Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Boys & Flutes & A Lesson Learned

I suppose he thought he was doing me a favor. Can’t even quite clearly remember his face even though I can remember all of the other details.

When I was in third grade, my family lived in Medina, NY, a small town outside of Buffalo. We hadn’t lived there long, moving to town a month short of the end of second grade, and I was still the new kid. I had a nemesis, Aaron Slack, and a gang, the Avengers, formed for and dedicated to hating me.

Fourth grade was the start of band in Medina, so toward the end of third grade we were given a slip of paper to submit our top three instrument choices. All I really wanted to play was flute. I loved the sound, thought Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull was cool, wanted to be able to play Greensleeves, a song which still always creeps me out. I put drums second, not because I had much interest but because my stepdad had played drums in high school and in drum corps. I put tuba third for no particular reason beyond ludicrousness.

This is what I remember clearly. Sitting in the library, reading at a big, dark wood table. The music teacher, a guy, youngish, skinnyish, I seem to remember dark hair and a mustache. And he was holding my slip of instrument choices.

He sat down with the air of a man sent on an unpleasant errand. He was here to explain to me that only girls had signed up for flute, only girls ever signed up for flute. He held that little slip of paper with my sloppy writing – flute, drums, tuba – as though it was the illustration of my folly and would help me understand. I can see those words clearly, though that might be an illusion of time because I’ve long been obsessed with how distasteful I find my own handwriting, and so have always studied and picked at it like a scab.

I also remember that my throat felt dry and tight when I said “Yeah, okay, I can do drums.” Because I didn’t want to, and because I had just watched that shiny flute of my dreams dissolve in my hands.

Liv and I have been listening to orchestra music the last two mornings during our hour commute to her day camp – Elmo & the Orchestra yesterday and John Lithgow’s Farkle & Friends today – and it was that old longing for the flute that swelled up into my memory. I dutifully banged away at a practice mat in drum practice with a bunch of kids with long hair, black t-shirts and behavioral issues, and was berated by my stepfather for not showing any of his aptitude or work ethic, throughout fourth grade. That summer we moved to a school district that had started kids in band a year earlier than Medina, and so I was a year behind, and so I had an excuse, though, it was clearly intimated, a lame one, to quit.

I’m sure I missed all kinds of opportunities to pick up the flute or some other instrument over the years, but missing out on school band, which would have meant not relying on my parents to pay for lessons or me to practice alone because it was built into school, has always stung.

Really, it’s another chance for me to blame current ennui on the past, but it is also a good reminder. Because if anyone ever tries to tell Liv that girls don’t do some thing that Liv would like to do, I’m going to teach her to tell them to fuck off.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Surviving Harry

[This is a spoiler-free zone - fear not.]

Yesterday I felt a way I had not in many years. There is a particular kind of depression or ennui the day following psychedelic drugs. The world simply isn’t as pretty, colors seem dull, eating a little pointless.

And I felt this way not because I had returned to my heady youthful days of mushroom consumption, but because I had finished the seventh and final Harry Potter book.

I was a late adopter, but have been pretty hardcore ever since. I picked up a paperback of the book at a friend’s house, started it a week later and finished it the day after that. The first four had been released by that time, so I bought the hardcover boxed set and proceeded to get my wife hooked as well. She bought me Order of the Phoenix a week or so after my daughter was born, and I devoured that in two evenings sitting up waiting for the 2am feeding. We actually pre-ordered number six, and stood in line at midnight for this final one.

Hell, over the last month I re-read the entire series (none of them for only the second time) so I could have the entire Potter arc in one massive marathon of reading.

I can’t imagine that I’ll ever do that kind of re-reading again. Oh, sure, I’ll read the final book at least once more, but the series has lost its mystery now that is has been concluded. Part of the joy of the books has been looking for clues, speculating on what’s to come, and now that everything has came, what’s the point?

I haven’t been able to pick up any other reading material since I finished Saturday evening. I can’t get myself beyond the lead paragraph of any of the many news articles about the book and the surrounding phenomenon.

I will sorely miss these characters, this world. The wonderful consistency of it, the way that even the names of people and places helped paint the pictures and portraits. A governing morality that understood the inevitability of evil and yet valued hope and love above all else.

I’m exceptionally thankful that I have a child to one day share this series with. I can’t wait to begin reading them to her, can’t wait to be begged for just one more chapter before bed, can’t wait until that moment I can begin reliving these stories through her in a way that I just won’t be able to again for myself.

Which I suppose has always been one of the joys of parenthood.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Forkin' Hell

So, I haven’t been around much lately. Last weekend was swallowed whole by 14/48, and most of this weekend by a marathon reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Add to that four-plus days of rain adding a bored and highly-distracting child to the mix, and not much has gotten done.

But that isn’t what I wanted to write about – my pretend-online-blog friends just have to accept my occasional disappearances the same way the live-and-local ones do.

No, I wanted to write to you about our vacation, a term I use exceptionally loosely here.

The morning after 14/48 concluded, the girls and I loaded into the car and headed out to Forks, a very small town in the upper left corner of Washington State. Perhaps you aren’t familiar with Forks? Let me elucidate.

Forks is where Hope goes to die. Or, perhaps more accurately, it is the place where Hope can not live, because the only kind of Hope born in Forks is “I Hope I can escape this shitty little town.”

Forks is in post-logging decline. All and I mean ALL of the buildings are rundown because there’s neither reason nor money nor inclination to build anything new. Forks Outfitters, the only real store in town, is either a bloated general store or the runt offspring of a clumsy mating of a Red Apple and a Wal-Mart. Homes are abandoned to be consumed by the local flora, mainly creepers and mold, because there is nobody willing or able to buy them. The people are old, ugly, slow and stupid.

Ok, maybe that last bit is a bit much, but it is fair to say that Forks is the land where the rain is unending, the prospects bleak and the isolation palpable.

It is entirely believable, after spending a few days there (and not for the first time), that Forks will eventually die off, perhaps devolving briefly into a Children of Men-style chaos before being consumed by the Olympic Forest, leaving only the last gas station between Port Angeles and Hoquiam.

And yet I’m still drawn there, and to the other small, dying towns of the Olympic Peninsula. Much like standing on an ocean shore reinvests me with the vastness of this world, a visit to Forks grounds me with the baseness of the human animal. The feeling of hollow survival, of overwhelming inertia, dark feelings which I romanticize, pervades in the wake of these visits.

And maybe that is the real reason it has taken me so long to write, and why it finally comes today. I emptied myself at 14/48, reveled in emptiness at Forks, and then refilled myself with the final chapter of an epic I love.

Thank you, Forks, for helping push my Reset button.

And sorry about calling your people slow, stupid and ugly. But, I mean, bloody hell, just look at them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Holy. Shit.

I am mere fucking moments away from picking up my book.

Am I wearing a pointy hat?


Is it covered with silver moons and stars?


Does it have dangly grey hair hanging down the sides?

Oh, yeah.

Bring the Deathly Hollows on. I'm ready to roll.


This, by the way, was me posting last night just before we left for the bookstore.

And, yes, the hat came with us.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy birthday, USA!

I love ya, ya big lug.

But I gotta agree with Keith Olbermann - the dickheads running you have got to go.

Birthdays are a great time for new beginnings, so, y'know, heave ho.