Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. Does that mean we can “behold” ourselves, clearly and rationally? I don’t know. For me, the answer is usually, “No,” since I’ve got more than half a lifetime spent with criticisms and measurements and definitions of beauty that only revolved around a number on the scale, which can really torque with the way you define your own sense of worth in the world.
The conversation has been rolling around in my head ever since someone posed the question, “What if I have an ugly baby?” It was semi-in-jest, semi-serious, as the person has a friend with a pretty grizzled up baby with – as they say – a face only a mother could love. Is that really possible, though? And if you had the proverbial Ugly Duckling, wouldn’t you still love it with all your heart?
Growing up, I got a lot of, “Well…you’re ok from the neck up and the knees down,” or just an easy sort of shorthand, “You look fat.” I suppose now, I see if people will love me in spite of my copious extra adipose, or if they, too, will use it as a bludgeon and a barrier, a blight against me. Truth be told, I often find myself looking at myself and thinking I have a bit of a drag queen in me (maybe it’s my attitude seeping through), if only because I see my father’s features and having only known them as masculine, it’s hard to make sense of them on a female face. All I know is that it’s rather exhausting, and yet I still wish to be… pretty? Attractive? Somehow acceptable on only the surface, while rejecting the notion that surface definitions are the most shallow, that count the least, that in the form of rejection shouldn’t hurt, shouldn’t haunt, shouldn’t resonate with the old stuff I’ve pushed far below, because to have it out and riding shotgun is a horrible way to live.
The conversation at work grew painful, because my own upbringing, combined with that Upper Midwestern stoicism that tells you any semblance of vanity and self-worth are terrible character flaws, leave me feeling like the proverbial ugly baby myself, and I get defensive, because going through life having people eyeball you for being the fattest person at the nail salon or have kids point at you at the grocery store tends to eat away at the Teflon armor. It was even more challenging because my crankiness came off as fishing for compliments, and let me tell you, Upper Iowa Minnesota Jen wanted to run into traffic to escape, it was that horrifying. Anyway. I think we have to draw our confidence and self-assurance from more than just the mirror, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the mirror? Somehow throwing the ugly baby out with the bathwater feels like overkill.
So as the clock continues to tick, and the wrinkles around my eyes deepen, I’m sure of only one thing, and it’s that I have to be ok with me. As I am, as I was, as I will be. I may color my hair, use some products that promise to defy aging and peer at my face as I see my father’s eyes staring back at me, looking for what new mark of life’s process is stamped upon my skin. I actually surprised myself, because I was trying to figure out how in the hell my laptop camera actually took a picture and unprepared, I got one. This is me. Minimal makeup, no gigantic smile. Just… puzzling and thinking. I think a lot. Sometimes too much, but I still like doing it. And most days, I like me. Despite what all the old voices – and sometimes new – may try to tell me. Because the Beholder doesn’t always care, even if they should.
Well, that might be overstating things, but yesterday at lunch, my co-worker relayed the story of his friend who will be engaged soon, and the fact that her sister spilled the beans after shopping with the fiance, and then told the not-quite-yet-bride-to-be that the ring choice would “grow on her.” Because the sister is a royal fucking cuntbitch (CB), as I was quick to point out, and the sister has been jealous and sabotage-y of NQYBTB throughout the relationship because she wanted a boyfriend and SHE wants to get married first and SHE never obviously grew up listening to Marlo Thomas and Friends singing “Free To Be, You and Me” in which we learn that bitches who insist on “Ladies FIRST” and behaving really selfishly will ultimately get you eaten by tigers. or Lions. Or something, but it would be a horrible, mauling death. With the exception of Queen Latifah and her awesome song “Ladies First,” because nobody fucks with Queen Latifah.
So after hearing this story, I ripped into the CBSister, because that is some lame shit, putting your own insecurities and problems with the world onto someone else’s joy, and how lucky she is that I’m not CBSister’s sister, and he could only respond with the fact that NQYBTB is just hoping she can grow onto this ring whenever it happens and she’s not mad at her sister. To which I responded, “NQYBTB is a HELLUVA lot nicer than I am,” and was met with vigorous nodding.
