Notes from Kansas, Part 2

I am once again back in Kansas, visiting my parents. My days are mostly filled with trips to Bartlesville for my Dad’s radiation, several trips to grocery stores and bakeries throughout southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, and driving around Independence, with my dog, looking at old houses and buildings. My Dad is doing well, all things considered.  

I get a little bored, our entire day revolves around a 10 minute radiation session. That’s not a complaint, it’s kind of beautiful really. Ten very important and hope filled minutes. 

I like the downtime. I like taking my dog Ricky out with me for a walk or a drive. I take him to Riverside Park and we walk around the fountain. Tonight, after two days of rain, the sun had returned, with a few lingering dramatic clouds. The trees a little greener, the sky bluer, I wondered if maybe this was the most beautiful spot on earth. Had I really travelled the world in search of paradise when all this time it was yards away from me?

I’ve said it before, but I can’t believe that after dreaming, moaning, bragging during my entire childhood that I would someday leave this hick town, that I am back, in awe of its beauty. Also, charmed by peeling paint on old Victorians, haunted by houses in varying states of decay. 

When I am in New York City, another place I once called home, I walk and walk and walk every day that I am there. I try to walk down every street and avenue. I ask myself when I was last on this block? Have I ever been on this block? I’ll see a structure, something noteworthy like a 100 year old church or a miniature park or a just a bakery and wonder, did I know about this and forget or never notice it before? 

And here, in my most hometown of hometowns, I find myself doing the same thing. I drive down streets just for the sake of taking it in, recovering old memories, like the SCF lock-ins at the Nazarene church or the carnivals that blanketed the Washington school playground or that library that I spent so much time in growing up, reading about people who lived in faraway places. 

Also, though, I discover new things, like an apartment building or a miniature park or a bottling plant and wonder, did I know about this and forget or is this completely new to me? 


And while I drive, and sometimes stop and take pictures, I wonder, why am I doing this? Is this going to make me smarter? More successful? What am I gaining here? 

To be honest, I don’t know. The other day, a friend, in all kindness, commented, “Your sincere wistfulness at the past is a lovely memory of the midwest.” I had to laugh as I wondered, am I the Miss Havisham of bloggers, weeping for a time that only lives in my memory which means maybe it never existed anyway? Am I the sentimental guy buying Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel slide machine? 

From that Mad Men episode: “This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

If you’re still with me, I reckon it’s because you have a place that holds that kind of weight for you too. I know I can’t say it better than Matthew Weiner, or Jon Hamm, but this week, these drives, these discoveries, these memories, they have fortified me. 

Maybe just as all children, whether they are close to their parents or not, must eventually make peace with the people who raised them, we must all make peace with the places that raised us too. Am I the only one who sometimes blames a weakness or failure in myself on the town that raised me? That thinks, I would have had so much opportunity if I’d just been raised in New Jersey?!?! (If I am the only one, don’t tell me, let me wallow in my delusions.) 

But this place, it’s pretty special. And not just because of Miss Able and William Inge and that first lighted baseball game. Much of what I am today is because of her. And just as we carry the people we love with us in our hearts, even when separated by miles and states, we carry with us, any place that we have ever called home. And Independence, I know this now, will always be my home.


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Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

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I’m reading the short stories of John Cheever right now. Something about his characters and themes taps into traits and inclinations that are at the core of who I am. Cheever had/has a fixation on loss, lost youth, lost money, lost hope.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of his short stories, about a character described, at 40, as a middle aged man, I remembered something I had forgotten.  I am middle aged.  And unless I live to be 95, I am on the downward slope of middle age.  But whenever I get worried about my age, I always think of Sarah Jessica Parker who is three years older than me.  At every age, she is beautiful and fashionable and smart and relevant and the thought of her comforts me.

This morning, I read Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty, about a former star athlete who in middle age has money problems and drinks too much. Again, as I drank my morning coffee and sat on the couch reading, I wondered, are my best days behind me?

