I recognize the woman Tiny Coconut describes, the one with huge lacunae where memories of college friends, high school antics, junior high shenanigans and elementary school buddies are supposed to go. I recognize her because she is me.
Oh, I remember some highlights, sure, butÖ wellÖ when I went to my tenth college reunion, a man came up to me, gave me a big hug, "Tamar! I was hoping you'd be here!" I smiled, went completely blank. I had to admit I had no idea who he was. His face crumpled. I felt so bad. I'd just essentially told him he was a cipher. Which he wasn't -- far from it. But we talked a bit that night and again the next day and by the end of the weekend, not only did I like him once more but I even sort of remembered him.
Then again, this may be a common problem. That weekend, I ran into someone I remembered rather well from various classes and lunch colloquys. Not a friend, not exactly, but a companion, a cohort, a fellow History and Lit major. So I waved, said hi. He gave me a big smile. "Hi, Debby!" Um. Yeah.
Last weekend, we visited my fellow Calhoun alum so the kids could enjoy a play date and we could reminisce. He brought out old yearbooks, which I devoured. I was in some of the photographs, peeking out from behind a pole or looking sullen in the back row. But who were these other people? Some names I recognized. One, a girl I remember as a good friend, lots of sleepovers and secrets shared. And yet her face? Only faintly registered, and more in a "Oh, that's right," sort of way rather than that instant recognition I expected. And then there were the names that meant nothing, but the faces? I saw them and had an instant sense of who this person was. Character and voice and how I felt about him or her. But my actual relationship with this kid? What we did together? Blank. If there's a fold of my brain that's saved for that set of memories, it's been creased and mutilated so many times I can't read it anymore.
Iím not sure how I feel about this. Yes, I'd like some more of those memories back. Not so vivid I have to relive them (it was, after all, middle school, not a stellar set of years) but solid enough I can visit from time to time with a smile or a frown. Tangible enough I can have an emotional response. I think what I'd like most of all is the ability to go back there, the me I am now, and sort of eavesdrop on that girl while she went about her school day. Maybe armed with a remote control, so I could fast forward past the most embarrassing bits. But yes, I'd like some of that back if I could. I'd like more of my history. I know some inevitably fades, not just as you get older (after all, that college reunion was only ten years later), but as the people and events are no longer important to your identity. The lack of memory in a way means we no longer define ourselves by that. And by so doing, we recreate our own past to fit our current self-image.
This can have drawbacks Ė if you're in a particularly bad frame of mind the few years after college, say, you may only remember the worst moments, and then they become indelibly etched into your brain as The Way It Was. Then later when you gain confidence and just plain like yourself better, you can't go back and exchange the memories for pleasanter ones. And so what happens instead is that you say to yourself, "Well, that was a bad patch, I wouldn't go back to being that person!" when maybe if you did have that wayback machine, complete with remote control (I picture myself floating in the air, somehow, crosslegged, like some wise floating observer), you could instead redefine what was and frame your life in different terms.
I think this may be the value of reunions and, yes, letters unearthed from a musty cardboard box. That they remind us there was more to us than we remember.
Okay, I think I'm back. With a backlog of entries to write, if I can only remember them. There was the one about watching The Hours, the one about reading blogs vs. reading books, the one about Damian's second graduation. Ah. Well, that one I can talk about tonight.
It was his first time performing in front of an audience. It was a big audience, too -- fifty or more adults. And not only did he file out with the other kids, not only did he sit down in his allotted space (well, actually, no, he sidled over into a spot next to his best friend), but he spoke up as the director was introducing the first song. "It's in Spanish!" he announced. Just to make sure we knew.
That's when I got teary-eyed. Not at the thought of leaving this school, though it's a sweet place that's been very good for him, but at the very fact that my shy formerly language-deficient boy would want to and be able to pipe up on his own in front of a big crowd. Singing as part of the chorus of preschoolers, that was a kick too. He sang lustily, his mouth wide open and his eyes clear. He made the arm movements at the proper times (well, when he remembered, which was about halfway through).
