The Fantasy of White America

If you want to know why so many white Americans want to Make America Great Again, all you have to do is look to Hollywood in the 1950’s and 60’s. Whether it’s Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera, or Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore singing Carolina in the Morning or pretty much every song from The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, or Thoroughly Modern Millie, we could easily believe that we lived in a world where everyone was slim and beautiful and joyful and ultimately safe.

We could be assured that all endings would be happy ones and that everyone was living the American Dream, even those outside of America. Based on this footage, it was a time when no one had to lock their doors, when everyone dressed well, children were relatively respectful, there was no crime, and no one ever had a single hair out of place.

Ah, nostalgia, with its rose-colored glasses.

Lest we forget, the 1950’s was the era of Jim Crow. It was a time when people were violently resisting desegregation. Rosa Parks had to remind us that she had as much right to sit in the front of the bus as anyone else. Polio was a thing. It was also the Cold War era, and a time when paranoia had us seeing communists in every nook and cranny. Children were taught to hide under their desks. People were building fallout shelters in their back yards.

The 1960’s brought us the war in Vietnam and the subsequent protests thereof. It brought assassinations galore. We had the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs and Stonewall. Civil Rights protests became even more radical and dangerous. Birth control was pretty much nonexistent. The vast majority of women did not have higher education or employment.

My point is that it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the most of the population. There was poverty. There was domestic violence and substance abuse. There was discrimination.

Rest assured that this great America that so many seem to long for was only great for a privileged few, and to hell with the rest of us. What they long for is a time where they could keep their heads in the clouds and their high heels and polished shoes on our necks. They want to wear their pillbox hats and their pearls and their searsucker while we do the grit labor, keep our mouths shut, and know our place.

MAGA is a fantasy that cannot now, and in fact never did, exist. It’s a desire not to have to care about anyone but themselves. It’s a way to remain angry and discontent with the present. It’s a perpetual It’s-Not-Fair tantrum.

Unfortunately for them, the rest of America has grown up, and we’re not willing to play along anymore. Que sera sera.

Doris Day 111

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Be Careful What You Wish For

I understand why some people are longing for some rose-colored memory of what the past used to be like. A time when no one had to lock their doors and all the birthday cakes were made from scratch. A time when we were all content in our respective places, supposedly.

The present, for many of us, sucks. I can see why people would like to think that all of society’s ills could be cured by going back in some time machine to a period of former glory.

Nothing ever seems as awful in retrospect, after we’ve survived it. No one can truly remember the pain of childbirth, for example. If they could, we’d be a planet full of only children.

So many people wanted to Make America Great Again that they didn’t stop to think about the consequences. Now the past has rushed up to smack us in the face. We’re experiencing a pandemic not unlike the Spanish Flu of 1918 with no end in sight due to an utter lack of leadership, and 108,000 Americans dead at the time of this writing. We’re seeing unemployment like the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and are embroiled in riots like those of the 1970’s.

All those things were bad enough on their own. We get to go through them all rolled into one. Yay us.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired.

good old days

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Auld Lang Syne

It always struck me as kind of amusing that many of us say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new by singing a song that we find incomprehensible. I mean, if you took a poll of 100 people, and asked them what Auld Lang Syne means, the most common answer would be, “Beats me.” And yet we sing it, with feeling.

The best translation I’ve found for Auld Lang Syne is “Days Gone By.” And that’s all I need to know, really. It’s a song about nostalgia.

Should we forget the days and people of old? No. We should appreciate them. We should be grateful for our past, because it has made us who we are today. We are the sum total of our experiences, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.

Hard or easy, cruel or kind, we are here! We’re here, and we can look forward to the future. We build upon the foundations and lessons of days gone by and that allows us to reach higher heights in the days to come.

Life! What a gift! All of it. Even the not-so-good stuff. It got us here. We may have not had control of all of it. It might have been messy sometimes. But how we cope, how we plan, how we dream… that’s entirely up to us.

So let’s take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

http _www.janegoodwin.net_wp-content_uploads_2015_01_auld-lang-syne-400x224

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The Cinema and Brew

Sometimes nostalgia hits me like a freight train. I hadn’t thought of this place in decades, but suddenly today this little chestnut popped into my head: The Cinema and Brew in Apopka, Florida.

It was a dingy little place, tucked into the corner of a strip mall. Nothing to shout about, really. One screen. Chairs with ragged upholstery surrounding sticky tables. A counter where you could order pizza, beer, popcorn, candy, and soda.

Not the best neighborhood. Someone I distantly knew was stabbed on the sidewalk out front once. God, though, I loved that place.

The minute I turned 16 and could drive at night, I was there every single week. If I remember correctly, it only cost a dollar to get in. The manager would get really irritated with those of us who couldn’t afford to buy food. That was his only chance for profit. But since I was quiet and never caused trouble, I never got kicked out, as many of my male friends did.

The movies were often really bad. Cheech and Chong. The Porky’s franchise. Most of the time I didn’t even bother to see what was playing until I got there. Because the whole point was being there.

