Total Perspective Vortex
What really happened to Trillian? Theories abound, but you can see what she's really been up to on this blog. If you're looking for white mice, depressed robots, or the occasional Pan Galactic Gargleblaster you might be better served here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/guide/.
Words are cool.
The English language is complex, stupid, illogical, confounding, brilliant, beautiful, and fascinating.
Every now and then a word presents itself that typifies all the maddeningly gorgeousness of language. They're the words that give you pause for thought. "Who came up with that word? That's an interesting string of letters." Their beauty doesn't lie in their definition (although that can play a role). It's also not in their onomatopoeia, though that, too, can play a role. Their beauty is in the way their letters combine - the visual poetry of words - and/or the way they sound when spoken. We talk a lot about music we like to hear and art we like to see, so let's all hail the unsung heroes of communication, poetry and life: Words.
Here are some I like. (Not because of their definition.)
Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Smart Girls
(A Trillian de-composition, to the tune of Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys)
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
Smart girls ain’t easy to love and they’re above playing games
And they’d rather read a book than subvert themselves
Kafka, Beethoven and foreign movies
And each night alone with her cat
And they won’t understand her and she won’t die young
She’ll probably just wither away
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
A smart girl loves creaky old libraries and lively debates
Exploring the world and art and witty reparteé
Men who don’t know her won’t like her and those who do
Sometimes won’t know how to take her
She’s rarely wrong but in desperation will play dumb
Because men hate that she’s always right
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
Life(?) of Trillian
Monday, November 30, 2009
The more I learn the less I know. This is a fact. But.
I do know there are at least two constant, absolute certainties in the Universe: Change and death.
I’ve always chosen to believe that all change is good. Even change for the worse is good.
The alternative, stagnation, is worse than the worst change for the worse.
Evolution = good. Not so good for certain types of dinosaurs and plants, but, you know, “good” that the planet continues to evolve on its progression. Strong arguments could be made against that point of view – evolution = humans = raping and pillaging of the planet ergo change = bad. But there’s strong evidence that the dinosaurs were raping and pillaging the planet in their own way.
I like dinosaurs. For the obvious reasons. They’re cool. And also because they ended up as fossil fuel.
Hang on, hang on a minute. Don’t get all up in arms shocked at my sudden vulgar inhumane flippant attitude about animal life. I don’t like that they ended up as fossil fuel in the sense that I like to burn fossil fuel because I like to rape and pillage the planet and whoooo boy, aren’t we lucky to live in modern times where we use fossil fuel to power our conspicuous consumption of natural resources so that we may have things like NASCAR, space rockets, iPods and, ahem, blogs. I like that they ended up as fossil fuel because it serves as a daily reminder that even the mightiest, coolest beings had their day, failed to evolve, change, died and…yet…even in death, even (and especially) after lying stagnant, decayed and fossilized, they serve another purpose. Sinclair petrol is one of my favorite brand trademarks for that reason: Straight to the point, their dinosaur silhouette logo says it all: Yesterday’s dinosaur is tomorrow’s road trip. That dinosaur is a harbingering warning: Change or else. Or else you’ll end up in someone’s Honda bound for the Mystery Spot.
Change and death. Change or die. Change and die. There’s no choice, really. If you don’t change, evolve, you will die. If you do change, evolve, guess what? You still die. Change and death. Welcome to Absolute Certainty. Population: You.
I grew up in a really, really, really, really small town. I mean really small town. I didn’t hate it the way many people raised in small towns hate small towns. I don’t resent my parents for leaving the city when they had kids. They had solid, valid reasons for raising us outside of the city limits. Okaaaaay, perhaps they took it to an extreme, perhaaaaps the exact center of the middle of nowhere, the bull’s eye on the nowhere target as I affectionately call it, wasn’t necessary, but they had good reasons and honestly, none of us are any worse for it. Fortunately my parents traveled. A lot. So we got out of the inner circle of Hell quite often and for prolonged periods of time. I was lucky that way. Best of both worlds, I guess. I got to see and experience outer circles of Hell on a regular basis.
And when we returned to our really, really, really, really small town I felt, you know, okay with it. Except for one thing. One thing I really, really, really, really hated about our small town. One thing fueled my desire, my compulsion, my need to get as far away from that really, really, really, really small town as possible. One thing. One singular, unwavering lament.
Nothing ever changes.
I know. I know. Many people view that as a good thing. Many people don’t like change. Or at least not in their town. People who don’t like change usually like small towns. They like the stability, reliability and security of knowing their churches, schools, local authorities, restaurants and neighbors are always going to be the same. It makes them feel like their ship is anchored securely in a safe harbor. No matter how stormy their sea of life is they know they are anchored in a safe place.
I get that. I understand. Kind of. The thing I think they fail to recognize is that the harbor itself isn’t what provides the stability and safety. It’s the community, or sense of community, that makes them feel all cozy and snug (and smug) and secure in the knowledge that tomorrow will be just like today which was just like yesterday. They fail to recognize that change happens. Everything changes. Even them.
Except in my hometown. Nothing ever changes in my really, really, really, really small hometown.
Until about 10 – 15 years ago, that is. And then a bunch of stuff changed. A growth spurt. A mini housing boom. A couple new restaurants, an addition on the high school and a new traffic light with a left turn arrow and everything. I know, I know! Big time, we’re on our way, we’re making it!
And then crash bang wallop, a couple years ago things started digress. A little too much change too soon, too fast, and there were repercussions. The new addition on the high school isn’t paid for, yet, but it’s already unnecessary. The new people with their progeny left almost as quickly as they arrived and the extra space in the school isn’t needed. Uh-oh. Back where we started. Some things changed, and then those things changed again, so if you happened to have missed the little growth spurt, the change blip, and returned now, you would never know anything ever changed in your hiatus.
It’s weird. I’m part of that town because I’m from there. And because my parents have lived there since I was born. I am from there. And I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of that.
It was always more part of me than I was of it. I never really fit in there. People were nice enough to me, are nice to me, but I’m sure that has less to do with genuine concern and feeling for me and more to do with respect for my parents (who are well liked and fit in very nicely) and small town politeness. It's part of me because it's where I'm from. Small town values, way of life, all that. There's no denying that no matter how bad I want to be, no matter where I go or what I do, there's a part of me, a core part of me, that is a good girl from a small town. Even though I never fit in there. Even though I'm not exactly the Local Girl Makes Good success story. There's part of me that is a good girl from a small town. Not exactly Doris Day, but not exactly Briget Bardot, either.
What I’m starting to realize is that I don’t really fit in anywhere. I think I might be a drifter. Or just another disaffected GenXer. Or just run of the mill depressed.
But I don’t blame my small town roots. It’s not my hometown, it’s me. I knew it when I was a kid. I knew I was lucky to live in my hometown. It’s a nice place with nice people and good schools and everything a kid could want. I knew that. I just didn’t see myself staying there one day longer than required. But not because I hated it or the people.
I left when I went to college and apart from landing there a few times between moves I’ve never been back for any reason other than to visit my parents.
Consequently I have a unique perspective on the whole mini-boom and the current “bust.” I’m from there and my parents live there so I “care,” but, I’m so distanced from it that I can see it for what it is. It’s like I have one subjective eye and one objective eye.
Things, now, have swung back to how they were when I was growing up. The new people and their new restaurants have left. No one’s “happy” about this but most people kind of expected it, I think. And everyone thought one of the new restaurants was overpriced and had a weird menu – and you had to pay extra for a salad and that salad had dandelions in it! Dandelions!!! The only “new” businesses that have managed to last now that the “new” people have left are a Tim Horton’s franchise and a pet store. The township has a Walgreen’s and there’s a new McDonald’s out by the highway, now, but that’s on the other side of town. Not really part of my hometown. Not really.
But here’s the thing. The thing that makes me feel old and sad and lonely. All the things that I thought never changed are, well, changing. And not in a good way. In a tomorrow’s fossil fuel kind of way.
My parents live way out on the township borderline, way past the city limits and a half mile from the county line road which is the last line between “civilization” and “no life guard on duty, travel at your own risk.”
When I talk about my really, really, really, really small town I’m talking about the place we traveled to for school, church and groceries. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Little House on the Prairie it’s kind of like that. We “went into town.” We still “go into town.” Except now the road is paved and there’s not only a stop sign but also a traffic light on the journey there. And when we “get into town” there are a couple gas stations, small grocery, a 7-11, a few mom and pop restaurants (a pizza joint, natch, where the Rotary meets on the second Tuesday of the month, natch), a couple clothing/gift/liquor stores, a pharmacy, a funeral home, the once/week newspaper, a flower shop, a cemetery (with a ghost, natch), schools, churches, the library, a few doctors and dentist offices, an insurance agent, a lawyer, a vet, Elks, Moose and VFW, a fire/police/post office/municipal building and a dry cleaner.
That’s it. That’s the sum total of my home town. 10 – 15 years ago things changed, new businesses came in, fancy high falootin’ places, but now most of them are gone. Things changed and now they’ve pretty much changed back. Which is still change.
The dry cleaner has been owned and operated by the same family ever since I can remember. Mr. and Mrs. Yee. I’m not going to cat dance around this. It is what it is. The dry cleaner is run by a Chinese family. Okay? Yes. Yes. My hometown is so stereotypical that our dry cleaner is run by a Chinese family. When I was growing up they were the only Chinese family in our town. They had a son a grade behind me in school and guess what? He was so good at math he was bumped up a grade for his math classes so I knew him. And guess what else? The lawyer and dentist are Jewish. Okay? Look, I’m not saying I like the stereotypicalities of my hometown. But for all the cringe-worthy stereotypicalities in businesses, the residents have always been diverse and at least from my perspective there weren’t any racial issues.
So. Mrs. Yee died a few years ago. Everyone thought for sure Mr. Yee would sell or close the dry cleaner. Mrs. Yee was the face of the dry cleaner. She kept that place spotless and was always there to greet customers. Mr. Yee was more behind-the-scenes. He’d work the counter when it was busy, he was friendly, but Mrs. Yee was the social one, and the one everyone knew.
People just assumed Mr. Yee couldn’t or wouldn’t stay open without Mrs. Yee. Everyone figured he’d sell or close and move out west with his son the fancy schmancy software developer. So far that hasn’t happened. Mr. Yee is still at the dry cleaner removing spots and pressing suits.
But I dunno. I’m starting to worry about Mr. Yee. When my dad died and I needed to have his burial suit cleaned and pressed ASAP Mr. Yee took care of me. He had my dad's suit and my clothes funeral home visitation ready in a few hours and he didn’t charge me. That's an example of really, really, really, really small town life.
Everything seemed, you know, normal on the dry cleaning front. That was (gasp) 16 months ago. Since then I’ve taken in or picked up a few things for my mother. The once spotless and perfectly maintained building needs some work. And I’ve noticed Mr. Yee isn’t quite as sharp as he used to be. He doesn’t rush to the counter as quickly as he used to and the smile isn’t as ready and easy. Instead of talking about his son’s MIT degree and job in software he kind of mumbles perfunctory greetings.
Okay. So. I needed a jacket cleaned and pressed. I took it into town to Mr. Yee.
Nothing, and I mean nothing in my weird life full of strange people and strange experiences prepared me for what happened next.
Whooo boy. I don’t know how to say this. Just thinking about it has me all weirded out.
I walked into the dry cleaner, which is starting to show signs of lack of upkeep, and the second I opened the door I was greeted with a rush of stale air. And when I say stale air I don’t mean “hmmmm, Mr. Yee brought his Pekingese into work today and then had stromboli and coffee for lunch and that whiff of perfume can only mean Mrs. Anders was in here this morning and left her lingering scent.” I wish it was that kind of stale air.
Unfortunately the kind of stale air I’m talking about is the kind of stale air no one wants to associate with older people, especially older people they’ve known all their life, especially older people they’ve known all their life and happen to be the parent of a classmate.
All right, I’ll just come right out and say it.
Mr. Yee was obviously smoking pot in the back room of the dry cleaner.
The last time I was in there I thought I smelled a faint whiff of it, but there was a heap of newly dropped off clothes on the counter and I just assumed it was wafting from those clothes.
But this time there was no heap of clothes. Just the skunky, musty, fieldy smell of pot.
When I rang the little bell on the counter it took Mr. Yee a really long time to appear from the back room. And when he did he was, well, how to say this in a way that doesn't weird me out even more...he was...well...clearly baked. Red eyed and wispy and grinning.
Whatever. S’cool. It’s all cool. Man.
Mr. Yee???? Really???? I mean, huh???? You think you know someone, for your entire life and then all of a sudden he goes and gets stoned in the back room of his business.
And worse, yes, there’s a worse part to this, the dry cleaner building happens to back up to the fire/police/post office/municipal building.
I’m cool, but the local cop is definitely not cool. I was in orchestra with his sister and I kinda got to know him a little thanks to him picking us up and giving me a ride home after rehearsals.
He was two grades ahead of us.
He was Jr. ROTC.
He was a douche.
Considering he never left town and became the local cop, and based on the ridiculously self righteous police blotter reports in the local newspaper, it’s safe to assume he’s still a douche.
