Grateful: I Met You In My Living Room

I am grateful for you, my boyhood living room. For it was in you, that I had my first chance encounter with a man – four men to be true – who changed my life. Saved it, even possibly.

I was thirteen, pimpled to the point of oblivion, and alone. I was living the all too common (now) story of a boy with recently divorced parents, trying to wade through the confusion and anger concerning the separation of his guiders. His example. His rock. Each day was a test of survival. Surviving the bully ridden hallways of the New Ulm Junior High School – the lunch breaks – recess – any area between a bully and a locker – football practice. My father was out of the house. The majority of my friends had gone from calling me pal to ‘pizza face’. Middle school hormones had turned them against me and my face into, yes, a pepperoni pizza. Locked up in my room, I would wait out the day dreaming of a future beyond those asbestos filled walls of the Junior High. I felt alone. Not understood. You know, like millions, and millions of other young boys and girls hovering around the age of 13.

So there I was, Mr. Confused Rageful Young Man New Ulm, standing in my living room. I was about 8 feet from the tv, in between an old brown recliner and where the shag carpet met the kitchen linoleum. I looked over at our massive, wood veneer lined tube TV – so old that there was a 3 inch black bar of dead pixels across the top – and saw a mans face. A face that faintly resembled, I thought, my father. A man with a goatee, sat in a chair, singing. It was a music video. The music was loud and aggressive. Heavily distorted guitars crunched their way out of the speakers, as a gravely voice dragged itself over the chords. The mood was solemn but assertive. Demanding, cathartic. The first lyric of the song, “…where do I take this pain of mine?” rang over and over in my head. With every line I began to feel as if this man was seeing me, and simply reading what was written in my guts. It – this amalgamation of towering guitars and sorrowful lyrics – seemed to make sense of my confusion. I was enraptured.

Ok, to be fair, when I first saw Metallica’s ‘Until It Sleeps’ music video, I probably thought, ‘Woh. That’s bad ass. I should, like, go out and buy that cd and stuff. MOM I NEED TWENTY DOLLARS!’  **remember when we went out and bought cd’s? when there was some anticipation that built before the eventual satisfaction? yes, I’m thankful for that experience, too**

Metallica entered my life that day, and has never left since. My favorite band then, now and forever. I feel confident saying that after 17 years together.

Certain artists or genres of music tap into our own, unique inner rhythm. One person may hear Led Zeppelin, and know it’s exactly what they need. Another may hear Beyonce and know that’s exactly what they need. You know it when you hear it, and then you know you’re home.

For you, Metallica, I am grateful.

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Giving Up Acting to Become a Zoologist

In one week, I will turn 30.

In honor of this magnanimous event, I am going to elaborate on what I thought I would be doing/have achieved by/at age 30… starting with…

Age 8 – I would be accomplished zoologist by day, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback by night. Or weekend. I didn’t understand how work schedules worked, or that my football career would end in the 7th grade. I’d be happily married to a girl named Christine (I know this, because I found her name encased in a heart in my prepubescent journal), with 12 children. My mother had many brothers and sisters, which meant I had many aunts and uncles, which meant I had many cousins, which meant crazy family shenanigans and beating everyone at school in the game of ‘how many cousins do you have?’

Age 13 – With my pro football aspirations dead in the practice field grass, and the realization that being a zoologist means less ‘holding puppies’ and more ‘studying elephant poop’, I decided to focus on the present. Namely keeping away from designated bullies and keeping my oozing, pus-filled, acne face away from all self-respecting girls. And watching a lot of Speed Racer at 1 a.m. in my room. I had no time for the future.

Age 17 – Rock star, lead singer of heavy metal band. Married by 24 with two kids by 30, one boy and one girl. The lead singer to represent all of middle America. I wanted to make the most boring ‘Behind the Music’ of all time.

Age 24 – I would be making my living as an actor, with the possibility of winning my first Oscar. I can see it now, I would be sitting in the seats at the Academy Awards, pretending to be surprised that my name was called. Hold back tears on the way to the podium. Crowd gets to the feet for a standing ovation, because, of course, I’ve overcome some massive life trauma to be there that night. I would give the best speech ever given. So good they’d never let anyone speak after getting an award. Ever again. Graduate school = Goodbye modesty.

So soon I will be 30, with no wife, no kids, working as a forklift operator in Chicago, Il. I take acting classes regularly and take small projects here and there – to keep my acting hobby afloat. I had brief success as an intramural flag football quarterback, continue to play the guitar, and have learned that it’s not cool  to antagonize the monkeys at the zoo with animal noises.

I’m keeping my options open.

The Sister’s Wedding: Brother Edition

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“Ya’ll ready for this?”

New Ulm, MN. August 3rd. The Pictures.

