Monday, June 11, 2012

The final scene of the UK's Skins, Season One.

Not new, and not attached to anything in my life right now.  I heard the song earlier today, though, and I'll never hear it again and not think about how it was used in this show.

I'll never argue that I don't have a penchant for age-inappropriate programming.  I was recently told that I may as well watch One Tree Hill all day long.  (For the record, I haven't ever actually seen this show.  But, to be fair, I may find it appealing.)

There is something very moving about adolescent angst.  As a teacher, it was something I empathized with and tried to assuage.  I always seemed to take to those who were on the cusp -- those who were overwhelmed by all the things life was throwing their way, but struggling to make it through.  Learning what life is really like and having to find coping mechanisms to keep moving forward is damned difficult.  I wouldn't go through my teenage years again for anything.  I have nothing but respect for those that do it well -- and "doing it well" has a lot of definitions.

“Africa” performed by Mike Massé and Jeff Hall on 7/17/10 at the Pie Pizzeria in South Jordan, Utah.

I found this via Buzzfeed. (Apparently Buzzfeed is my new best friend... Funny how you know about a site but then disregard it for a long time because other things seem more important. Now, during some more laid-back summer months, I have remembered: it is awesome.)

These guys are pretty amazing. Obviously. And they're playing in a pizza parlor. I don't know a thing about either, but I do wonder why it is that they're incredibly talented and not doing something more profound with their talent. There are plenty of possibilities. Day jobs. Familial responsibilities. Other things that happened in life first, and this dream of making a life of a bigger talent had to be forsaken. Maybe there wasn't faith that the talent was big enough. Maybe there were a few stabs made at becoming established and they were given a lukewarm reception. Dunno.

I occasionally receive "quote of the day" messages through email. They're pretty random. I think the person responsible really just stumbles across anything at all, highlights it as a copy and then pastes it in something sent my way. Today's was "life is pain and the slow erosion of everything you've grown used to loving by the steady stream of time".

I feel like this is a quote I am a little too comfortable with most of the time. I just accept that the things I've loved and lost, those people or dreams I had and watched die, are just gone. I tend to think that opportunities have passed, and lament that I didn't make a bigger effort to enjoy life when it was an appropriate time to do so. I'm at a place where I do not want to do that anymore. It's been one hell of a rough year. This spring in particular was simply endured rather than really lived.

I don't know Mike Masse's story, and since he has a website, I could probably find it out pretty readily. I don't know about Jeff Hill, either. At this point, I kind of like it that way. I like just imagining their situation, and looking at it with the eyes of someone who wants to be inspired by the back-story I've invented for them. I like them serving as inspiration for making inroads towards something I genuinely love regardless of all the things I've done before because I thought it was right, or expected, or easy.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

People Can Really Be Assholes.

Today I was driving out of a parking lot.  In the crossing area, there were two guys walking.  They were gesturing wildly and clearly yelling at someone behind them, laughing.  I expected to see someone their own age that they probably knew.  Instead, I saw a very old woman struggling down the street.  She was looking over her shoulder at them.  This woman had to have been in her 90s, and she was so bent over that she was basically her own right angle.  She was carrying two grocery bags, making her way down the sidewalk.  Occasionally, she'd stop and rest for a few seconds before moving along again.  The guys I'd seen going past had not only not helped her, they'd also been yelling at her and making fun of her situation.  Then, a passenger in a passing car threw something out the window at her.

What the hell?

Being insanely generous in trying to justify such behavior, I suppose I could see this response if this woman was a known insane resident of the neighborhood that had escaped justice for murder or similar crimes against humanity. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I don't think that supposition is accurate.  What I really think is this old woman, belittled as a crone by passing strangers, was simply alone in the world and an easy target.

I pulled over and got out of my car.  I caught up to her (which clearly wasn't a challenge) and asked her if she needed a ride to wherever it was she was headed.  She told me that she was basically home.  I then asked her if I could at least help her carry her bags for her.  She declined my second offer, too, saying that it wasn't a big deal because she could take the elevator.  She then told me, "Thanks a million, though, honey.  You're awfully sweet to an old woman."  Even though it was clear she had not wanted my assistance, it felt strange to leave her on the sidewalk, still holding two bags of groceries outside of her apartment building.

