27 June 2005

Chuck E. Cheese, Geese, Urine, Teen Sex, & One Uncomfortable Man

There are three girls back this year to the writing conference who've been here all three years. The youngest of them is 16, she is rising into her senior year, and she is among the sweetest kids I've come in contact with as an adult. She's staggeringly bright, inquisitive, articulate, unassuming, quiet when she needs to be, and completely free of pretensions. She was also 13 the first year she was here and didn't speak for the first three or four days, until finally she let loose on a grammar lesson in the middle of workshop (it was both necessary and well intentioned, filled with the sort of I know this and I'm only telling you because I think you should know it too, not because I'm trying to show off good will that is surprisingly sparse in a room full of teenagers). Anyway, because of all of this, we faculty here tend to look upon her (let's call her...Morgan) as a beacon of purity and innocence shining through a haze of perversion and slightly ripe body odor. There are others on that plane, but she's definitely the go-to gal. Oh, and she writes ridiculously well, too.

Yesterday I had my first one-on-one conference with her, by her request, in order to look over some poems she'd been writing since she'd gotten here. This is not only a normal activity, but one that is welcomed and enjoyed by yours truly. So I went into the meeting with a big smile and expecting only the best. What I got was...something else.

First she showed me an untitled poem, one she'd written after I'd given her a prompt the day before (something involving one color, one item from your bedroom, and a strong memory from childhood). The poem began by gushing enthusiastically about a urinal, which, for me, is a great place to begin a poem. Really, how many good urinal-related poems are there? None that I can think of. And why not, why should the urinal be ignored in verse? I was hooked. Her poem moved from the urinal out, to a man in a furry suit shedding his layers of costume around the bathroom floor. I began to wonder if this was heading into the realm of furries and plushies, but kept that to myself in hopes that I was wrong. And I was wrong, though I'm not sure if that is any consolation.

Basically, this newly-undressed character was the man in the Chuck E. Cheese costume and this was his first bathroom break in what appeared to be quite a while, if the bliss he reports arose from peeing is any indication. Anyway, he's in his boxers and socks and nothing else, the mouse suit is scattered over the bathroom floor, he's having a pee-gasm at the urinal, and in bounds a flock of screaming six year olds seeking to feed their Chuck E. Cheese fix. The man-mouse is frightened, turns--while still pissing--and commences spraying down the room. The suit, the girls, his chest (somehow), the sink, the wall, the suit some more--all of it now saturated in urine. The girls flee, crying, and the man catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and deflates, so to speak. It's actually quite funny and touching and well-done, and we talked about moving into prose and amping up some of the moments, slowing down some others, what should be heightened, what pushed back, etc. But it was still a poem about a childhood icon not only being unmasked, but then pissing on his audience. A bit shocking from this girl. And I'm not one easily shocked. I think my shock and discomfort here may have had more to do with her casually and repeatedly using the phrase torrents of piss while we were discussing the poem. That phrase just shouldn't be coming out of her mouth with frequency. Really, it shouldn't. But then again, it could have been worse.

(Look at this picture right now and try--try!--not to laugh:

Say Cheese!

Didn't think so.)

But then it did get worse. The next poem began innocently enough: a couple by a pond, enjoying a late summer sunset, listening to the sounds of nature, noticing the honks of geese nearby and wondering why they haven't migrated yet, as much of their cohort has. The geese are coupled, ostensibly guarding their young, an activity normally reserved for spring. This brings up the question of mating, of timing, of the larger concerns of couple-hood. Then the poem takes an odd turn. It (the turn) begins (roughly, from memory) with

It is nothing like the time on the Common
when we saw squirrels
frantically humping in twenty second intervals
then staggering off, only to come
back again for another round...

Frantically humping? Damned funny, I think, but still, Uh-oh. Somehow--and I remember it being surprisingly skillful, the transition--we get to the speaker discussing how she and the other half of the "we" given at the start of the poem have recently begun their own humping, though less frantic if equally confused. She thankfully doesn't use "humping" or "frantic" in relation to her own sexual activity. That may have made me stutter. It was actually quite tenderly rendered, with something like "...shoulders bared / only when no one is home" and "touches grown gentler" and the like. But come the fuck on! I don't want to know this! I mean, sure, I was having sex at 16, I was having sex with 16 year old girls at 16, but this information still made me super uncomfortable. She's 13 as far as I'm concerned. Thirteen and she doesn't speak unless very kindly and delicately and quietly correcting grammar. Or discussing Latin roots of English words. Not about sex. Not about sex in a poem I'm supposed to talk about with her. Yeesh!

