Saturday, May 25, 2013

So it turns out that the digital revolution has a few drawbacks, nostalgia-wise. (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line)

Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape. This is part 13; click here for the Table of Contents.

Here's two problems I ran into this morning.

First, I haven't actually written an entry in this ongoing series in three years.

Three years.

When my randomly-selected topic came up this morning as "Cheesecake Truck," I went back to see the last time I posted something in this series, and the last time was June 3, 2010, which seems impossibly long ago.

Impossibly long ago.  Just a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head list of all the major things that have happened since June 3, 2010 includes:

-- I almost died of bee stings.
-- I had a heart attack.
-- Mr F ran away from home
-- I ran for judge
-- I stopped running for judge.
-- I got made a partner in my law firm.
-- Mr F and Mr Bunches started school.
-- Mr F hurt his head and had to have surgery
-- The Boy started college
-- The Boy stopped college.
-- Middle finished college.
-- Middle got married

And that's just the big stuff list.  We've also gone on vacation to Florida and moved my office from downtown to the south of town and Sweetie's dad's wife died and there've been movies and dates and adventures galore.

Three years seems too short of a time to fit all those things in there.

Let alone how long it's been since we actually went on our honeymoon -- thirteen years, and I'm not even going to begin to list all the things that have happened since then, since that would amount to re-creating this blog.

I was thinking about that, actually, as it happens, yesterday afternoon, when we got back to the house from the field trip.  I took yesterday off as my Memorial Day: since Mondays off are stupid, and while Mr F and Mr Bunches and I were up at the Little Park On The Mountain I was trying to think what it was Sweetie and I had done for Memorial Day the first weekend we were married.

I was in part trying to think that because I like to look back at my life, sometimes, and see where I am and where I thought I'd be.  "And you may ask yourself," I always hear in the back of my head, at those times, "How did I get here?"

So I look back, now and then, and think "A year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago," and that's what I was doing yesterday, thinking back as I helped Mr F get up onto the slide, to what I was doing last year on Memorial Day.

Last year on Memorial Day weekend -- remember, I work every Memorial Day -- I was likely getting ready to go on the family reunion trip to Florida that would start in three weeks, and packing up my old office to get ready for the move to the new one, and breaking in my new associate and new paralegal and new law clerk, since last year at this time I for the first time in 13 years with my firm had full-time employees who worked for me, spreading the workload around.

After that, it gets a bit hazy. Memorial Day isn't the biggest holiday for me, you know?  We never really do anything to celebrate it, which was probably why I was thinking of that this week.

When Sweetie and I had our weekly budget meeting on Wednesday night, I asked her what money she wanted to request for the budget this weekend.  She decided how much she needed for groceries, and for gas, and then I made my requests for gas and for some money to use as incentives for the people who work for me -- every week one of my staffers gets a $10 Amazon gift card -- and then, before we adjourned the budget meeting for the week, Sweetie said:

"I'd like to request $50 for the weekend."

"Why?" I asked.  "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," she said, and went on:  "I don't know.  I just thought maybe we'd do something.  Go get ice cream or order pizza or something.  We never do anything for Memorial Day. So I thought we'd do something."

So I agreed we could use fifty bucks to "do something" this weekend, without knowing what we were doing and what we might want to do to celebrate Memorial Day weekend.

(So far, we have used part of that money to buy McDonald's yesterday for lunch on the way home from the field trip.  Sweetie got the cheeseburgers.  I got the "Ranch Chicken BLT" because I decided a week or two ago that I shouldn't just limit myself to McDonald's cheeseburgers, because it is possible that I am just a little bit too hooked on them, no, seriously it is, so I decided that I would not eat another cheeseburger until I had tried every other thing to eat on McDonald's menu except for the "Filet O' Fish" because that is disgusting.)

(So you can see that as my life progresses, I am also growing as a person.  I don't know if it's sad or wonderful that I live in a time when I can actually have as a personal growth device/goal "Eat every kind of sandwich at a fast food restaurant.)

(The decision to give up on cheeseburgers for a while is a facet of number 7 on this list of 1001 ways to improve the world.)

(There is a reason this post recalls so many other of my blogs: It's because I'm thinking about my life, which I have written many blogs about.)

But we have also agreed that probably today -- which is gray, and rainy, and cold, and miserable-ish outside but fun inside, as we've already made pancakes and cooked an egg sandwich for Sweetie and now I'm doing this -- we will go play Skee-Ball, which is fun for Mr Bunches, who wanted to do something fun, and fun for me, because the only place to play Skee-Ball is at one of the two pizza places near us, which means I'm getting pizza for lunch, which is extra-great for me because it also means that I'm having nearly a full day of pizza, because Sweetie wants, tonight, to get delivery pizza and watch the movie "Mama," which means I may be able to do 24 Hours Of Pizza, and this blog is starting to feel like a clip show, isn't it? I recommend right-clicking those links and reading them later so that while I'm having 24 Hours of Pizza, you can have 24 Hours Of Me and develop a deep and profound sympathy for Sweetie.

