This Side B’s for Adam Yauch

Like most folk, when I think of certain music, my brain generally redirects to memories made during specific points in time. Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Bluejeans” will always be the song Mom and I played at full volume along the backroads of Texarkana in the Trans Am sans T-Tops, heh. WRR was the only radio station that played on my cubed, beloved Sony Dream Machine’s alarm clock — the backbone of my Carter years. And so on. When I accidentally saw the Beastie Boys open for Madonna in 1985, though, the musical barometer for the rest of my life was pegged. After that, there was never a Beastie Boys’ era for me, per se. They were always just there for the rest of the ride — the bad and the good stuff alike.

Russell woke me up this morning with the rotten news: “Adam Yauch is dead.” I knew MCA’d been battling cancer, but I thought it’d gone into remission and that he was going to make it. This was MY Beastie Boy. I hate to see him go. It’s heart-twisting, heavy-hitting. Through the years, MCA had become my old friend from the other side of the speakers.

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I told Russell that Adam’s band haphazardly managed to have always been in the background of my entire adolescence and adult years, like those guys’d made a deal with the devil or something. I knew them when every house still had a record player with its crappy original needle, when cassette became king, CD following shortly thereafter. I bought their music when we all started feverishly turning toward records again, but this time calling it “vinyl and wax.” It didn’t matter if they had a song in the Top 40; buying Beastie Boys at the record store was still cool, even for music snobs. After Al Gore invented the internet, erm, we didn’t have to dig for the rare stuff anymore; you could get the Beasties on mp3. Happy/sad. They stuck the course and adapted in their own way, often setting the tone for an entire culture. They taught us it was ok to be assholes as long as we were also morally conscious:

I want to say a little something that’s long overdue. The disrespect to women has got to be through. To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends. I want to offer my love and respect to the end.

I had a fistful of records when I first heard the BBs. These days I can’t park my car in the garage because we’re overwhelmed by so much music in this house. I would be a fool to think Adam and Co. didn’t influence a lot of the stuff I love. After all, those three MCs have seen me through my entire musical journey, taking over exactly where my parents left off, weaving in and out between my pop, goth, PR, reggae, Americana, modern classical phases of life. They were there. Always.

In junior high I was playing “Brass Monkey” on my tape recorder when a boy on the school bus in the row across from mine decided to show everybody his dick. I can’t listen to that song now without thinking about being shocked by the sight of little Jackie Tarwater’s penis, the first one I ever saw. Gad. One minute I was a preacher’s daughter from a small town in northern Texas. The next minute I was trapped in an outtake from License to Ill. Magic.

My friend Anna’s parents used to let us borrow their gigantic camcorder when we were in high school and shortly thereafter. I still have several of those tapes — different nights in Deep Ellum and at friends’ parties. In all of those silly windows from our yonder years, the Beastie Boys were back there behind whatever was going on, busting rhymes while we’d lipsync dressed like Lady Miss Kier Kirby. Gag. We knew all the lyrics, all the samples, all the everythings. I was probably never cooler, looking back.

Lori and Gabe and I spent hours listening to Check Your Head. I remember an entire night staring at the evening’s clouds rolling past while we were lying on some kid’s trampoline. One of of us had ordered a lyric sheet from an address on the cassette, and we all took turns reading through the leaflet, reveling in the knowledge of mysteries unfolded: “It’s ‘I think you’re funny with the money that you flaunt,’ you guys.”

Ill Communication was California: mountains, ocean, my Mustang GT 5.0. That was when I turned into a bonafide grownup: married, about to have a kid, three states away from my comfort zone. The Beastie Boys, with this record, were also miles away from where they began. They were adults, having soldiered through their own rites of passages, and charging forward in musicianship. In the afternoons, I’d open all my windows and blare “Get It Together,” every version — and not a soul ever complained.

When Bella was born, she was unintentionally a Beastie baby. There wasn’t a frown “Intergalactic” couldn’t cure. Music during that time was so serious, except for this. And, man, that video sure was a relief from all the otherness on MTV during its time. We put “My name is: Hello Nasty” name tags across her diapered booty and watched her run around with her Teletubby toys. I shouldn’t have been so surprised last year when I was listening to Hot Sauce Committee, and Bella appeared from her room dancing and singing along, “Mom, I didn’t know you had this record.” Why would she say that? Because it was cool? Who was she talking to? Of course, I had that record. Pfft. Now the Beasties had crossed generational lines.

