Sam and his girlfriend, Julia, are on vacation in China when the concierge at their hotel points out that Sam’s visa has expired. Sam’s been focused on his fledgling business lately, so his lack of awareness is understandable. But the bare fact is, when your Chinese visa runs out, you have to get out of the country quickly—no returning to the apartment in Beijing to gather your things, no time to scramble around for the best price on flights—and the new visa must come from your home country.
So, Sam’s in Houston with us for a couple of weeks. What does he do, as he waits for the bureaucrats to process his application? He catches up with old friends. He spends hours we-chatting with his business partner in Beijing about branding, marketing, and financing. And when he’s not talking to his partner, he’s talking to Julia. He is vexed that he must spend time away from his life.
This imposed visit is beneficial to me because it gives him a chance to go through his stuff. His possessions left from childhood have been in our care for nine years—books, souvenirs, collections, clothes, outdated gaming systems, old computers—and I’ve been obsessing over how much longer we’re expected to store it or haul it from place to place. So while he’s here, he sorts and chooses, saving or discarding. He enjoys the process and will take a few of his favorite items with him. When he leaves I’ll have an impressive load to haul to Goodwill. Yay!
Another consideration, not so wonderful for Sam, is that David and I moved the day bed and trundle to the Marble Falls house a month ago so we’d have beds up there, so Sam’s only slumber option is a sleeping bag on the floor of what was once, for the couple of months between when we moved from Kuwait to the time he went off to Columbia, his bedroom.
It’s funny how, when grown kids return for a visit, they bring new and surprising notions with them. Sam crams kale, an avocado, and chocolate protein powder into a blender, and calls it a breakfast smoothie. I’m somewhat repelled, but he happily slurps it down, expounding on the health benefits. He’s done research.
Also, he’s appalled when I set my shoes on the kitchen counter.
“The counter where you cook and eat,” he points out.
“Yes,” I say. “The counter that I clean with sterilizing wipes several times a day.”
“You walk through human mucous spit and dog pee and bird droppings in those shoes.” He has a point.
“I guess you wouldn’t want to set your shoes on the counter in Beijing, where it’s human pee on the sidewalks and no one cleans their counters,” I tell him. “But everybody knows that the sidewalks of Houston are the most pristine in the world.”
He looks around our house and decides that there are many items that we need, but do not have. At Costco he talks me into buying an Apple TV, which, some may know, but I don't, is not a TV, but a device. (Why call something a TV when it’s actually a box that hooks up to your TV? That’s just misleading.) I also have a new microphone, which I’ll soon be using (as advised by Sam) in the podcasts of some of my novels. (Thanks for helping me set this up, Sam.) Also at Costco, he fills the cart with coffee and toothbrush heads, vitamins, allergy medication, and an external hard drive, raving about how much these items would cost in China, if they were even available. He accompanies me to the new HEB, which has just opened around the corner from our house. The abundance thrills him and he says he plans to come back and just wander the aisles, a rapacious tourist in a copious world.
On Tuesday morning after he’s been here two weeks, I drive him to the airport and hug him good-bye. Enforced and spontaneous as it was, it was great seeing him. Good-bye, Sam. Safe travels.