House Behind the Magnolia Tree

It’s a little white house on a little hill in Van Buren, AR.  It’s small enough that the magnolia tree in front of it almost blocks the view from the street.  I ordered pizza once, and it took the pizza boy an hour and a half to find my house.  Had I known that I could have asked for him to return with a fresh pizza, I would have.  No one told me I could do that.

It was my home, and though it was not designed for privacy or comfort, it was the only place I could go to find them.  I was twelve.  What say did I have in where I lived?  Actually, I had plenty of say, because I could have decided to move away to a much bigger house in a different state that provided all the privacy an adolescent boy could want.  However, this is the hindsight I have now.  Back then I didn’t know these things were important.  Like many my age, I was content to live in the moment and not see anything further than that.  But if asked to go back and change any of it, I wouldn’t.

Because the magnolia tree was so massive, overgrown in my opinion, it was really what made up most of the privacy I had there.  I was lucky to have the largest room in the house, but this room for some reason was not designed with doors.  The explanation given to me was that the studs would not support an actual door in the doorways.  It made about as much sense to me then as it does now, only I didn’t know the right questions to ask then.  I could have asked, “Well have you tried putting one in?”  I never aspired to be an architect, but it still baffles me that the structure of the door frame was so fragile that any attempt to put a solid door in that space would compromise the structural integrity of the house.  The only kind of door that I was possible was a plastic, flimsy, sliding door about as thick as construction paper.  It also made perfect sense to my parents to place the well-behaved, non confrontational teenager in the room with no doors while the volatile, strong-willed four year-old had a room of his own with a solid wooden door that locked.  Only now am I seeing just how crazy this situation was.  Anyone could come into my room any time they wanted to.  Any.  Time.  Sure they could “knock”, but I was not often extended that courtesy by my brother, especially when he was angry with me and wanted to push all my books and CDs off my shelves.  He did this often enough that I had to develop a system for returning my books to their proper order.  They were in alphabetical order, and I think he knew that.  So he used it against me.

Ironically, I found a secret place for secluded reading in my brother’s room.  It was in his closet.  It took up the entire wall his room shared with the kitchen, and in the back corner behind his door, I could sit and read by a crack of light.  My mom was the first to find me, so she would distract my brother to keep him from looking for me.  She understood my need for solitude because I got it from her.  Thing was, the kid was too young to realize that corner of the house even existed.  There was nothing that he needed in that place, so he never thought to look there.  Plus his closet was a black hole for his junk and my mom’s junk.  It was a miracle I even found the space. Certainly there’d be no way I could fit in that spot now, having grown a foot taller as well as a few inches around.  Back then, I was just skinny enough to fit and avoid the rusty nails protruding from the inner walls.

What excited me about this spot was at first my parents didn’t even know about it.  I would hear them call my name and pass in and out of the rooms looking for me.  It was a thrilling feeling being hidden.  I never gave away my position willingly for fear of compromising it.  Instead I’d wait until I knew they were far enough away not to hear me emerge to answer their calls, pretending as if I had been in plain sight the entire time.

Over time I learned how to deal with the lack of privacy I was given.  My flimsy doors were eventually upgraded to less flimsy doors with small hooks for locks that I could manipulate in such a way that my brother had a harder time intruding.  Before there was no warning prior to the whoosh of the plastic as he entered in a frenzy.  With sturdier doors I could at least intervene before he was able to penetrate the barrier. Again, if I had known I was allowed to, I would have striven for positive change. I would have fought to preserve my rights as a citizen. But I was a kid. I didn’t know I had rights.


First Meeting

I stood back and spent the few extra seconds I had left before we exchanged words to take off my coat.  I knew who she was because she told me she’d be wearing a flower in her hair.  It was white and it stood out from her dark locks.  It drew me to her.

There is only a second, really, just the smallest moment before I find out if this girl is worth talking to.  In an instant I’d seat myself next to her at the bar and hear her voice for the first time.  It’s like I was waiting in the wings about to take the stage.  The show would commence, and there’d be no turning back.

Before she turned to see me, I noticed her posture.  She sat proudly on the stool, her forearms on the bar, her fingers around her pint glass.  She knew I was coming, but she looked more relaxed than me.  Patiently waiting.  Maybe she was thinking what I was thinking as well, that things could change after tonight.  Our lives could be much different after I sat down.