Am I that old? Am I that much a prude? I really don't think so. It may simply be that she reminds me of a certain relative of mine who will forever remain 16 in my head and that the thought of said relative doing anything sexual is just plain...well, it ain't right, that's for damn sure. Or maybe I am becoming prudish as I get older. I'd like to think not. Maybe 16 just seems so damned long ago, another planet completely, and I've lost the ability to see that space. Though I can say with certainty that I have no desire to see that space if it looks at all like that poem.

Anyway, I just ignored the sex part of the poem. Completely and with absolute conviction. Ignored it like a homeless man masturbating on the sidewalk, like an ill-timed fart, like Bob Dylan's late-70's / early-80's God-rock. She even asked a question about one bit of it and I just ignored that, too. I feigned that I had suddenly remembered a point I'd forgotten to make earlier in the poem and guided the discussion as far away from a naked her as possible. It seemed to work.

Later in the afternoon, over dinner, I shared this little nugget with my fellow faculty. There were literal gasps. One woman sort of did that Home Alone thing with the hands on the cheeks and the open mouth. And these aren't priggish grandparents I'm teaching with here. We're essentially all crude and judgmental and viscously honest about these students and each other. Behind their backs, anyway. Out of earshot, where you have no chance of destroying a kid's desire to live. Even so, she's that sort of girl. It just hurts to know this. We even discussed the relative reactions we'd have to learning about other kids' sex lives and we all pretty much just didn't care. We assumed they got some and good for them. But Morgan, nope, no thank you. Can't happen and if it does we sure as shit don't want to know about it, thank you very god damn much.

But now that we do, we're all having some difficulty looking her in the eye, not making jokes at her expense

(Short Scene from a Faculty Meeting...

Conference Director: We need to find a poet to take charge of the informal daily open mics.

Fiction Faculty Member: I hear Morgan's approachable and really open to input.

Rest of Room: [snickering])

This morning at breakfast one of the songwriting faculty was staring at Morgan from across the room, watching her put a grapefruit in a bowl, fill a glass with orange juice. "I just...I just can't believe it," she mumbled. She turned back to us shaking her head, her eyes sliding from face to face as though searching for some explanation.

26 June 2005

Sundays are Poem Days...I Guess.

I wrote this this morning between breakfast and my first craft talk of the week. I think I had a bit of last night's post in my head. And something else. No caffeine, though. Actually I think this poem has been bubbling up and bouncing around in me for months; I simply haven't taken the damn time to write it. Until now. So. Keep this in mind: it's but a wee lad of a poem, only a few hours in this world...

NOVEMBER 3, 2004

Twitch of eyelids to know
you’re tired. A wheeze
becomes shriek of bed springs.
Your lips no longer come
together in thanks or prayer.
What point the tongue? What use
a hand? Armies of men
snaking through deserts
even now. Arm yourself
to the teeth. Again the swelling
right. Men in tailor-made suits
spin new abstractions for television
crews. Every microphone
spaced just so for the promise
of transcendence. You look up
all at once. A horizon
littered with billboards singing
the allure of vacation spots
no one should visit
just to get away: Baghdad,
Crawford, Bishkek…
A beer can dances its emptiness
at your feet. You notice bags
packed beside you, your shoes
surprisingly on, tied and ready.

Solid Objects & Scraps of Useless Information

A few days ago, my last in Rhode Island before heading here to Connecticut, I spent the bulk of an afternoon rooting around in my parents’ basement foraging through the remnants of my childhood in hopes that I might be able, through the glory of this here inter-web, to sell pieces of it to some balding, pot-bellied collector sitting in front of a computer monitor in some other basement of our fine continent. I didn’t have much luck. Apparently someone made off with my Transformers and GI Joes and baseball cards long ago. So be it; I’m not that broke. Not yet, anyway.

