Ever look at a headline and you think wow, someone found that interesting enough to write about? (Quit smirking. This one doesn’t count.)
I knew these brats were up to no good. But who knew J. Crew was still a thing? Their crap never fit me and always cost too much, but the pictures were pretty. I looked at the web site and was surprised how “mall cheap” the stuff they’re trying to peddle looks. Back in my day J. Crew was all full of khaki and muted pastels, clothes that models wore on pretend sailing adventures and picnics by the river, soft cotton sweaters that looked like they’d feel really nice between one’s hand and a preppie pixie’s left breast.
It’s been a while since I trolled young people, and settled well into cold winter I have precious few opportunities to chase off cheese-eating cretins who try to make a shortcut out of my yard. Indeed, our university is in winter break, so I can’t even hope to menace the drunken kids who stop by our hedgerow to take a leak.
It is from this perspective that I’m wondering: what the hell is a Lumineer, and why the fuck won’t they stay out of my music player feed? Now, lots of people rip on Millennials for lots of reasons, apt and not, and I don’t want to be that guy stirring up the generational stew. I know plenty of asshats my own age, but I need to know: am I the only one to come to the rather horrifying cultural realization that Generation X is the first demographic in modern history whose children are actually begging us to turn our goddamn music down? My own flesh and blood has, just recently, complained wearily she could hear the Wild Flag jams I was using to shake snow off the roof through her head phones, and it was spoiling her Edward Sharp moment. Sigh.
If I hear one more shoe-gazing, patchy-bearded twinky strumming another acoustic barbiturate ode to something really, really, really poignant I’m going to puke on his shoes.
I get it. These coffeehouse pseudo-troubadoors (Pseudodoors?) feel things nobody has ever felt, and they feel them profoundly, deeply. Really, really, really deeply. But give me a break, man.Those Wes Anderson characters aren’t templates. For the love of the gods, buy a Sonic Youth record and figure it out. You can me miserable, melancholic, even maudlin without being so damnably dull. Watch and learn:
I choked on Jump Week–I owe four “Jump-themed” found photos, so you’ll get ’em today through Wednesday and worry about what comes next after that. This is a good one, eh? I particularly like the furthest kid to the left, turned to face the camera and mugging unapologetically.
My teenaged daughters recently discovered old episodes of Friends on Netflix, and while imposing myself on some of their recreational time recently I noticed that Jennifer Aniston has not only maintained her youthful appearance, she is arguably even hotter in her 40s than she was in her late twenties. In those old episodes she was cute, but she’s transcended that to the rarefied level of scorching magnificence while somehow maintaining a girl next door sort of casual appeal. It’s a wonder, given that dynamic, that stalkers don’t surround her castle like the suitors of Penelope at Ithaca.
At first I thought is was just me, and my own aging perspective–the young girl thing doesn’t really rock me any more, aside from a general acknowledgement of aesthetic appeal. College girls–and the flock of young, indistinguishable from each other, hollywood starlits flooding television and mainstream movies– look like children to me, not just out of my league but, you know, eeeeeewwww creepy young. Criminally young. But someone like Tea Leoni? Woff, woof. Or Sheryl Crow, Julianne Moore, Diane Lane? Those are proper subjects for unrequited lust of respect and admiration. I’ve never really thought of Aniston as a sex symbol or, as Websters’ calls it, a “smokin’ hottie,” but my childrens’ discovery of her forced me to re-evaluate.
This Aniston, however, is–or was–a bit of a conundrum. Can clean living do all that? Was there medical intervention? An inspection of Aniston’s close friend and fellow Friends alum Courtney Cox, reveals that the answer is no: Courtney looks great, but we can see right through that shit.) There can only be one solution: cannibalistic filicide.
According to the tabloids at which I’ve been gawking while in line at the grocery store over the past 20 years, Ms. Aniston has pretty much been constantly pregnant for most of my adult life.
Twenty years of pregnancy means at least 18 babies, presuming a quick turnaround following a typical 40-week pregnancy and a bare minimum 4 month recovery time, and not factoring in the many sets of twins she has been rumored to have conceived. And yet, we’ve heard no rumors of either termination nor miscarriage, but…
Could Jennifer Aniston have the most tragic reproductive history in the entire…um…ever? Given the volume and intensity of new coverage she’s historically generated, I suspect we’d hear about it, loudly, were it true. So the only solution is:
Jennifer Aniston becomes impregnated by some of Hollywood’s most vibrant stars, carries their children, and upon delivering these children under top secret conditions, she eats her young, consuming not only their vibrancy but their very souls. It’s the only viable solution.
