– Skinny jeans
– The terms “BAE” and “Fleek”
– Breaking up with someone on Facebook
– Men with more expensive earrings than me
– “Teen Mom”
– Smart cars
– Music videos with naked people in them
– Fake eyelashes
– Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber
– Swiping left
– Ridiculously padded undergarments
Things I’m sad to be too old for:
– American Idol auditions
– Noah Syndergaard
– My size 3 black corduroys from 1987
– Making my kids’ Halloween costumes
– Ditto their birthday party favors
– Slam dancing
– A cute little two-piece swim suit
– Spiked heel platforms
– Summer break
– Day camp
– Bowie’s next birthday celebration
Things I’ll never be too old for:
– Harry Potter
– Disney parks
– The swingset in my backyard
– Chocolate anything
– Star Wars toys
– Perfume that smells like lemons
– Tossing my hair
– Eating only the frosting off the cupcake
– Clearasil, apparently
– Pink lip gloss
– Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
– Talking baby talk to the cats
– The Flintstones
– Dr. Seuss
Since becoming immersed in my latest work-in-progress, I find myself awash in the angst of the coming-of-age milieu.
This is when young women are set loose in the exhilarated world, while also at the same time being introduced to the inexorable weight of adulthood. I recall memories of the party-seeker on the cusp of realization, learning, gradually, that the more you chase thrills in lieu of happiness, the faster it evades you—and the more the delusion depletes you. In that light, I present song lyrics I’ve written and almost forgotten, which drape over my brain like a watermark pressed onto a page years ago:
MOST OF THE LIGHTS
Now and then I take my life in my hands.
Now it’s time for me to put my sandals on, let them scratch across the street.
They leave little scars like Jesus’s as they learn to settle on my feet.
And the people roll like traffic cars,
And they never look the same way twice.
A delivery boy hears me talk to myself.
Still he whispers I look nice.
Now and then I take my life in my hands.
So tomorrow I’ll meet a passing fool who is famous, or almost.
Flirt with nameless, light-eyed bartenders.
Swallow cool against my throat.
And it’s dark in here, but it’s atmosphere, and it’s everything to go.
I won’t blink—I can’t—I won’t miss anything.
For what it’s worth, I make the most of the lights.
I wander out of a neon crowd, meet the guy who played guitar.
And my ears are ringing in my driver’s seat.
I get robbed right in my car.
So I’m staring numb at this girl outside
Who has earrings longer than her skirt.
Got a ticket stub and a purse strap left.
I am silent.
I’m not hurt.
Now and then I take my life in my hands.
Garden balconies and men with tin cans.
Is it brighter here by day or by night?
I’m alone and I’m afraid and I’m tired.
Will this world take my life?
photo, Laureen Runkle
** Winner, Third Place, Poetry, Pennwriters 2017 “In Other Words” contest
I am a huge fan of Guideposts. Yet I’m not a huge fan of eNewsletters. You’d never know this, because I receive an electronic heap of them per day. SmartBriefs, trade newsletters, Chicken Soup newsletters since I am a former contributor, spam eNewsletters … up the wazoo. So many go unopened that a majority now end up in my spam file. I’ve been too distracted to go into them and unsubscribe.
A Guideposts eNewsletter appeared in my spam file yesterday.
Eh, I thought. Maybe I’ll read one today.
I clicked on “This is not spam.” The newsletter moved to my inbox.
THE STORY WAS ABOUT MY COUSIN.
My cousin Jason DeFazio worked on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, he was 29 years-old. He had gotten married three months before. Much of my mother’s family was at his wedding, laughing and celebrating with him. On September 11th, his wedding pictures hadn’t even come back from the photographer yet.
The last his mother (my mom’s first cousin Roseann) heard from him, he was in a stairwell.
That was all.
His family held a service for him in October. Around the room, his wedding photos were displayed in frames on bakers racks. “This is all I have of him now,” Roseann said to me as she walked me through the sets of portraits. She had nothing to bury. She didn’t receive a physical scrap of him back. This is difficult for an Italian family. We want visceral closure, backed with physicality. We want something and somewhere to visit, to pay our respects.
I held Roseann’s hand. I wanted to repay her. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with her family in Staten Island, but almost 15 years before, my aunt had died of Lupus. Still a teenager, and one who identified fiercely with my Aunt Joanne, I was devastated enough to develop allergy symptoms that mimicked her disease, which continued for months to come. Roseann came out to Long Island for the funeral and held my hand. She told me stories about when she, Joanne and my mother were girls. She stood in my grandmother’s basement and took my mother’s hand and tap danced on the concrete floor like they did when they were kids in dance class, and made my mother laugh. It made me feel like my beautiful aunt would not be forgotten, did not go into the ether. Note, that “Chicken Soup for the Soul” contribution I mentioned was about my aunt.
