Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Girl, Put Your Records On

This is what I love about life. Each day brings the possibility of something amazing happening. And meeting amazing people. And getting amazing deals on stuff that really brings you joy. Are you wondering what in the world I’m talking about? Well, let me tell you….

Several weeks ago, our really nice neighbor called and asked us if we had any use for an old stereo system. He had just gone and bought a new one and thought our kids might enjoy the old one. Absolutely! When he brought the “stereo” over to us, I was shocked and awed to see this:

THAT is an actual real live record player on the top! I immediately told my husband that there was no way in Hades that the kids were getting their grubby little hands on that! All through my life, music has fed my soul in a way that even chocolate fudge cake could not compete with. Although I can not play any type of instrument and my singing voice is, shall we say, something only a husband can love, the sounds of music have been both a tonic and an amplifier for the deep, morose, lonely, love-filled, and happy feelings of my life.

My father likes to tell the story of how one morning when he was driving me to school (I think I was six), he was playing The Eagles “Wasted Time” on the good ol’ eight track and when the song was over he looked over to see me sobbing silently, my whole body shaking. In alarm he asked me what was wrong, because believe it or not, I was not a child prone to hysterics (that came later), he says I choked out the words, “I never knew a man could sing so pretty.” And even now, well maybe I should say especially now, that one song will always – every time – stop me in my tracks and reduce me to a deep – you know, pit of my stomach – kind of sorrow. The songs of The Eagles so defined my relationship with my father that when I found out that my first child was going to be a boy, I decided to name him Dalton, after the “Doolin-Dalton” songs and as a way to honor my father.

Growing up, once the dinner dishes were done and the house shifted and settled down for the night, my mother would put on a pot of coffee and play record after record on the turntable in the living room. Usually it was Linda Ronstadt, Janis Joplin, or Billie Holiday. Sometimes it was Led Zeppelin or Jimmie Hendrix. But she would wearily fall into that worn yellow couch and drink her coffee and chain smoke her long cigarettes and the music would soothe her, much like a hot bubble bath and a glass of wine would soothe others. Over time, it became the same for me.

There is just something about a vinyl record spinning on a turntable. The crackles and pops and static and soft hum of electricity bring the music to life in a way that those digitally remastered CDs just can’t accomplish. The soundtrack to my life embraces the imperfections and scratches that an mp3 file often doesn’t hold. Don’t get me wrong – I love my ipod and I am sure my treadmill would be covered in dust and laundry if it weren’t for the convenience of magical, portable music on demand.

But here’s the sad part of this story…my husband and I lost every single one of our 300+ records to a terrible flood that swept through New Braunfels in October of 1998. We also lost all of our clothing, furniture, and other useless knick-knacks. It was all gone. Just gone. Even though I know that stuff is just stuff, I remember trying so hard to find even one record that survived. I cried for the ruined mildewy photo albums. I cried for the warped and splintered Russian china cabinet. But mostly I cried for my lost music.

In the ten years that have passed since that flood, my husband and I have rebuilt a nice life. We bought new antiques and dishes and rugs to fill our home. New clothes and shoes and raincoats to fill our closets. We have been blessed with two children that require more stuff than we could have ever imagined. The ipod and music downloading sites have made it possible to have most of our cherished music back.

And now our neighbor has given us a record player.

This past weekend we went to a used record store in the neighboring town of Natick. The place is called Déjà Vu Reords. I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe some ratty little shack that smelled like mice or something, but we were very warmly greeted by the shop’s owner, a tiny little Greek woman who acted as though she had been waiting there all morning just for us to show up. It was like she knew us or something. She immediately led the kids over to some boxes that held children’s records and told them to start a stack of their favorites (some Beethoven for children, ET narrated by Michael Jackson, many Disney collections) and then led my husband and me over to the “Classic Rock” section. Dudes – there were thousands of records! It seemed like every stack I went through held a familiar record from my youth. It was like going through old photo album and seeing pictures of friends you had almost forgotten.

An hour later we brought our huge stack of records over to the counter and waited to hear how much our indulgence was going to cost us. The shop owner asked each one of us our favorites. We talked with this sweet woman about music and about moving to this strange land they call Massachusetts and how we miss our family and how cute the kids are. And then she gave us her price for our records. Ten dollars. Get out, you say. Seriously. 10 singles for all this:

AND. And she asked us to come back this weekend and we will all go to dinner at a little restaurant down the street that she wants to show us. Because she likes us. And I think she might be lonely. But mostly, I think she is just really nice. How cool is that? The kids are so excited and keep reminding us that we have a dinner date with a stranger this weekend. Life is so full of adventures!

So all week, after the dinner dishes are done and the kids are settling down for the night, my husband puts on a record (usually Linda Ronstadt or The Eagles – last night it was an amazing Big Band collection) and we sit on the couch with our evening coffee and feed our souls. Life is so good.

For those of you that are super observant, you might notice that I picked up two copies of “Hotel California.” One is for us to play, and the other is my back-up copy.
Just in case.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oh, My!