I received a link to the official Playboy website recently, where it seemd Bunny Nation has uploaded its entire history, every last word, every last airbrushed nipple, every last cheeseball article on how to be a sophisticated man.
The answer is yes, I followed the link–right to a number of well written articles, including a rather predictable story about returning the Long Island Ice Tea to it’s 1970s mastery, as well as great short stories by David Foster Wallace and Chuck Palaniuk. There was some cheesecake, too, but I found it interesting–and indicative of our times–that Playboy is using literature and journalist to market it’s new all-access membership. And it’s tempting, too, but explaining why requires a story:
The first time I ever saw a non-maternal breast it was within the pages of Playboy Magazine, provided generously by a new kid in town, Mike LeBlanc, sometime around third grade. I thought to myself: hey, that’s not bad. If the opportunity presents itself, I would be open to the idea of inspecting similar subject matter again. Fate, it would seem, was on my side. New editions of Playboy magazine would appear at roughly one-month intervals, as if by magic, between the mattress and box spring of Mike’s parents’ bed. Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc–and thank you, also, to Former Miss Norway Ingeborg Sorensen. I owe you both an incalculable debt of gratitude for the richness you unknowingly contributed to my youth.
A few years later, Mike moved away, and my source for inappropriate “lite-core” mens’ entertainment went with him, along with my main source of camaraderie. We’d grown to be best friends, to the detriment of my other relationships, and the summer after sixth grade was brutally lonely.
Fortunately, I was twelve and the owner of a sweet Sears Free Spirit 12-speed bicycle–top of the line–for which I had saved and saved until I had the $89 necessary. For a department store bike, it was pretty nice–it’s 27″ size was perfect for my rapidly growing body–I would be 6’1 and 190 by the end of seventh grade. I rode that bike all over the county, sometimes 40 or 50 miles a day. My mother, to this day, has no idea that I roamed so far, but it was always the same: bored, I’d ride and ride and find myself in some town 15 or 20 miles from home, and say “Oh, shit.”
Aimless wandering around town was also a viable way to kill a day. It was on one of these adventures that I stopped at a yard sale, looking for “cool stuff” and maybe some comic books (I bought a copy of Fantastic Four #48–now worth about $400–for a nickel about the same time, and threw it away after reading it–doh!).
They had nothing good at this sale, except–a 10″x12″x24″ box of old Playboy magazines from the 1970s that was listed at $1. I had fifty cents in my pocket, but the lady cut me a deal: 45 cents for the box, since she didn’t want to take my last nickel.
Now, I have to ask: who sells 4 or 5 dozen playboys to a kid on a bicycle for what was then the price of soda?. Answer: Mrs. Anderson of Oakland Avenue. She wanted rid of those things. Badly. I was only too willing to lug that box home–it must have weighed 25 pounds–4 miles on my bicycle, and hide it away in my closet.
Years later, I spent a winter at my mother’s house taking care of her after an illness, and found the box in a closet full of my abandoned junk, and decided to steal a peek at my old childhood sweetheart, Monique St. Pierre. This was before the internet, let me remind you–1991. I opened the box, found Monique, smiled a little but shrugged too–you know, once you’ve got to the place in life where real naked women are readily available, perspective changes. At least it had for me.
I found myself, surprised though it made me, fascinated by the articles and interviews, none of which I’d ever looked at as a pimply pubescent–and I digested the box, top to bottom, glossing over the airbrushed glamor porn for the substantive journalism.
It was only later that I enjoyed a good laugh at myself–I’d devoted not hours but days to reading Playboy…for the articles. Afterward: when my mother recuperated enough to take care of herself, as prepared to depart, I hefted all those old magazines to a used book store and sold the entire box for $100 bucks–except for the carefully removed centerfold of ol’ Monique, which is still pressed neatly inside the cover of a large format picture book of renaissance artwork. Seemed fitting.
As for Monique, she became Playmate of the Year in whatever year that was–1979, I think, but I’m not going back to look. Not only that, she’s become one of the legendary models of Playboy history. They even made a statue.
I recently read a moderately interesting article from NPR about generation names, where they came from, and how they evolve. Towards the end, the author mentioned how the generation now referred to as Millennials were, for a long time, called Generation Y–a nod to my group, Generation X. The Gen Y name, according to the writer, was a placeholder utilized until the marketing people who drive these definitions felt that they had an adequate enough grasp of the overall group characteristics to slap a label on them.
Interesting, I thought, but what about my kids? There is no name for that generation, as yet, beyond “those damned kids and their loud, shitty music why can’t they stay out of my yard!” which isn’t, from a marketing or sociological standpoint, all that useful.