Colleen and I are strolling over to the Fire Department to take pictures before my sister’s wedding. My stomach is a koosh ball of nerves. Why? Because I have to take a ‘first look’ photo with my sister. The day prior, during the rehearsal dinner, I consulted my cousin Jessica about how to plan ‘the look’ so I didn’t turn around and make this face:

 

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“I should’ve planned better! I’m sorry!”

Before the picture, Dale (the brother-in-law to be) and I were escorted to a far off room in the fire station, giving my sister adequate time to hide and prepare for our respective ‘first looks’. I could not be more excited for Dale to become my brother-in-law. Let me list the reasons:

1. He grumbles more at church than I do, which means more Mom-laser-beam-eyes for him and less Mom-laser-beam-eyes for me.

2. His willingness to assimilate to our crazy family. For example: my 80 year old great aunt Margie told him ‘she’d show him a thing or two’ (yes, in that way), my mom makes a living off of making fun of him, and my various cousins bombard him with copious amounts of teenage energy. He’s always game and enjoys himself. Anyone in a relationship can tell you what a valuable commodity that is in a partner. It relaxes that caretaker part in you and allows you the freedom to enjoy yourself.

3. Dale is the easiest person to talk to. He’s curious and asks questions. Dale has a sense of humor that gifts him the ability to let things go, and this ‘eghh’ quality is one that runs on the male side of our family (sorry Mom, sorry Amy, you’re more firecracker than sparkler). His kindness is apparent in the care he has for my sister. I’ve never seen her happier, and as well taken care of as she has been with Dale.

The First Look

After a brief wait, I was escorted by the photographers assistant to the place of demise, standing a few feet in front of the firetruck that my sister was stationed behind. I heard her laughing, her Minnes’O’ta accent, and I perspired with dread. I’m going to fuck this all up. I know it. Then, without any warning, the photographer beckoned her out from behind the truck. She walked up behind me. I could hear her nervous laugh as she stood a few inches from my sweaty back. Then I was told that I could turn around, and I thought, ‘Here comes the first look from Hell! I hope you’re happy, Amy!’ I turned around, and she saved me. She started to cry. I saw her, my sister, the bride, in her beautiful dress, crying in front of me, her older brother, and I hugged her. Then she pulled back, and I was shocked. I saw our Mother. This is the only time I can remember looking my sister in the face, and recognizing how much she looked like our Mother. Let my emotions begin!

Father and Daughter

If I was emotional seeing my sister in her wedding dress, I was not prepared  to watch my sister and our Dad have their ‘first look’, or the moment during the wedding when Dale and Amy hugged both sets of parents. Watching my sister hug my mother, and my father set off a mental montage of our childhood. Walking with my sister from Vogel Arena, riding our bikes to Aunt Susie and Uncle Dennis’ house, spitting venom at each other as teenagers, standing together for a family photo at the entrance to Valleyfair, asking my sister if I could open some of her presents at Xmas because I had, in a flash, ripped through all of mine.

 

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“Give me all your presents!”

At previous weddings, I had a hard time understanding anything other than the traditional reason for the bride and groom to greet and hug the parents. Having those parents be mine, and the bride my sister, illuminated more than the ceremony of the whole thing, but the deeper symbolism in those traditions. AKA, they made me all emotional.

My speech

I had told my sister I wanted to give a speech. Giving a speech at a wedding sounds like the best idea 6 weeks before the wedding. Then, without fail, 5 minutes before I’m set to give the speech, I want to crawl into a cave where no one is looking at me expecting me to say something funny or poignant. The worst part of a wedding speech, is that when you get up there to speak, you have no idea if you’ll have a captive audience or not. I’ve given a half dozen wedding oratory’s before, and the people at the reception are thinking one of two things, either “shut up, where’s our food?”, or “you’ve got 30 seconds to convince me this is worth my time or I’m joining the ‘shut up, where’s our food? crowd. Go.” Maybe you’re thinking, “Wow, you’re making a big deal about a speech.” This is what I do. Not only are the people who know I’m an actor expecting me to be entertaining, but I’m expecting myself to be entertaining. I can’t be tens of thousands of dollars in debt and suck at this. Needless to say, I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver.

After the last best man speech is given, I say to Colleen, “I think they forgot about me. Good. I’m going to get out of giving a speech. Phew. That was a close one.” Then my sister sees me. “Do you want to give your speech now? Or wait and do it later? It’s up to you,” she says. Shit. Shit. Shitty shit shit. “I’ll do it now,” I say as I feign confidence and super crap my pants.

