Author Topic: The Rick Steves Affair (Memoir/Travel)  (Read 301 times)

Offline CuriousCaseOf

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The Rick Steves Affair (Memoir/Travel)
« on: May 06, 2022, 07:55:40 PM »
Chapter 1

All happy family vacations are alike; each unhappy family vacation is unhappy in its own way. Mine began when I discovered my mother in bed with a man who was not my father. Looking back, we should have realized something was amiss as all the classic signs of an affair were there: abnormal behavior; changes in appearance; and growing emotional distance.

For example, the homestead which Mom had previously maintained with the meticulous propriety of an English butler was left in sudden disarray as the laundry piled up, dishes went undone, and the kitchen floors—an area which she had previously mopped with medical regularity—became glazed with a film of grime. Dad and I were forced to dance the quickstep over the sticky tar pit or risk losing a slipper along the way. Dark shadows also appeared around Mom’s eyes, as if she were trying on a new haggard, smokey-eye makeup look. Then, on the fateful night just before the revelation, we sat down for a family dinner more somber than a funeral, the frostiness so palpable that I thought it would start snowing.
But having just returned from a weeklong work trip to California, I was too drained from my day job to start my evening shift as the on-call family therapist. Instead, I headed off to bed, hoping to grab some shut-eye. Despite turning off the lights, I found myself lying awake, tossing and turning restlessly, unable to fall asleep. Finally, I glanced over at my alarm clock and squinted at the dimmed digital display: 12:13 AM CST.

My body must still have been running on Pacific Standard Time.

Groping for my glasses, I got up to go downstairs for a cup of chamomile tea. Out on the landing, a pool of light was leaking onto the carpet from the guest bedroom. Strange. Who could be in there at this late hour? I tiptoed across the hallway, my footsteps muffled by the thick carpet, and pressed an ear against the door. It wasn’t the wild ransacking normally associated with a home invasion but I did detect the soft rustlings of skin against bedsheets. I twisted lightly on the doorknob and opened the door. On the bed was a partially undressed female figure, sprawled languidly across the bed as if she were posing for a life-drawing class. She seemed oblivious of my intrusion; her eyes were fixed firmly on the lover clutched between her arms.

“Mom?”
“AIYAH!” Mom cried, hastily pulled up on the comforter in a cover-up of her exposed body and beau. “You nearly scaring me dead. Why you come in like a burglar? Making no sound.”
“Me? I thought you were the burglar. What are you doing here? Why aren’t you asleep in your room?”
“Because I not that sleepy yet,” she replied rather shiftily.
“It’s past midnight.”
“I just not feeling tired.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you’re in the guest room.”
“You know, I just needed some MySpace tonight,” she said nonchalantly.
“MySpace? I think you mean personal space. Why? Are you and Dad fighting?”
“No,” she said quickly.
Too quickly.
“You sure?”
“Your father saying something to you?”
“No.”
“Oh. Then why you think we fighting?”
“Because dinner was about as cheerful as a memorial service and then I find you ensconced here like a banished princess living out her remaining days in the Cold Palace.”

Mom shot me a baleful look.

“We not fighting, we just not talking at this time.”
“So what? It’s a Cold War?”
“Maybe.”
“In that case, are you the Soviets or Americans?”
“Huh?”
“So I know whose side I’m on.”
“There only one side. My side.”
“Okay, what did you do?”
“Nothing!”
“I doubt that if you’re sleeping here.”

No response.

“So are you going to tell me what happened? Or would you rather I ask Dad instead?”

Mom paused, the scale inside her head tipping back and forth, as she weighed her options. Eventually, the wily public relations guru decided it was better to tell her side of the story first, to maintain narrative control.

“Fine, I staying here because your father kick me out. He complain my lights disturbing his sleep, so he make me leave. But actually he the one disturbing me, when he start snoring.”
“Why do you need your lamp on anyway?”
“Because night time is only time I have with Rick.”
“Wait, that’s why you’re up so late? And who the heck calls him Rick?”
“That his name. What else I should calling him?”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Only a month.”
“Only? Okay, you need to end this affair right now and patch things up with Dad before it’s too late.”
“Affair? What affair? I not having an affair.”
“You’re literally sleeping with the man. Isn’t that him under the covers?”

