It's got camping, she writes, it's got muppets. Why yes, it does. Two things I love very much, camping and muppets. Did I tell her how I feel about muppets? Does it matter? She probably would have worked that out anyway. More importantly, did I tell her how I felt about John Denver and the Muppets? Huh. This also doesn't matter. It's one of those connectivity things.
When I was small, not so small I could walk under a bar table without hitting my head, and not so small I didn't know how to hold a menu, or how to handle my tableware correctly but small enough to be reminded about the napkin in my lap, I was at a restaurant somewhere in Missouri with my maternal grandparents and I remember four things.
- My sensitivity to my surroundings had value. That I sat up straight, held as decent a conversation as could be expected of a small person, and kept my napkin in my lap once directed had significant value which wasn't so much about being good as it was about being what was wanted and needed because the currency of being good only bought invisibility. In this context it bought approval which was astonishing as I wasn't asking for approval; I was attempting to put people at ease by behaving as a Roman while in Rome. This sort of thing keeps one from being dead. Later I learned that this sort of thing also opens doors and the rooms and hallways behind open doors are full of all sorts of possibility. This was a pivotal moment in my life.
- My grandparents told a story about a couple with whom they'd recently had dinner. The couple admired the menu as an oddity and decided to take it home. They hid the menu under the table and when it was time to order they returned one menu instead of two and pretended there never were two. Years later I understood my grandparents weren't just making conversation. They weren't just asking our opinion when they leaned in and asked, in a very adult way, 'why, Alecto, why on earth would anyone want to steal a menu anyway?' 'I don't understand it either'. Well then, they asked me, you do understand there isn't any difference between stealing a menu and stealing anything else? You can't justify theft by telling yourself it doesn't really hurt anyone.
So why is this story on this list in this post. I had to work on this because I didn't get it either. It didn't make sense. But the memory trigger on this one is strong enough to hold it here with the three other bullets since 1975 and that's a long time.
Did they think we needed to be taught not to steal? Seriously? With our parents? Theft was a felony offense in our house and the penalty was severe. I took six or seven straps with a leather belt for the crime of eating a supermarket donut before one of my parents figured out the donuts had been stacked one way and not the other and there were only ever six donuts in the box, not the seven that would have been possible if you'd stacked the another way. The problem was the box got upended and then repacked and then the confusion and chaos and Alecto blame occurred. Totally Dickensian if you think about it. We didn't need a lesson about theft. It's not as if a 'teachable moment' just jumped out of thin air. The story felt premeditated and aren't lessons on ethics and morality generally premeditated? If you teach with a stick you aren't teaching ethics and morality; you're teaching fear. You haven't taught the why not other than the fear of authority, whoever or whatever that authority might be and in the case of The Church.... wait for it... there's this business of mass in Latin. You aren't teaching a damn thing but burn in hell if you can't even understand the damn sermon, now are you? What the hell is that even about?
A lesson on ethics and morality. I don't think it had a damn thing to do with theft. I think that was just what was in the queue at the moment. In 1975 it wasn't my first lesson in ethics and morality but it was close. It was the first lesson that was entirely out of context, in other words, there was nothing situational going on. The neighbor kid had not just lit a nearby field on fire thereby getting my brother and I grounded as accessories to the crime with a long lecture on how the legal system works. I got the non-situational lessons later but you really need to teach that sort of thing early or you end up counting on the community to raise your kid and I guess you end up with as good as you've got around you at the moment.
It was about the right thing to do. Cause and effect. All things matter and there is no way to justify something to yourself. Interesting thing is my father rode this one good and hard but not until later. I don't know what prompted him later but that's not in this list.
- I had my first Shirley Temple. Why is this important? Because it's the first memory I have of someone giving me something that I would put into the classification of 'extra' and children do not get 'extra'. Today when I see children make assumptions about that sort of thing I struggle because I know perfectly well they have been raised in a way which tells them in no uncertain terms that they matter as much as their parents and yet... and yet... Don't misunderstand, there were times when my grandparents behaved inexplicably cruel in the other direction, this just wasn't one of them.
- And here it is. There was a band at this restaurant and oddly not overwhelming because my oddly sort of kind of deaf grandfather wasn't suffering. By oddly sort of deaf I mean he had a hearing aid and if you spoke clearly there wasn't so much of a problem which is indicative of losing range, not so much volume. Speak in pear shaped vowels I heard later on and instantly understood the imperative. So they passed around bits of paper for requests and I asked for a pen which my grandfather produced from somewhere and I wrote down the following: Chevy Van
Chevy Van is a one hit wonder released in 1975 by Sammy Johns and I must have been hearing it at the drop zone more or less constantly at that point. I'd been hearing it long enough to hum the chorus under my breath and maybe come up with half the lyrics and the thing is I couldn't have told you who Sammy Johns was but I would have told you for sure it was John Denver.
