Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Summer of Michael Jackson Fever

I remember vividly the Michael Jackson fever of the early 1980s. One summer afternoon in 1983, when I was eleven, I had gone to play with the neighbor girl, Paula. Paula was the first on our block to have cable, and whenever I went to her house, all I ever wanted to do was watch TV. So Paula and I were sitting there on the carpet in front of her dad’s console TV set when the new video for “Beat It” came pounding onto the screen and Michael Jackson entered my world for the first time. I was completely captivated by the movement of Michael's feline body, his panting, and his falsetto yelps. I remember wanting to see that video again and again, as I had never seen anything like it before.

My country cousins were also fascinated by Michael Jackson and had the poster of him in Jheri curls and a yellow sweater hanging on their bedroom wall. When they came to stay in the summer of 1983, we borrowed the album Thriller on vinyl from the neighbor girl and, as we lay four across the bed in the half-dark, we made a cassette from it, which we then duplicated three times so we could each have a copy. I accidentally asked my cousin, “Are you asleep?” while the tape was recording, so our copies had my whispered voice in it.

In the weeks that followed, I remember lying in my parents’ camper where we stayed on my grandparents’ farm, stretched out on the mattress with my little boom box, rewinding “Billie Jean” over and over again. I especially loved the part where he sang, about the baby in question, “his eyes were like mine.” I had not had my period yet and sex remained at that time much of a mystery to me, but there in the lyrics of that song, some of the mystery was revealed.

I thought my Michael Jackson fever was just the childish fascination of a girl on the verge of adolescence, but today, the day they are burying the icon of the eighties, I have watched Michael Jackson’s Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean” at least ten times, and I have not gotten tired of it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tax Madness

Well after dark on April 15, my mom and I were both making our separate late-night runs to the post office to drop off our tax forms. After 10 PM there was a line of about 100 cars coming off the freeway and snaking along toward the airport dropoff point. Five postal workers stood in the middle of the access road holding out mail crates; as we drove past, we dumped your envelopes in. The police were there directing traffic. Just the normal tax day madness for all of us procrastinators. I wonder if a personality inventory were done on all the people in line that night, how many of those procrastinators would have been my Meyers-Briggs soulmates (that is, INFP)? What specifically about our personalities makes us procrastinate in this way? My mom's theory is that we just like the excitement. I have to admit there's something of an odd thrill in the late night dash to the post office, seeing police lights flashing, getting there just in the nick of time, and being a part of a huge movement of people all doing the same thing. It's almost like Halloween...except for many of us who have to pay out a big sum, the IRS is the monster on the doorstep demanding treats.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Yo amo Betty la fea

I just started watching the Colombian series "Betty la Fea" on Youtube. Not normally a fan of telenovelas, I actually am hooked! Yo amo Betty la Fea. I mean, look at that picture. Those clips are like the ones my curly-haired sister used to wear in her hair in sixth grade to keep it straight. The glasses...the braces...the unibrow...of course, she is really a hot actress underneath it all, but she succeeds in looking geniunely homely. I just have to want this girl to get the guy.

Part of the reason I need to watch it is for some Spanish practice. Tomorrow I have to call a long list of Mexican accountants to conduct a marketing survey. I'm pretty nervous about it. I hate calling people--this is not my true career at all, just a side thing a friend roped me into--and I am not used to talking about tax and audit software in my own language, let alone a foreign tongue. I wish Betty La Fea were my best friend. With her background in finance, she would do the survey for me and all would be solved.

Monday, April 6, 2009

E.T. Lunchbox

This is a picture of the lunchbox I used to carry to school in the sixth grade, when I went to St. __'s School. My parents got it for me the summer before school started, just after I had seen the movie for the first time at the drive-in. This was 1982 and I was 11 years old. My sister, who was a grade behind me in school, got the Pac-Man lunchbox at the same time, which I pretended to envy, but I knew mine was better.

I loved E.T. and was so thrilled to have this lunchbox. Little did I know that since I was in sixth grade, it was now officially uncool to have a lunchbox at school. I was only one of three nerds who still carried one. All the cool kids were now brown bagging it. I had crossed the invisible line from childhood to preteen. In fact I did not even realize this until my mom came home from conferences midway through the year, with the news that another parent had told her "Lunchboxes are uncool now." That is how uncool I was, that I had to be told by my mother that lunchboxes were uncool. (Of course I was also one of only two sixth graders who was not yet wearing a training bra, a fact realized by the entire female half of the class during scoliosis check in the principal's office, and I also was forced to wear, for the better part of that year, glasses that were literally held together by black electrical tape, but we'll leave that for another time).

I was really embarrassed about the social gaffe I had committed, and the lunchbox took on a sort of taint after that. I no longer wanted to carry it. And yet, I felt a loyalty to E.T. and all the true passion I had felt for him, how I had cried when I thought he was dead on that riverbank. In my heart I knew that the lunchbox was cool, no matter what the other kids thought. And so, as I kept bringing it to school every day for the rest of that whole social nightmare of a year, the E.T. lunchbox came to symbolize my own brand of iconoclasm. Despite the fact that I now loathe Spielberg's sentimental Hollywood schmaltz, I still love the lunchbox and keep it safely in my brother's basement amongst all my treasures of childhood.


Recently I was in London, and this picture was taken on my first day there. Although it's not the best photo I have of the Houses of Parliament (the sky was much bluer on other days), it captures a lot of the excitement I felt when I first saw that view.

Coming out of Westminster tube station, you get a stunning eyeful of Big Ben. It is bigger and more ornate than I had imagined. The parliament buildings are, of course, covered with delicate spires and gargoyles and other neo-Gothic fancies. I started on Westminster Bridge over the Thames and admired the Houses of Parliament from there. Two Spanish girls took my photograph on the bridge. Then I walked round the side of the buildings, looking at the statues of Oliver Cromwell and a horsed King Richard the Lionheart. Across the street, on Westminster Square, were more statues, most prominently one of a scowling Winston Churchill, striding forward in a greatcoat, his guise during the years of the Blitz. He looked grand and fierce.

It was drizzling very slightly, enough to make London look just exactly they way I'd always thought it would from my childhood picture books. Gray skies, damp pavement, and a blur of umbrellas and mackinaws as people hurried to the red double-decker buses.