I’ll own it. I will say, in my defense, I do not like hurting people and I work hard to be diplomatic and empathetic. But the flip side is that I’m blunt as hell and unafraid to call people on their shit, if they’re being extra shitty. Guess that just means it takes a strong, secure person to be my friend and stay in my life! I think Queen Latifah and I could kick it for sure. AND Monie Love. Where did she go? I loved her.
Someone posted one of those pictures everyone likes and shares – a stack of cell phones, sitting on a restaurant table. The type over the picture said something to the effect of, “First one to check their phone picks up the tab.” A funny, if not completely enforceable, reminder that the whole point of connecting, staying connected, and building connections has everything to do with being present, in the moment.
I first encountered the Horrid SmartPhone User in a former boss, who would look away from every conversation to check his phone whenever it beeped or buzzed. Not an actual incoming phone call, mind you, but an email notification or a text message alert. Entire meetings could pass while he kept his nose pointed at his phone’s screen, and while one can argue in every meeting there are times your contributions aren’t required, it’s different when you’re in a one-on-one meeting, and you continually send the unspoken message, “Something else might be more important than you, right now, and I’m going to disrupt what we’re saying by allowing this device to interrupt us.”
So in those days, and because I have a tendency to wander forward in my brain, anticipating the next steps, or the next 20 steps, or what might happen, I would mentally stop myself and say aloud, “Be here now.” It doesn’t mean I don’t also fall victim to my phone’s siren song of buzzing and chirps, but I try to be acutely aware of the fact that if I’m sitting at lunch, or dinner, or in a meeting, or having a one-on-one conversation with someone, I want to put them first. Just as I want them to put me first. Just the act of glancing at one’s phone’s screen is an interruption, a distraction, it is the equivalent of the pause button. Don’t even get me started on the people who are talking or texting at the movies, good grief. Seriously? Rent a movie and stay home. Nobody wants your inability to sit still, your need to multi-task encroaching on their enjoyment of being completely engrossed in the sights and sounds of a good story.
I’ve chided people who give their attention to their phone in my presence. “Are there three of us here right now? You, me, and all the people in your phone?” Because I just want to make sure it’s clear that our time is being shared by an inanimate object. If it is, maybe I’ll get out my phone, start giving semi-distracted responses, too. It’s fine, if the stage is set beforehand (I’m waiting to hear from the client, I am waiting for their response to an email, I need to make sure they got XYZ.) I suppose it’s technically fine if everyone’s on their phone, though I fail to see the point of being together if you’re going to all be absorbed by your 3″ screens. And again – I’m guilty of it myself, but I’m working on reviving that mantra, Be Here Now, because if we’re not Here? We’re slowly forgetting how to converse, how to engage, how to be polite and respectful, how to immerse ourselves in the world around us.
Your friends will thank you. Your employees will appreciate you. Your brain, which doesn’t need to do 20 things at once, might actually breathe a sigh of relief. And you will not miss anything. You might actually get even more than you expected.
The older I get, the more my palate changes, widens, deepens. This past summer, the Wo and I went to Plaza III for happy hour (he had gift cards, woo!) and I decided to try a Manhattan. I’ve never been much of a bourbon drinker, but I determined I liked it, and this past weekend, decided to make one at home. It’s very simple, a classic beverage – 2 parts bourbon, 1 part sweet vermouth, dash of bitters and a maraschino cherry. Stir, serve over ice, enjoy. I dug through our liquor cabinet, because I knew we had vermouth (but it turned out to be dry vermouth) and I discovered a bottle of bitters. My only association with them was that at some point in time, 10+ years ago, I used them in something and HATED them. I unscrewed the top, sniffed, and determined they smelled rather appealing. I used Makers Mark 46, and it was a nice adult beverage, the kind you sip and savor.
What I want to write about isn’t so much about booze, or beverages, or even palates, but how we evolve and change and sometimes completely reverse our thinking on things. And the fact that what I want to say is going to be read by some as that of a bitter, uncharitable person. Truly not how I would describe myself, but I know that whenever you run perpendicular to people who are committed to doing SOMETHING or believing SOMETHING, those who don’t agree become easier to dismiss when we put negative labels on them.
