A quiet week in, like, Woebegone? No way! I’m gone like daddio, long gone. I’m gone and I’m down, I’m goin’ downtown, so watch me rhyme and turn on a dime.
My musical tastes change periodically, every 10 years or so eventually, the osmotic mass tedium does its thing and I’m no more medium I’m hot on the wing. Just call me M, I’m all about Michi-gan and Eminem. He’s from the thumb, down De-troit way, prob’ly never been Up where I come from but that’s OK.
Never thought I’d see the day but I gotta say/ Life’s too short to be all snooty, what am I, a goody-goody? Eminem rocks, I gotta be sayin’ it/ Music’s so fine I got to be playin’ it/ 8 Mile’s the bomb-a slice of Detroit dram-a/ Eminem is hearable, sometimes unbearable/ I wish he’d lay off the ho’s on the cock talk, but he’s from that walk/ It don’t make him a bum necessarily just an accessory to the hip-hop legacy/ He’ll grow out of it, there’s no doubt about it/ Cuz he ain’t dum and he loves his daughter, it’ll get harder to be her father and rag on those bitches, he’ll find his niche(s), his growth as an artist/ I’m tryin’ my hardest but got to get me sum funny fore I lose you, honey/ I can’t stop I really mean it/ hip-hop on the brain/ I’m bein’ it/ If I’m goin’ batty least I got a beat, got it from my daddy…O!
Act my age? I’m in between/ The boomers span the X, Y and ‘Zine/ You new generation with all due veneration we ain’t dead yet you wanna bet? You’ll get your turn when we’re spinnin’ in our urn/ We’ll haunt you 4-ever, wait till you’re makin’ fun of gens A B whatever/ We all gotta die but we don’t gotta lie down and take it/ Dylan Thomas himself may be rappin’ down under/ Hippin’ and hoppin’ his pomes like thunder.
I say music with a beat, no matter how primitive is just as neat as the old masters’ sheet/ John Belushi on SNL doin’ his Beethoven jive. He be sittin’ at the piano in his freakin’ white wig, composin’ like a 19th century prig, but nothin’ sounds quite right/ Then on comes the bulb of light and all of a sudden he break into a Motown gig, baby o baby I don’t mean maybe, you dig? It always made me wonder why rock’n’roll couldn’t have been invented a coupla centuries younger. Why did it have to be so evolutionarily gradual? I guess your ears have to become more accustomed and agile to hear certain rhythms and rhymes. Good times! It ain’t all about bein’ young, son, where you think you come form?
Last time I didn’t rhyme, I wrote about my trip back in time to my place of origin (POO) to see my family of origin (FOO) for my brother-in-law’s funeral, who? Skip to my Mary Lou, I’m happy to report that my feelings of connections were not an illusion (sometimes these conversions can be a short fusion).
That’s right, peeps, I’m all about the U.P. It’s like a dam burst and let out the part of me that never left the hood or the sticks or the roots (don’t fail me, foots), I been shunnin ‘em so long, I never questioned my attitude or my latitude. Know what? They call Menominee-Marinette the Bay Area too, and I live in Marin the big sis of Marin-ette where my l’il sis gets her due/ And now at plus 55 I realize I just been keepin’ my prejudices alive. I’m still rather stunned by this fork in the road, I’m almost undone. But Barb and K it don’t faze ‘em none. I told ‘em when I was there, “I feel like I got my family back!,” and they don’t say jack, I guess to them I never left, or I been gone so long it looks like up to them, that’s just who I am—Mary from California who’s so gay she has to eat three times a day. As a McKenney, this temporal disconnect is one of many, like when you disappear for a year or more then show up at the door, yer car idlin’ in the drive while the missus goes inside, you just take up where you left off and then you up and leave again/ The roots don’t move but your bloomin’ head’s got to be groovin’ like dandelions a-blowin’ in the wind/ What you got to prove, that you know where you been?
I been there and back, I’m not off the track/ I am who I am at my core/ And more, my peeps are part of me, hellooo Menominee….