The leading term seems to be “iGen” in a nod to the technology which has been ubiquitous to these young people–the first generation to be born into the fully digital world. The “iGen” name also reflects the monstrous looming presence of the Apple Corporation, progenitor of much of the defining technology of the era.
The counter-argument, and it is a poignant one, is the appropriateness of naming a generation after dominant technology when so many of that generation are economically limited in access to much of that technology. I see the point, but I would argue that in the era we called “the space age” very few people actually got to go to space (some short-haired white guys, some dogs, and a few monkeys notwithstanding.)
It seems to me that within an age–or a generation–individuals are defined not just by their ownership or use of a defining element, but by their access–or lack of access–to the same. More precisely, in an age of the internet, a young person without access to the internet is equally effected, whether negatively or positively. Indeed, it could be argued that the negative relationship–or lack of relationship–is felt more profoundly than the positive, especially when their is a mainstream expectation that this access is universal.
My solution, of which I’m very proud, is to simply add a question mark to the favored “iGen” nomenclature. So, iGen becomes iGen? –at once recognizing the power of the definitive technology as well as the questions surrounding the equity of this definition amidst the social and economic inequity of access. Although the question remains: is it cynical, or just realistic, to name a generation after the individuals that the society of the time leaves behind? I wonder.
Please begin my historically significant Wikipedia page….here
My ardent followers and weary friends will certainly attest to my love of most things Christmas, not to mention my enthusiasm for Christmas-themed posts. It didn’t come out of nowhere–which is a fancy, literary way to say that it did come from somewhere, like just about everything.
To cut to the quick, I wasn’t the happiest kid. It takes an effort to find a picture of me smiling, but each year as the days turned dark and cold, my family’s humble holidays brought moments of magical respite from the rest of the year. It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better and in endeavoring to make it similarly special for my children I’ve found even greater joy and satisfaction as an adult–so right up front there’s a lesson for you: focus on making some other people happy and it’s likely you’ll get a little good back for yourelf….
Now, to be clear, when I say “Christmas” we are talking about an extended period which began before Thanksgiving and persisted through New Years to Epiphany–the last of those happy “Twelve Days of Christmas”–the very sort of Holiday over-reach that drives Christian extremists nutso. Not that I care what they think. For many of my generation, “Christmas” began with the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck & Company “Wish Book” and it’s myriad, fantastical possibilities–toys I had never imagined, let alone seen, and mostly likely never would, but of which I could marvel and dream. (all this and a ladies lingerie section, too–the Wishbook was the original internet). Within moments of it’s arrival, I had a ballpoint pen in my hand, circling anything interesting with reckless disregard for reality, or anyone else who might want to read those pages. I never seemed to notice that I would get none of it–the magic was in the dream, not the reality, which was never half as entrancing as the catalog imagery. I mean, all that crap broke by New Years Day, in any case.
The next great holiday milepost was our church’s annual “Hanging of The Greens” night–a massive covered-dish dinner, at which hundreds of people–mostly the older folks and families with young children–gathered and sat at long tables, partaking in the seemingly endless bounty of casseroles, gelatin-based salads, and chewy white rolls. After dinner, the men would go to the huge sanctuary and decorate the half dozen or more trees, the hundreds of poinsettias, wreaths, swags, bows–it was truly spell-binding, and it’s disappointing that I have been unable to locate a picture. While the men scaled ladders and hefted trees, the women cleaned up dinner (ha!) then adjourned, as did the children, to their various Sunday School classrooms to decorate them with craft decorations we had made ourselves. At the end of the evening, we’d all gather in the sanctuary for a small lesson, a few Christmas hymns, and a benediction. I invariably went home exhausted, but excited. Christmas was really on the way. It’s odd to me now, three decades after my scandalous, sin-tainted family–with the adulterous father, the cloying mother, and their no-good, unruly little boy– was quietly marginalized and driven from that church, to recall how warm and inviting those halls were, as familiar as–and far more comfortable and safe–than my own home.
We had had to get through Thanksgiving first, not that it was a chore for a kid–relatives magically appeared in my grandparent’s living room, food filled the tables as if conjured from some mystical autumnal netherworld. In a tough year I had to help set the table, though I was hardly trusted with the “good dishes” and crystal that, with the exception of three meals a year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) rested, inviolable, gathering dust in my grandmother’s corner cupboard. Looking back, I have to wonder if those glasses were really crystal–hell, I don’t even know what crystal is, compared to glass, and it’s not a luxury in which my particular circle indulges (we don’t even have “good dishes,” but a collection of mismatched plates and bowls, the unbroken remnants of several sets bought at thrift shops in Pittsburgh and Philomath, Oregeon–linked not by size or style, but by color–vaguely)–but it seemed remarkably classy to me. We used the “nice napkins,” and they weren’t folded, but rolled and gathered in soft cotton scrolls by napkin rings (napkin accessories? oh brave new world!).
