I Was a Kid in the 80s

I realized, like a week ago, that there’s a whole new decade coming up. I was born in 1980, which means I get to start my own new decade, too.

In 1990, when I was ten, I told my mom it felt like nothing new was being invented. We had phones, cable tv, remote controls, space shuttles. She said “let’s see how you feel in ten years.” In that interval, of course, everyone got PCs, modems, screen names…looking back, all that innovation, which gave rise to smart phones and social networks and blogs and everything we spend time on now, was not was I was looking for. If you had told me, then, that by the time I turned 40 we’d have little devices on our wrists with more computing power than ENIAC, I would have said sure, but will there be jet packs and artificial gravity for our bases on the moon?

I used to read a blog called Paleofuture. It’s still out there, somewhere. One day, Paleofuture posted a picture of someone’s 70’s vision of an 80’s space station. Sure, every time I see a ’57 Chevy or googie architecture, I wonder why the future Walt Disney invented for the Boomers never, ever came. But I was a kid in the 80s. The picture of the space station was a sort-of writing prompt. This is from around 2012.

I was a kid in the 80’s and got to go to EPCOT.  I used to read Popular Mechanics and try to make crap out of batteries and magnets and draw fighter jets and space stations and curvy future cars and build paper ammo wristbows from rubber bands and hangers.  I did The Jason Project.

I remember when the Challenger blew up because the lady teacher had a kid  my age and my family had an Aerostar the first summer they came out.  After it happened Ford pulled the commercials that showed how the nose of their new mini-van looked just like the Shuttle.  I broke the sliding door with my first GI Joe and burned my arm on an interior light and it scabbed and cracked and leaked all summer and I’d touch the puss with the fat tips of my fingers to see if it would hurt.

My grandmother made me watch INF when I was 7 so I could say that I’d seen history.  She didn’t say it but in 1987 you had no way of being sure you’d see more big human moments.  Imagine living like that for 4o, 50 years, thinking about the button, building schools with fallout bunkers, doing drills. I remember the first time I saw a plane, it was Wednesday, 9/19, 2001.  I went to college near a  power plant with two cement torch chimneys so these things made me nervous.  I imagine living like this for 40, 50 years, collecting history for my son just in case it stops.  Waiting for the break, the thaw, the perestroika. The Western glasnost Gorbachev and the Dubai-Vegas-Beijing Red Dawn white trash show.  Waiting for the INF bombs to come in off the market.  There is no end of history, Francis Fukuyama. There is history or nothing.

Obama will close Gitmo but will hold enemy combatants indefinitely without trial on the mainland.  Semantics must be justice. There are pictures of Pelosi toasting Cheney and Shepard Fairey laughing, obey, obey, obey, obey the giants and their posses.  I was a kid in the 80’s.

I thought we’d have more now:  sustainable communities instead of social networks.  Colonies in space.  We got personal computers, personal accessories, personal devices, vanity, vanity, vanity, rah rah trips to ISS but lazy outward pushing.  If Richard Branson brings the heavens we should fill them.

The Insult

This ran at Six Sentences, one of those experimental journals that thrived online about about a decade ago. Editor Robert McEvily really did a great job with the project and with fostering a sense of community. 6S also put out two print volumes, one of which included one of my pieces.

This is a recollection of a recollection. My understanding of a family folk tale about the Old Country.

The Insult

There are no bakeries outside San Marco in 1968, no fish markets or butchers, only tobacco fields and salted meats between Carmine’s and the piazza. Dirt roads spread like long brown leaves from my cousin’s to the church-square and we ride to town on ox carts and warping wooden wheels. I give my aunt a big roast in the cool dirt kitchen where summer meats are hanging. At dinner there’s a small piece cooked and I ask about the rest. Three quarters of my trophy is cured above the table. Flies land on my see-through slice greedy and don’t notice.

So We Had a Wake

This is a story about a dream, or a memory of a dream. It was published years ago at another ghost town called Slingshot.

I think these pieces leant themselves very well to the the kind of online writing that was emerging in the late 00’s. It’s a shame so many of those venues, many of which were very good, are no longer around. Pour one out for each of them, I guess.