[2009 update: You’d think I’d be embarrassed to put this rhymin’ crap on the World Wide Map. But it’s quite liberatin’ to be old and irrepressible, not so much responsible. Forget that old saw, that anythin’ worth doin’ is worth doin’ well, I’m just huffin’ and puffin’ and playin’ to tell.]
My sister Barb and I have been e-mailing just about every day since my September visit. It’s humbling to realize how much goes on back there that you don’t know about if you live 2000 miles away. My mother used to write me all the time, but then it seemed like news from the Old Country. Coming from my sister, for some reason, it feels real and contemporary.
I’ve asked Barb for permission to quote a few of her e-mails, because they illustrate that life is rich, complicated, tragic, and comic wherever you are, whether your town has good restaurants and bookstores or not. Living in a small town—did I ever say? pop. 12,000 or so in Menominee (MI), 14,000 or so across the river in Marinette (WI)—and being close to your family can be a great existence. (Me, I need a little distance.)
(Notes indicated by superscript numbers follow the third e-mail.)
Subject: Local news you wouldn’t believe
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2002 00:25:08 -0500
With all the other stuff I told you, I forgot to tell you of the excitement in town.
Thursday, it seems that a large ship, trying to get through the Menekaunee bridge, hit the left side of the bridge and then in trying to correct itself hit the right side of the bridge. The bridge, which is the one I take to work every day, will be closed for 2 weeks for repair. Estimated cost $60,000.
Friday, on my way home from school, it was announced on the radio that people should avoid going in the downtown area as a train had derailed that morning and the roads there were closed. Turned out they were two chemical tankers, but luckily they were empty. Scientists said the chemicals they would have been carrying would not have been lethal if they mixed, but they were below high power lines and that would have been a real problem.
Friday night, B announced that C (his ex-wife, who is the mother of _____ and _____ ) was held at gunpoint and shot at by her boyfriend’s dad. He had been drinking and apparently had a Vietnam flashback. He told his dog to watch his back and that he would watch his. She is OK, just shaken up some. B was pretty upset that she has brought _____ and _____ over there several times knowing this guy was not quite right.
That’s it. Take care. I love you.
When Barb wrote me that she had baked 15 dozen chocolate chip cookies to give to friends and family who had helped with the roofing project, I replied, somewhat disingenuously, that I wished I had some. With my birthday coming up, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to drop a hint. (BAM! That’s the sound of my hint hitting the floor.) She came through.
Subject: Package coming of cookies
Date: Sun, 27 Oct 2002 20:41:10 -0800
My company of Lorraine, A.J., and Cody just left. I am about to go to the kitchen and start making your chocolate chip cookies. I will then Overnight them to you tomorrow so they will be nice and fresh. Please DO NOT wait until your birthday to open this package from me, as that will negate everything I am trying to do. There will be a couple of other things in there that you can wait until your birthday to open,1 but get to those cookies right away.2 I am sending a pet for your skeleton.3 Hope you enjoy the treat and your birthday.
Kay also found something you will enjoy,4 but is having a hard time finding a box for it, so asked me to tell you it will arrive a little late for your birthday.
I know you didn’t want to start the whole birthday thing going again, but it’s so much fun when you know more about the person for whom you are shopping. Ooooh, proper English.
Spent the day yesterday with Summer and Darien shopping and going out to lunch. We had a good time. Bruce and his son Andy came over today and we dismantled the park.5 Brian showed up just as we were finishing. Got it done in about 3 hours. Not too bad. Only nice day this week; 45 degrees. It is suppose to be below 30 for the rest of this week. Brrrr. Glad it’s done.
Soon after, Death paid another visit.
Subject: Up and Exhausted
Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 23:56:27 -0800
This is the first quiet moment I have had all day. It is 10:57 p.m. Shirley just left. I’ll come to why in just a minute.
In this last week, I have just been beginning to feel like life might be half-way normal again. I had made arrangements to get the tractor picked up to have the lawnmower deck taken off and the snowblower put on with a tune-up done by JD Rental. I was having yearbook meetings. Then yesterday happened.