He did great.
Maybe this is part of the point of a preschool graduation (a slightly absurd concept, if you think about it). It gives you a chance to see how far your child has come from wobbly toddler to surefooted kindergartener-to-be. Our child has come farther than most. Very satisfying.
Yes, I'm still here. No, I haven't abandoned this blog. I'm just drowning in words right now. My own, but they leave no time for any other thoughts and I don't yet feel comfortable talking about exactly what it is I'm doing. I never understood that, why bloggers keep mum on their activities. But sometimes you're baking a cake and you aren't sure it'll rise properly and you want a chance to see for yourself whether it's chocolatey enough and springy enough and looks right frosted and ooops, you better go redo that side, it's gotten uneven. And that kind of thing, well, sometimes you're just not ready to show it off till it's done. If it in fact does come out well and if you don't end up running to the bakery half an hour before company comes to cover for your mistakes.
Sometimes, in other words, it just isn't the right time to talk about what you're doing and thinking but there isn't enough room in your brain for anything else and so you keep mum.
Thanks for your patience, guys. I should be back blogging daily within the next few days.
Warning: posting may be sporadic in the coming week or two. Chance of scattered scattering of mind. Chance of boondoggled and bewildered blogger. Chance of California child on the loose. Chance of too much, too soon. Or, well, not exactly. But you get the idea. Suddenly drowning in a semi-unexpected, currently gratis load of work plus nearly wall to wall child minding (not that I mind the child, not at all). (Don't mind the work either. Just a lot of it right now.)
I'll try to keep up with this space, don't go away! But it won't be daily, not till Damian's back in school. September 9th. Well, 10th. That's his first real day of kindergarten.
(Watch me go and post long daily entries now. Just because.)
Noteworthy normalcy. Some nice progress.
Dan's a bag hound. He loves bicycle bags, backpacks, computer bags and I think even garment bags and those little overnighter suitcases, though less so. I end up with his hand-me-downs so I'm cool with this luggage lust.
At any rate, he found a fun site tonight. Good bags, but more importantly, extremely amusing descriptions. For instance, check out the Very Busy Man bag. Don't you want to buy it now?
(While you're there, mouse over the left hand sidebar. Just, y'know, because.)
This is my last week of non-mommy hours for a while. I want to stockpile them, like saving Halloween candy under the bed for the lean times in mid-November. Barring that, I want to exploit every single minute of to-myself time I have. Mostly I want to write my heart out, write reams of pages on my novel to stem that craving and make the next few non-writing weeks okay.
But it doesnít work that way, does it? I sat down to write this morning and wrote a sentence. Then another. Then I got up to, um, I forget. Brush my hair again? Pet the cat? Something vitally important. Then I web-surfed and wrote another sentence. Writing when youíre not in the flow? Not fun. Sometimes you just have to get past the stuck part, though. Just write through it. Some sections are like that, they donít get your juices flowing.
A few sentences and an hour later, I went to get Damian from his morning Ė now only Ė school. His last week of this school too, then another graduation to attend. Heís excited about this one because theyíre going to sing. He likes that. He was singing the song (do-re-mi a/k/a "doe a deer") to himself this afternoon and was surprised when I joined in. ďYou know that song too?Ē As if the teachers had invented it. But I digress.
During my half hour drive to school, I thought about my scene. Why was it so hard to write? Why did it feel like working while tied to the chair by heavy ropes? Mostly this novel hasnít felt like that. Why was this scene different? Itís a fairly interesting one, or so I would have thought: one character watches a video of another character, intrigued by what it will reveal about her.
Somewhere between Pico and National Boulevards, I realized what was wrong. It always comes back to this, doesnít it? I wasnít being true to the characterís emotional state. Going into the scene, heís been mad at this person. Intrigued? All wrong. Pissy and wanting to find fault is more like it. And just like that, the scene has juice. Because his emotional state is stronger, more charged, which is always easier to write. Also because it feels right for him in that moment. Definitely easier to write when youíre not fighting the material.
