Friday, January 30, 2015

The moment

A couple of years ago, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys died after a battle with cancer.  When this happened, Lindsey Way (Lyn-Z from the band Mindless Self Indulgence) stated on her Twitter account how much she loved the Beasties and that “they were like the Beatles to me”.  This puzzled me, as I was never a big fan.  I’m apparently one of those cranky old farts who found them loud, rude and annoying.  (I know; that was pretty much the point of the group.  I also still maintain that white people shouldn’t rap, since we mostly sound ridiculous when we do.)  My kids admire the Beasties, too, though.  Obviously I’d underestimated their influence.   

It occurred to me recently what Ms. Way was actually saying: that everyone who loves music has their moment when an artist’s music speaks to them, and lifts them out of whatever situation they’re in.  This could be someone’s “Elvis moment”, which would likely apply to many young people in the late 50’s (and long thereafter) who picked up a guitar after witnessing Presley on the Sullivan show.  For those a few years younger—an entire generation, as it happens—it would be the “Beatles moment” of seeing them live, also performing on Ed Sullivan, and the hysteria they caused.

For me, the Moment happened during a vacation with my folks in Florida in the spring or winter of 1973.  I seem to remember being outside when I heard the haunting strains of an unfamiliar song. It turned out to be “Daniel” by Elton John.  When I found out what it was, and who sang it, I was crazy to hear it again, and eventually, to own a copy.  I still have the 45—backed with a non-album track that I played and sang all the time: “Skyline Pigeon”.  The first album I ever owned was Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player, its artist and title photographed on a theatre marquee as if the album was actually a movie, its singer the star.  Naturally, I have my beat-up original copy to this day.  Replacing that worn vinyl disc with something that might sound “cleaner” is as inconceivable to me as selling one of my children.

The simple act of hearing something that caught my ear in a particular way propelled me into a fandom that (in those primitive pre-internet days) I couldn’t really share with anyone.  That made it all the more precious.  I had scrapbooks where I housed magazine interviews, song lyrics, and any tiny mention of the name that had become so important to me.  I pored repeatedly over a brief biography; I stayed up late and taped the soundtrack from a British-made documentary of the making of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  I cut out pictures of every costume, every pair of glasses (why was my own eyewear so boring??), and kept my ears wide open for any news that might bring me even more joy.  As much as it embarrasses me to admit it, I was inspired by a series of Partridge Family novels (the first fan-fiction I ever read!), and in 7th grade, I wrote my own fiction involving Elton John and his band.  For a school assignment.  (Sadly or not, both have now, as they say, been lost to history.)

My point (other than examining the often insane heights of fandom) is that a single song, half-heard, could propel me into something that was so much bigger than myself that I could barely comprehend it.  It filled my life and my heart and my ears and my attention so completely that I’m not sure how I made it through my days.  And it wasn’t just Elton; music itself became my obsession.  The mid-70s, as maligned as they may be, were a ridiculously fertile time, with the radio blasting rock, pop, funk, disco, soul, singer-songwriters and hard rock.  James Taylor, Carole King, Helen Reddy, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Grand Funk Railroad, the Rolling Stones, the O-Jays, the Jackson 5, Funkadelic: all these and so many more, all of them spilling into my ears out of the same station all day and all night. 

The excitement for the music I loved made me get up early on Saturdays to tape my favorite songs off the radio (God knows what happened to those cassettes).  I listened to the Top 40 show every Sunday up until the minute we had to leave for church, or just as soon as I got home from Mass.  I kept lists of the top ten songs for weeks at a time.  I had a small notebook in my school locker where I’d assign myself a “song of the day”.  For example, on a given day, it might have been “Angie Baby” by Helen Reddy, or “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” by Brownsville Station, that I would choose to keep my brain occupied between classes.   Almost a decade before MTV, I watched The Midnight Special on Friday nights with Wolfman Jack as host, and saw the first music video of my life (not counting the Monkees TV show): “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

And all this before I was sixteen.  I could go on, but in the interest of brevity I will refrain.

When my older daughter was little, she pretty much liked everything I played for her.  (Needless to say, that did not last.)  She had her own Moment when, at twelve, her new best friend gave her a homemade copy of I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love by My Chemical Romance.  Almost overnight, she was immersed in a band whose songs her bewildered parents could only hope to comprehend (much like my own poor mother more than thirty years prior).  All we could hear coming from her room was what sounded like inarticulate screaming.  On our basement computer, she scoured for and printed hundreds of pictures of her favorite band (until our printer ran out of ink, in fact).  She constantly watched their DVD documentary Life on the Murder Scene and all the extra material, at all hours of the day and night.  I think we even brought it along on vacation that year.  And of course she listened to their first two albums pretty much 24/7.  That was just the start of it, along with a whole new family of bands that she could love.