I did, however, find a book I have no recollection of ever having owned. It was in a crate of other books I remember having purchased, either while in boarding school or in my first year of college, so I can only assume the book was, at one time at least, mine. It’s got handwriting in it that is definitely not mine, so I’m not entirely convinced. But that’s not really the point, is it?

The point is the book, Major Modern Essayists (Gilbert H. Miller, ed.; Prentice Hall, 1991). It is wonderful. It’s full of writers I really like and respect—E.B. White, Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, Edward Hoagland, James Baldwin, on and on…) and they’re mostly talking about writing. Great, right? Yes, the only correct answer is yes.

I eventually made it back to my sister’s place, where I was staying, and got to reading. The first essay I read was George Orwell’s “Why I Write,” where I found this:

What I have wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I set down to write a book, I do not say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world-view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

Orwell goes on to close with this:

…I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is a window pane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

A few hours later, after a disturbingly uncomfortable dinner with my parents, I reopened the book to find Maragret Atwood's essay entitled "Adrienne Rich: Poems: Selected & New" (essentially a book review; effectively so much more) and the following, which opens it:

If you still don’t believe in cultural differences between Canada and the US, you should try comparing poetry readings. You might find the same stanza forms in each country, but you’d probably find very different audiences. Unless the poet is ultra-famous, the US audience would be smaller and would consist largely of students, other poets and assorted literati. [This was published in 1975; good to see things have changed so much in the last thirty years…ugh.] In Canada it would be more varied: for some reason, Canadians read more poetry per capita than any other country in the English-speaking world. And the difference shows up in the way poets write in the two countries, in their assumptions about their audiences: white male American poets often write as if they think they’re talking only to other white male American poets, displaying their professional bags of tricks for other connoisseurs. They have nothing to say to ordinary people, because ordinary people aren’t listening. The atmosphere can get pretty rarefied.

The exceptions to this prevailing climate are, of course, the poets from the ethnic minority groups; and women. A sense of grievance, a consciousness of oppression, can often provide a force and a driving power for those who attempt to give them a voice. Such poets are less interested in displaying their verbal virtuosity than in getting something said; urgency replaces ambiguity, all seven types of it.

While the claims and assertions of both Orwell and Atwood are neither shocking nor new to any of us at this point (except maybe that Canada as poetry-reading capital of the English-speaking world bit; I had no idea), it is still a bit daunting to have read those two passages back-to-back on the eve of my leaving to spend a week discussing, teaching, and workshopping poetry with a dozen teenagers (we've got a total of thirty this year--exciting stuff, that!).

I just put the final touches on my first (of two) craft talks, which I’ll be doing tomorrow morning. In light of these passages, I can’t help but feel that I’m simply not doing enough, that I couldn’t possibly be doing enough in one week. I’m mostly just excited these kids are writing at all and am happy when they grasp at the close of the week how to piece together a really tight image or a metaphor that holds together. (I’m not being glib, these things actually make me happy and they are usually significant accomplishments.)

I’m starting off tomorrow where I always start a poetry class, with my little “subject + vehicle + craft = art” ramble in an attempt to level the playing field somewhat for these kids and to give us all the same vocabulary to discuss and read poems together all week. And we’ll be looking at poems, poems I love by poets I love and respect (a Canadian and a half among them, too! Bishop only counts as half a Canadian, I think. Anne Carson, full Canadian; Bishop only a half. In case you were keeping score.). And some of these poems are very explicitly capital-P political (“I Would Steal Horses” by Sherman Alexie, “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes…), and we will discuss that aspect of the poems. But how to instill a social consciousness into a 14/15/16 year old? When I was 15, I really had about three things on my mind and weren’t none of ‘em trying “to get a hearing” for the lies that need exposing (though exposing was a verb I would have very much liked the sound of, I’m sure).

I now feel a great need to do just that (instill a sense of political duty/desire to “speak to the ordinary people” in these kids, I mean; I’ve held the other bit for quite a spell longer). Nearly all teenagers, like all writers in Orwell’s view, are “vain, selfish, and lazy.” As these are teenage writers I’m dealing with here, that’s a double dose of unholy personality bingo. I’d like to get that out of the way somehow, expose more of “the mystery” in them.

