Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Phillies T-Shirt

I don’t have kids, and that’s a real mixed bag. I can plainly see people having a blast with their kids and can recall many cool moments from my own childhood. But once you get into teenage years, it seems like every kid is a dice roll, and you’ll often find snake eyes and seven in the same family, sometimes the same kid over the span of a few years. It’s occurred to me more recently that one of the ulterior motives in having kids could be having someone to take care of (or at the least watch out for) you in your old age. But from what I’m seeing, that’s far from a given, and you run equal chances of being shunted off to a nursing home, with the requisite awkward quarterly visits, or simply resented for not batting a thousand with your kids.

It must be like anything else in life: not what you expected, in good and bad ways. I have two friends now going through stressful situations with their almost-grown sons, which I will not get into to avoid embarrassing them, suffice to say it’s all shit no one planned on and a load to deal with for each. Hard stuff that represents a sharp, hazardous turn in their lives they’re going to have to take to move forward, and no one knows where that new road is going.

There’s one thing I’ve gleaned from their problems: kids, more specifically teenagers, tend to be fucking idiots. There, I said it. Makes me crotchety and old? So be it. When I’m made aware of the arrogance and stupidity that some kids walk around with, the kind that would get me killed or shunned like the plague as an adult, I just shake my head and hope it’s a maturity issue that will be out-grown one day. I know it’s not an “old age” issue, because I can clearly remember my friends and I being just as idiotic and immature.

We’ve constructed this shrine to youth in our culture, which has to be about the most empty thing we’ve done in my lifetime: empty because the building of it has entailed painting the act of aging as a crime, when most sane cultures throughout history recognize it as a good thing, at a minimum. I’ve recognized it in my own life. I wouldn’t call it getting better. But I’ve found that if I keep my eyes open and try to make sense of the things going on around me, generally based on experience, there’s a sense of reason I never had as a kid, or well into my 20s, that makes me feel self assured and hopeful. Aging and moving with time are blessings, not crimes of nature for which we must feel like imbeciles because the bulk of pop culture is aimed at making kids feel like temporary gods. Like many lies in life, it’s a shallow money grab once you peel away the layers.

I can recall one particular instance with my Mom where I did something that may not strike you as horrific, but still cuts me to the core because I sensed how hurt she was. I’ve been a Philadelphia Phillies fan since the early 70s. I’m from northeast Pennsylvania: Philadelphia was the nearest big town, thus I’ll always be a Philly fan in all sports. I grew up with this and could never abandon it; I’ll never trust sports fans who aren’t tied to a team by childhood geography, unless they have a very good reason. Usually that comes down to kids glomming onto winning teams. Not me. The Phillies sucked donkey balls for years when I started following them, as did the Eagles in football.

This must have been 1978 or so, my mid-teen years. Early summer, probably right about now season-wise. The Phillies were just starting to get good as a team, with guys like Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt hitting their professional stride. Mom knew how much I loved the Phillies, and while she was out shopping one day, came across a Phillies t-shirt that she thought I would love. A basic white t-shirt, with that big fat 70s Phillies “P” in the middle, with the word Philadelphia on top in red letters, and Phillies on the bottom. A very basic look, which she thought would suit me fine.

She brought it home for me, apropos of nothing. Not my birthday, hadn’t done anything to merit her surprising me with a gift. Just the kind of thing a good mother would do for her son because that’s what good mothers do. She comes through the door, and I’m lazing on the couch, watching TV. I got a surprise for you, she says, and pulls out the t-shirt, smiling. I take one look at the shirt and blurt out, I hate it, I’m never going to wear it.

I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. But I can still remember my verbatim response to this day, and the look on her face, which went from a warm smile to a look that implied I just shot her through the heart. It wasn’t just hurt. It was hurt and pissed off. That she took the time and money to think about me, and like the spoiled kid I could be at times, it just didn’t register. On top of the lack of manners to not just graciously accept the gift. I remember she dropped the shirt on the floor, shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes, and walked away.

The thing was, when I picked up the shirt a few minutes later, after pretending it wasn’t even there, it suddenly occurred to me that I liked it. I really liked it. Sure enough, I’d go on to wear that shirt constantly, until I out-grew it a few years later. And I never apologized to her for the way I acted. Put it in context. Slightly too young to drive, so that meant I had to tag along with Mom when she went to the mall. Kids at that age tend to be resentful that they’re still that dependent on their parents. I’d make sure when we were in the mall that we weren’t walking together, lest one of my equally emotionally-stunted friends saw us walking together, and what would they think of me walking with my Mom. I was willing my parents NOT to exist because doing so acknowledged that I was still a kid.

