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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Tyranny of Petty Things.

When I was a girl we lived on a hill. It wasn't much of a hill, we were about 8 houses up said hill. It went quite a ways up, where the houses got bigger and grander and more expensive, but we were firmly in the middle of the first block and therefore high enough for my mother to say that we lived on the foothill. This kind of crap was important to her, I think she made up for her lousy upbringing by attaching herself to things that glittered. You know...faster, higher, richer? The fact that we flooded every winter and lived a mile and a half from the local airport never seemed to be part of her vision.

It gave her some sort of weird comfort. Because, in spite of the fact that we were decidedly middle class and my father was a machinist, my mother fancied herself as some sort of social tree topper. This may have come about because of the general 1950s suburbia atmosphere that she embraced, I'm not really sure. She drank (incessantly) martinis and smoked Pall Malls and once explained to me how the 50s, with their Miltowns and cocktail parties and trays of rumaki and women in baby doll nighties was just the most ideal time EVER and we should go back to those good ol' days because we were all happy and in our place. She used to lecture me and my friends on how to be a seductive woman and told us that elbows were only slightly more unattractive than knees and shouldn't be shown. This was in 1966 or thereabouts. My mother was weird.

Anyway, in the late afternoon I would go outside and stand in the driveway and look towards the airport. I would hook my butt on to the retaining wall that marked the terrace-like housing lot on the "up" side of the hill and I would watch the sky. The local airport was Lockheed, later known as Hollywood-Burbank and various other sundry twists until it settled into today's version, "b Hope Airport". It wasn't LAX but it was pretty big time, we had 707s and Constellations and DC3s  taking off and landing. The late, lamented short hop airlines, like PSA and Western ("The ONLY way to fly!") had terminals there.

Well, about 4:30 or so was a busy time for landings. We were situated rather fortunately, geographically that is, we could usually SEE the planes but seldom heard them. So out I would go and I would start watching the west. And the planes would start coming in. I would watch for an hour sometimes, watching the planes stack up waiting for landing. There would be 4 planes, all flying in a big corkscrew over the airport. The one on the bottom would make its last, lazy turn and then straighten out, dropping out of sight as it landed. At the same time, another plane would come into view, head towards the terminal and join the springlike pattern at the top as everyone shifted down a level. It was a thing of beauty, of symmetry, it was almost baseball like in its summer perfection. And, as the air traffic settled down so did the sun and, in case you don't live by west coast, there is something glorious about the sun setting over the water.

The planes were full of people but I didn't really care. Okay, I cared, but they weren't the object of my interest. It was the craft that I loved, the absolutely beauty of some guy in a control tower juggling six planes all wanting to land on the same runway within six minutes of each other that fascinated me, it was a ballet of steel and jet engines which I could barely hear from my driveway; the fat, cigar like body of the DC 3s, the sleek silver tubes of the 707s and the exquisite triple tails of the Constellations, Connie's everyone called them, all, like Oscar Hammerstein's hawk, "making lazy circles in the sky."

I think a lot of those idle afternoons lately. Because of the Winter Games of the whateverthehellitis Olympiad we're watching a lot of television and, therefore, a lot of commercials. The hubster and I are of an age where we still watch commercials, because, well, you never know when you might miss the next big thing in breakfast cereal. Also, it might be funny. There are two that are pounding away at us now. One is the buff boomer who is trotting through his very rich and neat house telling us that the European way of life, that stop and smell the roses attitude, is just so much bullshit and we're awesome Americans because we work till we drop and, eventually, we get stuff. Like his gas guzzling Cadillac SUV. And it's cool because we went to the moon and, apparently, left a Caddy up there with the engine running. So screw the fact that those time wasting Europeans take an entire month a year off and they live longer, happier and healthier lives, keep pounding away and get yourself a car.

The other one is the woman driving her babysitter home and the new Chevy is awesome and it has leather and an XM radio and a GPS and as she pulls up to the girls house the girl, who has been taking in the spiff of the car, suddenly raises her rate from $40 to $60 dollars. In the first place, who the fuck pays that kind of money for a 14 year old babysitter? And in the second place, what a greedy, calculating little bitch. It's still just a Chevy for Gods sake. Hey, your car's spiffy, give me more money. Seriously? THIS is the kind of behavior we now glorify in advertising?

So I got to thinking. I got to thinking about those long, lazy summer afternoons watching the planes land and thinking of how difficult I would find it now to stand for an hour and feel absolutely NO GUILT about doing absolutely NOTHING except letting an experience wash over me. We no longer walk or ride our bikes unless our doctors order us to. We race everywhere, just so we can do something and race back and hardly anything we do is worth rushing for. I don't have a car, and yes, I would like one. But I am beginning to realize that, when you keep chasing the top of the line you never get there. There is always something else out there, something new, something better than the one you have. A used Toyota is going to get me to the same place the guy in the Cadillac is going and if seeing me pull in in a used Toyota makes him feel good, well, dude, do I feel bad for you!

Sure, I'm as guilty as the next one. I would like a house, and some financial security. But I'd rather have some new, clean carpet...with a built in cat scary thing in it that would pop up every time the damn cat starts circling anything other than the litter box. If I could invent that I could probably afford the Cadillac. But I don't want one. I WANT to stroll home, I want to stop and have coffee at the local bistro, I WANT to have a long, lazy dinner at a picnic table, I would rather work until seven and take a two hour break in the middle of the day. I want to work to live, not live to work. I want to be able to stop for an hour and marvel at the planes landing.

I thought it might be old age and nostalgia, but my younger son told me the other day that, if he had the money, he would move to Europe. We were talking about the commercial, and how General Motors is telling us that in Europe they don't have as much "stuff" as we do. And he said "Yeah. And they live a hell of a lot longer."  Slowing down isn't going to be easy, I long for organization. But maybe it can work. I mean, why the hell should I have high blood pressure? Why do I need to be on antidepressants? There is happiness out there and I have come to the conclusion that the reason we aren't reaching it is because we pass it. We're going so fast we blow right by it.

So maybe we do need to do something on the weekends. We need to put dinner in the slow cooker. We need to stop worrying about what we're missing on television. For HEAVENS SAKE...we need to STOP MULTI TASKING!  Write a letter. A real letter. Send a thank you card. Watch a program. Go to a ballgame or a museum. Take a picnic lunch to the park. Start a patio garden. Look out the window. .

STOP CHECKING YOUR FUCKING SMART PHONE while you're doing it!   One at a time, people! Just like the planes landing...slowly and gracefully, and never getting tangled up. Try living as if you're in a landing pattern. Glide, circle and, when it's the right time, come in. Put the next thing on the list on top and do it again.

And do NOT pay the damn babysitter $60 bucks.