I had an active day with a friend yesterday. We cycled about 25km, came back to my pad, made some souvlaki to go with my gazpacho, and got stinking drunk. A decent girl’s night, and a departure from my safer, quieter nights in of late.
We somehow got to talking about her childhood. Atypical Japanese, she was raised by really trusting parents who wanted her to celebrate her independent feminist self, and she’s been travelling the world and enjoying life with their stamp of approval. They even got her drunk when she was younger, on sake of course, to teach her that alcohol wasn’t that special or worthy of fussing over.
Got me thinking a lot on my childhood. Crazy, how far we come, isn’t it?
It’s funny, I don’t think I ever really thought much on who I wanted to be as a kid. I think I just felt like I was a certain way, and that was that. Stoic, opinionated, funny girl who always marched to a different drummer. What about you? Did you ever really look at life in that big way and try to decide who you wanted to be within it?
I mean, god. There are strange things that happen to us all that have profound impacts on who we are, whether they’re stupid things that never really measure up to what the impact they dealt was, or whether they’re suitably profound moments that shake you to your core. It’s astounding how much some things do, you know?
Take the night I almost decided to opt out of my high school prom altogether. All my friends lived in the city, and the friends at school mostly weren’t into the prom either. Wasn’t our scene, mostly. Yet at the last minute I decided to go to the dry grad after-party with two friends, a poker party in a train caboose. Next thing you know, my name’s called and I won a car. Dang! I was so stoked! A CAR!
Turns out it was a 1979 Chevy Monza. (There’s a reason you’ve never heard of it.) “That’s okay,” I thought. “I’m not that proud. It’s a car! Cool. If it runs…” And I was all positive about it.
I head out to HALLMARK FORD, THOSE CHEAP MOTHERFUCKERS, in Surrey and I picked up my Monza. Which was literally obliterated by a dog-hair shag carpet laid thick upon the upholstery. Fuckin’ dog reekage lingered long and bad. The fuckers never even vacuumed the car they’d donated to the Rotary Club after one of their “Drag, tow, or push your wreck in and we’ll give ya $1,000 towards a new car!” sales, ceremoniously dumping their shittiest trade-in ever into my lap with the bellowing of those fateful words, “You’ve won a new(??) car!!”.
(?? call it semantics, but, really, “new?”)
Still, I got home and thought “So what? I’ll vacuum it!” Six hours and two vacuum bags and one box of baking soda later, I had it spiffy and happy, and only ever so faintly did the eau de chien linger. Even if it was still shit brown, ugly, and unsaleable. That was all right. I loved it for its unsightliness.
I transferred my insurance from my old Dodge Colt to the Monza, figuring what the hey, I’ll drive it and enjoy it.
For three days.
It broke down on the Queensborough Bridge because the dealership didn’t even put any oil or water in the fucking engine. I was 17! I didn’t think “Oh, I should make sure this car I just picked up from a professional car dealership has oil and water.” I made a stupid assumption, and screwed the pooch as a result.
The engine block cracked right through. Nice. On a bridge. In rush hour. During a heatwave. On a Thursday before a long weekend. In the afternoon. It was like the perfect storm of “how can we fuck Steff over? Oh, HEY, I know” conspiring by the cosmos, man.
I made a real big fuss about it, too, since I thought the HALLMARK FORD dealership was about as fucking cheap as could be. Like, pay your motherfucking lot boy $15 for two hours to vacuum my motherfucking car, you know? I thought the Rotary Club were wankers for not checking out the donation before giving it away. I wrote the city’s paper and said so. I also said I was glad it happened to me and not some kid who really needed such a generous prize. At least I didn’t get the ultimate bitter disappointment they’d experience, and I had my old beater to drive as a consolation. I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to anyone else.
Turns out the Rotary Club got a new president, who then turned out to think the outgoing prez was a dick, and that I had a point. Together we came up with a plan for the next year. The club would secure the donation of a car by the year’s end, and donate it to the high school mechanics’ class so it could be completely overhauled before the next kid would even know they’d won a car, and thus it’d never happened again. So, for the last 17 years, kids have been winning good-running, well-maintained used cars that probably got them all through college because I got pissed off enough to raise a shitstorm about what happened. Funny how that works. I’ll never know any of those kids, but it feels cool to know it’s the case.
But as a thanks for speaking up, and a consolation prize, they sent me off to a leadership weekend for teens. One of the guys I met that weekend has become one of my two closest friends over the years. We stayed up for almost the whole long leadership weekend, stole a van for a little road trip, and just generally had a great, insane experience that involved a lot of hot chocolate powder mixed into Pepsi as a STAY-THE-FUCK-UP energy drink. We’re still best of friends and keep the spark alive with concerts, despite him entering the land of the boring dad with two kids, a mortgage, and all that.
It’s crazy, who we’ve been, who we became, who we’re moving toward. All of us. We get so caught up in the mechanized lives we adopt that we forget how who we are really stems from all these crazy individual moments we experience that jumble together into the patchwork of our lives. We get so lost in the routine of our grown-up lives sometimes that we forget how breaking our routine by the tiniest bit can result in the most unexpected things happening.
Life gets safe, predictable, when we let it. That’s something I’m trying to break away from this year. I’m slowly getting there. I like my change to come slowly and consistently so I can digest it and keep myself from changing too much all at once. What can I say? It’s my Type A half clawing out some control.
Routine can be good. When you like what you’ve got, why fight it? But it’s nice to shake up the mix and let the hands of fate have a spin at the bottle, you know?
Sigh. I was just sitting here, thinking quietly about how it’d be nice if we had a veritas serum (truth potion) to induce the public before conducting massive polls to see into the deeper darker part of all our psyches to see how many of us have fallen drastically short of who we wanted to be as a kid, and who’s living that dream they had in grade 6, you know?
And none of this politically correct qualifying of opinions and dreams. “Well, of course I saw myself as more than just this Dad guy with a paycheque. I at least wanted a muscle car. But… things change and I’m happy. No, really, I am…”
Obviously we can’t all live the dream. Life does change, and things are weirder than they are normal most times. That’s just the way the cosmic cookie crumbles.
And what makes those crumbs so damned satisfying, of course, is how flavour-packed they are, even in their smallness. Like those little moments that dot our lives. Showing up to an overhyped poker party to win a car covered in dog-hair that resulted in what looks like it might well be a lifelong friendship? A fine crumb, that, even if was a strange journey.
That’s life. From little moments that lie lurking in wait to spring upon us with no warning, to unexpected profound events that transform the landscape of our lives. That’s life.
It’s too big and ever-changing to have ever foreseen it all from childhood. Sure, we probably wanted greater, bigger things, but it looks like we never understood the satisfaction that can come from the simpler things. The simple, overlapping wonders that are day to day life for the majority of us.
But, hey. Isn’t it a great day to take a different route to work, maybe have lunch somewhere new? Who knows. Maybe it’ll be the start of something good. Say yes to chance today. You might just like it.