Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Yearbook Staff

My mother, who just turned 70, is getting married again. That's weird and cool at the same time, but even weirder was getting my old yearbooks from her house

over the weekend. She's moving so the less she has to take the better. I hadn't looked at the yearbooks in years and I've only given them a cursory look so far,

but their nostalgic voodoo is strong. Feathered back hair, concert shirts, braces, freaks, geeks, jocks, preppies, old teachers, and the living and the dead peer back

in black and white along with a few pages of faded Kodak color scenes whose meanings have changed, faded, or intensified. The banalities left by most of the "signers"

of my yearbooks will make great fodder for a future post, but for now its only randomness that percolates through the years' filters.


There's L.G. who not only conspired against my pursuit of her friend Paige, but then weaseled her way into the heavy metal triumvirate of myself, J.B., and the Gonz when

she went to a Ted Nugent concert with us and Toby. I had tried to soften my stance toward since she had become J.B.'s girlfriend, but after the Nuge show I resumed full

on hate. She fell asleep during the concert! How can anybody fall asleep during a Nuge set? The girl was obviously demon spawn. I usually would hang out with J.B. and

Gonz every morning since if L.G. was around Paige would often be too, but my days of caring about being cool trying to impress her were winding down. Forgetting about Paige helped me to break away from those heavy metal parking lot days.


"Back In Black" was the catalyst. Kiss ruled my thoughts from 5th grade on, but I didn't know they were metal. AC/DC came along when I was in junior high as my musical

knowledge expanded from hanging out on the peripheral of the freaks. My 8th grade annual is full of photos of glaring long haired freak kids with their baseball jersey

rock logo shirts. I attended Thurman Francis in Smyrna that year and it's still the best public school experience I ever had. There was a jukebox in the cafeteria and in that

spring of 1981 AC/DC dominated each lunch break. It didn't play softly. That jukebox was cranked up so loud you could barely hear the milk cartons burst when we'd pop them after chugging down their contents. T.F.J.H. was the place where I saw the freaks and jocks crack each other's skulls. It was a place where the 9th grade hallway was dubbed "Murder Hall" due to its narrow width. The joke then was that going down it was like trying to get into a Who concert in Cincinnati.


T.F.J.H. was where I had my best science teacher. When I was a very small kid I always said I wanted to grow up to be a scientist. White lab coats and bubbling chemistry tubes were what I thought about then. I soon learned that science was not very easy and that often math would be involved. So I gravitated away toward social studies and English. Ms. Dawson not only taught science; she also lived right down my street. So when it came time to do a 6 week long project for a grade we were allowed to provide up front for a target she wasn't having it when I said I'd shoot for a B. "You've made A's all year so I'm putting you down for an A or I'll have to come see your parents about this B nonsense." There was no doubt she knew where I lived so I went for the A which I ended up getting. It was a great lesson in always shooting for excellence; one which I remember much better than any of the actual classwork.


Getting the yearbooks back also reminds me of the year I didn't get one. I despised my freshman year at Oakland in Murfreesboro. I was out of touch with the planet it

seems. I had a strange mix of classes: gym class where I made the mistake of bragging about how good I was at basketball (I was decent in Smyrna, but in Murfreesboro

I was terrible), industrial arts (wood shop, electronics, graphic arts, metal shop, agriculture, and building trades for 6 weeks at a time), 2nd level English (I should have

been in college prep), science, algebra, and study hall. Gym class had a huge amount of kids and the jocks ran it. Industrial arts was okay sometimes; other times I was

slicing a finger on a band saw. English was a complete joke. Kids set other kids' hair on fire in study hall. Algebra was full of preppies who didn't know what to think of me. I'd wear concert t-shirts over long sleeve flannel which for some reason led the other kids to think I was on drugs (I wasn't). Then there was science which seemed to be

90% freaks popping speed and 'ludes during class. One dude even ate worms during biology. If ever a year didn't need documenting, that was the one.


Monday, May 22, 2006

On The Power Of A Nickname

The first nickname I ever got came from my younger cousin Tony. It was "screwdriver" due to my name being Philip.

Lucky for me, like a stripped out screw, it didn't stick. So I went many years without a nickname. Philip is not all that

common a name so it wasn't until my sophomore year of high school that I ran into another one.


I was never part of any one clique during my school years. I briefly flirted with the "popular" crowd during 8th

grade. I went through a string of girlfriends that were to become varsity cheerleaders, but by the time 10th

grade arrived I was no longer much noticed by any crowd. Riverdale High was now the 4th different school in 4

years. A few people like Gonz remembered me from elementary school days, but I could now count even

acquaintances on one hand. Then it turns out that the other Philip at RHS happened to be a popular guy. Never having

to deal with another Philip before it became frustrating to hear my name being called yet it not really being

my name. Ironically I was about to get another nickname from a dude named Tony.


Another aspect of high school that I found distasteful and annoying was how we were always being asked to sell

crap. What the heck were our parents' taxes for  anyway? Magazines and candy were the usual suspects and it just

so happened that the agriculture class was selling lollipops. Tony was in my homeroom and he was an "ag-boy" with

an FFA jacket and a baseball cap with a bill bent to look like a duckbill advertising Purina or the Co-Op. He talked with

a good Middle Tennessee drawl which would rise in amplitude as he sold his lollipops for agriculture class.


Tony was also a bit of a poet so he would make up rhymes while hawking his wares. Philip is not high on the list of

rhyming words. Thus was born the nickname Wally. Tony arrived at this by noting I had curly hair. Tony Dow (another Tony enters the story)

who played Wally Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver had curly hair. Even though I looked nothing like Tony Dow the name Wally

was quickly foisted upon me since "Wally, wanna buy a lolly" made for a good marketing pitch for Tony. Naturally, I hated it.


