I'm returning to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, where I spent the weekend with The Boyfriend, introducing him to The Mom, who has inexplicably decided to spend much of her retirement in a cozy little Vegas condo. She has mastered bingo and familiarized herself with every buffet and half-decent casino band in town.
The mechanic won't know for a few hours what the exact prognosis of the Plymouth is, so The Boyfriend and I cross the dusty, sun-baked road to the Bun Boy, where it's just about time for the early bird special.
I pretend to read the paper, but I'm mulling over the events of the weekend. I conjure an image of my mother looking right through The Boyfriend, not asking about his job or where he's from. She's met so many by now, and I think she and my stepfather just don't want to get attached, in case he disappears like a political prisoner buried under some Latin American soccer stadium; in case he goes the way of the last few boyfriends, gone with little explanation.
This time, however, I could swear that my mother wasn't seeing The Boyfriend but instead a giant sperm, a sperm that may or may not fertilize her daughter's egg and bring her the thing she most wants: a grandchild.
That Saturday, we had all lounged in the pool. Mom's elbows propped on the edge, she joked about when said grandchild would be coming. "I don't care if it's illegit," she said earnestly, following the great Strasser tradition of voicing what should really be an inner monologue.
And "illegit"? What was she, MC Hammer? Her choice of words wasn't nearly as disturbing as the sentiment. Then again, I couldn't be too annoyed, because I understood where she was coming from. It was about a year ago that I woke up and suddenly found dogs and babies cute. Men don't exactly look like big sperms to me, but I have begun to wonder how, when and if this whole family thing is going to go down.
The Boyfriend and I are polishing off a carafe of jam-like Burgundy at Bun Boy when we decide to check on the car. It's going to be at least another hour, so we return to our diner booth.
I pretend to be discouraged, but I'm secretly thrilled to be stranded. I don't want to go home. I love to be stuck between places. Barstow seems as good a place as any to press the pause button on life.
And The Boyfriend is a perfect companion. He's totally unruffled by the overheating disaster. He lets me cry without offering too much advice. "It's going to be OK," is all he says.
"How can you say that when our fate is attached to a machine shop in Victorville?" I ask. He laughs, and I realize that hours have gone by without a tense moment between us -- despite heat, a cracked radiator and a creepy tow truck guy named Jerry, who has a leathery face and a mouth full of plaque.
I'm on the fence about The Boyfriend, but I can't deny that we get along. I sit at Bun Boy wondering how I'll ever be able to tell the difference between a guy who isn't right and that ever-popular "fear of intimacy."
I don't ever want to leave Barstow, and, according to the mechanic, that's a distinct possibility. I won't be able to drive the Plymouth for days. I decide to tow the old lemon back to Vegas so that my mother can return it to the mechanic who fixed the thing just days before, in exchange for another family jalopy that has proven desert-worthy.
It's late when we arrive in Vegas, and I can tell my mother is happy just to see me again. She doesn't see much of me these days. The Boyfriend thanks her again for her hospitality. "Just bring me my daughter and you can stay with me anytime," she says.
"I don't hug," she adds by way of explaining her stance several feet from him. And all at once I understand how much I'm my mother's daughter. And I'm ready to try going home again.
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.