Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dishwasher, 1 (Jobs v. Life)

Jobs v Life is essays about all the jobs I've had, in chronological order.  So far there's been paperboy,  and McDonald's... click here for an explanation and table of contents.

They say never to mix family and business, and I learned that at the age of seventeen or so when I got fired from McDonald's because my Dad wouldn't cover (lie) for me so I could go to a party.

Only I didn't learn it fast enough, because I then relied on my brother to get me in to a second job, working at Chenequa Country Club as a dishwasher.

Chenequa Country Club was, I suppose, a pretty swanky place.  Or maybe not.  I never saw much more of it than the back room, the kitchen, and, on New Year's Eve, the empty ballroom where we sat smoking and pretending we were having fun when what we were really doing was calling 867-5309 on the country club's phone to see what would happen.

(Nothing happened.)

(Nothing Happened could be the title of a series of essays about my social life as a teenager, and especially Friday nights.  It would be difficult to imagine a less eventful series of nights in the life of a teenager.  Many people probably look back nostalgically on their teenage years and think about the wild, fun times they had.  I am not one of those people.  Many of the Friday nights I spent as a teenager were so boring that to describe them as "uneventful" would be an overstatement.  That was largely preferable to the eventful Friday nights, though, as the nights on which things did happen were terrifying, such as the night we had decided to go cruising on Highway 100 and ended up nearly getting killed.

Here is what happened: 

We went cruising.

"Cruising" should not be a thing.  "Cruising" is just driving around, but not even that.  Cruising is the exact automotive equivalent of boating in that it is driving around but doing so in such a way that there is zero chance of anything significant happen.

You may guess from that sentence that I'm not a fan of boating.  I'm not.  Boating is dumb.  You get into a boat, and you go drive around in circles.  It's like NASCAR for Dummies, only a little more pointless than that phrase implies.

The only thing stupider than boating is cruising, in which you drive your car up and down a stretch of straight road, very slowly,  in a traffic jam of other kids doing the exact same thing.  This is supposed to be fun, and also a social opportunity, and I don't see how either of those two words could ever actually apply to cruising.

From time to time, around where we grew up, there would be a concerted effort on the part of West Allis, where we went cruising, to crack down on the practice.  We "cruised" on Highway 100 in West Allis because it was long and straight and had fast food restaurants on it and was near all the suburbs where we, as privileged white kids, could feel like we were badass (because we were cruising) without feeling scared for our actual safety (because were were not in Milwaukee where there were minorities.)

After all, nothing says badass like a group of kids with spiky hair sitting in a 1968 Impala listening to The Cure play Lovecats while they drive for the 11th time past a Burger King restaurant.

The point is, West Allis would constantly try to crack down on the cruising by ticketing people or posting cops out there or changing the traffic lights or something dumb, and the fact that our parents said "Don't you go cruising on Highway 100" and that it was kind of illegal made it somewhat more alluring than hanging out yet another night at the Attic West teen bar, dancing to The Cure's "Lovecats."  All West Allis/Parents had to do was not care, and we'd have given it up, but the slightly-illicit air of cruising made it sometimes a thing to do, because we were stupid and bored.

"Stupid And Bored" could be the title for a series of posts about suburban kids.

The intent of cruising was not to somehow recreate the halcyon days of the 1950s, as they were shown in the halcyon days of the 1970s in movies like American Graffiti, which I've never seen but which I think involves cruising.  This was 1986 and we didn't care about olden days like the 1950s or the 1970s; we hadn't even started yet listening to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, me and my friends.  We were purely 80s kids, with our New Wave bands and Generra shirts and feathered hair, and we wouldn't start getting into 70s stuff until a few years later when my dwindling band of high school friends was absorbed into my little brother Matt's social circle as a result of my dropping out of college for a while.

But that was not until 1988 and 1989; this was 1986 and we sometimes went cruising, ostensibly to "pick up chicks," i.e., meet women, and we really did call them "chicks" but not in an ironic or hip way; we called them chicks because we were, in a word, losers and thought it was cool to call girls, "chicks."

I'm not sure why we thought cruising would be any better for us to meet chicks than the other things we tried to do to meet them (go to teen bars, try to find parties to go to, ... and that was about it.)  But I guess it couldn't have been any worse at getting us to meet them. 

