A guy, his wife, his mother, and 25 million frozen sperm go for a road trip to Portland. No, it’s not the beginning of a joke. I took a road trip to Portland with my wife, my mother, and a million frozen sperm. Just for kicks, really. Okay, not for kicks. If it could have been avoided I would have, trust me, avoided it like the plague, like . . . oh, forget it. Who would wish such an event on themselves? But I’ll at least start at the beginning.
Some gentle readers may recall that we’ve tried this whole conception thing before, specifically last fall. It did not take, so we’re trying again, many months and lab results and sonograms later. Whereas the delivery fella from FedEx was uncomfortably cavalier the first time, on this occasion he was terse, almost gruff. It seemed he was frustrated with our incapacity to already be pregnant so he didn’t have to haul the 22-pound thermos to our doorstep.
“Good morning,” he said to me, loudly, with twelve minutes left before post meridian would take over. I’m glad he wished me a good 12 minutes. It was almost like he was casting his bet to Drew Carey from Contestant’s Row, but with no enthusiasm.
I didn’t really know what to say back to him, so I kind of nodded and kind of grunted a salutation.
“Guess I’m back here again,” he said, relishing in my humiliation, or something. I could have told him he was being redundant, throwing the shame of the moment onto him, but I was more interested in just completing our little transaction and having a door between us, as it was meant to be.
I hauled the plastic container inside. My mother, who was visiting us, took one look at it and suddenly seemed touched.
“Aw, it’s like a little robot,” she said.
I rolled my eyes at her, even as I appreciated her support.
Truth be told, our little million friends were joining us late; they were supposed to arrive the previous Saturday, but the bank in San Francisco hadn’t sent them out, and were horrified on Monday morning when I called to inquire. In their haste to make things right they reversed all of the shipping charges, which trust me, were plenty expensive, and promised we’d have them on Tuesday morning. So with a dozen minutes remaining, we had just gotten our guaranteed delivery.
I had disclosed to my mother earlier about our attempts at creating what Susanne still called a “parasitic fetus,” changing this to “baby” when I communicated with Mom so that she wouldn’t worry about our hearts being in the right place about this. Mom was on board and excited, as was Susanne’s mother when she was told of our plans. I actually wonder if there isn’t a room in her house, back in the Midwest, where all sorts of toys and clothing and supplies are piling up in expectation of our announcement that we’re having a child, because she seems that thrilled about it. But as we’re 2,600 miles away, we’re not privy to any potential hoarding, and we’re not about to ask.
Also, we considered it bad timing that my Mom’s visit was coinciding with the probable ovulation date, but I at least was willing to stick my fingers in my ears and shout, “blah blah blah” to pretend there weren’t any strange boundaries being crossed. Mom and Susanne really just seemed to prefer that I not discuss the issue with either of them.
So there we were, all standing around in the foyer, looking at our friend the robot with his little stash of swimming life-bearers. Should all sperm feel so attended to. Or not.
An ultrasound the day before this delivery indicated that we should attempt to knock Susanne up at precisely 11AM on Wednesday. This was not convenient news, as my Mom’s flight back home was scheduled for 12:15PM on Wednesday, out of Portland Airport, 3 and a half hours’ drive from here. So our options went from uncomfortable to awful to worse. We could, it appeared, pick from the following:
1. I could take Mom out to Portland and Susanne could do the whole kit and kaboodle herself, back at home. That was a non-starter.
2. I could take Mom out to Portland really super early and speed right back and do the deed. Grossly unrealistic, and risky, in terms of my driving at the end of the 8-hour round trip, and then being able to see my hands in front of me to know what I was doing back in Walla Walla.
3. We could take the robot and entrails along with us to Portland, stay the night, take Mom to the airport, and attempt to conceive in the hotel room.
We picked the last option, feeling like the first two were really just red herrings.
I broke the news to Mom, who was fine with it. “Well, you have to do what you have to do,” she said. I figured no matter the situation, it was pretty much always a little weird anyway.
Susanne had taken to calling it the Bargain Baby, because it was half off with the free shipping and all. That would be her kind of baby. I told her we couldn’t ever tell a child we’d called it that. She questioned my commitment to frugality. I attempted to reassure her.
Receipt of robot completed, our plan swung into action. I had already loaded up the car with everything else—foodstuffs for the trip, our suitcases, laptop computers, a pillow, and an updated iPod. Down Route 12 we traveled, out to the gorge west of Walla Walla, Lowden, and Touchet, along the banks of the Columbia, the deep blue water coursing through red rock covered in sage brush that stretched to the cloudless sky. It was a nice farewell to my mother’s visit, direct from Washington State, the Pretend Evergreen State. Mom oohed and ahed at the landscape but noted how lonely it looked out here. I agreed.
Susanne, for her part, slept almost the whole trip, until we pulled over at Mulnomah Falls just outside Portland. We walked around, and I tried not to think about everything in the trunk. Of the car, that is.