I'm not suggesting that my stopping and offering some assistance makes me any sort of special person.  I'm certainly no "boy scout."  But, seriously... what the hell is the matter with people?  How is it that humanity can be so uncaring?  And then to top it, why would anyone add cruelty to the mix?  I don't know their reasons, but some people are just assholes.  You can hope that they'll someday have a revelation about the things they do and discover they've behaved in a totally unacceptable way, but you'll probably be disappointed.  I don't hold out a lot of hope that the people that openly make fun of an old woman or through refuse at her on the street are going to be met with enlightenment.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Disappearance of Awesome Things

Not that this isn't something I haven't considered before, but this buzzfeed post got me all riled up about it again this morning. Who do companies offer you some wonderful, magical product and then snatch it away  think they are? They are lousy bastards, that's who they are.

There are plenty of things that I love that still exist. I will not make the claim that every single consumer product I've ever cared for has been cruelly taken away. But I think I shall rant just a bit about those that have departed from our lives.

Cosmetic companies seem to be the worst offenders. Lipstick colors I find I can't live without? Poof! They are gone. I've started buying the ones I really, really like five at a time. Though it may seem excessive, it's actually proven wise a few times now. Fool me once Oil of Olay's Rio Red, shame on you. But just like The Who, I won't be fooled again.

Perfumes have gotten me a few times. Not a whole lot you can do with this one. If you buy too much and don't use it, its scent alters. Then, you just have a bunch of bottles of liquid that don't smell quite right and leave something akin to a chemical burn/rashy looking thing on your skin if in desperation you apply it. So -- a big F You to The Gap for getting rid of Om and to Victoria's Secret that got rid of Sparkling Cassis and Victoria. (Even as I'm typing this up, I am filled with longing for a bottle of Sparkling Cassis. It was my most favorite perfume of all time. I've tried finding something similar elsewhere. I thought I'd really stumbled upon a dream come true when I found a perfumerie in the town of Cassis.   It proved to be a day of sad results despite a very, very patient salesgirl. She tried very hard to make me happy despite my poor French. I've also tried having it reproduced at places that specialize in such things, but those efforts have failed, too. It's sort of become my version of Determined World War One Flying Ace Snoopy... "I'll get you yet, Red Baron!!!")

Why do restaurants change their menus all the time? You find something you positively love -- it's the reason you go there -- and then it's gone. Obviously, this doesn't apply only to real restaurants. It's actually far more common with crappy fast food chains. I became reacquainted with an old friend that I hadn't spoken to in years and years after he made a facebook post about his outrage over Burger King's decision to take away the Chicken Parmesan sandwich. I'd just discovered it myself, and it had become my "I don't want to cook" staple. (I mean, come on. When you're clearly so intertwined in like thinking, how do you not reconnect?)  I sort of pride myself on the fact I've never eaten one, but I know a vast majority of the United States feels a surge of joy (and maybe something akin to sexual arousal) when they see big banners posted at McDonald's announcing the return of the McRib. I'll always associate it with an episode of The Osbournes when Sharon, Kelly and Jack were driving. Kelly was quite upset about something, and everyone was listening attentively, but Jack just couldn't contain himself. It was as if he simply had to shout out the amazing revelation -- "Oohh! The McRib is back!" I've got a great friend who regularly posts on facebook about the cyclical ebb and flow of the McRib's presence. I initially believed this to be done ironically, but then discovered I was wrong. He really is that happy when the McRib makes its annual return. And now, Taco Bell has a Dorito-shelled taco. Anything this inspired is doomed for extinction. You are truly deluding yourself if you think it's going to end any other way. (A friend, the same one insane over the McRib actually, has said of this taco that it is (to paraphrase) like cunnilingus of an angel of the most delicious cheesy kind.) Don't get too attached, dear (and kind of creepy in your similes) friend. Your naive little heart will be broken, I am certain. My note to restaurants that behave this way -- You've toyed with me enough. I can no longer abide by your fickle ways. You are dead to me now.