Reaching over, I pulled out the copy of Rick Steves’s Best of Europe guidebook from under the duvet. It was, by the tattered look of things, not their first assignation together: the corners were bent, the pages marked, and Rick’s formerly glossy blue-and-yellow countenance was looking rather lackluster, having lost much of its original sheen from their rough and tumbles together in bed.

“So this is why you’ve been neglecting your household duties and Dad?”
“You know how much time it taking to planning a trip?”
“No, but I know you’ll have to make time for a divorce if you keep this up.”
“Hmmph, maybe divorce good thing,” she scoffed. “I can find new husband in Europe.”
“Mother, this is a family holiday, not Eat, Pray, Love.”

Indeed, the reason for our European getaway was to celebrate a couple of major familial milestones: the receiving of our American citizenships and my recent graduation from college. Armed with our brand-new passports and freedom from the academic calendar, we were packed and ready to breeze through customs with nothing to declare but fun. Dad, especially, had seemed overjoyed at the prospects initially.

“Thank god you’re finally done with school,” he said. “I was getting tired of making those quarterly charitable donations to your university.”
“Gee thanks. My college education isn’t a charity case, okay?”
“Isn’t it?”

I racked my brain for a more appropriate term.

“No, it-it’s…a...an...in-investment, yes, that’s it! And you, good sir, are my angel investor.”
“Investor? What are you? A startup?”
“Well, I’m just starting up.”
“And going nowhere considering how you still live at home.”

Ouch.

“Technically, I’m only home on the weekends,” I countered. “And besides, most startups start at home. Just look at Steve Jobs. He built Apple from inside his parents’ garage.”
“While your only accomplishment is eating the apples we keep in the garage.”
“Hey, I’m not some kind of freeloader, okay? I can help pay for our Eurotrip you know.”
“Help? How about you ‘help’ by paying me back for your tuition first? And it’s not just the principal amount. Don’t forget my second round of funding when someone here decided to double major.”
“Uh, that refund might take a while. I’ve only been working for a year so I don’t have that much saved up.”
“So how were you planning to contribute when you’ve got no money?”
“Easy. With points.”

Following my graduation, I had got a job in consulting, working at a Big Four, which meant I was constantly on the road, or more precisely, in the air, traveling for work. With a client on the West Coast, my regular commute consisted of flying out to Orange County every Monday morning, getting a rental car, driving it back and forth between the client site and hotel during the week, before flying home again on Thursday nights. After a year of this extreme jet-setting lifestyle, I was draped in Delta medallions and Hilton Honors, having amassed a considerable personal fortune, if net worth were measured in hotel points and frequent flier miles. I generously donated all of my capital into the Eurotrip jar and we discovered, to our collective delight, that I could cover the majority of our accommodations, setting us up for what-should-have-been the dream European vacation of a lifetime.

Having become new citizens of a democratic country, we also chose to vote on where we wanted to go for vacation. Mom cast her ballot first, for Italy, because as an ardent fan of Roman Holiday, she thought an Asian remake with her replacing Audrey Hepburn as the star was long overdue. I went second and chose France because I had similar delusions about becoming Rafa Nadal, tearing up the clay courts at Roland Garros. Dad picked the United Kingdom because we told him he could choose any country as long as it was the U.K. However his no choice was the popular people’s choice: having lived in Great Britain as a family when I was a child, we have always wanted to return for a stroll down Memory Lane.
For dates, we settled on late-May, when the weather was predicted to be perfect and the crowds still mild. Dad and I promptly sent in our PTO requests from work while Mom moved her operations as CEO of Ren Enterprises, a family company, overseas. All there was left to do was to figure out the logistics—what to see and how—a responsibility which Mom placed upon herself mostly because she didn’t trust Dad nor I to do the job.