One whiff of Mr. Yee’s pot and he’d go Barney Fife on Mr. Yee in seconds flat.
I feared for Mr. Yee. I like the guy. I’ve always liked the guy. And his son. And his wife.
His wife. Oh God, his wife. Oh God, Mrs. Yee. Mrs. Yee would never go for that kind of behavior. Or. At least. I mean, I don't think she would.
Then again...she always was exceptionally pleasant...
She was always nice to me when I was little. She let me pet their many pet Pekingese dogs and gave me fortune cookies around Chinese New Year. As I grew taller, and taller, she teased my mother that my mother needed to stop feeding me bamboo because I was growing so fast and tall. She started calling me Little Bamboo and eventually, just “Boo.”
For a couple days in 10th grade I had a crush on the Yee’s math wiz son. A trip with my mother to the dry cleaner cured me of that particular crush. The thought of going out with a guy whose mother called me Boo pretty much killed all romantic notions my 10th grade imagination could fathom. Still, I hold the Yees in an affectionate place.
The thought of Mr. Yee getting busted for possession of pot and public intoxication by douche local cop bothered me. A lot. I felt protective of him.
This is also the father of a classmate. A friend of my parents’. I mean, awkward much? What was I going to say? Or do?
“Uh, Mr. Yee, I’m cool with the, uh, ‘cleaning fluid’ but you know Captain Zuhlkes is on duty today, I just saw him pull the cruiser into the back lot, and you know what a stickler for the law he is…”
“Duuuuuude! Awesome!!! That smells like some good shit, man! But duuude, that ROTC douche Zuhlkes is right outside, man.”
Instead I just pretended nothing was weird. “Hi Mr. Yee. Got a jacket for you. No hurry. Sometime next week is fine.”
He kind of giggled and told me he’d have it ready Monday. Or Tuesday. Or maybe Wednesday. And grabbed a couple chips out of a giant bag of Lay’s tucked under the counter. Can’t stop eatin’ ‘em.
I presume one of three things is going on with Mr. Yee. He’s got glaucoma or cancer and it’s medicinal pot; he’s sad and lonely and going a little senile without Mrs. Yee and he’s turning to drugs; he’s been a stoner all along but I just never noticed it.
The more we learn the less we know.
Even in my really, really, really, really small town. Where nothing ever changes.
Here’s the thing that scares me: I fled that really, really, really, really small town because nothing ever changes there. I craved change. I wanted to evolve. I thought predictability and routine were boring, stagnant and sure to bring a small mind and an early grave. So I left as soon as I could.
And I ran and ran and ran and ran and never looked back, never got homesick, never longed to be back in that really, really, really, really small town.
Yet standing in that dry cleaner with stoned Mr. Yee I realized: I haven’t changed. My life has changed, I’ve lived in lots of places, traveled around the world, seen a lot of things, met a lot of people, had a lot of experiences, taken a lot of classes, worked a lot of jobs, dated more men than I care to admit, and yet, really, I’m pretty much the same little girl my mother used to tow into that dry cleaner to pick up my dad’s suits.
All the time I’ve been other places looking for change, right there back in that really, really, really, really small town the local dry cleaner was changing into a stoner.
To add final punctuation on this epiphany, that afternoon I had an ill-fated run-in with a former classmate.
After my, uh, trip to the dry cleaner I fetched my mother and took her into town to the grocery. I was standing there examining the calories and fiber in a serving of Lucky Charms (I dunno…maybe I got a little contact high off Mr. Yee…hey, at least it's not cookie dough) when I suddenly became aware that my mother, several feet away from me, was talking to someone.
I dread grocery store run-ins in my hometown. No matter how hard I try to steer the conversation to the other person inevitably the conversation
Yes. Yes. I’m still single and I still have a career and I’m a gal, okay? Crucify me on the spinster cross, whydontcha? I know. I know.
It’s my issue, not theirs. I shouldn’t get defensive and angry with them when it’s myself I hate. But honestly, why do people probe and spear unmarried women like this? Nail us to a cross because we're not married? Maybe if people wouldn’t be so eager to nail me to that spinster cross I would hate myself a little less.
Or at least feel less self conscious about it.
And now that I don’t even have a career I feel like a total loser. A spinster career-gal without a career.
I’m just a gal. A spinster gal.
Which in my hometown is the female equivalent of a gay son dying of AIDS. We had a local family whose son was gay and died of AIDS. (Not my high school dating debacle. Another, different gay guy a few grades behind me.) The local townsfolk held a charity fun-run in an effort to raise money for his medical expenses.
No one’s organizing a fun-run to help offset my medical expenses. Not that my foot issues are in any way comparable to AIDS, but, I’m just sayin’…I need a surgery and medical care and I can’t afford it and my parents are pillars of this community but there’s not a public fundraiser for me, the unmarried careerless gal. Being gay and having AIDS is less humiliating and more charity worthy than being single and careerless.
Being a spinster in my hometown is suspect and shameful, but having a career gives the long-suffering parents a consolation topic. “No, no, our girl’s not married...no kids...career gal, you know…”
“Oh yes, we know.” Sympathetic pat on the shoulder.
Now that I’m unemployed my poor mother gets a lot of sad looks and sympathetic pats on the shoulder. More sad looks and sympathetic pats on the shoulder than the mother of the gay guy who died of AIDS. At least the mother of that guy got support in the form of a community fun-run. My poor mother just gets worried looks and tut-tut shakes of heads cast her way.
I was pulled from my Lucky Charms reverie when heard my mother say, “Oh yes, Trillian’s home for the holiday, Trill, darling…you remember Martha.”
I remember Martha.
And even if I didn’t, her sunny blonde hair, bright blue eyes, perfectly honey bronzed skin, perky petite frame and dazzling smile would jog my memory.
Martha’s that girl everyone would be so envious of they’d hate if it weren’t for the fact that she’s also nice, funny and smart. You can't hate her. It's impossible.
Martha and I kept in touch via another classmate for a while. And her mother and my mother kind of sort of know each other via a charity thing they worked on a long time ago. Martha went into advertising, too, only she went into the finance/account side of things while I stayed in my creative safety zone. I lost touch with the classmate friend we had in common, but my mother runs into her mother now and then so I’ve had occasional Martha updates. I knew she got married and I knew her husband was a surgeon of some sort. I knew she had at least one child.
And there she was looking almost exactly like she did in school. I mean, you know, yes, she looks a little older, but not that much older. If anything she looks better.
Everything changes. And in Martha’s case, everything changes for the better apparently.
She had two perfect blonde, blue eyed, honey bronzed adorable children with her. She was home visiting her parents for the holiday. With her cardiologist husband. She took a few years off from her career in advertising to be home with their kids.
And she recently rejoined the working world at an agency. The woman was gone from the the working world for 5 years and walked right back into an executive job a few months ago. About the time I was laid off, in fact. With her new job they were able to move into their dream home, they got a steal on it.
"What agency are you with, now Trilian?" she asked.
Of course I felt like a pile of crap, for myself, but even worse, I felt like a total embarrassment to my mother. Martha was in no way condescending or bitchy or mean. To the contrary, she was exceptionally nice and upbeat. ("Oh, you were always so creative and talented, I'm sure you'll find a great job soon.")
But the most interesting upbeat things I can say about myself is that I went to a Pixies concert and I’m back to wearing underwear every day. Kind of pales in comparison to a happy marriage, two great kids, a new home and a successful re-entry into a career after a five year hiatus.
Worse, she recognized my mother, not me, and when my mother said, "Oh, Trillian's home, too," and pointed at me a few feet away Martha was clearly shocked at what she saw. She tried her best to politely stumble out of the fact that she clearly didn't recognize me but the damage to my self esteem was already done.
Making that matter worse was that I actually thought I was looking "okay" that day. I was having a decent hair day and didn't have the sleepless night dark circles and wrinkles as badly as some recent days. I was dressed, complete with clean clothes and underwear. I’d had several days of regular meals containing actual nutritional value. I mean, for me, lately, I was in top form.
And I had on a Pixies shirt, feeling all cool.
But obviously even on a rare "good" day I look old and tired and unrecognizable from the person I used to be.
And like a pathetic old spinster desperately trying to look cool and, worse, still going to concerts instead of working at her new executive job and spending time with her husband and children.
Someone needs a Snuggie®.
And it ain't Martha.
One of her perfect progeny pointed to the be-haloed monkey on my Pixies concert shirt. “What’s that on your shirt? Is it a monkey angel?”
“Yep. That’s exactly what it is.”
Death of embarrassment in the cereal aisle in 3-2-1.
Martha chimed in, “Oh, the Pixies, my gawd, remember when they were the bomb? That’s so cool, did you ever think it would be vintage?!! Geeze, Trill, we’re not old, are we?! (ha ha ha) I didn’t save any of my stuff from back then. You were smart, it’s all cool now.”
I tried to pass the Doolittle shirt off as really old. Even though it’s less than a week old. There’s no date on it, just a monkey gone to Heaven. And Martha gave me cred points for it.
Except me and my taste in music and apparel. To Martha’s eyes I have not evolved. I’m the female equivalent of a computer porn perv who lives in his mother’s basement.
Or the personification of our hometown. I had a little growth spurt, a boom, there for a few years, but if you missed that, didn't happen to catch me during that phase, and just saw me now, again after many years, you'd never know I ever changed.
I haven't felt so embarrassed and pathetic in years. My sad little world came crashing down around me. Not that I bother to care about what I look like anymore (I’m ugly and that’s that, I accept it now, and interestingly, I feel a lot better about myself now that I accept that I am an ugly shrew), but when combined with a lack of job, lack of man, lack of children, soon to be lack of home, well...
The whole change, evolving thing really, really, really slapped me in the face.
I was the one who fled looking for change and I’m the one who’s landed right back where she started without changing anything.
Just what I needed long about now.
A reminder that I, too, will be a form of fossil fuel.
Sure, of course I'm envious of Martha. Sheesh, I mean, duh, of course. I'm sure things are not as perfect and happy in Martha's world as they seem to me, but, they've gotta be better than things in my world. Martha has a job. Martha has a new home. Martha has a husband who apparently loves her enough to make two adorable well-mannered children with her. From where I'm sitting, jobless, single and on the verge of foreclosure, Martha's world looks like a pretty nice place.
I know envy and jealousy are as futile and stupid as hatred and anger. I know this. Wastes of time and energy and brain matter. But. Um. A little help here? How does one not feel envious of the Martha's of the world? Accept. Forgive. Heal. Peace. Love. Duh.?
Accept, yeah, I can accept her, as is.
But. Um, forgive her for what??? Forgive her for doing everything right? Forgive her for having a happy, successful life? Hmmmm. Gotta think on that one for a while.
Sure, ultimately Martha and I will end up dead and then we'll be equal. Equally dead.
There’s some comfort in that. Not that I have a deathwish for Martha. I don't. I don't begrudge her her success and happiness. (In spite of how this may read.) Yay Martha. Yay happiness and success for Martha. She's nice. And funny. And smart. And pretty. She "deserves" happiness and success. It's the way it's supposed to be. Nice, smart, funny, pretty people achieve success and happiness. That's just the way the Universe works. There's a lot of comfort in the fact that that rarely, if ever, changes.
Martha’s going to be fossil fuel, too. Her successful, all-falls-into-place, happy life isn’t going to change that fact.
Except. She’s done her part for evolution. She changed. She evolved. She bred. The species, her successfully careered, happily married, perfect blonde honey bronzed species, will continue.
Survival of the fittest.
Change and death.
Snuggies® of compassion for everyone, even me.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
A kinder, gentler, humaner, healthier holiday.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Soooooo, my metaphoric blanket of forgiveness plan is being given the ultimate test.
I’ve spent a good majority of my life in transit. Literally and metaphorically. Crack of dawn departures. Late check-ins. Delays. Last minute changes. Lost luggage. Forgotten toothbrushes. Detours. Closed roads. Confusing signs. Dead ends. Bad food. Unsavory public bathrooms. Overpriced necessities of life. Surly employees. Jetlag. Smelly taxis. Challenges in communicating with people who speak differently. Long nights in strange places in lonely beds. Strange local customs. Foreign currency. Places that don’t live up to the hype. Getting lost. Finding yourself suddenly in a bad part of town. Waking up unsure of where you are. One generic room after another. One generic rental car after another. One generic broken passenger seat after another. Longing for home. Desperately trying to remember why you’re on this trip. Annoying fellow passengers.
And the literal transits are worse.
The literal transits include all that as well as screaming children. And other travelers who only travel once a year and are either frustrated, overly-anxious or hopped up high on holiday anticipation.
Just a rhetorical question to the Universe: Why does the guy who takes off his shoes and incessantly rubs his sweatsocked feet together for the entire duration of the trip always sit next to me? Am I really expected to give these guys sympathy and forgiveness, much less wrap them in Snuggies® of compassion? Really? Really?
You know I’m not actually Jesus or Ghandi, right?
Okay. Fine. Fine. I’ll do my best.
Accept. Forgive. Heal. Peace. Love. Duh.
But I mean really, why, why the incessant rubbing of the feet? Why? Why must That Guy always sit next to me?
