Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"She wears a long fur coat of mink, even in the summertime"

The summer of 1984 was the summeriest of all summers. I distinctly remember that lazy last day of first grade. Thumbing through a copy of Clifford the Big Red Dog, something clicked in my brain and it fully sunk in that mean Mrs. B would never be my teacher again. She was the first grown up I actively disliked. Most of my classmates claimed she was their favorite when we wrote "My Story About Me". But that was dumb because Mrs. D, the kindergarten teacher, was the only other one and she was way nicer. I smirked to myself. It doesn't matter now. First grade with Mrs. B is over. I'm glad I never pretended to like her!

My oldest brother P's high school graduation was that evening. I was geeked to attend commencement but it rained and there wasn't enough room in the gymnasium for everyone's big family. I hung back at the house with the other older kids and my baby brother. While P and my parents were gone, my sisters arranged a dazzling array of snacks usually reserved for Christmas eve and Kentucky Derby day - chips and dip, cold cuts and potato salad, sweet and sour meatballs and loads of cold, refreshing pop. Wow, graduation must be a big deal. I can't believe P is THAT OLD!! 

The following days saw the establishment of our daily television routine. My siblings and I generally agreed that the ten to eleven a.m. hour was locked on TV20's airing of "Gidget" and "The Gong Show". Then it was time for "The Price is Right". The five to six p.m. slot was more debatable, because channel 50's "What's Happening?" block coincided with a music video show on TV20. There was a lot of dial turning during that hour. 

(Later that summer, the "Gong Show" episode of "What's Happening?" blew my mind, and a pop culture nerd was born.)

Most of my '84 summer memories center around music and especially the videos - The Cars' "You Might Think", Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters", Bananarama's "Cruel Summer", Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark", Huey Lewis and the News's "If This is It". We didn't have cable so we didn't have MTV, but we tuned into every music video show on broadcast TV and there were a few. When my sisters and I stayed overnight at my Aunt M's condo one evening, it was a very big deal that she let us watch MTV all night. I remember seeing the video for Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You" and thinking, "Why is that white guy pretending this is his song?"

It was the first summer of sleepovers at my best friend E's house. We had such a blast, shoving Doritos and candy in our mouths, building Barbie villages in the basement, seeing if we could stay up late enough to watch the midnight airing of "Bosom Buddies" on channel 50, singing along to the Billy Joel theme song before passing out in our sleeping bags. I'd usually wake up at some point before dawn and stare at the giant furnace with the scary octopus arms, wishing I was home in bed. When I'd awake in the morning, I wasn't afraid anymore. E's house was fun again. 

The coolest sleepover was when she met me at the front door and said there was a surprise in the basement. She took me to the little wood paneled room where her dad kept his shop tools. It was cleaner than usual and there was a small table with two chairs set up in the corner. When we sat down, her older sister J brought us two cups of Tang and a plastic plate topped with saltine crackers and American cheese cut into triangles. "Welcome to my night club!" she announced, then flipped the switch on the overhead light. A bare bulb lamp shone in the corner, where she danced and lip-synched to Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop". We applauded wildly when she finished. She almost started another song, but then she got a phone call and forgot about us. But I never forgot about those ten minutes in the club. At that point in life, it was one of the coolest things that had ever happened to me.

That was the summer of "Purple Rain". One of my favorite childhood memories is sitting on the cool basement floor, playing with my awesome hand-me-down Fisher Price house, hospital and village while listening to "Let's Go Crazy" on the radio. I had two Little People girls with identical brown bobs. One wore orange and the other blue. I decided they were twin sisters in a rock band and named them Wendy and Lisa.

It was an Olympic summer, the one that all those Eastern Bloc nations boycotted. McDonald's ran that disaster scratch off ticket campaign that rewarded you every time the Americans won some event the Russians would normally dominate. We ate so much free McDonald's. For just a small up-front investment, you could keep accumulating winning tickets at every visit. It was the dreamiest racket a seven year old could imagine.

The Tigers dominated baseball. My sister K showed me where I could find their daily ranking in the Detroit Free Press. It was always a big, sparkly 1. And then they won the World Series that fall when I was in the second grade. That was a great school year, my favorite of all. Mrs. K was very nice and quite fond of me in particular. Kids were still sweet at that age and I wasn't wearing glasses yet. When the summer of '85  rolled around, I wasn't so eager for school to end, yet I knew all the fun that awaited me - long days spent playing and watching TV, just like the old days before kindergarten. There would be fun music, sleepovers, baseball and fireworks on the 4th of July. And all those things did happen, but it was never quite so exhilarating as the summer of '84. 

I'm still searching for that ancient sense of newfound pleasure. It's impossible, I know, but I always feel just a smidge of it when I hear Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life". For me, that will always be the summeriest song that ever was.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Post Script (My Piece of Shit Neighbor)

A few nights ago, I blogged about the shock of seeing a Nazi flag hanging in my neighbor's bathroom. I've been in a pretty yucky mood ever since, hence this attempt to exorcise some of that disgust.