I have documented in other essays how we connected over MCR, and how I also became their fan (and I’m so very glad I did).  But I wonder now if maybe a part of me recognized and was drawn to that obsessive love of a band, and of music in general.  Though I hate to use the word, it was a journey that led us many miles from our home to seek out the band we loved so much.  Of course, the internet allowed us to connect with many other fans, some of whom have become dear friends in the last few years.  All of them, and us, understand that music, and the love of it, fills your heart and soul in ways nobody can explain, but almost everyone can recognize and understand.  It really is like falling in love, with the same passion and the same madness.  It becomes all-encompassing, a way of life, almost a vocation.  While some might say this love means I’m immature, I think it keeps me young: most times I maintain a mental age of no more than 19 in a 50-something package.  Yes, I might look and/or feel ridiculous sometimes, but I feel sorry for those who (in my opinion) seem to live without the passion that’s kept me alive, and continues to do so.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Got Them Seasonal Retail Blues, or, Things I Learned from Being Employed Seasonally at a Large Retail Chain:

1.       Firstly, something I knew but forgot: “Flexible schedules” means flexible for your employer, not necessarily for you.  While they didn’t make me work on nights when I said I could not, they scheduled me to close pretty much every time I worked.

2.       If you’re scheduled to close, you will do exactly that, and work till the manager says that everyone can go home.

3.       If you’re not scheduled to close, think nothing of waltzing out at the end of your shift with a smile on your face.  The rest of the team will try not to hate you.

4.       Shoppers are PIGS.  They will dump anything and everything in a fitting room with no thought to who might have to clean it up and put it away later.  I once found not only many bras, but also several shirts and sweaters (3-4 of each) and SIX pairs of the exact same style/color/size of jeans, all in ONE fitting room.

5.       A busy Saturday means the store looks like it was hit by a tornado, or a bomb.

6.       Bras are maybe the most difficult item to re-hang, and hang straight.  Panties, even giant granny panties, are a close second.  We won't even discuss thongs.

7.       There are many worse things than having to listen to Michael Buble’ singing Christmas music…like Josh Groban, opera, Gregorian chants and most modern country music.

8.       Many terrifying and unnecessary holiday recordings exist, including, but not limited to, selections like: “Christmas in Jamaica” (featuring Shaggy); Brenda Lee’s version of “Marshmallow World”; and too many versions of “Jingle Bell Rock” to count.  (I am thankful that I was spared having to listen to any holiday recordings by Jimmy Buffet.)

9.       There exists a mash-up of Peggy Lee’s recording of “Fever” and Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.”  NOT EVEN KIDDING.  I may never be the same.

10.   I am too old for this shit.  So long, Sammy, see ya in Miami!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Part-Time Jobs (rant alert)

Recently I decided it'd be a good thing for me to get some part-time work.  The purpose of this is not because I enjoy work so much that I want to do it even more than I already do.  No, I have many bills (mostly self-inflicted), and I desperately need a new car.  So, unless I actually win the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes, or someone just walks up to me on the street and hands me the keys to a new vehicle, I NEED MONEY (that's what I want).

And so, the job search.  I would be OK with working part-time anywhere in the local mall, or perhaps at one of my favorite stores. Now, once upon a time, gentle readers, looking for a job went like this:  

(1) You saw that a place you'd like to work was hiring. 

(2) You called or walked in and filled out an application. 

(3) When a callback was received, an interview was set up and conducted between yourself and the person hiring, and/or perhaps the one who'd wind up as your supervisor.  

(4) If they liked you, they'd offer you the job, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, you'd be working there, for better or worse.

Simple, no?

Yes.  Too simple, in fact, for the employment climate of the 21st century, as it turns out.  Most places don't want to see your face before they deign to summon you for your interrogation.  The initial contact is normally online now, which isn't terrible; I have awful handwriting, so my typing is much easier to read.  This is good.  And not so good: you don't get the chance to make a good first impression as you're handing in your application.  Everyone wants to see a resume, which is kind of overkill in the case of someone like me, who isn't planning to leave her current job.  Seriously, the local Target really doesn't need to know where I graduated from high school or college three decades ago.  But I dutifully fill in every field, because to leave anything out indicates a cardinal sin.