I remember that hope we had, I had, in our youth that our adult lives would be filled with an abundance of riches. Not just monetary riches, but certainly including those. We would have many friends, many children, many vacations, many pets, many accolades, many successes.

When I was in high school, I was in forensics, and I was sometimes asked to do monologues or scenes at various womens’ clubs in Independence. A small group of us would assemble in a church fellowship hall and entertain the ladies. My piece was always from God’s Favorite by Neil Simon, always a crowd favorite. Even at 16, I could tap into the Charles Nelson Reilly that was gesticulating within me. We’d put on our little show, they’d feed us cookies and tea and sometimes give us a small honorarium, and then we’d be on our way. I’d drive off in my ratty ’65 Mustang and think this was just the beginning of a rich life. Unlimited promise.

Are all of my best days behind me?

As I walked the dogs a few minutes ago, I asked myself that question. How far back in my memory reserve would I have to go to access a really great day, not just a good day, but a special, think of it for years to come day. Maybe even a remember it on your deathbead, a la Claire Fisher from series finale of Six Feet Under, kind of day.

You can imagine my relief when a fairly recent memory popped into my head, from a mere two months ago. Not surprisingly, I was on vacation. Also, not surprisingly, I was in New York.

Eric and I were in New York but during the day he attended a trade show at the Javits Center. I decided that was the day I would go to Governors Island. I’d never been to Governors Island, when I lived in New York, I do not think it was open to the public.

I took the train to the tip of Manhattan and walked to the Ferry terminal, then took the Ferry to Governors Island. I walked around the island, took pictures, posted pictures to Instagram. I boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan. Took more pictures of both islands. Docked in Manhattan and went to Starbucks and bought a water with a gift card my Mom sent me. I visited a gift store I like where I bought vintage looking dog stickers.

I pondered the possibility of taking the subway back to midtown where we were staying, especially since it was 90 degrees, and also, I developed a stomachache from drinking that water so fast. But I decided I would walk until I got tired and then take the subway the rest of the way. I walked from South Street Seaport through Tribeca and Soho into Greenwich Village then by my old apartment on 15th street. I walked up 8th until about 30th and then I jogged over to 9th Avenue. Somewhere around 23rd, the thought of a flower topped chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe popped into my head. How long it had been since I’d had one of those cupcakes? Ten years? Fifteen? When I got to 9th Avenue, the bakery was not where I remembered it but across the street. Had they moved or had I remembered it incorrectly? I bought my cupcake. I considered eating it at one of the handful of dusty tables, but decided I would take it back to the hotel and eat it there in the blasting air conditioning. I walked up 9th Avenue with the intent to also buy a sandwich at Amy’s Breads but at Amy’s Breads, at 2:30 p.m., the sandwich pickings were slim. So I ambled up and got a turkey sandwich at the French bistro near our hotel. I ate my feast in our room, half interested in an episode of Catfish playing on MTV. I took a shower and Eric texted me to say we would meet for drinks at Soho Grand before our dinner at Balthazar. I had a few hours to kill so I decided to visit a museum on the Upper West Side where an Al Hirschfeld exhibit was ongoing. I walked from our hotel, around Columbus Circle then up Central Park West. I took pictures of some of the more stately apartment building along the avenue. I’d walked by them a hundred times before but I hoped that because I was taking pictures of them now, I would remember the names and the details. Was the Dakota above or below the San Remo?

When I got to the museum, I found that they were closing in less than an hour and admission was almost $20, so I decided not to go in. I’ll never know how many Ninas I might have discovered inside the New York Historical Society. On 81st, I turned to walk west, inspired by the thought that it had been many years since my last visit to Riverside Park. On 81st and West End, I happened upon The Calhoun School, famous because the building itself looks like a giant television. I took a picture and sent it to friends via Facebook. On Sundays, when I lived in New York, I attended a church that had services there. I tagged Yvonne and Tania and Sarah in the picture I posted, I would have tagged Dana but she isn’t on Facebook.