My grandfather looked at the words and he did ask me who was the artist and I did tell him point blank and he did respond, 'and who would that be?' I did not have an answer. In an effort to let me down easily he told me there were an awful lot of requests and they might not get to mine by the end of the evening. By the end of the evening it occurred to me that the band wasn't playing anything that even remotely sounded like Chevy Van and probably would think that piece of paper had been torn off of a larger note.
The next day we went to a record store and we looked for this song by this artist which is when I found out about Sammy Johns but I also found out about John Denver and I said, this, and this, and this, I love these things and the man in the record store laughed and said John Denver was going to be around a lot longer than this Sammy Johns and I said, that's OK, I still love that song.
To this day I have to stop and remind myself that it doesn't belong to John Denver and there's a reason for that. Sammy Johns scratched the surface. If anyone ever stopped to listen to those lyrics they'd have realized he never got past the first refrain but that's OK, he was heading in the right direction and the damn thing sounded great. John Denver took a shovel to the same surface, broke it wide open and then depending on his state of mind, either kept digging or went at it with a trowel and brush.
Shortly after I was married, Joe and I went out to RISD to visit one of my childhood friends, a girl I'd been particularly close with just before I fell off the cliff and tumbled onto the rocky shores of Middle Earth; that place we find ourselves between childhood and emancipation if the safety nets of normalcy have been severed. I used to dream about her. We wandered around Providence and stopped at a park bench, probably to get high. There was a stage being set up with lights about fifty yards away and we wandered over. It appeared John Denver was setting up a free concert in the park which made no sense whatsoever in 1984 but we sat down on the grass anyway and in the back of my mind I was thinking, why are these two people tolerating me? Nobody I know likes this man and I know this because one time on the rocky shores of Middle Earth I made the near fatal error of bringing him up and about got myself cast out. I have no idea what happens when you get yourself cast out of Middle Earth but it can't possibly be good.
We stayed until the band packed up and drove away. The park was packed.
For Christmas that year Joe bought me a copy of John Denver and the Muppets. It was a Christmas album and it was beautiful and I played that thing to death every year even past the years when I refused to play Christmas music anymore. It was the last thing to go (it even made it one more year than the Charlie Brown CD which is actually pretty damn good).
Muppets. Do I love muppets? Why yes, I do. Sesame Street came of age in my time. I was five and a half when it hit the airwaves but I didn't have access to a television so it fell into the category of things I got to see at other people's houses and unlike Dark Shadows which is something that gave me nightmares when I managed to sneak into a friend's house and watch it with her after school when I was six or seven, my mother didn't disapprove at all. Sesame Street might have been the only thing she didn't hold up to the light with suspicion. I loved Grover passionately. I thought Big Bird was an idiot, Oscar misunderstood, and I got it about Bert and Ernie pretty early. Kermit was entertaining and I have almost no memory of Miss Piggy until later. The Count grew on me and later I understood that I used him to define both Tourettes and OCD, superficially but at least in a broad stroke outline. When Mr. Hooper died I cried for days and when I heard that Luis and Maria got married (which was just before Mike started watching) I couldn't quite figure out if this was for real or not.
Which of these things doesn't go with the other? It was a significant improvement over Captain Kangaroo and those damnable pingpong balls.
The Muppet Show aired from 1976 - 1981 and therein lies the collision. The concoction of the Muppet Show followed up by however many films were released brought individual characters to life giving them depth, complexity, strengths, and weaknesses. We got Animal out of that (at least that's when I think he appeared, I could be wrong). We got the Swedish Chef and the cranky old men in the balcony and the love affair from hell. We got an entire cast that showed up for a new demographic, the demographic that had to leave them behind. Most of us were delighted even if we wouldn't admit it. Anyone born before 1960 without a well defined sense of whimsy, or children within a specific age range, probably missed this.
I can't remember if the Muppet Show had guests the same way Sesame Street has them but I expect the existence of new and different muppets created the possibility for Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Eminem, Jesse Jackson reciting 'I am - Somebody' to a butt load of children at 123 Sesame Street, Yo-yo Ma, Bill Nye, New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Kofi Annan, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and the one that did me in, R.E.M. singing Furry, Happy, Monsters with, you got it, about a dozen furry, happy monsters bouncing around. Sesame Street always had guests, it was an issue of who, what, and how many. Things got bigger, broader, and if we can really call a children's show edgy, well, they got edgier.
