Livin’ Thing

Sailin’ away on the crest of a wave
It’s like magic
Rollin’ and ridin’ and slippin’ and slidin’
It’s magic

And you, and your sweet desire
You took me higher and higher
It’s a livin’ thing
It’s a terrible thing to lose
It’s a given thing
What a terrible thing to lose
(I’m taking a dive…)

Making believe this is what you conceived
From your worst day
(I’m taking a dive)
Moving in line then you look back in time
To the first day
(I’m taking… I’m taking…)

And you, and your sweet desire
(don’t you do it… don’t you do it…)
You took me higher and higher
It’s a livin’ thing
It’s a terrible thing to lose
It’s a given thing
What a terrible thing to lose
(I’m takin’ a dive… oh, the slide…)

Takin’ a dive ’cause you can’t halt the slide
floating downstream
(I’m taking a dive)
So let her go, don’t start spoiling the show
It’s a bad dream
(I’m taking… I’m taking…)

And you, and your sweet desire
(don’t you do it… don’t you do it…)
You took me higher and higher
It’s a livin’ thing
It’s a terrible thing to lose
It’s a given thing
What a terrible thing to lose

(apologies to Jeff Lynne)

Happiness Is…

happinesspuppy

It’s really not.*

Scanning the radio on the way to work the other morning, I happened upon a DJ talking about an article he’d seen somewhere stating that 37 is the age at which men are the most happy.  It sounded like a bunch of horse shit to me (most morning DJ shows are), but I looked it up when I got to work, and sure enough–studies have concluded that a man will never be happier than he is when he reaches 37 years old.  This is purportedly the magic age by which a man will find himself surrounded and supported by a strong social network of friends and family, successfully grounded in a career, and having started a family of his own.  37 is also an age that happens to be in a perfect sweet spot of human development–at once both far enough removed from those awkward formative years and still approximately ten years away from the dreaded midlife crisis.  Hell… my father is even on record as having told me that a man’s 30s are his best years because it marks the first time when he truly knows himself–his identity, his limitations and his strengths–and he is still young enough to be a formidable force and make noise in the world.

I’ll be 36 in about a month, which theoretically means that I’m a little over 13 months away from being the happiest I will ever be in my life.  As Caddyshack’s Carl the groundskeeper said, “So I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”  Color me cynical, but I have a hard time buying into this.  I’m currently at one of the lowest points I have ever been in my life (and believe you me, I’ve had some low spots), I’m as far removed from starting a family or feeling grounded in a career as I could possibly be, and I could count the number of true friends I have on one hand (and I’d still have fingers left over).

charliebrownhappinessIt sure as hell ain’t a warm puppy, Chuck. 

As far as I’m concerned, happiness is a myth.  Well, maybe that’s a bit strong, but if we’re being honest here, the concept of happiness is an entirely subjective one.  Happiness means different things to different people, and in my mind it means that beautiful intersection of contentment and emotional well-being that I can’t quite seem to get hold of.  I’ve done an awful lot of introspection lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I can never be truly happy–that I’m fundamentally flawed and incapable of finding happiness (by my definition of the word).  Period.  I’ve also concluded that I am equally incapable of making others happy–that my only true talent in life lies in making the people I love miserable.

I’ve shouldered a number of burdens in my time, and I understand now that I’ve shouldered those burdens at the expense of both my own happiness and well-being and the happiness and well-being of those closest to me.  I thought I had figured this out once before, and I made a selfish move then that I thought was necessary not just for the sake of my own self-preservation, but for the sake of someone I cared deeply about.  Now that the dust has settled, I realize that I made the wrong choice.  But there’s nothing to do now but move forward, right?  Or is there?  There are other options, though they are admittedly not very good ones.  I’ve been trudging along like the goddamn Little Engine That Could for so long now (“I think I can… I think I can…”) expecting the pieces to fall into place and life to start making sense, or at the very least start showing signs of progress or improvement, but I keep finding myself stuck at the bottom of the hill and I don’t know that I have it in me to make it up the hill.  I don’t think I have the strength to reinvent myself anymore–to wipe the slate clean and start all over yet again–but I simply don’t see another reasonable course of action I could possibly take.

littleengine

“I think I can… I think I can…”

One of the few friends I can count on one hand made an incorrect assumption about me the other day.  I told her I was done with idealism, and she suggested that I was full of shit because I “think it can’t get any blacker, so there is nothing to do but look up.”  I quickly corrected her, stating that I didn’t think it could get any better, not blacker.  I know damn well it can definitely get blacker.