I had gone to the dentist that morning in Green Bay to have the root canal done. Lorraine brought me and when it was done, we mailed your package, went to Country Buffet for lunch, then to Sam’s for some shopping. I bought a few things, including a box of Mounds candy bars for Ray.6
After we got home at 4:15, I walked over to Ray and Shirley’s to give him the candy bars. He was delighted and commented how Skip and I would always bring him candy bars from Sam’s. He asked how much I owed him. I said nothing. He said you can’t keep doing that. I said yes I can.
In talking, I found out that Shirley needed to go to Menard’s to get some tar for their roof as it was leaking. I offered to take her. Ray wanted me to stay and eat pasties7 with them. I declined. When we went to Menard’s, Shirley told me Ray insisted I get some of that pastie and wanted me to come in and get some when we got back from Menard’s. We talked on the way there about how Ray was getting upset with Shirley raking leaves and said he would have to get back in his wheelchair and follow her around to keep her out of trouble. When we got home, Shirley told me I might as well come in and get some pastie because if I didn’t Ray was going to make her run over to my house with some. I went in and again made small talk with Ray. I went home.
About 8:30, I was talking to Judy on the phone and Kay called. I have call waiting. I interrupted Judy’s call to find Kay asking what was going on in the neighborhood: an ambulance had just been dispatched to Jacobson Street.8 I told her and Judy I would call them back and rushed out the front door. It was at Ray’s house. I rushed in the open door to find Shirley frantic, Randy crying, and Ray passed out on the bathroom floor. Shirley said, “He’s not breathing, I know what this is.” Ray was turning blue already. I called Ray’s sister Jerri and her husband Fritz, and his brother Donnie and wife Sue, to get them there as quickly as possible. Another neighbor was there trying to help too. We called her daughter Sandy, and soon Shirley had family around her. They headed off to the hospital, we neighbors waited in case Sandy showed up and promised to turn out lights and lock up when she was located.
Having done that, it was go home and wait. I called back Kay, Judy, then called Brian and Lorraine. Brian came over and we talked and waited. I left my porch light on so Shirley would know I was still awake. When I called Judy back, she said she had heard on the scanner that they had an irregular heartbeat, then a few moments later lost it and said they were starting CPR. It was his heart, not his lungs. He had a heart attack just like Skip. Ray had just mentioned earlier that Skip was lucky that he went so quickly and didn’t have to linger in a hospital bed for weeks with needles stuck in him and tubes hanging out of him. Shirley called at 11:30 to let me know Ray had died. She said she held his hand and said goodbye to him like I did with Skip.
I didn’t sleep well last night and was already exhausted from the day’s physical and emotional stress. When I went to school this morning, I felt tender and on the edge. I managed to tell my principal what had happened with just some quivering in my voice. Then Kay W., another teacher, came up all cheery and asked how I was today. I burst into tears. Some hugs and a short quiet time got me back together again and I managed to make it through the rest of the day. I explained it briefly to my classes and felt like I was in a fog all day.
After a yearbook meeting I had already scheduled, I rush home to find JD Rental already there, Brian showing up to help get that done, then staying to work on some bugs in this computer. He left and Lorraine came over with muffins, raisin bread, turkey, ham, and rolls to give to Shirley. We visited Shirley and she asked if I would help her do some picture boards9 for Ray like I did for Skip. I told her sure. I then went to Office Max to get the supplies. Just when I got back home, Bruce was there. Shirley came over and we began. Shirley just left and we got one board done. Two more to go. She had left some pictures and I have been running them off while I have been writing to you. We will build the other two tomorrow night.
The funeral will be Friday from 4-6 visitation and 6-6:30 service. I am glad it is on Friday so I have the weekend to settle back down again. Upset and reliving all of the emotions again? Yes. It is hard not to. I have to try and be strong for Shirley this time. Friday is going to be very difficult.
I am glad you liked the cookies. I sent you 74 and kept a few back for me. That was a triple batch. When I gave one to Lorraine, Cody and A.J. tonight, Lorraine said to A.J., grandma makes cookies better than Mom’s, hey A.J.? He nodded his head as he munched. Lorraine said, “This is where you say, “Oh no Mom. Yours are the best cookies.” A.J. just grinned.
Hanging in there because I have to. Will write again soon. Always love hearing from you. Take care.
