Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On Boyness

There is only one thing you need to know about men, we are boys.  I'm not trying to be flip, I don't mean farts and butt jokes and the word duty and weird dances and, well, boobs - heh-heh, duty.

Peel back your onion please.

Men are formed as boys and...  Listen, let's just get this out of the way, I am generalizing here, stereotyping, profiling, even.  I am not marginalizing or devaluing any one's experience.  Stories need archetypes.  So, when I say boys, I mean me and my friends growing up and when I say men I mean me and the thousands of guys I've had the privilege to know over the fifty-plus years I've known men.

I am watching two boys become men, which is in my mind simply growing out of boyhood.  I, of course, saw this coming.  Or at least I thought I did.  As it turns out, I am also witnessing my own childhood and remembering my own boyness.  I am finding that a bit offputting and, well, melancholy.

I was recently at the grocery store and, as I was checking out, I recognized a face in the little bank they have in groceries these days.  It was the bearded, bespectacled face of a big man in a tailored suit and striped tie.  I couldn't place it.  Once I was done, I glanced over one more time and the right neurons sparked and I remembered him from a group I'd been involved with a few years back.  He'd been watching me and when I looked his way he was smiling and gave me a little wave.

Here's the thing, though, I didn't see a grown man, I saw the little boy who still lived in him.  I saw a shy boy with an impish grin looking to be recognized, longing for attention, hoping for connection.  I saw the shadow sadness that fills so many boys as they struggle to fit in.  His beard and glasses faded away from his face, his suit became a sports uniform, his shoulders dropped a bit and a certain pureness come over him.

I was watching a grandfather at church the other day.  He and his wife, both easily in their seventies I'd guess, had two young children with them, three and five maybe, and were working hard to keep them quiet and at least somewhat engaged.  The woman held the three-year-old girl in a pretty yellow dress and white sandals for most of the service.  The older man was left with the boy with plastered hair, khakis, a white shirt and nice clip-on tie.  The grandfather looked tired and a little stern.  The boy was fidgety and that seemed to frustrate him a bit.  The boy had two little yellow plastic trucks - the same yellow as his sister's dress - and wanted to play with them.

I looked away, distracted by our boys who were nearly as fidgety as that little boy, and, when I looked back at the boy and his granddad, I saw something different.  I saw the little boy playing with the trucks, moving them slowly and quietly on the pew, occasionally jumping a hymnal or ending up vertical on the one in front of him.  And then, I noticed his playmate.  Another boy, perhaps a little older, rolling his truck, bumping the other boy's, a look of conspiratorial happiness on his smiling face.  The weight of seriousness, of piety, of time, had melted away and I saw the older brother he'd perhaps been.  I saw his boyness, tarnished perhaps, flicker in an old-time movie sort of way.  I saw him as he once was and, I am just coming to understand this, as he, we, still are.

I am in the bathroom washing my hands.  I look in the mirror and check my teeth using the classic Cheshire cat grin.  I raise my eyebrows in surprise.  I try one singularly, and then the other, failing both times.  This results in a sort of grimace because I've forgotten to shut my mouth.  I smile at how silly I look.  I try a little grin, unable, as I've always been, to muster up anything better than creepy.  I make a scary face.  I, well.. mug.

I unexpectedly realize that it is not the graying, wrinkled, wizening old man that should be the visage in the mirror, no, it is this boy.

Me, Grade Five

There's more, there's always more.  Nick has been watching me and, as I am drying my hands, he comes in and starts mugging in his own style.  I give him a dirty look when he raises his eyebrows one at a time, he knows I can't do it.  He favors a raised chin, sort of profiley, approach.  He laughs as I mimic him.  He pulls his ears out and and taunts me.  I roll my eyes with exaggeration, he does it better.  

A not unpleasant sort of vertigo overcomes me, brought on by the strange swirl of faces - one in front of me, him in the mirror, me in the mirror, the real me, the boy me, him now, him watching me seeing myself as him and...  I want to jump into the looking-glass, to be that boy, because that is when I best understood the man I would be, the man I am.

I put my my towel away and wink at him.  He winks back.  I leave, but I sneak a peek at him just as I am almost out of sight, he is practicing his winking...
He never questioned what I was doing, never thought it odd, he just jumped right in.  Boys are like that, and, in their little boy's soul, men are too.