From there I kept walking and as I crossed Riverside Drive, I remembered an episode of Naked City that was filmed there. How could the street look almost the same 50 years later? Has there ever been a city as unmoved yet everchanging as New York? I walked into the park. It’s no Central Park, I thought to myself. But I walked south until I discovered the Seventyninth Street Boat Basin. I considered stopping for a glass of wine. I remembered that I’d actually woke up a little hungover that morning. Too much bourbon at Bemelman’s and Robert and the Ritz-Carlton the night before. So I kept walking. I walked down the parkway along the Hudson River, marvelling at the stunning views of the water and the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. I thought about how growing up (in Kansas) I always pictured New Jersey as an ugly, undesirable state and obviously, now I knew how wrong I was. I grew to love New Jersey decades ago.

I walked south to a new park with a fancy, sophisticated walkway and then I headed back to Columbus Circle. It was 5:30 and after my industrious walk, I was sweaty again. I decided to go back to the hotel to take another shower.

I was a little late to the Soho Grand, but Eric and our friend were enjoying cocktails and Sriracha-coated peas when I joined them. Believe it or not, I did not order a cocktail.

From there we had dinner at Balthazar, which was good. And then I can’t remember what else we did. Did we walk around Rockefeller Center and then up 5th Avenue? Did we go for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton again, then along Central Park South back to our hotel? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Years from now, I might remember it incorrectly, that we hopped into a cab and sang songs around the piano at Marie’s Crisis or that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. And if that’s the way I remember it, that’s okay. No reason to getted bogged down by the facts.

Besided the hangover, the stomach ache, the pervasive heat, the not getting to see the Hirschfeld exhibit, I also had to contend with moments of melancholy and anxiety throughout this special day. Like a Cheever protagonist, melancholy and anxiety, and self-absorption for that matter, are part of who I am in my core. And yet, I will always remember this day fondly, importantly.

I walked 23.58 miles that day. I know that because I tweeted it that night when I got back to the hotel. I was proud of what I accomplished. I take my visits to New York very seriously, but you already know that.

Already, Eric and I are planning our next visit. I have to wrap this post up in a speedy manner or else I will be late to work. Forgive any mispelled words or dangling modifiers, maybe I’ll go back to fix my errors when I have time.

So off to work, I’ll go. Sometime during my day, I’ll check Kayak for flight and hotel deals. I’ll remember a museum that I wanted to make it to in August and I’ll go to their website and see what exhibits they’ll be showing at the end of January, beginning of February. Maybe I’ll finally make a reservation for us to eat lunch at The Four Seasons or Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. Still planning a bright future.

We must do what we can to prove that our best days are before us.

The Darkness of Our Souls

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One of the mostly darkly comic moments of my high school career was the day of officer elections for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It was my junior year and I had been very involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) since my freshman year. I went to every meeting, every weekend retreat, every Tuesday night bible study. I wasn’t really an athlete, but I sure was a Christian and I had every Amy Grant cassette tape to prove it.

If you are a person that remembers high school, you might remember how some clubs were a little nerdier than others. FCA was not a nerd club. I’ll never forget my freshman year, going to meetings, spellbound by the devotions given by junior and senior club leaders, popular boys and girls, who talked about how their relationship with Jesus really helped them get through the day. And also, to win games.

By my junior year, FCA was the one club I was most involved in. Many of the people I considered my best friends were also in that club.

When officer elections came up that year, I knew that I really wanted to hold some kind of office during my senior year. I aspired to be that upperclassman giving devotions, inspiring freshman about how Jesus really makes your day better. So I signed up to run for every office: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer. I think there was even something called stu-co rep that I threw my name into the hat for. I was sure that with all that putting myself out there, something would pay off. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

The day of elections, my first clue of the tragicomedy to come was that every FCA member in the school showed up to vote. While FCA boasted a large membership, meeting attendance was never mandatory and often not heavily attended. That day was the exception, every lumbering football player, towering basketball player and Aqua-Netted varsity cheerleader showed up to vote for officers that day.

