Dear Jack: What I Was Doing When I Was Your Age, 30 Years Ago, Back in the Summer of 1989

8 years, 7 months.

Dear Jack,

For every year older you get, it seems that much closer to my memories of my old childhood; since my memories are that much more elaborate the older I was.

So for me, it’s pretty easy to think back 30 years ago to the summer of 1989.

I remember I attended baseball camp. The main thing I remember is that Jonathan Shugart got hit in the head with a baseball.

I remember that was the summer that our town got a Taco Bell; because I went there for the first time in my life, after baseball camp; during the first week it opened.

And I definitely remember our whole family going to see the original Batman movie in the theater.

I remember that I was excited about starting 3rd grade, because it would be at a new school, where you were able to pick juice instead of just milk.

You’re going to have a great school year. I can tell you from experience.

I also can tell you that you won’t forget this summer, just as I didn’t forget my summer preceding 3rd grade. I’m sure getting the Jeep will help ensure that!

Love,

Daddy

Popular (Yet Subtle) Songs Dealing with Abortion

Pop music finds a way to safely put into words what we sometimes can’t easily speak.

Yesterday as I was driving home, a song came on the radio that I had never heard before- “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw.  I’m the kind of person who always listens carefully to the lyrics of a song; and part of the 2nd verse caught my attention: We were young and wild; we decided not to have a child. So we did what we did and we tried to forget and we swore up and down there would be no regrets.”

It’s important in songwriting to say something without actually coming out and saying it.  In Aerosmith’s 1989 hit, “Janie’s Got a Gun”, the words “rape” and “incest” are never used, but for anyone who has halfway listened to the song before, it’s pretty obvious it’s a story about a girl who is sexually abused by her father and eventually takes revenge by killing him.

Abortion is such a heavy and delicate topic; laced in political, moral, and religious factors.  It’s an extreme thing- typically people are either hard-core against or for it, while there are obviously some in the middle who believe abortion is excused from their opposition reasons in the event of rape, incest, certain death of the mother, etc.  But to never bring it up in the entertainment genre of music would be odd, given that it’s an event that happens every day- an event that has affected many people, most of whom I am not personally aware of who they are.

So I find it very interesting to see songs become hits that deal with abortion.  Aside from “Red Ragtop” which went to #5 on the Country charts, there are two particular songs I want to examine.  It was only a few years ago I found out that in these songs the protagonist’s girlfriend gets pregnant and has an abortion.    They were both performed by alternative rock artists and were popular while I was in high school.  And the songs both have a strong emotional tune to them while straightforwardly telling their stories with lyrics that evoke shame, sadness, and a sense of regret and guilt mixed with the realization of the need to move forward in life, despite their personal choices.

The first of these songs is “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe which rose to #5 in 1997.  While this song is officially about a guy dealing with guilt after his girlfriend commits suicide, I can’t deny the fact that some of the lyrics paint the picture of abortion as well- which according to Wikipedia, is the actual story behind the song: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Freshmen_(song).  Here are some lyrics from “The Freshmen”.

When I was young I knew everything
And she a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I’m guilt stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor
Stop a baby’s breath and a shoe full of rice

I can’t be held responsible
‘Cause she was touching her face
I won’t be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place

For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we’d never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe we’d ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen

We’ve tried to wash our hands of all of this
We never talk of our lacking relationships
And how we’re guilt stricken sobbing with our heads on the floor
We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip, we’d say

The other song, more surprising for me, is “Brick” by Ben Folds Five, which also was a hit in 1997: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brick_(song).  Below are lyrics from the 2nd and 3rd verses.  After reading them, the reality of this song becomes much clearer.  I had always thought of “Brick” as a decently happy song; at worst, a song about a happy guy and a depressed girlfriend.  But it’s obviously much more than that:

They call her name at 7:30
I pace around the parking lot
Then I walk down to buy her flowers
And sell some gifts that I got
Can’t you see?
It’s not me you’re dying for
Now she’s feeling more alone
Than she ever has before

As weeks went by
It showed that she was not fine
They told me son, it’s time to tell the truth
She broke down, and I broke down
Cause I was tired of lying
Driving home to her apartment
For a moment we’re alone
Yeah she’s alone
I’m alone
Now I know it

So beyond our own personal convictions on abortion, the songs mentioned here give us the gravity of it: Even dressed up in a catchy song, the truth is, the subject of abortion itself leaves a feeling of sadness and regret.  The narrators of these songs have been deeply affected by their decisions.  It appears they’ve learned to forgive themselves, even if under the guise of “we were young and irresponsible”, yet they aren’t able to forget; as consequences resurface.

Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top 11-25 Favorites

What do your favorite movies say about you?

Our favorite movies are loaded with subconscious connections to our own ways of thinking and our own lives.  And that’s why no movie critic can ever truly release a list of the best movies ever made.  Because that list would simply reflect that critic, not the general population. 