I was all charged up, ready to rush back to the computer and fire up Word. But wait. With Damian in tow? I donít write with Damian around, at least nothing as intensive and enveloping as fiction. And a floor timer was due at the house in an hour. (Yes, we actually have floor time hours this week, glory be and god bless the fabulous bestest-of-them-all floor time therapist who moved to Chicago last month but is back for a single week, bored and looking for work. I love him. Iíd marry him but heís not my type. Besides, it would be bigamy and I hear thatís frowned on in most states. But I digress again.)
Anyway. Floor time is, well, itís often noisy. Especially with this particular dude. Lots of loud games, running around the house, shouting at each other, dueling and shooting lasers and flying through portals and such. Hard to concentrate in that kind of racket, yíknow? I usually plan fairly mindless work for the floor time therapist time slot. Cleaning. Exercise. Photo tweaking. Wallpaper removal.
And yes, while the floor time session was in full swing today, it was noisy indeed. But after Iíd lifted weights and sorted photos, I had two choices. Organize my office, the smart thing to do. Or try and write. The ridiculous thing to attempt.
I opened the file. Copied the boring version into a just-in-case file. Started writing. Heard shouts from the other room. Yeah, whatever. Kept writing. Footsteps thudding past. I looked up, registered two male bodies flashing by. Head back down, kept typing. Words coming out. Feelings coming out. Felt right. Flowed. Got to the end of the scene. Saved the file with a satisfied sigh. Listened to the echoed noises of silly games geared to help a six year old boy keep his focus and affect high for an extended imaginative session. Felt the buzz of a good work session.
Thereís a lesson here beyond the obvious one I keep forgetting and then remembering (when writing, stay true to character feelings, keep emotional stakes high where possible, conflict whether external or internal drives the story). The lesson is this: My writing time has been limited not by my personal commitments and chaotic life, but by my belief that these factors will limit me.
After this week, Damian will be out of school for nearly three weeks. He may have a floor time session or two but mostly weíll be in each otherís hair morning, noon and night. This can be fun. I want to set up play dates and museum outings and baking sessions and science experiments. But although Damian wants a lot of attention sometimes, he also likes to play by himself a certain chunk of the day, spinning froggy scenarios and investing in his imaginary world. And thatís good for him. Itís also good for me. If I give myself permission, I too can spend that time investing in my imaginary world. Iíll be a happier and more fulfilled mommy as a result.
Nearly three and a half years and a whole lot of changes. And now a goodbye.
Today was Damian's graduation day. Seems silly, making a big fuss about graduating from preschool, but in this case it was a whole lot more and well worthy of the tears and hugs. Iíd like to write about it but not yet. Still processing. Feeling drained, honestly.
Instead, an odd moment today: I gave my phone # to the father of one of Damianís buddies from school, a child whoís never been in class with him but who has had simultaneous floor time sessions and joint speech sessions. They have certain similarities, I think theyíre a good match. So I suggested a play date over this break, wrote down my phone number and full name to the dad, handed it through the bars of the front gate (they were outside on the sidewalk, we were still inside in the yard), and trotted off to socialize with people on my side of the fence while his son was saying goodbye to his speech therapist.
A few minutes the man called me over. To ask me if Iíd gone to Calhoun. Itís a small progressive private school on the Upper West Side in New York. I attended for the three years of middle school. How did he know? He went there too! A year behind me. His name was familiar, his face Ė well, Iíd seen him around preschool for the past few years, of course it was familiar. And he hadnít recognized me either until he saw my name. It was, after all, a while ago. A world away, too. Snow and ice and concrete canyons and Riverside Park and the boat basin and a small, idiosyncratic school where I found a niche in the drama department when I was eleven years old. So long ago. So far away. And now this unexpected link.
