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My America

Every once in a while you see or experience something that jolts you from your narcoleptic existence of useless pleasures and missed opportunities. And you are simultaneously reminded of: A) what can be, and B) just how lame we are as a people, as a...
December 1, 2002, 12:00am

Every once in a while you see or experience something that jolts you from your narcoleptic existence of useless pleasures and missed opportunities. And you are simultaneously reminded of: A) what can be, and B) just how lame we are as a people, as a culture. Maybe it’s an “art car” where someone has done something like nailed a couple hundred bloody Barbie heads all over it, or you see some lady wearing a dress made up entirely of “Have You Seen Me?” missing-kid things from the backs of milk cartons. You see that and you’re reminded, “Oh… right, that’s possible. ” And I don’t mean in an “Oh yeah, I guess there could be black Chinese people, I never thought of that” way. More like, “Oh that’s right, you can do that… I forgot.”

And that is very telling about just how boring we are. It takes some fucking dipshit dressed in a beekeeper’s outfit gluing used tampons all over his car to make us realize that our cars are boring. Ask yourself, “Why should I not paint my car? What’s so great about maroon, and only maroon? What am I afraid will happen? Will people not like me anymore? Will they think I’m some kind of lunatic? Will I be forcibly hospitalized? Will police arrest me? Will I never get laid again?”

Well, I’ll tell you what, next time you see something like that, check out little kids’ reactions to it. They fucking freak out. They start a contemplative journey that, if they’re not excessively Christian and thus too far-gone, can only end one way: “My parents are lame and boring. They have absolutely no sense of visual adventure, much less any sense of any adventure at all. Good God, please don’t let me end up like them, with their Mary Higgins Clark book-reading, Will and Grace-chuckling, ‘Doctor Caruthers Smart Popcorn Infused with Ginkgo Biloba’ evenings. I know I’m only four years old, God, but if you save me from that life, I will fuck you forever when I get to heaven, deal?”

We are always amused, from a distance, by the “eccentric” town characters who frequent our streets and provide us with a smile (though once they demonstrate a desire to touch you, no matter how innocently intentioned, they are “disappeared”): “The Walking Lady,” or “The Purple Man,” or “The “Retarded Child,” or “The Post-It Note Guy.” They are the ones whom we see and they delight us and freak us out.

Usually it’s because we are not children. It has yet to be drilled into kids’ heads yet that this is not the way to behave/dress yourself/make a living. So, not knowing that making a hat out of Post-It Notes or lampshades out of x-rays is ridiculous and wrong, kids naturally gravitate toward these things.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: There is a musical act that I saw at the Bumbershoot Festival last year in Seattle (who have subsequently moved to New York City, where they are currently performing) called the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. They are brilliant (in both the English and American usage of the word “brilliant”). They are nothing if not love itself. They are the embodiment of everything I just wrote about. They are a father and a mother in their thirties, and a daughter, about eight. They tour the country in their mini-van (which is hand-painted in many colors... why not?) They put on shows. They go to estate sales and buy the old slides of various strangers and then write songs using the slides, in random order, as a guide. One of their songs is called, “Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959,” and that’s exactly what the slides and lyrics represent. The father plays guitar or piano. The mom runs the slide projector. The daughter plays drums. Father and daughter sing the funny lyrics. And they kick ass. Jesus, the closest I ever got to something like that was when my sister and I turned off the lights, stuck flashlights under our chins, and read “The Tell-Tale Heart” to our humoring mom.

When I first saw them, I felt something that reminded me of the feeling you have when you’re, like, 11 or 12, and a not-unattractive girl tells another girl to tell you that she might think you’re cute. Blood rushes to your heart, and invisible ghosts keep turning your mouth up. And if an eight-year-old playing drums and chastising her Dad in front of an audience doesn’t make you smile, then something has gone terribly wrong in your life and you need to do one of those “Foxfire By Twilight” retreat-in-the-woods type things with a bunch of aging, leathery hippies to find out what went wrong and help you get back on track.

“This is great!” I thought, but hadn’t yet figured out how to articulate what was great about it. It wasn’t that it was “cute” or “funny” or “adorable” or “precious,” it was what I’ve been talking about this entire time you fucking moron. I was envious of that family. Now that’s a way to raise a family and conduct your life that most of us either haven’t thought of or simply lack the imagination and courage to carry out. They make every nutty home-schooling advocate look like shit. And I’m not against the idea of home schooling. I went to several (nine) different public schools up and down the East and South, and the only things I remember from textbooks are that America is the greatest country the universe has ever seen and Abe Lincoln invented the tequila lollipop. I’m just a little wary of most home-schooling advocates, because they are most likely doing it not because of a lack of faith in public education, but because, really, they’re racists or religious nuts who don’t want their precious little lambs exposed to reality.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. This mom, dad, and kid were getting into a crazy-painted van, driving cross-country, and doing shows about strangers’ vacations? That’s so much like the time my deadbeat dad pawned all of my shit so that he could afford to drive me back to Georgia from Arizona (where I went to live with him) because he had run out of people to scam money from and needed a new state’s worth of suckers… oh wait, no it’s not. I want her childhood. I want her mom and dad. I want to be eight and play drums with my family at nightclubs for hipsters who love me.

I hope when kids see them perform, they have that same reaction as they do when they pass by the sculpture-strewn front yard of a house that has been altered to resemble a huge whale. You know, where they turn to their mom and dad and say, “Mom, Dad, look at that cool house!” and then when mom and dad, smiling, happily listening to Sting (“Something we can all agree on!”) as their SUV drives past the house, turn to the kid and reply, “Wow, look at that.” The kid will say, “Can we do that to our house?” And when mom or dad says, “No,” that the kid will say, “Why not?” But this time, when neither parent comes up with a satisfactory explanation and ultimately resorts to the time-tested “Because I said so, that’s why,” that the kid will turn to them and say, “Pull over. I’m out of here. If I want any kind of halfway decent shot at not living the rest of my life in mind-numbing boredom, I gotta take off now while the gettin’s good. See ya later, losers!” Then, when that kid’s older, I’ll read his book.

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