* I owned this exact edition of Happiness is a Warm Puppy as a child, and I distinctly remember getting my first papercut on one of its thick, glossy pages.  When you’re three or four years old, the last thing you think can hurt you is a book–especially that book.

Movie Night: The Quiet Man (1952)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: this post was supposed to run a few weeks ago, but somehow didn’t publish on schedule, so I am publishing it now]

I was a little late celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, so I spent the weekend cooking corned beef ‘n cabbage and watching the one movie everyone should watch this time of year:  Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

darbyogill

“It’s different!”

No, not really.  Apologies to any fans of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but it’s not my cup of tea.  Not even the presence of Sean Connery could convince me to re-watch that film (and this is coming from someone who has seen Highlander 2 more than once).  In all honesty, I’d probably watch that miserable excuse for a movie again before I’d re-watch Darby O’Gill.  Hell… I’d likely even watch Leprechaun 3 before I’d watch Darby O’Gill.

leprechaun

He’s the leprechaun.

No, the one movie everyone should watch on St. Paddy’s Day is of course The Quiet Man, John Ford’s Irish classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara (who might get my vote for most beautiful actress of all time, but that’s just me).  Ford and Wayne made several films together, most of which were traditional westerns or war pics, so it’s safe to say this film was a bit of a departure for both.   Ford spent years dreaming of returning to his Irish roots and making this movie, but it wasn’t until he was asked to direct Rio Grande (also with Wayne and O’Hara) that Ford found the leverage to convince the studio to finance his pet project.

John_Wayne - the quiet man

“Some things a man doesn’t get over so easy.”

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I was a full-grown adult the first time I ever watched The Quiet Man.  Up until that point, all I knew of the film was the homage Stephen Spielberg paid to it in a scene from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  It’s the moment where E.T. is hanging out at the house getting drunk, thereby getting Elliott equally drunk at school through their strange psychic connection, and subsequently inspires the inebriated Elliott to release the anesthetized frogs which were destined for dissection in his Biology class.  As E.T. sits on the couch in a flannel shirt, drinking Coors Banquet like it’s going out of style, he turns on the tv in time to catch the most iconic scene from The Quiet Man and inspires Elliott to pull the same move on the prettiest girl in school.  This is one of the wonderfully classic moments in all of American cinema, but I never fully realized that was in part because Spielberg was aping an even more classic moment in an arguably more classic film.  [Below is the scene from E.T.]

As I mentioned, I was an adult before I ever saw The Quiet Man.  What’s even more incredulous is that I was an adult before I ever saw a John Wayne film period, but I have a perfectly good reason.  You see, my mother hated westerns.  More accurately, she despised them.  There were two things my brother and I were forbidden from watching on television while growing up:  westerns and wrestling.  As I recall, those were the only things both her father and (many years later) her bartending boyfriend would watch on television, so she logically concluded that such entertainment had no redeemable merit and thus forbade us from ever watching them.  I can now freely fess up to having seen damn near every John Wayne western (not counting those reeeeeallly early films where his face is caked in lady makeup), and I have two people to thank for that.  I once worked with a woman who believed it was akin to a criminal offense for someone to have never watched a John Wayne movie, and she demanded I rectify that deficiency in my upbringing immediately.  So I started watching every John Wayne western I could get my hands on, and I quickly realized that while I may not have been a big fan of “The Duke” personally, I really did enjoy watching his movies–especially True Grit, which I had never actually seen even though I had read the book as a child.

I also worked with another woman whose favorite movie was The Quiet Man.  When she heard about my mission to catch up on John Wayne westerns, she insisted that I watch this film even though it wasn’t a western, telling me that she and her family loved it so much that they made it a point to screen the film once a year.  So watch it I did, and I was immediately appalled at the blatant sexism running rampant throughout the picture.