1Including a video of a Jeff Daniels movie called “Escanaba in Da Moonlight,” which was filmed in the U.P. some miles north of Menominee. The accents of the characters are the U.P. equivalent of the Minnesota accents in “Fargo.”
2Needless to say, I got to the cookies right away!
3A gray stone kitty. She means the big skeleton that sits behind the desk in my living room, not little “Skelly,” the Michigan native who arrived by snail mail a few months ago.
4An Erector set from 1949! I’d always wanted one but always got girly-girl presents instead. Both Kay and Barb have been looking for years for a yellow dome-top lunchbox like the one I’m holding in one of the few pictures of me with my dad. (Yes, so the Boomers are into reclaiming their childhood. Wait till you get here, my young friends.)
5Barb explained later: “Don’t know if I ever answered your question about what we had to do to get the park ready for winter. Take down the patio lights, take down the signs and swing, unchain the picnic tables and lean them up against the wood piles to keep snow off them, take down the wind chimes and smaller bird feeders. Bring up the kerosene and lamps. Take in the statues.”
6Ray was Skip’s best friend.
7A folded (calzone-like) meat and vegetable pie, a U.P. specialty. That I can’t stand. They have rutabagas.
8They all have police scanners and keep track of everything that’s going on. I can hear the sirens of fire trucks a couple blocks away, and unless they roar up and park right outside my condo, I don’t even glance out the window.
9A new(?) custom at funerals; boards placed near the coffin showing a variety of photographs from the deceased person’s life.
When I wrote Barb for permission to quote some of her e-mails (slightly edited) in the ‘zine, I had to explain to her what the ‘zine was. She was intrigued.
Subject: Sure go ahead. Sounds interesting.
Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2002 23:27:38 -0600
… As far as your Mary’zine, I don’t mind at all. It’s nice to be a part of your life again. So here is an interesting incident I haven’t told you yet about the cookie package…. After the dentist that day in Green Bay, I went into Mail Boxes Etc. where they had a Fed Ex sign in the window. As bold as brass, I went in, put the package on the counter and said, “This absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” The guy behind the counter hands me 2 forms and tells me to fill them out. In doing so, I also had to declare the value of the package. I won’t discuss the price of the other gifts, but I figured I had about $10 in cookie dough. He went to the computer, punched in some information, and said, “You absolutely, positively want it there over night?” “Yes,” I said affirmatively. “OK, it will be there at 10:30 tomorrow morning guaranteed.” “Terrific,” I proclaim. “That will be $107.” I bit my lip, paid the man, said thank you, and walked out. My jaw and Lorraine’s too dropped when I got in her Jeep and told her about it. I guess when you walk in bold as brass, you better have the cahunas to back it up. Did your mouth just drop open? I am so glad you enjoyed those cookies so much. That made it all worthwhile.
I also sent Barb a copy of my Eminem rhyme, and she responded in kind:
Real cool and insightful too.
Enjoyed your rap and that aint no flap.
M is straight up with K and B,
One consciousness livin’ as three.
So now she’s rappin’ all the time, I ain’t lyin’:
Well it’s 12:49 and its getting late,
So I’ll leave this note and accentuate
That you’re our big sis, you will always be.
We love you much, that’s from K and me.
Barb is the designated family e-mailer and reads highlights from all my e’s to Kay—including the long Eminem rap. (I would love to have heard that.) Kay wonders if the ‘zine will make me famous… like Paul Harvey (conservative radio commentator, insanely popular in the Midwest, whose signature closing is “Good…………day?”). I don’t know if I’ll ever reach those dizzying heights of celebrity, but it’s good to know my own family supports me with alacrity.
(I feel like I’m showin’ pictures of my family tree and you’re trapped in here with me, oohin’ and ahhin’ ever so polite-ly.)
I am trying to get a grip here.
Of course, having told my sisters about the ‘zine, the next step was to let them read it. This made me nervous, because I’ve never thought of my family as part of my audience. For a while, I thought, why rock the boat? We get along great now; why reveal things that might divide us further? I didn’t want to put something in motion that would—not to put too fine a point on it—come around and bite me in the ass. I finally realized I was being patronizing, as if they were too Midwestern or just too long out of touch with me (or I with them) to follow my verbal flights of fancy.