So We Had A Wake

You came over in red high tops from a yard sale and your old bandana with a Rubbermaid trunk of things for me to keep. Your Junior Legion plaque. Records from the bank you worked at one summer, but you never worked at a bank. You worked in a furniture factory and a Bible software company. There were toy baseball bats that I thought I might let my son play with but would maybe keep wrapped forever, a baseball with funny faces, binders from Seminary and records. “Have you heard any news of any kind?” I asked, afraid of why you were doing this. “I haven’t heard,” you said and I tried to remember how I felt when you were given back to us. I don’t remember what I said when I found out, like I’d missed the news but still knew it, like I coveted the chance I must have had to jump and yell and strip and beat my chest. I should have bruises there like butterflies, their brown shadow wings spreading from my sternum. My knuckles would be burger meat, my lungs would break my ribs, my throat would cut and chafe on the impossible proclamation, would scab and petrify, vanity, I’d bleed the truth out in a dribble. If you hadn’t really died, once, if I found out they had been mistaken, a clerical error, even a resurrection. What they can do with medicine, now. But I don’t remember. 

I think you better leave me with the trunk, too, so I have a place to keep this all just how it is, you know, and I don’t say just in case because just in case is doubt and doubt kills t-cells, eats your organs. You have been so positive. You smile at everything you show me. “I probably shouldn’t have taken these,” you say about the jump drives from the bank that are branded with Jerry Dior’s batsman. “They might be interesting.” 

I wonder if you were lucid all those mornings you slept through class, if you were conjugating Greek declensions, parsing Hebrew in your dreams. I wonder if you parse me now, if first and second person are constructs of the living. If your Thou to my I is only feltboard Jesus. 

I understood that you were private, but I understand now, after our visit is consumed by things I don’t sleep through — my wife calling after church to wake me up for lunch, my son in the background saying “Hallelujah, Daddy!” — why you didn’t want a funeral. You couldn’t say goodbye and wouldn’t let me, either. And so when you visit in the morning, as often as the intervals in which I’d always seen you, we don’t have to talk about how we miss each other, I don’t have to ask if the end hurts or know how scared you were to go. The night is hypothetical and it seems we both are only sleeping.

Words and Music

The Rilke post from earlier got me thinking about the first poem I ever memorized.

Obviously, nursery rhymes were first, and then songs like Jesus Loves Me. Then, when I started school, My Country Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, The Star-Spangled Banner, Simple Gifts.

In fourth grade we had to memorize and recite poems, so of course we all asked if we could do Top 40. Someone beat me to We Didn’t Start the Fire (I memorized it anyway…we all did), so I did Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. The song really affected me. Years later, I’d find myself working street-level with the homeless populations of the Lehigh Valley. What had seemed like a very 80s problem has gotten so much worse.

The first sort of classic poem I ever memorized was To Althea From Prison by Lovelace, the cavalier. It’s very famous, especially for this line:

Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;

but the ones that really got me were

When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
Know no such Liberty.

and especially:

When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.

I was 15, so yeah. Killed me. Still does.

It strikes me now that “Slide Away” by Oasis, which I also discovered around that time, is a cavalier poem from the Council Estates. I love it so much.

On Rilke’s Birthday

In honor of your birthday, you brilliant, beautiful man. I won’t get it exactly right, but this is how it sounds in my heart:

We must not portray you in kings’ robes, you drifting mist that brought for the morning,

or take again from old paintboxes the same gold for scepter and crown that have disguised you through the ages.

Piously, we produce our images of you, till they stand before you like a thousand walls.

When our hearts would simply open, our fervent hands hide you.

“God’s True Cloak” <as I remember it>, Book of Hours.

Evensong

Another early piece. This was published at elimae when Cooper Renner was the editor. It was a very good journal. This story is 100 words long.

Evensong

Thaddeus, age 3, set the Evensong in shallow water. Small waves rose and fell, and, retreating, carried Thad’s small ship further from the shore. Squealing and on pigeon toes Thaddeus retrieved it, and, safely back, he cast the tiny schooner headlong into the sea. His father’s strides were long and easy and for a moment Thad was sorry for the rival ocean and the fight he’d picked. His father bent low and pressed Thad to his chest and from tall grass on the bluffs above, they watched a red sun sink behind the green and Thad said, “Bring it back.”