Sunday, January 4, 2009
The (straight) men in my life
OK, I admit there have been many times in my life when I was more likely to wonder, 'If they can put a (straight) man on the moon, why can't they put them all there?' than to sing the praises of straight guys. But for Christmas I made each of my brothers an album of photos -rescued through the miracle of Photoshop - that time and bad film had degraded to near unreadability. (The photo above is one of them. It was entirely varying shades of red when I started.) So I've been looking at photos of guys doing dorky guy things for the past month or so and pondering just what those alien beings mean to me.
First, and most formatively of course, was my father, who drove me f@#%ing nuts much of the time. Everything was a joke to the man. I mean, my God!, life was so desperately serious and on the brink of tragic to the poetry-reading, Joan-Baez-and Laura-Nyro-listening, unrequited-love-falling-in teen that was me. And all he had to offer me were jokes. The smart-ass quip was his native tongue. And the man was really, really smart - he spoke the language of every country we ever lived in and some that we didn't. He was the kind of man who collected facts and never forgot them. Even though he died five years ago, sometimes - if I'm wondering about something odd, like why the Chickadee hangs upside down when it feeds whereas goldfinches never do -I think, 'I'll call Daddy. He'll know.' So being super smart just made him even sharper with the punning, quipping retorts.
I, of course, am nothing like that.
Then there are the brothers. Two of them, born a year apart, what they used to call Irish twins. I was born four years after the second of them, so I was younger, a girl, and a small one to boot; there was no way I could win. But I kept trying. I followed them anywhere they would let me. Once I followed them up to the roof of our house for a peeing contest. Let's just say that having to squat to pee on a pitched roof almost cost me my life. I was hung up in trees ("elevator"), pushed down stairs ("escalator"), and exposed to all sorts of creepy crawly things as a means of testing my limits and then pushing me WAY past them. I got hurt a lot. I cried a lot. Much property was damaged. It was really fun. And it made me, well, plucky. Honestly, there's not one of you that can gross me out. I've lived through burping and farting wars, eaten any disgusting thing that was put in front of me (sea slug? No problem!), and had many a fine case of tropical parasites because of it. I laugh in the face of the grotesque, and then I eat it, and then I make a joke about it.
However, I spent most of my early life feeling deep, deep kinship with my mother, who is a sweet, gentle person and loves poetry, classical music, the theater, the opera, and Masterpiece Theater. She comes from a well-to-do, Southern family with a Faulknerian tendency toward alcoholism, depression, and suicide. Romantic stuff when you're a teenager. Much less so when you're a middle-aged woman who has lived through one nervous breakdown and thanks God for Zoloft every day. In fact, I fully expected to become my mother, but instead I married her, in male form that is. My husband is so sweet and gentle that my mother calls him an "honorary woman," and his tastes are so naturally refined that he makes me feel like a cultural poseur. So you can probably see where I'm going with this.... Because if my husband is like my mother, then..... OH SHIT.... Yes, it's sad but true, and probably entirely predictable to anyone but me. I'm my father and my brothers: I'm the annoying smart ass who makes jokes out of everything; I'm the one who hides behind dark doors late at night and jumps out shouting "Boo!" at my unsuspecting daughters; I'm the one with a faint perfume of white-trash hovering around me. Especially when I laugh, which I do too easily and raucously (I have actually been sushed for laughing in a Presbyterian Church). So, those knuckleheads, the ones who drove me crazy and tortured me, I'm them. Oh well, there's nothing to do about it except, of course, crack a joke.