Only it’s now nearly 1:00 am and I’ll likely be woken up before 7:00 again tomorrow, so I’m not going to re-write the class I’ve planned. I’ll just have to get them some other way. Ideas?

25 June 2005

I Told You This Place Was Gorgeous:

My present location, as seen by angels:

Pomfret from on High

Good Time Happy Fun Bounce Party

I woke up this morning with a headache. At 6:15. I don't normally get up at 6:15. Hell, I don't normally get up while it's still morning. But the boys I'm residing over in the dorm (they're actually boys: the oldest is 16; and oh, by the way, I'm living in the same room I lived in my junior year here, which is very odd, to say the least) all got up at the ass-crack of dawn for some damn reason. And because they were all up and moving, they saw no need to do so quietly. So I too was up at 6:15, wondering what the fuck was going on. I was convinced that maybe the clock on my cell phone had reverted back an hour to its favored Indiana time. But mostly I was wondering just why in the hell someone saw need to plant a hatchet in my brain as I slept. I had a serious headache. Nothing that a handful of Advil wouldn't cure, but it was a serious headache. No one thus far has ever effectively convinced me that I don't have a brain tumor, so that's the theory I'm running with. Like a small planet, my tumor. Right behind my left eye. (That's the one I like to call Lisa Lopes.)

A cafeteria breakfast--especially one at a New England boarding school (I've eaten at my fair share, so I feel I'm able to speak in generalities here)--is a scary thing. We all know this. I was holding out hope that this morning's breakfast, our first meal in the dining hall, would somehow shake off its ill-flavored and mealy-textured forebearers and give me some sort of culinary knock out. I just wanted something to save the day. But, as today was already going so well, I was let down, as we all knew I would be. The menu: Eggs that were apparently stewed in their own juices, post-scramble; bacon that was at once over-cooked and flaccid; something that looked like the hashbrowns at McDonald's but lacked any and all crunch (seriously, these are fucking deep fried potatoes--how hard can it be to get 'em at least a wee bit on the crunchy side? Or, more disturbingly perhaps, how long do they need to be sitting around post-fryer to take on the same hue and texture as my pasty-white man boobs?). I was left with fruit, which under normal circumstances is good time happy fun bounce party (in the words of my favorite former high school roommate, Bim, the roommate who shared the room I'm now (again) staying in; well, Bim (who was Thai) when making fun of his Japanese friends, anyway...). But not today. Today there was no good time happy fun bounce party. But I was tricked. I was tricked by luscious looking cantaloupe, one of the greatest foods on earth this side of creme brulee. It tasted like wet cardboard. And had the texture to match. Bah! I didn't appreciate your ruse, Mr./Ms. Cantaloupe! (Can we get a sex and/or gender ruling on fruit, please?) I finally sated myself with many ounces of cranberry juice (goodbye urinary tract infections!) and a piece of toast. Then I ate a banana. It too sucked. I think they have sugar-free fruit on this campus. But that's just a guess. Or maybe I'm getting sick. Or I'm pregnant. Whatever it is, this food thing needs some fixing.

After breakfast I discovered this gem, because the day was going so well anyway: the expected high for today is 99 degrees with 89% humidity. That sounds more or less like hell to me, as there's neither a beach nor a pool nearby for me to escape to. All I've got are 30 teenagers and a select group of air-conditioned rooms. This could--no, this will--be a sticky situation. Seriously, I sweat like I'm running the Iron Man through a rain forest on days like this. It ain't pretty.

I saw a picture last night on the BBC News page of a landmine-sniffing rat in Mozambique. I can't find it right now, but I swear to you it's out there. It was a rat, on a leash, with its little rat paws on a landmine and its rat nose sniffing away. My life could be worse. I could be the guy walking the rats.

Still, I feel what I want is simple and not asking too much out of life. Basically, I want this:


A man on a deserted beach reading. That sounds like heaven. But today I think I'm stuck hitting something closer to this, a posed idealism I pulled off of the web page of my alma mater:

Posed Idealism

Well, something like that, anyway. Only with a lot more sweat. And swearing. And a headache like my head against a bullet train.