Next is the questionnaire.  Yes, you heard me right.  This again I will gamely complete, because I can't not.  However, the tone of the questions or statements troubles me.  As you progress (and the one from a large chain store took nearly a half hour; I'm thinking there were 100+ statements for me to agree or disagree with), some of the questions seem to be repeated...quite a few times.  And then some of them are just weird, and nobody in their right mind would agree ("My boss would say I'm the best worker he ever had") or disagree.  If you agreed, people would think you're lying.  If you disagreed, they'd toss the application in the digital circular file.

I did the computer equivalent of a shrug and pressed on.

Now, I must say that till now, nothing I've done online has borne fruit.  (I did walk in and speak to the nice lady that runs a smaller business in our mall, but we weren't able to settle on an interview date and time due to conflicting schedules. This can be fixed with a day off.)  But I know what's coming.  In the unlikely event of an actual face-to-face interview, I will probably be asked many (if not all) of the same questions I already answered online.  Hey, I'm not trying to be the president, or even a manager.  All I want to do is make $8 an hour while asking someone the equivalent of "You want fries with that?"

My own company, when interviewing a longtime employee, will make them go through three interviews in one day: one with the potential boss; one with a potential co-worker or team leader; and one with a very nice HR lady.  When I recently tried to get a different position, I knew by the silence that followed that I hadn't gotten it.  Then, when the nice HR lady contacted me to put the last nail into the coffin, she said something that shocked me: I should "watch my language" in future interviews, because I had cursed in front of someone (not her).  

To whom did I curse, and what did I say?  I still wonder, since she's never gotten back to me with the answer.  I mean, seriously, folks, no matter if you're a trucker, or just have a potty mouth in private (me): who's going to use something worse than hell or damn when speaking to an interviewer?  Was the person I "cursed at" (more like "used mild profanity in her presence") so refined that I actually offended her?  She didn't act that way.  Oh well, fuck that.  I have bigger fish to fry.

You know, one of the places I applied to (no word yet) uses a service that sends me "personalized job alerts" every day.  There are hundreds of jobs out there, folks, not even kidding!  Maybe not all of them are careers, but they exist.  And so do the mountains of bullshit I'll apparently have to climb in order to get one of them.

Wish me luck.  I'm gonna need it.
If You Don't like the Weather....(written May 2013)

The seasons in Wisconsin have given all creatures of this fair state a run for their money this past winter.  We had record-breaking snowfall, resulting in an end to the drought we've experienced in the past couple of years.  It snowed into April, which is the cruelest month anyway.  I read a Vonnegut short story some time ago, where he wrote that "April...drove everyone crazy by not being quite spring."  It occurs to me that this past April has been less like what I'd prefer to call spring at pretty much any latitude.  Goddamn!

The first year I lived here, it snowed in mid-May.  In fact, my husband and I had just returned about ten days earlier from our honeymoon in New Orleans.  I can recall exclaiming, when we got home, that "Spring came while we were gone!"  Shortly thereafter, cherry and apple tree branches (not to mention power lines) were breaking under the weight of a heavy, wet spring snow.  It felt like I'd stumbled onto the end of the world.  My father-in-law, the author of a large vegetable garden each spring and summer, sensibly starts his tomatoes indoors under a grow-light, and NEVER puts a plant in the ground till after May 15.  A wise man, indeed.

This year, the first really big storm happened just a few days before Christmas, on a Thursday.  I was spared the terror of driving to work in that mess because I'd arranged to take the day off; I was actually supposed to pick up my older daughter from college in Milwaukee.  Obviously that didn't happen.  A co-worker of my husband's got stranded in Milwaukee and graciously agreed to bring our child home the following day.  Shortly thereafter, I became ill and spent most of Christmas week in the house.  I remember that the Saturday after Christmas, my husband was bringing me home from the hospital while fat flakes of snow drifted down from the night sky.  Even in my weakened state, I could appreciate its beauty, but given the amount of snow we'd already had, it was pretty much overkill.

A friend visited us from Australia just after the turn of the year, and I daresay between Green Bay and Banff, Canada, she got her lifetime fill of snow.  And it was cold here, in a way it hasn't been in several years.  Between December and February, our almost-new snowblower got the workout it missed last winter.  However, the snow decided to refresh itself repeatedly in March as well, to the point that on the first calendar day of spring, I took a photo of a mini-mountain in our parking lot at work.  Seriously, where else can you put it all, once you've started piling it up?  We used to have a "handicapped parking" sign on the far end of the parking lot.  Yeah, not any more, folks.