I went digging tonight. Turns out Calhoun has a website (duh, of course) and is still a thriving operation. Even though I didnít completely embrace the schooling there (a little too unstructured), Iím glad the place is alive.
Part of the site is a scrapbook from the hundred years of its history. I clicked on the Ď70ís, when I was there. It was like stepping into a time warp looking at those pictures. They look so old, the clothes like a time-period movie. It looked normal back then. My eyes have changed, clearly.
When I entered Calhoun, the middle school was upstairs from a synogogue somewhere around 92nd (90th?) street. The arts annex (drama, music, etc) was in the basement of a Greek Orthodox church across the street. A tiny diner on the corner between the two had amazing French fries, especially good when eaten still hot while walking down the wind-blown winter street on your way to chorus practice. The school was in the process of building a permanent home on 81st Street. Somewhere we could all be together, no drifting across the street at odd times, no sneaking around behind religious ceremonies.
This is a picture of the groundbreaking ceremony in 1974 (why they saved it in gif format, Iíll never understand). See the small face of the girl slipping through the crowd on the lower right corner of the image? Thatís my best friend Emily. Which means, if memory serves, that I was just out of frame, a little further to the right.
This is a picture, taken a year later, of our march down West End Avenue, the entire school walking from the old rented warren of rooms to the sparkling, just-painted wide open newness of the building on 81st Street. Iím not in the picture Ė at least, I think Iím not, though who can tell with the image degradation of a photo-turned-gif? Ė but I vividly remember that walk. For some reason, I decided to go barefoot. Eleven blocks or so on cement. It felt like the right thing to do, I guess. I do remember it felt like a celebration, like making history. And I guess in a way it was. After all, the images are on their website nearly thirty years later.
I think about Damianís graduation, about closing that chapter and beginning another. Somehow it feels fitting tonight to look back at part of my own school saga, now faded in contrasty black and white and almost quaintly old fashioned. It all shapes you, though. Those years at Calhoun as much as my time at Harvard, as much as my time at Music & Art, as much as my time in editing, as much as my time in LA. It all blends, you take bits from here and scraps from there and incorporate them into your own personal mythology.
I wonder how Damian will feel looking back at the videotape I shot today. How will he remember this time, that school? I look forward to finding out.
Tuesday afternoon I was completely fed up with Damianís caterwauling and had tried everything I could think of short of bribery to get it to stop (yes, including yelling myself Ė Iím not proud of that but there it is) and we still had some miles to go between school and swim lesson. So I invented someone. This is so not my style, it goes against my non-cutesy mom persona, but I did it.
Meet Mr. Grouchy. When youíre irritable and snarky and just generally a pain in the butt, itís not your fault. Itís Mr. Grouchy whispering in your ear, goading you. Mr. Grouchy is a very mean person. I described Mr. Grouchy some more, talked about how much I hope that he goes on a vacation real soon. A long vacation in a far away place. Bermuda, maybe. Or Paris. But somewhere most emphatically not here.
Damian loved it. He cheered up and joined the fantasy. He said that it doesnít matter where you send Mr. Grouchy, he always comes back to bother you. You just canít get rid of him.
That was two days ago and we still discuss Mr. Grouchy. And still every time I mention him, Damian instantly gets over his sulks and starts making up new attributes. He sometimes brings him up on his own, too. Mr. Grouchy is a presence, a surprisingly benign one. I donít know how long this will last and I have to be careful not to overuse this improbable ally, but for now heís our personal magical companion.
I believe thereís more to this than the lure of something new or Damianís delight in using his imagination. I think it meets a need for him. He hates being scolded, hates being seen as doing something wrong. Hates feeling bad. Mr. Grouchy allows him to separate himself from that, to lay it off on this uber-irritable creature instead. This makes him very happy. Itís not his fault now, not his lack of control. Itís just Mr. Grouchy up to his evil tricks again. This takes the onus off and allows Damian to let go of an anger that must be partly fueled by his own bad feelings at getting so angry.
I think I love Mr. Grouchy.
