I don’t know what’s on the inside of my lower lip. It looks like a blister, but it doesn’t hurt. The lack of pain is reassuring, as it doesn’t seem necessary to go to the doctor, but the comparable grossness of the affliction keeps me from looking it up online, because the first step toward realizing bodily grossness is acknowledging body grossness.
But then, I do look it up. “Mucocele” seems to fit the symptoms. A mucous cyst. Which is good because they’re benign and reported to go away on their own. It’s bad because there are few things less sexy than a mucous cyst.
And sexiness is key, because my wife, Jessica, and I are on our way to Julian for a getaway to celebrate our wedding anniversary. A couple weeks prior, she admitted “dreading” our anniversary, which, honestly, is a totally legit thing to dread. Besides Valentine’s Day, there isn’t another day where the natural affection inherent in a relationship feels more forced.
But you can’t just abandon these traditions, no matter how commercially co-opted or hegemony reinforcing they are. It becomes my mission to give Jessica a decent anniversary, to force her to see how great our relationship is.
I suspect the stress of this mission has manifested in the form of the mucocele. Having experienced everything from prolonged eyelid twitches to armpit acne, I’ve realized that my body’s just full of surprises during periods of duress. That I can’t leave it alone long enough for it to go away is a sign of my perpetual nervousness.
The smooth drive on Interstate 8 becomes the winding 79. High desert heat overtakes the saltiness of the city. I keep tonguing the cyst.
There’s really no reason I choose Julian as the place to spend our anniversary—it doesn’t hold any kind of special meaning for us. To be honest, there might be more selfishness in this choice than I care to admit. Having grown up in a place with actual seasons, I still bristle at the thought of embracing San Diego’s lack thereof. I will never get used to it. I will ride my high horse into a stack of seasonal Starbucks cups—our only real method of determining what time of the year we’re in—before I sing the praises of Endless Summer.
Julian, on the other hand, has seasons! Sort of! This getaway, in my mind, is an effort to evoke the nostalgic romance of seasonal change in Jessica. Plus, Julian is quaint as fuck, and if the combination of romance, nostalgia and quaintness doesn’t smooth over the idea of another year spent with me, then I’m screwed.
We pull up to the Julian Gold Rush Hotel in the golden afternoon. I love Julian—both for its beguiling small-townness and the unsettling inauthenticity that underlies such feeling. The town feels like a Disney park where Big City folk can dabble in quaintness. That exaggerated charm also causes an eerie cognitive dissonance, which makes every trip to Julian feel a little bit like The Twilight Zone. Oh, and I also love Julian for its enthusiasm-that-borders-on-hysteria for apples.
I look up at the historic hotel’s sign and read “Free Wi-Fi.” I can’t help feeling an acute sting of hate at it for taking me out of the fantasy. My tongue finds its way back to the lip.
The next morning, the hotel serves waffles with browned apples on top.
“What if I asked for no apples in this town?” Jessica asks.
We both agree: “Jail.”
A hotel employee appears to clear our plates, as if joking about apples is akin to summoning Candyman in this town. Her brusque, off-kilter skittishness seems to be the product of working in this uncanny place.
“You going to Apple Days Festival?” she asks. “It’s just out at the winery. It’s real fun.”
She doesn’t even have to qualify the “fun” of Apple Days Festival. She could’ve said just said “Apple Days Festival” and we’d have asked, “Where??” It sounds like a fake event—the peak exploitation of Julian’s quaintness. If this were a movie, this is the type of event that the mayor would insist on upholding despite the sheriff warnings of a dangerous animal that poses a threat to attendees. “It’s our busiest day of the year!”
Yes, of course we’re going to Apple Days Festival.
We drive to Menghini Winery, about three miles out of town. Attendants direct us to the overflow lot. Apple Days has just begun and it’s already overflowing with apple enthusiasts.
Being at a festival solely devoted to apples, I undergo this remarkable transformation where I suddenly can’t care about anything besides apples. How could anyone ever think to eat another non-apple? There’s an apple pie contest. There’s an apple orchard where you can pick your own apples. There’s even apple beer! I drink the apple beer. It’s 10 a.m. People sit on hay bales in the shade. Pumpkins litter the grass. Kids throw beanbags at carnival games. There’s even a fiddler providing music. The MC for the festival, Riley Boland—a youngish, townie-like fellow—stokes my applethusiasm by pretending not to hear us when he asks if we’re excited about Apple Days.
“I can’t hear you!” he says.
“Gaaah!” we yell, rabid with apple fever.
It’s the autumn I’ve always wanted. The lip thing is still there, but it feels a little smaller than the day before. I quickly forget about it. I look to Jessica. She’s smiling.
“We should make this a yearly thing,” she says. “C’mon. Let’s go pick some apples.”