Hate is actually a mild term. The name Wally drove me bonkers. This compelled the few friends I had to begin using it

incessantly. Like Nick Lowe sang, "You gotta be cruel to be kind." It soon became apparent that I was going to be stuck

with the nickname Wally unless I decided to start punching everyone that called me that. Never one to like bruises I grudgingly

began to accept the name. Soon I wondered why I ever hated it.


A marvelous thing happened after I became Wally. I no longer looked around when the name Philip was shouted from across

a crowded hall. I knew they didn't want to talk to me. The friends I had knew me as Wally and as I met more people they came to

know me only as Wally. My individualism was restored to me and I became less invisible than I had become. The same thing might

have happened without the nickname, but perhaps not. Years later when I worked for Wal-Mart the cycle repeated itself.


I got a part-time job there working in sporting goods. It was a lonely gig at first and its not as if I'm a joiner. But slowly, I was

brought into the circle of the young single crowd working there. A guy who worked in the paint department, C.W., came up with

my Wal-Mart nickname. Boyz II Men were very popular then and it seems they had a hit song called "Motown Philly" out. I hadn't heard

it since I never listened to pop radio, but C.W. liked it so he soon dubbed me Motown Philly later shortening it just to Motown. Instead

of fighting this nickname I took it to heart (at least at Wal-Mart). It was cool to come in to work with everybody yelling, "Hey Motown" as

I walked by. It would never take the place of Wally, but it wasn't bad at all at cementing my place in the hierarchy of work.


As one gets older people don't tend to bequeath nicknames upon you as readily. Get some gray at your temples and you get some

respect. The Soulfish wife sometimes calls me Walter and I like that one too, but the perhaps the best name I get called these days isn't

considered a nickname - that one is Daddy. Naturally the wife and I are handing out nicknames just like they're candy. Tony; if its not too

late I'll take one of those lollys.




do it clean

"Ive got a barrel of this...what do I do with it?" - Echo & The Bunnymen


Why, do it clean of course. My relentless pursuit of improved physical health is taking its toll. I have now lost 27 pounds

since January 3rd and my energy is beginning to lag. I was embarrased to have to walk my bike up a hill on Saturday - not that

the following are excuses - but I didn't start the climb at the bottom and the hill was really a minor moutain run. The failure

wasn't physical, but mental. I should have been able to control the physical impulses, but instead I let myself down. I did get up the

hill (half walking and half riding it truly) and went on to finish the ride easily, but the feeling that I'd completely bonked was a recipe

for doom for my whole regimen.


The pressing need now is to edify the lethargic and uncontrolled mindset that is afflicting me. I can degenerate into Holden

Caulfeld self pity worshipping at its post modern currency of thought or I can truly rebel by investigating the classics. I read Homer's

Odyssey recently and it was a bit of a revelation. I was as familiar with the story as most college graduates that consider themselves to

have a small percentage of erudition, but actually reading it was a pursuit delayed. I liked the obvious parts; fooling the Cyclops, the

Sirens calling, the battle against the suitors in the end, but it was the more mundane events that were really interesting. The

ceremonial and ritual behavior with visitors was particularly intriguing. Heroic and domestic life coincide and compliment.


So I need to read Shakespeare to shake up the corpuscles in my head. Dante can take me on harrowing journey through

the depths of hell (I'm not talking about viewing the movie Gremlins again although it does have similarites to The Divine Comedy).

Paradise Lost can show me the devil's side of things. I think all teachers should be required to teach that Milton is responsible for the

idea of the anti-hero. Since I've read some portions of all of those I know they should be good for my mind.


The biggest problem I'm having right now is a general flailing about when it comes to reading something. I want to read

something, but I'll spend a half an hour just perusing the shelves in my home and when I find something I can only give it

a desultory read through a chapter or two and then forget about it. Eventually something like Homer will arrive and I'll see a book

through, but until then I'll be out of sorts; in an intellectual freefall where the tired body defeats the mind every time.



Monday, May 08, 2006

dark side



Yeah, yeah; I said I would soon be putting some entries up again, but you know how it goes: time tends to get away from you. Forces collide and thoughts get banished. I’ve been told that I’ve been lured over to the dark side: bicycling. The Soulfish wife claims that I’ll soon be buying lycra bike shorts and shaving my legs. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is true that I have taken to bicycling much as I did to skateboarding in the past. I ride 4 to 5 times a week now. Half hour 6 mile runs are turning into 9 mile 40 minute runs and today I hope to put in a solid hour doing 15 miles or so. It’s the perfect way to unwind after work. My mind is cleared of all of its accumulated crap and I begin to travel back in time when the aroma of afternoon barbecues waft my way as the shadows lengthen toward night. I’m a goofy kid to some extent just pedaling around the neighborhood hoping that D.C. will step outside her door and requite my crush. At least that’s one permutation of my mind because the reality is I am doing the work I’ve set out to accomplish before each ride. Keep the tempo up, the cadence true (hope to attain the 20 mile per hour mark before summer’s gone), watch out for packs of dogs and motorists that often act like dogs, climb the steep countryside hills, and enjoy the wind on my face (even when it’s a 20 mile headwind). If it ends with me embracing another culture, then that’s where the roads will ultimately lead me. Some may think it’s just a fad for me, but right now the passion is high just like with skateboarding. And like with skateboarding, I’ll probably do it until my body gives out. I still skate around even now, but it is hell on the knees.