Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Moving Experience

My son is a man now. The navigation gene has taken hold.

Boys do slightly better than girls on geometry tests, I recently read. Is the edge in geometry a legacy of our evolutionary past? The guys whose grasp of spatial relationships made them more apt at tracking game won the women too--and passed on huge batches of the navigation gene. Does the navigation gene make guys cocky? You bet.

My husband calls it zen navigation, giving a transcendental gloss to what I suspect is overconfidence. Waving off maps and rebuffing my offers to jump out and ask directions, he careens around corners mumbling that if he could see the sun, we’d already be there.

Like father, like son.

I considered it research, something I could use in my mystery writing. The guy piloting the U-Haul van through the streets of Brooklyn was much closer to my sleuth’s age than I am, and he was moving into his new apartment, a low-budget affair like my sleuth’s Hackensack place.

He was also my son. I was trading several hours of back-wrenching labor for the chance to recapture the days when he was a kid, when driving together gave us a chance to talk. Except now he was driving.

Delivering his possessions to his new digs in the Greenpoint neighborhood went fine. Then things got hairy. We had to pick up the stuff he left at the apartment where he house-sat while looking for his new place.

“I’m pretty sure I can find it,” he said, as we bounced through the industrial neighborhood that flanks Greenpoint. “But last week I was going back and forth on my bike. Some of the streets might be one-way streets so it’ll be different in this van.”

“How about a map?”

“It’s under control, Mom.”

It was different. At last we emerged from a narrow street onto the roundabout that circles Grand Army Plaza. He navigated the roundabout quite skillfully. The sole glitch came at the end, with a hair-raising left turn across a few lanes of cars bent on heading straight ahead.

That errand accomplished, it was time to pick up the sofa he had located on Craig’s List. “It’s in Fort Greene,” he said. “On Carlton.”

“We’re on Carlton now,” I said, thrilled that this part seemed easy.

Then Carlton ended.

“It must start up again,” he said. “I recognize this from riding my bike.” We bounced over potholes for several minutes. “This doesn’t look like what I remember—in fact it looks like…”

“Like we’re headed back to the house-sitting place.” Indeed, we were on the roundabout again.

“No problem. I know which lane to use for the turn now.”

He poked a number into his cellphone. “What’s your cross street?” he said. A staticky female voice answered. He turned to me. “We just need to find Fulton.”

We circled around until we found it.

“Now I just have to figure out which way to turn,” he said.

“Why didn’t you ask her?”

“Chill, Mom.”

We turned right, merging with rush-hour traffic heading east. Twenty minutes later, we’d gone eight blocks, none of which was Carlton.

“Why don’t we ask someone?” I said.

“I can figure this out.”

“Maybe there’s a map in the van.”

“What do I need a map for?”

We eventually found the place—we should have turned left at Fulton. But my son’s delight with the sofa suggested that, despite the navigation gene, his maturity had brought certain improvements.

His college apartment featured an overturned armchair oozing stuffing from a gash in the upholstery, and the rest of the d├ęcor enhanced the impression made by the chair. After seeing the place once, my husband refused to return.

The sofa is pretty nice—and a sign that the Brooklyn apartment is destined to be a place my husband will be happy to visit. As long as his navigation mojo is working and the sun is out.