Today has to get better. One thing about shitty mornings: they make the rest of the day seem that much better. Or is it worse? Do shitty mornings ruin a day or make it all better? I can't remember. Is it like having really low expectations all the time in the hopes that everything will be a pleasant surprise? Or is it like being stuck in a car with that one super-annoying friend of your father's on a road trip from Miami to Seattle, where everything piles on top of itself in an ever-increasing avalanche of shittiness? I know it's not like morning sex, that much I know. We'll just have to see, I guess...

24 June 2005

You Can't Go Home Again, But You Can Damn Well Teach There

For the third summer in a row, I have voluntarily returned to the place I lived for two of the worst years of my life. Those two years finished up the five that I spent in high school. Yes, five. Think back on how less-than-fun your high shcool days were (and they were, even if you didn't realize it then and especially if you're just lying to yourself because your therapist is vacation now). Got it? Good. Now add an extra year. Better yet, add an extra year in the middle of nowhere, where walking in the woods is not a decision one makes as a means of spicing up a weekend but simply a way of getting to class on time. Now picture a depressed city kid getting dropped into this situation and surround him in your imagination with some of the worst Children Of The Rich ever spawned. Now you have it. To say the least, I was miserable those two years, and I've got reams of truly horrific poetry to prove it.

But that same poetry brought me back. Well, not the same poetry--that'd just be sad, really--but poetry in general. A few years ago, the token poet who was here oh so many years ago when I sulked about these hills called me up and said Come teach! I'm starting a summer writer's conference for high school students and I want you to help. Come teach! Who am I to turn down an invitation like that?

So here I am, three years in, now Assistant Director of this little experiment, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Of course, the kids haven't shown up yet (give it a couple hours), but I imagine the enjoyment level won't sink too much when they do. And those hills I hated so much in the mid-90s? They're fucking gorgeous. Seriously, this campus is beautiful. Every summer I show up and go, Crapaloo, would you look at that... Only without the Crapaloo part. Because really, who the fuck says crapaloo? No one, that's who.

Expect pictures. And more frequent posts.

15 June 2005

Big Hitter, the Lama

A roughly estimated recap of a conversation had last night with a friend:

ME: I got some Tibetan prayer flags in the mail today.

HER: Wow. Who sent them?

M: The Dalai Lama. And Richard Gere. Both.

H: Wow. You guys tight?

M: Totally.

H: Seriously, why did you get Tibetan prayer flags in the mail today?

M: They want money. The Lama and Dick Gere, they want money.

H: What does the letter say? Is the Lama's addressed to Little Grasshopper?

M: Uhmmm...Dear Friend of Freedom.

H: Friend of freedom?

M: Yeah...Wait, that's from Richard Gere. The Lama just says Dear Friend.

H: The Lama keeps it simple and friendly.

M: Well, Richard Gere's better dressed, so he's allowed greater access to
abstractions. Friends of Freedom unite!

H: The Lama doesn't need abstractions. He is an abstraction. And his talking to you makes you a friend of freedom right off, without his having to label you as such.

M: Unlike Mr. Gere there.

H: Exactly.

M: Plus, he's better dressed. Abstractions flow more freely from a nice suit.

H: Right...Are the flags actually from Tibet.

M: Uhmm...No, Nepal. N-E-P-A-L! Viva Nepal! Viva Nepal! God, I miss good Eddie Murphy movies.

H: Yeah...So those flags were made by eight year olds, huh?

M: Let's see...Handmade in Nepal by Tibetan Handicraft Industry for the International Campaign for Tibet. So probably not. Or I hope not.

H: How much do you think an eight year old would get for each flag?

M: Bowl of steam and a slice of lemon?

H: Without the lemon.

M: Yeah. Definitely.

13 June 2005

Recappin' Your Ass: A Quick Weekend Update

So, Saturday is a bit blurry. I know I started drinking 'in theory' at some point in the afternoon. I say in theory because I'm not sure how much I actually drank then. There was Belizian One Barrel involved and some rather untasty beer, but I was being low-key about the whole adventure. Until later, that is.