So I finally sent them most of the back issues, figuring they can pick their way through them like a box of assorted chocolates, reading what interests them and leaving the ones that are too nutty. However, I held back #24, about my trip back there for the funeral, first because I thought it might be too soon for Barb to read about it, and second because I was afraid that, having written it for people who don’t know them, I might have been too facile in my storytelling. When you’re a writer, you use (and abuse) whatever material you have, for your own vile and humorous purposes. Complex people become characters, to be twisted this way and that, readily sacrificed for a laugh. So I call my dead brother-in-law a tranny wannabe. Way to be sensitive. Sometimes I think I should have my poetic license taken away for reckless writing.
But I guess I can’t protect my family from who I am. I’m committed to following through and opening up my (California) life(style), via the ‘zine, to the people who have known me the longest. I have kept the CA and MI parts of my life compartmentalized for so long that it’s a little daunting to think that I can be (and write like) one person and not be shielding the Left Coast from the Midwest parts and the Midwest from my oh-so-privileged-yupscale life. But when I was back there, I felt I could be completely myself—it wasn’t as if I had to turn off my brain and settle in with the home folks and talk only about the rain.
Gee, could it be true? I’ve always thought I had to be, not all I could be, but whichever part of me would be acceptable to whomever I was with—dole myself out in truncated form, keeping the rest of me on a need-to-know basis. A “spiritual” person with my “spiritual” friends, a middle-class professional with my middle-class friends, a down-to-earth no-pretense McDonald’s-going troll with my working-class friends and family. The question is, can I be ME, one consciousness livin’ as THREE or more? I underestimate people in all those categories—mostly by putting them in categories to begin with. J said I could be a bridge between the various worlds I live in. And here I’ve been thinking I was just the troll under the bridge, hardly daring to show my true face. When I was writing to Barb one day, I compared myself to an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. She wrote back to inform me that (“scientific fact”) there was no such thing. So I looked it up, and sure enough,
To escape detection, ostriches may lie on the ground with neck outstretched, a habit that may have given rise to the notion that they bury their head in the sand.
I still think that, metaphorically, the two images express pretty much the same thing. But now that my ostrich-related metaphor inventory has doubled, I can think of myself not only with “head in sand” but “lying on the ground with neck outstretched,” a useful posture, perhaps, both for “escaping detection” and for making a bridge between worlds—no toll, no troll, just a way to streeeeeetttttchh-a, you betcha.
Forty is the new twenty.
—Sheryl Crow, who must have just turned 40
Watch the Baby Boomers redefine the stages of life! If the nursing home is rockin’, don’t bother knockin’! Yes, my generation is accused of trying to remain young forever, of denying the realities of age and maturity and death, of competing with our offspring, if we have any, to be hipper and younger than them and thou. And there’s some truth to that. In some ways we had a very privileged youth at a very exciting time in history—especially those of us who were part of the antiwar movement, the counterculture, the underground press, and the beginnings of new, groundbreaking movements for women, gay people, and ethnic minorities. And then there’s the fact of our sheer numbers. So the media get to rag on us for being so plentiful, and no opportunity to make fun of us for getting old is ever passed up. It’s just plain old ageism, nothing new at all. And yes, I know… we didn’t trust anyone over 30 back in the day, and it’s coming back to haunt us. Wait till you see what your ghosts look like.
Middle age is when you stop criticizing the older generation and start criticizing the younger one.
—Lawrence J. Peter
But clearly, the trend of the eternally trendy is just beginning. If 40 is the new 20, I’m sure that 60 will be the new 30 for Generations X and Y—especially since they tend to be into healthful eating, bike riding, and tree hugging. (Kids today.) And with molecular regeneration of body parts on the horizon, future generations will be rockin’ far longer than we ever will.
According to Sheryl Crow’s math, I turned “28” this year. That’s getting up there—because, as we all know, there’s nothing worse than aging, or, as I like to think of it, continuing to live. You’d think that would be a good thing, but it’s a source of great shame, at least in our culture. If I and my peers, still crazy after all these years, could accomplish one last thing before our selfish dinosaur selves die out, it might be to convey the truth about being old vs. youthful. But I suspect it’s not useful. They’ll just have to find out for themselves that youth is great for some things but that getting older is the real blessing.
