Change of Topic
Emily Litella convinced me to change my topic for this post. “What’s all this about writing about villains?” And let’s not forget Jane Curtain and Laraine Newman who were excellent in their own right, but were not masters of the comic soliloquy as was Gilda Radner.
I am almost in the home stretch of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this the same day it is to be posted. I had been really good about getting things written ahead of time, as much as two days before the deadline, but I am getting tired. Avoiding topics I think about all the time, such as politics, wearies me. I tried so very hard not to be political, but I mentioned Ukraine a couple days ago. C’est la vie. But I just didn’t want to talk about violence, or villains, and I realized that when Radner’s voice in my head said, “What’s all this talk about violins?” Thanks Gilda. This one is much more fun to write.
Actually, I think I’m doing fairly well for having decided to do this only a couple days before the challenge began. I thought I had been variegated in my approach to topics for the month, but in truth I had been trying to be serrated. I mistakenly thought variegated applied to shape as well as color. I wasn’t trying to be many colored, although I could have played with that metaphor for the month just as easily as not. What I was, and am, trying to do is to touch my topic of personal history along many points, as though I was slicing a homemade loaf of bread with a serrated knife to create well cut slices that have not been crushed. Every slice is different with a slightly different distribution of ingredients, different patterns of tiny air pockets.
The Topic of the Challenge
We all have personal history. Not all of it is fun. The structure of that personal history is quite similar. People who share a family of origin, who lived in specific geographic locations which encouraged or discouraged certain sustenance practices and patterns of habitation. How we put all those things together, especially in this world, we do in ways totally different from the way our parents did, and our lives may be completely unrecognizable from that of our grandparents. But is that really true? The structures seem very different. But there is a continuity of personal culture. Our approaches to very different lives might be similar, or not.
The town I grew up in, the class I went through school with, we were all very different people. One of the nice guys in my class just passed away. His services are today. May his memory be a blessing. I do not remember ever talking to him. I do not get along with his wife. I used to just say we had different views but she side-swiped me one too many times implying I was evil rather than just different from her. She apparently believed things about me that were not true. I believe in choice because I knew girls, high school girls, who did not deserve to have their dreams for what they wanted to do with their lives ended because of rape. I was freaking lucky that I didn’t get pregnant. Thank you Goddess. Thank you for not making me so afraid of difference that I lash out and try to criminalize everything and everyone who does not think like me or go to the same house of worship as me.
Anyway I am thinking a bit about the old home town, not because of anything good, but because a classmate died, and his wife, also a classmate, is grieving.
I can’t impose myself on her grief. I am a better person than that, I hope. So, no flowers or cards, that would be two-faced of me. But the town I grew up in, it had so many sides. And the goody, goods would not even admit that there was a dark side. A pervasive dark side. But you know what? The dark side is different for everyone. That is why we call it personal history. I suppose half the town that remembers me, that would be about 10 people, think I’m some drug addict whore, not that there is anything wrong with people who do what they have to do to get by, but I did drugs in high school for about a month, before I was raped, which was three months or so before I had a breakdown, and had to be hospitalized for suicidal tendencies. Didn’t touch drugs again. Had two relationships in my adult life: A boyfriend of 15 years and a husband of 33 and counting. I refused to defend myself publicly and told myself that it was better to let them think I was doing drugs than to tell anyone I had been raped. I blamed myself so it seemed okay if everyone else blamed me too. But they did not know shit. Read the choice link, the same one as above, if you want to know more. Small town America, Trump’s America, hasn’t changed. Yep, I am glad I left. As even the ones who liked me said about me, “She was always dif-ernt.”
Segue :: Family
A Tinker who would not talk about his father, a Farmer who thought only of his own needs; these are stories behind my grandfathers that explain much of my family dynamics, the icons of my family. And then there are cultural icons, icons with whom we laugh, icons with whom we share morals, icons who walk along the knife-edge of what is appropriate. All this blends together into cultural milieux. And we have our personal interpretations and implementations of culture. Perhaps we partner with people who are like our opposite sex parent. Perhaps everything in our lives mimic our relationships with the parent with whom we had the most difficult experience. Or perhaps things at home were peachy and we modeled much of our interactions with others on the comedy we experienced in our classrooms.