After having recently posted my own Top Ten favorites (Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites), here in my 300th post on Scenic Route Snapshots, I am now releasing the list of my Top 11-25 favorite movies of all time:

#11) About a Boy

#12) Elizabethtown

#13) A Christmas Story

#14) Zoolander

#15) Supersize Me (assuming that documentaries count)

#16) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

#17) Mrs. Doubtfire

#18) That Thing You Do

#19) The Wedding Singer

#20) Big

#21) Dumb and Dumber

#22) Napoleon Dynamite

#23) The Breakfast Club

#24) Pineapple Express

#25) One Hour Photo

I have been asked several times about my Number Four favorite movie of my all time, Sideways (2004).  It’s one that most people who I know in real life didn’t like, if they’ve even seen it.  I can totally see why people wouldn’t like it- a bipolar lead character (Miles, played by Paul Giamatti), a sex-crazed idiot sidekick (Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church), a good bit of comical frontal male nudity (by the man who played Tom on LOST), and no definite plot.  But I do solidly love this movie.  In fact, I also give it the award for “The Most Re-watchable Movie”.  And surely that’s another reason it ended up as #4. 

In keeping with the theme of this post, I am choosing to use Sideways as an example of how a favorite movie can say a lot about the person who loves it. I’ve said before that what makes a good movie is not its actors, budget, or plot- but instead it’s all about the characters (and of course the actor’s ability to act). 

Sideways is a character movie.  The main four characters (and pretty much only four characters of the movie) are all believable.  None of their lives are impressive.  They are very ordinary people.  And they are all quite flawed and that makes them more human than a lot of movie characters.

It wasn’t until I saw the movie for the 10th time, last weekend, that I finally picked up on the toned-down parallel between the types of wine and the characters, as well as the amount of passion for wine they had compared with their desire for meaningful human relationships.

I love the fact that the movie takes place in Napa Valley and integrates the culture of wine tasting.  It’s such a beautiful, unique place.  I was intrigued by Napa Valley the first time I saw the movie in 2005. 

Of course, three years later I conveniently married a girl from Sacramento, which means that I’ve been able to go wine tasting several times out there where the movie was filmed.  Just as Sideways makes it seem cool to take a road trip through Napa Valley and taste wine, the truth is, it really is that cool.  A perfect place for a road trip and a perfect place to get lost (which we do just about every time we go out there).

If nothing else, Sideways plays out like an adult, R-rated version of Dumb and Dumber.  The climax of the movie makes the “naked in public” nightmare a reality when Miles (Paul Giamatti) has to sneak into a house to retrieve Jack’s (Thomas Haden Church) wallet, after Jack just woke him up in the middle of the night after having ran several miles naked from across town. 

The entire soundtrack of the movie, with one exception when the song “Two Tickets to Paradise” is heard in the background of a bar, is jazz.  I like jazz a lot.  That’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of The Pink Panther cartoon show.

Lastly, if it weren’t for a few scenes where Jack uses a cell phone, the movie could have very easily taken place in 1993.  Or 1989.  Or 1986.  Sideways has a really timeless, classic feel to it. 

So in review, the random elements of the movie that subconsciously connected to my own life were the following: a character-driven plot (I’m a people person), parallels between the wines and the people who drink them (I love undertoned themes), remniscent of Dumb and Dumber (obviously another one of my favorite movies), retro feel (I’m a fan of time travel), a jazzy soundtrack (it’s groovy), a beautiful location (that also doubles as my wife’s hometown region), a road trip driven-plot (I love road trips) and a scene involving a man having to run naked in public (I have that “naked in pubic” dream several times a year, and I plan to do a post on it soon).

How does a movie become a favorite?  It’s all about those subconscious connections between our own lives and the images, moods, and stories we see on the screen.  Either they’re there or they’re not.

The Most Popular, All-American Summer Activities for Kids

Notice I left out the word “normal”.


Now that summer is here, I realize I keep having flashbacks of my summers as a kid. The ways we all spent our summers as kids were unique in their own weird ways. I don’t know what a normal summer for a kid is supposed to be like. All I know is the version of summer that my sister and I experienced between the summers of 1989 and 1999 to keep ourselves entertained in Fort Payne, Alabama.

 

Mmm... Sharkleberry Fin flavored!

 

In the summer of 1989 our mom was obsessed with making homemade popsicles. She bought blue and red plastic molds into which she poured a random substance and placed in the freezer. Four hours later when it was frozen, my sister and I indulged in the flavor of the day. It started out as an alternative to “all those sugary popsicles they sell in the stores”. So orange juice was the first flavor. Then chocolate milk. Then yogurt. By the end of summer it was Dr. Pepper and eventually my personal favorite flavor of homemade popsicles: sweet tea.