It was a place to run into friends. It was also the place to hope for romance. I got my first kiss there. I also got my first unwanted kiss there. He had pizza breath and really awful body odor, and he took me by surprise. I made it quite clear that it would be a really bad idea to ever try that again. Hopefully he’s not aiming for a future in the Supreme Court.

It was also a place to go to get away from my dysfunctional home life and fantasize about being rescued. One time I was there by myself, and a really good looking guy came up to me and said, “Is this seat taken?” My heart was pounding. I said no. So he took it. Away. To another table.

Another time, a friend was supposed to meet me there, and she was running late. Finally I gave up on her entirely. So I’m sitting in the pitch black, watching the movie, and during a quiet scene, she screeches my name. It made everyone jump.

“Jeez. Over here,” I said. Everyone laughed. We all sort of felt like we were hanging out in a big living room in a low rent neighborhood.

I had forgotten how desperate I was back then. Desperate for love and friendship and acceptance. Desperate to get out of my circumstances. Desperately poor.

Still, a tiny part of me wishes I were going to the Cinema and Brew tonight, for old time’s sake. But like so many other things from my past, for better or for worse, it’s long gone.

Preview

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Nostalgia Food

About once a year, something will come over me and I’ll buy a can of sardines and eat them in one sitting. I don’t particularly like sardines. I don’t dislike them, either. It’s just that they remind me of my grandmother.

When I was little, not yet of school age, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house before she went to work. She was in her 70’s. I wonder how she coped with caring for a small child day after day.

I do remember walking to the grocery store with her. I also remember being bored silly much of the time. And I remember her feeding me sardines, good Danish grandmother that she was.

It’s funny how food can transport you to another time and place. This is not the only nostalgia food that I eat. I’ve written before about my sister’s apple pie. And my recipe box is overflowing with recipes that my mother used to make. Mangoes transport me back to Mexico, and stroop wafels send me back to Holland.

When I was sick, my mother would give me ginger ale and ritz crackers. In the winter, since I was allergic to hot chocolate, she’d heat me up some apple cider and drop in a cinnamon stick. I’m old enough to remember a time when people still ate local foods only in season, so when the occasional orange would cross my path in Connecticut, it was an event. And as I’ve written before, I have a particular fondness for ice cream trucks.

Food does not just sustain us. It comforts us. It helps us maintain traditions. It defines families. It allows you to time travel. I’m adding sardines to my grocery list even as I write this.

sardines

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Pinball Wizard

I wonder how many members of the younger generation in my family have actually played pinball. I mean one of those actual stand-up, boxy machines with all the constantly breaking moveable parts, not some digital version thereof. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one, but they loomed very large in my childhood.

Thinking about pinball machines makes me feel 13 again. When my mother would give me a quarter or two, I felt like I’d won the lottery, and I’d race down the street to the game room to play. For a little while I got to escape my unhappy, stressful, dysfunctional life and go somewhere where I was, well, pretty darned good. I can understand why kids get caught up in video games.

I’d always do my best to choose a less sexist machine, one that wasn’t covered in images of scantily clad women. This wasn’t always easy, but I’d do my best. I was a feminist even then.

I could milk hours of entertainment out of a single quarter. I’d keep that ball in play, jiggling the machine just enough to manipulate its trajectory, but not so much to make the machine tilt. When the machine tilted, you’d sometimes have to get the manager to get it working again, and he’d sigh heavily before waddling out to do so. But that was greatly preferable to his reaction when you accidentally bounced the metal ball and it hit the glass and caused a hairline crack. (There’s no sound quite like it. CRACK. Pink, pink, pink…)

If you spent any amount of time at a game room, you’d develop a love/hate relationship with the manager. If he was in a good mood and the place wasn’t too crowded, he’d give you a quarter to play again when the machine malfunctioned. If he was in a bad mood, it was your tough luck. Sometimes he’d just give me a quarter for the heck of it. One look at my ragged tennis shoes and I’m sure he got a sense of how poor we were.

Sometimes I’d keep a single ball in play for so long that I’d desperately need to pee. That wasn’t a problem if a trusted friend was around. All you’d have to do is expertly balance the ball on the flipper, and then have your friend hold the flipper steady until you came back from the bathroom. But if no friend was in sight, you had a choice to make: biology or victory. It was very hard to pass up the opportunity to beat a rival’s high score.

If I was having a particularly bad game day and I ran out of quarters, I’d make the rounds of the neighborhood payphones to see if I could find any spare change. (And if the younger generation hasn’t played pinball, they’ve probably never robbed a payphone either.) This gambit was often more successful than you’d expect.

And speaking of biology, I have to say that even though I was extremely shy and a social pariah, I was at my most sexually powerful when playing pinball. (And if you think 13-year-olds don’t think along those lines, you’re woefully out of touch.) I’d stand there, my long thick hair flowing down my back, my cute little butt (I miss it!) poured into my skin tight jeans, wiggling as I manipulated this machine that was bigger than I was. It was a mating dance with a bing bong click soundtrack. It felt like all eyes were on me, but I would never know for sure, as I had to concentrate on the game.