In the wake of the shootings in CT, the knitting community sprang into action. Groups were formed, for knitted (and crocheted!) items must be sent to the children. The families. Hell, let’s send things to the whole town, everyone who was touched by the tragedy. And the former YES LET US KNIT FOR THEM in me showed up absent. No. I don’t want to knit a toy for the child who shut their eyes as they were led past the bodies of their classmates. That will not fix this, and no matter how much love and tears I pour into a project like that, in the end, that process is for me. Not them. And we all are trying to find our way, I get it, and what happened was horrible, mind-boggling, devastating. We seek answers and comfort in the familiar and in service. But I kept finding my brain wandering back to something I’d learned about the Jewish faith years ago, the notion that the highest form of tzedakah (charity) is a gift that is given with no knowledge of the donor, in such a way that does not denigrate the recipient. In other words, anonymous.
And that led me to another branch on the thought tree, and that is the concept of anonymity and its ever-dwindling presence. In the days of social media and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are encouraged to share the most mundane of thoughts, rewarded in our Skinner-box with the clicks of “Likes” and comments, how many people will like my picture? And I don’t think there’s anything categorically wrong with it, we are human beings who desire connection, no matter how many electronic devices we own, we still crave the most basic togetherness, to be monkeys in the tree tops, grooming and petting each other, looking for fleas. The internet lets us have something parallel, in a non-touching cyberspace, where we can find more like-minded folk, hobbies and politics and interests uniting faces that would have lived entire lives without knowing each other fifty years ago.
So what do all these random thoughts mean? I’m not sure. I don’t mean to tear down the well-intended, because 15 years ago, that would have been me in spades, leaping into some sort of action that would soothe my raw heart. But in my head and heart, I now find myself uncomfortable, unwilling to participate. And certainly, what is a blog if not an indulgence in one’s own narcissism, the idea that the words I string together are worth someone else’s time to read? That somehow I might change someone or improve their world with my humor or musings? If anything, this is more of a self-observation, that over time we can change how we express ourselves, how we choose to process things. And our experiences, too. I participated in a big afghan donation project several years back, only to learn later that the blankets were received more with a shrug and a “hm, ok,” than an outpouring of appreciation for the effort that had gone into every stitch. We project our love of our craft onto others, and expect (or at least hope) they will cry with delight and admiration that we took the time to make this for them, because we know how much went into the item. The love in every loop, the skills honed over the years to create something beautiful and unique. Some people? Really just drive around the parking lot, with the windows down and the system up & just don’t give a fuck, to paraphrase Eminem.
In the end, I return to the tzedakah, and ask you to consider what charity means to you. What it means to you in the middle of the night, when you are alone in your head, there’s nobody watching, there’s no internet access, no “like” or “agree” buttons. And then do what you need to do, because some of these nights have been very cold and dark of late.
So a ton of people are reading the jaw-dropping, eye-opening, no-he-di’n’t statement that wannabe-Senator Todd Akins said in an interview over the weekend. It’s all over Facebook, Twitter, and just about every single news source in America has posted on it. (here’s the exchange with the interviewer, in case you missed it:
“If abortion could be considered in case of, say, a tubal pregnancy [which threatens the mother’s life], what about in the case of rape?” asked KTVI host Charles Jaco. “Should it be legal or not?”
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
Argh. When will the people who want government to stop meddling in their lives fiscally take a lesson from their own playbook and stop trying to impose their values, beliefs, morality and religion on everyone else? Not to mention maybe doing some scientific research before gum-flapping complete bullshit rehetoric that suits your platform?
But really. Anyone who knows me or has read this blog over the years knows that I am a feminist, I wear that label proudly, and I support a society with reproductive rights as upheld by the Supreme Court of our great country. So you knew the whole thing would make me a bit…frothy. But this time, it was less about defending a woman’s right to choose, it was the giant concrete block of the word “Legitimate”.
Um, what is that? So many beliefs, attitudes and prejudices just rolled all over me with those two words. Because the opposite (“Illegitimate Rape”?) makes you think that sometimes rape isn’t…rape. Just…. roughhousing? Are we really going back to the infamous line from Claytie WIlliams, “If it [rape] is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it”? But in this case, it would seem that might be at cross-purposes with our magical built-in uterii’s uncanny ability to eliminate pregnancy if we’re really being raped.