What started all of this pent up anger (of which I am actually a little alarmed to discover I've been harboring), is, as I indicated, the buzzfeed link above. I only ate one of the foods mentioned, but when I saw its sad, lonely little photo I realized I'd been missing it. Oh, Apple Newtons. I am so sorry that I didn't recognize you'd been banished out of my life. Please don't think I didn't love you. I did. I really and truly did. I even loved your advertisement of the little boy in his dandy clothes and his fuss-budget nanny. She told him he could have no cookies and he retorted that his favorite snack was not a cookie, it was a newton. And how could she disagree? They then shared newtons galore -- two distinctly different generations; two different mindsets; two different socio-economic classes -- bound by one delicious snacking treat.

For good measure, I will add my other commercial food industry losses to this very sad list:

Number One: Nabisco's Swiss Cheese Crackers.
For those of you to whom this cracker is a stranger (and I am so, so sorry for you if it is because you missed out on something truly remarkable), it was something like a Chicken in a Biscuit or a Veggie Thin cracker, but it tasted like Swiss Cheese. (You can try to persuade me that White Cheddar Cheez-its taste more or less the same, but it simply isn't true.) Each cracker was even made to look like swiss cheese, with random holes in it. They were both delicious and aesthetically clever. Clearly, I loved them. And then the Sons of Bitches at Nabisco got all uppity and took them off the market. To hell with Nabisco.

Number Two: Keebler Elves Soft Batch Sugar Cookies.
Yeah, they still make the Chocolate Chip cookie kind. But I don't like that kind. I want the other kind that I did like. Since I'm not all that fond of anything else the Keebler elves make, I really enjoyed the beginning of Elf when the little fellows had their treehouse bakery catch on fire.

Number Three: Fruitopia.
Loved, loved, loved Fruitopia. It was sooooo good. I completely associate it with one of my very best summers. I'd go to the convenience store around the corner from my best friend's place, then go hang out with her, delicious drink in hand. Fruity and/or lemon-aidy. Snapple already existed at that time, but the two weren't really the same. You had your Snapple people; you had your Fruitopia people. Not exactly birds of the same feather. Fruitopia was sort of hippy inspired. There were psychedelic ads for it on TV; there were little comments on the caps (not to be confused with Snapple's bizarre facts -- these were two different things.) Despite the goodness of this wonderful drink, Fruitopia has gone the way of the Mastodon. And perhaps the saddest part of this for me is that it was a product of the Coca-Cola company. No matter how many times I've tried to give Coke up, I end up like a Brokeback Mountain character, "You are too much for me Coca-Cola, you sonofawhoreson bitch! I wish I knew how to quit you."

Number Four: Doritos First through Third Degree Burning Chips
The most recent of my junk food losses.  These fantastic chips came in single size or the slightly bigger 
Grab Bag size.  As the name indicates, these were hot chips, and in the most fantastic ways.  You'll often hear teachers say that they learn just as much from their students as students learn from them.  This may not be precisely what that statement is meant to portray, but it was a favorite student that made me aware of these wonderful Doritos.  (Though one may wonder, he was a favorite before this, but the sharing of the information did not hurt my sentiments.)  He knew of my love for them, and would buy theGrab Bag size at a convenience store on his side of town.  He would bring them to me.  I felt like a refugee in a war receiving contraband chocolates.  I wasn't too daft on this go-round though.  I had the sneaking suspicion from the start that these burning Doritos would see only a brief flickering flame. Sometimes, being able to say, "I told you so," isn't met with any satisfaction.

Undoubtedly everyone has their own litany of lost products. Some corporate monster gets us hooked, then snatches away the things he made us love. As Joss Whedon likes to tell us, not so subtly, time and time again: Corporations are the Devil. Whether your loss was Surge, or Zima, or the red M&M, I'm sure you understand.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"I'm really grateful to have you."

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(I don't care how Molly Ringwald/Andrew McCarthy this looks.  
This is how I actually met someone I will love forever.)

Memorial Day

I had never attended a truly traditional Memorial Day service until this year. There had been plenty of picnics and family gatherings, events with friends to kick off the summer holiday season, and laments with co-workers at school that we did indeed have two weeks left before summer break. Honoring veterans, however, had not been something I'd officially done. This Memorial Day was different.