Okay. Fine. Fine. Sympathy. Forgiveness. Glowy orange metaphoric blanket, a full body Snuggie® of for the man with the sweatsocks. But only because I’m not only trying really hard to use positive gray matter and spread it into the Universe. Good thing I’m still sprinkled with Pixies guitar dust.
I’m still ridin’ so high on that stuff that you might want to be careful – you might get a contact high off me just by reading my blog. We know I’m biased but really, they were swutting incredible. I don’t think Kim Deal has ever sounded better. My girl crush on her is kicking in again. I’ve been fantasizing about us being friends, hanging out, ordering pizza and drinking a couple bottles of wine, listening to music, watching movies, talking about boys, having some really good laughs at our inside jokes, trading books and clothes, going to galleries and laughing at the pretentiously affected people pretending they get it, her trying to teach me to play bass and laughing good naturedly at my ineptitude and patiently coaxing me to try again… yeah. I know. I gotta get a life other my fantasy life. And Frank and Joey did things with guitars that is simply not of this world. They took me places. Good places. Disturbing yet satisfying places. Scary places, places over the brink but leaving me with a feeling of contentment the likes of which I haven’t experienced in, well…a very long time. This monkey went to Heaven and thinks perhaps still has a one foot there. Music. Ahhhh. It’s going to be okay. It’s all going to be okay. I’m tellin’ you, that Pixies dust is good stuff. My drug of choice.
Okay. Back to reality. Sadly.
I have a lot of travel planned for the next six weeks of the holiday season. It’s going to be a loooooong six weeks. Trains, planes and automobiles.*
Kicking it off with the Mother of All Holiday Travel Hell: Thanksgiving week.
There’s a reason why Trains, Planes and Automobiles takes place over Thanksgiving week. More people travel through O’Hare during Thanksgiving than any other time of the year. More people ride Amtrak during Thanksgiving than any other time of year. More people hit the highway on Thanksgiving weekend than any other time of year. In America, we all just pack up, pick up and switch places for four or five days at the end of November. To think this all started when the Pilgrims (read: Religious weirdoes) invited their new neighbors over for a party. The native Americans were probably like, “Oh crap, they invited us. We can’t not go. We really wanted to just take a day off and relax and now we have to pack up and travel across the fields. And you just know they’re going to serve that canned weird cranberry jelly loaf stuff. Sigh. Okay. Fine. Fine. But we’re taking booze and we’re drinking it.” We have many debts of gratitude owed to Native Americans, but none deeper than for booze at Thanksgiving dinners. Sure, booze can make Thanksgiving gatherings, um, “difficult,” you know, like in the case of Aunt Miriam who’s going through a nasty divorce and nasty Uncle Bob, the mean drunk. But. I wonder how many domestic homicides have been avoided thanks to people passing out drunk instead of lacing the sweet potatoes with arsenic? I don’t think it’s all the family togetherness that causes all the stress, anxiety and intolerance. I think it’s because by the time you get to the Thanksgiving dinner table almost everyone in attendance has had to endure Holiday Travel Hell. Even the most patient, tolerant, level-headed people are pushed to the brink of losing it during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.
And yes, yes. I know. That’s all the more reason why I should be ready with extra Snugges® of compassion during my travels this week.
But I’m not sure I have enough to go around. (See above, not actually Jesus or Ghandi.)
And so it was that I headed off to Union Station. Sprinkled in Pixies guitar dust, determined to Accept. Forgive. Heal. Peace. Love. Duh. and dole out sympathy and forgiveness. I packed extra metaphoric Snuggies® of compassion, took a deep breath, smiled and hailed a cab.
I tipped the driver more than I usually do. This is my long-standing custom during holidays. My parents taught me this. “It’s the holidays, Trillian. These people work hard dealing with holiday traffic so we don’t have to…they’re making our lives easier during this hectic time. The least we can do is give them a little extra tip.” They’re right about that. Do you want to navigate Michigan Avenue or Lower Wacker the day before Thanksgiving? Yeah. Me either. A couple extra bucks is the least I can do for the guy who got me to Union Station in record time. I gave him a Snuggie®, too, even though he seemed pretty good natured, I figured the next few days would be rough on him and that compassion Snuggie® would come in handy at some point.
Okay! So far so good! On leg of holiday travel down, one Snuggie® given, we’re off to a good start!
Unfortunately one of the worst legs of my holiday transit was upon me. Navigating Union Station for a departure during the early morning arrival commute is difficult under normal circumstances. I always feel like a giant multi-tentacled squid swimming upstream in a river packed with lemmings moving with a hard current. They’re trying to get to work on time and I’m trying to get to the train platform on time and we’re in each other’s way. They’re angry and stressed because they hate their jobs and resent the fact that I am obviously not going to work, obviously (thanks to my suitcase) heading away from the drudgery of work and bosses and deadlines. What they don’t know is, now that I’m unemployed, it’s me who has the resentment. I’d give anything to be one of them, a lemming going to work with all the other lemmings. Even to a job I hate with a crappy boss and difficult deadlines. Anything. I’d give anything to be one of them.
But instead I serve no useful purpose in society. So I’m lamely doing the only thing I can think of to do…stay positive, give them some positive gray matter and be an oasis of acceptance and forgiveness and healing and peace and love (duh) in their Universe. Deep breath. Smile. iPod in place with La, la love you softly playing in my ears. Braced for the coming current of lemmings I headed into the station. Boy oh boy was it bad. Lots of lemmings, I must have hit it right as several suburban trains arrived. The holiday stress level was palpable. People juggling relatives, travel, and grocery shopping lists around work and coworkers and bosses and deadlines. And me.
I felt in the way. I felt apologetic. And compassionate. I must have handed out 30 Snuggies® in a 10 minute period. “La la love you, don’t mean maybe…” echoing in my ears. I know, right?!
There was already a line-up at the platform. Uh-oh. This is going to be a loooong train ride. Lots of bleary-eyed parents with eagerly excited young children imagining they’re on their way to Hogwarts.
Ya know, I love the Harry Potter books. Good ripping yarns. But. One bone of contention I have with Ms. Rowling is the ruddy train platform scenes. For those of us who travel by rail, especially in traditional stations like those featured in the movies, those scenes are a constant source of irritation thanks to children pretending to be on their way to Hogwarts and running around the platforms and occasionally even crashing a luggage trolley into a support beam. I mean, you know, I’m all for a little creative play but this is an actual train station with actual passengers and actual giant locomotives on tracks. I have witnessed a couple of near catastrophes at Union Station thanks Harry Potter. I watched helplessly from the window of my train, I couldn’t look, I closed my eyes while the evening news story flashed before my eyes, “A family visit to the city turned deadly when an 8-year-old boy fell onto a track at Union Station into the path of an oncoming train. He was reenacting a scene from Harry Potter when he lost his footing and tumbled in front of the 12:45 from Waukegan.” Fortunately an Amtrak agent swooped him up and away from the edge of the platform before a horrendous fate befell the kid. Oblivious parents had no clue their son was nearly flattened by a Metra train. (These irresponsible people get to have children and I don’t? How is that in any way fair?)
So yeah. I kind of shudder when I see a lot of children lined up on the platform at Union Station.
I also shudder because usually the girl children are armed with several red bags. American Girl Place red bags. The equivalent of a Tiffany blue bag for the under-12 set. I’m going to expend some precious negative brain cells on American Girl Place. I hate that swutting temple of conspicuous consumerism masquerading as “educational” and “empowering” for girls. Bull shit. It’s about selling ridiculously overpriced merchandise marketed more to parents trying to assuage some deep sense of longing within themselves rather than to little girls who want to read books and play with dolls. Very, very rarely do I see a girl actually in possession of, much less reading, one of the books. It’s all about the dolls and copious amount of high-priced accessories. An elitist microcosm of society. Urrrrrrgh. I mean. You know. If they just called it what it is and didn’t try to pretend it’s in any way educational or empowering I’d be okay with it. Well. More okay than I am. If the dolls and accessories were less expensive I’d be a lot more okay with it.
The platform was lined with children and most of the girl children were armed with loads of red bags. Crap. This is gonna be a looooong train trip. Snuggies®. Snuggies®. Accept. Forgive. Accept. Forgive. Accept. Forgive.
I was lucky. I got a seat to myself. I set up my little cocoon of solitude. All the “Do not disturb” signals in place. iPod. Laptop. Glasses. Hair pulled back and held up with a pen. Sheafs of paper and forms that look like work.
Sure enough, the sweatsock guy took his place across the aisle from me. Natch. Accept. Forgive. Accept. Forgive. Accept. Forgive. Accept. Forgive. I mean, you know, at least there’s something reliable, unwavering, right? I know to expect this. The Universe never, ever let’s me down. I suppose there’s some comfort to be found in it. There’s so little stability in my life, the sweatsocky guy is at least something I can expect, something reliable. Snuggie® of forgiveness and sympathy.
Before the train even departed I was sorting out some forms for my mother, lost deep in health insurance paperwork and Surfer Rosa. Even through Part B explanations and Vamos I was distracted by not one but two American Girl dolls staring at me from above the seatback in front of me.
Okay. It was kind of funny. I mean, I used to do that with my Barbies when I was a kid on long flights with my parents. Who among us hasn’t? And it’s not the little girl’s fault that her parents are elitist victims of marketing with issues tied to their longing for acceptance and love and toys when they were children. Accept. Forgive. Accept. Forgive. Snuggie®. Snuggie®. Sure enough, as the dolls bobbed up and down I started laughing at the pantomime playing out in front of me. Next thing I knew two little be-bowed pigtails on a real girl’s head started poking up above the seat back. Little by little the be-bowed pigtails gave way to a forehead of newly trimmed bangs. And then finally two big blue eyes curiously peeking over at me. I smiled at her. She ducked back down out of sight. An American Girl doll reappeared. Then another. I laughed. Out loud. The big blue eyes popped up in front of me. And then a hopeful and slightly timid smile of baby teeth.
I smiled back at her. She batted her lashes coyly. “I have new dolls.”
“So I see. What are their names?”
“I don’t know, yet. This one’s Jessica, I think. But I don’t know about this one,” she said apologetically.
“It’ll come to you eventually,” I said.
“You have green eyes,” she announced in that little kid of just blurting out the first obvious thing they notice about a person when they just meet them.
“Yes I do. And you have blue eyes. And pink bows in your pigtails.”
“Uh-huh. We’re going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house tomorrow.”
“That sounds like fun. You can show your Grandma your new dolls.”
“Uh-huh. We have to take squash and pumpkin bread. I don’t like pumpkin bread.”
“Yeah, me either. It’s kinda gross.” “Uh-huh. I can spell elephant. E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T.”
“Very good. Can you spell giraffe?”
“I can. G-I-R-A-F-F-E.”
“Wow,” disappears from view. “Mommy! She can spell giraffe!”
And just like that I had a new BFF. Not exactly Kim Deal, but hey, any port in a Thanksgiving holiday train trip storm. She let me hold one of her precious new dolls. (The as yet unnamed one) We played school and shopping and career. Her doll was a a) a good speller, b) liked to buy sparkly clothes and C) lawyer (like the little girl’s aunt) and mine was a a) struggling in math class, b) liked to buy sneakers and vintage records, and c) an artist and musician.
After an hour of playing dolls over the seat back it was time for a break. The café car was open and I was allowing myself Diet Pepsi on this trip.
Okay. So. I took off my glasses, tried to compensate for my lack of make-up with a liberal coat of crimson lipstick topped with a lacquer of gloss, swept on coat of jet black mascara, released my hair from it’s pen-held knot, grabbed my purse bag and stood up.
My new BFF’s mouth dropped to the floor in wide-eyed awe and shock.
“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy look, she’s a Super Hero!!!! Like on TV!!! She took off her glasses and grew her hair and got tall and look, Mommy, look, she’s a super hero!!!!”
You know. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Most of them not very flattering or not suitable for children. But. Super-hero? Yeah. That’s a new one.
Maybe I should mention that I have these boots, riding style boots, that seem to evoke “Super Hero” feelings in people. I’m not sure why. They’re just a really old pair of brown riding boots, kind of beat up and worn into that perfect relaxed condition that a pair of riding boots should have. They happen to have braid trim down the side and a buckle at the top. I think it’s the braid trim and buckle that take them from riding boots to Super Hero for some people. I don’t see it, but over the years this comment has been made. “Those are like League of Justice boots or something,” “If those were red or blue they’d be Wonder Woman boots.” I was wearing those boots. And black tights. And a flippy little circle skirt. And a short sleeaved sweater jacket hoodie thing. Over a shirt my niece gave me, dark grey with a large abstract fuchsia heart craftily stitched all over the boob area.
Oh. And. My bag is old. It used to be kind of silvery but most of the silver has flaked off and it’s kind of black with a hint of silver patina. Oh. And. A large star embossed on one side. I dunno. Don’t ask. I got it on sale in Paris years ago. I thought it was kind of ironically grunge chic. Or something. I dunno. But it turned out to be a really handy size and shape and has great compartments, perfect for traveling. And now that I’m an unemployed slacker traveling just for me, not for work, I’m using it again. It seems somehow dingily apt. It used to be somewhat credible, or at least viable, but now it’s old and beat up and long-since out of style but still functional and practical. Kinda like me.