Twenty-four years ago, I sat by a woman’s bedside in a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. Tubes left her body, transporting bloodstained urine, draining wounds from the stabbing she’d received days earlier from the hands of her rapist. Her will to survive made such an impression on me, that it was the first thing I thought of when I heard that quote from Akin. She had been raped, sodomized, stabbed and left for dead in shed near a cornfield. She begged her attacker to take her with him, because she had enough presence of mind to realize if he left her, she would die that night in the cold darkness. She promised him money, just take her to an ATM, she’d give him the number when they got there. And when he left the vehicle to get that cash, she dragged her body across the parking lot and got the attention of a truck driver, who rescued her from the nightmare that would now be forever in her memory, part of her Life Experience, the curse of her will to survive that she would also have to bear those memories for the rest of her days.
The crisis counselor murmured, “You are so, so brave. So brave.” I barely spoke, because I was the art major doing an internship, who wanted to help people with my sympathy, caring, and understanding. Be the change you wish to see in the world. I just never knew how terrible the world could be.
Doesn’t it always feel a little bit different, when you put a face, or a story, or a name on the unthinkable? That maybe our black & white thinking doesn’t always apply. That an extreme stance on anything means taking someone else’s rights away. I would never tell that woman we needed to review just how legitimate her rape was. Or that she’d have to carry that evil shit scum’s baby to term. Could you? Todd Akin thinks he could. And for that, I can’t forgive him any “mis-speaks”.
I always think of that line on the 4th of July. Our local nutjob in the small town in Iowa where I was raised had hand-lettered it (with electrical tape) onto the back of his very long trenchcoat.
A tall, imposing silhouette, children ran from him or taunted him from a safe distance. I knew of three classmates who waited until he left his house and then dared each other to go in. Apparently he was a hoarder long before they made TV shows about them; piles of newspapers and magazines created a path (and only a path) through the two rooms they dared to enter. Nowadays, I wonder what Marvin’s story really was – was he one of our lost veterans, abandoned to live in their own haunted minds? In any event, he still crosses my mind, thirty-plus years later.
Freedom is an interesting thing. A friend posted on Facebook that the First Amendment was her favorite and worthy of celebration. I couldn’t agree more, though the true definition of Freedom of Speech can be very subjective. I ponder why I write on this blog, I ponder why I don’t write everything I want to say. I ponder what would be in a book, if I wrote one. I am always excruciatingly aware of how easily it is to fall into the trap of passive-aggressiveness when you want to scream out at people who’ve fucked up, insulted you, abandoned you, all that shit. Then I think, is it worth it? I already gave you fuckers some rent-free space in my head, now I’m giving you bandwidth, too? And is it really what you wanted in the end, to “make the blog”? LOL!
Anyway. I always ruminate as my birthday approaches. What will the next year hold, what triumphs may come, what heartaches, there’s no crystal ball, so we reflect on what has passed. People we said goodbye to, whether with sadness or in anger – the new opportunities that have come along, and the doors that closed. I realize this is more typically done at New Year’s, and I suppose I do so then, but it’s always different, more intense with birthdays. Maybe more so now, as you realize the older you get, that there are only so many you get. And it’s important not to waste time on the things, people, projects, emotions that hold you back.
I realize it sounds darker than it feels; introspection is like that, I guess. I’m looking forward to the new chapter ahead, and even without the crystal ball, I know there are going to be some awesome things in store for me. As for anything else, well? I just have to trust in my own wisdom and experience to get me through it! I know I wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes, but much like Marvin and his trenchcoat, I guess I’d rather have people see me coming, know who I am and how I feel, than to pretend to be anything else at all.
To those who are mothers through their love and actions. Biology can define you as a mother, certainly, but it doesn’t mean you’re doin’ it right.
Mine is in rehab for the second time, claiming she’s “just a social drinker”. Clearly she is quite misunderstood, as going on an eleven-day bender, drinking after getting out of rehab the first time, and being confronted by your peers and colleagues and having to “retire early” because you’ve been “socially drinking” before/during work, why, that’s not alcoholism, it’s just being really, really fucking social. Life of the party!
To think I was worried about how I would handle her making amends as part of the Twelve-Step program.