(Another downer post, Iím afraid. I'll try to be more cheerful tomorrow.)
Dan called me from work on Monday: a coworker had seen a news item about a film editor and passed it on to him. Geraldine Peroni, best known for her work with Robert Altman and nominated for an Oscar for The Player, died this week in her New York apartment, probably suicide.
I worked with Gerri a lifetime ago when I was an apprentice editor in New York. We worked on an indie movie starring Viggo Mortenson (who was a sweetheart, by the way). We set up a cutting room in the directorís SoHo loft. My rewind table was pushed against a wall in the living room. I ended up in a dual assistant/apprentice role and Gerri became the associate editor, cutting alongside the editor. It was a great job. The pay sucked (come to think of it, I donít think we ever got paid) but Gerri and Beth (the editor) were terrific companions. Especially sweet, cheerful, understatedly intelligent Gerri. She had a calm presence. I liked her enormously. She was in a committed relationship with a woman but had a not-so-secret crush on Viggo; we used to clown around about it. Endearing. Fun. Good times.
I left that job for a union gig on a popular TV series. Gerri called me a week into the job. Sheíd gotten on John Saylesí new movie, did I want to come? Did I ever! But I said I couldn't (out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to my new bosses) and we never got the chance to work together again.
The last time I saw Gerri for any real chunk of time, she was on location in LA for The Player. I met her in the cutting room and we went for lunch. I donít remember many specifics of what we talked about, just the lingering warmth. She was in love, I remember that. Her lover was a man, which surprised me at the time. I do remember that, the feeling of definitions shifting, of seeing her separate from her sexual orientation. I liked that. I liked her. I think Iíve said that already, havenít I? I always had a sense that she wasn't afraid to simply be who she was, sans labels.
It would be a lie to say Iím devastated by her death; New York and my life there seem so far away in space and time both. But I find myself thinking about her, wondering what her recent life had been like. Why she was so despairing. Whether she still presented a serenity in the cutting room or whether cracks showed. She was cutting an Ang Lee movie. Left it in the middle. Came home one night andÖ What led to that? If Iíd known her better, spent time with her more recently, would I have known the answer? Is it easier this way, to remember her with a gauze of fondness softening the picture? Would I have become better friends with her if I'd stayed in New York? Could I have helped her?
Even though I haven't seen her in years, I'll miss her. And I'll always wonder.
My very good friend Chris recently started a new blog, called book of days. It seems I am slowly seducing every good writer I know into the game. More high quality reading material, yay! Today she wrote a review that got me thinking. The book is Judith Levineís Do You Remember Me?, an account of the authorís father as he descends into Alzheimerís. It sounds like a fascinating if emotionally difficult book.
From Chrisí description, it seems that Levine also uses the frame to explore how we grow old in this culture. Which of course relates back to my recent experiences with my neighbor as well as the post office brangle. I too have been thinking about old age. About the loneliness I see in these men and women in their tiny studio apartments, about the way theyíre carted off to elder day care every morning and ushered back to their cubicles every afternoon. About how they sit on the low walls in front of their apartment buildings, staring blankly out into the street, so deadened they donít seem able to return a smile. How they walk ever so slowly down the street carrying their shopping bags, either alone or with a bored looking paid companion. About how they seem to wither away in silence and poverty.
According to a Reuterís article (discovered via Digby), a study released this week showed that people with mentally challenging jobs or leisure activities are far less likely to develop Alzheimerís. So what we do, the way we live, affects our brains. In concrete ways. And when I think about the old people in this neighborhood Ė and this is a neighborhood chock full of old people Ė I think of their brains slowly dying along with their bodies and Iím so very sad. Our culture doesnít value our elders. They therefore donít value themselves. We all suffer as a result.