At the last minute before I left for this trip I remembered my mother was hinting that I should start wearing some of the jewelry I’ve inherited. I don’t like to wear jewelry when I travel. But. Nor do I like to pack it in my suitcase. And nor do I like to leave it at home while I’m gone for extended periods of time. Not that I have so much expensive jewelry that it warrants that kind of worry. But. You know. It’s all I’ve got and it’s the sentimental value that gets to me. So I thought, “I’ll show up at the train station with the biggest honkin’ ring in my great-grandmother’s jewelry box.” An emerald-cut deep-violet amethyst the size of a small island. Seriously. An island. An Orkney island to be exact. It was allegedly harvested in the Orkneys many generations ago and then carved and polished for my great-gran. I’m the only girl in my generation with fingers long enough to support the rectangular amethyst island set in gold. And even I struggle to support the darned thing. It should have gone to my aunt’s son’s wife, but in a vengeful fit of spite my aunt gave it to me literally on her deathbed. (Ahhhh, family. What was I saying about booze and homicides during the holidays?) My cousin’s wife doesn’t like it and didn’t want the ring, anyway, so no bad feelings there. And I do like the ring. It does make me feel, well, I dunno, kinda, I dunno, empowered? No, that’s not it. I dunno. I just like it. I suppose it makes me feel connected to my family, to Scotland, to the long-dead women who wore it. But. It’s more than a bit showy. It’s literally a rock, I mean, literally. It’s not just large in surface area, it’s deep, thick. It rises above my finger almost ¾ of an inch. The thing tips the scale at 9 ounces. I kid you not.
I didn’t think about my ensemble. I just put on comfortable clothes for the trip, a couple things to appease my mother and show appreciation (the ring) and gratitude for my niece (the shirt), loaded up my practical but dingy bag and off I went. Since I was laid off all regard for style and appearance have gone straight out the window. Let’s be honest, just wearing underwear is a big deal clothes-wise for me. Anything else is just bonus material.
Given my 5’11” height and verging on DD boobs and giant purple ring I suppose I can see how a four-year-old girl hopped up high on American Girl Place enthusiasm might take me in and think, “She’s not like Mommy. She’s not like other women I’ve seen in real life. And she was nice to me. She plays with dolls. She was wearing nerdy glasses and now she’s not. She had her hair pulled back and now it’s all wild and messy and curly. She has bright red glossy lips and green eyes. She has a star on a silver bag. She’s almost 6’ tall. She has a bright pink heart stitched across her chest. And a giant purple ring. She’s wearing a short flippy skirt. And boots. Therefore she must be a cartoon super hero.”
I guess I can see how the transformation of my above the neck appearance and first sight of the rest of me, at full height, could be a bit, um, “impressive” to a four-year-old.
Awe-inspiring? Not so much. But I remember how the mysteries of make-up and hair were so intriguing to me when I was a kid. I used to watch my sister go from “just my sister” to a ready for the runway model. I’d see photos of her modeling gigs and I didn’t recognize her. I’d study the photos for some trace of my sister, some trace of a connection to me. My mother said under the makeup she was still my sister. I never believed my mother. I thought it went a lot deeper than makeup. I thought my sister knew some magic trick that turned her into someone else. So yeah. I kinda get that a four-year-old is easily awed by what lipstick, mascara and different hair can do to a woman. But super hero? Like on TV? Yeah. That’s a stretch.
Still, I caught myself affecting more of a puffed up strut than usual down the train car aisles. I know. I know. She’s four. It’s easy to impress a four-year-old. Let’s not get carried away, here.
The café car attendant was not the Yummy guy from a few weeks ago. I was kind of disappointed. And kind of relieved.
When I got back to my seat my new BFF watched me as I walked by her seat. I could feel her studying me. Her mother asked me if I could retrieve a bag from the overhead shelf for her. I get that a lot on the train. The overhead shelves are kind of high and deep and often bags slide far out of reach for more diminutive passengers. My new BFF never took her eyes off me while I fished around the shelf above their seats. When I got their bag and handed it to her mother the little girl shyly tugged at my skirt. She motioned for me to come in closer. I bent over farther toward her.
She put her hand up to my ear and whispered, “What’s your super hero name? I promise I won’t tell anyone. I keep secrets real good.”
I know. I know. I know. Okay? I know.
Laugh? Cry? Affect a Super Man valiant stance?
I mean, I don’t go around thinking about my super hero name. Do you?
“Well,” I stalled, “I can’t tell you my super hero name. We have pretty strict rules about that. But my undercover name is Missy Amore.” I pointed to my heart shirt and gave her what I hoped was an intriguingly knowing look. (I can’t wink. Drats. I rarely regret that I can’t wink without looking like I have something big and painful in my eye, but this is one time it would have come in handy.)
The girl’s mother cracked up. The girl didn’t understand why. She looked upset that her mother was inserting herself in her friendship with a super hero.
“Shhhhh, Mom, you’ll get Missy in trouble,” then, whispering to me, “Missy, you better put your glasses back on, someone might see you.”
I fell into my seat and dutifully donned my glasses. And sure enough, the dolls soon reappeared. I was kind of weary of the games, but, then again, there are worse ways to spend a train trip across Michiana.
The little girl kept calling me Missy. She occasionally cast me a furtive sideways glance that turned into a piercing stare. She was trying to assess the super heroine riding on the train with her. Every now and then she’d ask a timid question.
“Does your ring give you magic power? What can you do? Can you fly or run really fast?” and so on.
It got kind of old after a while. I can see why super heroes sometimes have breakdowns and turn mean.
Finally I said, “Sadly, no, I can’t fly or run very fast. All I can do is be nice.”
“oh,” she said obviously disappointed.
She had to think about that a long time. She was either bored with me or needed to contemplate "nice" as a superpower.
I was thinking about that, too. It is a kind of superpower. It shouldn't be, it should just be how we are. But. We all know that's not always the case. I'm certainly not claiming that I'm nice to superpower level. Far from it.
Since I've accepted and made peace with my "too nice"ness I gotta admit, I feel better, more me, more myself. And that's a good thing. It's not getting me a job or a man or even helping ease the anxiety I have about being unemployed and on the verge of foreclosure. But. I feel more me, more "hey, maybe I am too nice. So what? So swutting what? It's how I am. I have green eyes and I'm tall, too. It's just how I am." And trying to squelch it, to go against my nature, wasn't helping me in any way whatsoever.
Embracing it doesn't seem to be doing me any harm. And, as a bonus, a lot of people are walking around with a dose of forgiveness and sympathy heaped on them by a total stranger.
Who was that masked woman?
Why, it was Compassion Girl! Spreading acceptance, forgiveness, healing, peace and love (duh) throughout the Universe, one Snuggie® of compassion at a time!
So I ask again, is being "too nice" really a problem? Really a bad thing? No one's taking advantage of me. I feel more content with myself. In spite of ridiculously insurmountable problems I'm generally maintaining a positive attitude.
And I have a new undercover identity. "She walks among us, disguised as quiet, studious and quirky unemployed Missy Amore. But underneath that persona lurks the soul of Compassion Girl(!). Given the super power of 'nice,' Compassion Girl silently travels the planet bestowing metaphoric blankets of forgiveness, "Snuggies® of Compassion," to angry, negative and annoying people." Her battle cry: "Accept. Forgive. Heal. Peace. Love. Duh." Her mission: To cloak the world in a metaphoric Snuggie® of compassion. Her theme music: La la love you.
My only question with this is: How do super heroes make money? Most of them have day jobs or are born into very wealthy families. Yeah. Um. Problematic.
My only concern with this is: How many sweatsocked travelers sitting next to me do I have to deal with before I'm allowed to slag them off for being rude?
*Speaking of trains, planes and automobiles…I carry a spare copy of that DVD with me everywhere I travel between Thanksgiving and December, it’s my travel companion and source of solace during “difficult” holiday travel. If you haven’t employed this holiday travel coping technique I highly suggest it. It salves even the most painful travel experiences.
Friday, November 20, 2009 All I'm sayin', pretty baby, is, for a few glorious hours this monkey went to Heaven. Big, big love.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Irony, thy name is Trillian.
Here I am having zero success finding a new job and teetering on the precipice of foreclosure, discarding, donating or boxing up my stuff for storage so that if/when I do foreclose I’ll be ready to leave. Yes. I’m prepping for homelessness.
So why, then, did I arrive from my parents’ with a bunch of stuff?
I don’t have an answer for that. Mainly to assuage my mother, I suppose.
And yes, I do have a storage unit that costs very little. Even if/when I’m homeless I think I can afford the monthly storage fee. I’m trying to figure out a way to hide from the security cameras and live there if necessary. Yes. My Plan B for foreclosure is spending nights in a storage facility. I suspect it’s happening a lot, these days.
So as my mother and I sorted and purged our family’s stuff from her house, the overused default for everything “we” “couldn’t part with yet” was, “It’s okay Mum, I can put it in my storage unit.”
And so it was that it came to pass that I returned to Chicago with tubs and boxes of stuff.
In fairness to my mother and the rest of my family, much of the stuff is my stuff. Stuff that’s been hanging around far too long at my parents’. Because it was easier, more convenient for me to leave it there than deal with it. Now it’s time to deal with it.
I turned a corner…I’m actually kind of glad some of my stuff got wrecked. It eliminated decisions or hesitation to get rid of it. Yes, by fate eliminating the stuff of my life, I eliminated more stuff in my life. There’s wisdom there, Zen or something, ridding oneself of possessions and all that. Except we’re not talking about valuable stuff, monetary value weighing me down. We’re talking about the cartoons and poems I created and got published in my school newspapers. We’re talking about a curl of snipped baby hair tied in a pink ribbon.
We’re talking about mix tapes.
The one thing us GenXers have as ours and ours’ alone. Those two words, mix tape, evoke such strong emotions for such a distinct segment of the population. Oh sure, some Boomers “get it” and some Ys and Millennials are aware, but GenXers, well…mix tapes. They’re deeply rooted and entrenched in our psyches. Their significance goes beyond all reasonable articulation. Everyone, everyone of a certain age remembers making their first mix tape. And most of us of a certain age remember receiving their first mix tape.
For a generation of kids coming of age exactly as drugs and sex turned deadly, the mix tape became a way of expressing ourselves. Okay, sure, we were using other peoples’ words and music to express ourselves and yes, that’s kind of lame, but that’s us, isn’t it? That’s how we’re cast, isn’t it? Lame. What say you cut us a little slack? The very second we entered our rebellious experimental coming of age years was the very second the “fun” things about coming of age turned sinister. Pills and cocaine and AIDS were killing people right and left. Just as we were poised to experiment with drugs and lose our virginity drugs and sex got deadly. Story of our lives. GenXers truly cannot catch a break.
We just said no and we were scared celibate. Without drugs and sex we had few of the normal sources of releasing the tension of young adulthood. We reverted to what our grandparents did: We found solace and hope in booze and music. And right there to usher us through it was Sony with their Walkmen.
And thus the birth of the mix tape.
Here’s the equation: 1 disaffected, confused, frustrated teenager with raging hormones + 1 turntable or CD player + 1 “record” button + every penny earned spent on records or CDs + 1-three pack of blank recording tapes = weekends of deeply satisfying creative solace.
Who among us didn’t create a mix tape for the object of our affection? Whether or not we ever gave said tape to the object of our affection is another disaffected, confused, frustrated thing altogether. The point is, we made the mix tapes for the objects of our affections. Sometimes we even made mix tapes for the objects of our disaffection.
I once made a mix tape full of the most venomous hate filled songs I could find for a certain mean girl who made my life living Hell for far too many years. I fantasized about wrapping it in pretty paper with a romantic card with a forged signature of the boy she liked and sneaking it into her locker. She’d think it was a romantic mix tape from a cute popular boy, run home, play it, and boy oh boy would she be surprised!
Yes. Yes. I was a deeply troubled and disturbed young girl. I know this. We know this. But glass houses, people, glass houses.
And. In fairness to me, Beth and her sycophantic lackey cousin Renée were horrible, just horrible to me for no reason. You can hardly blame me for wanting to exact some revenge. Also in fairness to me, I made the tape but never followed through with the rest of my vengeful plan. Instead I just listened to the tape when Beth and her sycophantic lackey cousin Renée said or did something horrible to me.
Which was just about every day.
And thus the birth of escapism via music. Had I known I was cultivating a coping technique that would be employed throughout my adult life I’m not sure how I would have reacted back then. I’d like to think I would have been either proud of myself or scared to think I would need a coping technique. But I think I would have probably reacted with the disaffected apathy born of disillusionment and discontentment that plagued my adolescence. I keep thinking one of these days things will change and I can listen to music solely for the enjoyment of it rather than escaping and losing myself in it. (Casts a furtive glance around the room, looks expectantly at the front door, realizes change probably isn’t going to come knocking today, turns up the stereo.)
Among my teenaged stuff I found a box of tapes. I mean, whole mess o’ tapes. All of them lovingly, thoughtfully crafted. Agonizingly assiduous in the song choices and order, these tapes were labors of love but so much more, too. They were magnetic oxide envoys of GenX teenage angst and hope and fear. They matter. They meant something.