And … I … was … such … a … fucking … idiot. That incident shames me to this day. You have to understand, my mother is a saint. I don’t mean that in a corny mother-son way. I mean that whenever she goes, hopefully not for a long while, a lot of people are going to come up to me and tell me she was a saint – and mean it. Always a kind word for everyone she meets. Friendly to everyone. Everyone who has ever met her has later told me they couldn’t believe how kind she was … and I could tell my friends were impressed that I had such a good person as a mother. There have been many stray dogs and cats who lived much longer than expected because she pulled them off the streets and fed them for awhile. I can guarantee you that the times in my life where I stumble upon or make genuine efforts at random acts of compassion, that’s simply me trying to be more like Mom. Because I know she got that right in life, and things go a lot easier when you show people kindness. (Women seem to grasp this concept a lot more readily than men do. But I’m trying!)

I can still recall those warped years where every ounce of common sense I now have regarding parents and kids was turned on its head, and I acted like a complete asshole more than a few times. When I think that sort of baseless cultural shame of acknowleding your parents’ authority has been woven into teen culture over the past few decades, it makes me sick. Forget about out-growing it – it should be something you never experience, unless you're unfortunate enough to have bad parents. I had plenty of time as a teenager to develop my own identity – much more time than kids are allowed to do so today, what with cellphones serving as dog leashes, and parents monitoring their kids’ whereabouts and actions as if they were on parole. We were set free like wild animals in the 70s, in comparison. I had much more time and freedom to get into shit if I so desired. Much more time on my own or with my friends to get into whatever questionable behavior. To think I couldn’t cut my Mom some slack and walk with her for 15 minutes in a shopping mall is a tribute to the arrogance of my youth.

I have a lot more respect for cultures of the past, or even other cultures in the world now, where there are no artificial dividing lines purposely drawn between generations. We should all realize this junk is mostly the product of post-World War II American popular culture which has surely imparted some very cool things on the world, but this unfortunate stance aint one of them. I think I’d be a lot more prone to having kids if I knew I could raise them to disregard this cancerous crap, to live like a family where we’re going to have each other’s backs, no matter what age we are, or what little gripes and personal scrapes come up along the way. From what I’m seeing these days, again, it seems like so much in the world conspires against that basic foundation. And from what I’m seeing, too, if you’re going through life without that sort of foundation, it’s often by the seat of your pants and getting the shit knocked out of you routinely.

This is small beans, I know, in terms of mistreatment and bad memories. Plenty of people out there with angrily divorced parents, missing and errant parents, sometimes horribly abusive, etc. It gets a lot worse than a grown man remembering an incident decades earlier where he treated his Mom like an asshole. I guess that’s about as bad as I got, or at least I don’t recall giving Mom or Dad worse grief than that as a kid. Either way you cut it, if you’re smart, you make up lost ground in your adulthood, and make amends with these people, or at least see them as just people that you can hopefully befriend in some sense. They’re always your parents, but it helps if you can see them as people, too, and recognize they didn’t pitch a perfect game. I’d imagine if you have kids, it must make even more sense to come to this place, because you’re seeing what an ordeal raising kids can be.

As for my friends, I wish them luck. I can see both of them sailing into this uncharted territory, and it doesn’t look like any fun for anybody. As an outsider, I can offer impartial advice and such (which I’m good at), but the reality is I don’t have to live with any hard decisions the way they will. It does help to see these things happen, though, because there it is, life itself in all its thorniness, as opposed to some paint-by-numbers picture of happiness. I wouldn’t even say I distrust that. When people try to portray their lives to me like that, I just roll along with it. Because that’s what they want me to see, whether it’s reality or a wish on their part. It’s probably a good bit of both, and there are worse things to wish for. I never ask people, “How are you?” – not because of bad manners. It’s because if they’re being honest, the answer will take about five minutes and have no easy response. I’d rather just accept the fact that if you’re conscious and walking upright, something’s going right in your life, despite having problems, as we all do.

1 comment:

John Kalinowsky said...

Great essay! It really made me think and realize that if karma is real I'm in for a good bit of shit from my kids for the stuff I did when I was young!