I wouldn’t want to be 13 again unless I could spend the whole time playing pinball. Kids today don’t know what they’re missing.

Pinball-Hall-of-Fame-Machin

MY Reason for the Season

I’m not a Christian, but I do celebrate Christmas. I like the nostalgia of it. I like the Christmas lights that warm up a cold winter’s night. I like the music. I like the decorations. I like the food (perhaps a bit too much). I like to see how excited children get on Christmas morning. I just skip over the religious aspects of the holiday. For me it’s just about love and family and memories and a distraction from the winter chill. I don’t think that means I’m going to hell.

And before I get a bunch of angry comments from Christians to Athiests, let’s remember that the Christmas tree is a throwback from Paganism, and Jesus was a Jew whose birthday was most likely nowhere near the winter solstice, so people have been modifying this holiday to suit their needs, beliefs and desires for ages.

The other day I was going through a box of ornaments that I’ve collected over the years. Each one has a story. I remember where I was when I got them all. I have some that were made by my grandmother or my mother or my grand nephews. Some of them remind me of my travels. Others proclaim my heritage or the things that I hold dear. One looks like one of my dogs.

All these things make me smile. If that’s the only thing I get out of the holiday, then I’m getting quite a bit indeed. Sorry if that offends you.

ornaments
[Image credit: wallpaperstock.net]

A Monopoly on Memories

Okay, I’m horrified. I just learned that the Iron token in the Monopoly board game was retired in 2013. You don’t understand. I LOVED the iron! The iron was my favorite!

Well, I liked the boot, too. And the race car. And the top hat, because it fit on the tip of my finger as a child. But still… the iron? After 80 years, you killed the iron??? Hasbro, what were you thinking?

I’m devastated. I feel like part of my childhood just got assassinated. What’s next? Shall we burn Tony the Tiger in effigy? Will we confiscate every Slinky? Let’s just make Lite Brite monochrome while we’re at it.

Okay, maybe I’m overreacting just a tad. According to this Wikipedia article, a lot of tokens have come and gone through the years. Apparently there was a lantern, a purse, and a rocking horse until the 1950’s. The cannon is now gone, as is the man on horseback. The sack of money had a brief 8 year run, but was retired in 2007. And there have been special tokens that only showed up in special editions, such as the steam locomotive, the robot, the guitar, the helicopter, the ring, and the director’s chair. Also, over time, tokens have been made that were pewter, gold, plastic and wood.

So I guess I can’t really feel so proprietary when it comes to the iron. Life is change. But still, Hasbro, stop messing with my childhood!

Now I can’t get the song “In My Life” by the Beatles out of my head.

[Image credit: datavizblog.com]
[Image credit: datavizblog.com]

Tragic Nostalgia

As I write this blog entry, I’m watching video footage of the eruption of Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano. It’s about 50 miles southeast of Mexico City, and I have been on its slopes. It has erupted about a dozen times since then, and it always brings me back to that long ago visit.

Although I didn’t reach its summit, I know I reached the highest elevation I ever have in my life, because the air was so thin I could barely function. That is something I never experienced before or since. I contented myself with taking in the view, which included her sister volcano, Iztaccihuatl. That was an amazing day, one for my bucket list.

Whenever Popo blows her top, I worry for the people in the surrounding villages. These people were very warm and welcoming to me. They made me feel safe and comfortable. It pains me to think that during times of eruptions, they themselves are far from safe and comfortable.

When a tragedy causes you to have feelings of concern mixed with nostalgia, it can be very hard to reconcile those contrasting emotions. During times like these I feel helpless. I also better understand why people take so much comfort in prayer.

Popocatépetl
Popocatépetl

The Superfluous E

Every evening, my late boyfriend and I used to hold hands and take a three mile walk through a neighborhood we called “E-ville”. Everywhere you looked in this area you saw an unnecessary or misplaced e. Towne Centre. Ye Olde Fill-in-the-Blank.

I have never understood this lack of self-esteem in Americans. We seem to feel that if we use Elizabethan English, the product we are hawking is somehow rendered superior. What’s wrong with our own verbiage? Why is it better to shop at a shoppe?

And we do this to a ridiculous degree. Pizza Shoppe? I strongly suspect that Queen Elizabeth I wouldn’t have known a pizza if it had hit her in the lace collar.

Yes, the words of Shakespeare are impressive, despite the howls of protest from high school students everywhere. He did introduce nearly 3,000 words to our dictionary after all. Who else can say that? But if you think about it, he pretty much had to make up words because the dictionary as we know it didn’t really become widely used until long after his death.

There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia per se. It’s natural to long for simpler times. But lest we forget, those times also came with plagues, smallpox and typhus.

So let’s embrace our modern tongue. Let’s take ownership of our shops and centers and theaters and celebrate who we have become! We owe a debt of gratitude to our olde ancestors, but that doesn’t mean that we need to begrudge progress.

queen-elizabeth-i

Queen Elizabeth I

[Image credit: poetry foundation.org]