For me, they meant that I was an unpopular weird dork with few friends and nothing better to do than spend her allowance and odd job money on records and CDs and then spend all my free time compiling copious volumes of collected works. Listening to even one of those tapes would tell an obvious story of a girl trapped in a John Hughes movie-life. Minus the boyfriend and happy ending. And the kooky-but-fun friends. Read: 16 Candles without Michael Schoeffling or Michael Anthony Hall. Not very cute or funny or sweet or charming. Just deeply disturbing. More David Lynch than John Hughes.
(Which is exactly how I described my life back then, as witnessed in the poem that didn’t get published in the school paper, one I found in a notebook in the box with the mix-tapes, natch:
16 candles and a license to drive parents sleepless with worry and fear. Finally alone at the wheel, out after dark, 16 candles but not so pretty in pink, More David Lynch than John Hughes, she pushes on and on, over the brink. Forget about me because I already don’t remember you, was I ever even here?
Or this lovely little elegy, also in the mix-tape notebook (good emo band name, by the way, appearing live with Dashboard Confessional, Mix-Tape Notebook)
Nexistentialism. You can’t love or hate or remember or forget what you don’t know exists. Existential requiem of life stuck between post-punk and pre-whatever’s next. Tomorrow, next week, a year from now will be different or better or worse.
Or exactly the same.
Okay. Sooooooo. Now we know why I had such difficulty making friends as a teenager. Not exactly little miss pep squad, was I?
The sad thing about this is that looking back on it, even now, I wouldn’t change much if I was given a do-over. I stand proud in my disaffection and self-indulgent angst. Especially since the alternative was in fact pep-squad. I was a socially awkward weird dorky misfit stuck in an existential requiem between post-punk and pre-whatever’s next. I knew it then, I know it now.
Okay. So. There I was with a box full of mix tapes, a couple notebooks of disturbingly bad poetry and a five hour road trip ahead of me.
What to do, what to do.
Horrible, horrible, Satanic daughter moment in 3-2-1: “What’s in that box, Trill?” Mum asked. “A bunch of cassette tapes from high school and college.” “Oh! Now that is exciting! Are they okay? No water or mouse damage?” (Thanks Mum, just twist that knife a little why dontcha?) “They appear to be okay. But…” wistfully trailing the sentence out longer than necessary. “Oh no. What is it, darling?” (“Please God, show mercy on my youngest born, spare her precious tapes from damage. She has so little of her childhood left…” strongly implied.) “It’s just, well, I don’t have a cassette player anymore. It’s been years since I had one, I don’t even know if they still make them.” (Knowing full well Target sells portable cassette players.) “Oh! I’m sure we can find one! What about the hi-fi in Dad’s office? Doesn’t it have a cassette player? You can take it, I never use it and I’m sure no one else wants it.” (Fighting the urge to lash out at my mother for calling the stereo a hi-fi. My mother insists on calling anything that plays music and is not a portable music player a hi-fi. It drives me swutting batshit. It’s driven me swutting batshit since I was a kid. We did have an actual hi-fi, but one thing my dad was always willing to part with cash on was decent audio equipment. We had a stereo system, an actual system long before anyone else I knew. And it bugged the crap out of me when my mother referred to it as a hi-fi. It was a stereo system, a complex modern audio system, not some swilly outmoded hi-fi,) “Ya know, I think you’re right, I think he does still have a cassette deck in there but I don’t know if it works. Maybe I’ll try it.” (Knowing full well there is a cassette deck that hasn’t worked for years.)
30 minutes later… “Yeah, no, the cassette doesn’t work. The turntable’s good, though.” “Oh! You should take it!” “Maybe…maybe I’ll see if anyone else wants it and if not maybe I’ll take it.” (Knowing full well my brother and I have been avoiding the topic of my dad’s turntable because we both know we both want it and resentment is bound to occur no matter who ends up with it. It’s a beaut, a classic Yamaha.) “But what about all your cassette tapes? You can’t play them on your hi-fi, can you?” (Cringing, again, at the term hi-fi, and suspecting my mother is saying it to intentionally work my nerves.) “Oh, I dunno. Maybe I can find an old Walkman on eBay or something,” wistfully trailing the ‘on eBay or something…’ “Didn’t you want to go to Target?” “Yes! Yes I did, I need a few things there.” “Why don’t we take a break and go now?”
Two hours later I was listening to old mix tapes on a new cassette player.
I know. I know. I’m a horrible, Satanic manipulative daughter. I know. But you weren’t there. You didn’t see how much of my stuff was ruined via water or mouse damage. No, it wasn’t my mother’s fault. And if I had a job and an income I would just buy a cassette player. But right now a cassette player is a luxurious frivolity.
And let’s be real for a minute, here. The thing cost $29.99. I bought her a new Brita pitcher that set me back $24.95 and I took her to Panera so, you know, really, I think she’s coming out ahead in this whole deal.
And who bought a cassette player isn’t really the point, anyway.
The point is I have scads of mix-tapes to listen to and holy memory lane. Some are actually, you know, kinda good. I’m sorta proud of a few of them.
I was rocking through them, randomly pulling them out of the box, fast forwarding through some of the lamer songs when I got a serious jolt of nostalgia and pang of longing.
I finished a tape and fished in the box for another. I took one look at the tape and I knew. I knew what it was. And I was not prepared to be confronted with it.
There, in my hand, was The First Mix-tape a Boy Made Me.
There was a boy.
A boy who made me a mix-tape.
Bet you didn’t see that coming. Especially given the Nexistentialism poem.
For every disaffected, disillusioned, confused, socially awkward, bad self-indulgent angst-ridden poetry writing, dorky weird girl in school there is a confused, socially awkward repressed homosexual boy. It’s an inverse axiom rule of physics and how the Universe works. It just is.
It was the summer of my 15th year. We’ll call him Chad. He was 17. He had a car and a better stereo than mine but really crappy records, most of them dancey disco records or original cast recordings from Broadway shows. And no, this didn’t signal any alarms or concerns for me because I was 15 and didn’t really “get it.” I don’t think he did, either.
I introduced him to college radio and my record collection.
In his car we made trips to Ann Arbor, the home of said college radio station so that we could spend hours pawing through bins of import records at my favorite place in the world, an indie record shop where nothing but college kids and musicians hung out. Once we went to Canada on a mission to procure a coveted import EP.
We planned our purchases so that we didn’t duplicate the records or CDs. Then we’d trade and record them. Sure, it’s “illegal” but it was more music bang for our limited high school bucks. And we reasoned that since we did purchase the records/CDs it wasn’t totally like stealing…and we weren’t recording them and selling them on the high school black market…
It was a fun summer. Chad, his car, music, Ann Arbor…the anticipation of getting my braces off in a few months…life wasn’t “good” but it wasn’t “bad,” either.
That fall we went back to school and I kind of sort of thought I had a boyfriend, what with all the trips to Ann Arbor (and Canada!) and sharing of LPs and everything. And we had first hour calculus together. I mean, in high school social terms that's huge. A first hour class together pretty much seals the deal because that’s where you get your locker assignment, so you see your first hour classmates all day long, and everyone who’s dating wants to have first hour with their boy/girlfriend. Duh.
Chad was very, very into the performing arts. He was president of Drama Club and a full fledged Thespian Society member. He was also a lead tenor in the school choir and held a coveted spot in the touring a cappella group. He was also a regular lead in the school plays. (Natch.) And no, no, I didn’t think anything was “funny” about all that music and acting, Chad was very outgoing and dramatic and he had a lot of charisma. And a good singing voice. Oh be quiet. I was 15. And for such a socially aware 15 year old I was incredibly sexually naïve.
Once school started much of Chad's extracurricular time was spent with choir and the school play. So I didn’t think anything was “odd” about the freshman girl who started hanging out at his locker before calculus. She was a thespian wannabe and I figured she was making nice with Chad to score points for a role in the Spring play.
That is until much to my young confusion and heartache Chad went to Homecoming with this freshman chick. Not that I really wanted to go to Homecoming. Sheesh. This is me we’re talking about. It’s just that for all Chad’s performing enthusiasm, he thought most high school stuff was trite and stupid, too. We shared that disaffection and disillusionment. On all those trips to Ann Arbor we weren’t all hopped up high in anticipation school activities. Instead we moaned about how lame it all was and plotted and planned our lives post-high school. But there he was, going to Homecoming with of all things, a freshman drama club girl. Aaaack. Apologies if you were a freshman Drama Club girl. But you know what I mean. You know the type. Eager. Showy. Loud. Even dorkier than me.
That first hour calculus room became very chilly very fast. Chad and I barely spoke from October - December. I mean, really, there's only so much indignity a girl can take, I had every right to ignore him. Completely.
So Christmas break rolled around, I was of course jubilant for that, happy to be rid of calculus and Chad for a few weeks.
And then, on Christmas Eve my dad came in with the mail, tons of Christmas cards for the family and one for me. And it was bulky. What could it be?
No return address... hmmmm. Odd.
I tore it open and out fell a cassette tape.
On one side in magic marker on the label was scrawled, "Whatever I did I'm sorry" and on the other, "I heard some new songs."
Bastard. Did the little freshman jezebel turn him on to new music?
Sorry? Oh yeah? I'll just bet.
I stubbornly refused to play the tape for several days. (“How dare he” strongly implied.)
I got a new Walkman for Christmas. Yeah. That rocked. Totally. Theretofore I’d been listening to my tapes on a cheap knock-off Walkman that had a broken forward button and was taped together with packing tape and Super glue. The new, real Walkman was a surreptitious gift from my dad. Good old Dad. He was always good about surreptition. He’d slip a twenty in my hand as he hugged me, or slide a drink my way when no one was looking or buy me a present my mother would never approve of. My mother didn’t know he bought the Walkman for me. When she found out about it she was surprised and kind of mad at my dad. For some reason…oh…right. Disaffected, disillusioned, monster of a teenage girl brooding around the house writing bad poetry with headphones blaring and blocking out all hope of communication.
Finally, on our Boxing Day trip to visit Canadian relatives, I took the tape and listened to it on my new Walkman.
And now, all these years later, there I was with a new Walkman, on a road trip with that very tape in my hand again.
Ya know, I had a lot of stress at my former job. Days were long and often difficult. I had to be creative on demand. I had to make a lot of decisions requiring fast-thinking and good judgment. I had to deal with clients with high expectations and uncooperative coworkers.
But the past few weeks dealing with all this stuff from my parents’ house makes me long for my former job, uncooperative coworkers included. The emotional minefields I’ve been navigating rival the stress level I had at my former job. A different kind of stress, obviously, but stress. And lots of it. Facing my past and all that. It’s rough turf.
I have the mix-tapes and bad poetry to prove it.
The emotional connection to mix-tapes is so strong because you have to invest a lot of time and effort into them. Nowadays you just drop and drag songs to a playlist and voila. Done. It takes a minute, two maybe if you have a lot of songs in your iTunes library. There’s no real time or effort involved. It's instantly gratifying but not as deeply satisfying as making a mix-tape.
With cassette tapes you had a finite amount of recording time on each tape. You couldn’t just choose a bunch of songs and record them. There was more to it than that. You had to use songs that were just the right length to fit each side of the tape. You might have the perfect first side last song, you know, musically or message-wise, but if you didn’t time the songs before it correctly you wouldn’t have enough tape to include the entire song on the tape. Oh the agony and heartbreak of the noise of the recording button flipping off because it ran out of tape before the last song finished. Nothing, and I mean nothing is more lame than a song cut-off because you ran out of tape. You have to start over.
And even when you had the timing all worked out there was still lot of work, a lot of yourself to put into the project. And that’s exactly what it was, a project. You had to hit pause, take off the record or CD after each song, put on the next record or CD, hit record, listen and watch dutifully for the end of the song, hit pause, and so on through two sides of the tape.
And that’s saying nothing of the music you actually choose to put on a mix-tape. Nick Hornby did a much better job of writing about song selections for mix-tapes, devoted a whole book to it, so I won’t go into it. Besides. You know what I mean. You have to have a broad range of musical knowledge and the record/CD collection to back it up. (Recording a mix-tape from the radio was even more lame than running out of tape mid-last song.) The mix-tape is where you show your emotional depth, your sensitivity, your knowledge of complete recordings, not just the hits.
First songs on first sides of mix-tapes are crucial. Absolutely crucial. They set the tone for the whole tape. There’s no way to redeem a bad choice there. If you get the first side first song wrong the whole tape is a failure.
The first song on Chad’s "Whatever I did I'm sorry" side of the tape? Well, after listening to it again I'm cracking up over it.
It all comes full circle: Messages, OMD. Dear, sweet, sensitive, closeted gay Chad used a song about communication to communicate with me. I remember the end part, the calllll meeeeeeee part, and how, even though I'd heard the song hundreds of times on our trips to Ann Arbor, suddenly it was all new and held much deeper meaning. He wanted me to call him!!! The ball was now in my court!!! Oh happy happy joy joy!!! He regreted the freshman thespian chick!!! I can somehow find it in my heart to forgive him!!! The new year’s gonna be great! I can’t want to get back from Canada and call Chad!!!