Perhaps the one good thing to come out the past six months of angst has been a freshly-developed relationship with my uncle (my mother’s brother.) He is, in many ways, like my mother as I knew her – quick to laugh, optimistic, hard-working – yet not as plagued by his family of origin issues and at the core, a loving and forgiving person. We have had countless conversations, and I’ve learned more painful things about my mom than I imagined possible. One of the things that I’ve done, through the dwindling silence after my father died, was to always make sure I sent her a card, note, email, gift on the main holidays. Mother’s Day, Birthday, Christmas. Many of those gifts were hand-knit items – socks, hats, lace scarf, etc. In my naivete, I imagined she at least showed them off and told people they were from me. What a fool – letting my inner ten-year old hang on to that dream. Nope. I am not a topic. That one nicked the bone, I must say. A more neutral perspective pointed out that much of her behavior probably centered around maintaining her own victimology, for to be cut off from her only child works better as a sob story than ownership in the dance. And a good reason to “be social.” That helps, but of course it doesn’t change a thing. My poor uncle initially pushed for me to visit, to help, to try to intervene. Ten years ago, I might have done that. Now, I recognize that I am powerless in this situation, and until my mother decides FOR HERSELF she really wants to quit drinking, all the rehab and interventions and talking will be for naught. I have learned from watching a dear friend go through the whole process of recovery, and while I’m sure she would rather have not had to go through it, I am grateful for what she taught me.
So, onward we go, and focus on the things we can control and change, appreciate the people who put in the effort, who talk and listen and support. Honor those who love you; remember to honor yourself in the process.
We spent last week, and much of the weekend, watching many of the programs dedicated to the memory of 9/11.
I spent a lot of time in tears, and despite that sadness, the explanation I have for that choice is simple. I feel, as a citizen of this country, that it is my duty to know as much as possible about what happened that day, and to never forget it.
Because here, in flyover country, that day was as blue as the skies in Manhattan.
And as I drove to work, listening to the DJs in confusion and not having anything visual to go on, I just kept yelling, “WHAT IS GOING ON?” which probably sums up how most of America felt that day.
When the first tower fell, I was sitting in our conference room. My mind went blank and all I could think was, “All those people.” I started to cry. Nobody else was crying. I still don’t understand that, everyone around me was silent and stoney-faced. Maybe it was the horror, the shock, just being in the workplace – but none of it was a barrier for me. I went to my office, shut the door, tried to call my friend still living in Manhattan. All the lines were down. (He was fine, I found out later.)
So I called my father. The man who always had an idea, a solution, greater knowledge of the world and what to do. This would be the only time in my life with him that he didn’t have an answer. “Why is this happening? What is going on?” I could see him shaking his head as he told me he just didn’t know, that it was terrible and awful. Things we both knew, small words that couldn’t capture the enormity of it all.
I left work, listening now to reports that our president was flying all over the country, and I was angry. One of the shows we watched last week was on NatGeo, and it was an hour, interviewing George W. about that day, and despite my feelings about his politics in general, it was an excellent show. It really explained the chronology of events, how information was being gathered, how that day unfolded, how even our government was in shock, reacting, doing everything possible to keep our president out of harm’s way, while trying to prevent more of the same from happening.
Later that afternoon, I called James. We had been dating for two years. He still lived in Clinton. He described walking out onto the playground and looking up at the sky, seeing all the hairpin vapour trails from the planes that had left MCI, and then turned back around, grounded. Hearing the fighter jets take their place, departing out of Whiteman AFB.
For the rest of the night, I watched the news, horrified but unable to turn away. Also, unable to knit, I could only wind yarn. I still haven’t worked on that project, but for the first time, I think I can again.
Ten years later, all I’ve got is this: Love, Solidarity & Wisdom. They all came with a painful price tag.
We had tickets to the Buzz Under the Stars concert last Friday down at City Market – Cake was playing, we’ve seen them twice already and love ‘em – plus I like Mumford & Sons. My rep had told me that parking was going to be a nightmare, and looking on the web site for the Market, the lots were going to cost at least $10 and no guarantee there would be enough spots. So I decided we should take the bus! James has taken the Max a couple times (jury duty, Rockfest) and always had good stories, so we headed up to the Park & Ride in Waldo, and jumped on the Max. I should point out I’m not a stranger to public transportation, as I took the bus the whole time I lived in Minneapolis, and I’ve ridden buses, subways and trains in NYC, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. I think what distinguishes this experience from those is how…interactive people are willing to get with each other.