The first office that we voted for was president. I don’t remember how many candidates there were, I don’t remember who won. I just remember it wasn’t me.

I won’t drag this out for you the way that afternoon dragged on for me, but each election bore the same result. Each time my fellow FCA members had an opportunity to vote, they voted for the other candidate. By the time we got down to stu-co rep, there were snickers that travelled through the auditorium when my name was announced as one of the candidates. Like Carrie at the prom, in the moments after that pigs’ blood fell on her head, I realized that whatever it was that I wanted from these people, boys and girls I considered my peers, I was not going to get it. By a show of hands, the vote took place. Someone other than me won.

That afternoon, after the calamitous election, I went home and took to my waterbed. I don’t remember crying specifically, but I probably did. What I most remember is laying there, heartbroken and embarrassed. In all my years of living in Independence, I don’t think I ever felt so alone.

My only consolation was that someday I would leave Independence and leave Kansas and show them all. I would have a wildly successful adult life and when I came back to Independence to visit, everyone would clamor around me, wanting to get close enough that my stardust might rub off on them.

And while I have left Independence and left Kansas, my life is just kind of a life. Not too glamorous, barely any stardust at all.

Did I have any idea, on that lonely spring afternoon, as I pouted in my bedroom, how many times I would think of that day in the 30 years to come? I don’t think I did.

On that afternoon, I decided I was not going to be a member of FCA my senior year. I would not be sharing my athleticism or my Christianity with people who did not appreciate it. And I held to that resolution. Instead, my senior year was filled with rehearsals and performances for four different plays.

It’s no wonder I loved being on stage, acting in these plays. The thought of becoming someone else is what I’d spent 17 years dreaming about.

One of the plays I did in that busy senior year was written by William Inge.  The play, A Loss of Roses, was Inge’s first big Broadway failure, the first of more than a few.

Inge wrote quite a bit about his hometown, my hometown. In his adulthood, he did not spend a lot of time in Independence. From what I’ve read, I don’t think he liked visiting. An overly sensitive man, a success who never stopped feeling like a failure, I think his visits home dredged up too much pain.

It’s always a little embarrassing to write about one’s pains, one’s sensitivities. Inge did it beautifully, but now, now that we know how much sadness he bore his entire life, it’s heartbreaking. Lola, always ready to play the victim, but stronger than she realizes. Rosemary, on her knees begging a man she may not even love to marry her because the loneliness is killing her. Millie, overshadowed by her beautiful sister, defiant that one day she would leave Independence and live a successful, decorated life.

Sometimes I worry that I am in a downward spiral, that the trip to the Menninger Clinic that William Inge and Deanie Loomis took might be in my future too. There are days that I am overwhelmed by my sensitivities. There are moments when I wonder, am I the only person bothered that no one stops at stop signs in Los Angeles?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning with the fear that everyone in my entire home town hates me now. Over something I wrote about in a blog yesterday. And then I fretted over that fear because who really thinks that way except for the delirious and the paranoid?  And then to try to make sense of it, I sat on my couch and typed all this out into my little phone. And then, later, I’ll go back to reread what I’ve written and judge it and decide whether I’m willing to share it, the ramblings of my overtired, oversensitive, quite possibly delusional brain.

Of course, you know I published it. You know I took that risk. It’s what we writers do, we risk revealing the darkness of our souls. Even us failures, especially us failures.  And vultures that we are, we all take solace in being reminded of others’ failures, because they are not our own.

A Sad Confession

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It was me.  Let the chips fall where they may.

I know I don’t think of myself as a trouble maker and yet the fact that trouble always has a way of finding me indicates that perhaps I seek trouble more than I am willing to admit.  It all started a few days ago.  On Facebook, naturally.

