Reunited And It Feels So Good

I traveled back to Iowa this past week to attend my 20 year high school reunion. It was preceded by feelings of both dread and excitement, but those hot and cold systems joined to form a most interesting weather pattern within my psyche when all was said and done.

"Cereal Mascot Reunion" by Rob Sheridan

“Cereal Mascot Reunion” by Rob Sheridan

Upon my arrival in the Hawkeye State, I dropped in on my mother – who was working at a retail outlet – to surprise her. The first thing she said to me wasn’t an exclamation of surprise or joy, but rather a subdued:

“Let me measure your neck.”

She then pulled out a tape measure from an adjacent cashier’s drawer and did just that. There was some rhyme to her reason, however, as she does work in a mens’ clothing store and wants to fit me for that damn suit I have to be buried in. The hugs and happiness came after the business transaction. How could anyone not love this woman?

After that abrupt but hilarious welcome, I proceeded to plot my strategy for the weekend gathering of old, but memorable, faces: Would there be the same bullshit from back in the day? Should I prepare for the inevitable tip-toeing around my sexuality? Would people have matured at all? Would anyone be dead or on their fourth marriage? My inquiring mind wanted to know.

As it turns out, pretty much all of the above, minus the death and marriage part.

I met up with a handful of my peeps the night before the reunion. We sort of came together organically at the high school Homecoming football game and then flocked to a bonfire afterward. Libations were had and in the chill of not knowing what to expect, I found a very warm group of people. Open and interesting. Jokes were told, histories revealed and a sense of belonging (at least from my perspective) formed a shield around us. I had a very enjoyable time and I looked forward to the real reunion the next night.

In the expanded group of the actual reunion, there was a little more formality and slightly more posturing. However, I still found the evening to be time well spent. I do not think that feeling was shared by some people and I felt bad that some of them were not finding a connection to the night’s glistening bath of memories. A few left early and I barely had a chance to catch up with them. I was certainly lucky to have a built-in portion of the crowd in my corner pocket – as I see them every time I return to the Iowa prairie. It reminded me how fortunate I was to have those solid friendships in place.

The night closed with a friend requesting Prince’s “Pussy Control” from our born-again-Christian classmate who was the DJ. He accepted our song choice good-naturedly, and we danced……badly.

The subsequent day was dichotomously emotional as I reflected on how grateful I was to have escaped the Midwest for a better life, but also have known such unique, and gifted people. I suspect we will not be doing another reunion as this was our first one in two decades. However, I will attempt to remain optimistic that I will see more than a handful before my ultimate demise from vodka and honey mustard.

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Mother/Son Bonding Over Deadly Aliens and Burning People Alive

I have a very unique relationship with my mother when it comes to film. We have nearly identical taste in science fiction and horror movies.

I can remember when I was but a wee child, maybe 8 or 9, and the the film Alien was being shown on network television for the first time. Granted, most of the scariest stuff was cut from the film for obvious reasons, but I remember my father being mortified that I planned to watch it. My mother actually defied my dad and said, “My son and I are watching this movie whether you like it or not.” I think he just walked away saying, “You deal with his nightmares then.” So we gleefully made popcorn and wrapped up in blankets on the couch to watch Lt. Ellen Ripley run for her life on a claustrophobic space freighter.

ALIEN

“Alien” (1979)

Of course I was completely terrified, even by an edited version. However, in my later years I came to appreciate what a fantastic film Alien was and how it has stood the test of time. It feels so visceral and real. It’s gritty and unpolished, and the obsidian alien itself is truly a cinematic virus of nightmares.

Tonight, I called my mom and in our discussion I mentioned I would probably be seeing the film Riddick this weekend. We saw the first film of that character’s anthology, Pitch Black, before I moved to Seattle years ago, and we both loved it. And from that mnemonic lily pad she made the leap back to the Alien film where our mutual love of dark, twisted sci-fi was first born. “Wasn’t that a great movie?” she asked, and then added, “Did you ever see the special edition with all the scenes that were cut…like when Ripley finds that captain cocooned and he asks her to kill him so she burns him up with that flamethrower? That was so creepy.”

“Yes, mom, it was creepy.”

But in that moment of reflection with her, the memory didn’t feel creepy at all. It felt like being wrapped up in blankets with your mother experiencing terror together but knowing it’s not real. Just a moment that you got to share together, and one I will no doubt continue to cherish after she’s gone. And as strange or twisted as it sounds, it is curated in my brain like a valuable artifact.