I've been trying to fully and completely imagine the life of a photographer, what it will be like for that to be me, on the job. Doing it. How to handle a photo shoot, the interaction and the getting-that-image part, mixing the two in just the right measure to elicit emotion on film. Also how to make it fun. And most importantly, how I'll do with it. How the photographs will turn out, whether I can capture something good. Whether I have the chops. What it will be like when I'm not just snapping away at a party or grabbing an interesting shot as I walk down the street, but doing it on command, with full intent.
I love photography, I have for years. But it's a different animal when you're on a shoot and you have to consider f-stops and remember ISOs and be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your lens at the same time that you're taking in the entire frame and what the background and light are doing for you.
You could say photography is just a matter of catching the moment, of just being there and knowing when to press the shutter. Sounds so simple. And it is. But yet it isn't. I want more practice before I can be confident setting up official for-pay photo sessions (and no, taking pictures of a copy machine doesn't count, copy machines don't have emotional depth). So I asked a very pregnant friend if I could do a test run with her. She said yes. Free pictures, why not? For those of you who have been with me for a long time, you may remember her: Jami, Damian's former nanny. She's one of the best people I know. Heart and soul.
I went over there on Thursday. She warned me that she's a terrible model, outrageously self-conscious. I said I'd wear her down by taking so many pictures she'd forget the camera. Which is what happened. We had a good time and I'm pleased with the results.
Here are a few sample shots:
The crib, by the way, was Damian's. A friend gave it to us, now we bequeath it to Jami for her little one. This will be the fifth baby to dream her way into toddlerhood in that crib.
I open this without knowing what I'll write tonight. Everything is in motion, it feels like. Our house, the furniture moving through it like insubstantial chimeras, toys piled in the living room one day, reconfigured in a child's room the next. Dan is home, working so hard on making this house pleasant, an inviting environment for us and for those shadow figures who may come after, he's home and then he's not, he's back at work, back there, back in that other life we live nine months of the year, him there and me here with Damian, driving Damian across town every single weekday, the drive and the therapies grinding me down over the past three and a half years, like glass hardening in fire. But this too, over. One more week. No more therapeutic preschool. A pause and then turn the page, a new chapter. Anew. And me? Who am I? What am I? Writer? Photographer? Where does my future lie? Can it be both? Who am I when I'm not bleached, transparent from the constant wearying struggle to stay in motion?
I end this not knowing exactly what I've written and perhaps it's best that way. Not knowing is a kind of knowing, the way a blind person can sometimes sense the shape of a room she's never seen.
Dan tells Damian a story every night while lying down in his room. Tonight's story involved one character receiving a present. Damian told Dan, "I'm thinking of a big red question mark." Because, you see, he didn't know what was in the gift wrapping. Symbolic thinking. Literally. Kind of neat.
First there was junk mail, flyers stuffed into your mailbox. Tedious. Then came fax spam. I never had a fax machine but it certainly sounds annoying enough. Then email spam, which never made a whole lot of sense to me. Who do these people think will be convinced by their ever-odder promotionals? Who pays for this? Why? Do the companies they advertise really get enough revenue from it to make it worth the bad blood?
Then came comment spam, wherein a blog's posts are inundated with comments, sometimes blatantly commercial, other times purporting to be on topic: "Nice blog!" but nevertheless replete with linkage to shady chemical concoctions and not-so-soft-core unclothed athletics. The idea behind comment spam, if you're not familiar with the beast, is not to convinced a blog's readers to click those links. No, it's to raise the advertised entity's URL higher in the search engines. More linkage from more sites means a higher ranking. They're manufacturing the links themselves, but any reasonably alert blogger can catch them in the act or block their entry with Blacklist or the like.
Today I discovered a new form of spam. So simple, so obvious. I saw a bland, generic comment on an old entry. ("I like your blog." That was all. No specifics.). Got suspicious. The URL given was to a blog hosted by blogspot. Hmm. Maybe this is for real. Checked the link. (Via my email link, not the web-based one. No tracks that way.) It looked almost real, but something about it... a smutty username, contentless posting... I read the comments on the one and only post.
