12 August 2005

The Luckiest People In The World

"You can never change your life until you change something you do daily." - John Maxwell

Indeed you cannot.

I have been thinking all week about how to make my life more Camp Mather-like. What was it that felt so...so healthy about it? Why did I have so much energy? Was it the fresh air? Was it the peace of knowing my kid was doing something healthy, like riding his bike and cavorting in the pool, rather than lying on the couch worshipping magic cards, eating Zours or Squints or Squirms and not using kleenex?

Was it that someone else was cooking the food? Was it the beautiful lake? Was it the peace of mind generated by an unlimited quantity of easy-to-access roughage?

Indeed it was not.

It was the people. Yes, the people. The community. I am just one of these people that gets energy from other people. And according to Barbra Streisand, I'm one of the Luckiest People in the World.

Now, that last bit may have been true in Brooklyn in 1963, but is it still true in 2005? In Northern California? Let's take a closer look.

When I was a kid growing up in Darkest Queens (which is almost Brooklyn, but not), other families used to go on, oh I dunno, picnics for entertainment, or something. We went to Idylwild International Airport to watch the Italians greet each other at the terminal. We'd sit there, my dad would get a coke out of a machine that would sometimes run out of cups and just knock out some ice cubes and piss coke into a plastic tray, and my mother and sister and I would park ourselves on a bench and eat Belgian Waffles and watch old Sicilian widows see their American grandchildren for the first time. It was...moving. While other families were racking up impressive shuffleboard scores and working on their tans, we were sitting on a concrete at Jones Beach's mutant "boardwalk," our transluscent shoulders covered with pastel cardigans, "people watching."

I had no idea this was weird, but over the past few years I have raised an eyebrow at some cues. Here are two that immediately come to mind:

1. A conversation with my Polish-from-Chicago-coder-geek-saxplayer-ex-boyfriend, G, who happens to be getting married next weekend not that I give a shit, that went something like this:

Setting: On the way to The Friedlich's Fourth of July BBQ (in the Sunset District, for all you Bay Areans) with G, who was attending this annual event for the first time, and my son, let's call him, say, Liam.

V: What's that?
G: It's a frisbee.
V: What's it for?
G: It's for throwing around in the backyard.
V: Oh we don't need that.
G: What are we going to do for 7 hours?
V: We're going to Visit.
G: We're going to Visit? Sheesh, that sounds really boring.
V: What do you mean "boring?" There'll be about 20 of my old friends there! And the kids just run around. It's not boring.
G: It sounds boring, like when I used to have to visit my aunt in Downtown Chicago. We'd better bring a frisbee.
V: This is not your aunt's! It's nothing like your aunt's! It's not THAT kind of visiting. It's Fun visiting. We talk! We joke! We tell stories!
G: (frowning) I've never had fun visiting.
V: It's what we do. Everyone is really smart and funny and we all know how to cook so the food is great. We're going to have witty repartee, the children will frolic, and we'll all eat like pigs. At about 4 PM everyone will start freezing, and we'll start putting on sweaters and pulling on socks and legwarmers, and wrapping ourselves up in woolen blankets and the hides of sheep, and one by one we'll move inside for coffee and tea and Sally's yummy home made pie, and complain about how we live in the coldest spot in the Northern Hemisphere. Then we'll drive home at dusk, and stop briefly to try to watch the fireworks up on Clipper Street — but we won't be able to see them through the fog. Then we'll go home. A frisbee is not necessary.
G: I'm bringing the frisbee.

2. Another conversation with G, my Polish-from-Chicago-coder-geek-sax-player-ex-boyfriend who, as you know, happens to be getting married next weekend, not that I give a shit:

Setting: Afternoon, Harbin Hot Springs (hip spa in Northern California with various hot tubs at various sizes and temperatures where everyone is naked).

V: Wow, floating in pools of various sizes and temperatures for two days was really relaxing, but I'm feeling a bit pruney, and I can't take any more of these Watsu sharks*. Whaddaya wanna do now?
G: Oh, I was considering an orthobionomic massage, or maybe trying that 2-hour-long Bikram Yoga** class.
V: Well, have fun. I think I'm going to lie on a towel on this big deck and watch the naked bodies go by, and eavesdrop on what naked people say to one another. I'm bringing my sketchpad so I can look busy.

Come to think of it, these may not be the greatest examples, because there's a wee chance maybe it was my ex-boyfriend that was weird and not me. But I'll go into that another time. Did I mention he was getting married next weekend? I have no problem with that.