Someone I grew up with, I’ll call her Melissa, posted a picture on Facebook that I found disturbing.  She posted a picture of a bloody dead deer.  She included with the picture a witticism about the deer being Bambi’s mom.  Now, I am from the midwest, so I have seen quite a few pictures of dead deer on social media over the last few years.  To me, it’s jarring to scroll down your news feed and come upon a picture of a bloody animal.  And let me state for the record, there is a possibility that I am the only person who feels that way.

This person who posted the picture is not someone I would classify as a close friend.  I have not seen her once in the last 20 years.  I decided in that moment to unfollow Melissa.  It’s not like we really even have much Facebook contact, we don’t send messages, she doesn’t really click like on pictures I post.

I can’t remember how it all played out, but I think when I told FB I wanted to unfollow Melissa it asked me if I wanted to report that picture.  So I said yes.  In retrospect, I have to wonder why I felt the need to report the picture.  It was and is my understanding that if one person reports a picture, nothing happens.  If several people report a picture, FB may delete it or ask you to delete it.  If anyone has more expertise on FB’s reporting policies, please feel free to weigh in.

Facebook asked me why I wanted to report the picture and after a series of multiple choices, I chose that the picture was gory.  Obviously, gore is somewhat objective, I realize not everyone in the world looks at a picture of a dead deer, bleeding out from its wound, and sees that as unsightly.

I posted a tweet/status update about hoping there might be less dead deer photos in my news feed this fall and winter.  I wondered what might be the kindest, smartest, most empathetic way to ask people to post less of these type pictures.  I don’t think what I came up with achieved those missions. I wrote, “Racking my brain, trying to figure out the least passive aggressive way to ask people not to post pictures of dead deer this deer season.”  A few people clicked like, a few agreed with me.

Later, I went back to Melissa’s FB page and I saw that she left a comment under her picture that anyone who was offended by her picture should just delete her, so I did.  She said that she was from Kansas and people from Kansas hunt.  (I’m paraphrasing.)

I will say that I am not a vegetarian, nor am I against hunting.  That Melissa and her family will consume this animal does not disturb me.  I just did not think it was the kind of thing I wanted to see on social media.

This morning, a friend of mine who saw my tweet/status update from Monday asked if I was the person who reported Melissa’s picture.  I admitted to my friend that it was me.  This friend shared with me the status update and thread where she said someone had reported her picture and she wanted to know who it was so she could delete them.  There were many comments of support, people who felt there was nothing disturbing at all about her dead deer picture.

And that’s when I felt bad.  I asked myself again, seriously, why did I feel the need to report the picture? Why did I get so fired up? It’s just a picture.  Couldn’t I have just unfollowed and not look back?  I thought about sending Melissa a message, apologizing for reporting the picture, offering best wishes, trying to explain myself.  I realized, though, that there was nothing I could say that would make her see it my way.  We both may be from Kansas, we both might have even moved far away from Kansas, but we see life differently.

If I could undo reporting the picture, I would.  If I could undo unfriending Melissa, I would do that too.

What’s done is done after all.  And this is a sad confession, but it was only after reading her latest status update this morning that I really tried to look at the whole thing from her perspective.  It’s my understanding that the deer was shot by her husband, and people commented that it was a good shot, a clean kill.  She was proud of her man and she wanted to share it.  And then I come along…

I don’t know if the picture is still up, I do know that she knows it was me.  She commented in another thread that she thought I was the kind of person who would have told her without reporting it.  And I would say she makes a good point.

So, I guess that’s it.  Everybody knows.  I know there are much bigger problems in the world than this, but I am not proud of my actions.

Melissa, if you ever happen to see this, know that I am truly sorry.  I do wish you the very best.

The Facts of Life

3039_1084349233848_8185094_nAs a person who receives some satisfaction from documenting his experiences and thoughts in words and sharing those words with others, I sometimes I ask myself, what is it about my writing, my point of view, that is my essence. Who am I at my core? Obviously, I am an Angeleno, a reader, an art lover, a Kansan, a former New Yorker, a swimmer. But what makes me me? What are the hallmarks of my writing?

