Steven learns a lot more about his dad, but rather than bringing them closer, it manages to drive a wedge between them.
Greg starts coddling his son a bit, partly because he is kind of going through a big and as-yet unexplained gem thing and he needs to relax a bit, but it’s also partly because it’s been a while since they spent any quality time together. And he’s more than ready to dispense a little fatherly wisdom.
Steven: I spent so long trying to figure out whether or not I was Mom, now that I actually know I’m me, it’s like I have no idea who that is. I just wish I knew what to do with myself.
Greg: Well, I can relate to that!
Yeah, figuring yourself out is something of a rite of passage. For most Americans, that happens sometime after they leave the rigid structures of the public school system, but for Steven it comes after the world’s officially safe and he’s finally free to do whatever he wants. Figuring yourself out isn’t something you just do overnight, it’s all about making your own mistakes and getting messy. Like proposing to the girl you’re not even officially dating.
So Greg decides to help him out by telling a bit of his own origin story.
Greg: I didn’t get my hands on good music until I was your age. Before I had the van, I had no idea what was out there, but everything changed when I hit the road. I mean, sure, you’ve seen other planets, but what about West Keystone? Or Charm City? I had some of my most formative moments eating rest stop sandwiches outside Del Marva House and watching the trucks go by! Maybe you need a change of scenery, Stuball. You’re never gonna find yourself if you don’t start looking.
Thus he proposes a spur-of-the-moment road trip, and Steven’s up for just about anything to get his mind off his troubles.
Then we get a reprise of “Dear Old Dad”…which in hindsight, may have been hinting about how this would all end, considering that it originally came in the calm before the two of them had a serious argument.
Greg: About two blocks that way, that’s where I played my first gig! […] I wasn’t even Mr. Universe yet! I was just a kid with a guitar sneaking out past the warden on a Saturday night.
Steven: Wait – so how did you become Mr. Universe?
Greg: You know what? I can show you.
Then Steven is (understandably) mortified when his dad proceeds to break into a seemingly empty house…
Greg: I just gotta grab one thing!
Steven: Dad, you’re rich! You don’t have to steal! Come on, let’s get out of here!
But when his father refuses to heed his advice or properly explain anything, Steven takes it upon himself to write a note of apology to the owners of the house for breaking in. Because he is terrible at breaking the law.
Steven: What do I even say? Sorry for breaking into your lovely home. You seem like such nice people, with excellent taste! Who enjoy potpourri – it’s like a snack for your nose. Your fancy foreign spoon collection is impressive, as are your tiny glass goats. Aw, geez, it’s as good a start as any.
Then in his search for stationary, he discovers several letters addressed from Greg (and unopened) to “Mr and Mrs Demayo”. They’re in the house of Greg’s parents – Steven’s grandparents.
I mean, it sure looks like MY grandparents’ house, although I’m not sure if Gen Z grandparents would have quite the same aesthetic.
But as usual, Steven doesn’t quite put all the pieces together.
Steven: This was your room! This place is beautiful! I thought you said you grew up in a prison.
Greg: I did! You have no idea what it was like! Curfew, chaperones, meatloaf…
Steven: You don’t like meatloaf?
Greg: Not every Thursday for twenty years.
Steven: Well, it couldn’t have been that bad.
Greg: Steven, it was horrible. Do you know how old I was the first time I had a taco? Too old.
But Steven enjoys looking through Greg’s childhood things, markers of an ordinary life like yearbooks and random trophies.
Steven: You look just like me! Only more…human.
He takes a picture of little Greg’s awkward yearbook photo, but Greg himself is anxious to find what he’s looking for and get out, even if the residents are supposed to be on their regular winter vacation. Then he suddenly remembers that he used to hide contraband in the air duct and retrieves a box.
Greg: This is it! We can finally get out of here. Leave that junk behind.
Steven clearly has a lot of questions, but Greg just as obviously isn’t interested in talking about his parents…and honestly, it’s not hard to see why. If they never opened his letters, and he only bothered to send about five in all the years since he left, that’s a huge rift, no matter how it started. Not to mention that Greg probably assumes that they did read the letters and just refused to answer on principle.