I didn't yet fully understand homosexuality or that Chad was struggling with his sexual identity. I thought this tape meant we were going to go steady and maybe even go to the prom. Ahem. Not that I wanted to go to prom. Lame. Super lame. But if I had to go to prom I’d want to go with Chad because he’d think it’s lame, too, and we could make fun of it together. We’d go to prom ironically.
I did call him. We patched things up, reached a détente.
But it was never the same. There was a distance between us, now. He was less interested in new guitar bands and more interested in synth dance bands. He put up a poster of Duran Duran in his locker.
And I became more aware of homosexuality. Chad was different. I didn't realize it in high school, I just thought he was weird like me. But when he came out three years later (in college, when I was a lot more savvy and sexually aware) I wasn't surprised.
What was my first clue? That he liked Frankie Goes to Hollywood, always had perfectly moussed hair, wore three polo shirts layered with collars standing up or that he was a thespian and in the chorus? It was a small town. We didn't do gay. We repressed it. I just thought he was different from other guys. Oh yes, he was.
We didn’t go to prom. Or rather, I didn’t go to prom. Ironically or otherwise.
Chad went with the freshman thespian jezebel. He called me three times that night from a payphone at the dance. The freshman thespian jezebel wanted to go out to the lake to a kegger and an all nighter at Jeff Larson’s parents’ cabin. Chad didn’t want to do that. The last phone call he made to me from prom went something like this,
“Hi. It’s me again. This is really super lame. You’re so lucky you’re not here. And there’s this kegger out at the lake, at Jeff Larson’s parents’ cabin. I don’t want to go but if you do I could come by and pick you up.”
“Uh, riiiiiight. You, me and (freshman thespian jezebel) at a prom night kegger at the lake. Um, don’t think so. And I don’t think that’s what (freshman thespian jezebel) has in mind, either.”
“She said she’s ready to have sex.”
“With you or in general?”
“I think with whomever will give it to her.”
“Go for it, dude.”
Laughs unconvincingly, “Riiiight, like I’m going to fuck a freshman!!!”
Like he was going to fuck a girl.
Chad took me to see Elvis Costello the night after prom. I know. Weird. I guess it was a consolation prize for not going to prom. I had a newly minted driver’s license and my parents let me drive to the concert. I guess it was a consolation prize for not going to prom.
That night when I dropped him off at his parents’ house we had our lone, awkward, not so pleasant kiss. By this time I was down to a permanent retainer on my lower teeth. (I left the removable upper retainer at home for the Elvis occasion.) So, you know, all systems go teeth-wise. But even so Chad’s purse-lipped kiss caused his teeth to mash against mine and scrape my lips. I should mention that I was about three inches taller than Chad, so that made things a little, um, well, complicated, you know, inexperience kiss-wise. Chad was not exactly a man of the world used to many varieties and sizes of women and I was certainly not accustomed to kissing boys. Chad even made a perfunctory attempt at copping a feel. I was pretty sure it was more for my benefit than his. I knew this because I didn’t push him away, I was willing to let him have a touch, but he didn’t pursue it further. Maybe it was because I was wiping his slobber off my chin or because my acting skills were no match to his and I was clearly not enjoying his slobbering, weakly groping moves.
Which is why a tiny part of me worries that I might have played a role in his homosexuality. If I'd been more experienced I could have turned that not so pleasant kiss around and made that boy a man (yeah, riiiight) but instead I just wiped his slobber off my chin and tried to mask my surprise at how unpleasant the kiss was by pretending to be all flustered and nervous. I couldn't make him a man, but, I could have been more "sensitive" to his bad kissing and feel copping ineptitude. I didn't laugh at him, but I didn't exactly nurture and encourage him, either. Frankly I was just too stunned at how bad it was to do anything other than try to be polite.
But that freshman jezebel probably played a bigger role...Chad was sweet. Sensitive. Quirky. Polite. She was bossy and loud, wore too much make up and affected a Joan Crawford accent. I’m guessing she spends weekends in costume at Renaissance Festivals, now.
I was just disaffected, confused, socially awkward, dorky and weird. I’m unemployed and spend weekends drinking and going to concerts when I can get free tickets, now.
But I got the mix-tape and the Elvis Costello concert, not her. Score one for disaffected, confused, socially awkward dorky weird girls.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Couple of random thoughts as I trek across Michiana...
Activia®. Okay. So. From the too much information file, apparently the cookie dough and Diet Pepsi diet took a toll on my digestive system. I'm sharing this as a warning to other people who might be considering an all cookie dough and aspartame diet.
It hasn't been, you know, bad enough to warrant prune juice or a trip to the "digestive aid" aisle at the pharmacy, but, it's been a little, um, uncomfortable at times. Yes, yes, I've been eating a lot of leafy green vegetables and fiber cereal and drinking lots of water the past few weeks and that seems to be helping. But. Things are not quite, um, "normal," yet.
So I'm sitting there watching television with my mum and there's Jamie Lee Curtis talking to a woman about digestive issues. I like Jamie Lee. I trust her. Halloween. Fish Called Wanda. Good stuff, right? Someone with integrity, credibility and sincerity, right? She doesn't go around endorsing products like some other celebrities with no viable career activity in years Brooke Shields are you listening? (Seriously, I'd like to know Brooke's agent. Her agent's gotta be the hardest working person in marketing. Talk about endorsement overkill, Billly Mays notwithstanding, how many products can one person endorse? Consumer and former marketing professional to Brooke Sheilds' agent: The more products a person endorses, the less credibility and impact that endorsement carries. Sure, Brooke's at the end of her product life cycle anyway and it's a good time to cash-in while you can, but, sheesh, enough already. There for a minute I was coming around to Brooke. I thought she did a good thing by publicly coming out and writing about Postpartum Depression and I felt sorry for her, to the point of defending her, when Tom Cruise slagged her off for seeking treatment for said Postpartum Depression. But now all this endorsement business is souring me to her again.)
Right. So when I was at the grocery and noticed a sale on Activia®, and an in-store BOGO coupon to boot, I fell prey to marketing, thought of Jamie Lee, and bought two four packs. (Yes, I was a victim of my own game. It happens. But in fairness to me it was the BOGO coupon that sealed the deal, not Jamie Lee.)
I got it home and opened the outer cardboard wrap. There on the inside of the package were details about "The 14-Day Challenge."
If you don't see a change for the better in your digestive system after eating an Activia® a day for 14 days, you send in the receipt and a code logo from the package and they refund your money.
Two thoughts: 1) If you're irregular for two weeks you need more than a refund on yogurt. 2) How the heck do you prove that you're irregular even after 14 days of Activia®? Do you need a doctor's note to prove it? From a marketing stand-point this is risky business. They want the public to believe they're so sure of the effectiveness of the product that they, um, back it up (sorry about the bad pun) with a money back guarantee.
What they're really sure of is the fickleness and laziness of the public. The public feels comforted by money back guarantees. The whole, "nothing to lose" mentality. But the reality is that something like 88% of the public won't bother to cash-in on a money-back-guarantee even if they are dissatisfied with the product. Why? Because we're lazy, stupid and fickle. We lack the foresight to save the receipts, we lack the diligence to cut out and save the required product logo seals, and we're too lazy to send in the required info for a refund. Generally, when it comes to money-back-guarantees we just can't be bothered. That's a marketing truth. Period.
But this Activia® thing presents a whole new case study. Who wants to admit things got so bad "down there" that they bought Activia® in the first place? And then, who wants to admit that after 14 days things still aren't right "down there?"
And then, for the 12% of the public who are willing to put in the embarrassment, foresight, diligence and effort required to cash-in on the money-back-guarantee, well...woe to the Activia® refund claims department agents who have to deal with those consumers. Think about it: The only customers they deal with are not only dissatisfied with the product, they're also literally anal retentive.
Sure, there will be people who just want to cash in on the free yogurt. The consumers who think they're hoodwinking the people at Activia®. The consumers who get success from the 14-Day Challenge but know darned well there's no way to prove it didn't work so they figure they can score a refund check. Scammers. Digestively healthy scammers. But given the consumer refund statistics I suppose it's a worthwhile loss margin for Activia®.
I'm four days into the 14-Day Challenge. By the way. Things seem to be improving but it's difficult to assess if it's the Activia® or leafy green vegetables, fiber cereal and water.
What I can say for certain is that a five hour road trip is not recommended when you're four days into the Activia® 14-Day Challenge.
Speaking of celebrity endorsements: The Boss. The universally known fact that Americans are horrible at geography has a new celebrity endorsement. And what an apt celebrity endorsement. An ironically comedic gift from the Universe: He's Born in the USA, bad at geography.
I realize I've never been on a "different town every night" world tour, and I realize genarenas all look the same, just the corporate logos are different, and I realize livin' la vida rock star can take a toll on a person after 40 years...but...for swut sake, did he have to forget Detroit? Haven't we suffered enough demoralizing ego bashing lately? Worse, he confused Detroit with Ohio. Ohio!
No disrespect to Ohio, but, um, Michigan is definitely not Ohio. I speak from a place of a lot of experience. I've seen most of Ohio. And all of Michigan. They are very, very different places. I've been inside the Palace a couple times. It's a typical generic arena, a genarena. But c'mon, take a look at the crowd, Bruce, or at the very least, take a look at the concert schedule.
You're supposed to be all "of the people" and all that, you have a huge fan base in Detroit, fans who identify with the whole working man, working hard at a crappy factory job image you've cultivated and cashed in on for 30 years. These are people who are either unemployed or have family and friends who are unemployed. Some have lost their homes and most are probably worried about losing their homes. These are people who are stressed and scared and seeking solace from their troubadour of "life is hard and then you die so ride a Harley and drink cheap beer while you can." They somehow found a way to scrimp and save money for the concert tickets. "Worth eating Ramen noodles for four months!" they console themselves, thinking only of seeing their musical hero live in concert. The one beacon of joy in their lives...and then he goes and calls them Ohioans. Of all places, Bruce, of all places. Disappointed and dejected Detroit fans feel that even Bruce Springsteen doesn't care about them and their troubles. Et tu, Bruce, et tu?
Here was a great marketing opportunity for Bruce and he totally blew it. He could have used the "I get it, I feel your pain, I'm with you, Detroit, I stand united with my blue collar brethren" spin. But nope, he went and confused Detroit with Ohio.
I never have really cared for Bruce's music. He is not The Boss of me. Blinded by the Light's okay. I like the music biz metaphors. But other than that I can't think of a reason to defend him.
I blame an American education curriculum that historically ignores geography lessons. Bruce is clearly a victim of a shamefully insular American educational system that lacks necessary world awareness lessons. I was lucky, my school had teachers who saw the gap in the geography and world studies curriculum and took extra time to get us involved in the Junior UN. Not all kids are that lucky.
And I blame corporate sponsorship. And I fear and weep for the future where the only way to tell where you are is by the corporate logos. A future where historic landmarks, geographical and topographical markers mean nothing, the corporate logos will be the landmarks. The tour bus rolls into a venue and the band says, "There's a US Cellular logo on the sign in the parking lot, we must be in Chicago!" Or a family vacation will include a stop at "Niagara Falls, brought to you by Aquafina®."
Moove over Linda McCartney, there's a new vegetarian frozen entreé in town and lemme tell you, they're good. Real good.
And based in Fashionable Ferndale. Moo Moo's, we salute you.
If you're not near a Meijer, why not ask your local grocer to stock them?! Power to the people, right on and all that. And it's a great way to show support for Michigan.
I'll be showcasing the good things about Michigan and Detroit, maybe once a week or so. I'm sick of the Detroit/Michigan bashing. Sick of it, hear me? S-I-C-K sick of it. I want the world to see and know the great things about the Great Lake State. With all the bad and negative news "the media" just loves to pounce on about Michigan, I've decided to try to spin the negative spin backwards by showing off the positive people and things about Michigan that never, ever seem to get any media attention. Combating negative with positive and all that. (Yes. A special Compassion Snuggie® for the entire state, upper and lower peninsulas.) It's an infinitesimal drop of positive in a huge negative bucket, but it matters. If you feel so inclined, show some love for the good people of Michigan follow the links I post and tell your friends. So when yet another negative news story comes out of Michigan or Detroit (and they undoubtedly will) you'll know it's not all bad. You'll know there are some good people - intelligent, talented, creative, nice, hard working people - in (and from) Michigan.
I'm especially proud to launch this brigade with Moo Moo's. By the way.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
For the most part spending time with my mother is a really good thing. Especially the past few weeks. A much needed departure from whatever psychoses I was battling in October. I’ve yet to sort it out well enough to define and label it. Depression, I guess, but I dunno, it seems like something different. I think depression is “just” a symptom of whatever the actual issue is. Fear, I think. Though that doesn’t explain my hygiene and underwear issues. (I’ve been wearing underwear (clean) every day since October 28, thank you very much. And I haven’t had a cookie, baked or otherwise, in that span of time, either. Yay me.)
Fear does explain the uncontrollable, unpredictable shakes I get now and then. And the shortness of breath. And the episodes of momentary paralysis. And the episodes of not-so-momentary “checking out.” Panic attack symptoms. Niiiiiice. So yeah, that’s new.