I was talking to someone last night and we were discussing our separate junior high and high school experiences. And I said that for me, junior high and high school are never very far away from me. For me, and perhaps it’s because those years were not what I wanted them to be, I can be in the middle of the most random moments, like taking a table’s order, or walking down Larchmont, or drinking my morning coffee, or driving along Mulholland (Full confession, I do not drive along Mulholland nearly as often as I should.) and suddenly, often inexplicably, I am in Ms. Willis’ Algebra II class, or receiving my 2nd place medal at a Chanute Forensics competition, or getting in trouble for talking too much in the Living Christmas Tree at my Bible college, or standing in the lunch line at IJHS.

And I don’t think I am the only one who finds his memories almost oppressively accessible. I think many people remember many things from 25 and 30 and 35 years ago, but often, people don’t like to wade into that muck. Because, really, it’s muck and often muck can weigh you down. The past is the past.

But you know, just to play Devil’s advocate, you CAN learn from your past. You can ponder it and say, I don’t want to ever do or feel THAT again. Or you can say, there was a purity or joy that I want to bring back. For instance, I don’t remember a happier childhood time than the summer or weekend days when I would visit my friend Chris and we would play all afternoon with his sister’s Barbies. I marvel at how much of my childhood was spent dreaming of having my own Barbie doll. Every September, when the Sears, JCPenney and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogs came, I would memorize, circle, cast a spell on every single item in the Barbie and fashion doll pages of each book. It’s crazy, I know. So much yearning for something that the culture I lived in told me was bad.

On New Year’s Day, as I was swimming, I thought about my friend Alan, with whom I spent most of New Year’s Eve. I’ve talked about him here before from time to time. We grew up together in the same small town, but, probably because even then we could both smell the gay on each other, it wasn’t until our adulthood that we became friends. And now, he knows this too, he is one of my best friends. That night, as a group of us sat at our friend Traci’s dining room table, discussing Serial, (Am I the only one who has little doubt that Adnan did it?) we also talked about Independence, gossiped a bit, showed our LA friends the mugshot of a childhood classmate that had (Drew Droege in Chloe voice) recently come to our attention. While we laughed over Malbec and Mu-Shu Pork, a Happy New Year text came in from our childhood friend Curt. Curt and his husband live in Ecuador, but were in Independence the same weekend I was there in December and we got to connect. I told Curt that I was with Alan and he wished Alan a Happy New Year too.

While I was in Kansas, I spent a good deal of time, documenting the trip with Alan and another friend Joel. Joel and I knew each other growing up, but our friendship was cemented when we took Mrs. Spencer’s American Literature course through the junior college one summer. It’s a bit of a magic trick to make something written centuries ago feel personal and contemporary, but that’s what she did in that class. There were only a handful of us, but whenever I see someone from that class, we always nod our heads and say, “THAT was the BEST class.” And then the other says, “YES, it was!”

So, yes, that first weekend in December, Alan and Joel and I spent a great deal of time texting each other about the weekend’s sightings, happenings, uncoverings, nuances.

I ached to have a large circle of friends when I was growing up. I mean, I had some friends, but I remember a lot of Friday and Saturday nights hanging out with the Ewings, the Channings, the Stubings and Mr. Roarke when what I really wanted was to go to the movies with friends my own age. I don’t doubt that I was an oddball. I mean, I don’t think anyone else was tape recording episodes of The Facts of Life and listening to them over and over again every night as a lullaby before bed.

The thing is, what I really wanted to say, when I started this Miss Havisham of a blog post, is that I’m grateful for my fellow gays from Independence. Not long ago, one of us, probably Alan, uncovered on FB someone else from our little town, who, it appears is living a gay life in a large city, far from Kansas like the rest of us. In trying to glean as much info as possible from his profile, I got a sense, true or not, that he wanted and succeeded at putting a lot of distance between himself and his hometown. And I certainly don’t judge that decision, there is a part of me that thinks that way too. But, I also felt a little sad. Sad that he doesn’t seem to have an Alan or a Joel or a Curt or a Chris to say, “Yeah, I remember. Growing up in Independence sometimes SUCKED, but look at us now. Look at how fabulous we’ve become.”