Mid-afternoon hooch was followed by a few hastily gulped late-afternoon drinks mostly had while standing in the kitchen talking about Kyrgyzstan, the new Weezer album (!), Pittsburgh, Ikea, the 2006 World Cup, and how fun it is to say the word yurt repeatedly.

That fun eventually ended. Or was traded in for new fun. But there was still alcohol involved. And a picture of Prince and signs on the wall that said things like 1999 and K-K-KISS. Prince himself was not involved, however. I found myself rationalizing drinking by the pitcher for economic reasons, as a small pitcher of dreadful domestic hooch--capable of doling out about three drinks per--was actually less than the bottle of import I would have chosen to drink. Needless to say, I was talking a lot to everyone within earshot, stepping outside to smoke cigarettes with a far greater frequency than is good (I quit a year ago; or so I'll still claim...a few drunknen smokes does not a smoker make), and giving voice to all of the worst thoughts in my mind. Make that each and every thought entering my mind at any given time. It came in or popped up or whatever it is thoughts do and shot right out of the drool hole. My censor, apparently, was on vacation. That little bastard. At one point I pointed out the easily-embarrassed and incredibly fragile ex-girlfriend of a close friend and said to some folks nearby, That's [friens x]'s ex-girlfriend right there. It's taking all of my power not to walk up and embarress her. Not that she deserves it. But it'd be fun. Of course, I'm too drunk to come up with anything good. Any ideas?. They had no ideas. And bless 'em for that.

There is also a vague memory of my going on about starting an on-line lit journal. At length. To relative strangers. And a very kind, forgiving friend who quietly tried to talk me down off of a bad idea ledge. Though I'm still not sure it was such a bad idea. His argument was something akin to the world needs another on-line journal like it needs another Bush term in the White House. My slurred counter-argument was something like Compare any idea I ever have to George Bush again and I'll pee in your mouth while you sleep. Then I'll kill you. I think I owe him a drink. Or a hug. I definitely owe him something.

Around 1:30, after the band we'd come out for made their triumphant return to the Dirty M-Dub after touring this fine nation for some amount of time, we staggered over to the Dark & Dank Bar of Choice for some further poisoning. I peed in public on the way, but made sure to find an out-of-the-way drain to do so in. I thought I was being consciencious. Seriously. While peeing, a friend's girlfriend (who had not been with me/us at any point in the night) spied me in my little pee Bat-cave and said, in an incredibly non-chalant way, Hey, peeing, then stumbled on in another direction.

Once at the bar, I was given a tour of one of the Stumble Crew's many tattoos, one by one, with history of each and various footnotes as to their lasting effect on his life. He was in various stages of undress throughout the tour of his body. It was odd for all involved, to say the least. He also unleashed a bevy of gossip about people I only sort of know, so that was equally uncomfortable. Thankfully, I was far too pickled to really care.

I slept until 2:30 yesterday afternoon, got up and watched a movie, then went back to bed until 8:00, at which point I went to celebrate a friend's finishing of her qualifying exams by playing a not-so-rousing game of Asshole. I hadn't played that game since college and I now know why. As I was not drinking and everyone else was, I spent a good deal of time as President. Which means I spent a good deal of time watching others play the game without me. Which means I now know very well that Asshole is no spectator sport. Hell, it ain't even much of a game to be played. Unless you're drinking in a dorm room and you're 19, apparently. Then it's the balls, as one drunken player last night kept referring to everything in the world as being. That's the balls! He's the balls! These cards are the balls! Bananas are the balls! Breathing is the balls!

And you know what, this weekend was the balls, too. A pair of those big, red, bouncy balls we used to play kick ball with in elementary school gym class. This weekend was that. And I should have been wearing a helmet. With a tire tube around it.

10 June 2005

Purple Is a Fruit

I've been thinking quite a bit about Prince today. There's a Prince cover band playing somewhere in town tonight and the people who know things about things are giving it a good talking-up. So the purple chaps-wearing song machine has been on my mind. And that's spawned a few memories.