The next summer, in 1990, we discovered water balloons. My sister and I would fill up about 30 water balloons, place them in a bucket, and take them out to the trampoline. One person would jump as the other launched the balloons at them. One point for every hit. Then eventually flashbacks from all that fun with the homemade popsicles gave us a new idea. We put water balloons in the freezer.

Not to throw at each other, but to throw into the air and watch them fall onto the driveway. I think the point was to see how many times the balloon could hit the asphalt before the broken ice inside would cut through the balloon. At one point we ran out of balloons to play with so our mom let us use some medical gloves. We filled them up with water and stuck them in the freezer. The funny thing is, there’s still a frozen glove in our parents’ freezer as of today. One last survivor.

My favorite classic summertime activity would have to be the paper rafts. It all started one day in 1993 when I drew and colored a cartoon man about 4 inches tall. Then I was compelled to grab some scissors and cut him out like a paper doll. My sister liked mine and made one as well. Ultimately we had made our own action figures. So in order for them to live up to their name (“action” figures), we decided to make paper rafts for them. So we drew, colored, and cut out Tom Sawyer style rafts and taped our paper men onto them, folding the men’s backs so that they sit down comfortably on their vehicle.

 

Destined for greatness...

 

Now all we needed was a good river for our men on rafts. No need to looking any further than the nearest bathroom. We dropped the men into the toilet and flushed them away on an adventure. I clearly remember my sister waving and telling her paper man goodbye. Then we did the whole event over again later that day, only with improved, more detailed paper men. And again and again.

In fact, I really, really want to make a paper raft right now.

Dr. Deja Vu: Before and After

There is something magic, mysterious, and forgiving about the past. Like a black hole it just absorbs our former stupidity and ignorance. As long as others can see we’ve put enough time between the present and the past, then much can be dismissed. Learning from the past is the respectable thing to do. It’s current and constant immaturity that people have a problem with.

In 1989 in 3rd grade the snack my mom always packed for me for the designated “snack time” was a Kudos bar. If I opened the healthy candy bar a certain way, the wrapper would stay intact so that it looked like there was still the Kudos bar inside. So everyday, I would offer an empty Kudos wrapper to one of my friends. They would anxiously grab the bait, and it was funny to both the giver and receiver every time.

After a few months I had done this trick to literally the entire class, so I tried it out on the teacher, but with a twist: After she realized there was no Kudos bar inside, I would actually give her the Kudos. (I carefully took it out of the wrapper and placed the bar inside my cold metal desk.) She laughed when I pranked her. Then I reached into my desk, pulled out the naked Kudos bar, and said, “I’m just joking. Here it is.”

The look on her face said enough. But she simply just said, “Oh no, you keep it. I’ve already got a snack. Thank you though.”

Who wants to eat a chocolate covered granola bar that an 8 year-old boy touched and sat in his desk that hasn’t been cleaned out in six months? I realized it was a faux pas right away. It was awkward and I hoped she would forget about it as soon as possible.

By the time I got to 4th grade, I was able to say to myself, “Okay, that Kudos bar incident was a year ago. It’s a new year, you’re a new person, time to prove you’re not immature anymore.” But year after year I would do things that embarrassed myself, and each time, I would hope that the next year I would finally “get mature”. But 20 years since the Kudos incident, I still haven’t reached that perfection I’m looking for.

And in the last 20 years, I’ve buried not only socially awkward events, but also personal offenses. Times when I’ve insulted and hurt people I care about. Of course I didn’t mean to. But I did the crime, each time. And after the sincere apology, and the sincere forgiveness, there’s still the sincere “let enough time go by so that hopefully both of us pretty much have forgotten about it” issue. Easier to forgive than to forget, no doubt about it.

We know that time is a healer, but how much time?

To the familiar proverb, “we hurt those we love the most” I add “and embarrass ourselves in front of those we don’t know as well”. I’ve tried, and I just can’t embarrass myself in front of those who really know me. Because they really know me. They’ve seen me do enough goofy stuff that it’s no big deal anymore.

But it’s interesting that it takes love being mishandled or abused to cause real hurt. And also that part of growing up and becoming mature is learning from mistakes involving hurting those I really care about. Whether it’s training for the norm of social behavior, or whether it’s learning “how to love” another person, it takes spilling the milk and cracking a few eggs.

Making mistakes and not learning from them reveals a fool. But turning around in a new direction shows repentance and maturity.

The irony is that while it takes someone that I love to truly hurt them, it’s their returned love that helps heal the wound faster, the way a Band-Aid and Neosporin do. I can insult a stranger or acquaintance, but I can’t truly deeply hurt them. So there is no love needed to heal a wound in that case.

Weird how that works.