Guest Blogger, Dayna Williams-Capone: First Job at Riverside Pool

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As summer sadly slips away, I can’t help but remember the Augusts of my youth, when I tried valiantly to get in as much swim time as possible before Riverside Pool closed for the season, boarding up with its concession stand and basket room, my hopes and dreams of becoming the next Rowdy Gaines or Steve Lundquist. Of course, my friend Dayna Williams-Capone, sister of guest blogger Joel Williams, was one of the lucky ones, she actually worked at the pool. A few weeks ago, I asked her if she had an interest in writing about those days, and she graciously agreed. So, please enjoy this account, you can almost smell the chlorine, watermelon Now & Laters and iodine laced baby oil with every sentence.

First Job at Riverside Pool

Ever since Ray and I started talking online in early June about our hometown I have been thinking about my first job and how I view that experience today in comparison to my image of myself and feelings about that job when I was 15. It was fun getting in touch with a couple of people I worked with back then and by doing so I realized how differently each one of us remembers (or forgets) a past shared experience. Thanks Ray for giving me a chance to share this.

Riverside Pool in Independence, Kansas is a place I remember with a sense of excitement and contentment. Opening day at the pool was what I daydreamed about during those final May days of school. It was the place to meet friends and be a bit more independent. Starting in about 5th grade, my mother would often drop me off at the pool on her way back to work from lunch and pick me up at the end of her work day.

The summer I was 15 I got a job at the pool working in the concession stand along with a good guy friend of mine. It was a perfect first job as I would spend my mornings and late evenings playing tennis at the courts next to the pool and then head over for work. It was a not so perfect job as I spent my time waiting on bratty children trying to decide if they wanted a Chick-O-Stick or Tangy Taffy while the lifeguards flirted and paraded around in their latest swimsuits.

I had an in for the job as my dad and the pool manager were friends who both taught at the local community college. Having my friend to keep me company and knowing the manager were a big plus because I found the older and cooler lifeguards and the jock who ran the basket room (where you checked in your towel or extra clothes) to be intimidating. Those 2 – 3 summers at the pool taught me a lot about people and self-confidence and what it meant to be or not to be one of the cool kids.

The lifeguards were at the top of the social ladder at the pool followed by the jock in the basket room and bringing up the rear were us kids in the concession stand. Our job was to look the other way when the lifeguards came in to pilfer Zero or Snicker bars out of the refrigerator or to be their audience as they discussed last night’s party, a new boyfriend or how sunburned they were getting. The biggest compliment to receive from the lifeguards was to be dragged out of the concession stand and thrown in the pool. It didn’t happen often, but it meant they really liked you. Those summers I was the sounding board and observer to unrequited love, hangovers, an unplanned pregnancy, engagements and leaving home for college.

The most exciting event during my summers at the pool was the year I was invited to the end of summer party at one of the lifeguard’s rental house. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be a part of the cool kids club and how was I ever going to have this experience without letting my parents in on all of the somewhat questionable things that might happen there. There was going to be beer and purple cold duck in those little glass bottles. People would be smoking who knows what and they had driver’s licenses and cool sports cars.

I went, I saw, I drank enough beer to have no effect. Afterwards I spent the night with my close friend and I’m certain we dissected all my adult experiences. My friend who had a menthol smoking older sister with a wild side understood my need to experience this party, but also the uncomfortable feelings of not quite knowing how I fit in.

Looking back on that party it was more of an opportunity for everyone to prove to everyone else how worthy they were. Each person was there to show off his/her gifts. It could have been the gift of making great ice cream, telling the best jokes, drinking the most beer, being the most daring by having the illegal contraband, being the best dressed or having the cutest date. Because of our youth it all became a competition, we weren’t ready to appreciate each other’s gifts, to overlook faults, to build each other up.

