Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Get Over Myself, Part Two: H-M

Same caveats as the last: it's long, and it's all mememememe . . .

H - Heartbroken: Four times, maybe five. In what I suppose is a pattern for me, I blame myself. I always blame myself. If I'm the one getting hurt, then I should have known better, I should have seen the signs, I should have realized we were incompatible. If I'm the one hurting someone else, then I should have known better, I should have put a stop to it in the beginning, I should have realized we were incompatible. Damned Catholicism and its martyr complex! It would be comforting to put the blame on someone else once in a while.

I - Instruments: It started with Tuba. For some reason, when my brother and sister started taking piano lessons, I resisted. I think I had read something about a kid who hated piano lessons, so I decided they were no good. Nowadays I wish I had just gone and done it. I think my fingers would be suited for it--they are long and thin and fidgety. Anyway, it wasn't until 4th Grade that I started with the Tuba. Our music program at the elementary level wasn't much. Basically the teacher traveled around to all the elementary schools and gave us each one hour-long private lesson per week. I liked having a big instrument. (Oh, you dirty-minded people, you. I was ten!) Later on I played in the high school marching band and carried a gigantic fiberglass sousaphone on my shoulders. We used to march to a chop-step, which basically means that you drive the balls of your shoe into the pavement with each step; this means that when you're marching en masse the band sounds like an army even if no one's playing. It also helps you march with more precision, straight ranks and files and all that. You lose a tenth of a point for every person out of line, and we were a very competitive band--we won more than 90% of the parades we marched in. (Yes, many parades have competitions like this.) In high school I also started taking guitar lessons, and when the jazz ensemble needed a bass player our band teacher Mr. Statz (long may he reign) asked me if I could learn the bass guitar. So I took a crash course; it was a good halfway point between the principles of playing guitar and the range of the tuba. Jazz ensemble was great fun. I took great satisfaction out of playing the walking bass line to "Sweet Georgia Brown" flawlessly at least once. Nowadays my musicianship is pretty rusty, though I recently bought an acoustic guitar and am trying to re-learn everything I've forgotten. It's slow going.

J - Juggling: I never learned. I had--still have, actually--a trio of penguin beanbags known as the Flying Penguini. They came with instructions on how to juggle. There are diagrams. I can do just about one cycle of tossing and catching all three before it all goes to pieces. My arms start to flail and the Penguini take flight for their ancestral homeland in the Falklands. In other words, the whole venture goes south. I also never learned to use nunchaku or butterfly knives. I really think this is for the best.

K - Kin: Immediate family includes father John, 67, retired civil servant; currently keeps busy as an usher at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, and 12 days a year as a ticket-seller at the Minnesota State Fair. Mother Elaine, 58, teacher's aide in District 197's program for mentally and emotionally challenged kids. Sister Gretchen, 33, recently moved to California where she works for a mortgage company. Brother Stephen, 31, lives in St. Paul and works at the Golden Valley Humane Society. Sister Mary, 30, also lives in St. Paul and does placement for a temping company. Sometimes we are close, and sometimes not. I call my folks once a week or so, but I don't see them that often. My siblings and I are all very different people, with very different interests. We don't always relate or agree. I talk to Mary most often of the three, as she is found of calling me up to tell me unimportant things. She is aware they are unimportant; that's part of the shtick. "Dave," she'll say. "Eddie's mad." Eddie is my parents' six-year-old beagle. "What's he mad about?" I'll ask. "Because Mom and Dad are mean to him." "How are they mean to him?" "They won't let me take him home with me." This is Mary's constant refrain, that Eddie loves her best and should be allowed to live with her, but only when she feels like taking care of him. Also, sometimes she calls me up to tell her that Mom has hung up on her. Considering that Mary calls Mom at least five times a day and often ends up yelling at her over some trivial thing or another, this is not surprising. My brother Steve hangs up on Mary just for fun. "Mare, listen." Click. Steve's not a phone guy. Mary would probably die after 24 hours without phone access--not that she would develop a physical illness, but the people around her would kill her. Steve is, in contrast, quiet and bitingly sarcastic. He sleeps on the couch in my parents' house, not because he can't get his own place, but because he likes to be there with the dogs and he sleeps with the TV on all night. He has his own dog, Gracie, a Golden Retriever about three years old. He's also been doing a lot of woodworking lately, helping my parents renovate their 130-year-old house. He's building chairs and tables and rails and who knows what else. Gretchen lives in California with her fiance. She and I famously feuded for a long time; a few years ago it became clear that there was no reason to feud anymore, but in the meantime we had drifted so far apart that we have very little to talk about. Our priorities are different. It amazes me sometimes that my parents brought up such different kids. It also amazes me how much they've mellowed--when we were younger they seemed so strict, and now they are completely laid back. We tease them all the time. Mary calls them Smelly Ellie and Regular John. Smelly Ellie just to bug my mom, and Regular John because my dad is kind of a regular guy. Back in the day my dad and I had some horrible fights, but we get along well now. They're very supportive of all my choices, although there have been times (like with the dropping out of school twice) that they weren't as much. I love them dearly.