I think on my boyhood more now than I have ever done in the past.  I've always remembered it, childhood, carried it with me, but, the truth is I never spent much time reflecting on it.  Now, though, the boys have given me the keys and legend to the map that gets me from now to then and, indeed, back again.

If I were you, I think I might grow weary of hearing my cry of "wait, there's more."

You might remember from pre-algebra that if an equation works one way, it works in the other way as well.  Something about the inverse being true or is that a syllogism...?

If men are indeed boys, then, inherent in that statement, boys are indeed men.  It's a sadder equation, I think, and...

Well, that's a story for another time.

Thanks for coming around, I know it gets confusing around here, I hope you'll forgive that.

From Marci's  "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"I am a majestical monkey goat ... Baaa!"

(yes, it's weird here)

I get it, but, I am just a boy...  hehe, "butt."


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Too Big For Your Britches

I learned long ago not to trust a basement.  Fundamentally, they are caves and, as such, they will always be prone to leaks and seepage and the mold and mildew that follow.  It's not the fault of the basement, I suspect we expect to much from a hole in the ground lined with concrete - eight or twelve inches of it to separate us from the ground, the dirt, the very soil and rock and worms and roots that have been crumbling us down for eons.  It's a lot to ask of a space.

In our basement, it is the north-west corner.  It leaks, probably as a result of the dogwood - the rather anemic dogwood - on the front of the house, it's too big to be so close to the house and I suspect the roots are wreaking havoc there at that corner.  It'd been an expensive fix but I'd rather not think about that, mostly because then I'd bore you with the details.

We put down old towels and frayed and bleach-stained bath mats to sop up the water.  I pulled a load of these towels and such out of the dryer the other day and realized a couple were old beach towels, swimming towels, whatever you want to call them.  The stripey ones we took to the Y where they had a couple years of swim lessons.  I can see them in their too-big suits, standing in the showers shivering then wrapping themselves in these towels.  I doubt they'd even drape their shoulders any more.

The two that match - the ones with cartoonish frogs wearing scuba masks - they took to our friend's lake house and played superheroes in them, later dragging them in the mud and sand.  The short ends are worn out and unraveling from it all.  I don't think they'd even make it halfway down their backs now.

It's all like that.  The "littles," the "smalls," the "boy's," the "kid's" are all being abandoned for larges and adult smalls.  The little Ikea cups, used those many years, are nearly forgotten.  The small divided plates can't hold enough waffles and fruit and yogurt anymore.  We are three gloves into baseball, I can use the ones they use now.  The tiny little gloves they first used I leave in the baseball bag holding memories but not back time.

Numbers are creeping into sizes.  Medium shirts and jackets are now 10-12, large tops out at 14.  And, something I noticed just a little while back, Nick has two pairs of Levi's that are size 27x27.  Grown up sizing right there.

I was a good-looking young man once, as hard as that might be to believe now, and I did some modeling in my twenties, runway work.  I thought I was the shit, but really, it was nothing.  On maybe my fourth or fifth gig a dresser told me that they kept asking me back because I was a standard size - 38R jacket, 9 shoes, medium shirt, and my pants size was 32x32, "thirty-two squared," I remember she said.

Thirty-two is just five away from those twenty-sevens Nick is wearing now.  Five inches between him now and the size I was as a young man.  For some reason that takes my breath away.

You know what?  I've got a pair of Levi's I went to college with, probably in (you'll know why when you see them), lets compare them to the ones Nick's sportin' now.

That's the back of them.  It's easy to tell Nick's are Levi's, the leather tag at the belt line is still fresh.  If you look real carefully on mine you'll see a speck of red on the right pocket.

Yes, the pants are epic.  My Mom patched jeans with great skill and she just kept patching these.  In later years I would add hand-stitched ones, with far less skill.  I'll bet I wore these off and on for fifteen or more years.

Here's the front of them.

Fortunately, old patched jeans can't talk, but... they remember.  However, that's not what I'm getting at today.