The Max is supposed to be very timely, and all the stops have digital updates letting you know where the bus is in transit. It runs from 75th and Waldo all the way up to 3rd & Grand, north of the City Market, and back again. For a $1.50, we were pretty happy with the alternative to driving and finding parking. Our bus driver was talking to his kids on the phone and might have been a minute or two late for departure, but with all the stops that started happening, he began to fall behind schedule. The trip started to take on shades of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride when we hit the Plaza, and instead of getting into the turn lane (which had a red arrow), he got into the center lane and made a left turn around the line of cars. I couldn’t stop laughing at that point, because we were hanging on to stay in our seats as we surged forward and took hard turns. If he’d had a cow-catcher on the front of the bus, we would have left a trail of wreckage as he plowed through slow cars in the bus lane.
Now, James had told me that there’s a whole section of the route that just turns into crazy pants, with the wildest mix of people you’d ever see. He wasn’t kidding. It starts near the Plaza and continues all the way through mid-town and into downtown. This experience was heightened by the fact it was also First Friday in the Crossroads, and as we sped through the area, we saw a huge wave of…zombies. Yes, zombies. It was totally awesome, apparently there was a hunger/food drive walk and these folks were in full regalia and makeup. (I have a penchant for zombies, I’ll admit.) The crazy-highlight of the trip, though, was the older woman sitting across from me (I was on the sideways seats, James was facing forward) and she started talking to me about my purple Tom Bihn bag, and that her favorite color is purple. (Despite the heat, she was wearing a jean jacket and purple sweatpants, her face divided by oversized, octagonal glasses.) She proceeded to tell me about buying some bag she just had to have and didn’t care about the stuff that came inside it, she could have thrown that stuff away, but she had to have that bag because her favorite color is purple. I amicably nodded along for a little bit, then turned my head to look around and watch our progress as we surged down Main Street. After a pause, she started talking to me again, but I had already transformed into the blowfish, and my sunglasses helped me avoid further eye contact. Naively, I thought that would be sufficient to discourage her. Oh. No. She leaned across the aisle, pawed at my bag and said loudly, “I LIKE YOUR BAG! My favorite color is purple!”
Oh Lord. “Yes, I know, you told me.” And she proceeded to run through her purple spiel again, while I nodded and avoided eye contact with my husband.
Blessedly, she got off shortly thereafter. After she exited, James reached over and grabbed my bag and informed me purple was his favorite color, too, while we both clutched the seats as we sped off again, trying to make up lost time.
But the big adventure was on the return trip home. We missed our bus by a minute, which was discouraging, as the route runs every half-hour and it was hot, it was just before 10p, and we were ready to head home. We waited it out, got on the bus, this time moving all the way towards the back where the seats are elevated and, I was assured by James, the people-watching was MUCH better. This time, we were getting an even more interesting assortment of people. A middle-aged black man got on the bus, wearing glasses that had a set of yellow lenses clipped on over them. They were also missing one sidepiece, so they precariously perched on his nose, held in place by only one side wrapping around his ear. I’m not sure what the yellow lenses did for him, I tend to associate that shade with sharpshooters. An angry goth girl with a Jimmy John’s shirt got on as well. Subs so angry you’ll freak? A trio of French girls boarded, and sat behind us, iPods firmly in place. One man got on with a paper plate of pizza, then he got off on the next stop. (Interesting. Dining al fresco and el bus-o?) The bus started to fill up; an older, skinny black man wearing a wife beater got on, went all the way to the back, followed by another wife-beater-wearing man, head shaved and gauged ears. It took a while to determine they were actually traveling together. For several minutes, the black man boomed “WHO DAT BE? WHO DAT BE? I CAN’T SEE!” as his pal was standing up in front of him. I just kept facing forward, and noticed I could use the thick piece of plexiglass that was in front of me (between me and the back door) as a sort of mirror, since the florescent lights of the bus brightly illuminated the other side of the bus, while the ones by me were off.