Lest we forget, April was also a freezing mess.  I have another picture, this one of a small bush outside our office totally sheathed in ice.  (I am still grateful that it was only smaller objects that received that coating.  I've lived through ice storms a few times, and they are, surprisingly, no fun.)  Oddly, though, as if a cosmic switch had been thrown, at a certain point, the grass obediently began to green up without the usual benefit of warmer air and sunlight.  So far as I can tell, the trees are lagging behind somewhat; but already I see patches of opportunistic dandelions.  And my neighbors have begun to reappear as well.  Spring is normally when we notice that some folks might have moved--or not.  Kids, runners, the Jewish Chabad community down the street: all have been out on the few nice days, playing, doing laps, raking, fertilizing, and whatever it is that people who have the time do for their lawns.  Crazy.  But we love it, and long for it all the long winter.

They seem to get longer every year.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nick Curran 1977-2012

Every year, we have to get used to the fact that, sadly, we've heard the last of some of our favorite performers.  In 2012, the one that hit me hard early in the year was the sudden passing of Davy Jones, maybe the first celebrity/singer I'd ever crushed on.  I was just a little girl when The Monkees debuted in the mid-60s, and Davy was my guy, oh yeah.  That show (on Tuesday nights, and repeated on Saturday mornings for those who missed it) was the reason I wanted to live in a beach house with my besties when I was old enough.

However, I should say that the passage that hit me hardest was that of Nick Curran, who had just turned 35 when he succumbed to cancer.  It just wasn't right: in an ideal world, that man would not only be alive and kickin', he would be a huge star.  I suppose he always will be, in my eyes, and in those of so many others. 

I first came in contact with his music when my husband brought home a copy of Nick's first cd, Fixin' Your Head, recorded when he was in his early 20s.  I don't recall being all that impressed at the time, but I do recall that it had the "vintage" feel to it in the mono mix.  Fast-forward to 2010, when Little Steven's Underground Garage featured "Sheena's Back", from Reform School Girl, as one of the Coolest Songs in the World.  Holy shit!  One listen and you knew Nick was the real deal: not just vintage-styled, but a dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying rocker.  Two more of his songs were featured that year, including "Baby You Crazy" and the title track.  In the weeks before I bought the cd, I can remember sitting in my car, listening to another one of Nick's songs, and thinking, I've never heard that Little Richard track before.  Surprise!

Before long, I had my own copy of Reform School Girl.  Then I had the chance to see Nick play at a local casino.  It was almost too good to be true.  He played a huge Gretsch electric with an ease and confidence I don't know that I'd ever seen up close before then.  Thinking about it later, I realized that I'd actually seen someone like Johnny B Goode, "playing guitar just like ringin' a bell."  I didn't think it was possible.  And he sounded great.  That was part of the package, too: a voice that could howl or shred as needed; a little rough, just like the rockers of old.  It gave me goosebumps.  And his look was distinctly his own: Misfits t-shirt, jeans, black nail polish, black leather motorcycle cap...and tattoos, loads of them, adorning pretty much every available surface.  (My personal favorite was the bright-red lip print on the right side of his neck.  I had to wonder who'd been the model for that kiss.)

Some time later, my husband went with me to see Nick again.  It was even better than the first time.  When I was lucky enough to see him, Nick thought that he'd beaten the cancer that he'd battled once before.  Sadly, this wasn't the case.  Soon afterwards he announced on facebook that he was ill again, but was determined to "F*ck Cancer" and move on with his career.  He kept his fans advised of his treatment; his continuing love of and additions to his tattoo collection; the progress he was making on restoring a vintage cycle left to him by his late dad; and the fact that he was still making music whenever possible.  His spirit and sense of hope simply amazed me.

Shortly before his last birthday, Nick added one final tattoo to his canvas: a single tear on his face in memory of his father.  And just about a week after turning 35, he left us.  I may have been choked up over the loss of Davy Jones, but Nick's passing made me cry.  It broke my heart to think that someone so talented was gone so soon.  Like so many others, I feel a terrible loss, but his music really will live on.  I'm grateful to have seen him perform, and feel lucky to have loved his music, as I will continue to do.

Monday, July 16, 2012

On Growing Old(er)

My sister recently called me long-distance to ask if I knew that our mom had just had a face-lift.

I was puzzled.  "She told me it was a neck lift," I replied.

