and I in the realm of rule-making would be literally and figuratively thrown out the window.
Looking out the window -- the literal and figurative one -- and as traces of the past mix with poverty and decrepit streets, I am torn between letting him sleep or pointing out significant sentimental places, for, after all, that is why we are here. There are the obvious choices, such as my dad's bakery with the friendly bakers in the back, which one morning, when I was his age, was bombed to pieces as an act of Anti-Americanism. Undoubtedly, he would be more interested in the present tense and its realizable goals -- actually eating the tasty chocolate pastries -- than in dusty memories of wooden tables sprinkled with flour or the crema chantilly I licked off my fingers once upon a time. You got to hand it to the kid, his practical nature, unlike his melancholic dad with a soft spot for lost worlds.
Oh, and how could we not place a visit to my grandparent's house, the geographical heart of my childhood! My grandfather, though a dictator to everyone else in the family, was for me the greatest person in the world. At that house, he would stop playing his game of solitaire over in the corner table and, cigar-smoke billowing around his massive figure, have me ask him in Yiddish -- bitte mia gelt -- "please give me some money," before peeling off a fresh ten soles bill. Surely, my son would pick up on this ritual, and seek to put it into practice on a daily basis -- which would mean I would have to include this as part of the travel expenses. Of course, we would have to go to my Jewish grammar school, which shows up in every story I write about Peru. Once there, we would poke our heads through the heavily guarded spinach-green gate, and have him figure out which one of the boys in the gunpowder gray uniform singing the Israeli national anthem is his papi. Most likely, given his rebellious nature, he would get it wrong on purpose, and point to my friend Jacobo, who, in all fairness, looked a lot like me. Though, rather than being traumatized for leaving Lima as a little boy, never left the city and was recently jailed for tax evasion, mortgage fraud and counterfeiting. Oh well, not the greatest of career choices.
Now, there is a good chance that while hanging out together in the Lima of my childhood, my eight-year old son and the eight-year-old version of me could stumble upon the smells and sights of another Lima, meaning the one from my post-college trip. He has not yet asked to meet that part of me, so I guess that itinerary -- with its twenty-something existentialist homelessness drama -- will just have to wait for another night.
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