At 15, fitting in was important and it was very difficult to be the person I was growing into. Sometimes in our adult lives our 15 year old selves emerge and bump into each other. Experience and wisdom sometimes help mitigate our feelings of inadequacy and competitiveness. Other times it’s easy to fall back into old habits. I’m much happier now than at 15, but still enjoy remembering all of the interesting and difficult things I experienced in that small town in Kansas.

Frozen

Never-Been-KissedI’ve definitely been a little sentimental lately.  You might perhaps remember a post from last week where I mentioned that my job of 15 years is coming to a close this week, Saturday is my last day.  A few days ago, I had a conversation with my friend and co-worker Gabriel about another recent blog post.  He chided me that the title of the blog Class of ’84 Reunion caught his eye because he wasn’t even born in 1984.  (Very funny, Gabe!) But we talked about the post, about something that happened long ago, and he mentioned that that’s the thing about people you haven’t seen in a long time, they are locked in, frozen, as the person that you last had contact with.  Years, decades could pass, but they are still that 9th grader or 7th grader or whatever.

And because that particular post had a certain amount of resonance, I have heard from many, many of my classmates in the last 36 hours.  And it’s weird, because that thing that Gabriel talked about, that frozen in time aspect, related to those people too.  I heard from P—–, who when we were in 7th grade, we were in all the same classes.  She was the prettiest girl in the 7th grade and I had a crush on her just like everyone else.  She’s obviously an adult now, kids of her own, but in our exchange, all I could remember was the statuesque girl with the feathered, raven hair.  It was sweet.  And I heard from M—–who reminded me of arm wrestling in the school cafeteria.  He flattered me by saying that he thought I won, but I’m sure he did.  I got a message from H——, my neighbor growing up and I remembered our summer before 9th grade where all the kids in the neighborhood hung out every day.  It was the only summer that we did that, but I thought so fondly about it today.  I talked to S—– who was on the French Club trip to Canada, and T—– who was one of the stars of my summer swim league, and C—- and A—- who, with me, comprised 1/3 of the gayest T-ball team in Kansas sports history.  With a few exceptions, I have little contact with these people in my 2014 life.  They are frozen, at 12 or 14 or 15 or 17.

Also today, I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite movies, Never Been Kissed with Drew Barrymore, as Josie Geller who had to go to high school twice to really appreciate it.  I tried to find a video of her voiceover at the end, where she talks about the people from high school.  I couldn’t find it, but I did find the speech. “Those girls are still there. The ones that, even as you grow up, will still be the most beautiful girls that you’ve ever seen close up.  The athletes, and the immense sense of fraternity and loyalty that they share. The smart kids- who everyone else always knew as the brains. But who I just knew as my soul mates, my teachers, my friends.”  I feel like I had my Never Been Kissed moment yesterday, reconnecting with these people who were my bright spots of youth, people I admired the most in my formative years.  

And now I think about Gabriel and my friends from Barney Greengrass, AKA Barneys New York Restaurant.  It’s a graduation of sorts.  There is a possibility that many of us will be back in the fall in the new incarnation, but the truth is, who really knows what the future holds.  Yesterday, was the last time another friend Kristin and I worked together.  As she left, I hugged her tight in a somewhat successful attempt to make her cry.  “You’re not going to make me cry, Ray,” she said with misty eyes. And then we laughed. It was a nice moment that I hope I never forget.

I’m trying to tie these groups together, old friends from youth and these co-workers who’ve been my friends so long that they feel like family. Some will remain fixtures in my life and others, of course, will remain frozen as they are in June 2014. But frozen is not a bad thing when the memories are warm. (Get it?) If I don’t see Gabriel or Kristin or Rudy or Jonathan or Olya or the rest for another 30 years, they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. And it’s nice to know that in my heart, my sometimes embittered heart that has survived a few hurts, there is room for love for so many, old and new.

I told you I’ve been sentimental lately.