Like Star Wars.

And Apple.

A few weeks ago, when I was under the impression everything was going to be ok for MCA, “Sabotage” came on the radio. We’d been talking, but my fourteen-and-a-half-year-old Bella interrupted me.

“Sorry, Mom, but you know we can’t listen to this song unless it’s loud. Really loud.” And we turned it up and sang-yelled that thing so hardcore that I started to cry a little because it was so incredibly awesome to be doing that with my own teenaged daughter.

After Russell broke the news about Adam Yauch this morning, I realized how important MCA had been throughout my entire life. As obvious as that should have been, it never occurred to me. What a great rock star he was, a champion of goodwill amongst men, a mouthpiece for my generation. Tonight, I’ll drag out my paper thin B-Boys’ “Goodbye, Mr. Hand” t-shirt and celebrate the past twenty-seven years I’ve known a guy I never met. The guy who “never rocked a mic with the pantyhose” was right:

There’s somethin’ coming to the surface. There’s fire all around. But this is all illusion. I’ve seen better days than this one. I’ve seen better nights than this one. Tension is rebuilding. Something’s got to give. Someday we shall all be  one.

High five. See you on side B, Adam.

My Valentine Totoro

It is Valentine’s Day. I’m supremely fortunate to have a valentine who makes my heart jump every day.

When I walked down the aisle two years ago to Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” I carried a bouquet Russell and I made using origami flowers and white hydrangeas the night before. Our vows were strikingly similar, so much so that my father asked me before the wedding if we’d written them together. Staring at the floral paper remnants of that arrangement each day, I am frequently reminded that we have a unique and special partnership balanced by a free-spirited, whimsical practicality.

Russell leaves tiny love notes for me rolled inside metal caplets under my pillow, in my coat pockets, etc. At the fair, he wastes money trying to win silly stuffed animals for me to carry around. He makes my coffee every morning even though he doesn’t drink it himself. He pulls my boots off when I get home from work, and he makes hot tea. He always lets me watch my terrible DVR’d shows before we watch his brainy stuff. He rubs my shoulders even though his hands hurt. He gets my car inspected and makes sure my oil is changed. During the day, he always texts me, “I love you!” At night, he drags his night owl body to bed early so we can fall asleep next to one another.

But I don’t love him only for all the little things he does for me every day; I love him for the things he does for my mother and my child, too. When there’s a school function, he always makes plans to attend. He poses thoughtful questions to Bella’s teachers and emails them. He checks her grades online. He makes sure she has money in her school lunch account, and he is the first one to reward her for special achievements. When Mom needs a “tall person,” Russell is always there, always putting together her IKEA finds, always answering each honey-do chore without complaint on his way home from work. This man I married, he sincerely cares each moment of each day — not just when February 14th falls on the calendar.

I know it’s gaggy, but I want the world to know: I really love this guy, his big brain, his quirks, his flaws, the way he always has to hold hands in the theater, the way he looks at me like he has from the beginning as if I am the only girl in the room — even in a room full of girls who are five billion times prettier than I could ever be. I love that he keeps his metal records around from the eighties and that he beat-mixes Sesame Street and his DJ scratch vinyl without warning on any old Tuesday night. I love that he is loyal to his friends without limit, yet is honest with them even when what he has to say may not be what they want to hear. I love that he is kind to animals and to people in need; I love how he isn’t afraid to regularly give up his time to volunteer, like it’s his duty. There is no one I admire more than my valentine. He really does mean the world to me.

Infinity plus one. Thanks for being mine, my Totoro.

 

Since September

Not wanting to polarize the animal rescue effort with my politics and personal beliefs, I’ve been writing elsewhere, including here.

In September, as you may know, my kid and husband and I set out to volunteer at the State Fair of Texas with a local dog rescue group. We were looking for a way to get Bella interested in community service doing something that we felt she’d enjoy as well as find educational. I never expected it would change my life.

I knew the world was full of dark cracks in the pavement that we often avoid out of convenience. I didn’t know, however, that I could find such joy within those cracks. Animal rescue always seemed like an overwhelming task, and I wasn’t sure I could make a difference. I know that’s not true now, having seen exactly what happens when people stand together in responsible action.