Greg: Hold on there, Steven. This is your journey of self-discovery, so you better get behind the wheel!
Steven: But where are we heading next?
Greg: That’s up to you.
Yeah, Steven was fine as long as he was just hanging out with his dad and letting him steer the trip, but suddenly being asked to make a choice of his own would be a little stressful even if he didn’t have all the questions about Greg’s childhood on his mind. And Greg is a little too busy reliving his own youth to notice his son’s increasing discomfort.
Greg: I get it, Steven. When I was little Gregory Demayo, I was just going through the motions, doing what everybody else wanted. But one day my friend in social studies snuck me this. This is the CD with the song that made me who I am!
I want to say “Kerry Moonbeam” is supposed to be a stand-in for David Bowie or Queen, but the song sounds way more like 60’s rock.
Looking for your place in the universe Don't you know the universe is looking too? Looking for its place in you And now it's coming through Your dream is coming true Welcome to the party, Mr. Universe We're so glad we are a part of you Meet the rocks and flowers The seconds and the hours The splinters, winters, apples, chapels Teardrops, temples, cats, and castles Anything that you can be The things you see and cannot see Are Mr. Universe
But Steven’s too distracted to actually get into the music.
Steven: Dad? Is this where our name comes from?
Greg: Yes! Yes, exactly!
Steven: You took it from a song?
Greg: Once I heard this, everything changed. I suddenly realized there was so much out there I hadn’t even thought to dream about! The whole world, the whole universe! I wanted to get out and see all of it. So I got in this van, on this road, and I never looked back. I never could’ve known that a couple years of couch-surfing and basement shows would lead me to your mother, and you. Now it’s your turn! Where does Mr. Universe make you wanna go?
I mean, of course Greg would take his name from a song, but after seeing the life he left behind, Steven can’t help but be disappointed that the only legacy to the name of Universe is a song.
Steven: Dad, this isn’t helping! I don’t need this song, I need- I need what you had! […] I wish I could’ve grown up in a house like that!
Greg: No you don’t!
Steven: Maybe your parents weren’t so bad! Maybe they gave you curfews and chaperones and meatloaf for a reason!
Greg: Steven, you don’t know what they were like!
Steven: They can’t be any worse than Mom’s family. I went halfway across the galaxy for them, and this was right here?
Greg: Steven, I couldn’t do anything growing up. Everything I liked, or wore, or wanted, was always wrong! Trust me, you’re better off than I was.
I mean, I seriously doubt it’s humanly possible to be worse than the Diamonds (at least in Era 2), and considering how much he jived with their old people aesthetic, I imagine if Steven just met them in the street, he would probably get along with them. Even with the situation as it is, I could see Steven finding a way to reconcile them in the future. But right now, all Steven can see is a life of stability that he never had.
Steven: I can’t believe I never realized you’re- you’re just like Mom!
Greg: You grew up with actual freedom!
Steven: I grew up in a van! I never went to school, I’d never been to the doctor until two days ago!
Greg: You’re a Gem! You’re not like other kids!
Steven: I could’ve done all that stuff! My problem isn’t that I’m a Gem. My problem is I’m a Universe!
And then he goes all glowy, breaks the steering wheel, and wrecks the van.
But at least the people make it out alright.
Greg is a lot like Rose, and that probably helped them understand each other (even if they never talked about their pasts). To be fair, at least he tried to communicate with his parents (presumably about major life events and/or being flat broke). And it’s only natural that he would try to give Steven all the freedom he never had. But right now, all Steven wants is some solid ground to land on while he tries to figure out his life.
Greg: The van’s seen worse, we’ll all get through this, and look. I-I’m proud of you.
Greg: You know, I never had the guts to tell my old man off like that. I’m glad you can tell me anything. You know you can tell me anything, right? You’re having a hard time right now, I get it…
Maybe he can tell him anything, but that doesn’t guarantee he’ll get it. Steven made a mistake and he knows it – he doesn’t want support for that, he wants guidance. So he starts tuning his dad out.
And like his father before him, he decides he’s better off without his parent. He’s running low on people to cut out of his life, right when he really needs all the support he can get.
Please be okay, Steven.
Next time: Fragments…