Saturday, September 6, 2014


My experience of having elderly parents has been mostly very excellent. They are too slow to catch one when one is running fast from the scene of That Was My Grandmother's Teapot. Their days of rising at dawn are long gone, making it possible for one to watch Hanna-Barbera cartoons for many Saturday-morning hours while consuming an entire box of Cap'n Crunch and holding one's younger siblings in a variety of acrobatic headlocks, also for hours. Their hearing is imperfect, making at least vaguely possible such largely implausible situations as "Well, even 'puck face' isn't a nice thing to call your sister." Later in all of our lives, they have forgotten what a lot of trouble one has been, how expensive, how annoying, how disrespectful, and recall only things like that time when you brought them a lovely lasagne three Februarys ago.

This week, however, my elderly father--obsessed by the goal of having a house more or less completely emptied before he dies--issued an ultimatum. Either the three of us girls get down into that basement and decide which vinyl records we wanted to keep or they were all going to the garbage dump.

My mind went back to my Lakeview Village adolescence. Watching FM Moving Pictures Sunday night on public access TV, running out the next afternoon to buy records at Sam the Record Man, records that would confirm my identity as "alternative." I was as alternative as a well-brought-up pudgy rich kid with good grades, bad hair, baggy burlap clothing and a vast array of sensible shoes could be.  I needed that music desperately, for reasons that had about as much to do with the actual music as it had to do with what I believed myself to be, despite all visible clues to the contrary. Joy Division, The Cure,  Echo and the Bunnymen, Jesus and Mary Chain, Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, Yazoo, Bowie, Roxy Music.  My life was elsewhere. In a very cool place that was not our Tudor-inflected basement with its sauna and red shag rug. It was probably in London, it was definitely dressed in black, and if its footwear was sensible, it was sensible because no way I was going to trip and fall while dancing my ass off at Club for Heroes, Billy's, or some random night clubs on battleships moored on the Thames.

This is going to be fabulous, I tell my own family. We can take some of those iconic covers and decorate that one tricky wall with them. I envision myself playing the no-doubt scratchy LPs to my son, letting him get a taste of what "real music" is and helping him see his boring old mother in a new way.  I imagine my husband remembering our shared-but-separate youth and recalibrating his decades-old idea of who he married. Maybe we would all go internet shopping for some tasteful punk-inflected jackets. Some pointy-toed boots. MAYBE KID WOULD WANT SOME EYELINER. We are all about to become super interesting to one another.

A portly middle-aged work-at-home mother with silver hair and a trick knee, I bounce with uncharacteristic energy into my parents' basement to greet my super-interesting younger self.

And find this. 


I am writing this under the light of a single naked bulb, crouched on the unfinished cement floor near the water softener. Clearly, it is here, in the actually pretty empty confines of my folks' basement that I must remain to the end of my days. Go ahead, bury me in this, I am already dead of shame.

And tell Bryan Ferry that I always loved him, despite the "my dentures hurt" face he couldn't stop making.

I guess it happens to all of us.

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