At a ceremony dedicated solely to respecting those who had fought for the United States and for those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect the liberty of the US, I passed out programs to attendees, heard their stories about being there to honor family members that had lost their lives over the course of the last year, and listened to speakers who extended respect for men and women who served the nation.

All of the stories told were of the valiant efforts of the military. The items that made the greatest impact on me, however, were the tales of local soldiers that had been killed in action. The speaker did not only tell of the circumstances of their deaths, but also of the details of their lives. Each and every one had families that they left behind, passions they had pursued in their private lives, and goals for the future. The reminder of how very precious life was hard hitting to say the least.

A Brigadier General concluded his speech with an incredibly difficult fact for me to hear. He said that every day of the year, at least one soldier commits suicide. I knew that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was something very real, and I knew that its effects on military was far more serious than I probably imagined, but I did not know this statistic. It made me think about a variety of discussions I'd had with people in recent years.

The first was a discussion students had in my Current Events class when I taught high school. Each student was asked to bring in an article of their choosing from a current magazine or newspaper. The class would read these independently and then spend the rest of the hour debating their interpretation of the issue. One day the topic was how soldiers leaving the military were treated. A junior ROTC student was incredibly opposed to the idea that the military was in any way faulty. He said that PTSD was completely made up and anyone who said they had it was "a pussy that couldn't handle being a real man." Obviously, this attitude was offensive to a lot of the other students, and to me. He refused to back down, though, even when other points of view were presented. He was adamant that there was nothing that a strong personality couldn't witness or endure that would permanently affect them in a negative way. This kid riled me like none other ever had. It was unbelievably hard not to light into him with all of my own beliefs, with all of the facts I knew, with all of the personal stories I knew that contradicted his naivety of having never seen any sort of combat, or even real training.

The second talk I thought of was an incredibly recent one. Just a few days prior to the holiday, I'd talked with a 24 year old that had become a civilian just a few months earlier. He'd been in the Air Force since he was 18. Heserved all across the world, including two tours in the Middle East. He said that the six months he'd been out of the military were ones of adjustment. Then he quickly clarified, "It's not like I mean PTSD or anything. I didn't see my best friend blown to bits in a battle. I just mean it's hard to go from having all aspects of life dictated to you and then being on your own to figure out the rest of your life is all." I considered how he seemed to feel the need to disassociate himself from the idea of PTSD, as if it was something shameful. It was also something that he seemed to consider incredibly serious, and he wanted me to rest assured that he wasn't afflicted.

I spoke with a retired military man about the topic. This man is someone for whom I have nothing but the greatest respect. He was an artillery specialist, and saw combat many times in many wars. Today he still works as a consultant for the Army, and he volunteers with veterans. We'd both attended the Memorial Day event, and I told him that the quote about regular suicides had really bothered me. He has always been philosophical about military issues when I've talked with him. (For example, when discussing the use of gas or chemical warfare, he'd said "Many consider the use of Agent Orange to have been one of the worst things the US ever did. The truth of the matter is at the time, we didn't know that it would have long-lasting effects. At the time, we used what we had at our disposal to save American lives and win a war.") With the concept of suicide, he said, "There are lots of ways to look at PTSD. Lots of people attribute what I'd consider small things to it. Sometimes it's far more serious, sometimes it's just part of having waged war. I went to the VA hospital not long ago, and they gave me a questionnaire. Some of the questions were things like 'Do you ever have bad dreams related to your service time?' Well, hell. Of course I do. You don't go through combat and not. You see things there that no one ought to ever witness, and of course it stays with you for the rest of your life. If it doesn't, you're not human. But some people are more steeled for it. Some people have the ability to put it out of their mind. Some others just can't do that. They're not weak; they just can't deal with it the way other people can. The number one reason for the suicides is the sense of guilt people experience. They wonder why so many of the people they were friends with died while they survived. It doesn't make any sense to them and they feel too much guilt to keep on living." It was a fascinating conversation for me, and I could have talked to him about it all day. I want to know from the people who have lived it what experiences I will never have were really like. But I also know when others have had enough of a topic and when to let them be. I've discovered quite by accident that relatives who served were involved in the Tet Offensive, or in other incredibly terrible situations in Korea or Vietnam. In both instances, these facts basically slipped out, and it was made very, very clear from body language and a quick change of topic or leaving the room that these things were never to be discussed. Some things you learn to leave alone, and you have the respect to never refer to the information again.

