When you’re gone, here’s a song, I’ll be thinking about you
I’ve never experienced anything more ethereal than when our eyes met before homeroom. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it hung in the air like an eternal sunrise. Nothing I’ve experienced since has matched this feeling- for only a moment, I stood before the face of God. Drug people lament the way it used to be, before things were cut with laxatives. The first semester at college, and you’re popping pills at a party- throbbing waves of intensity.
And you think you’ll take it with you, like you finally won the ring-toss at a carnival. This is your big pink elephant. You think it’s going to feel that way every time, but every time you go back, there are more pieces missing. The fifth time you’ve gone through the haunted house and the foam skeleton doesn’t have the same resonance. You become the old pothead, rolling your eyes at kids and their stoner stories.
“Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline.”
I had this incredible moment of content while kissing Sarah in the backseat of my car. “Heroin” was playing on the radio. She had asked me if her breasts were as big as I was expecting- that perhaps her nudes were deceptively angled, the old MySpace trick. She was so nervous I wouldn’t like her that she needed to hold her wine glass with both hands, to prevent spillage.
This worsened when I told her to cut the shit with the sterile, first date, getting to you know chit-chat- the last bold move I’d ever make. She had to put the glass down entirely.
Once in my car, she sat up straight, arched her back, and asked again- somewhere between seductive and genuinely worried. I told her that I’d need a closer look and took the straps of her dress off her shoulders.
And I had this moment, in the back seat, of true connection. I liked her- dark hair, large breasts. Insecure and she didn’t bother to hide it. A kindred spirit left behind by the dating market, looking for something real. This felt different. This felt special.
The day after Christmas, 2016, was the last time any of this were possible.
You smile like a cartoon, tooth for tooth
You said that irony was the “shackles of youth”
If you’re someone who likes getting the ending up front, I’ll spare you the details: the hero of the story is Bill Berry. I had gotten a copy of R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People” the week of its release- the cassette was yellow- and immediately fell in love with the record. While it would be years before I could appreciate the clever writing of singer Michael Stipe, the album served as a welcome departure from what I understood as music in the early 1990s.
While Axl Rose and Metallica were producing work of equal measure, R.E.M. was my first exposure to the idea that things didn’t always need to rock- R.E.M. wasn’t afraid to give a moment space and allow a song to breath- this gave “Drive” room to brood ominously and “Everybody Hurts” time to emotionally settle. “Nightswimming” is still one of my favorite songs and always manages to make me cry.
As much as I loved the record, at twelve years old, I had this awful hunch that I was being duped. I had thought of myself as a kind of emerging rock critic, a junior Robert Christgau, compiling my own Consumers Guide to Rock; I knew what rocked and what sucked.
But there was something fishy about 1992- everything rocked.
“Whatever happened to all this season’s losers of the year?
Every time I got to thinking, where’d they disappear?”
There is no place I’d rather be than walking beside a well-groomed front-lawn on a suburban street in mid-August. Late afternoon, when the sun is just beginning to set- tired from a long day’s work- making its march toward a warm hue that feels like a soft blanket enveloping your soul. The sound of distant lawn-mowers, and the scent of cut grass- really, to properly maintain the admiration and respect of your neighbors, twice per week is ideal for lawn-care. American flags next to empty mailboxes. Dogs barking beside hamburgers on propane grills.
When you’re in eighth grade, suburbia is your canvas. You burn things in the woods and throw eggs at houses. Hop fences and explore backyards. Stand atop a hill overlooking the town below and throw-up a double middle-finger. You let the girls hang out and you act like it’s this big deal and if they’re not cool enough they’ll have to go home. You probably could have seen their tits had you been more socially adept. You’d be star gazing had there been stars to see.
“Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars.”
“I’m not dead, and I’m not for sale.”
The waning days of August. After midnight; 2AM about to roll around as inconspicuously as the 80,000th mile on the odometer of an old girl who won’t quit. “Not quite ready to bring it down just yet.” Miles of quiet. Last man standing. Watching the tide roll in. Everything leading to this feels weighted and opaque- a dull ache only noticeable in moments of stillness.
When you’re young, there’s a timelessness to the hours before dawn. They dissipate in the moonlight. The keys to your dad’s old beater open up the world around you like never before- possibilities expand beyond the infinite. Everything takes on a veneer of significance. Sitting at a diner and only ordering coffee. Telling ghost stories on old country roads. Hopping fences and exploring graveyards.
