Monthly Archives: April 2012

Happiness is not an option…

When I was 8, I realized I was going to die — not immediately like the kids on daytime talk shows with the rapid aging disease but eventually like everyone else in my family. My parents were each the youngest children, so there was always a funeral. It was what we did for entertainment. “What funeral’s opening this weekend? Which minister is presiding? Should we call ahead for seats?”

I never understood all the emotion at a funeral. If you believed in heaven, you knew that your loved one wasn’t gone. They were someplace better and you’d see them eventually. Why did I have to put on a suit just because some old person moved to a better neighborhood?

“You don’t know for sure if someone is going to heaven,” my mother pointed out. “Only God knows.”

“Is it really that difficult? Sure, Mrs. Johnson’s fruitcake was awful but other than that, she should be a sure thing. It’s not like she was an axe murderer.”

“Don’t be blasphemous. You still have two years to get that aging disease.”

If I pushed things with my mother, she would remind me that I could still get progeria until I was 10. Those kids were a horror show — wrinkled, rheumy-eyed, and wearing a baseball cap to hide their baldness. They’d obviously gotten on God’s bad side. After one of my mother’s warnings, I’d go to bed convinced I’d wake up old, withered, and grotesque — sort of like Gregor Samsa but with a fondness for Sunday morning political programming. The worst thing was that my mother would still have made me go out and play. I hated playing. I didn’t like sweating or getting my clothes dirty. I just wanted to read or listen to music, but my mother would insist I spend at least an hour outside. I would usually smuggle a comic book in my pants (the Archie digests were best for this) and read it behind the doghouse, occasionally making “playing” noises: “Cobra!” or “Decepticons attack!” would usually suffice.

The one upside, or so I thought, of dying from progeria would be a first-class ticket to heaven. I would have suffered enough to have my many transgressions overlooked.

Not so fast, my mother countered.

“Only God knows what will happen,” she repeated. “But if you were bad enough to get progeria, I wouldn’t pack a sweater.”

At this point, it seemed like everyone was going to hell. No wonder funerals were a weep-fest. All the “homegoing” nonsense was just denial. We would all burn. But I wondered how bad could hell be? There was all this sickness in life. Maybe that’s all hell was — more life. More crap jobs, boring math classes, more family strife… and it never ended. “Homegoing” was a condemnation not a blessing.

Heaven, for me, would just be the end — no more anything. It could be a perennial state similar to when you’re dozing off — asleep enough to feel removed from the world but conscious enough to enjoy it.

I recall a discussion of the after life on Oprah during which this perky blonde in the audience stood up and said that when you look at the world and all its wonders — a nicely prepared steak, a glass of wine, smiling kids, loving spouse, walking along the beach feeling the sand between your toes — it was obvious that this was heaven. Now, the woman sitting behind her looked like she’d have to take out a loan to go to Waffle House, her kids were too hungry to smile, her spouse was loving her sister, and she couldn’t even afford to watch Beaches on cable. She just glared at her. If this was heaven, she might as well hang herself.

The blonde wasn’t entirely wrong. This is the best of all possible worlds because it’s the only one. Life is great for some and terrible for most. But it ends for everyone. There’s some joy in knowing that torture will end, but it must be awful to know that the pleasure you’re experiencing now will also end. That’s why I came to the conclusion when I was 8 that happiness is not an option. But at least whatever we have now will eventually end.

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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Social Commentary


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Ann Romney, working stiff…

During a scene in a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode, Dets. Goren and Eames ask a suspect about his whereabouts during a murder. He explains that he was “babysitting” his kids. This irks Eames, who responds, “Oh, I love when men say they have to babysit their kids. If they’re your kids, it’s not babysitting. It’s called being a dad.”

This popped into my head during the uproar over Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s statement, for which she later apologized, that Ann Romney, wife of the presidential candidate, had “never worked a day in her life.” This is only true in the factual sense. However, it was considered an attack on stay-at-home mothers. Mrs. Romney responded that her “career choice” was being a mother. This is probably poorer wording than Rosen’s. I presume she was not a professional surrogate, so is she actually saying rearing her own kids was a “job”?

