The Nostalgic Tourist

Published March 29, 2006

The Nostalgic Tourist

We're presenting our promotional ideas for the TWINbiscuit candy bar. The crux of our concept is an under-the-wrapper instant win, with the theme, "Find The Cookie Worth A Fortune." The PowerPoint has ended and we are awaiting feedback. The Brand Manager for TWINbuscuit turns to my partner and me and says, "You two are the Lennon and McCartney of Consumer Franchise Building promotions."

Play this compliment backwards and it says, "Phil is dead," I think to myself.

"I am the walrus," I say out loud in order to entertain the troops at the CandyMoon Corporation. My partner adds, "Koo, Koo, Ka-Choo." I don't have the heart to tell him the actual lyric is, "Goo, Goo, G'joob." It works, though. The group giggles with delight. The big boss continues by telling us he is so delighted with our work, he is awarding SwiftWorldwide the entire annual TWINbiscuit account, not just the Q2 program we are here for today. We expected $500,000 in revenue, and get $2.5 million over the next fiscal year. A major success for SwiftWorldwide. So, why do I feel so poor?

Story Copyright © Phil Brody

art airplanenightI woke up at 4:30 a.m., in order to catch a 6:30 flight to Newark, in order to grab a car service for an hour-long drive to New Jersey where the CandyMoon Corporation is located. All this in order to make a 10:30 a.m. meeting with the TWINbiscuit Brand Group. Carpe Dead-End. At O'Hare this morning, in a pre-grande-coffee-of-the-day condition, I noticed something which ushered me toward my present state of emotional poverty. I noticed Gate B-10. Non-stop to California. Non-stop to Los Angeles. Non-stop to my memories of the one that got away. A girl. The girl. The one I let go when she answered the call of the ocean. The crux of the problem is an under-the-skin, unforgettable loss with the theme, "Piece Together The Crumbled Cookies & WIN."

We were the Harry and Sally of Personal Romance Building emotions. Play the relationship backwards, and we'd still be together.

Yeah, in the beginning it was bliss — but isn't it always? Her name is Jane. I used to call her Weakness. "Why do you call me Weakness?" she would ask every time. "Because you're mine," I would respond. We did this often. It became our mantra. It was a foreplayful nickname game that elicited loving emotion, long before we were ready to say, "I love you."

Wish I didn't see it. Gate B-10. Non-stop to my every regret.

Back in Califon, the clients are treating us to lunch. Problem is, their idea of a "good lunch" is ordering in from a "great sub shop around the corner," while we pound out the year-long promotional plan for TWINbiscuit. My roast beef submarine sandwich arrives wrapped in wax paper with Blimpie logos all over it. It makes me feel so special. We eat. We plan. We brainstorm. We shake hands. The day is finally over. Lennon and McCartney have left the building.

The car service waiting for us outside of the CandyMoon Corporation whisks us back to the airport. McCartney (you bet I'm Lennon in this little game) yaps to me halfway to the airport about the victorious day, about the 500 percent increase in billings we were awarded, about nothing that remotely interests me at this juncture. He is so excited, he pulls out his cell phone and dials the office to talk to anyone who will listen about the bounty we are hauling back to Chicago. I half expect him to start spouting motivational movie quotes like, "Men, the things we do in life echo on in eternity." He is beside himself. I am beside an idiot. I stare out the car window, until exhaustion takes over my body and I fall asleep.

I dream. Jane. Twin biscuits. Annual revenue of happiness exceeds all expectations by 500 percent. Jane, wrapped in Blimpie wax paper. My idea of a good lunch. I wake up at 4:30 a.m. in order to lean over and kiss the past on the forehead. Carpe Delight. She is the egg-woman. We plan our future. We shake each other naked. Harry and Sally never left the building.

