Meet the Beatles
May 26th, 2012 by alexfaye


My first love outside of the tight ring of family was Ringo Starr.

In 1964, I went to first grade at Saint Michael’s Academy, dressed daily in a grey jumper with white blouse, a white undershirt (my Navy dad, out on destroyers for half the year, called them “skivy shirts”), with black and white saddle oxfords on my feet, and clean white socks. My mother held my hand as we walked to school together, and I remember her quick kiss at the gate before she ran back up the hill to catch the bus, headed downtown to her job in a commercial laundry.

So it wasn’t the parish priest, Father Frederick, or my beloved teacher, Mother Conception, or my parents who brought Ringo Starr to my attention.  It was my sister, Vicki, 19 and just graduated from Cathedral High School.  Vicki wore mascara and a bra; Vicki had a boyfriend.  She talked on the phone for hours with her best friend Gloria, and together they played guitar and sang songs by the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez.  It was Vicki who brought the aptly titled LP home:  Meet the Beatles.

The cover art featured stark black and white photography of John, George, Paul and Ringo, dressed in black turtlenecks and with identical mop top haircuts.  They are each lit so that half of their face remains in shadow. My handsome father sneered at their appearance, mocking their long hair and doleful faces.  And the music — it was incomprehensible, silly.  A few months earlier, President Kennedy had been shot right out of his Dallas motorcade.  My father did not approve, and my mother never, ever broke ranks.

It slowly began to dawn on my blooming first-grade mind that liking the Beatles was going to separate me from them, my beloved parents, who knew everything and who ran the world.  To like the Beatles (when they did not) was a small, rebellious act for a Catholic girl in the first grade — a girl just learning to read, learning to add and subtract.  Add the Beatles; subtract my parents.  A tiny equation, secretive, and a little dangerous.  I tried it, and nothing happened.  They didn’t even seem to know that the Beatles were mine, and not theirs.

It was clear, even then, that Paul was the pretty one, and Ringo, not even in line with the others, but positioned below, by himself, was the one with the saddest eyes, and a big and irregular nose — my father had a big nose, too — so it seemed to me that he was not going to be adored, like the others, who sang and played guitars.  On stage too, he was behind the others, alone, keeping the beat.  I don’t remember deciding to love him.  It was more like I had to love him, because if I didn’t, who would? I lit a torch for Ringo Starr and carried it quietly, hot inside my heart.

The Beatles broke up in 1970; I was in junior high.  Love for the now-defunct band matured and ripened through high school, and I plastered my walls with images from their short career, in various incarnations: a painting of the four as members of an ancient British court; the boys joyously leaping in the air in their promo shot for “Help!”; Sergeant Pepper (the band clad in elaborately decorated, neon-colored military jackets with fat brass buttons); the pen and ink artwork from Revolver; the puzzle of the Abbey Road cover (the theory that Paul was dead allegedly confirmed there in the symbolism of that photo); the four glossy head shots from the White Album; the Beatles as desperados from the single release of “Get Back;” and finally, a shot from that final, heartbreaking rooftop concert, Let It Be.  The images surrounded me, entered me somehow as I listened to the albums again and again, and although I’ve been smitten hundreds of times since then, the boys are still there, 48 years since Meet the Beatles, embedded in my psyche, the soundtrack of youth, first rebellion and first love.

Going the Distance
May 19th, 2012 by alexfaye

Rode my bike to school again today — it’s 17.6 miles, round trip — and experienced the same thing I did the other day, my first day: disbelief. At the beginning of the ride, the whole idea seems preposterous, and I start thinking of bail out options, just in case.

The trip can be broken down into chunks; each little leg of the trip is its own small journey. And as I ride, through the neighborhood, and then across big busy Katella, back behind Maddy’s old middle school, over the little footbridge behind the big athletic fields behind Oak, with the 605 freeway just beyond, then south to the beach, over a suspension bridge that dumps me onto the San Gabriel River Bike Path, and then up that long path to South Street, I have nothing but time to think and listen to whatever is burbling up within me. My mind begins to bore me, that yakkity yak Lucy Ricardo stuff, and I want to be at my destination – but at this point, I still have a long way to go. So I have to break into another mind, or go bonkers, watching the tiny hamster run the hamster wheel.

I see that persistence and patience are key. That the end gets here faster than we expect. Alex, the end gets here faster than we expect. Are you getting this down? The end. Gets here. Faster.

The first place I come to that means I am really out of the neighborhood is El Dorado Park. This used to feel like a big fucking deal, but it’s so easy now that I don’t even think it’s all that noteworthy. I drive by it with aplomb. And sure enough, I see people down on the sidewalk with their bikes, sort of cruising along, and little kids wobbling on training wheels, and double-seater strollers with some beleagured mom or dad pushing it along, sometimes walking, sometimes running, sometimes the kids asleep, and sometimes, no kids at all in the stroller. What is that about? That reminds me of Wenzel, pushing the stroller at the AIDS Walk in Hollywood back in 1989, while I walked beside him, carrying Her Highness Miss Madeline the Baby Who Prefers to Go Everywhere Carried by Her Mother, and Wenzel said, “Pushing this empty stoller feels like I’m making a political statement.”