The suicide statement really made me think, however, of a story that will never leave me. This story is one that will stay with me as long as I live, as both a testament to the power that an event has over our lives and to the need to share our humanity with others. I was in San Diego. I love San Diego; it's one of my very favorite cities in all the world. I was staying with a friend, and he was at work for the day. I decided to go for an independent adventure. I took the train and decided to head downtown. What I hadn't bothered to do was look up train schedule times, so when I arrived at the transfer point that would really head to the city there was a two hour wait. I hung out around the station -- went to grab some food; went to the dingy little beach down the way -- hung out by the platform when the arrival time drew near. I asked a guy that I'd seen earlier if I was waiting on the right side of the track (I'm incredibly directionally challenged -- even the concept of basic North and South can confound me in an underground station). I sat down and he asked me where I was going. He told me that he was going to work; that he worked as a security guard during his down time, but that he was really in the military and stationed in San Diego for the time being. I asked him how he liked it, told him that my father had been life-long military and had been stationed there for a while. I will never know what prompted him, but he looked at me for a few moments, really looking at my face, intensely looking into my eyes. He said, "I'm actually from here, or at least pretty close. My best friend and I went to high school together. We were about a year apart. We did ROTC together so we could do basic training together when I was done. He got deployed to Iraq, but he never saw any real action in the sandbox. He never said too much about it. I mean, he didn't love it or anything, but he never complained really. He came back changed, though. He'd gotten married, had two kids, and at 21 he was already done with his youth and just a war veteran. We were on duty together, bringing in aircraft. So, we were bringing in a HUEY -- do you know what that is? So, we're bringing a HUEY, and he says, "I got it. I'll be right back." Instead of signally it in though, he walked right into the rotors. There was a down-wind spray, and I was literally covered in my best friend. Then I got assigned to cleaning up the airstrip. I was the one who told his wife. And it didn't even register with me until a month later what had really happened. I was on the same duty, and I just freaked out. The other guys had to grab me to keep me from doing the exact same thing." He was quiet for a minute, and I asked him how he was now. He said that he'd had about six months of mandatory therapy, and it had actually really helped. I asked him if the military was supportive of providing psychological help or even medications in situations like this or if there was a big stigma attached. He said that there wasn't -- that they really were trying to help where they could. As if on some sort of pre-planned theatrical cue, the train arrived at that moment. We boarded, he headed to a different car, looked over his shoulder and said, "Thanks for the talk."

This kid made a huge impact on me. He was 19. He wasn't legally able to drink off base, for shit's sake. This kid had experienced more trauma than the typical person ever will, and it probably was nothing compared to that of his best friend who succeeded in killing himself. I don't know his name; I wouldn't recognize him if I saw him again. But I am going to think about him for a long, long time. He doesn't just represent the military to me. He represents humanity to me. I don't know if this was a situation that happened in his life that he needs to talk about all the time and does so at random moments, or if it was something that he never spoke of. My guess is it is the latter. I had the impression that something about me made him feel like I'd understand and that I'd let him just tell the story without any judgement or without interjection. Such terrible things happen in life -- the fact that people have to go through it is a part of being human. The perseverance of going on after you've experienced it is part of being human. The greatest part of being human, though, was his need to share it with someone else.

We seem to honor those who keep things inside. If a person underwent great hardship and kept it inside, they are revered as a strong hero. But are they? Does it make someone "less than" if they voice a traumatic tale and make the admission that it haunts them? I'm not suggesting that we dwell on events or let them dictate the rest of our lives. What I do suggest, however, is that we recognize the need to relate to one another in meaningful ways. The freedom and liberty celebrated on Memorial Day means nothing if we're really a nation that keeps its love, honor, respect, mourning, lamentations, and genuine emotion for individuals and personal events to itself, never to be revealed.