5. Write about a babysitting experience.

“Very Special Episodes” were an important part of my moral development. They piped the complex world into my sheltered suburban life and then told me how to feel about what I was watching, which was very helpful. Drugs are bad. Stranger danger is real. Cults will make you hug cute girls (Boy Meets World kind of muddled their message on that one.) 

Although I had never seen, held, or knew anyone who owned a gun, I took the Family Matters episode in which Laura feels threatened and responds by wanting a firearm very seriously. The episode ends with Urkel rapping about the importance of turning in one’s weapon and Freddie Prinze Jr. is tough, as his wont as the credited “Tough Guy”.  

My brother and I watched this episode with our babysitter, Dale, who, as far as we were concerned, was the coolest. He wore flannel and had holes in the knees of his jeans. He let us eat pizza in front of the TV. He watched Tales from the Crypt like it was no big deal.

Dale tolerated our questions to him about guns and gangs and had he ever seen a gun (yes) and whose was it (his buddy’s dad’s) and had he played with it (of course not). Dale could tell this episode would stick with us so he did what good babysitters do: he changed the topic and cheered us up. He probably just flicked the channel over to a John Candy movie, which was a small kind thing, but meant I wouldn’t have nightmares so I was grateful.

About a year later, my mom told us that Dale hadn’t woken up one morning. He’d been rushed to the Emergency Room where his stomach was pumped and the doctors found a plethora of narcotics in his system. 

Dale OD’ing completely shattered my worldview. Hadn’t he been paying attention during those episodes? Why hadn’t someone called one of the many hotlines always listed at the end? But most importantly: I still really liked Dale, which made the whole thing so confusing. He was the best babysitter. And if drugs are bad then is Dale bad? Is he an addict? Do I call a hotline?

Dale survived, but wasn’t allowed to babysit for us anymore. That was it. He didn’t die, go to jail, or even rehab. 

There wasn’t any message or moral. No Urkel rapping or fourth-wall-breaking from an actor or audience cheering the show’s social conscience. The complex world was still there, except, this time, no one was telling me how to feel about it.

Advertisements

A Very Daria Holiday

When I was 14, all I wanted for Christmas was clinical depression.

I didn’t know what depression actually was.  I didn’t understand what it does to people.  What I had surmised was that depressed people got to wear all black and that was good enough for me.  I was mired in adolescent angst like it was hormonal quicksand.  I should’ve worn a bracelet that read “WWDD: What Would Daria Do?”  I idolized that poorly-animated sarcastic brunette, who saw through the bullshit of her family and teachers; was never called out for being moody; and had a cool, witty, dry answer for everything.  Regardless that she was a girl and I was, for all intents and penises, a guy, she was everything I wanted to be.

Problem was I was acutely self-aware and not actually depressed.  I knew that, most of the time, when I was whining about school, I was really just bored or trying to get out of learning about SOH CAH TOA.  I described myself as “listless” and “dispassionate” because I secretly feared that I was actually mundane–just another suburban kid who was too scared to admit how afraid of everything he really was.

But winter–winter meant cold, dark evenings, and legitimate reasons to wear heavy jackets constantly, and not be judged for staying inside.  I was counting on getting in some serious brooding time: suburbanites-are-all-such-hypocrites brooding; all-the-good-t-shirts-come-from-Hot-Topic brooding; I’ve-watched-three-independent-films brooding. At least that was the plan.  Except that didn’t happen.

As the smiling lady in the polo shirt and grass skirt placed the flower necklaces around our necks, my older brother Barry said, “Dude, we just got lei’d.”  The walls of the airport terminal were awash in bright, tropical pastels, with occasional patches of festive-yet-out-of-place reds and greens.

We sniggered.  The floral garments were not the only symbol that we had arrived in Hawaii: ukulele-tinged versions of Christmas carols played over the loudspeaker, every halfway native person was saying “Aloha”, and the hoodies we wore on the plane were removed.  Here we were: Christmas in the tropics.

Great.  Hawaii.  A land of sunshine, coconut bras, where the tourist is king and all roads lead to the beach.

And it’s impossible to brood at the beach.  Trust me.  I tried.

I even owned a green jacket

Role model

The hotel room was completely devoid of Christmas spirit.  What it lacked in pine trees it made up for in palm trees.  And what it lacked in peppermint hot chocolate it made for in… palm trees.

And then my dad said the thing that everyone in Maui finds themselves saying when you quickly realize that you’re on an island with little else to do: “Well… I guess we’ll go to the beach.”

We went to the beach a lot.  And when we got bored with that, we went to the pool.  And then back to the beach.  