It seems impossible to me that 13 years ago we didn't do anything to celebrate Memorial Day, because back then I didn't work Mondays, and in fact, back then I didn't work for my firm at all.  Sweetie married a self-employed (?) lawyer who had his own office, a two-room windowless brown paneled "suite" in the basement of an office building not far off campus, about a half-mile from the law school I'd graduated from just two years earlier, and thinking back to then it also seems entirely possible that we didn't do anything to celebrate Memorial Day back then because we probably had almost no money,  at all, or if we did we were earmarking it for rent or a car payment or something.  Life as a self-employed, new lawyer doing criminal defense and divorce work sounds glamorous -- no, it actually doesn't -- but it doesn't pay well, either, or at least it doesn't if you are me and you are not very good (at the time) at getting paid well.

When we got married, I contributed, to the marriage, mostly potential.  We were married in 2000 and that year Sweetie probably earned twice what I did, which is to say, not very much, given that we already had three kids.  We lived, when we got married, in a three-bedroom apartment only about 1 1/2 miles from where we live now, but that 1 1/2 miles has stretched out over 13 years to be longer and longer and longer, until it seems now that the 1 1/2 miles could wrap to the moon and back.

The apartment was nice enough, and we spruced it up with some stuff we bought with our wedding money: the "big chair," and a rack for plants on the small balcony where we almost never sat, and some bar stools for the breakfast bar, and things like that -- things we don't really have any more, except for the plant rack, which stands on our back porch now and holds not plants, which only I ever cared about and now I don't care about having anymore, but instead the plant rack holds a few bricks and a toy plastic bulldozer that has sat outside for the last five years on the plant rack, until this year when I moved it to the back yard as a decoration.

I used to believe in having plants in the house.  Up until a few years ago, we always had at least a few plants.  I had, when we got married, a fern-like plant that was growing in a small brown cup that I'd brought back with me from Morocco years before.  The cup was painted on the inside with some black substance that was supposed to make the water cold the instant it touched it.  I don't know that it worked, in the cup, but it worked in Morocco, where you could walk around the bazaar and there were these guys, I forget what they were called, but they'd sell you a sip of cold water for a nominal price, usually maybe a dirham, which is the Moroccan unit of currency and was, at the time, equal to about a dime, so even a poor college student like me was impossibly rich in Morocco.  The water these guys sold was always ice cold, which was a miracle, in Morocco, where refrigeration was not common either as a desired thing -- cold drinks are not especially prized, there -- or as a thing that was possible.

I had, too, some other houseplants including once a nearly-10-foot tall "corn plant" that was made by cutting a piece of Sweetie's mom's plant and putting it in a big pot we bought and growing that, the plant looking remarkable to me in our living room, so big.  I would like, still, a living room full of plants and sunlight, so that I could feel like I was sitting outside without actually having to go outside, where nature is.

But over the years, the plants died, as I became busier and cared less about them and more about my job or my kids or my wife or my other hobbies, which are too numerous to count and are always being added to.  (Or not.  Yesterday, at the farm on the field trip, I saw that they sold chickens for $5.  "I have five dollars!" I told her.  "No." she told me.)

The only plant that didn't die is the one in my office, the one that Sweetie gave me one year and which has grown and grown, faithfully, over the years, moving to its new location in my new office, where it presides over a collection of baby toys that the boys have outgrown but which I keep in my office as decoration, and where it stands next to the three hopeful red cups of Mr Bunches Traveling Salvation Garden (Office Edition.)

So we probably didn't have much money, Sweetie and I, when we got to that first Memorial Day as a married couple 13 years ago, and we probably didn't need to do much, anyway,  as we'd have been home from our honeymoon for only a couple of weeks, anyway, the honeymoon that we'd celebrated by driving to the worst possible hotel in Cleveland ever, and then to Buffalo, and then to New York, and then to home, all backed by the soundtrack I'd prepared,

on cassette tape, which now poses a problem in listening to those songs.

Because they are on cassette tape, and therefore are at the moment completely inaccessible to me at present.

One of the things I liked about mix tapes, back when mix tapes were still something that existed, was that they could sort of freeze time, in a way, through sound. I had a technique that I used throughout law school to study.  When I'd study a given subject for an exam, I would listen to the same mix tape over and over again, using that mix tape only for that subject.  Then, the morning of the exam, I would go to the law school and just sit and relax and listen to that mixtape.  (I never studied the day of exams.  You either know it or you don't, and when I see people frantically preparing at the last minute for an exam or trial or whatever, all I can think is "Last minute 'preparation' should always be in quotations, because "last minute preparation" is a synonym for "not having prepared.")