L - Libraries: I remember the library as a kid; reading Encyclopedia Brown, the Bobbsey Twins, Danny Dunn, John Christopher's books, everything I could find. There was a cozy little section for kids where I liked to hang out until the rest of the family had made their picks. Later, though, when I was not a boy, not yet a man (I stole that line from Britney), I felt set adrift in the larger adult confines of the library. There was stuff for me on those shelves, but it was mixed in with a lot of other things that I wasn't interested in. At some point I started making my own money, and I stopped going to the library, as it clearly wasn't for me at that age. I know for a fact that this is the age at which many of my peers, particularly the boys, stopped reading. This is one thing I'd like to do when I am a fully formed librarian man--give teens their own space within the library, with books and other media that fits their needs, where they will feel welcome and not just under surveillance. A space for them to socialize and do homework and participate in amazingly fun activities coordinated by yours truly. (Yeah, that last part's going to be the hardest.) Likely it's not going to be easy; whereas nearly 100% of libraries have a children's section, less than a quarter have dedicated space and staff for young adults. But I think it's worth doing, so I'm gonna.

M - Madison: I lived in Mad-town for almost nearly exactly ten years, from 1989 to 1999. At first I found it completely intimidating. I was a kid from the suburbs where nothing was within walking distance, and I always let my friends drive when we went somewhere because I was easily distracted and didn't know where anything was. (I'm still really bad at street names and directions, although in Chicago it's OK because everything is laid out so neatly in a grid. In general, though, I navigate much better by landmarks than by streets.) On foot, Madison seemed huge to me. I was constantly getting turned around, and probably should have gotten the campus map tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. Gradually I got to know the central campus, and State Street, and the student slums around West Mifflin; I also learned to drink, something I had done essentially not at all during high school. You could say it was a crash course. Sadly, the learning curve at school was not so favorable; I was a good student in high school, but I didn't know why I was in college. I had no goals, except that I thought I wanted to write something. I thought probably I should try learning computer programming, but not knowing what I was doing I blundered into a Pascal course and was utterly defeated by an assignment to write a program which would calculate bowling scores. Worse, because I was so uninterested in school I developed a paralyzing crush on a girl in my dorm, and proceeded to make a fool of myself on a regular basis. It became pretty clear that I wasn't accomplishing anything, so midway through my second semester I withdrew and went back home to work for the spring and summer. I returned to Madison and school in the fall, moved into an apartment with some dorm buddies, got a job at the Rathskeller in the Memorial Union. We called our apartment the Mifflin Street Animal Shelter and did the usual stuff--launching stuff from a giant slingshot left behind by the previous inhabitants, fighting over the shower and the dishes, blowing bubbles from our deck down over the Mifflin Street Block Party. I lasted another year and a half at school before I lost interest again and ended up on academic probation. I was still living with the Animal Shelter guys, but I was hanging out with a bunch of screwballs who lived together in what they called ReHo--short for Remedial House, since pretty much everyone who lived there had been on probation or actually been kicked out at least once. The apartment moved from year to year (part of the annual August 14-15 ritual student move, days when unwanted furniture lines the streets and there's not a rental truck or trailer to be had within forty miles of Madison), and the inhabitants changed, but there was a consistent attitude to it, one of nearly universal derision for everyone and everything. There was a lot of piss-taking, in the sense of giving each other tons of shit; sometimes it got a little tough to take, as I was probably the most thin-skinned of the group. But it was a lot of fun, too--I remember almost missing a shift at work because I got so absorbed in my first Bruce Lee movie, and I remember playing lots of Nintendo and Sega, and I remember parties where acts of terrible debauchery were committed. All this time I worked at the Rathskeller, mornings and afternoons and nights, sometimes all in one day (eighteen hour shifts were not unheard of in the summers, since everyone wanted to drink on the Terrace and we were always understaffed). There was lots o' beer, too, and buying comics, and I started writing during this time. Friends graduated, and little feuds erupted, and I moved from downtown out to Middleton and bussed all the way to Oscar Mayer to do temp work. I cleaned offices for a little while. I went back to the Rath and spent a whole summer running the Bratstand in the mornings, and I can cook a bratwurst better than you. Eventually I moved back into Madison and decided to go back to school and get the piece of paper. I had relationships during this time, too, but nothing lasting, and I still didn't know what I was doing. In 1996, the summer after I went back to school, I left Madison for six weeks to go to Odyssey, and that changed things. I got the degree and I worked but I spent most of my time writing. I hated the jobs I had, though--tech support, temp office work--and I wasn't making enough money to keep up with my student loan payments. So in 1999 I asked my folks if they'd let me move back in with them for a little while. It was a tough decision to make, but most of my friends had left Madison by that time. I was lonely and frustrated and ready for a change. Nowadays, I think about moving back.

Coming soon: Norway! Something that starts with Q! More me!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think just about everyone who is made to take piano lessons as a kid grows up pissed about it, and everyone who isn't wishes they knew how to play.

My dad's library has a YA-specific space. It's on the second floor with the adult collection (in the corner by sf/f, even) instead of first floor with the children's room. And I've never seen it crowded, really...but as often as not there's one or two kids hanging out, or a group of them using one of the closest reading/study rooms.

Um. No point to this, actually. But it is, I think, a really nice thing to have, if your library has the space and the funds.

- H

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am looking for a new set of penguinis, and the company that made them no longer exsist. Could I talk you out of them? I'll trade you. I don't know for what. No really, though, I really need some new flying penguini. PLEEZE!!!

7:57 PM  

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