A spammer had set him/herself up as a blogger. Faux blogging, the new spam. They can create as many links as they want to as many off-color and off-shore sites as they want. Nobody will delete the links since nobody's home. Brilliant, really.
Only problem? A site matters to the search engines only insofar as it too garners hits. So these spammer-bloggers will still have to seed their URLS throughout the blogoverse. It'll just make it that much harder for us to catch them at it. What they're really doing is now camouflaged by something that looks an awful lot like a legit blog.
What's next? Spam people?
Did I mention I got a new camera in June? I did. My longed-for digital Rebel. Which is part of what landed me the Irvine gig. Have equipment, will travel. Camera paid for itself, rather quickly. I love this camera.
Of course, new camera meant new computer. Must have better processor to handle bigger image files. And so it goes. Little fish eats tiny fish and is eaten in turn by bigger fish. Ever bigger, technology moves on, engulfing itself.
At any rate, I've been spending the evening learning RAW conversion and suchlike. And now I'm tired and so no words. Just a couple of images from the zoo. Amazing how much farther a responsive shutter will get you.
Meercats. I always thought of them as prairie dogs with a twist in nomenclature. I now see their catness in action.
I love giraffe tongues. Prehensile, like tails.
(final image deleted)
At the post office today, I became unintentionally embroiled in a nasty battle. I was being helped by a worker (I want to say teller but that doesnít sound right). Next to me, an older man Ė white hair but hardly frail Ė walked with firm strides up the counter, ignoring the long line extending down the room. Also ignoring the woman finishing up her business at the counter.
A classic case of jumping the line. The man at the front of the line Ė youngish, very attractive, dark skin Ė said something to that effect: ďHey, he wasnít in line!Ē but he was down at the other end of the room and the clerk didnít hear him. As the older man told her what he wanted, she cocked her head. ďWere you in line?Ē He didnít answer, just proffered his money. The head-of-the-line guy said ďNo, he wasnít!Ē Again, she didnít hear him. But she had her suspicions and so she asked again, asking the room this time, ďWas he in line?Ē
I spoke. I felt like I had to. ďNo. He wasnít in line.Ē She heard me and made the old guy go stand on line with everyone else. Boy did he not want to! He kept holding up his money, holding up his package, looking as befuddled as he knew how. Working it. But finally, yes, he went.
Thatís when the fight started: a man on line, somewhere in his fifties, florid and stocky, lashed out at the man-in-front and also, naturally, at me. Weíre unkind to our elders, weíre mean to old people, weíre heartless and donít have any manners.
You get the picture. The man-in-front was fierce in his response: no, he wasnít being mean to the old man, he simply thought it was wrong of the guy to shove his way in as if rules didnít apply to him. If the old guy had asked to go in front, that would have been completely different. He Ė the man speaking Ė would have said yes without hesitation. I concurred. Itís a matter of manners, yes, but not ours. The old manís.
The florid guy wasnít having any. He kept hammering at the mean-to-the-elderly argument, ultimately calling me names and saying he hoped my mother rots in an old age home. When I told him he was the one who needed to learn manners because he was the one flinging ugly words, he said ďThatís the only kind of words youíll understand.Ē (This after Iíd said maybe two sentences, both calm and reasonable.) Thatís when I turned my back on him and made jokes with the clerk, who had missed most of the fun while he was in back looking for the unusual set of stamps I needed.
This man was clearly spoiling for a fight. Just about any fight would do. He wanted to be angry at discrimination against the elderly, therefore ignored the specifics and also what we said in our defense. He resorted to name-calling so quickly it made me dizzy. When the guy next to me jumped to my defense (at this point, the other man had finished his transaction and was gone), the bitchy man accused him of being a filthy breeder. For no reason that I could see. Flinging mud wheresoever it might rile.