The next part, El Dorado Park, Part 2: I pass by this part of the park with a little sense of longing. I like riding around in there because it is still mysterious to me in many ways, and I remember this is where I got my very first impression of Long Beach, driving up from San Diego to meet my parents who were at a picnic hosted by my dad’s new job at Terminal Island, and my dad got drunk and my mom got mad because my dad appeared to be flirting with some cheesy Filipino woman who was actually throwing her legs around, and gee whiz, it was just like being in high school again, feeling trapped with two drunk people and all kinds of sublimated violence and emotion, and a slight subtext of sexual infidelity. Yay! This is where I meet my friend Erich. He enters the bike path at Wardlow, which is called Ball Road in Cypress, where he lives. I am SO glad I don’t live on Ball Road. I don’t want to live on any street that makes me think of testicles: Ball Road, Nutwood, Gonad Way, Wrinkly Sack Street. This part of the park is still surprising to me, and every Mexican picnic seems to have its own little cadre of Mariachis. And I once confronted an entire pack of geese and ducks that looked like they should have had been wearing little leather jackets, with switchblade knives tucked inside their boots. Except they weren’t wearing boots, but you know what I mean. They stood in the road and stared me down, like Greasers.

The next big street to pass is Carson, and you know you’re there because there’s the big goddamn WalMart, and what is there to say about that, except you can get stuff there very cheap, but I feel it’s necessary to don a simple disguise before entering, lest anyone recognize me, and then upon returning home with sacks of cheap goods, sit down and write a check to some nonprofit working with the indigent. Today as I passed by, I heard something like gunfire. I glanced down at my watch, 10:05, and said to myself, check the internet later, because somebody is getting gunned down there in the Walmart parking lot.

This is what happens when I pass the equestrian center. To get up over that hump beyond Carson Street, I have to climb a brief but steep hill, so I have to ramp it up, stand up in the pedals, so when I hit the top, I am breathing hard, but I’m immediately confronted by the problem of horse shit. And I think of this fact: the little molecules that I am breathing that are giving me the message, “horse shit,” were recently up in some horse’s ass. And I don’t like that idea, so I try to hold my breath, but I’m already out of breath because of that dang little hill, and obviously I have to breathe, so I breathe shallowly and pedal faster, to get beyond the equestrian center faster, and as I start to get dizzy, I think, gosh, this reminds me a lot of teaching.

The Del Amo tunnel comes next, and the whole idea of going down into a tunnel at a pretty good clip without being to see what is INSIDE the tunnel first makes me nervous. Are you thinking “Freud”? Well, stop.

OK I hit my word count, so it’s time to get in the shower, and get to the bar where all of my friends are. Hurry up! It’s past 9 already. And I’m at 997 words, come on! Who needs that many words? Three more: 1000!

Life is unfair; man up
May 1st, 2012 by alexfaye

My friend recently reported that he received this terse bit of advice from a friend he admires and respects, which got me to thinking about passivity and cynicism (and the phrase “man up,” which means what, exactly?)

I cannot deny that there is a certain truth in this line of reasoning.  The people we deal with every day rarely behave in ways that we’d like them to; we acknowledge that there is a weird justice embedded in the purely random way that the world will just slap a pretty face, at any moment, for no reason.  Nice people get cancer;  idiots win elections; dedicated teachers get t-boned in intersections; criminals live in spacious beachfront homes; young college students are robbed and shot dead while sitting in their cars; beautiful babies fall asleep every night, hungry and alone.  Damn, don’t tell me that life is unfair.

These examples are extreme, I know, but they are honest, demonstrably so.

My personal injustices might not be so big, yet telling me that life is unfair/deal with it, is equivalent to telling me to shut up,  that I have no power to change my circumstances — the grip that injustice has on my life is real.  Beyond personal injustices, I share in the larger ones if I just observe them and do nothing, apply the “life is unfair” dictum, and so accept them as our lot in life.

And telling me to “man up” is to suggest, in some perverse way, that acceptance of this bitter truth is mature? masculine? It certainly elevates “masculinity” above all else, implying that to talk about injustice, however small you perceive it to be, is somehow weak, whiny, or “feminine,” perhaps?  Counselor, I must object.

I do not understand why this line of thinking is not more transparent than it is, why strong minds do not see the oppression packed in this small phrase.

On the other hand: I get the futility of enumerating the opportunities and the breaks that we did not get, or perhaps lamenting the fact that we are just not good looking enough — and not rich enough, not intelligent enough, and not lucky enough either.  Boring.

THIS IS WATER.  It is easy to fall into a pattern of criticizing the world — and taking the time to bitch about it when it’s merely your turn just spreads misery around.  It’s like the “I’m so busy” game.  You complain about your to-do list, and suddenly two or three friends are standing in a circle, commiserating, trying to outdo each other with tales of how tall their stacks are, how little sleep they are getting, and so on.  When I find myself in those moments — well, first, I secretly think that no matter what anybody else says, my stack is probably bigger, and second, although those conversations may be relief for some, they make we feel worse.

Did I just write myself around in a circle?  Am I suddenly seeing the wisdom in “shut up”?  Maybe. “Life is unfair — deal with it” is a way of acknowledging that this narrative is not the only narrative — quit complaining, take a breath, and share the world with the other folks who occupy this scintilla of history with you.  For god’s sake, shut up.

(But I still won’t say “man up.”  I just cannot.)



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