Right now, I don’t feel like being eloquent. I feel like figuring out what this is supposed to mean. I Google Jason’s name and see a plethora of photographs of him that make me cry, even though he was not a cousin that I spent time with. It still makes me want to repay Roseann more. Like the world owes her more.
The crux of the newsletter was that Roseann was receiving messages from Jason. I can’t help but wonder what message I was meant to discern when I randomly rescued an item from a spam file that turned out to be a posting about my own relative. Except that maybe I should write about him.
Recalling a little incident from a journal, one that I didn’t even remember until re-reading it…
I convinced my buddy Sharon from Queens to come with me see China Crisis, one of my favorite bands from college. She and I had an unspoken pact: Whenever one of us wanted to do something and needed a friend to do it with, the other was automatically in. Sharon owned a car—a great amenity in New York City—so if I wanted to get back and forth anyplace at night, she had to drive me. And when she needed to bring up the sophistication level of whatever party she planned to go to, in order to impress whatever guy she was trying to affect that week, I was obligated as a chick from Long Island to accompany her. It was subtly known throughout the boroughs that Long Island girls were classier than Queens girls (if a tad less exciting). We were mellow and smart and sensible. They were turbulent and street-savvy and bold.
Sharon and I dutifully filled each other’s friendship needs and usually had a riotous time doing so. That is, if we did not get thrown out of whatever club we were in. Because as much as I classed-up any party she took me to, she amped-up the crazy/fun quotient at any place we went.
So, she agreed to see this bunch of obscure English guys play at The Ritz, one of the biggest new wave clubs in the city. By this point in my life, I was skilled at muscling my way to the front row at general admission concerts, despite being smaller than most of the rest of the crowd. I planted myself against the stage under the lead guitarist, who had rather fabulous European bone structure. He played there right above my head all night. I would not even let Sharon herself elbow in front of me. When she tried, I took her by the shoulders and supplanted her so briskly that she fell on the floor, and I apologized.
Anyone else, Sharon would have belted them with a beer bottle. Me, she let slide. I was the only one who got away with that stuff with her. I was the only one who even tried.
Before the end of the night the two of us swore we’d figure out a way to take the freaking band home (although we hadn’t decided which of us would say uncle and let the other have the lead guitarist). At this point in my life, I wanted to be a real groupie, but thus far the only musicians I ever went home with were the few I had already been dating before the show. Yet when you hung around with Sharon, sometimes that kind of thing was possible. She was this exquisite little wild-woman who never said no to anything. Men worshipped her.
Also consider this was Manhattan, and the party wasn’t over until you had to get ready for work the next morning. When the band’s set ended at 12-ish, we were just getting started. Sometimes we didn’t even go out until that hour.
In an effort to secure the attention of the guitar player post-show, we waited a safe gawking distance from what was labeled a stage door, next to a table that several place cards designated as reserved for the band. A nebbishy, older guy in a black suit and glasses hit on Sharon repeatedly, insisting he was the band’s photographer, despite the fact that he didn’t have a camera. He looked more like he had just come back from a prayer group than a new wave concert. She flirted back, even though she was way above his league.
“Sharon,” I whispered sideways in her ear. “This guy’s a bullshit artist.”
She ignored me.
“Sharon, I’m tellin’ you, he’s not with the band.”
She ignored me. The guy had to take off. He gave her his card.
The Ritz was gothic and cavernous; everything was awash in in black paint. She held the card up to what little light was available.
“Jeweler,” she read. “He said he’s a fucking rock photographer, and his card says Jeweler.”
“Told ya’.” One point for the Cynical Long Island Bitch.
A thin guy with blondish, mussed hair emerged from the door marked stage. Sharon pointed at him. “That’s one of the guitar players,” she said. She yelled to him. “Hey you! Come ‘ere!”
He came over. Guys listened to Sharon.
She asked if he was in the band.
“Yes, I play the bass,” he says, in one of those early-Python-esque British accents that’s such a rapid and choppy cascade of syllables you can barely tell it’s the same language we speak in New York. The band had announced they were from Liverpool. Like the Beatles.
He talked to us. It was loud in the club; they blared the music once the show ended.
Sharon smiled. “You know, I love your accent, but I can’t understand a word you’re saying,” she shouted.
I spent a semester in London, so I recognized the lilt and I somewhat understood what he was saying, although I don’t remember a thing and didn’t write down specifics. Likely he was deflecting our advances. Or maybe I piped up about living in England. If I was able to gather my thoughts together.
He was friendly, an ordinary guy. Except one who we could scarcely comprehend.
“I’m Sharon.” She shook his hand. He turned to me. We shook. “Suzanne,” I said.
He said his name. Me and Sharon looked at each other like WTF?
