I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
It was my paternal grandmother’s job, really. She was the ladies’ locker room attendant in the summer and checked coats in the winter. Marginal though the jobs themselves were, they served their purpose. A symbiosis had arisen between my grandma and the ladies-who-lunch. They would give her bags and bags of their discarded clothes and other goods, which she would sort and dole out to her family back in the home country.
She never lost this instinct. Even though we were driving up from Maryland and not flying in from Jamaica, she would greet us by sizing us up and directing us to the appropriate closet. Low-rent though it was, long before the advent of "Black Friday," Thanksgiving for me was always a “shopping” day.
Racks and mounds of clothes weren’t the only luxuries introduced to us by the real housewives of New Jersey. I can’t think how long I walked around looking like nobody loved me at home before grandma introduced the concept of crème rinse. If my parents were just this side of hippie, my grandma’s house was decadence.
While I admit my tastes were always eclectic – they astounded (dismayed?) my grandma. There was the incident of the faux-wool-lined boots (my idea, and the last time we went shopping together); and the incident(s) of the more supportive undergarment (her idea, quite often, and quite insistently). The bewilderment grew as my tastes departed farther and farther from those of the princesses and discothèque denizens of Morristown.
Ah, but I only wore the hand-me-downs when I was at grandma’s. My old pedestrian cotton blends and jean skirts stayed folded in my luggage. Being in New Jersey was like taking a vacation from all that. I was in her world now. I went to the “spa lady” gym and did steam room while she put herself through some torturous conveyor belt contraption.
Thence to the club, where we made the rounds of her friends on the staff, and she deposited me in the coat-check room. She had coconuts to milk and goat to curry. I would enjoy the fruits of her labor the next day.
There were few rules. Special coat hangers for the furs. Don’t read the smutty novels (Try and stop me). It was easy work and I got a cut of the tips, which was more money than I knew what to do with. But the main thing was I got to be serious. There, wearing fashions that Muffy probably wore to that same event a year or two prior, albeit a little musty and smelling like Uncle Arthur’s cigarettes, I felt very keenly the responsibility to “represent.” Grandma, and my father, if they remembered him from caddying.
I wanted them to see that I was smart, that I knew how to act. I wanted, by performing a duty to her, to convey that she was the sort of person to whom people owed duties, that in her own context she was a matriarch. Plus, it was fun to watch their expressions change when they discovered the white girl was Vi’s grand-daughter.
I draw on these memories when people are talking about commercialism encroaching on Thanksgiving. For me, it always has, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Thanksgiving was the one time a year when I got to stand in Vanity Fair, wearing their clothes, guarding their furs, and think about who I am, who my people are, and who I want to be (and nick their chocolate mints).
Thursday, July 08, 2010
So I've discovered this bike park called the X court, where bikes and scooters and skateboards mix comfortably in a concrete wonderland built expressly for that purpose.
I try to be catcher in the rye in places like this. I don't really want to be a presence, just be there in case he needs spotting. Occasionally there will be some other boys my son's age. Their dads will be trying to coach them. This is not about you, dads. You need to step.
At eight, Jones is definitely one of the newbies and might be considered sort of a pesky little brother, but the guys are good-natured, give him his space, offer condescending but constructive criticism. "Don't do it, little kid," they mutter to each other as they see him teetering on the perilously steep edge of the bowl. They let him flounder around in there for a while before they override his insistence that he's got this and yank him out.
My reaction to them is, of course, much more about me than about them. I ache with ambition for them, as the mother of a boy, but also as a former girl (grrrl?). I vividly remember eyeing up the adolescent boys in my trip and pondering what it would mean to throw my lot in with any of those unlikely characters.
I think about these guys, growing up in the wake of The Atlantic's declaration of "The End of Men," and wonder, seriously, how are boys doing? Their nihilism, their entitlement, their compulsive homo-baiting can send me into fits. Yet I cannot help but find them endearing, how they preen, how they risk life and limb trying to outdo each other, how disputes are settled with a "my bad" and concern is invoked with a "You good?"
I can't make out any factions, although I am constantly having to re-set my calibrations for how much body art and piercing signifies youthful high spirits versus actual malice. They all seem to be variations on the same scrawny, scruff-dog in skinny jeans; what ethnicity there might be obscured by spiked hair and the occasional protective helmet. The thing with the pants belted below the butt and the boxers in full display persists, even where you would think it would get in the way of the athleticism (an impressive level of commitment, in case you were hoping that trend was dying out). There is not one girl in the park itself, although there is a loyal triad of studiously indifferent girls at the picnic tables in the shade.
So this one kid hands me a leaflet. Calls me ma'am. It reads, in its entirety, as follows: "July 17th. Protesting. If you guys want to go to the protest be at the 51 st union hills skate park at 11:30AM and it will start at 12:00. Why are we protesting is because we are sick of us getting kicked out or getting billed for a lot of money. So what we are going to do is protest and get this law throw. If this goes throw then we have a bike park." Do you love that?
I guess the story is that there is another park, the Sk8 court, and bicycles are banned from this park. If you are there with a bike, apparently the rangers will fine you. The glaring injustice of this is clear to any kid who has "been to the mountaintop" and seen bicycles, scooters, and boards co-existing. So they have collectively decided, clearly without benefit of parental direction or spell-check, to take it to the streets. Well, good for them.
I don't know nearly enough about these parks to have an opinion on the issue at hand, but I will say this. I hope the powers-that-be recognize what they have in this ad hoc community of earnest slackers. They are like Prince Harry in Henry IV -- the first act, when he's just hanging out in the tavern with Falstaff. If you squint really hard you can almost see the king, the leader of men, that he will become. He's in there (He needs a haircut and a belt, but he's in there). It may very well be that these guy spaces, these places of cushioned danger and sanctioned subversion, these last bastions of guy culture may be what it takes to bring that out.
Obviously I think so, because you'll see me there at the x-court, dutifully outfitting my prince in helmet and pads and hiding behind a magazine as he makes his first cringe-worthy attempts at tricks and trash-talk. "The kids are alright," my former punk rock self reminds me. And yeah. They really are.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Deadlines were very dramatic in those days, children. There was none of this clicking and sending. Oh there were squealing tires and home-run slides into the classroom. Students would arrange their schedules to avoid the teacher who required footnotes, rather than endnotes.
When I got to college. True story. I had to quick find a boyfriend who could type so that he could format my humble offerings, hand-written on loose-leaf. He was small, trim, furry, and bestowed with the magic of logging onto our school’s internal vax system. For shame, I would wake this poor hobbit up from slumber if I had a deadline.
Years later, when conducting my first job hunt, I had a similar relationship with a guy who worked at Kinko’s. He road a motorcycle and looked like Kiefer Sutherland. But the thing that got me was his way with bullet points.
I am not, what you’d call an early adopter. I was wooed by a man with good penmanship and a mastery of the mix tape. When we married in 1995 was the first time I owned a CD player. My beloved’s i-pod, which trickled down to me when he upgraded, and which he lovingly pre-loaded with prog rock and dreamy girls just for me, sits idle in my glove compartment. And don’t get me started on the proliferation of remote controls.
So, as the curtain closes on the first decade of the century in which I have never felt at home, I contemplate the custom of the Christmas letter. Is there any utility to wrapping up the year’s news in one self-aggrandizing epistle, when it won’t be news to anyone who follows my blog or stalks my FB? Is it ecologically sound to send so much mail? And who should have the honor of receiving it, now that the line between friend and “friend” has become so blurry.
What do you think? If I wrote one, would you want a copy?