I’m sick with something miserable this week so please accept a reprint of an entry that ran in the winter of 2007. Daughter’s pictures are new, but the entry and the memory it recalls are gently used.
Today as I was waiting for the light to change on the way out of my neighborhood there appeared in the sky in front of me a flock of geese flying in that perfect V formation with precision spacing between each bird that can only be primordially determined. There was a Barry White song playing on the radio and just as he hit the chorus, the place where his voice does that soulful sexy throb, the entire formation dipped to the right. It was so unexpected it made me gasp. Boy, do I live for the unexpected.
I think the longer we’re on the planet the more we hope we still surprise people. I love when people tell me I’m different from the way they thought I would be. We can all be such prisoners of our preconceptions that there’s something freeing about discovering we’re not at all the way someone first imagined us. At one of my high school reunions a woman walked by me who I recognized right away and greeted by name. She seemed shocked that I knew her and said so. I was shocked that she was shocked and I asked her why she reacted like that. She said, “You were one of the smart kids. You were a class officer. You always sat in the front row and raised your hand with the answer. I didn’t think you noticed any of the people who sat in the back of the room.” I was stunned. When I told her I was just passing time answering questions waiting for the bell to ring so I could go smoke in the girls’ room it was her turn to be stunned. Someone else that night remembered me as being athletic because I spent an entire semester senior year running the track at lunchtime. Yeah, that would be because I had cut gym since 10th grade and couldn’t graduate unless I made up the time. My best friend would meet me behind the scoreboard with a pack of Newports. Then I’d begin my pole-vaulting practice. Remember?
Generally, people seem to perceive me as classy but that’s only because they haven’t seen me eating cold Chinese food over the sink in my underwear. The first time I can recall coming up against someone’s perception of me was in the sixth grade. My family had just moved from the Brooklyn housing projects to Westchester County and it was the beginning of the school year with me being the new kid. We were standing on the playground at recess and one of the girls was saying she knew a boy who said he did something but she didn’t think most of the other kids would know what it meant. Everyone was pleading with her to say what it was but she wouldn’t divulge it. She said it was too advanced. Then her eyes came to rest on me and she said, “You’re from the city. I bet you know.” She came close and cupped her hands on either side of her mouth so no one could see her lips move. Then she pressed them against my ear and said, “Fuck.”
What? Why is she telling me this? Because I’m from Brooklyn? Is that where people fuck? Or that the people there so relentlessly talk about fucking that I couldn’t help but overhear? And more importantly, am I absolutely certain of my facts? Is it really what I think it is? Could I be misinformed? And what’s with all these other kids? Are they Mormons? WHERE AM I?
Pretty much Hooterville as it turned out, a town with an annual Grange Fair where you could see a sheep shearing demonstration. Or sit on the roof of the junior high school and watch the Fireman’s Carnival Fourth of July display. A town with one movie theater that changed features once a week where your high school quarterback was the usher. One day in my junior year I went on some errands in town and noticed the movie marquee announcing “Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” was showing and I figured it sounded like fun. I went in and saw it and loved it so much that after it was over I decided to stay and see it again if only for the Oompa Loompas. The lights went up and when the quarterback started checking the rows for debris he saw me sitting on the aisle. He greeted me and we chatted for a while about how cool the movie was and I said I was seeing it again. He looked around and asked, “Who are you here with?” I said nobody. He persisted. “No, I mean are you with your niece or something or you’re babysitting?” I assured him I was alone. “And you’re seeing it again?” he asked. When I responded yes he leaned in closer so no one in the empty theater could overhear. And in a whisper reminiscent of my sixth grade playground days he said, “Are you stoned?”
I couldn’t believe he asked me that. Everyone knows I’m an athlete.
Daughter’s Fotos take a tour of our Collective Imagination