I still believe I did the right thing. Yes, I absolutely think we should respect our elders. I believe, too, that most older people face an awful lot of disrespect so yes, we should be extra nice where we can. Nevertheless. Being of retirement age doesnít mean youíre now absolved of all social niceties. Like, say, asking before cutting in line when people have been waiting for twenty minutes already. Common courtesy goes both ways. When you act in a way that abrogates that unspoken pact, youíve become aggressively self-serving with an unpleasant dollop of entitlement. Not pretty. A little annoyance and even mild assertiveness is, I think, a perfectly appropriate response.
But what struck me most about the tangle was the way this angry man escalated Ė or tried to escalate Ė the battle, how very quickly and very harshly he did so while beating up a straw man, an argument of his own devising which had little to do with what we were actually saying. He obviously wanted to get mad. Maybe the issue was a hot one for him. Or maybe heíd just been kicked out by his lover or his boss and was angry at the world.
But as I walked out of the post office into the surprisingly pleasant August afternoon, I found myself thinking of political debate. Of the Republicans and the Democrats. Of the blogs Iíve been reading and the anger Iíve seen. Iím not immune. God, no. I hate Bush with a sick angry hate, and I hope with all my soul that we throw him out of office before he does more damage. But that means Iím part of that polarization, doesnít it? The country is so divided right now. Nearly fifty percent strongly believing Bush is evil, the other nearly-fifty-percent seeming to believe heís everything thatís just and good, or at least that heís the only thing that stands between us and terrorism (um, wrong). And never the twain shall meet. In fact, the twain donít seem to be able to talk to each other in any civilized kind of way.
And itís not just right now, and itís not just because GWB is so Ė well, what he is. It was true during Clintonís administration too. I was amazed at the hate a lot of Republicans seemed to feel, the absolute hate, for this man who had messy extracurricular activities but who did a pretty decent job (for a centrist, that is). Why the hate? Why the blinding anger that he existed? I feel it now, but I feel it for the Shrubís policies and actions-in-office, not for his personal life choices. A different animal, and completely justified. To me, anyway. But then I look at conservative blogs and I see such disdain for our hatred. Such curled-lip snark. So much anger. On both sides.
So much anger boiling up from beneath the surface. If youíre not with me, youíre against me. Where did all the shades of gray go?
The other day we were in the trendy part of Santa Monica. Now, one could argue that all of Santa Monica is in fact trendy and one would be right but this is a particularly trendy stretch, with boutiques and restaurants and a larger percentage of pretty people per cubic yard than in, say, Culver City.
At any rate, we were there, heading to dinner and enjoying the late afternoon sea breeze, when we spotted a photographer with a huge lens on his camera. He was rushing, crouching, rushing again. A gaggle of people stood and watched, then hurried to catch up.
The prey in his sights appeared to be an attractive couple walking across the street. They nuzzled and smiled at each other, then meandered to a car in a nearby parking lot. The photographer rushed after them.
A commercial or fashion photo shoot? Didnít look like it. Iíve seen those. Theyíre much less, well, rushed. Okay, a paparazzi stalking a celebrity? Thatís more like it. But who the hell was the celebrity?
I asked one of the gaggle. He shrugged, ďSome musician.Ē And yet somehow he also knew this musicianís name. I canít remember it right now, Keith or Kevin something-beginning-with-a-B. We shrugged and walked on. Iím not exactly a pop culture maven, but I usually recognize names big enough to attract photographers as they stroll down the street. Not to mention that I've seen very big stars indeed with no entourage and no cameras pointing at them.
A few minutes later, we were a few blocks further toward our personal target, a seafood restaurant with a glimpse of ocean. The pretty couple walked across the street, still arm in arm. This time a new photographer had picked up the chase. Guess they didnít get into that car after all. The winsome twosome walked as if they were in a commercial after all, and Dan and I came to the same conclusion: they were.
I believe this musician is no celebrity. Heís trying to gain attention by making people believe he is one. By paying photographers to act like paparazzi and rounding up a group of buddies to act like they know who he is.
Itís such an LA phenomenon. Image above all. Fashion yourself as the image you want to present and maybe you can manufacture the fame you crave.