Our fall trip this year took us to Omaha, main character of the Counting Crows song of the same name… ( “Omaha, somewhere in middle America”.). Friday was a dismal, drizzly travel day that seemed not to promise much except a chance to be silent and quietly reflect . A side trip through the Squaw Creek Wildlife Refuge confimed this notion, when the sight of thousands of birds quietly feeding or sleeping lulled me into a trance. Miles Davis played in the background, the perfect soundtrack for thought comas.
I think about the current state of our relationship and wonder if we’ll be able to pull this thing out of the ditch I drove it into last week.
Our first real stop was at the Space & Air Museum, where we spent 2 hours meandering through airplane hangers, surrounded by part of our nation’s War Machine. So many ways to kill people…unreal to imagine a person spending their whole life developing faster and trickier ways to wage war. I drift through the exhibits, fascinated and repulsed. I sit in the cockpit of a plane and pretend to shoot down Japs, which gets a chuckle from Ken who spent his youth watching old WWII war movies, imagining himself as one of the pilots. What is it about men and war anyway? Can’t we all just get along?
We drive into Omaha, en route to our hotel on the other side of the city. The Woodman Building juts up through the skyline, a typical 1960’s architectural design, built at the time when artistic form gave way to functionality. I’d seen it somewhere before but cannot place the reference as I am still in a thought coma, now adding musings about war to my list of topics to contemplate. Maybe I just need a drink.
At the hotel, the label inside our elevator says that this is an Otis elevator. “Hello Otis” I say. Ken grins at me, delighted to have a new game to play together.
Before dinner, we wander through a second hand store. It’s large and old and stuffed to the rafters with stuff, stuff, stuff. I could spend days and hundreds of dollars there, but settle for a vintage ashtray and some Life magazines. The store is manned by two men who seem to be brothers. They sit behind a counter piled high with postcards and dust-covered knickknacks and old photographs and costume jewelry. I barely have room at the counter to write my name on the credit card slip but I don’t mind. I like the feeling of this kind of claustrophobia, especially today.
We walk to our restaurant just in time to make the dinner rush, which suits me as I just want to sit at the bar and have a drink. Taking our hockey puck pager with us, we settle at the far end of the oak bar and order gin & tonics.
“Let’s play the ‘who would you fuck?’ game” I say. We often play this game when surrounded by a lot of people, as maybe many couples do (or maybe not, hell I don’t know). Ken picks two women. I can never place his taste, they seem so unlike the women I’d pick out for him. I pick two men at the end of the bar – one with longish brown hair, the other just nice and normal looking. We drink our drinks silently, our eyes drifting over the crowd, mentally selecting and deselecting sex partners. I glance back to my long-haired choice and notice he’s looking at me. I stare back, the excitement in my gut fluttering, wondering if he’s really looking at me, or just past me at someone better looking. I smile. He smiles back. I grin and he grins back. I hear a laugh next to me and Ken elbows me and says “I see you fliting with him. He likes it.” The lights on our hocky puck pager starts blinking. We leave to find our hostess and my dream fuck is gone by the time we reach his end of the bar.
My mood greatly enhanced by a successful flirtation – an activity I rarely engage in anymore – we order dinner and ask our waitress if there is live music in the area. “Try the Dubliner” she says. “They usually have a really good band there most nights. “ So this is where we end up the remainder of the night, consuming many beers, clapping along to Irish music and watching people even more drunk than ourselves dance with wild abandon.
The melancholy has finally lifted. We’re both in sync again. Back at the hotel, we kiss passionately in the elevator, right in front of Otis. “Sorry Otis!” we say “We just can’t help ourselves!” Otis does not seem to mind. Not one bit.
We spend the next day with thousands (possibly millions) of small children at the Henry Doorly Zoo. I am fascinated, as usual, by the cats, by far my favorite animal. I wonder if I was once a cat in a former life. If not, I’d like to be one someday; they seem to have the best lives by far, in my opinion – solitary carnivores that sleep a lot. Yeah, it would rock to be a cat. In the desert dome, I’m amused by a screaming hairy armadillo. He seems to run on tiptoes – very fast and delicate – stopping every so often to look around, then scampering a little farther on his tiptoes. The little girl standing next to me is laughing so hard she makes me laugh. She is delighted by this screaming hairy armadillo, as am I. We laugh and laugh together.
Later that afternoon, Ken and I have tickets to an IMAX show about the ocean, where we both drift off into middle-aged catnaps, our 3-D glasses perched jauntily on our noses. We wake every so often, startled by sharks and dolphins swimming directly onto our laps, mouths open wide. We relish the comfortable seats and the darkness, not one bit sorry to have spent $16.00 for a nap.
Back at the hotel, Otis waits patiently to take us back to our room.. We watch some TV and decide that an early dinner is in order. We do not play the Who Would You Fuck? game this time. This restaurant lacks the energy of last night’s selection and we leave feeling soporific once again. A street singer is belting out songs on the corner, so badly out of tune that even I can tell. Due to his perfect pitch Ken is practically in pain from it and threatens to give her $10 to just shut the hell up. We browse some stores then head back to our room, too tired to give Otis another show.
Sunday morning – time to pack up and head for home. Ken goes out for one last run over the river and I drink coffee and smoke cigarettes on the patio – seemingly the last person on earth who still smokes because as usual, no one joins me in my pursuit of a nicotine fix. A very large preying mantis is perched on the chair next to me, my only companion this fine morning, which suits the solitary cat-person in me. “You’re lucky today, Mantis.” I say. “If I were really a cat, I’d have eaten you already.” The mantis stares back, unperturbed.
Ken and and I take one last trip down the elevator to check out of the hotel, only this time we’re sharing Otis with another rider. We can’t stand the thought of leaving without saying goodbye, so we say it in spite of the fact that a stranger is on board with us. “Goodbye Otis. Thank you for your fine hospitality.” Our companion gives us the “you’re crazy” look and practically runs out elevator doors. Apparently he didn’t take the time to get to know Otis like we did. Loser.
In the car, heading out of Omaha, I realize where I’d seen The Woodman building before. It was in the movie About Schmidt – a melancholy film about a man’s despair and rebirth after the death of his wife. Only my melancholy’s finally lifted and the comtemplative mood I entered this city with has been replaced with a feeling of rejuvination. And as the song says “Get right to the heart of matters. It’s the heart that matters more.” So true, so true.