And that wasn’t the half of it. The turkey was always huge–it cooked all day, while I huddled in the living room, a fire in the fireplace, watching Thanksgiving parades on television. I remember waking on Thanksgiving morning, my mother clattering around in the kitchen making some side dish or another to take to Mummum & Grandpa’s house, carols playing in the background, the TV turned on–and up loud–so she could “listen to the parade” while she worked. The Macy’s Parade: giant balloons. More magic. I’ve negotiated with my wife to allow the playing of Christmas carols beginning on Thanksgiving Day, because that’s when it feels right to start.
I’m not a turkey aficionado, but I do appreciate the scent of a good, roasting bird mingled with onions and a hint of celery. We ate late in the day, as the sun set, a typical lower middle class family wrapped in the warmth of convention, the illusion of luxury–my wise-ass great-uncle George up from his haunts as a beret-wearing, cigarette-smoking, genuine artist from old town Alexandria cracking jokes about our affected formality in the day, reaching over someone for a gravy boat and quipping, “now, this isn’t done in the best of families” and somehow seeming both polite and, in retrospect, just a little critical of the whole Norman Rockwell dog and pony show. Bemused, that’s the word I want. What I wouldn’t give for a chance to go back and soak up his benevolent raillery as a perceptive adult. There’s a lot more of him in me than a love of turtleneck sweaters and scotch on the rocks.
It wasn’t a holiday of originality–everything was rigidly conventional, as if pulled from the pages of a Thanksgiving manual: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole with mushroom soup and those odd canned, dried onions crusted on the top, cranberry “sauce” on one of those alleged crystal plates, direct from a can, sliced into magenta medallions, quivering modestly every time someone bumped the table. We had real butter–not margarine, or “oleo” as my grandfather called it–and, in later years, crescent rolls. Not actual croissants, but the factory-made homage; I know you know of what I speak: fat-laden white bread triangles delivered compressed into a cardboard tube that explodes into full-scale carbo-reality when one bangs it on the side of the kitchen counter–poof!–like freaking David Copperfield (the magician, not the Dickensian protagonist). Unroll the lump of dough onto a tray, separate into triangles–it’s perforated, thank the gods–and roll them into little whatever-shaped rolls. These were the epitome of classy, almost reckless holiday indulgence. Of course, a can of these puppies now goes for over $2.00, making them more expensive, ounce for ounce, than gourmet bread from the bakery, so maybe we were onto something.
I was a kid, and the oldest grandchild by seven years, so my earliest memories were of being the only child at a table full of adults, and like a good kid I kept my mouth shut and listened to the adults-though I really only recall that, with my mother and aunt both being nurses, the conversation inevitably turned to talk of medical procedures and the sloppier aspects of physiology. Yech. Each year around the holidays I see articles on how to remain pleasant in the company of one’s wild-eyed tea-bag conservative uncle, but I think I’d find a swaggering gun-luvin’ Toby Keith Republican preferable to an extended dialogue on the post-surgical complications following a bowel resection. Just keep that in mind when you’re courting: limit family trees to one or less medical professionals–or suffer the consequences in silence.
There was not midnight shopping. In fact, if one forgot to buy something there was one option–a shamefaced knock on the neighbor’s door, but of course this never happened, not at Thanksgiving. Folks planned accordingly–you did last minute shopping, filled the gas tank in the car, and maybe even got a prescription filled. We’re soft, now, and lazy with the expectation of convenience, when with a little planning and a little restraint we could allow everyone to enjoy their holidays. I’m not immune. This past year, visiting my sister, we realized that some items were missing from the pantry and my wife and I heroically volunteered toss aside our convictions and venture out to WalMart. Our cashier was an 86-year old great-grandmother who hadn’t just been assigned to work Thanksgiving morning, she’d been split-shifted, scheduled to work 6-11 in the morning and 6-11 that evening, and then 6-3 the next morning. What kind of bastards do that to an employee??
We did shop on Black Friday, though I’d never heard that term until sometime in the past decade. For us, residents of a sleepy town in the Alleghenies, it was not about the deals and sales but about variety. It was a time when Main Streets were starting to die, but Malls were still a largely urban and suburban phenomena–like Chinese food. Every year (and it seems like it was forever even though I’m actually talking about a string of maybe 7 or 8 years) we would rise early, drive south to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and pick up my Aunt Jean and her best friend Nell. Uncle Ernie, and Nell mysterious, never-seen husband never attended. We would then drive an hour west to Monroeville, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb with the largest mall in the region.