A Better Definition of Having It Better

I had a conversation recently with a friend of mine who has children. She was telling me how her family had fallen on hard times and she was very upset about not being able to “give her kids the things she never had.” I’ve heard this statement a lot from many people over the years, and while I understand the sentiment and where it comes from, I can’t help but think it’s an ideal that warrants refinement. I say this not from a place of judgement but from one of observation.

For full disclosure, I have no kids of my own (nor am I ever likely to) so I do question my place to dispense any advice on the best way to raise human podlings. However, since I was once a child (and a totally bratty one at that) it’s my personal philosophy that a good parent is an anchor and the kid is the sailboat: An anchor is heavy, but not completely immobile. It keeps the sailboat from being swept away by whimsical currents that could lead it to destruction, but it also knows when to rise from the seabed and allow the craft to travel when an appropriate direction is selected. I always thought if I was a dad, I might be a little strict with my kids; the “Great Denier” who would withhold impulse purchases at the check-out or disavow frivolous procedures like throwing a new toy in the path of a crying toddler – the types of tactics so many parents use to quell their offspring.

Of course, I say that but the practical application would be more like the following mental negotiation with myself: “For just 5 minutes of peace and quiet, I don’t mind buying a $20 action figure or video game.” I am guessing this is how the thought process goes for most parents. girlwithbirds

Anyway, back to my original point for writing this piece: My friend seemed to convey a disappointment in herself that she wouldn’t have the quick means to manufacture a happy mood in her children by giving them a material thing. I can only assume this approach had worked as a preventative measure for a very long time. I told her, “You know, my parents weren’t dirt poor but we weren’t rich either and from my own experiences I think what most kids want is just some kind of social engagement. They want something that inspires their imagination. They want to interact with you. I don’t think you need to have the means to buy lots of new things to give them that.” She seemed to tacitly agree but was dwelling on the upcoming storm of expectation she had already constructed – and would now have to dismantle. She seemed to fall back on that old adage “I just want my kids to have it better than I did.”

And that’s when the shit got real. I told her, “When people say things like that, I really hope they mean they want their children to have a better education, a better work ethic, a healthier body and mind. Because as far as I am concerned, more toys, more designer clothes, and more time to play video games didn’t do a damn thing for me growing up. I can’t use any of it now.”

And with the silence I got from that kind of response, I remembered my place. I remembered that I don’t have kids.

So of course, I couldn’t possibly understand.

The Odd Holiday

First of all, Merry Christmas (for those of you that celebrate it)!

As a child, Christmas was always the most magical of holidays for me. The promise of new toys and sugary snacks certain to lead me to diabetes in my golden years were the hallmarks of a much happier time. As I recall, I would wait feverishly in late August for the Sears & Roebuck catalog to arrive with all the new He-Man figurines and their imaginative playsets. With my trusty ball-point pen I would place a star next to the items I most desired, so that my parents could inform Santa (a.k.a. the sweatshop in Taiwan) what to bring me on that most exciting night of December.

Of course, as I have gotten older this holiday’s aura – once warm like apple cider – has grown someone dim and cold. Santa now comes every other Friday when my paycheck arrives and I basically buy whatever useless trinkets I desire.

PERSONAL NOTE: I might add that the “magic” of receiving a present you didn’t have to work your ass off for is a somewhat more enjoyable experience.

I suppose the trade off now is watching my Christmas celebrations devolve into a mélange of weird occurrences and family psychosis. I no longer live near my family so I sometimes experience these things through my friends who invite me to their family’s festivities when I don’t travel back to Iowa. Even through an alternate lens, it seems that most families are wacky to the extreme, and I would like to share some of these moments with you:

  1. Today, I called my mother. Shortly after exchanging the obligatory holiday greetings, she offered me this little known scientific fact: “Hey, did you know that when you die all your poop and pee comes out?”
  2. From a Christmas card sent by an uncle: “In November, I attended a funeral of a friend of mine who shot himself.”
  3. At my friend’s family Christmas, I arrived to the family matriarch wearing a diamond tiara and was given this piece of information by one of her sons: “This year we are enforcing a new rule…no using the words C*NT or F*CK.” Apparently all other curse words were given carte blanche.
  4. At the same Christmas event the grandmother was seen looking through a Chippendales calendar given to a different (younger) family member.
  5. The same grandmother made this comment before leaving: “I am having a shot when I get home.”

As one can see, the memories you cherish from Christmases past eventually lose their veneer and the true nature of the season is revealed. In some ways, I imagine it is like seeing Santa Claus busted on COPS for cooking meth in a trailer park bath tub.