I was raised by a stay-at-home mother. It was great for me and arguably even better for my father, who never had to cook a meal, wash a dish, or do laundry for most of his life. I remember when my mother was in the hospital in 1991. My father and I lived up the bachelor lifestyle. We even had dinner at Quincy’s Steakhouse one night. It was cool for about a day. Then we noticed the dirty clothes that refused to clean themselves, the tumbleweeds drifting through the house, and the creature with tentacles that tried to grab me when I opened the refrigerator.

My father worked long hours, often six days a week, without complaint, just as my mother took care of the house and our sorry asses seven days a week without complaint. I wouldn’t consider it an insult to say that my father had never spent time in a grocery store. So why is it an insult to say that my mother had no professional experience? Aren’t both statements fair and accurate?

I recall during the late 1980s when there was this need to “justify” homemaking. Housewives weren’t just Peggy Bundy stereotypes eating bon-bons and watching Oprah all day. No, they were actually chauffeurs, cooks, housekeepers, psychiatrists (I always thought the last one was a stretch, as few kids grow up well adjusted). Why, a housewife was a “five-figure occupation.” That struck me as offensive. First off, why wouldn’t you expect someone to clean her own house and take care of her kids? Who else is going to do it? Octavia Spencer? Also, a wife is an equal partner to her husband. A stay-at-home mother is not her spouse’s contracted employee. If that was the case, then my father somehow wound up marrying Florence from The Jeffersons.

“Work” is defined as “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result,” so I suppose that includes Mrs. Romney and pretty much everyone but Kim Kardashian. Now, a “job” is defined as a “paid position of regular employment.” Mrs. Romney has a “couple Cadillacs” but not one of those (limited space in the sixth house to store it). That was most likely Rosen’s point, the one everyone will miss because it is more politically expedient to focus on her arguably poor word choice.

These days, people with jobs are afraid of losing their positions outright or being replaced by someone younger and cheaper. That was never a concern for Mrs. Romney. It’s not like she married Newt Gingrich.


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The Wrecka Stow…

My first time in New Orleans, in December of 1995, I was more excited about browsing through the French Quarter’s independent record stores than in exploring Bourbon Street at its raunchiest. In those pre-Amazon/Napster days, I relished the opportunity to scour through the bins of stores in other towns. If your tastes went beyond Top 40 releases from the past five years, you weren’t interested in a Sam Goody or a Walmart. You kept your eyes out for a “wrecka stow.”

I first heard the term used in 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon starring Prince. Unless you’re Prince or me, you probably haven’t seen the film but there’s a scene in which he asks the very English Kristin Scott Thomas to say “wrecka stow.” Her Masterpiece Theater pronunciation of the term is hilarious.

My friends and I had passed by a promising indie shop on our way to our next drink (when visiting New Orleans, you are always on your way to your next drink). I offhandedly referred to the place as a “wrecka stow” and my friend Todd found it amusing. Later that day, he suggested we head back to the “wrecka stow.” By this point, I think he just enjoyed saying it. He did much better than Ms. Thomas.

Once inside, I went straight for the Prince section. Although Sam Goody had a decent supply of Purple Rain and 1999, his earlier material, especially his 7 and 12-inch singles, was harder to find. Prince had just released a Greatest Hits Collection that was comprehensive but mercilessly cut. It’s criminal to hear a three-and-a-half minute 1999 or I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man. I had all of the albums, but the extended mixes from the 12-inch-singles required patience and scavenging.

My big purchase that day was the 7-inch single for Prince’s Kiss. Todd humored me and listened to my explanation for why this was the best thing ever: Prince’s Greatest Hits CD had also come with a bonus disc of non-album B-Sides. For whatever reason, though, Love or Money, the B-Side to Kiss, was not included. I don’t even remember what it cost. Price was no object. Todd and I had a drink to celebrate my success.

This morning, while in the tub listening to Prince’s Crystal Ball, it occurred to me that because I only ever owned Love or Money on vinyl, it wasn’t on my iPod. I found it on iTunes and downloaded it while brushing my teeth. The 21-year-old me would be impressed but a part of me envies him and the joy of the hunt.

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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Pop Life


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