So earlier this week I was reading through all the blogs I love to read and one of them stopped me in my tracks. Well, I was sitting at the computer, so technically I guess my tracks had stopped sometime before, but you know what I mean.

Glass-Eyed Grady’s posted a humorous story about a run-in with a future juvenile delinquent and it immediately brought to mind my own brief but memorable stay at Juvenile Hall. I know, I know, you are thinking, “What? But you sound so normal. So respectable even!” But yes! I spent half a night and a day in Juvie. In Downtown Dallas. It was so not fun.

I was 14 or so and had run away from home for the umpteenth time and had been gone for about four days. I was planning on catching a ride to California with these two guys I had just met when the police found me sleeping in a car and decided that California might not be such a great idea. But when they called my mom, guess what? She said that life was actually a whole lot easier without me around causing trouble and she did not, under any circumstances, want me to come home. Believe me, I was Trouble (That’s Trouble with a capital T – that’s me!).

I wasn’t always trouble. I was a quiet, shy, book-ish girl for most of my youth. You know the kind – honors classes, gifted program, no time for boys, etc… In other words, kind of boring. But then High School happened. I started getting mad crushes on boys with pink hair and tattoos and piercings. I hung out in the smoking area and started using curse words with emphasis. This is me at the beginning of 9th grade:

Shortly after this picture was taken, I decided to shave my head Cyndi Lauper style and consequently got kicked off the Pep Squad. Which was fine with me because who wants to be popular and cute and peppy anyway?

Then I started skipping classes and when I got detention, I skipped those too. I started putting vodka in a thermos and drinking it on the way to school. I flunked out of all those honors classes. In fact, I flunked 9th grade. At first I figured that was just fine since I started Kindergarten at age four. Just doin’ my part to even it all out. But then half-way through 10th grade I just gave up altogether and quit school.

I had turned into one of those lost kids and I felt like no one in the whole wide world could possibly understand what it was like to be me. So I ran away. Frequently. And, eventually, off to juvenile hall I went.

It was about three in the morning when the police dropped me off at Juvie - gray, cold, and institutional in every sense. By the time I was stripped searched (my stomach still turns at this memory), checked for lice, showered, and given too small clothes to change into, it was almost five in the morning. The attendant/warden walked me into a room lined on both sides with small beds. I found an empty one near the door. I was terrified, but exhaustion won out and I fell immediately to sleep. But guess what? Wake up call was at six freaking thirty – and trust me, they don’t believe in a snooze button.

This is when panic started setting in. Those girls in there were a whole different kind of tough. There were girls in there accused of murder. Kids that had done some seriously bad things. I realized just what a complete pansy I was when one of the girls, a very large Hispanic girl that looked like she could squash me like a bug, hit me with a volleyball in the gym – on purpose! - and then dared me to tell on her. It was at this point when I started begging to go home. By the end of the day my mother had made arrangements to have me released and sent to a special home for troubled kids. A few weeks after that she let me come home.

I wish I could say that the experience turned me around and I became a model teenager again. But hey, this ain’t Disney – right? I quit running away when my mom stopped giving me curfews and then I started going out with people that looked like this:

Yes, that is an actual picture of an actual boyfriend of mine. Just the kind of guy your parents want to see you date. Right? And I started hanging out in crowded smoky night clubs, empty alleys, and the dark streets of Deep Ellum. For those of you not familiar with the Deep Ellum part of downtown Dallas, in the late 80’s in was where the freaks came out at night. I fit right in.

Check out my spider web pantyhose:

Somewhere around age 19 or 20, I started getting my act together. I don’t know if all of my rage and confusion finally just burned itself out or what, but I decided to set a new goal – to be as NORMAL as possible. Really. I set my eyes on having a real grown-up life with a smart, sweet husband, darling children, a dog, and a white picket fence.

Here is me at age 20:

Pretty darn cute, huh?

It took a while, and I had to get my heart broken almost to the point of no repair, but finally finally finally I started making my way down a better path. And so far, I think I am doing pretty damn great. My “normal” checklist is almost complete:

4GED – check
4College degree – double check
4Married to the most incredible guy in the whole entire world AND who comes from a completely non-dysfunctional family – big giant check
4 A super smart and sweet son and a delightful drama queen daughter – check
4White picket fence – check
4Shiny new SUV – check
4A small, but oh so cute dog that only chews up stuffed animals occasionally - check
4A beach house where I can write away the hours while the surf crashes against the rocks and the warm breeze washes my tanned face – um, not yet. I guess I still have some work to do. ;-)

So, Melissa, there may be hope for that 10 year-old boy threatening to beat a grown man’s ass. Or maybe not. But the next time you meet a fellow mom that seems to have attained that perfect life, remember the other side of the coin – the path to “normal” is not always a straight one. Mine was filled with deep valleys, swamp pits, scary monsters, and long uphill battles.

But it is mine.

[Note: My husband was absolutely against me posting this particular blog. He said something about it falling under the category of way too much information. And then he said something about me still being a little bit of a freak. And then something about the PTA revoking my membership. hmmm....]