We have a home with only two spoiled cats, both previously rescued before we ever thought to set out for the fair mission. I think frequently about how much I love them and how happy they’ve made us, about what a huge change their presence has brought in our home and about how lucky we were to find them before they were euthanized. Once at the fair, though, I quickly realized we could easily repay the rescue effort by offering to foster just one dog at a time.

Just one dog at a time made a difference to every family who is in love with their new forever pets, families who would never have had the opportunities to discover their new BFFs if rescues hadn’t stepped up. Just one dog at a time saved a dog on death row. Just one dog at a time saved a rescue from having to board an animal, enabling scarce resources to help other animals with medical needs. Just one dog at a time has taught us that the world is full of hope within those dark pockets.

Soon enough I discovered that people want to help, but sometimes aren’t sure where to begin. Even though we’re complete noobs in this world, friends who wanted to volunteer have asked us how to get involved, where to get low cost vaccines and care, how to avoid taking an animal to a shelter. Neighbors started alerting us to other animals who needed a hand. It seemed contagious, pleasantly, and that put a kind perspective on something I thought just a year ago was too daunting to undertake — even just one dog at a time.

During an adoption event, a sixth grade girl petted one of the dogs our group is fostering. She told me about how her parents divorced, that she wished she could have a dog or a cat, but that they couldn’t at that time. I asked her if she thought her parents would let her help me with the rescue cats who live at a local pet supply store, awaiting adoptive homes. Her dad agreed, so we exchanged info and agreed to meet the following Saturday.

That evening I received a barrage of the sweetest text messages ever from the excited girl: What should she bring? Could we play with the cats outside of the cat condos? Would it be okay if she helped every week? She thanked me with a lot of smiley-faced emoticons. I told her she needed to thank herself.

That Saturday the girl arrived fifteen minutes early, ready to scoop cat poo and disinfect the cats’ homes. She wanted to work and did so like a complete trouper.

Later in the evening, she again texted me about how happy she was to help. Remember, we’re talking about a kid here, folks. My heart melted.

Over the course of our past few play dates with the kitties, this young girl, kindly dropped off by her parents on their respective weekend visitation schedules, inspired me tremendously — maybe more so than anything else I’ve seen thus far in my journey. She’s giving up her Saturday evenings to help a total stranger care for animals who have no homes. This girl is going to, in turn, show other kids how easy it is to become involved in whatever is important to them.

Really, that’s all it’s about, right? Passion is a great thing, but action has to follow.

The dogs and cats have taught me a valuable lesson about people. We’re a good lot when we put our hearts and minds together, you know. So grateful for this opportunity.

Just one dog at a time.

Just one person at a time.

Journey to the Center of My Pocket Protector (and Beyond)

When I was pregnant forever ago, I dreamed I was observing my daughter as an adolescent, living her daily life, becoming independent. I remember wondering, as I woke up, if I’d ever be able to look at her without being emotionally overwhelmed by love and fear and everything else. I knew I wanted to give her the world, but how? Parenthood seemed like such a symphony of emergencies when I was full-bellied-with-baby.

Then she went to kindergarten.

Began reading.

Discovered her own music.

And, suddenly, she was on auto-pilot — needing me to only serve as a bumper guard for her awkward, burgeoning life. (I’m not fooled, though; this is what I’ve been rehearsing for since my kid was born.)

With the potential for so much sensory overload, it’s important to steer our surly junior high replicas down good paths whether they seem to like it or not. Being a valuable parent is about making choices for our children and then allowing them to choose their own options from there. It’s not rocket science.

Or, maybe, it is partially rocket science.

Continue reading

Bank of America gets schooled, I mean, totally pwn3d by DC “classroom.”

Yesterday, the DC chapter of US Uncut, a non-profit organization against unnecessarily obscene tax shelters for corporate giants such as Bank of America, staged a flash-mob protest inside the lobby of a DC BoA location.

Students, educators, children, and concerned citizens entered the building and signed in to speak with a representative about opening an account. While waiting for an appointment on the busy Saturday at the bank, the large group peacefully opened their books (see covers!) and held a lesson about paying taxes and pondering possible reasons why BoA was able to make 4.4 billion dollars profit without paying any taxes, amongst other related topics.

