Better Than the Next

In the summer of 2007, my friend Reid invited me and his girlfriend Shauna to a concert. he said there would be an orchestra playing outdoors at the Descanso Gardens, about a 30-minute drive from their place in North Hollywood. Oooh, orchestral music! I agreed without a second thought or further details.

The set was gorgeous. We were led into an enclosed section of the gardens, a rectangular area surrounded by walls of vine. The green grass on the floor led to a large wooden stage on the far side of the stretch. All around were white picnic tables with matching chairs. This was going to be good.

We found a table near the back and glanced at the program, which had the words “Water, Water Everywhere!” in large letters on the cover. That must be the theme, I guessed. We made idle chit chat, and then the show began.

For whatever reason, Shauna and I were not particularly captivated from the very beginning. I think when Reid had said “orchestra” I pictured a room full of hoity-toity monocle-donning aristocrats listening to esoteric pieces that only Cultured People and connoisseurs could appreciate. I imagined myself to be a Cultured Person who would enjoy the show and later brag to friends about the classy music and company.

But that’s not what happened. Apparently this was going to be a “pop” show and the rest of the audience were plebeians like us. Already it was a disappointment.

Now, it didn’t help the situation that Shauna and I were in that most special of moods when everything seems silly. I got the impression that Shauna was equally disappointed at what the show would be, but for whatever reason, she mirrored my mood and criticisms perfectly. Perhaps under other circumstances we would have enjoyed the concert, but as things were we found plenty of things at which to roll our eyes and laugh, to Reid’s annoyance.

The show began with a hackneyed and protracted lecture about water. Yes, yes, water is important. But I was there for orchestral music, and the talk sounded like it was directed at fifth graders. Water is sooo vital to the Earth, and to humans, and to life, the universe, and everything, and conserving water is superduper important, and we should all be mindful of how much we use, and on and on and on. I know. Shut up.

Again, I blame this on our particular mood, but Shauna and I saw fit to childishly snicker in ridicule. I think on my own I would have managed to stay respectful, but as the water spiel kept going, Shauna and I fed off of each other’s amassing incredulity, disappointment, and silliness. What would normally have warranted silent exasperation received whispered mockery, and what was funny became hilarious.

When the music finally started, we were treated to a litany of popular music tangentially related to water. Considering the theme, we probably should have anticipated this. But we were dumbstruck to hear The Blue Danube and the theme to On The Waterfront. It just didn’t fit with our vision of what the concert would be and we began to wonder if the show was even worth watching. For Reid’s sake, we decided we would try hard to be serious and just enjoy the music, but our attempt was short-lived. At one point, looking through the program, I told Shauna that they were going to play the theme to Titanic next. Still on a laughter high, Shauna thought this was hilarious and burst into silent snickers. When she saw my face, it hit her that I was being serious. “Oh God,” she said.

I think we could have remained respectable if the music kept playing. We would have gotten used to the stupid songs—things become less funny when they’re old and anticipated. But before every piece we were subjected to a lengthy, drawn out introduction by the conductor. The standard factual and contextual information lasted three times as long as it should have, and the conductor added her own stories and opinions to the already long introduction. Our reaction was a steady stream of groans and muffled laughter, accompanied by Reid’s stern glances.

Still, we kept our voices down and drew little attention to ourselves. I think we could have made it through the show at this point, I really do. Had it stopped with the patronizing lectures, the uninteresting music, and the agonizing talks, Shauna and I could have made it to the end, blending in with the crowd and avoiding Reid’s ire. But the straw that broke the camel’s back occurred around the middle of the concert.

The conductor was talking—of course—introducing the next piece. She was gushing about how wonderful such-and-such composer is. On and on she went, how much she adores him, how great his songs are. And finally, the kicker:

“And each of his compositions is better than…”

Well? Better than what?

“better than…”

Better than triple creme brie?

“better than the next!”

The snafu itself was enough, in that context, to set us off. The fact that the conductor spent so much time deciding what to say only made it better. Shauna and I looked at each other, the air in our lungs building up pressure, dying to escape, our faces twisting into ugly contortions in what was ultimately a vain attempt to remain well mannered. We burst out laughing, no longer capable of controlling ourselves. All the pleading of “guys, come on” from Reid made no difference. We were gone.

We had to leave the concert. I’m not proud of myself, but I don’t think we missed much.

Tick

Tick tick tick
Minutes ticking by
As I rest on my tick
With a tiki by my bed
It’s got tick tick ticks
All over its face
From that day I was holding a pen nearby
And I tic tic ticced
It just happens sometimes
But one day, I was resting
On my tick tick tick
As the minutes ticked by
I was playing a game
Of tic tic tic
Tac toe on my phone
I was minding my own business
When a tick came by
It snuck up from the ground
And it tick tick tickled
My feet, which stuck out
From my blue ticking sheets
And it ticked me off!
Yes, it ticked me off!
And I ticced, then I tackled
That bastard
As the minutes ticked by
And it bled, and it bruised
And it never comes by
Anymore when I’m resting
On my tick tick tick
As the minutes tick by

Father’s Day: A Less Happy Perspective

Now that Father’s Day festivities are over, I want to share a little bit of what it’s like to experience Father’s Day as a child who has an in-the-picture dad but who can’t honestly celebrate him. Everyone’s story is different—this is just a piece of mine.

The details of my relationship with my dad are unimportant. Suffice to say I grew up hating the man and terrified of him.

I don’t need to explain what Father’s Day is. In the US, everyone knows: it’s a day dedicated to celebrating fathers and telling them how much they mean to you. Like Mother’s Day, but for dads.

For small children, it often means something else, too. It means that, at some point during the week leading up to the big day, you’ll get a break from the normal school routine to do something Father’s Day related. I always dreaded this time.

I remember one pre-Father’s Day school activity in particular. We were told to hand make cards for our dads and given crafts materials. No teacher ever tried to figure out whether this would be a good idea for every child. It was just something for all the children to do. I remember feeling like I had no choice. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because my dad talked to the parents of other children in my class. If I decided not to write him a card, or if I made a card but didn’t give it to him, he very well might have figured it out. All it took was another parent making any passing reference to the cards. My pride wasn’t worth that risk.

To make matters worse, the teacher, unaware of any damage she could be causing, was looking over everyone’s cards and encouraging/insisting that we write in some detail how much or why we love our dads. A simple “Happy Father’s Day” was insufficient.

I spent most of the activity time trying to think of how I could meet the card requirements in a technical sense while keeping some of my dignity intact. Something too nice or seemingly heartfelt would just give him fodder for lording it over me. Moreover, it would feel plain awful to encourage his delusion that he was doing everything right. See, I’ve always been a very proud person, even as a child. Essentially telling him he was a great dad would take away my one method of resistance. Resistance that only affected and only mattered to me, but important nonetheless.

So after much thought, this is what the card ended up looking like:

Grammar error preserved.

Grammar error preserved.

Lyrics, in quotation marks. In my mind, I was simply quoting a song to him. Unmistakably, it was a song. I wasn’t actually telling him any of this, you see. It was just a card with a quote.

That went over my dad’s head, which was fine by me. The card had to pass for a real sentiment. He was very happy to get it, which allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief while maintaining the secret that protected me: it was a fake.

For over a decade he kept that card on his desk. It was a badge that allowed him to say, “I am a great father and have a perfectly healthy relationship with my child.” I cringed whenever I saw it.