Non-stop to Chicago. My flight out of Newark is delayed. After sitting on the runway for forty minutes, we finally take off. While my plane steadily gains altitude, I begin to think. Lately, I feel like my whole life is being delayed. Impending weather. Mechanical difficulties. Late incoming flight. Ground crew difficulties. Strike negotiations. Delay after delay. The plane finally levels off at 28,000 feet and drinks are served. I am a corporate lemming, and I am going home.

art ohare_gateO'Hare. The airport looks the same as it did this morning. Odd how, without looking at a clock, you can never really tell what time it is in an airport. It always feels the same. This is where I got on this ride over twelve hours ago. It feels the same, except I am anxious to trade my grande-coffee-of-the-day for a very large glass of red wine. Anxious, that is, until I see it. It moved. It's at B-4 now. And suddenly it tastes better than any glass of wine could at this juncture in my life. Non-stop to Los Angeles. Non-stop to nostalgia.

Just then, I realize McCartney is still next to me and is babbling on about sharing a cab into the city. "I'm not going into the city, Mark," I say, already waxing nostalgic. Not going to be in tomorrow, either." "But Phil," he protests, "you'll miss the status meting and the company-wide announcement of our TWINbiscuit victory." "Don't care to be there, Mark. I'm calling in well," I say as we part. I make a beeline to Gate B-4.

I approach the ticket agent, who is making final preparations for the flight's departure.

"Is there room on this flight?"

The ticket agent glances up at me, her friendly-skies smile already in flight.

"Yes, sir. Are you a ticketed passenger?"

"No. But I'd like to purchase a ticket. Non-stop to Los Angeles, please." Non-stop to my Weakness.

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs
   and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream

Someday, someone is going ask me how I got the notion in my head to get on this plane and take this very nostalgic trip, and I'll quote 'A Day In The Life' by the Beatles and say, "Somebody spoke and I went into a dream." Maybe it was work. Maybe it was my partner's cell-phone habits. Maybe it was the Blimpie that sent me over the edge. Whatever it was, I'm flying westward at 30,000 feet, and I feel really good for the first time in weeks. I feel really content. OK, maybe it's the two glasses of red wine I was served about an hour ago. Or maybe it's the fact I'm finally doing something that matters to me. I'm not promoting candy bars today. I'm promoting me, and no matter what happens, this will be a good chapter in the story of my life. A day in the life of Phil Brody.

Some people hate to fly. I find it very enjoyable, almost therapeutic. I sleep. I read. I think. I remember. Jane.

The night Jane and I first met, we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, talking about life and the world in general. We shared our hopes, our dreams and two bottles of Pinot Grigio. Sitting on her porch stairs, under what few stars the Chicago skies allowed, our lips were getting acquainted. After some time, she expressed, "I could kiss you for hours."

"Four, five hours. Whatever it takes," was my astute reply.

Los Angeles. "Welcome to the land of artificial people and real dreams. Where the sun always shines and the stars are always out." My cab driver actually spouts this dialogue as I slide into his cab. I stare at him and say, "Save it. Do I look like a tourist?" He tells me I look like an ad exec, and we don't say another word to each other the whole ride.

I don't look like an ad exec. I'm not even wearing black today.

Fifteen minutes later, I'm standing on Jane's doorstep. I'm standing on her welcome mat, which reads "WELCOME" in big, bold letters. So why do I feel so uninvited? Why do I suddenly feel so stupid? I give up knocking and turn away from her back door in frustration. "What am I doing here?" I think, staring at the ocean. The romantic adrenaline I somehow carried from O'Hare, across the 1,745 air miles, and all the way to her doorstep, is suddenly draining from my body and my mind. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a dog running on the beach. It's Jane's dog, Jackson. Then I see Jane. My lack of adrenaline is suddenly replaced with another kind of energy. My non-stop to nostalgia has taken off in a major way.

Then I see Jane turn to speak to someone next to her. She's walking with some guy. "Maybe it's her brother." I remain optimistic. They embrace and then kiss — a very un-brotherly-and-sisterly-like kiss. "So that's how it is in your family," I try to humor myself. It doesn't work.

My non-stop to nostalgia has collided with reality. A bitter reality. A harsh reality.

I get out of sight quickly by ducking down the alley adjacent to Jane's apartment. I hear voices getting closer. I hear the couple enter Jane's apartment. Suddenly Jackson runs right up to me. I bend down to pet him. He remembers me. He laps at my hand, and we get reacquainted until Jane calls his name from inside her home. Jackson looks me in the eye, turns and moseys away from me, toward his master.