You do know that Sesame Street was edgy, right? Seriously. I do not have to tell you that in November of 1969 to release the characters and concepts released at that time to that particular audience (or any, really) was asking for trouble. All the edginess is gone now. Granted, in retrospect we look at some of that and call it racist and so we clean it up but the intention was not racism and it did get cleaned up as we cleaned ourselves up. But that wasn't the source of the edginess. Our willingness to advocate for change is why Sesame Street was allowed to exist. Now we are super safe and we are very, very correct. We are so correct that if we sneeze in the wrong direction the people who want guns put away will probably find one and shoot us. Oops. Did I do that?
It's OK, the pendulum always swings. My point is really about John Denver and the intersection with the Muppets.
Camping. Camping is important because it reduces things down to the marrow and makes it easier to see. We like to camp in specific places because we like to see those specific places but what's it really about? For me the hike has become about hiking my own hike. The very thought of hiking with someone right now is extremely distasteful. I really don't care to deal with another person's needs or feelings or baggage which is really about not wanting to deal with needing to be something for someone else. I'm good with compromise, I'm good at compromise but I think I went too far over the edge last time around and right now I'm still finding out what my own hike feels like and I have to tell you, it feels nice. Sometimes I look around at something beautiful and realize I have no one to share that with but that passes very quickly.
Camping is another thing entirely. I could go either way on this. Everything is reduced and less is more. Less is WAY more. The best I ever had it was the trip over the mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway through VA when I literally had nothing but the tent, the campfire coffee pot and a cooler full of sandwiches augmented by cliff bars - this topped off with two igloo coolers in the back of the car to refill water requirements. Then I had one lantern, sleeping bag, crashpad, deet, small daypack, toothbrush, and, that's probably it. I had a bag with clothes in the back because I was going to land in TN eventually but as it turned out I didn't have the map I needed to get to TN without the navigator but that turned out OK, I got on the road to Damascus eventually. I had a spiral notebook and a pen. I wrote for a bit in the evening and I did have a camera.
Camping can technically happen in a hotel room. I would have told you this was ridiculous until a couple of years ago when I realized the same thing that happened in the minuscule two room cabin with single bulb and tiny ac unit (which is why we had it) and the miraculous water spigot off the side was also happening inside a Holliday Inn. Or something. I don't remember where we were, not that it matters, we've been a bunch of places and the B&B in Saratoga Springs takes the cake in terms of, this is so much nicer than anything I've ever lived in I'm not sure how I'm going to go home now.
We sit in bed and drink wine out of the cheapest plastic cups or good glasses depending and knit or rip it out and start again and we talk and I don't really know what we talk about but we do and then it is late and someone needs to sleep and usually I think it is probably me but I don't really know. Sometimes there is really bad television and sometimes there is not but it's hardly relevant. Sometimes we are in that room for a very long time because one of us might be sick and once, at least once, very, very sick and so we stayed in that room for however long it took for it to be better and once we lived on Dominos pizza for a couple of days because that is what there was given the circumstances and twice we had terribly good meals within spitting distance of the terribly lovely B&B and the juxtaposition of each place we crashed and what we ate was hardly ever relevant. Everything just got stripped down to Poems, Prayers, and Promises.
We didn't do that this year. I can't afford the time and she went to Cielo which is a very good thing for her to have done because it's been too long, I think. Last year we had two dance weekends. We had one in January which I have a feeling didn't happen at all this year and we had Flurry in February which meant we probably had a good five days together because of the travel from NC to CT and then Saratoga Springs. And despite the absolute lunacy in my life this year (this week was the LONGEST FREAKING DAY EVER) I am painfully aware of what I don't have right now. It's OK, it's not going anywhere, but I am aware. I don't miss the dancing. I don't miss it at all. I got a message this morning. You missed a great dance and my first response was, that's ok, really, that's ok and later I thought, no, no I did it. I did not miss a great dance, I did not miss it at all. A great dance happened, of course it did. Those dances are always great but I did not miss it one bit. To miss something you would have to want to be there in the first place.
I do miss camping with Cielo. I miss it in two cabins in Frisco, a motel outside the Dayton City (city?) limits and one just inside, I miss it twice at the Hotel Floyd, or whatever it's called, and I miss it in the middle of the city at whichever mid to high end usually reserved for business travelers hotel we stayed in outside of Glen Echo. I miss it at the B&B in Saratoga Springs. There was the house outside of Blowing Rock but that might have been pushing it. I miss it in my living room and at my kitchen table but that's not quite the same as sequestered away from every thing and every one up under the night sky listening to the wolves howl with the smell of woodsmoke sticking with you all the way home and the start of the first mostly successful top down sweater half in the bag.
And that's what she sent me. That video up there with that guy and the muppets going on about poems, prayers, and promises. I don't suppose there's any point asking how she knows about any of it.