Ah, the good ol’ days… when pretty girls would come over to clean your house for you, and you could kiss them against their will.  A more refined age when if you liked a girl, all you had to do was grab her and make her submit to your manly wiles.  And if she didn’t cotton to your advances, you simply dragged her kicking and screaming all the way back to your place.  I remember reading an interview with Maureen O’Hara in which she described the scene where she is dragged through the countryside, and said the worst part about it was that it was filmed in actual grazing pastures, so by the time it was over, she was literally covered in sheep shit.  I’ve gotta admit that I am still taken aback by the treatment of the fairer sex in The Quiet Man, but honestly, once you get past its misogynistic undertones, it really is a charming film.  Seriously.

Bittersweet Symphony

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life–
Try to make ends meet,
You’re a slave to money,
Then you die.
I’ll take you down the only road
I’ve ever been down–
You know the one that takes you to the
Places where all the veins meet, yeah

No change, I can change,
I can change, I can change,
But I’m here in my mold,
I am here in my mold,
But I’m a million different people
From one day to the next,
I can’t change my mold,
No, no, no, no, no

Well I never pray, but tonight
I’m on my knees, yeah–
I need to hear some sounds that
Recognize the pain in me, yeah–
I let the melody shine,
Let it cleanse my mind,
I feel free now–
But the airways are clean and there’s
Nobody singing to me now.

No change, I can change,
I can change, I can change,
But I’m here in my mold,
I am here in my mold,
And I’m a million different people
From one day to the next,
I can’t change my mold,
No, no, no, no, no–
Have you ever been down?
I can’t change, no, no

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life–
Try to make ends meet,
Try to find some money,
Then you die.
You know I can change, I can change,
I can change, I can change,
But I’m here in my mold,
I am here in my mold,
And I’m a million different people
From one day to the next,
I can’t change my mold,
No, no, no, no, no

(apologies to The Verve)

Easter Time is the Time for Eggs

In my thirty-something years of life, I only have three Easter memories, which I will now share with you.

1) Goin’ to Church

It has occurred to me that I’ve managed to set foot in damn near every kind of church there is over the years:  Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Unitarian, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Nazarine, Latter Day Saints, etc.  I’ve even been to Synagogue, fer cryin’ out loud.  One memory that I will always keep with me is the time my family went to a Catholic Easter service.  This was in Lebanon, Missouri, and we were visiting my first step-mother’s family, who were devout Catholics.  I used to love visiting them during the holidays because a) they were nice folks, and b) we always ate well.  Do you know what perogies are?  They’re like Polish potato dumplings, and I used to eat a shitload of ’em.  Well, before the traditional Polish feast, we would all get dressed up to go to church, which made perfect sense to me considering the level of ornamentation in the Catholic church.

catholicchurch(this was not my Catholic church, but you get the idea)

With the stained glass and the gilded everything, it was all so shiny and beautiful–even the crucified Jesus was pretty. It was lightyears ahead of the decor found in the dingy Nazarene Sunday School I attended in rural Georgia, where kids would write cuss words on the chalk board before the preacher lady showed up.  There was never any worry about keeping up appearances at that church, I can assure you.  (I mean, someone would occasionally sport a clip-on tie, but that was pretty much it.)  So everyone is dressed to the nines and we all march into the wonderfully ornate Catholic church, and immediately I realize that the church is full of animals.  And I mean FULL of animals.  It was like a livestock auction in there–oodles upon oodles of barnyard animals.  You could barely make out what the priest was saying over the sounds of the bleating from the goats and the clucking from the chickens–it was like a trip to the county fair.  I don’t remember exactly what the sermon was about (something along the lines of “All God’s Creatures,” I imagine) but I do remember being blown away by the spectacle of it all, which was something I had come to expect from the Catholic church.  I mean, this was the same church that holds midnight mass, and going to church at midnight is rockstar stuff when you’re a kid (admittedly not as rockstar as, say, handling snakes or speaking in tongues, but you get my drift).