At 17, I was not so great at meeting the ladies.  Which was probably good, because if there was anything I was worse at than meeting women it would have been interacting with them, so it probably was good that I never had very many girlfriends.  As I think back now, I believe that at 17, when I was a junior in high school, my total number of actual, real, "girlfriends," who would qualify for that title under a reasonable definition of the word, was...


Her name was Kris and I'd met her at McDonald's, where she worked for a while, and we went on, as I recall, three dates (although I'm not entirely sure it was that many) including going to her homecoming dance, an occasion for which I believe I took her to a fancy restaurant across the street from a gas station in Waukesha.  It was a German restaurant.  I can't remember the name, but it's still there, none the worse for the wear.

I had gone on dates with other girls, too, but most of them were one-offs and didn't lead to anything that would be considered a relationship, or even anything that would be considered a second date.

So cruising was as good an idea to meet women as any -- because when I did meet women, I was not so successful at talking to them, and then, as things (rarely) progressed down the line from talking to them to asking them out to successfully taking them on a date to successfully getting a second date, my success rate went way down.

Lately, I have been working, in my imagination, on the idea that everything we do is simply a subset of everything we could do, and that a version of us is constantly doing every single thing we could be, and so as I sit here typing this, there is a version of me that instead of getting up to post on his blog, got up and got in the car and took the boys for breakfast and is even now eating a delicious pancake, and there is a version of me that instead of doing that got up and said "let's leave the boys with a sitter" and he and Alternate Sweetie are spending a day together at the Terrace, reading and talking and eating ice cream, and there is a version of me, even, that got up and said "Screw it! Today is the day we finally just up and go for it!" and that version of me put almost all his stuff for sale on eBay, took his savings out, and bought four plane tickets headed for a small Caribbean island nation, where they will land later today and start making a new life for themselves in a place where it never snows and the water is crystal-clear and they can wear floral-print shirts on the beach every day of their lives.

Since Caribbean Me exists, I assume that Ladykiller Teen Me also exists, somewhere, and I sometimes wonder what he is like, in his alternate universe, where he successfully asked out that one cheerleader that danced with him when he was a freshman and she was a sophomore -- she danced with Ladykiller Me and "Real" Me, alike, but only Ladykiller Me asked her out on a date after that because Real Me was too shy to make a second request of the cheerleader, and I wonder if Ladykiller Me is happy -- he would have dated a lot of girls, probably, and maybe been more popular in high school, but would he have ended up where I did, anyway, meeting Sweetie and falling head-over-heels in love, so head-over-heels that it was hard for him to admit, or even understand, at first how much he loved this beautiful woman who was so nice, too? Or would Ladykiller Me have married someone else, or be so blase about women by that time that he took for granted the interest Sweetie paid him when they first met?

I don't want to be Ladykiller Me; if we are the stories we tell ourselves, I have no desire to change my previous chapters because I like how the plot of this life is shaping up, but I wouldn't mind having a big quantum reunion at the Higgs Boson Bar and meeting all those me's.  We could probably get "I'm The Version That Actually Followed Through On All Those Ideas You Had Me" to foot the bill.  He's got the money.

Anyway, cruising, which as I realize it has nothing at all to do with Chenequa Country Club but you're stuck with the me that's stuck on this story, and cruising it is.  Cruising was something we did about every three weeks, driving around on Highway 100, smoking and pretending we were cool and not bored and seeing girls and wondering what it would be like to talk to them, and cruising was Godawfulboring right up until the one night it was not, the last night we ever went cruising, and what made cruising not boring that night was that on that one night, instead of just cruising around, stopping at the stoplights, getting some food, and then going home, on that one night, instead, things took a wild, random turn for the bizarrely worse when at a stoplight, a guy got out of a car and ran over to our car and reached in through the front, open, passenger-seat window and grabbed my friend Fred and began punching him as hard and fast in the face as he could.

Oh, and:



Andrew Leon said...

And that's where you leave that?

I never did any cruising. I never got beyond the "that's dumb" part to ever want to try it. However, you should see American Graffiti.

Briane P said...

If only to see a pre-Han Harrison Ford, I probably will.

Of course, in another Universe, I already have seen it. And in another universe, still, I starred in "American Graffiti 2: Electric Boogaloo."

Andrew Leon said...

There is, actually, an American Graffiti 2, which I own but have not watched. It was sort of forced on Lucas after that studio turned down Star Wars. He didn't want to make it, and it's not supposed to be all that great.