Hey Now, You’re A Rock Star

“I see you’re still like, totally rock-n-roll!” 

This fairly unexpected statement was spoken to me by a friend whom I hadn’t seen in several years. We’ve known each other forever — possibly literally — and she’s funny and charming and at that moment, I felt like she had never known me at all. I was wearing a T-shirt, leggings and a cardigan.  

A cardigan 

It was true that the T-shirt said AC DC on it in silver letters, but, still. I got the thing at H&M. Nobody was going to mistake me for Keith Richards, and please, let’s not forget the cardigan. 

Me. The rocker.

“Sure am,” I said back to my friend, because, why not? What the hell. I considered giving her that rock-n-roll hand gesture thingy but I always mess up and do the Spiderman one instead. Or are they the same? I don’t even know. I am like a rock-n-roll-Peter-Parker-slash-Mr.-Rogers. Next thing you know I’d be playing Crystal Gayle on the jukebox. Come to think of it, I believe I have played Crystal Gayle on a jukebox. And Peaches & Herb. 

But enough about me. 

Let’s talk about rock-n-roll, or more specifically, rock stars. The thing is, I feel like it takes a certain kind of family to raise a rock star, and mine was most certainly not that family. We had the cursing and infighting down, I suppose, but beyond that we were hopeless. Consider: I grew up in the ’80’s, an era that can be defined almost entirely by its hairdos, and yet I don’t think I knew what hairspray was until maybe 1992. We had bedtimes and we did not ever listen to music too loud. I was in a spelling bee once. I won a dictionary. I’ve never understood how a dictionary is supposed to help you spell things. Like, if you don’t know how to spell rendezvous, are you supposed to peruse the whole ‘R’ section? These are the kinds of things I think about. If you are saying to yourself, she is the least rock-n-roll person I have ever heard of, then you would be right. 

One of my greatest talents.

And yet, it occurs to me that maybe it’s all in how you look at it. Take my mother. We were at a baby shower once, and those of you that have attended baby showers know that it’s mostly about sitting there politely and smiling while a pregnant woman opens individually wrapped onesies and baby monitors that all but allow you to change the baby’s diaper from three rooms away. Typically you are playing bingo at the same time to make it all less tedious. It was during the gift-opening at this particular shower that my mother pushed back her chair, stood up, and said, “That’s enough. I’m ready to go.” 

It was rude and it was hilarious (to me, if not to the pregnant woman) and I don’t know, but I feel like that’s a little bit rock star. 

As for my dad, well, for him I quite frankly cannot drum up any rock star memories at all. He was even in a band back in the day, but still, nothing. He played the trumpet and he told me that once, when he was sitting next to a girl he liked on the bus, he blew that trumpet right in her ear. She got upset, as anyone would once they have been deafened by a lunatic with a brass instrument, and her brother threatened my dad’s life.  

“So, what did you do?” I asked my dad. 

“I stayed in my house,” he said. “For about six months. And I started picking up weights so I would be ready if that guy came around.” 

Dad, I am sorry. But no rock star refers to weightlifting as “picking up weights.” 

My dad was in the military and occasionally played “Taps” in our backyard. I don’t know why.

This Thursday, I will go to sit with my dad while they pull out his four remaining bottom teeth, or anyway the roots of those teeth. The teeth themselves broke off a while back. After that, they will fit him for a new set of teeth, a full plate to replace the busted up partial he wears now. He also got new glasses. He’s 81 and well into the late stages of Alzheimer’s but you know? I think he’s finally made it. New glasses and shiny new teeth and now he’s one animal print scarf away from Steven Tyler status.  

I texted my aunt: Dad got new glasses and he’s getting new bottom teeth, he’ll be a rock star.  

Which just goes to show you, it’s never too late. Maybe even for me.  

Rock on. 

Fairness Is The Devil’s Promise

I was at the library yesterday, writing and generally minding my own business, when I overheard a grown man at the checkout desk say, “But it’s not fair!”  

I did not hear what the librarian said back to him. I really wanted to but alas, her words were lost in the noise of the crowd. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that libraries have become boisterous social halls these days. Talk about not fair.  

Scene inside the library at lunchtime. No one can shut up.

You know what else isn’t fair? Life. Or, at least it seems not-fair to us mere humans, with our lack of understanding of so much of our existence. Disease isn’t fair. The distribution of wealth isn’t fair. Bad people winning and good people losing, not fair not fair not fair.  

I eventually left the library and went back to work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy and his complaint. Uttered to a librarian, no less. What could possibly be not fair in a library? You take what you want, for free. You bring it back when you’re done. Sure, they fine you if you’re a day late, but what’s so unfair about that? You knew the due date. It’s perfectly reasonable. Dammit, I wish I’d heard the rest of that conversation. 

Here’s a conversation I did hear: later that afternoon, my phone rang. Dad’s nursing home. “Hi, Melissa, no reason to panic, it’s nothing bad,” said one of my favorite nurses. 

Me, when they tell me not to panic.

“Okay,” I said. “What is it?” 

“Well, your dad fell out of his wheelchair,” she told me. “But he’s fine. He was trying to pick up potato chip crumbs. You know how he gets.” 

I do know how he gets. If there is a crumb or a scrap of paper or straw wrapper anywhere on the floor, he must clean it up, stat. I pictured him, leaning out of the wheelchair with no sense of his own tipping point, then tumbling to the floor, an old man, fallen.  

For whatever reason, at that very moment I thought of one of my favorite scenes from Frasier. Frasier, trying to prove that Michael Keaton’s wheelchair-bound character is a phony, pushes him out of said chair just before a phone call proves him wrong. Later, Frasier talks to his father about it.

Frasier: Now there was a lesson learned. 

Martin: Yeah, don’t throw a guy out of a wheelchair. Who knew? 

And so I laughed. I’m sure the nurse was a little confused. What kind of person laughs when told that her elderly father has collapsed to the nursing home floor? 

Well, me, I guess. I laughed just as if she’d called me up to tell me a really good joke.  

“He’s not hurt at all,” said the nurse, possibly panicking herself. Perhaps she thought now it was I who had fallen. Into hysteria. “Him and his cleaning though, huh?” 

I laughed more. God, someone stop me.  

We eventually hung up, and of course I stopped laughing right away now that I didn’t have a horrified, misunderstanding audience. I wished very much that I could tell my mother about this. I knew she’d think it was funny. We might have laughed about the time Daddy fell down the stairs trying to save my sister and me from a burned out light bulb, or the time he fell through a warehouse roof after being told very specifically to not walk there. We’d have laughed about these things because we didn’t know what else to do. Some things are too sad to cry about.

While I was at it, I wished my dad weren’t in a nursing home wheelchair at all. I wished I could tell him and my mother both about this crazy dream I had, in which she was dead and he was too feeble to pick up a potato chip crumb.

I wished for a librarian to whom I could say, “But it’s not fair!” 

I wondered what the librarian would say back to me. Maybe, “If you don’t have the 75 cents today, you can just pay the fine next time.” That is, if I was able to hear her over the loudmouthed jackasses at the table behind me.

So. I could pay the fine and move on, or I could stand there all day whining. My choice.  

Fair enough. 

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