With some of my old mix tapes, when I listen to them, I can remember biking along Lake Michigan in the summer when I was in college, or getting ready for my first jury trial, or a snowy Christmas when the kids gave me the "Jimmy Eat World" CD as a present.

And, of course, with the "Honeymoon" mixtape, I could easily conjure up almost every aspect of the trip, from singing along with the songs on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the first time we saw Times Square to the wayside where we bought some "Ohio" T-shirts on the way home, just because.

One of the reasons I started going back and writing these series -- "94" and "Cheesecake Truck" and "Vacation" and "Pole-Vaulting" (and note my restraint in not throwing up more links to those) -- was that I worry about my memory.  As I move forward, my memory doesn't grow longer, it seems to me.   It stays the same, like a kid dragging a blanket behind him.  The blanket doesn't stretch out from his bed to the stairs to the hallway to the couch.  It pulls the same length behind him, and if it brings anything of the bedroom to the couch with it, it's by chance, caught in a fold of the blanket and able to drop out at any time.

That's how I feel my memory works:  just keeping pace with me, not bothering to hold onto stuff, getting rid of things as easily as we got rid of the big chair that we bought with our wedding money, which was not easy at all, actually: it moved from the apartment to the duplex, from the duplex to our living room in our first (and still only) house we bought, then from the living room to the family room in the basement, and finally, after it got too old to even be wanted by the older kids for their apartments, after it smelled too much of old cat and mildew to salvage, it went to the garage, but soon, it will be hauled to the dump and then it will be only a memory and then someday it will only exist in pictures of the older kids when they were little, all of them piled together on the chair and smiling at a camera I hold.

That worry, that my memory can't hold everything it wants to hold, is bolstered by the fact that so much seems to happen that I want to remember or need to remember.  I have lists and reminders and two calendars and emails and post-its and more, and I have Sweetie, who is Memory, Personified -- she remembers the birthdates of nephews we have never met, nephews I don't even remember.

"We're sending a present to" some name, she'll say, and I'll ask who that is.  "It's your sister's son," she'll say.  But sometimes lately I will call Mr F by Mr Bunches' name, and vice versa, because that is what dads do, or at least what I do.

I take pictures incessantly, worried that some aspect of the trip to the beach or the trip to the mall or the trip to the McDonald's that is only a mile away will be forgotten and I won't want it to be forgotten, but it will, anyway,  replaced by some newer memory that maybe won't be as good.  I know my life keeps getting better and better, but that doesn't mean I want the older memories packed into a garage and then shuffled away.

And then, one Saturday morning, the rain stopping and the sun still not coming out, I decide to write again about my honeymoon, get a little bit more down on paper and see if I can't freeze some more memories here so I can go make some more there -- replacing, maybe, the souvenir store in Times Square where we bought The Boy a small Statue of Liberty, a Statue that last year Mr Bunches found in The Boy's old room and played with for a while -- replacing that with Skee-Ball or a trip to the airport or something -- and I find out that I can't even play the mixtape, and I can't remember what songs are on it, and now I'm stuck just generally reminiscing about things, wondering what the next song was and what memories might come out when I play it, and wondering, too, if I can convene and emergency budget meeting to free up ten bucks to go to the Dollar Store or Walgreen's and see if they don't have an old cassette-playing Walkman I could buy.  They must, right?

They must.

I can't be the only person who still has, in the back of a drawer in his old dresser underneath old postcards, a cassette tape of songs he put together to perfectly symbolize the marriage he was entering into with the love of his life, right?


Andrew Leon said...

I still have a thing that is supposed to play cassettes. What I have found, though, is that most of the cassettes are too old to be played safely at this point.

Nigel Mitchell said...

I never used mixtapes. I do think I missed out. Whenever I play music, I rearrange the songs. The mixtape is truly frozen in time.

Liz said...

I still have a cassette player, but the last time I put a cassette in it, it ate the cassette. So, I suppose I don't really have a cassette player.

They must have those things that convert cassettes to mp3s. I know they have ones that work for vinyl.

Briane P said...


I know they have those, but I'm not sure I want to convert the tape so much as just listen to it one more time.

Nigel: I do that now, too, so while I have playlists, they never are the same. I used to use tapes to jog to, and I could gauge whether I was keeping the pace by what song was playing as I passed landmarks.

Andrew: Now you've given me a whole new worry.

Andrew Leon said...

That was always my plan.