"Dad called it a face-lift," she remarked, explaining that Dad had then told her how our 75-year-old mother felt she "wasn't aging well" and had mentioned wanting "to look like Joan Rivers."

This was news to me.  I can't imagine anyone wanting to look like Joan Rivers, or for that matter, anyone else who's clearly had their face re-sculpted beyond all recognition.  I can imagine my mom wanting to look her best, something that, as we all know, becomes increasingly difficult to do as we age. 

Now, to be fair, my mom's face has suffered a bit recently.  She fell out of bed about two years ago when accidentally over-medicated, which caused quite a bit of skin discoloration on the left side of her face.  And just last New Year's, she wound up in hospital after falling in the bathroom and hitting her head on a fixture, which caused a scar on her forehead.  However, on a recent visit (they live in Florida and I don't see her too often), she looked pretty much the same as always, albeit covered with a bit more foundation.
I was much more alarmed when, as I looked down at her feet in open-toed shoes, I saw that her toes were terribly disfigured.  They were curled in on each other as if huddling against a storm.  I asked her if they didn't bother her; didn't they hurt?  They sure looked painful.  She poo-poo'd my concerns when I mentioned that instead of a neck lift, she might want to invest her money in something more important, like fixing her feet. 

"Oh, no," she said airily, "Medicare will pay for that."  (I wondered privately if her feet might have been an underlying cause of the last fall she'd taken.)  I still thought that repairing the sorry state of her feet might be more important than whatever she thought was wrong with her neck (or face), but I let it go.  I've found that in the last few years, trying to persuade Mom of anything, let alone something she doesn't believe or think in the first place, is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. 

Even my Dad, normally the voice of reason in most situations, has given up.  True, he no longer does that really annoying thing he used to do when I was younger: say something that sounded like he agreed with me, but which really meant he was siding with Mom.  He was the master of the veiled-but-barbed insult, pun or quip.  But now he basically just lets Mom do what she does, whether she's buying too much jewelry on QVC or deciding to have plastic surgery in a quest to look like someone I wouldn't give candy to at Hallowe'en. 

I'm sure that my opinion matters not at all to Mom, and I try not to say uselessly hurtful things to her when she blurts out observations that are hurtful to me.  This much at least I have learned.  The only issue here is a focus on outward appearance rather than a person's general health and well-being.  This maybe wouldn't be such a big deal if (1) my mom wasn't beautiful to begin with--and she still is; and (2) she didn't judge others so harshly on their surroundings and appearance. 

I can understand a person wanting to improve their appearance if they find something on their person to be lacking or poorly designed.  I once had a high school friend whose breasts were vastly different sizes, so she had them evened out via plastic surgery.  I got that: she could never find a bra to fit her otherwise.  Personally, I'd like to have a shorter nose.  (My mother's is far and away the cutest beak in the family, followed closely by my older daughter's.)  But it's not something that affects my health, and it's expensive, so my own nose is still just as it's always been.

Far be it from me to question another person's view of herself.  We all do things to keep ourselves looking younger, haircolor being the most common.  But without trying to sound too cliche, I think that looking young comes from acting in a youthful (preferably not childish) way.  I suppose there are some (Mom) who might take issue with my love of certain kinds of music.  I guess that's too bad for them.  I still tell people that I'm really just a 16-year-old (or 19-year-old) inside.  There are days when I feel as old as my own mom, or older.  Taking care of yourself physically is important too; I have frequent pre-menopausal days when I would give one of my arms to feel better than I do. 

But I think also that a youthful spirit is the most important thing in life.  I hate it when I feel chained to the ground (or my desk), and can't imagine something better than my present situation.  You spend so much time when you're growing up wishing and trying to be older; then you spend the rest of your life trying to look younger.  Where's the sense in that? 

I don't articulate it often, but my personal motto is "Embrace Imperfection."  You might have moments of perfection, just as you have moments of joy, but they don't last.  They can't, because nothing is perfect, and that's okay with me.  So there are always things that you want or need to change; how you look as you age might be one of them.   The important thing to me is to enjoy what you have, and take care of your health as best you can. 

It may be a cliche, but beauty, like so many other important traits, starts from the inside.  A truly happy person--and there are too few of those--will always be beautiful, because they'll smile and make others happy as well.  Wouldn't you rather have laugh lines than a flawless face that never shows joy?  I know I would.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Card

This is what was at my spot this morning after breakfast today:

My husband bought it for me last summer at Greetings from Geralyn in Asbury Park!