It was amazing. The stores were arranged on two levels–if you can believe it–a first AND a second floor, with a large ice skating rink in the center, three large department stores (Kaufman’s, Gimbel’s, and Horne’s), and all manner of small, interesting specialty shops–including an entire store dedicated to just toys. All toys, all the time! And a store full of music–National Record Mart!–a store full of organs. Organs! Some guy sat on a bench at the front of the store and played all damned day–Christmas carols with the automatic bosa nova beat. Wow. All that, and Monroeville Mall was famous, too: ever see the classic zombie movie “Dawn of The Dead”? The one with all the Zombies at the mall? Yup.
I was promptly set loose–and I was rich. My birthday was earlier in November, and I would be flush with gift cash–twenty, sometimes even thirty dollars of it, and that’s in 1970s money. Aunt Jean always slipped me a few extra bucks, and other adults would hand me fives and tens to buy presents for each other. Grandmother: buy something for your mom. Mom: buy something for your sister and your dad. Dad: I’m gonna beat you with a stick if you look at me again. Etc. I had all the Mall to prowl, as long as I met up with the family for lunch at the Horne’s (?) That’s right. It was a store. With a restaurant inside. And they had the best damned grilled cheese sandwiches. Magnificent grilled cheese sandwiches, and they weren’t all smooshed down into a chewy mess like mom’s. These were crispy, yet tender, golden hued, and was it just me or did the “Behold, I bring tidings of great joy…” Angels hover around the plate when the waitress tossed it onto the table. Sandwiches of great joy. That’s right.
The independence was the thing–just me, a digital wristwatch, and a time and place to meet. I wandered around, enjoying the decorations, the carols, the displays of cheesy mechanical elf figures sawing the same pieces of wood, painting the same toy trains, wrapping the same presents hour after hour, week after week, year after year. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle–all those people, all those packages, all crammed together. The shopping rarely took more than an hour–what kind of 10 year old puts that much thought into presents? The rest of the day I just wandered, taking it all in, reveling. There was just nothing like it at home–no huge crowds, no robot elves, and certainly no wander all day freedom. I was hooked on the novelty of it as well as the excitement.
Each year, on the way home, we would eat at a restaurant called The Corners in New Alexandria, PA–I think it’s a bank now, and if there was anything special about it, I couldn’t tell you what it was–except that we ate there every year because it was out of the suburbs and a little less than half the way home. I don’t remember actually eating there (probably a grilled cheese sandwich), or if it was really great or just average, though I’m guessing the latter–my recollection is that it was one of those half-step up from a diner deals that were pervasive before the rise of the corporate “improvement” on the model–Denny’s, and that lot, but I remember that we were always hungry, the food was always great, everyone (even my eternally angry father) was always happy, and it was the second time in a day that we ate in a restaurant. We didn’t even do that on vacation! It didn’t hurt that Aunt Jean was a wonderful, intelligent, warm and loving presence–actually my dad’s aunt, she was like an extra grandmother (right down to the socks and underwear she gave me each year for Christmas). I was happy simply to be around her, which–after a chocolate sundae–didn’t stop me from falling asleep on the way home.
Strong, slight sundressed girl, all sinew, all arms and legs,
steps from the den of cool last night, sweat and woodsmoke,
dawnlit, shoeless, wincing into sub-alpine August;
She squints, fidgits, runs fingers through thick twists,
tangles of gold from straw and
squares rope over bone shoulders towards the east.
She is twenty-three years old, a woman rubbing sleep from her eyes,
calming morning medusa-strands with a plain ragged ribbon.
She wears freckles, no paint:
No hips to speak of, can’t do without a belt;
a thumb to forefinger encircles her wrist,
you can read her collarbone from a mile off.
Yet those shoulders lugged sixty pounds,
twig figure legs, quick on the slopes,
laughed at switchbacks, through scratching, fragrant sagebrush,
gold splash mules ears, lodgepole, aspen,
and rock to get up here.
She can work
the red handled pump
with one slim arm,
strength is all angles.
she bends to caress blue columbine,
straightens, shuffles, wrinkles toes in dirt and pebbles.
bats an eyelash, strikes a blue tip on the door jamb,
sweeping arc to spark to flame,
a hand cuppped against the breeze,
lights her cigarette.
Still a work in progress, I did about 17 drafts of this back in the day, with at least one more to come. Probably many more.
I love to tell stories with words and images, often with a darkly magical twist. While speculative fiction & dissecting pop culture are my primary passions, I also work with clients & brands by assisting with content creation, editing, marketing & design.