We’d driven so long, and not eaten much, so by the time we made it from our airport hotel to an Italian eatery in the Hollywood neighborhood, everything tasted like heaven. I nearly ate the table, just for the fiber.
“Oh, isn’t this marinara sauce wonderful,” asked my mother.
“It really is,” said Susanne, agreeing exuberantly. Jesus, we were eating cheese toast with red sauce. You’d have thought it was black truffle on top of foie gras and drizzled with saffron oil and Beluga caviar. But wow did it taste good.
Coming back to our hotel we settled in for some laptopping and crossword puzzling time. We slept like rocks until, at 5:30, with the sky still in stubborn nightfall, there came a great rumbling from the room above. Smash, went the ceiling. Pound, pound, pound, pound, said the heavy-footed occupant upstairs. It was like an elephant practicing her catwalk. Back and forth, back and forth. My mother sent me to the front desk. I looked a sight, with dark bags under my eyes, my face somewhat puffy, dried drool on my cheek, and my hair pointing in so many directions I looked like that guy from She Blinded Me with Science.
“Hi,” I announced. This is where telepathy would have been handy, but darn it, I had to use words.
“Hi,” he said. I could only guess at his expectation for why I was standing in front of him with an inside-out t-shirt and dingy Old Navy pajama pants.
“The person in the room above us is very loud, and has woken up my mother. Next my wife will be up. Please help.”
I probably should have explained my predicament in a different, better way, but he seemed to understand enough.
“Are you sure it’s the room directly above you?”
This was not a question I’d anticipated. I didn’t really even understand it, come to think of it. “What other room would it be?”
“You know, maybe it’s to one side or the other.”
Well, screw me for not memorizing the building blueprints before selecting this gem of a hotel on Priceline. I thought about the pounding noises.
“No, it was directly above us, right in front of where the beds would be.”
“Okay, I’ll take care of it,” he assured me.
I reported back to my bunkmates. There was hardly any way our circumstances could have been more awkward.
Susanne, who was of course awake after all of this, remarked that no way would the front desk knock on the door of the prancing pounder. She had worked at a hotel, and no way would she ever have checked on someone in a room unless she heard screams of bloody murder. But lo and behold, a few minutes later, the pacing ceased, and we went back to sleep for a time.
And then we needed to get Mom to the airport, which was around a corner, down a street, next to a highway, make another turn, and voila! Kisses and hugs goodbye, chirps of “what a wonderful visit” and “good luck with robot,” and then we were back in the car, making our way, making our way, making, our, uh oh, we missed a turn. And then another turn. And somehow we were at IKEA, and wow, 4 grand, 64 indecipherable instruction sheets, 2,387 tiny screws and dowels, and 28,291 swear words later, I hate IKEA. Especially when I’m trying to get to the frigging airport hotel so I can impregnate my wife. This is exactly when I am seriously not interested in buying an $89 POANG chair.
We needed to admit we were stressing out. Susanne gruffly suggested I call 411 and get directions from the airport to the airport hotel. Who was I to argue?
Finally, we pulled into the parking spot we’d left earlier that morning. Eleven o’clock was our time to trot, and it was 10:49. We raced back to the room, and I took off my shoes, because of course shoes would inhibit bargain baby robot creation. Susanne pointed to the storage container. Almost invisible, hanging loosely around the metal clasp, reveling in its securityness, was a thin plastic cuff. We had remembered to bring oven mitts to get at the vial in the frozen nitrogen—not wanting to sacrifice fingers to the cause—but we’d forgotten scissors. I scratched at it with a key.
I might as well have been trying to scratch my way out of Alcatraz. This was not the Shawshank Redemption.
I returned to the front desk. There was a new employee there, a young woman. Maybe I would impress her with my street clothes, since I’d changed out of my sleep wear.
She was reticent to lend me scissors, but I must have looked just pleading and pathetic enough. I went back upstairs and cut the plastic. Victory! I turned back to the door.
“Wait, there’s another one.”
Thank goodness one of us had some intelligence. I cut the second cuff. Back downstairs, return the scissors, back upstairs, sweating and really not in the mood for any of this nonsense anymore. I donned the mitts and opened the tank inside and pulled out the vial holder thingy, and . . . .
THERE WAS NO VIAL.
Now then, at this point, to say we were on our last nerve would be a bit of an understatement. I believe I screamed, and I believe I heard Susanne take in such a quantity of air as to resemble any kind of animal that has great lung capacity, and no, I would never call my lovely wife a whale. But a large lobed lungfish, maybe.
I plunged my mitt in again and pulled out the whole canister, and dumped it upside down on the desk, freezing the fake leather blotter, as the vial tumbled out. Screw you anyway, fake leather blotter. I put all the robot bits back and let the vial thaw on the desk. It was 11:06.
Finally, we were back on the road home, having made our checkout time of noon, and we enjoyed the sun and the light traffic as we sped through the rainforest side of Oregon.
We like the trees.