The door slams shut, and I curse my stupidity. Harry and Sally live in separate worlds.

"You can't be this close to the ocean without putting your feet into the water." Someone I know always says that, so I abide. I stop at a 7-11 and buy myself a bottle of a good time and head to the beach. The day's events wash over me as the liquor pours down my throat. I am the walrus. The fool on the hill. This is my long and winding road.

Flashback. Jane and I were sitting on a flight of stairs, amidst hundreds of books. Jane loves to read more than any other person I know, and we were relocating her library. We were moving her into a new apartment. We had been moving all day. One of the last boxes, this massive, over-packed box of books, made it halfway up the stairs before the bottom gave out. Sitting among the wreckage, faced with the task of cleaning up the mess, Jane just started to laugh. Before the giggles I was about to blow a gasket, but her giddiness was contagious, and I too began to laugh. That's what I love about Jane. Inside of this smart and sophisticated woman is this little girl, full of wonder and awe. There's this little girl that peeks out from these big brown eyes and takes in the world like she's taking it in for the first time. She's this little girl that lights up a room and continuously dances to life's endless song. It's quite breathtaking, as is she.

art beachGood times over. My bottle is empty, and the tide is coming in. I'm drunk. I do foolish things. Jane answers her door on the second knock and doesn't seem all that surprised to see me. Then again, Jane never liked to appear off-guard. I try not to slur my words when I speak. I try, but fail.

"I needed to see you, Weakness."

She responds. "Why?"

"Because you're mine," I announce quickly, suddenly feeling proud of myself.

Jane laughs. "You're drunk," she says. "And I didn't say what you think I said. I asked you to tell me why you thought you needed to see me."

There is silence. She doesn't think I'm going to respond. See, the crux of our relationship crumbled under a lack of communication. I always had trouble expressing myself, and the great communicator strikes again, as I am at a loss for words. Standing on a mat that invites me into a different world, I struggle to find the words to answer her question. Without speaking, Jane starts to shut the door.

Flight 643 to Chicago. The red-eye. I have no luggage, but carry tons of baggage. My seat is in the upright position. Seat belts are fastened. Tray table stored. I am the nostalgic tourist, and I am going home.

In my mind, I replay the events that just transpired. Standing on that welcome mat as Jane started to shut the door, I did find the words. I found the words I was looking for, and they flowed out of me into the California air. Non-stop, I told her how I found my way to her doorstep. I told her why I came to see her.

I told her this: "There is this little girl inside of you I fell in love with, this little girl that would take my hand and show the awe in the world. I came here tonight to see that girl, to grab her hand. I wanted to ask her if she ever thinks about me. I wanted to ask her, may I have this dance?"

Jane closed her eyes for a moment then opened them. She replied, "Phil, I was there two years ago. Now I'm here. I can't go back. Now you need to let go." And we left it at that.

Chicago. Home. I arrive in my apartment wearing the same clothes I left in a day earlier. It is good to be home. I turn on my CD player, and Nick Drake begins to fill the morning air. I turn on the coffee machine and begin to percolate myself some energy. It is 6:00 a.m., Friday. The day belongs to me. Carpe Diem.

art beachsunsetJust then, the phone rings. It's Jane. Upon hearing her voice, I instantly do the time math and realize it's 4:00 a.m. in California.

"Insomnia again?" I inquire. She confirms, and I make an apropos comment of how I wished it was thoughts of me that were keeping her awake.

She laughs, and suddenly I feel closer to her than when I was standing on her doorstep. I guess I give good phone. We talk for two hours. Before we hang up, she points out the oxymoron. I'm in Cali, and we spend two minutes together. Apart, we talk for hours.

"Four, five hours. Whatever it takes," I say. I am the spin-doctor of our relationship's finest moments, and the honesty of her silence after that pulls us closer than we have been in years. See, I just played the relationship backwards, and it sounds just like one of our favorite songs. One we could have danced to, endlessly through life. If. Only if.

I don't expect her to respond, but before she goes she softly says, "I'll always be your Weakness." And we leave it at that. An unfinished story. An incomplete film. An endless song. Maybe a nostalgic tour planned for another day.

The End