I had given the speech a lot of thought, but never committed to anything, and placed zero pens to zero paper. I knew I wanted to share a few amusing anecdotes about my sister, express how much we hated each other as teenagers, and then sum it up with something sincere. Yeah, that last bit, about being sincere and saying something to encapsulate how I felt about my sister, was nothing more than ‘der der der being kids is fun right Amy derrrrrrrrrrr’ as I walked up to the microphone. So…I got up there and I told a few funny stories of my sister as a wee little girl, and then told everyone how antagonistic we were as teenagers, and subsequently arrived at the pre-designated heartfelt moment of the speech. I was lucky in that I had everyone’s attention. Then the choice presented itself. To be brave, or not to be brave: that’s the question. The nature of my sister and I’s relationship was that we truly saw each other, how we were both very good people, and very awful. She had seen me at my disgusting and most petty, and I had seen her at her most deceitful and mean, and because of that, I was standing up at her wedding. Could I look out at this room full of meat and potatoes Midwesterners and really talk about something as fruit-loopy as what it means to really ‘see’ someone? It was the scariest thing I could say, and thus I knew the most brave, and truthful. The tenants of improv and acting suggest several key ingredients: prepare, let it go, say yes to whatever finds you there, and ride the rollercoaster. I listened to my study, struggled through my emotions to deliver my feelings, and congratulated the happy couple.

Colleen

Before I leave, I have to speak about another partner, another partner that is easy to talk to, and assimilates herself into my crazy family. All day long I had been dragged this way and that by old family friends and past acquaintances and mother/son dancing, and the entire time I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I was able to because I knew Colleen, my beautiful girl, would take care of herself and allow me that freedom. I can’t thank her enough for this, and for her kindness and patience. As easy as it is to be in a familiar place with familiar faces, it’s work, and sometimes exhausting work being the plus one, getting to know everyone, and keeping tabs on your date. It was a perfect day, and so much of that, for me, was due to Colleen.

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Oh, and the ASL interpreter danced with my sister and signed ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Baby Got Back’. So there’s that 🙂

 

 

 

Dancing Queen

I have countless memories of my big-headed, pre-teen self rumbling around the balcony of the New Ulm Junior High School auditorium, as my younger sister pranced around onstage in her sequin dance outfit with the rest of her sparkly dance team.

In boredom, I would run in the dark and hide behind some seats.

My sister, onstage, would twirl generally in the same rhythm and pace as all the other girls. But let’s be honest. The more out of sync little girls dance, the more adorable. Some girls would stand there feeling the snazzy texture of there bright purple dress. Other girls would get into the timely pop number with zeal to rival Freddie Mercury. And other girls would run to their moms, or cry, or flail sporadically, or watch the rest of the group and become so overwhelmed with the possibilities that they simply wouldn’t know what to do.

Which was my sister? I don’t remember which, exactly. I do know she was made of the bravest sort of material. She gave it her all up there. Smiling out at my mom and dad, not out of fear or need, but out of joy and little girly giddiness.

In between my bouts of rambunctious boyishness, I found time to stop and watch my sister dance. Older brother peering over the balcony railing, watching his little sister.

In 3 weeks I will watch her dance at her wedding. She’ll be in a sparkly dress. I’ll probably be hiding behind some chairs.

Because we never really grow up.

Use Your Head

We were young ‘uns.

I was maybe 6, my sister 4. We were in a front yard in New Ulm, MN, with our parents and Aunt and Uncle.

There was a metal/tin for sale signing hanging in the yard. I was having a grand time running at the sign, pushing it up with my hands and running through. My sister, however, would run at the sign and push at it but without the required strength to run through. She would run and run, but she was denied everytime.

Finally, out of frustration, I yelled, “Amy! Jeez! Use your head!” And so she did.

She ran at the sign, arms at her sides, and used her head.

Clang!

Even if there is lasting damage done, it’s a funny story 🙂

 

Fart Noises

Amy.

My sister, Amy, is getting married in 24 days. In honor of that fact, I am going to blog a bunchload of embarassing (hopefully — eek, if they’re flattering) anecdotes about my seester.

When we were kids, there were two facts:

I made awesome gun noise sound effects.

Amy made shitty ones. Like, really shitty. Actually, farty.

While I ran around in berserker mode, unleashing imagined bullets with epic verbal sound effects, my sister would crouch behind our old, brown recliner and meekly peep out, “pewww.” Pew. Pew-pew. Almost like pee-yew, my gun farted. She even said ‘pew’ as if saying it too loudly or harshly would harm someone. It was emitted as the thinnest wisp of reluctant buckshot replication.

Eventually, I had to change her imagined gun to be a laser rifle. A laser rifle, maybe, in the hands of the most waifish, alien Carmen Sandiego, might make the sound ‘pew’.

And.

I needed someone to shoot imaginary guns with. If Amy couldn’t cut the beefsteak, I’d be a cowboy without his Indian; a cop without his robber. A rambunctious older brother without his trailing little sister.

So.

I went on hurling grenades, and launching missiles while spit flew from my mouth with all my dizzying, splashy audio-

And my sister.

She quit about 3 days later 🙂