She turned to greet me, and I saw her face just as in the photograph, her light, round face, thin lips and delicate smile.  I was instantly happy to meet her.  And as the night went on, I found that this woman saw the world in a way that I can relate to.  The conversation turned philosophical within the first few minutes which intrigued me.  The more people I meet in my life, the more I notice that many of them tend to shy away from the important subjects.  It’s much easier to discuss the mundane because the opinions of others in those areas don’t usually challenge your own world view.  She seemed to get it, though.  She shared with me some of her disappointments and I admired her confidence in spite of them.  She also shared with me her affinity for beer which we used to toast the lessons of life.

There was a warmth about her that made me feel comfortable.  As we walked to my car from the bar, our steps fell together like we’d taken them before.  I could have mistaken her excellent people skills for an actually enjoyment of my company, but things were going well enough for that thought not to cross my mind until much later.  I was content hearing the words come from her mouth and not wishing she’d chosen any one differently.  I on the other hand could tell immediately her lack of interest when I mentioned a particular sports team I liked.  I wasn’t looking at her face because we were walking side by side, but her tone was definitely less interested than before I brought it up.

What I read from her face as the night progressed was that she was enjoying herself.  She turned out to be more of a mystery than I had thought, because she hid her discomfort from me well.  It wasn’t that she was displeased with me, but she didn’t actually enjoy the show we attended as much as I did.  She revealed that to me much later.  But that night every glance I snuck of her face showed me a relaxed smile and a tentative gaze.  She even took me by my arm as we walked back to the car.  I suppose no matter how honest you want to be from the beginning, it’s best not to show all your cards right away.

Kidding – Part One

I lost my ability to hula hoop.  Now when I pick one up and step inside of it, the best I can do is spin it really hard and hope that split second of orbit will be enough to impress anyone watching.  This isn’t an ability that I thought I would have to practice in order to retain it.  I always thought I would be able to spin a circle around my waist for more than a second.  I was wrong.

I really haven’t lost any sleep over this, though.  In fact, every time I try and fail I usually just shrug it off and look for an activity I can actually do.  But there was one day when I was in fourth grade that I was not only keeping the hoop going, but I was in a contest to see who could sustain the longest.  On that day I was weirdly confident that I could best my opponents in this because what I lacked in skill, I made up for in heart.  I was a passionate young man then, but only for brief moments about things that didn’t matter.

If I’m not mistaken, the winner of the contest was Jillian Anderson, or Andrews, or something like that.  I got the first name right probably.  The only clear memory I have of the event is watching her spin away for what became a ridiculous amount of time before the other girl gave up or passed out or whatever.  I don’t actually remember feeling upset about my loss, but I’m almost certain that was the last time I picked up a hula hoop until I was an adult.

Suppose I blame this loss of ability on the physics.  Maybe I could do it now if I wanted to, but the size of the hoop has to exceed a certain circumference so I may exert less energy to keep the thing in orbit.  Having a 17 inch waist probably made a big difference for me back then.  This is speculation of course, attributed to my rudimentary understanding of physics and my inability to estimate circumferences.  I was actually very skinny so my waist had to be at least half of what it is now if not more.  Now Google is at my immediate disposal so I could actually look up the numbers and have a more accurate estimate, but it’s close to my bedtime and I’m not sure anyone cares that much.  Suffice it to say that I blame math as the reason for my lack of success inside the hoop and not just because I got old and became a square.

More Musical Memories

All songs are important.  Of course there are songs that stick out more than the others, but I have a brain that makes connections through music.  (Actually, I’ve heard that we all do, but mine is more keen to it.)  Any song I have heard is special to me in some way, weather I have bad thoughts about it or good.

The best way to figure out what songs are the most important to me now is to look at my “Most Played” list in the iTunes.  Lately though, I have been downloading songs that I want to have with me all the time regardless of wether I have a copy of it stored somewhere else.  There is a Paul McCartney song that keeps popping up in my head called “Great Day” and it’s very catchy.  I want to hear it all the time because it has a simple message that the day that you are having is in fact going to be a great day so take it a and make something of it.  He says that it “Won’t be long” which  is I think the qualifier for a good day.  The ones that matter are the ones that are suddenly over and you’re looking back on the memories you made bittersweetly.