“I can’t wait to figure out what’s wrong with me, so I can say this is the way that I used to be- there’s no substitute for time.” –John Mayer (“Split Screen Sadness”)

Snail Trails: Your Memory May Be the Only Proof an Event Ever Happened

Nothing, not even a blank screen. Then suddenly on April 20, 1983, life as I know it began. Not the day I was born, but the day my memory started. With all my family gathered around me at the kitchen table, my first memory of life begins with a song- “Happy Birthday”. Maybe I was simply overwhelmed by that many people in the room at once. Maybe I thought the song had a sad tune. Maybe this is where I got my fear of being in front of a bunch of people with nothing to do or say. But all I had to do was just blow out that giant number “2” candle on my Mickey Mouse cake. Instead, I cried.

Flash forward to the summer of 1985. I put on my cowboy boots, grabbed my He-Man lunchbox, stood by the front door, and announced to my mom, “Okay, I’m ready for school! I want to meet friends.” I wasn’t even enrolled for pre-school yet, but my mom took care of it and a month later I was present at First Methodist’s “Mother’s Day Out” program (the year before Kindergarten: 1985-1986).

Though I was four years old, I can specifically remember that Simon Milazzo had a toy dog that I liked so much that my mom bought me one like his. I remember Meg Guice crying one day because somebody ate her pineapples when she was looking the other way. I remember Laura O’Dell gave me a valentine with a scratch ‘n’ sniff vanilla ice cream cone that smelled really good, while Alex Igou gave me a valentine with Darth Vader that said “Be Mine or Else…”.

I remember having a daily “play time” where we all went to the dark green carpeted fellowship hall where we were often forced to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” or sing and act out “The Farmer and the Dell”. Meg Guice would always want to be the wife when “the farmer chose a wife”. I never wanted to be chosen to play a character.

Instead, one day I wandered off to play with my fire truck. Alex Igou also managed to escape from the group, going to the opposite side of the room. We both got in trouble for doing this so the teacher put us in “time out” together. Alex said to me, “Do you like your truck I got for you?” (It was the one he gave me at my birthday party.)

I used to think I was weird for having such detailed and vivid memories from such an early age. But while in my Childhood Developmental Psychology class in college, the professor asked those of us who had a vivid memory from age two or younger to raise our hands. Twenty-five percent of us raised our hands and then had to share with everyone what our memory was. We were told that having a memory that clear from such a young age isn’t common, but it’s not abnormal either.

When I think of elementary school, I don’t remember much about what I learned, but I definitely remember clear conversations and events starring my classmates: In 2nd grade (1988-1989) while in line for a relay race during P.E., I was standing next to Cody Vartanian and Charles Robertson. In honor of the new Nintendo game, Cody said to Charles, “Skate or die!” Charles firmly responded, “I don’t have to skate if I don’t want to skate and I don’t have to die if I don’t want to die”.

Last week I told the story of breaking up a fight while dressed as a giant wolf exactly ten years ago, during my final month of high school (see “Cry Wolf”). I feared that it may come across like I had in some form exaggerated the details. According to my memory, no one I was friends with was there to witness it. So I was much relieved when Adrianne McClung Smith commented on the story, saying she was fortunate enough to see the event in person.

For many childhood memories we have, however, there was not a “constant” in the equation. In other words, without someone else who was there who still remembers a specific event taking place, in essence it only happened in our own minds. It makes me think of the “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it…” question. My immediate response was always to ask if I could put a tape recorder in the forest before the tree fell. My next response was to realize I didn’t care if anybody heard the stupid tree fall anyway.

In the same way, I exclusively hold thousands of memories recorded in my mind. Memories about people I grew up with. Memories these people would never have known happened unless I tell them. Since I am the only person to verify such specific events, in theory they happened BECAUSE I remember them.

All anyone else can do is question the validity of my memory. But I know for a fact these memories are real, not simply evolved from a dream or an old snapshot. Everyone else has this ability though, at least to some degree if nothing else. Every person alive owns exclusive copyrights to memories involving other people.

I am constantly disappointed with the sad truth that even in the year 2009, there is no such thing as time travel. So badly I want to go back to those actual random memories; I want to replay them. In the back of my mind I’m hanging on to this thread of a hope that somehow someday I can revisit my past. Not to change it. Just to see it again, like a good movie.

This hope that when I get to Heaven there will be a series of doors with a different year written on each one, allowing me to revisit- in the likeness of Disney World’s Epcot Center how you can visit several “countries”. Evidently I have a condition which causes me to leave a trail of me behind throughout the history of my life, like a snail. At any given point, I am living in both the present moment and simultaneously each year of the past since my memory began in 1983.

As a writer and as an every day conversationalist, things seem incomplete to me without a nostalgic year or story in there somewhere. Some people have a habit of going off on “rabbit trails”. I end up on “snail trails” instead. My short-term memory is awful- I can’t remember who won American Idol last season. But my petty long-term memory is a little bit Rain Man-esque.