“Never let a person with no fang xiang gan planning a trip,” she said. “Otherwise, you lost before you even begin. You just like your father, no direction sense. Spin you both one time around in parking lot and neither can find bei, north, anymore. Why you never inherit any of my good genes?”
“Because they’re overtaken by Dad’s?”
“Yes, for a weak man, your father has surprisingly strong genes.”

But in following Mom’s (mis)guided navigation system, we had arrived not at our final destination, but at the precarious edge of a cliff overlooking a marriage on the rocks. In fairness, I may have unwittingly played a part in the breakdown of her marital union, having been the one who had introduced her to Rick after a recommendation from a friend. But he had only been meant to be our tour guide, I swear. Who knew that the family-friendly, PBS-loving Rick Steves with his jolly honk of a laugh would turn into a conniving, villainous homewrecker?
Despite getting caught in bed with another man, Mom remained unrepentant, brazenly continuing her late-night dalliances with Rick as they gallivanted across the whole of Europe hand-in-hand, strolling through the cobblestoned piazzas of Rome, visiting the galleries of Paris, and hobnobbing with the royals in London. Starry-eyed, Mom hung onto Rick’s every word, taking copious notes in a steno pad, quickly filling up the pages with her hand-written notes as if she were translating the entire book into Chinese. More egregiously, she also began reporting back on her date nights with Rick. After a long summary of all the wonderful places her worldly flame had taken her, she would wax on poetically about his many personal virtues, much to Dad’s chagrin.

“He very good man,” said Mom, proffering a big thumbs up after a quick recount of her romantic evening in Venice. “Really considerate about tourist. Not like other guides that just provide useless lists and make traveler figure out everything. How we know? We not been to country before. But Rick, he think of everything for you: how to plan schedule, where to buy ticket, which route to take, even teaching you—why you laughing?”
“I’m not,” I said, trying to straighten my face as Dad fake vomited behind her.
    
I did my best to stay out of Mom’s trysts, remaining chaste, until she called me at work one day and dragged me forcibly into her entanglements.

“Can you help me calling Italy tomorrow?” she said, without even bothering to say hello.
“I’m swamped with meetings all day tomorrow. Can’t Dad help?”

Offline ejhamdan

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Re: The Rick Steves Affair (Memoir/Travel)
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2022, 05:37:36 PM »
Hi there Curious! I was pulled into this piece right by the first line. Your writing is strong. I especially loved this line: "we sat down for a family dinner more somber than a funeral, the frostiness so palpable that I thought it would start snowing."

I do like the voice here, it comes across as conversational, sassy and humorous at times, and engaging enough to read further. It actually reads like a novel.

My few areas for improvement:

-While I do like the idea of the opening suggesting an affair and it turning out to be a Rick Steves guide and its quite clever actually, I think you have to be careful about the sudden switch, otherwise some readers might be left with a feeling of being cheated. I genuinely thought the Mom was sleeping with another man but the very sombre tone in the first few lines, and the "frostiness" at the dinner table. Perhaps toning down the seriousness in the first few lines might help this

-Dialogue is snappy and witty but at times can come across a little unnatural. >e.g this line here "“Because dinner was about as cheerful as a memorial service and then I find you ensconced here like a banished princess living out her remaining days in the Cold Palace.” --I dont think people speak like this in real world. This would suit a lot more as an internal monologue, a thought, or even just the normal prose of the story rather than a spoken dialogue

-I think this is about an Indian family with the broken English dialogues from the Mom. I did the exact same style of dialogue in my own novel but later changed it as it actually does distract from the flow. This is obviously a very subjective thing and your personal preference

Overall, I was intrigued and I think readers will find this memoir interesting and escapist type read! Best of luck.

Offline CuriousCaseOf

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Re: The Rick Steves Affair (Memoir/Travel)
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2022, 01:03:53 PM »
Hi ejhamdan,

Thank you SO MUCH for the feedback. I really appreciate it.  I totally agree with your comment about the "Cold Palace" line. I'm actually in the process of changing that sentence. And I totally get what you meant by the broken English. I tried to temper it later in the book, so as it does not distract.

I will definitely think about the opening, and see if I can soften the "switch" like you said. Thank you!