I shouldn't tell you about the time I wore them to a wedding with a sharp white button-down, a nice reggie tie, Topsiders, and a tailored suit jacket - my date was pissed but the couple hundred strangers I left as friends thought they were a hoot.  I'll leave out the very flirtatious bridesmaid and the inebriated father-of-the-bride, who said something like "Why couldn't she marry someone like this guy?" pointing to me as he and his business partners all did shots I was pouring from a bottle  of Cuervo I found stashed below the "beer and wine only" bar.

I'll leave out how warm they were, like two pairs of jeans, and how many fires and whiskeys I may enjoyed in them.  Two girls tried to steal them from me; I made the mistake of washing them in the ocean on the southern coast of Crete where they dried stiff and salt-encrusted; once I left them (and a whole load of laundry) in a laundromat in Queens - I closed the bar next door and waited four hours, smoking cigarettes and dozing off, until they opened at six; but, these are all stories for another time.  Ask me about those jeans in ten or twenty years, boys.  Or look for a blog called, "britchesinstiches." NSFW, by the way.

Anyway, I got to wondering what size those old patched jeans were originally.  Levi's, because, well, Levi's, puts an inside label in their pants on the front pocket seam.  I dug around in them on what I was sure was a futile search.

Thirty-one, thirty-threes.  I remember now.  They fit great with a pair of cowboy boots but I cuffed them when I was barefoot or in regular shoes.  Oh man, is this the pair of pants I caught fire because I used the cuff to stash a smoldering roach and when I got up the pant leg flamed up as it caught the breeze?  Yep, someone put it out with a beer.

(Again, a story for another time, which is a difficult subject for me... some of these stories are pretty fuckin' funny.)

There's an aphorism I grew up hearing and saying, it's not so prevalent now, "Don't get too big for your britches."  I'm not sure I really ever knew what it meant.  I mean, we used it to tell someone that, well, they weren't "the boss of me" - which I've heard the boys say - or as way to tell on a classmate, as in "Mrs. Faulkner, Jimmy's gettin' too big for his britches."  It was a sometimes gentle reminder to be cool, "Don't get too big for your britches, Earl Wayne," or a gross indictment of a person's character, "Betsy Jones was always too big for her britches."

Pointing out that someone might be too big for his or her pants implies that, someday, they will be.  I've been watching N and Z getting too big for their britches for years now, literally.  But what does it intone metaphorically?  Someone trying to do something they aren't ready for.  A little boy trying to tell a group of his friends they should all follow him to Mr. Poff's pond, when they knew he didn't know the way.  A ten year old saying he was big enough to drive the tractor, even though his foot couldn't engage the clutch.  A pimple-faced sophomore suggesting to the varsity quarterback that he run a sweep instead of the fullback up the middle thing which clearly wasn't working, and, where I was taking a wicked beating.

Maybe, again metaphorically, it means, like, "Hey, you gave it a shot, but you're not right ready for that."  It sidehandedly suggests, good job, maybe next time, it'll come.

I'd say a lot of my friends thought I was too big for those very britches above.  I'd say we all do it - taking leadership when it isn't ours, showing impatience where we should be more tolerant, bossing others when we shouldn't - but rarely is it done with misdemeanor aforethought.  In fact, sometimes it happens when we are trying to be useful but step out of bounds a bit.

I recently got too big for my britches, I was trying to help but it wasn't my place to do so.  I paid for it, I'd say, and, I learned a lesson.  Perhaps that's the ultimate purpose of the phrase, to remind us that we do make mistakes, we do try and fail, we do go out of bounds and what we learn from it is, in the end, what matters.

I'd suggest that it is a boy's job to get too big for his britches and, well, it's a man's to try not to.

You can write that down if you want to.  Frankly, it made more sense last night...  I wonder if writing overly long essays is simply a case of gettin' to big for my own britches?  I'll let time and memory sort that out.

Thanks for stopping by today.  I missed my Friday deadline last week and other-on-me is pissed.  I don't really care, dude's too big for his britches anyway.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect t hear form the backseat ..."

"don't. taunt. the slime."

That's good advice right there...

Peace.  I gotta go buy a domain name.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Happy Dude, Happy Spring

I've not worked all week on this, more like ten minutes.

That is all, thanks for coming around.

From Marci's "... thing you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

Z: "I shuffled those like a boss."

N: "You shuffled those like an unpaid intern."
Epic burn...

Peace to you all.  It's been Spring Break this week and this is all I got.  I think he's cute.