Supertramp is not a band that I would say I am a huge fan of.  I like their songs, but their repertoire isn’t filling my playlists.  But the one song of theirs that never tires me is “Give A Little Bit”.  That song is just what I want to say to someone that I love.  It perfectly describes how I feel when I love someone.  All the person has to do is just give a little bit and I’m in.  I don’t want to describe all the great lines in the song that speak to me right now, because I would just be writing it out in its entirety.  It would be much more effective if you just put it on and thought of me as you listened to it.  Then you would know how it is that I love.

Again, we’re getting into a territory that I have covered many times before.  Music saturates my life so much that I cannot narrow down my favorites list to just three.  There are too many good songs with good memories.  If we’re talking about bad memories, though, there is the classical piece by Ravel titled “Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess)” which electronic artist William Orbit wrote an arrangement of and was later remixed by Dutch trance guru Ferry Corsten.  I listened to that song at a very loud volume after my friend Charles died and I cried my eyes out.  He was the one that introduced me to electronic music and gave me that song.  I suppose now it’s not necessarily a bad memory, more of a beautiful and somber memory, and I cannot help but think of him whenever I hear it.  The music swells and I am swept away in it every time.

The hardest part about musical memories is that they take a long time to go away.  If I want to get rid of them, I have to wait until the vinyl has dust on it.  Only then will the memories’ echoes become faint and not dampen the enjoyment I wish to feel from them. Some of you may not understand what I mean by all this, but the most intimate connections I make with people are through music.  That’s why I wish it were easy to reset your brain after a breakup so you can restore the factory seeings or at least time machine back to before you knew that person.  Those imprints are harder to get rid of than the physical things they leave behind.

. . . And Scene

I was just thinking about this yesterday.  I thought to myself that it’s always been a dream of mine to be an actor, but it may not happen like I thought it would when I was a kid.  I wanted to be an actor like Arnold Schwarzenegger and beat up all the bad guys.  I’d seen enough of his films that I could reenact his fighting movements.  I could even do the entire scene from “Total Recall” where he kills five guys by himself.  The only problem that seemed to stand in my way was that I have an unusual name, and when I asked people many of them said that I was going to have to change it.  As if American audiences weren’t going to see movies where the lead actor’s name was a food.  I guess everyone thought it was unappealing to the big shot producers in Hollywood, their prime example being the obscure D-lister Kevin Bacon who could never seem to get work.

I wouldn’t want to be the producer, and not because of their prejudice against me, but because I don’t really know what a producer is.  According to Wikipedia, it is not one particular job but many, and those jobs depend on the movie itself.  If I had to explain it to someone using the analogy of the human body, the producer is like the mouth of the movie making machine.  He or she is in charge of “selling” the movie to the public so they have final say in what comes out of the mouth.  The more I read about all these jobs and responsibilities of these jobs, it’s a wonder to me that a movie gets made at all.  So many potential conflicts of interest between writers and editors and actors and producers and directors.  Seriously people, if a movie is good, that’s a modern miracle.

My second choice would be director, because I like being in charge.  However, I would need to learn more about what a director does before I take the chair.  I know I can sit in the chair with the headphones on and watch the actors do the acting.  Also, I can say the words “Action”, “Cut”, and “Lunch” with authority.  But how am I going to know which order to film things in?  How many takes in a day is considered excessive?  Am I allowed to berate the PAs personally, or is that something I have to delegate?  Honestly, I think I could get the hang of it with practice, but I haven’t been practicing in front of my bathroom mirror since I was a kid so I could stand behind the camera.  I need the spotlight.

Now what if I pull a Mel Gibson and decide to do all three?  There was a time when that crazy Aussie was turnin’ out the hits.  In 1995 he Produced, Directed, AND Starred in “Braveheart” which won best Picture and Director.  I guess that says a lot about the talent of Mr. Gibson if he can take all of that added pressure and still make a decent movie.  It probably helps when you’re your own boss.  And now I’m picturing Mel Gibson arguing with William Wallace on set in front of everyone, and no one wants to interject because they are afraid of what will happen if they do.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Show Must Go On.”

Record Keeping

I wanted to keep a journal when I was a kid, but I never committed.  I remember scribbling a couple entries down on loose leaf and then forgetting about them soon after.  They were shoved in my desk along with other useless papers that I would later have to rifle through to decide their level of importance.  So many things I should have thrown away, and so many things I should have paid more attention to.  That’s the thing though when you’re a kid, you can’t tell the future.