This is a bravely effective, peaceful demonstration. The duration is about twenty minutes; however, the information shared by the students and their teacher is delivered in such a hilarious manner that it’s worth your time. Judging from their reactions, the bank representatives might disagree.

Many exclamation points and kudos for the US Uncut DC chapter (see link for complete details of the protest) as well as to all who participated in various protests held yesterday around the entire nation for other US Uncut groups as well as for www.MoveOn.org.

Originating link to video: http://sharing.theflip.com/session/ff4dd613b9fd8b5591a48caae618dc34/video/66975281

 

wwMLKd?

Today, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But…how? By celebrating an annual Monday holiday with no junk mail, no bank tellers, and no school so that people who are fortunate enough to work Monday through Friday can enjoy a three-day weekend? That makes no sense. Hell, even the Teamsters picked up my trash today. You’d think if anybody was going to be given a day to remember King’s valiant efforts, the people he died fighting for would be amongst that group.

But no.

Everyday is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. He never wasted the shortened moments of his life, and we shouldn’t either. MLK wouldn’t want to be remembered by a pansy holiday for bankers and businesses; he wanted the generations after his to end poverty, hunger, unfair labor, war, and social injustices and inequalities. To pay him proper tribute on this day is to SELFLESSLY DO WHAT YOU DO BEST FOR THE COMMON GOOD, WITHOUT PREJUDICE AND WITHOUT JUDGMENT.

You don’t have to lead a squadron of marchers to be effective in maintaining the spirit of King. If what you do best is knitting, hey, go the extra mile and make a blanket for someone colder than you. If you’re best at reading, brush up on MLK’s story and share it with people who can’t read. If you’re best at criticizing others, funnel that snarkiness into turning around in line at the grocery store to combat an ill-informed comment from the mumbling racist behind you.

There are shelters who need your volunteer services. There’s a lonely person who needs to be lifted up by YOU. There is a kid who needs a role model — a kid who lives closer to your neighborhood than you might think, a kid who’s been called a “faggot” or a “nigger” or “trash” or “a bastard.” It’s up to you to ensure the people around you realize there’s an army of support on their side.

King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This isn’t so much about yelling your views from a street corner, but about leading through example and making positive changes contagious. Radical thinkers are more often than not historical heroes, which is why I keep Shepard Fairey’s poster of Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, and MLK proudly hung in my home. Why? Like I said, Everyday is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

So, what are you going to do to change the world today?

What would MLK do?

The Bell’s NASA Space Shuttle Discovery Dresser, kinda sorta

For most of the year, Bella’s been walking around with a flash drive full of writing projects stashed in her pocket so she could snag a few minutes here and there from any computer with an owner willing to loan it out. I figured her resourcefulness deserved rewarding.

My kid is awesome even incognito.

After some head-scratching, the whole family chipped in and bought her a really freaking nice computer. It’s the kind of thing a kid with parents in her socioeconomic bracket usually would never consider, but Bella is a great writer. I figure if she doesn’t write her stuff now, she’s gonna whine and moan for the rest of her life about how she missed some kind of boat (and that will only keep her from winning the Nobel Peace Prize for curing cancer and eradicating world hunger, duh). Simply put: Bella needed a badass computer for the good of mankind.

We had to throw her off the trail, though, when she saw me getting out of the car with a bag from Apple. Luckily, Russ is extraordinarily good at making fake invoices for things a thirteen year-old girl would never want, like a Space Shuttle Discovery Bedroom Dresser and matching Rocket Booster Shoe Holders from the “NASA Space Store.” Said invoices are especially effective when you accidentally leave them laying around and tell Bella to stay out of the garage.

What no teenager wants for Christmas -- ever.

This afternoon, we hid the MacBook in a box under her old netbook that kicked the bucket last year. Then we covered the entire affair in a nest of chairs and stools and boxes and pillows and lots of other crud draped in sheets. It definitely didn’t look like anything cool after we were done.

Spoiler alert: Get Kleenex.

In about three minutes, all the extra hours I worked this holiday were totally worth it. My spawn is super cool. I can’t wait to read her stuff. Such good fortune.