You know my mum? Yeah. Well. I love her. A lot. I like her a lot, too. Even if she weren’t my mother and I didn’t have to love her and respect her and like her I would love her and respect her and like her. But she’s kind of driving me nuts.
To say I’m stressed is the understatement of the millennium, right? Right. I think we can all agree I have most of the key stressors going on in my life. Loss of a parent. Loss of a job. Loss of a pet. Impending loss of a home. Financial difficulties. Major health issue. Caring for a handicapped parent. Single. Need I continue? All in all I think I’m handling the stress, you know, okay. (Hygiene, underwear and cookie dough and panic attack symptom issues notwithstanding, of course.)
I’m generally keeping my temper in check and for the most part I’m strangely positive and upbeat.
But crimony. My mother. She’s doing old person stuff. The house is always blazingly hot because keeps the thermostat set at 78. She buys day old bread and keeps it in the fridge. (Perhaps as a way to save money to pay for the swutting heating bill.) She’s crotchety sometimes, her patience (which used to rival that of Jesus)gets lost now and then. She doesn’t want to drive on a freeway and doesn’t want me to, either. She eats dinner at 3 in the afternoon. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not standing in judgment. She who didn’t wear underwear for a few weeks and existed on a diet of cookie dough and Diet Pepsi is not in a position to judge anyone, least of all her own mother. I’m just sayin’, suddenly my mother is behaving like an old person. It’s out of character, not the mother I’ve known all my life, and it’s a little disconcerting. And kind of annoying.
I know. I know. She’s stressed, too. She has two unemployed daughters. And a house in suburban Detroit. And she misses my dad like you can’t believe. It’s horrible. Just horrible. She misses him so much that it makes me cry at least twice a day. She’s just sad and lonely and upset and confused and forlorn and scared and sad and lonely. So I’m a horrible, horrible, terrible, Satanic daughter for having moments, albeit brief moments, of frustration with her.
She’s come to the conclusion that a five bedroom house on two acres of land is a) not necessary for her and b) too much for her to handle.
Unfortunately she reached this conclusion about ten years too late. I dare you to find a buyer for such a home in suburban Detroit.
Obviously she’s going to have to sell at a huge loss. If she can sell at all. (Fat chance.)
Putting on my best positive face, I said, “Okay, Mum, let’s get a plan together. Let’s aim for putting the house on the market in the Spring. Between now and March we’ve got a lot of work to do. Fortunately you have two unemployed daughters. We can help you.”
Sounds good, right? Making lemonade out of lemons, right? Being unemployed gives my sister and me more time to help my mother, my mother who needs a lot of help right now. Fortuitous timing, even, right?
Sister, exit, stage left.
Okay. So helping has never been my sister’s strong suit. No expectations there. When the going gets tough, my sister gets going as far away as possible. But I did hope maybe, maybe, in this situation, she might see her way clear to a few hours here and there. So far, not so much.
So that leaves me to help to my mother sort out a long, long, long marriage comprised of one “you never know when you might need…it’s perfectly good why get rid of it” pack-rat and one “…and this is the jacket our first born wore to her first day of third grade” sentimental saver. That marriage included three children and four grandchildren. You can do the math on the amount of stuff accumulated during that marriage.
During the past few years my mother has slowly gone through stuff. She has gritted her teeth, shored her sentimental courage and made progress in meting out some of the truly “important” stuff from the stuff only she deems sentimentally significant.
And over the summer my brother and I made some huge dents in the stuff my dad swore would come in handy some day (but never did). Seriously. How many bolts does one person honestly need to replace in a lifetime? Three? Ten? Maybe 30 if the person is handy around the house? Why, then, would my dad have seven, count ‘em, seven one-gallon paint cans full of bolts of varying sizes? Snow chains have been illegal on roads in Michigan since the early ‘70s. Why, then, would a person, in the year of our Lord 2009, be in possession of five, yes, five, full four-tire sets of snow chains? Why, for that matter, would a person be in possession of five full four-tire sets of snow chains even when they were street legal? I don't recall that we ever had five cars at one time... I beseech thee, pray thee, please tell, please shed some insight, a window of understanding.
Nuclear winter? Yeah, well, my dad was ready for post-apocalyptic life in the frost-belt. He was ready to strap on the chains and lead a convoy south of the Equator, I guess.
So now we’re down to the hard stuff. The stuff that really is tough to let go. The stuff that makes you go, “awwww” or “remember when Gran…” or “that’s been in the family for six generations” or “this is valuable, we can’t just chuck this off to charity, we need to keep it in the family or auction it…”
You have to be hardened...tough...determined to get through the sorting of that kind of stuff. It’s difficult. We do it in baby steps, a few hours a day at most.
The problem is that I’m on the brink of foreclosure. My sister is hoping to move hundreds of miles away, soon. As it is, we are getting rid of all but our most essential stuff. My brother’s wife issued the ultimatum that she will throw out anything over a year old that arrives from my mother.
My sister is AWOL and my brother is pussywhipped. (Oh yes, I said it.) That leaves me. I don’t want to be the custodian of the family stuff. To say nothing of the fact that I don’t give a mouse turd about my brother’s sixth grade wood-shop class project or the vase that held flowers my uncle sent my parents when my sister was born. Call me a bad person, but I just do not care. And I don’t care if they care. But our mother cares. And since I’m the only one handy she’s trying to pass the baton of sentimentality to me.
Maybe I’d feel more invested, more altruistic toward the stuff of my siblings’ life if I had more stuff of my own.
Selfish, horrible, childish rant in 3-2-1: Why is it always my stuff that gets ruined? Basement flood: The box containing my dolls got hit. Freak escaped cinder from the fireplace that would have burned down the house were it not for the Christmas stockings hung by the fire with care? My stocking was the one that took the hit and blocked the cinder from landing on the wood floor or family pet or Dad’s chair. House: Saved. Stocking: Charred beyond recognition. Mouse family seeking refuge from the coldest winter in 40 years: Made a nice, cozy nest in the attic by chewing and shredding my Girl Scout uniform and beret.
This is where I started to lose it with my mother. I haven’t got too upset, outwardly anyway, about the loss of my stuff. It is, as my brother’s wife insists, just stuff.
And after all, my merit badge sash did survive the mousing unscathed. And even though my baby dolls couldn’t be saved, my precious, precious Barbies and Air France Stewardess doll are, for the most part, okay. And after my mother leaves the house I won’t have a chimney to hang my Christmas stocking, and Santa isn’t likely to find me, so I don’t really need my Christmas stocking…
And taking an objective step back, it is funny. There is a comedic aspect to it. A Charlie Brown “I got a rock” sort of comedic aspect.
But my mother feels bad for me. That unspoken, “Awww, crap, not Trillian, again. The girl can’t catch a break,” kind of feeling bad. It’s no secret I’m the jinxed one of us kids. My sister floats through life on her blond hair, blue eyes, good looks and party girl attitude. My brother is just plain lucky. Period. (Maybe he hears his Greek Chorus, but I think he’s just one of those people who are inexplicably “graced.”) Me? Yeah. Not so much. I’m the inverse reaction to my sister’s good looks and bimbo skills and my brother’s luck.
My mother feels bad that every day, every day we discover some fate has befallen my stuff but not my siblings’. So she tries to assuage my loss of stuff by trying to tie me into the story of my siblings’ stuff. “You can have your brother’s Boy Scout shirt, it would probably fit you and it would make a cute outfit with jeans and you were there when he made Eagle, remember? You and that Jones girl played in the nursery during the ceremony.” “Your sister never liked dolls, you can have her doll, it’s like new. You always wanted to play with it when you were little, why don’t you take it?”
Huh? Really? Really? I mean, what the…? I love my mother, I really do, but that’s just lame.
Life epiphany in 3-2-1… My parents spent my entire life trying to compensate to me for my siblings’ good looks and good luck. “You don’t have blond hair and blue eyes because you’re special!” “You didn’t win a new bike but since your brother did we have extra money to buy you new wagon!” “Your sister got a modeling contract but darling, you’re smart! And funny! You don’t need to rely on your looks to succeed!” “Your brother got a fabulous job because someone where he was interning had a freak helicopter accident and died, but sweetheart, you’re smart! And creative! We’ll pay for grad school for you! You don’t need luck!” “Your sister and brother have fabulous children, the grandchildren we adore, but honey you have a career and we just adore your cat and the kids love you. You don’t need kids of your own, you can share your brother and sisters’. “
How could I have lived my entire life and not realized this until now? How is it possible that I never saw through my parents’ lame attempts to make me feel better about being the smart, funny, creative but jinxed one? Especially since our sibling roles are deeply etched?
The past few years have proved that. We are who we are, we have our roles, we know our characters and we play the part and recite our lines in Oscar-worthy performances. My sister, “the pretty one,” smiles and flirts and tosses her blond hair through every situation or flakes out and is nowhere to be found the second there’s a man or a party to be had. My brother, “the lucky one,” just lets life unfold secure in the knowledge he’ll come out okay. Even when bad things happen it’s quickly balanced by something equally, or, more usually, better. He remains completely unaware that this is not normal, not how life happens to other people. Therefore assumes no responsibility or compassion for others. And then there’s me. “The smart/funny/creative one.” The one, who, by default, is the reliable, responsible, diligent one.
Hence me ending up as the lone one going through a house full of a lifetime of stuff with my mother. I’m not complaining, really…I guess…it’s the only role I know. I wouldn’t know how to behave or react if my sister suddenly turned ugly and smart and responsible or if my brother started having a run of bad luck. That would be a different movie, different characters, different lines. It would be like trying to act out Gone with the Wind with a script from Dude, Where’s My Car?. (Actually…that could be kinda funny…)
But, the realization of all this is kind of a hard pill to swallow. And every time my mother tries to compensate to me by trying to give me one of my brother's or sisters’ memories it makes me want to lash out at her. Which is weird because I’m not mad at her. She’s just trying to make things feel more fair to me. She’s just trying to adjust the personality balance among her children. So I pull the leash on my tongue, wrap her in a sympathy and forgiveness Snuggie®, smile and say, “No, thanks.”
And then…the Universe gave me a small present.
Before I was 6 Jesus was my best friend.
I think maybe I haven’t mentioned that.
You know how kids sometimes have imaginary friends? No big deal, right? Normal, really.
Except when a kid’s imaginary friend is Jesus. And not just a random imaginary kid coincidentally named Jesus.
The actual Biblical Jesus. I was the smart/funny/creative/religiously zealous one for a while.
I’m sure it all came about because someone said something about Jesus always being with me and I took it literally. Voila, my own personal Jesus and invisible BFF.
It did make for some comedic conversations in our house for a few years. “But Mum, Jesus HATES roast beef, remember? Don’t give him any. And if Jesus won’t eat it, neither will I.” “Jesus wants us to read Where the Wild Things Are tonight.” “DAD!!!! You’re sitting on Jesus!!!” “Jesus and I are watching HR Pufnstuf.” “Can Jesus go to the ice cream shop, too? He wants fudge ripple in a sugar cone.” “Trillian, what happened to your clothes, you’re filthy muddy!” “Jesus and I were playing in the woods and he pushed me into the pond.” “No, Trillian, Jesus cannot take a bath with you, he’s a boy.”
One of the reasons, okay, the main reason, I hate the Beatles is because my sister is a huge Beatles fan. From the day I was born until the day she left for college we shared a common bedroom wall. And from the day I was born until the day she left for college I was forced to hear the Beatles. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. I have nothing but deep sympathy for Guantanamo prisoners. I know their pain, I lived their torture, I endured years of endless repetitions of the same songs blaring at me. Ticket to Ride provokes such deeply disturbing feelings in me that just typing those three words together makes my fingers clench and spasm. It’s Pavlovian for me.
Since my discovery that John Lennon is the Unemployment Svengali I’ve been feeling a little guilty about the animosity, contempt and venomous loathing I’ve held for the Beatles all these years. Then again…She loves you yeah yeah yeah. Aaaack.
One Friday night my sister had a date. My parents were at a party. My brother was babysitting me. And by babysitting me I mean he and his friends were launching bottle rockets off the roof and I was left to do whatever I wanted. It was our deal. I didn’t tell on him about the friends, the bottle rockets and the roof, he didn’t tell on me for watching Twilight Zone repeats (which I was not supposed to watch, blog for another day), making a clothing optional Barbie and Ken hot tub in my parents’ bathroom and not going to bed on time. Fair deal, right?
Jesus and I were en route to my parents’ bathroom with Barbie, PJ and Ken for a little hot tub action (yes, a fashion doll three-way with a five-year-old and Jesus) when I noticed my sister’s bedroom door was ajar. That was rare. Her door was always, always closed, tightly. No little sisters allowed. Period.
Jesus told me she left the door open for me because she knew our parents wouldn’t be home and she was on a date and what with all that free time on my hands it would be a good time to see how a teenaged girl’s room compares to a five-year-old girl’s room. Jesus was always good that way. He always assumed everyone else was as kind and giving and thoughtful as he was and always assumed the best case scenario.
So Jesus and I just marched right into my sister’s room.