I watched an interesting documentary last night called “Mortified Nation” about a stage show that originated from a guy reading his old journals out loud.  It became a phenomenon that spread throughout country and now has monthly shows in several major cities.  It’s such a novel idea to me, something I would probably jump at the chance to do, but for some it is a cathartic experience.  There are participants in the show that had way more to deal with growing up than I did.  I never had abusive parents or struggled with sexual identity, but for many of these folks the journaling was the tool they used to cope with the tumult of emotions they went through.  It’s not all sad and serious, though.  In fact the popularity of the show comes from the unintentional comedy of the writings.  We all laugh because on a base level we can relate to how it felt to be an adolescent and angry at the world.  We all thought we were so smart, but it’s fun to share in the hindsight that none of us really knew anything.  And we still don’t.

What I have now in place of journals are a number of video tapes and audio cassettes that I or another family member made during my childhood.  My grandpa was pretty good with the camera when I was little, and there is plenty of footage of me roaming in and out of the shot, interrupting heartfelt moments to interject another joke I remembered (or made up).  Some shots you can see the top of my head bobbing in and out as I’m trying to jump into the frame, and you can hear me plead with my grandpa to move the camera back down to my level.  When the camera was on me, the adults behind it would feed me questions probably just to see what I would say.  It’s hard to predict someone who has no filter.  They’d ask me about the girl in my class I had a crush on and listen to me yammer on about how pretty she was and how she made me see hearts.  Or they’d ask me to tell them the new joke I learned.  See they always encouraged me to be myself, but then they wondered why I never shut up.

So whatever kind of historical record you have, I advise you preserve it.  You may think that those journals you did in English class are worthless, but that’s because you haven’t allowed them to see the light of day yet.  You should take them out, dust them off, and at least give them a private read.  There may be some things in there you had forgotten about that’ll make you smile.  Or hurl.  Either way I think it’s worth it.

Funny Feelings

I want to do Stand-up comedy, but I am absolutely terrified.  It’s one of those things that I can picture myself being good at, but I know for a fact that you have to do it hundreds of times before you’re any good at it.  At least, that’s what all the greats say.  If there was a chance that I could get up there and kill though, I would have done it by now.  In my head I want to recreate the times where I’m funny in front of my family.  They all think I’m pretty funny without me even trying, so if there was a chance that the crowd would be like my family, though not my family because I’ll probably say things I don’t want my grandma to hear, I would do it.  The main thing is you have to know your audience.  I don’t actually know who my Stand-up audience will be.  Will I be the one that will appeal to everyone, or will I be extremely niche?  The greats are good no matter who they’re in front of.  The greats know how to handle hecklers without missing a beat, but again that comes from having been up on stage and bombing hundreds of times.

I have a list of potential jokes in my Evernote that I want to try on an audience.  Every time I picture this happening, I confidently start talking to the audience and things happen naturally.  If I was to go do it right now, though, I bet I would be super nervous.  Maybe.  I really do feel comfortable in front of large crowds.  I’ve actually had a few opportunities to entertain and some of them went well.  Once in high school band I was the announcer for a piece called “Vesuvius”.  There was something about that moment that made me want to go off script and improv a bit, and it was a hit.  I got lots of compliments about it.  Don’t know if I would have remembered the moment so well had I not received the good vibes.

So, yes, I procrastinate.  I think of excuses.  I worry.  What really makes me hesitate is that I gain so much pleasure from being entertaining that if I am a failure, it will upset me.  When I read that out loud, though, that sounds ridiculous.  What’s the worst that can happen if I have a bad set?  I’ll remember it for the rest of my life?  Probably.  Another memory I have that I can’t seem to shake is my impromptu speech I gave to campaign for band council in high school (notice how all these center around high school band).  I had to give a quick speech to convince my peers that I would be an asset to the council that plans our fun activities and junk.  I stood up, took a deep breath, and delivered the lamest address in the history of campaigns.  I said, “Even though I’m constantly late . . . I think we can have a lot of fun next year.”  That was it.  Just a quick self deprecation, which got a bit of a laugh, and then a statement of fact that elicited no response from anyone.  I added nothing to the audience members’ lives that they didn’t already know.  To this day I cringe every time I hear those words in my brain.  And every time I tell a joke that doesn’t land.  It’s not a fun feeling.  But I’m sure that my desire to be in front of people will eventually outweigh the fear of failure and I’ll do my five minutes.  It’s likely I’ll be hooked right away.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Too Big To Fail.”