“What was that again?”
He said something that I wrote down in the journal as Gaesa, assuming it was maybe Gaelic. It was my best guess. You never know. I had met a guy from Ireland a few weeks before (relocated to Woodside, of course) who pronounced his name “Ian,” but spelled it something like EOINEN. I swear there might have been a “w” in there somewhere, like a Tolkien character.
I asked him to spell his name but couldn’t hear the answer.
Note at the time there was no Internet to look things up, so if there was no photo of the band or list of names prominently on the album cover, then you didn’t know what the guys looked like or who they were until Rolling Stone did a feature. But you listened to the music anyway. So I let this encounter go, not even convinced that the guy honestly was one of the guitar players, wondering if instead he was just running with things because two cute groupie-types waved him over. We girls who hung around stage doors learned early: The guy who comes out after the concert is not always in the band. Sometimes he is just a guy with cool hair who moves amps.
This guy seemed far too polite to be a rock star, and he was about as young as we were.
However, in the here and now, I can look up the names of the members of China Crisis from that year. One of them is listed as Gazza Johnson. This was, according to reports, a nickname for Gary— also the name of the black-haired lead guitarist we were drooling over throughout the show. There were two Garys in the band that year, so I guess they needed to differentiate, like me and my four roommates from college, all of whom were named some variation of “Sue.”
I’m sure me and Sharon made a play for this guy to come out with us, but it did not work. However, my notes say he was very sweet, so he must have found a diplomatic way to sidestep our invitation.
So… here’s to Gazza Johnson of China Crisis in 1987, for making nice with me and my buddy, even though we could hardly decipher most of what he said. Even though Cynical Long Island Bitch didn’t believe he was who he said he was. Let’s give one point to Sharon, the Crazy Little Queens Girl, who believed, and who had the balls to yell loudly enough across the Ritz’s pitch and earsplitting mosh pit to get him to come over and talk to us.
And here, also, is to a life in which I have forgotten things that are way cooler than what many other people ever get to do, ever.
Note that Gazza Johnson was actually an exceptionally talented bass player, and some of the numbers from that year’s album are still my favorite tunes. I will share one of my faves, then.
“Safe as Houses”
Why I didn’t recognize the guy who played it even as I shook his hand is beyond me. Apologies for having eyes for the other guy, who was close enough to step on my fingertips. But apparently not nice enough to come out and say hello.
Note I have purchased and repurchased “What Price Paradise” in every format that it has been issued in since the ’80s, starting with the record album, moving on to a tape cassette for my first car, then a CD, then a download on iTunes after the CD was destroyed in a move, and a second download from Amazon after the iTunes stuff wouldn’t play on my phone anymore. So the band has gotten their share of royalties from me on that recording, in addition to the concert ticket.
I have a certain affinity for bass guitar anyway, since I grew up listening to bass lines being plucked out daily, repeatedly, maddeningly. My younger brother played. And played. And played so much that sometimes I’d march into his bedroom and yank the cord out of the amplifier at 9:00 in the morning on summer weekends when I had a hangover. Certain days I would stand there like an idiot ordering him to mow the lawn before my father had a conniption fit. Until I got fed up and flattened my hand over the strings, it was as if I weren’t even there. At that point he would finally look up as if to say, oh, sorry, you’re in the room with me?
I don’t know if that qualifies me to judge anything. But I do love a good new wave bass line.
That, and thanks to my brother Jimmy, I will have the bass notes to “Tom Sawyer” etched across my brain cells till I die.
My mother is funny sometimes, God love ‘er. When we lived all together, she’d constantly instruct us to put the clothes in the dishwasher and the dishes in the hamper. Throughout my first two semesters at college, she mistakenly addressed my mail to Pittsburgh, New York. (I do this kind of thing now all the time, of course.)
After I moved out and found myself in college, I developed a theory. I said, Mom, someday a lightbulb is going to go off in God’s head and he will realize he forgot something. On that day, a GIANT WRENCH is going to descend out of the sky and tighten around our heads, and God is going to give that one little half twist that has been missing.
For years, when Mom said something non-sensical or couldn’t think of the right word, she’d look at me and say, “The wrench. The wrench is coming.”
I told my roommates in college. The Giant Wrench became famous, facetiously chasing each of us any time our brains took one of those momentary vacations, as we systematically destroyed gray matter come the weekends.
Decades later, my ex-roommate Susan from college, whom I adore, is polishing a work-in-progress. She says to me, “I wrote about the Giant Wrench!”
I think, wait… no fair.
The Giant Wrench is mine!
But is it? I think of all the moments I have written about, and am in the process of re-writing, and have yet to write, that involve her. Adventures we had together and things she said to me that have stuck in my mind and thoroughly cracked me up. We had our own language, derivative of only us roommates.