Prince-Induced Memory 1:
I first saw Purple Rain sitting in my parents' basement with one of my older sister's friends. She moaned through most of it. Actually moaned. I watched her more than the movie. I was in elementary school and hadn't really had much contact with moaning women before. At least not those whose faces and bodies weren't being scrambled by the cable company. But there she was, sitting on the floor beside me, moaning. I'm not sure why she was there and my sister wasn't or why the lights were out and we were watching it in the middle of the day. I do know it was winter though, remember snow piling up against the little ceiling-level windows. Mostly I just remember her face and the moaning. Her last name was Angel. Swear.

Prince-Induced Memory 2:
A few years later I'm in junior high school, deluded into thinking that if I were leaning against a wall, a tree, some structure anywhere, I'd be cool. Or cooler. Cool enough to pass through those two years without any lasting damage. Every male lead in virtually every movie I'd seen up to that point leans against something, at least momentarily, and performs some small act so shocking or effortless that everyone in the theatre thinks, Shit, that is cool. Think James Dean, Bogey, Prince in Purple Rain. All leaners. All impecably cool.

I leaned as a general rule for months, doing my best to shake off the easily-applied Geek label, trying to hide the part on the side of my head that I knew should have been in the middle, trying to hide my too-big glasses, the jeans my mother insisted on ironing. I believed in the lean, truly believed it could cast a forcefield over me so strong everything else I believed utterly wrong would just disappear. So I'm at a dance toward the end of the first semester and I'm leaning against a wall watching people move. I'm not necessarily alone, but I'm working hard to cultivate that mysterious aura that always seemed to so brilliantly accompany the lean, so I'm not talking much. I had this going on for a good hour or two, taking breaks only to shift shoulders when one fell asleep or the view got better in another direction. But then the dj played "Let's Go Crazy" and I lost all pretense of cool.

Somehow, the suggestion that we should be looking for the purple banana and fighting the oppressive forces of the elevator was too overwhelming for me at that moment and I did my best searching and fighting. By searching, of course, I mean convulsing a-rhythmically and by fighting I mean flailing about the dance floor like Joe Cocker full of the Holy Ghost under a revival tent after being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. It was a good few minutes, only coming to its inevitable screeching halt when a certain girl I'd been crushing on came over and said, What the hell are you doing? Smiling and confident, waving my arms around my head as though trapped in a swarm of bees, I answered, Dancing! Yeah, she said, not so much. Why don't you just go back to the wall and lean some more. At least she noticed my lean.

Prince-Induced Memory 3:
The one and only time I remember having any shame at all in high school, I lost my nerve about going out on Halloween as Prince. I had cut the ass out of a pair of yellow polyester pants and was ready to shake it, draw Slave on my cheek in eyeliner, do it up right. Then one afternoon my girlfriend casually mentions how my ass looks really weird from behind (really and weird are not words one should be using in reference to the anatomy of another person they supposedly enjoy spending time around while naked, am I right?). Instead, I borrowed one of her bras and a skirt and went as my French teacher. I'd still probably rather be in drag than have my ass hanging out around someone who thinks it looks weird from any angle.

Prince-Induced Memory 4:
The dj at my wedding was horrible. My father hired him and I still wish he hadn't. But I didn't know that until afterwards. Though, in hindsight, I think I could have figured something out beforehand. When I got to the site in the morning, before the service, while everyone was setting up, getting changed, rushing around doing the unspoken bidding of the day, I sauntered up to the dj to introduce myself and make a few requests. I also had an arm-load of cds to give him, songs and albums that my wife and I had decided were essential but we assumed (rightly) that he wouldn't have. I set the discs down and shook his hand. We made some small-talk, I flipped through his books of music. Then I handed him the list of songs necessary for the event (play these during the cocktail hour, this when so and so walks in, this for the first dance, etc.) He asked me if there was anything else I'd like. I thought about it, looked him in the eye, and said, Yeah. Once we get dancing, there should really be enough Prince to make the average person uncomfortable. There's really no such thing as too much Prince. Seriously. He just stared at me for a bit before raising his eyebrows in that I'm talking to a crazy person way and mumbled something about doing his best. I didn't hear a single Prince song all afternoon.

"Listen, they say the first time ain’t the greatest
But I tell ya, if I had the chance 2 do it all again
I wouldn’t change a stroke
’cause baby I’m the most
with a girl as fine as she was then..."

Faux Prince