I could see Shaved Head dude swiveling his head around like a parrot, looking out both windows and observing people in the bus. Then he leaned forward and pushed on the shoulder of the French girl who was sitting by herself. “What are you listening to?” he demanded. She pulled out an earbud and said “What?” He repeated the question. In heavily accented English, she answered, “Muzeek” and put her headphones back in. This seemed to anger our unstable fellow, unfortunately. He then spent the next couple of stops sneering and repeating the conversation in an increasingly louder and temper-filled solo monologue. When he and his (WHODAT?!) friend, who at least had stopped his own shouting finally exited, he expelled some extra rage by jumping up and pounding on the bus windows by the girls behind me. Ugh. A guy behind me who’d been at the concert turned and apologized to her, and when someone said he didn’t do anything, he responded with the fact he was from our country and that’s why he was extending the apology. Someone was definitely off their meds, or in desperate need of some new ones.
Meanwhile, people are still getting on and getting off, and at the Plaza, a woman with her arm in a sling boarded, and started talking to the driver, apparently trying to determine if we were the right bus for her. Sadly, her inability to use her left arm also left her unable to pull up her pants, as I did a triple-take trying to ascertain if I had, indeed, just seen a judicious helping of the crack of her ass as her sweatpants drooped badly on her hips. Oh, I had.
Really, I think riding the Max about once a month (or more, if one wanted to write a book) is something everyone should do. It reminds you that the faceless, nameless people who clean your hotel rooms and make your sandwiches and pick up their kids from daycare because they don’t have a car are working behind the scenes to keep your comfortable life comfortable. That there are a lot of colorful, crazy folks who buy bus cards and go to the library or go out for a slice of pizza and then tuck themselves back to their low-income apartment or halfway house that we don’t see because we’re driving behind our tinted windows, listening to NPR, spending the cost of a bus pass on dinner. That there are people in this city for whom English isn’t their first language, and that chivalry isn’t dead, and people are unabashedly ready to tell you their favorite color is purple. The reminder that 30 years ago, you didn’t see a tattooed and pierced man affectionately touching his equally tattooed and pierced partner on the back, just like a man might pat his wife’s back, while they waited for the door to open. That today you think nothing of it, the new normal has progressed, nobody says anything or looks around with scandal.
That no matter how far away we move to live, in homogenized suburban neighborhoods, surrounded by the sterile blandness and sameness of strip malls and chain restaurants, none of that can hold a candle to the energy of the melting pot that is Midtown Kansas City.
I got a lot of flak on Friday when I posted on Facebook via my phone that I was going insane at the nail salon, as they were playing Neil Diamond songs back-to-back. I was panicked because I couldn’t find my headphones, but eventually did, plugged them in and drowned out the insanity with some Mumford & Sons.
Turns out, a lot of people really love Neil Diamond, judging from the comments. (It never got ugly, these friends just started peppering me with lyrics as a form of torture.) So here is the backstory for why I am NOT a fan.
It started when I was very young – 6 years old or so? I would get off the school bus at my babysitter’s, who had a son in my class. I clearly remember two things about my babysitter: she had an impressive collection of nail-wire “art” in her living room (you know, like big ships at sea or animals, made from wire criss-crossing on a black background) and she had an undying love for Neil Diamond. She was SO EXCITED when she picked up a new 45 and she would play the song over, and over, and over again. I particularly remember when she got “Reverend Blue Jeans” (as I thought he was singing, anyway, the song was “Forever in Blue Jeans”, no matter how many times I heard it. Which was a lot.
Fast forward 15 years. I’m out of college, and working at Carson Pirie Scott’s Menswear department – dress shirts and ties. The music that played overhead was Muzak, and it was pretty much the same dreck every day. And it never failed that there would be an hour of Neil Diamond music, done to Muzak, and for whatever reason, it just made me crazy. Because it’s earwormy to begin with, and then you mash it down and take out the words and synthesize it and now you’ve created a shadow monster, something that is ten-times worse than it’s source, like artificially-flavored chocolate chips. Better to have none at all than that lingering chemical taste in your mouth, I say.
I do make an exception for the hilarious Will Ferrell send-up of Behind the Music on SNL. That’s a case of improving on the original, imho.
And here’s a great example of the art I was trying to describe. I’m pretty sure she had a big ol’ ship over the sofa.
I know there are plenty of superfans who love Neil Diamond. But I was raised on the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, folk music and protest songs. Balladeers like Neil weren’t welcome at our house, and his music is like fingers on the chalkboard of my soul. But I also know that not every Neil Diamond enthusiast embraces wire ship art, either. So let’s celebrate what we can agree on – and I’m betting it’s a universal dislike of those faux chocolate chips!