I remember thinking it was really cool and really not that big of a deal all at the same time. Jesus liked the macramé owl. I liked the lip gloss. Other than that it was just a lot of stuff we didn't care about. It was one of those life lessons: The grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s just an optical illusion. A matter of perspective.
We were walking out of the room when Jesus noticed the stack of records. On top was Sgt. Pepper.
Jesus slept and played in my room so he had to endure the same Beatles torture I did. Jesus hated the Beatles, too.
Jesus thought Sgt. Pepper looked sinful. Jesus told me if I loved my sister I would scratch and break the record.
I didn’t want to do it. I knew we’d get in trouble.
Jesus said he’d do it, then.
I begged him not to do it. But he was Jesus and I was just a five-year-old kid and the next thing I knew Sgt. Pepper was scratched and bent and chipped and “Have a Nice Day” smiley faces were drawn in ball point pen over all the faces on the album cover. (Jesus liked the Have a Nice Day smiley face. He often wore a have a nice day smiley face t-shirt. A lot of people don’t know that about Jesus.)
And that is how I got my first spanking, my first two-week grounding, my first “I will not blame other people (especially Jesus) for my bad behavior” written 100 times, and my first forfeiture of allowance.
My brother, who was supposed to be watching me at the time of the Sgt. Pepper deflowering, also had to help pay for a replacement copy of Sgt. Pepper. He, in turn, made me surreptitiously pay him for his portion to keep him from telling on me about the Twilight Zone fashion doll hot-tub escapade. Yes. He blackmailed me. And Jesus.
Even though Jesus was the one who drew have a nice day smiley faces in ball point pen all over the cover I was the one who got in trouble for a) using a ball point pen and b) drawing on my sister’s album.
Even though Jesus broke my sister’s copy of Sgt. Pepper I was the one who got into a lot of trouble. A lot of trouble.
The infractions were numerous. Breaking and entering. Malicious destruction of property. Leaving the scene of a crime. Lying under oath.
When my sister arrived home from her date pissed-off-teenaged-girl-shit hit the-dorky-little-sister-with-Jesus-for-an-invisible-friend fan.
I was roused from my sleep by a scream. And then, “MO-THERRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!! TRILLIAN WAS IN MY ROOM!!!!!! AND LOOK WHAT SHE DID!!!!!! YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT HER!!!!!” Another scream, a shriek, actually, “AND SHE BROKE THE RECORD!!!! THAT’S IT!!! THAT’S IT!!!!”
The next thing I remember my sister was silhouetted against the hall light storming into my room. She grabbed me by the shoulders and jerked me up and out of bed and dragged me into my parents’ room where my mother was getting ready for bed.
My mother was half-dressed, her dress unzipped and folded over at the waist, one stocking off, one on, and her robe haphazardly strewn around her shoulders. She was holding the have a nice day smiley face enhanced Sgt. Pepper album cover.
“Trillian, you’re a very naughty girl. I am very disappointed in you. You know better than to ruin someone else’s things. You will be punished and you are going to pay for a new album. Apologize to your sister and promise you will never go into her room uninvited again.”
“But Mum I didn’t do it. (looking at my sister, shrugging the open palmed shrug of the innocent) I didn’t break your record. Jesus did it. (pause, wide-eyed reverence and hushed tone affected) Because Jesus hates the Beatles.”
At that point things took an even more serious turn for the juvenile delinquent turn.
My father was summoned from downstairs.
My dad was a music enthusiast and ardent record collector. Records were sacrosanct. Summoning my dad in punishment situations was rarely good. Summoning my dad for a record defiling violation couldn't possibly have an up side. Summoning my dad from his nightcap after a party was uncharted territory. As far as I knew this was a first. I instinctively knew it was going to be bad. Real bad. I assumed I’d be given up for adoption the next day. I started a mental packing list of what I’d take with me.
My dad appeared. His suit jacket off, tie loosened and shirt collar and cuffs unbuttoned. Belt buckle loosened. He looked at my mother in her state of half undress holding the defiled Sgt. Pepper and my sister still in her date outfit tears running down her face, and me in my pajamas, still bleary-eyed with sleep, "What's going on here?"
The situation was retold. The evidence was shown. The Jesus alibi was used. A verdict was quickly reached: Lying will not be tolerated. Lying and blaming it on Jesus will really not be tolerated. Justice was swift.
I don’t remember that the spanking hurt physically. But the fact that my parents were so mad at me and so disappointed in me that they would actually spank me did hurt.
Oh, I was guilty, all right. Guilty of damaging and defiling my sister’s record, sure. But the guilty conscience over disappointing my parents weighed even heavier than the punishment for breaking that stupid record.
Note that my brother, and Jesus, were notably absent in the moment of reckoning. Yes. Jesus forsook me. What a friend we have in Jesus, indeed.
I was too young to have a clue about the whole “Beatles are bigger than Jesus” bruhaha. It wasn’t until many years later that the full ironically humorous impact of Sgt. Pepper Jesus incident hit home.
The next day my sister discovered what "I" did to Abbey Road. It was Jesus who did it, obviously, but I took the hit for it. I took one for Team Jesus and fessed up before more teenaged-girl-shit hit the dorky-little-sister fan. But it was clearly the work of Jesus. Anyone could tell He was behind it. The Fab Four were ball point pen retrofitted with dorsal fins, gills, tentacles, bulgy round eyes and webbed feet. Jesus did a good job converting them to Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Jesus? Fish? I mean, duh, clearly that art was the work of a seasoned fisherman. But I knew no one would believe me so I just took the heat for it. It was in keeping with my aquatic artistic theme at the time so I knew the circumstantial evidence was stacked against me. "We" didn't wreck the Abbey Road record itself, just the jacket, but I still had to pay for a new replacement.
I was five. I didn't have a job. My only viable steady source of income was a 25¢/week allowance. I asked Jesus to tell God to make my teeth loose so I could bring in a little extra cash via the Tooth Fairy. He wouldn't do it. I can trace the start of my religious disillusionment to that incident.
Having Jesus for an invisible friend ain’t all it might be cracked up to be.
No regrets in one respect, though. Jesus and I got a nice reprieve from at least one Beatles record.
But the horrible guilt over being such a naughty girl consumed me. I’d never been than bad. Or in so much trouble.
I carried that weight a long time.
To this day everyone in my family (even people who weren’t born at the time) quote at even the most remotely apt situation, “I didn’t break your record, Jesus did it. Because Jesus hates the Beatles.”
If anything, anything even remotely Sgt. Pepper comes up everyone says, “Jesus hates the Beatles.” If something is suddenly mysteriously broken, in unison: “Jesus did it. Because Jesus hates the Beatles.”
Many years later I was rummaging through a record swap meet in London. I noticed one of the Beatles specialty dealers (of which there were way too many for my taste) had a copy of Abbey Road in a plastic bag clipped up on special display. I gritted my teeth, took several "God grant me the patience to deal with the Beatles and please don't let anyone I know see me at his table" breaths and sauntered over to have a look at the album. It was signed by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. There was no way to authenticate the signatures, but the album and the signatures showed signs of wear. If they were fake signatures they were old fake signatures. My sister is in the Paul McCartney camp. I talked the seller down a few pounds, had him throw in a near mint Sgt. Pepper and walked away with a copy of Abbey Road with two old signatures on it. I gave it to my sister for her birthday. I know. I know, okay? I know. You can't buy atonement. I know. But. I already bought her a replacement copy, this was above and beyond the necessary apology, right? Yeah. I think so, too. But she didn't seem to really appreciate it. She still has it, she took it to a BeatleCon once and one of the Beatles authorities said the signatures appeared to be authentic. Yay me, right? Score, right? You'll never get a hint of gratitude from my sister for that. In her mind I still owe her.
So. Here we are many years later and I’m helping my mother go through all our family’s stuff. We were quietly going through some boxes from the attic when my mother suddenly burst out laughing. I mean, uproariously laughing. My mother hasn’t laughed since my dad died.
So this was a big deal.
She was working on a box of my sister’s odds and ends. Miscellaneous crap mostly going straight in the trash. But there, on the bottom of the box, was the have a nice day smiley face enhanced Sgt. Pepper album. Just the album jacket. And there was my mother laughing so hard she was doing that silent-almost-can’t-breathe-going-to-snort-in-a-minute-weak-in-the-knees kind of laughing.
I’ve been carrying around a lot of guilt over that stupid Sgt. Pepper album for a lot of years. It was the first time I disappointed my parents. The first time Jesus got me in trouble. You don’t forget stuff like that. And there was my mother having the first laugh she’s had in 15 months over the same stupid album.
I didn’t see the humor in it. I was embarrassed to be confronted with it again after all these years. The proof was right there before me. Jesus may have been working through me but no denying it, it was my handiwork. I felt like a very, very naughty little girl again. But instead of punishing me, this time my mother was laughing at it.
My mother saw me standing there biting my lip and looking guilty and said, through choked laughter, jabbing at the record jacket, “Jesus did it. Because Jesus hates the Beatles!!!!” She blurted out ‘Beatles’ in a fit of hysterical laughter.
Okay, yeah, very funny. Very funny. Let’s all have a good laugh over my life altering misbehavior.
There was a small part of me that worried after she stopped laughing she’d remember what a naughty girl I was and punish me, again, for being so naughty and then lying about it and then blaming Jesus, of all people.
But mainly I was afraid she’d remember how she was so disappointed in me.
Anyone know a good therapist?
She finally stopped laughing long enough to say, “You and Jesus. You know, Dad and I never knew how to handle that. We thought we’d seen and heard it all by the time you came along. Boy were we wrong. Invisible friends, we could deal with them. But invisible Holy Sons? What do you do with that?! Only you, Trillian, only you. The sleepless nights we had over that. That’s why Dad was so frustrated about this (pointing at the album), we just didn’t know the best way to handle Jesus as our daugher’s invisible best friend. For all we knew Jesus was hanging out with you. You had an uncanny knack for quoting scripture at the most inopportune times.”
That I don’t remember. No wonder my dad went batshit on me on the night Sgt. Pepper was compromised. It must have been the final straw. He had a kid walking around quoting scripture. With Jesus as an invisible friend. I mean, that couldn’t have been easy. And I can see the concern about taking a child like that out in public.
Guilt. Again. More guilt.
Jesus did it?
My mother handed me the album jacket. “Here. Put it with your things.”
“I don’t want it.”
“Someone has to keep it. It’s family history. Even the kids talk about it. One day when they have kids they won’t remember why we blame mysteriously broken objects on Jesus. Or why we laugh about Jesus hating the Beatles.”
“So this is my legacy to the family? A smiley face enhanced Sgt. Pepper album?!”
More uproarious laughter from my mother. “Jesus did it!!!!”
Okay. Really. Getting old, now. Good to hear my mother laughing, and my role as the funny one is secure, but, it makes me uncomfortable. All these years later it makes me feel ashamed to have been so bad. It makes me feel guilty for disappointing my parents. And it reminds me of how much blind faith I had in Jesus.
Okay, sure, I was five. But the scary thing is how that pious, zealous, scripture quoting kid could turn out, well, like me: Unemployed, on the verge of foreclosure, chronically single…a kid like that, a pious little kid walking with Jesus, nothing bad could happen to a kid like that, right?
Well. Not unless she lost her way, a straying lamb.
Snuggies® of forgiveness and sympathy for everyone? I dunno. I’m not sure there are enough Snuggies® to atone for how far I’ve strayed from the flock.
Or worse, the fact that don’t want to go back to the flock. I don’t like it out here on my own, but, the flock is so confining and single-minded, unwilling to consider the ideas or needs of other flocks. Life was easier when Jesus was my BFF, that is until he forsook me and left me to stand on my own to be punished. Maybe it was His was of making a five-year-old understand the crucifixion, but that seems a little harsh. A little bitter. Not very Jesus-like. But it certainly points to the start of my disillusionment with religion.
My mother convinced me to keep the re-rendered album jacket. I mean, it is funny.
And, for some reason, my sister kept it packed in a box with the rest of her teenage life junk. I suspect she kept it as proof or blackmail for use at a later date. “See? See what you did to my record?! You were a horrible, bratty, dorky, weird kid, the worst little sister ever. And you owe me. Big time.”
Sure enough, the next day my mother told my sister what ”we” found. My mother laughed, again, and then handed the phone to me. I thought maybe, finally, all was forgiven, that my sister found the humor in it, too, and she no longer resented me for trespassing against her and her precious Beatles.
Nope. My sister, once again, told me that was her favorite album and I ruined it.
“But I paid for a new one, and a new Abbey Road, too…and I found those others for you, with signatures and everythng.” I implored, shrugging the open palmed shrug of the innocent.
“It wasn’t the same. The first Sgt. Pepper was special. Kevin Wilkersen, remember, from the state finals football championship? He gave it to me. And you ruined it.”
“...and I got punished, big time, and the family has dined on that story for years. I've never lived it down.”
"Whatever. I gotta go. I have a date tonight, remember that guy from my birthday party? The hot one with the software business? Yeah, him. He's taking me to dinner. What are you doing? More box sorting with Mum?”
Sibling roles secure. One thing, one thing in my life remains stable. Reliable. Secure. I can rely on my siblings to play their roles the way they always have. I know what to expect from them. No surprises. All is right with the Universe.