It seems normal for me to be surrounded by civilization. Even naked civilization. But in the city where I reside, it's so civilized it's all going on behind closed doors and in back yards. And if I want my kid to roam around, 'cause he's a wanderer, yeah-eah a wanderer, tough luck: the streets are too steep and his friends are scattered all over the damned city because the public schools are so lousy there's a lottery system that places kids in schools all over town. My son has never thrown a basketball through the basketball hoop next door, because the neighborhood kids don't know him. Who knows, it might belong to some gang or something.

PTA members correspond with one another online; you can live in Estonia and still be an active PTA participant, though you'll miss the Spam Sushi and Gluten-free Kugel at the multicultural pot-luck.

I went to a party two doors down one night because they jammed a flyer in my mailbox inviting me (and the whole block) to stop in. I thought they were serious and really wanted me to come. Pathetically, I got all dressed up, and even gift-wrapped a vintage cooking pamphlet for them as a housewarming present: "1000 Things To Do With Hamburger Meat the Betty Crocker Way." I walked into their flat, and it was fabulous, like a Hollywood set. I expected Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger to waltz out, fresh from Bikram Yoga. Instead, some ingenue that wasn't even old enough to ride a bus by herself emerged and took my oddball gift in a poised but irony-free way (why try to explain?). Then they introduced me to the towering megaplex of swollen gin and vodka bottles on their oversized oak diningroom table. I made friends with a strikingly tall bottle of gin, told it my best party jokes, and split hastily, after having caught sight of a short older guy (who must have been one of their dads) sharing his party jokes with younger, Betty Crocker pamphlet-free babes. I went home and started cruising the M-seeking-W section of Craigslist.

Many years ago when I was married and had a baby on my hands, I lived in a building where, for a few precious years, several of us tenants became friends. It was cool, even though my girlfriend across the hall thought she was Lucy and I was Ethel. Certainly I was far Lucyer. At any rate, she and her husband are now divorced; he lives in Shanghai and has a new baby, and she eventually got so many tattoos she became the bookkeeper for Burning Man. I'm divorced now, too. Though I have lived in San Francisco for 25 years, the fact that most of the time I don't really know my neighbors still seems wrong to me. I miss Lucy-and-Ethel time.

It's unnatural that my real communities — most of the Camp Mather people, for example, were from the wonderful community of parents from Liam's artsy alternative elementary school — have to travel 150 miles to the High Sierras to sit around a lake and schmooze on a daily basis without an appointment.

I adore my online community of friends, and consider them my comrades, truly. But I need a network of messy, breathing, pheromone-producing humans to interact with. I tried going to my local café but no one there talks to anyone else unless they're having a website planning meeting or a job interview. When I try to make helpful suggestions to people in these stuations they somehow act annoyed with me. Perhaps I should actually get an on-site job? This is a
scary thought. Move to the suburbs? A town? Both? Neither?

There must be a better way.
For now, I rant.

Aunt Violet

*Watsu sharks: A sort of Northern California-style gigolo; a guy with strong arms who hangs around in warm pools at Harbin looking for single women to float.
**Bikram Yoga: Yoga that is done in a room heated to about 100˚ for absolutely no reason I can possibly imagine. I do yoga myself, but it makes my arms ache just thinking about this hot room. From reading magazines at the checkout at Safeway I have learned that Gwyneth Paltrow does this kind of yoga.


Fresnette said...

Inspiring! I am your fan. And may the ex's bride only bring out the worst in him.

Aunt Violet said...

Thank you so, so much, Fresnette. What a sweet sentiment. You are a dear.

Unfortunately, I think I brought out the worst in him. I think there just wasn't enough room for two passionate Eastern-European-American know-it-all artists in the car. So now he's got himself a Japanese-American lawyer, so at least someone's got both hands on the wheel.

Ms. Booty Homemaker said...


I loved Family Camp when I was a kid in Northern California. We went each year with a very progressive Methodist church and it's one of the highlights of my childhood memories.

Oh, those marrying exes. Don't give a fig!! (And protest as much as you like, I'm sure you've earned the right.)

How 'bout getting some of those school parent types to hop up a crafting group or a book club or a pot luck supper cooking club where one night or Sunday afternoon a month you all do, say: Food From the Midwest or Little Italy night or Soul Food Sunday....

I my own self LOVE to Visit.

Rant on!
Ms. Booty Homemaker

Anonymous said...

Love your blog! I'm bookmarking it right now.

Grant said...

Dear Aunt Violet,

I'm confused. They say "two heads are better than one". All the guys I know have two heads so, by that logic, guys ought to be the smartest things on the planet. My own experience however, and all the evidence, indicates just the opposite. How did an expression like this get started and why do people keep using it?



PS I'm reading your blog as I get time. I'll be ready for a pop quiz by this evening. Very funny stuff!