In some ways, going to Hawaii solved my problems.  I could legitimately bitch about something–ugh, perfect weather and crystal blue waters.  Ugh, snorkeling in stunning aquatic vistas.  Ugh, polite and friendly hotel staff who spin fire.  But on a bigger level, I was trying to be moody, dammit, and now I could say that my parents just didn’t understand me, and that would make for an awesome blog post eventually.

My parents let us have a relative amount of freedom.  After we had wasted enough time listening to the 3 mix CDs we had brought between us, my brother and I decided to go for a walk along the beach.  

Barry wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the Flameboy logo–a skateboard company, even though neither of us had embraced that particular So Cal subculture.  We walked and talked about stuff back home, friends, girls.  We stopped on a dune and rested when a guy with chunky dreadlocks, baggy jeans, and a ratty grey t-shirt approached us.

“Hey, Flameboy, alright!  You guys want some weed?” the guy asked in an unmistakable stoner drawl.

I was shocked.  Here was someone legitimately offering us drugs.  Actual, illegal drugs.  Were there cops around?  Do I need a lawyer?  Do I yell stranger danger?  My brother kept a calmer head and politely declined.

When we got back to the hotel, our mom asked, “How was it?”

“Fine, fine, totally fine,” we answered in that too-quick way that is like an SOS for mom radar.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Nothing.  We got offered weed.  But nothing,” Barry said.

I tried justify it, told myself that it so was not a big deal, after all–I watched rated R movies, listened to music with PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT CONTENT sticker, and owned a t-shirt with Jay and Silent Bob on it.  I asked myself: What Would Daria Do?  Probably say something withering and perfect and treat the whole experience with reasoned logic before watching Sick, Sad World.  I knew that worrying about something as trivial as being offered a joint was completely blase, but I still made sure to shower and soap up thoroughly, lest any cannabis residue had clung to my clothes like bedbugs.

I didn’t really go to the beach without my parents after that.  I tried to maintain my superior attitude, but had to deal with the fact that the world was a scarier place than I thought and no amount of pop culture or MTV could prepare me for it.

On Christmas Eve, we dressed up for dinner.  I, decked out in ill-fitting khaki and an army green shirt with a dragon pattern–yes, dragons. It wasn’t until we pulled up in front of an ornate hotel, a place where our shoes clicked on the marble floors and everything was awash in the subtle, golden hue of money, that I realized how in over my head I was yet again.

This wasn’t just dinner–it was a fancy dinner.  

We’re talking five-course fancy.  We’re talking hushed-voices fancy.  We’re talking sage-water (which tastes like body odor) fancy.  Up until this point, the fanciest restaurant I’d been to before this was a Black Angus.

“Guys,” Dad whispered, “this place is, like, a big deal.”  He was talking about how much the bill would be.  We sat at our table, with its downy and pristine tablecloth, and upside down wine glasses that could conceivably fit a decent portion of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  The restaurant had plenty of families–all the men wore blazers and all the women wore pearls–but no one spoke louder than a whisper, as if  talking a full octave louder would have soured the caviar or something.  We were about to eat dinner in a mausoleum.  

What Would Daria Do?  Probably look past all the trappings of money and wealth and make a hilarious blood diamond joke, thus exposing rich people as cut throat profiteers.  What did Rory, gangly teen extraordinaire, do? Awkwardly manhandle his water glass, only to clumsily let it slip out of his fingers, and watch in horror as it falls onto his clothes spill across the floor.  Fancy restaurant: 1.  Kelly family: 0.

The food came out in a hypnotic ballet of coordinated plate switching and fork changing.  Every course was delicately and minimally laid out and covered in geometric drizzles of sauce.  I looked over at a neighboring table.  A family that looked straight out of a Williams-Sonoma catalogue was quietly eating their meal.  They had two daughters, both younger than me, each wearing what looked to be communion dresses and as I looked closer, I noticed that each girl was wearing white gloves and yet somehow also expertly handling sterling silver cutlery.

My dad caught my eye.

I said: “I bet these people eat a ton of Godiva Ice Cream.”  This was the closest I could get to explaining it, since we were firmly a Baskin Robbins family.

“Just imagine,” Dad said, “everyone here… taking a giant crap.  I mean, massive.  I mean, like a huge log.”

I laughed.  Because my dad is effing amazing.

Once dinner was over, we left and breathed a sigh of relief.  Dad went to smoke a cigar on the hotel balcony and Barry asked to borrow the rental car.  

As Barry and I drove around the island, we remarked how bored we were: just like we were back home.  For the first time, I felt comfortable and didn’t care what Daria would do.

Blog at WordPress.com.