Yet in being my funny and insightful and wickedly witty comrade, spouting intelligent dialog at the drop of a dime … hasn’t she been writing that stuff the whole time? If I borrow her as a character, am I stealing her material? I recently reopened a copy of On The Road: Did Jack Kerouac plagiarize Neal Casssady’s life in creating Dean Moriarty? What did Neal Cassady have left to write about, then?
What if all the Dean Moriarties and Tad Allagashes and Tyler Durdens of the literati-verse stood up and demanded their own sovereignty?
(Okay, so Tyler Durden sort of did. But still within the construct of the narrative.)
There’s a woman who jogs in a neighborhood near my home. We see her every year when the weather warms up. She is suited in tight black spandex from head to toe—including a hood that wraps across her face, even in 90 degree weather. A long, black pony tail swishes back and forth behind her head.
My family calls her the Ninja Jogger.
For years, I thought the Ninja Jogger must make an appearance in a story somewhere, this curiously anonymous, skinny woman who could be Catherine Zeta Jones in “Entrapment.” Who knows what identity she might employ in her regular life, among toddlers and willow trees and lawn-mowing men in cargo shorts?
A few months ago my daughter, studying creative writing at a university outside Philadelphia, remarks: “I’m writing about the Ninja Jogger.”
I think, Oh shit.
So who owns our mutual experiences? Does the copyright go to whoever writes them down first? In that case, I’m quite behind the game here. Is it whoever coined the phrases in question? In that case, my husband came up with the name “Ninja Jogger,” comic book junkie that he is. And have I blown the cherry on the concept solely by mentioning her here?
For me and Susan, we’re trying to proactively divvy up our experiences so as not to duplicate each other’s efforts in our works. I can only hope for the best possible outcome: Maybe we will become known as popular novelists who struggled together through a long and reflective kinship. Dare I even mention, like that gaggle of expatriate writers of the Jazz Age, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cummings, Stein, sitting at cafés together in Paris and expounding on their own writerliness.
That would be something worth sharing the Giant Wrench for, even.
We’ll work on that.
Meanwhile, I hope the Ninja Jogger was not an English major, too.
“…God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t, and we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
I started this blog wanting to just write and be entertaining… what happened there?
My daughter recently disparaged a rowdy group of singing fraternity brothers on a solemnly-themed attraction at Universal Studios, Orlando, at 10:00 a.m. I confessed: If it were me as a young person, that would have been the crew I walked in with. Guys who were clamorous and ridiculous, re-enacting “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure,” imitating Bugs Bunny, or reciting a Monty Python sketch verbatim.
I bulleted several of these wild-guy incidents as evidence, which involved:
1) Swinging from an elementary school flagpole
2) Leaning out the open door of a moving vehicle to yell at the driver behind us
3) Dropping a cooked chicken cutlet from a ski lift
4) Singing fight songs at full lung capacity on a London Underground platform at midnight.
* * * *
“I was going to call you,” Miles said when he picked up the phone. It was actually difficult to call me. I shared a single, card-operated phone with 70 people, located in the common room of a dorm. I mean a “flat,” as they called it in London. And his name was not actually Miles, but I’ll call him that for now. “You fancy going out with us Thursday?” (Men in England say “fancy.” And it’s all good.)
My two drinking buddies Miles and Jon, members of a championship London Ultimate Frisbee team, planned to visit a pub only a few tube stops from the flats in Egerton Gardens, where the American students in my study abroad program lived. It was our last days before they were to kick us out; the semester was over. We were prepping to go home….
CONTENT FROM THIS ENTRY HAS BEEN TRANSFERRED TO MY NEW SERIES,
Yes, my brother and I are both Star Trek Geeks, growing up with the same original toys that Sheldon and Leonard now fight over on “The Big Bang Theory.” I therefore can’t help feeling a sense of ownership over the series—both Trek and Big Bang— having played with the now-vintage toys first-hand.
Note that my brother was a bit of a comedian, and my favorite memory of playing with his Star Trek Enterprise playset was the day he pretended that Kirk got gassed out in the transporter chamber by noxious farts.
We were young.
Upon seeing Sheldon on Big Bang playing with that authentic 1970s transporter chamber, which was basically a card board and vinyl-covered box with a psychedelic spinning panel, the moment came right back to me: Jimmy making Kirk pass out in the transporter chamber.
Jim is now an Emmy winning cameraman. Last month, he built a two-foot long model of the Enterprise, coincidentally finishing it on the day Leonard Nimoy died. He was so excited about the results of his handiwork, he filmed it with his professional camera equipment.
To check out a link, click on the below image:
I can almost see little Red Shirts in there.
Do you love it?
And if you are a true die-hard, sign up for the newsletter at startrek.com, which has some pretty cool merchandise for sale.