Dad’s Humor, Not Dad’s Hammer
Dad loved Jackie Gleason. I didn’t like Ralph’s, “To the moon Alice!” But I’ve finally figured out that Dad liked working man comedy and the depiction of the big city as places with bars and with tenements. He did not drink ( I never saw anyone drink until I was in my teens) and he owned his farm, but he chummed around with guys who hung out at “The Stag” which was a very seedy, decrepit bar, that may or may not have had a brothel upstairs, but which did have spittoons, a slate table, and smelled of stinky stogies. It was a hold-over men’s saloon that probably was more an artifact of 1910 than 1960. It closed in 1971.
Bars, Boundaries, and Bunnies
My last memory of The Stag I have was when it had become The Alley. A dear friend who died from an alcohol related car crash when she was 21, and I had just come from a high school fundraiser, we were 15 or 16, and we were on the Court House Lawn because that is where the boys she liked, the gear heads, would drive around. This was across the street from The Stag, that had become The Alley a year or so after The Stag’s closure. A lady who did not look like she was from Whitley County, or even Northeastern Indiana, was on a bench on the Court House Lawn. We talked to her and she told us, that she was a waiting for a “boy”friend who was doing some business in The Alley, which was now one of the places my friend’s parents would eat and drink, and which inhabited The Stag’s building after The Stag closed. (Anyway, the lady turned out to be a Playboy Bunny. Really, she was. I checked the issue she mentioned being the centerfold for the next time I was baby-sitting for a young couple with a tiny baby who had a complete set of Playboy magazines in the Garage.) We three girls had a nice talk on the court house lawn across the street from where some deal was going down and where bars seemed to reincarnate. We talked about life’s path, career options, small towns, big cities, and about going to college. We laughed and found common ground. She thought we were sensible without being candy-sweet idiots.
Role Models / Modeling Ethics
I wish my friend had been more naive. Her parents drank, drank a lot from my perspective. They were sophisticated. They came home drunk and the cops would escort them home to make sure they got home safe. The time my friend sideswiped a car the cops figured out who she was and nothing came of it. No arrests for the upper echelon. They were from the upper crust of the community.
The seedy bar served the people of the community. The more upscale bar that replaced it served the community. But, you see I wish her parents had not modeled drinking and driving, even if it was from a nice bar. I still miss her. 40 plus years later. At least my dad hung out with the old, and I mean OLD, men of the town in a dive bar and did not model drunkenness to me. But I suppose he was a lower class person because he was a dirt farmer. My friend’s parents were high class frogs, for the small pond we were all from. High class or low class, we all die. Sometimes the more life you have seen the more careful you are.
Dad Saw A Lot When Young
Dad liked humor that had a bit of thought behind it. Raucous, vagabond humor that was the humor of the Great Depression – when he was a young man. He ran Gin for bootleggers as a boy. Delivered what Billy Sunday bought from his gang’s suppliers – to Winona Lake. He made a lot of trips up to Chicago in the 20s, too; I guess he was the equivalent of the kid on the corner selling crack, or meth, or fentanyl or whatever the drug of choice is for the given day. He met Dillinger just after the Warsaw Bank Robbery as he was standing by an old rickety gate that lead to the “abandoned” farmstead so as to direct Dillinger’s gang down the difficult-to-see lane.
Lordy, I love my Dad’s stories, and his humor. I was embarrassed by him, but I would give anything to watch All in the Family with him one more time. I’d like to ask him about the times he lobbied in D.C., too, which must have subliminally influenced me to start CodePink in Arizona and hang out in DC with the pink ladies as my mom called them.
Mom liked Red Skeleton. I liked Gertrude and Heathcliff but that was it. Red was a sexist pig and I have always had that impression. Can’t prove it. Just have a gut feeling.
Maturity and Humor
Anyway… I always knew the back-stories about a lot of stuff people my age just didn’t know, and maybe still don’t know. That is where humor comes from, knowing the dark as well as the light. Don’t remember exactly how, but I suspect my “worldly” humor comes from my Dad for the most part. Though he never talked to me, he told me stuff. Facts, warnings, stories he thought I ought to know. We both loved Bullwinkle and Rocket J. Squirrel. When I started laughing at the adult jokes in Fractured Fairy Tales, around age nine, he told my mom that I didn’t have to attend Sunday School any longer; I could stay home and watch Bullwinkle with him. Or that is the way the family story goes.
Anyway, comedy, my humor, call it what you will, and sensibilities were significantly shaped by television and my Dad. I don’t remember humor playing much of a role in my other interactions as a kid.
Leaving out humor when you are telling your story, or your family’s, or your community’s, leaves out a rich, often poignant, and certainly instructive, and intimate part of life.