When asked for writing advice, Delicious Tacos- who is certain to go down as one of the most important writers of the blogger-age- likes to keep things simple: get up early every morning and write. And there is something to that- the foundation of writing is interpreting the esoteric disorganization of the writer’s internal world through language and bringing those ideas to a place of external organization- quite literally, coming to terms with what is initially termless. This is why keeping a journal is often recommended as a form of therapy.
However, this only explains the process of writing- the easiest and most direct way to become a writer- rather than explaining what the job of a writer really is. This is something that warrants equal examination.
A good writer is tasked with splitting his veins open with a razor blade and covering his keyboard in hot blood- a prolonged and terrible ritual. You’ll know a piece is finished when your face is numb, eyes unfocused, and body trembling.
You’d think Delicious Tacos wouldn’t have left out the grizzly details- the horrible reality of being on the writing grind- considering I learned it from reading his work.
Perhaps the most important lesson for a young girl is on her emerging sexuality- like death and taxes, the biological clock cares not if one is ready for it to strike. When a girl goes through puberty, suddenly making her sexually viable for adult men, not only does her body change but as does the way the world reacts to her. It becomes possible that the same man who had treated her with genuine care and empathy now has his own biologically-driven agenda- complete with duplicitous intentions. Watch a clumsy man talk confidently to a child but fumble nervously with a sexually mature woman- also with puberty comes power.
However, not every lesson can be taught. One learns to be patient only through experience- patience is a lesson that cannot be taught. While you can try to tell a little girl on the cusp of puberty that her world is about to change, drastically, and that this new world comes with its share of dangers, it may be easier for her to process this through the subconscious language of the fairy tale.
Toward the end of 1990, you couldn’t get away from Simpsons merchandise- from posters, to pajama sets, to pencil toppers- mostly featuring Generation-X’s very first mainstream media icon, Bart Simpson. You see, before “The Simpsons” became obsessed with Homer’s gradual decline into retardation, the show’s initial protagonist was skateboarding prankster Bart- the country’s first take on their next generation.
And those savvy Simpsons writers seemed to have nailed it. While Bart’s driving characteristic was apathy, it was a kind of self-aware apathy. Bart wasn’t stupid, he was an “underachiever”- he was capable of more but consciously chose less. This hyper-aware apathy would become the generation’s defining trait.
Oh, poor Tim the ostler! The humble stable buck hopelessly in love with his boss’s gorgeous, red lipped daughter. Like that was ever gonna happen, and she’s in love with the bad boy Highwayman anyway, a dapper thief with a taste for the high-life; the ostler never had a chance. So, what does our scorned, low-born, beta-male do? The only thing he can- Tim calls the police, another group of men more masculine than he, to properly dispose of the Highwayman.
Thus is the premise of Alfred Noyes’s narrative poem “The Highwayman” (1906). You may have guessed that our poor, law-abiding ostler isn’t quite the hero of the story- that role is more closely filled by the titular scoundrel, with the lesson being that we don’t judge the morality of actions as much as we judge the value of those committing them.
And Tim, as a poor stable-hand, doesn’t have much in the way of value- he’s disposable and invisible. In modern terminology, which is ironically also Old English terminology, Tim is a cuck– and if you want any chance at sexual success, you can’t be a cuck.
“I found out long ago, it’s a long way down the holiday road”
Believe it or not, Clark W. Griswold was pretty fucking masculine. Sure, “Vacation” (1983) featured a kind of proto-idiot Dad, a trope that would become the standard by 1990- but Clark was a different kind of idiot Dad.
Clark was a masculine idiot Dad.
“Vacation” relied on one-joke with Clark, but luckily it was a good one. When Clark would do something stupid, royally screwing things up or putting his family in danger, he would say “I meant to do that” and move on.
This took many different forms. When Clark goes to trade in his car for a new station wagon before the trip- one he surely researched meticulously (my own Dad has a “Consumer Reports” subscription to this day)- he gets the old “bait and switch,” being forced into buying an ugly clunker after his own car is traded in destroyed. To dispute this by waiting for the car he ordered to come in would ruin his family’s vacation- so what does Clark do?
He sells his wife on the ugly clunker by using the same line that the scam-artist car salesman used on him: “Youmay think you hate it now, honey, but wait until you drive it.” Or, in other words, “I meant to do that.” He isn’t apologetic, he doesn’t admit defeat- he takes inventory of the situation and moves forward. This is the masculine approach- yes, even if you’re an idiot.