First, I would like to emphasize that I'd known this guy for all of three hours prior to that discovery. My impression hitherto that moment was rather positive, which made the immediate aftermath all the more confusing. My friend A's Facebook comment on the blog post link pretty perfectly described my reaction. In response to my neighbor calling his Nazi flag a "funny shower curtain", A wrote:

"The 'funny' part of it is baffling to me. I'd imagine most neo-Nazis don't find the swastika funny. Was he just trying to gauge your reaction to see if you're in the club, or is this some sick new depth of southern hipster irony that found the wrong audience? I suspect the former, but it's incredibly depraved either way."

Initially, I also assumed my neighbor must have been assessing my sympathies. And the notion that a white supremacist would ever wonder if I'm "on the team" was perhaps the single most revolting piece of this richly fucked incident. Well, a bit of new information has emerged by way of a friend-of-a-friend. This person (whom I've never met) knows and detests my neighbor despite the fact that many among their music scene peers regard him highly. Her impression, as far as I can make out, is that he embraces offensiveness as a way of being avant garde. So maybe - big, FAT maybe - he's just one of those dudes who likes to get a rise out of people, a.k.a. a troll. As far as my primal sense of safety is concerned, that's a smidge better than living down the block from someone who dreams of human genocide. But as far as his character is concerned, all it really means is that he's a narcissist and a sociopath in addition to being a bigoted piece of shit. Nazi or not, nobody gets a pass on that void of basic human respect.

I'd also like to mention that my piece of shit neighbor is a Philly native and a recent transplant from New York. My guess is that he thinks he can get away with bandying hate symbols "ironically" and passing it off as art in a place like Chattanooga because he assumes the local hipsters are too apathetic, ignorant and/or racist to call him out. But I suppose I'll never know for sure as I have no intention of sharing a civil word with him again. 

Besides, the details matter little. It's pretty simple - fuck that guy, fuck his flag and fuck his idiot friends for associating with such garbage. No gray shades here. It's all chiaroscuro. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Nightmare Friday Night

I kinda wanna throw up all over myself at this moment. So our neighbor (roughly our age, artsy-seeming) invites us to a tiki bar party in his basement. We don't know him at all but it sounds cool so we say "sure". Turns out there's a cover charge and bands all the way from Boston plus exquisite tropical drinks, so we oblige. We have a wonderful time. I mean, the bands are really noisy/electronic-y and really not my thing, but that's cool - they're different and the venue is funky and I'm just excited this is happening down the block from my house. After a few hours of acting the polite audience member during sets and an eager conversationalist in between, I ask the host if I may use his restroom. He directs me to the first floor and notes, "You'll see the funny shower curtain."

When I find the bathroom, I see a bright red curtain emblazoned with a human-sized, stark black swastika. Upon exiting the facilities, I immediately find the host. "Dude, what the fuck is up with your shower curtain?"

He chuckles and pats me on the arm. "I told you it was funny."

I nab Dan, tell him what happened and we bolt. I say to him after we get home, "The only good thing to come from this is that maybe I'll never be shocked by southern racism again," at which point he reminds me, "He's not even from here. It's like he sought the south."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Meeting Mini Me

I just figured out why I've been experiencing a silent, mini-meltdown these past several days. It started Friday when Dan told me Bernadette's day care provider referred to her as being "shy" with other kids. That was the precise moment this black cloud first crossed the sun. I grimaced. "Oh, no. But I don't want her to be like me!" 

That's all she seems to want these days, to be like me. Every other word out of her mouth is "mama". And as I decipher some of her other pronunciations and gestures it seems she's impersonating me. Today we were watching a family photo slideshow on my iPad and I noticed that she no longer squeals loudest in response to her own image. Her greatest delight is in recognizing me. 

Maybe this sounds like fabulous ego fodder, and it kinda is, but the novelty is wearing off and I'm starting to panic. It's too much pressure. I never wanted her to be like me as much as I wanted her to be better than me. And the shyness is the last thing I wished for her to emulate.

Blogging can be such swift, sharp tool of self discovery. It often seems that once I make some pronouncement about myself, I immediately discover it isn't entirely true. Specifically, I've started to wonder if I'm really quite so introverted as I am customarily afraid of other people. There's good reason for me to be that way - I've spent big chunks of my life in the company of mean, unstable people and I'm pretty sensitive to be dealing with that sort of thing. Sequestering myself was how I found calm and maintained my sanity. Good for me that I happened to enjoy spending time alone. But there's no question I've always been shy in addition to being introverted. I'm way more outgoing now than I was as a child, when I could barely look anyone in the eye. I've also gotten pretty good at avoiding assholes, too. Overall I'm proud of my progress, but I must admit I'm not yet the model I wish for my kid. 

I'm really not sure what to do. Fortunately, just prior to hearing someone describe my daughter with the "s-word", I'd already resolved to be a bit more social. A recent solo trip to Michigan reminded me how much I love good conversation with grown-up friends; much as I try to convince myself otherwise, the internet just doesn't provide a suitable substitute. I'm pretty sure I could experience more of that in Chattanooga if I made the effort. And that's fine. But now this other factor is increasing my sense of urgency, leaving me overwhelmed. I hate the idea that my kid could suffer undue loneliness because she's trying so hard to be like me.