One sure thing about my generation’s march toward oblivion is that we’re all going to get mighty sick of the word “Boomer.” I got an ad in the mail from a hearing aid company that began its pitch, “HEY BOOMER!!” (I wanted to call them up and say, “My hearing may be bad, but I can READ JUST FINE”). I think the B word will have to be incorporated into the generic phrase for old people, just so we aren’t confused with “The Greatest Generation,” our suddenly sainted Depression-era parents. I always hated the term Seniors, unless you’re talking about high school students or underclassmen. But I’m guessing we’ll be referred to as some variation on Senior Baby Boomers—Baby Seniors—Senior Boomers—Senior Babies. Be the first on your block to coin the newest derogatory term for the elderly! But the Boom spanned a lot of years, from 1946 to 1964, so those of us who were the first products of the post-WWII unprotected-sex epidemic will have to be distinguished from our younger siblings as “Elder Baby Senior Boomers.” But since we’re not of Social Security age just yet, for now you can think of us as Junior Elder Baby Senior Boomers. (I knew I should have gone into marketing.)
So mostly I just ignore all this mass media nonsense and live my life, but it/they, the mass tedia, got to me the other day. I’m enjoying my newfound attraction to hip-hop, have bought a few CDs and started listening to Live105—so nice to hear some music with N-R-G instead of that ‘90s/’00s pap-pop-crap (crapopap—the next dance craze?). And then along comes Maureen Down [Freudian slip; DOWD], in the New York Times, to report that soccer moms across the nation are “surreptitiously smitten” with Eminem. They have to listen to his music in the car after dropping off their 11-year-old daughters, who are “repulsed” by him.
Frantic to be hip, eager to stay young, we are robbing our children of their toys. Like Mick Jagger, we want to deny the reality of time and be cool unto eternity. Eminem sings only about himself, which makes him a perfect boomers’ crooner.
Oh puh-lease! Honey, take your social analysis and your boomer crooner doom out of the room and slouch off to your own eternal-uncool tomb. Let people like what they want to. Sometimes a mid-life red convertible is just a cigar. You dig? She ends with this zinger:
He’ll have to be very smart and very wicked if he doesn’t want to hear himself in elevators.
Uh huh. And how do you think he got where he is? By being very smart and very wicked. He’s played American culture like a violin. Obviously, I don’t like everything he says, but he’s for real, and his verbal agility is awe-inspiring. If he’s the new Elvis, “ripping off the black man so he can get wealthy,” so be it. Elvis brought R&B into the mainstream, and Eminem is doing the same for hip-hop. (I think he’s generally regarded as the best. Here’s Charles Barkley: “You know it’s gone to hell when the best rapper out there is a white guy and the best golfer is a black guy.”) And his take on race relations is refreshing—a class-conscious view that doesn’t scapegoat working-class blacks, his natural allies. I wish he were more enlightened about women, but he’s all bitchin’ and ho-in’ like rap tradition demands. But I guess if he gave women as much respect as he gives black men, he’d lose all credibility. (Woman—still man’s natural enemy.) Maybe his street cred will turn his head around and let him come out with some real shockers, like women are people too, not just hos ‘n’ hookers. And wait till his daughter grows up and he sees the male-female thing from both sides now. Then let’s see who he calls a ho.
So analyze this, Maureen Dowdy. Say howdy. Do yer doody and don’t be so moody.
p.s. I heard from Barb this morning. She has
… now read ‘zines 1, 2, 3 and 4 and enjoyed them thoroughly. I wish to be included in future mailings.
Well, she hasn’t gotten to the “Mary’s porn” issue yet, but I’m somewhat assured that—gasp—she can handle reading both my deepest and most superficial thoughts.
So, as my horoscope says every few months, “you are on a collision with destiny.” Or maybe with the left and right sides of the bridge, to bring us full circle to the “local news you wouldn’t believe.” Whatever. Just picture me flat on the ground with my head outstretched, ostrich-like, trying to be all things to all people and wondering if—truly—the only way to get anywhere close to that is to be all things I already am.
No doubt. Peace out.