2) My First Easter Egg Hunt

reaganeaster(1982 White House Easter Egg Hunt)

No, I was not at the White House for this event.  To be honest, I don’t actually remember my first Easter egg hunt, because I was a baby.  However, the incident was captured with an 8mm film recorder, and while that film is forever lost, I can distinctly recall watching the footage over and over again on my living room wall as a child.  I’m not sure what year it was, but I had just barely learned to walk, and I was in short pants (it may have been a lederhosen-like jumper, honestly).  I was toddling along in the grass, headed for a brightly-colored egg, when out of nowhere comes running this older girl who shoves me face first into the ground and snatches my egg away from me.  Of course I begin crying, and I am quickly consoled by my mother, who helps me up and dusts me off so that I can begin looking for eggs again.  I see another egg and start gunning for it, but that same little bitch knocks me to the ground AGAIN and steals my egg.  This happened a few more times, actually, but the one I really remember is that first one… my tiny smiling face full of joy as it’s so unceremoniously knocked into the tall grass by that she-devil–dashed to the dirt along with my dreams of picking up pastel painted eggs.  That footage replays in my head with the same haunting trauma that other people experience while recalling the Zapruder 8mm film footage of JFK getting shot.

3) Easter Time is the Time for Eggs

The only real Easter tradition I look forward to every year is singing the Easter Time song with my mother.  Ever since I was a little boy, my mama would sing:

“Easter time is the time for eggs,
and the time for eggs is Easter time.
I pray to the lord and I hope and pray
that I don’t lose my Sunday pants,
’cause Easter time is the time for eggs…”

And it would carry on like that on a loop. We’d sing and dance to this ridiculous tune off and on throughout the day, and it was always a hoot. I sang the song with my mama today, as a matter of fact, and she said that while it was silly, it was also important to be sincere about it, because if you weren’t sincere about the eggs, then “they would wreak havoc on yo’ head.”

She asked me where that song came from, to which I replied that I had no idea–that she’d always just sung it. She was sure that she got that tune from somewhere, so I tried tracking down the origins of the song today, and I found the following colorfully racist cartoon from 1937:

Yikes.

April’s Fool

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

– T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

Don’t worry, I won’t be reproducing “The Waste Land” in its entirety–there’s no point in making this month any meaner than it already is. I’m admittedly not much of a T.S. Eliot fan, but he was right about one thing: April really is the cruellest month. At least for me it is, as there are specific dates in this month which serve as a painful reminder to me of what will never be.  Perhaps more importantly, April marks the first full month of spring, a season of rebirth and renewal when color and life return to the flora and fauna of this mortal coil–plants and animals both coming into bloom for the primal purpose of propagating the species. With the warm weather come equally warm bodies in short skirts or sundresses, their felicitous female forms turning the heads of men whose minds become monomaniacal with desire–the blood coursing through their veins rising in temperature like a reptile on a rock. ‘Tis the season for twitterpated lovers ambling by hand in hand while those of us without a hand to hold become melancholic and bitter as we watch life return to the living while leaving the rest of us out. April is a month when loneliness can get the better of you if you’re not careful, and it all kicks off with an entire day devoted solely to fucking with somebody’s head.

I’ve never much cared for April Fool’s Day–always been kind of a sourpuss about pranks, to be honest. I trace it back to a particularly awful April Fool’s prank that was played on me as a child. I was about ten years old and getting ready to go to bed when I heard my stepmother scream. My father began yelling at me to call 911, and I ran into the bathroom to see my stepmother holding her left hand over the sink. There was blood covering both her hand and the sink, and I panicked. I ran as fast as I could to the telephone and managed to dial the number nine when my father snatched the receiver out of my hand and pulled me away from the phone. “No, no, no–Cindy’s all right!” he said. “It’s a joke–it’s just a joke–see?!?” I looked up to see my smiling stepmother clutching a bottle of ketchup, and I immediately began bawling. They were shocked to see me in tears because the gore was so obviously fake that no one could possibly mistake Heinz 57 for actual blood. No one, that is, except for a ten-year-old boy who was as blind as a bat without his glasses. They could have used Hershey’s syrup and I still would have thought my stepmother was bleeding out before my eyes. Needless to say, my family refrained from participating in April Fool’s Day from that point forward.