Hi. It sure seems like it’s been a little bit since we visited. I think it is probably fair to say that sometimes, life gets in the way. I certainly apologize for the delay, I think I can attribute it to a creative drought I seem to be having. How appropriate that it comes with the heat of summer.
Maybe there is some kind of cosmic connection between the foreign climate to which I have acclimated so quickly and the thinness of the creative climate which also seems to have recently become my new normal. My journal which normally contains single moments I want to recount later, things that strike me as odd, bits of lyrics to songs I make up in the car, lists of weird shit I found on the beach, has remained blank for nearly three months. Not one word. I don’t know what it is, but I sure hope that much like the marine layer which blankets the beach in thick mist most every summer day, there will be some sort of mid-afternoon burn off of this weird morass. The other option is that I just get on with it and do something, anything to stretch those creative muscles. I just don’t know what that might be right now.
In the meantime, how about a birthday story. So, I recently turned 48, side note, I look great! Birthdays, I think are always a cause for a little reflection. A moment of check in with my own timeline and see where I am and who I’ve been and weather or not I think that the different Me s along the way would be friends. That’s a tough one, there are a few women back there who I really admire and some of those ladies are assholes. So it goes.
One of my earliest birthday memories was in 1973. For my birthday I got a blue hard plastic baby pool. It was decorated with bright fishes and flowers. A baby pool is a brilliant gift for a water baby. I was then and am now absolutely in love with the water. Lakes, streams, rain, and the mighty, mighty ocean all speak to me and offer a brilliant soul quieting, life affirming solace. Obviously the three-year-old me did not have this kind of insight but I was savvy enough to know that my pool was special because it had a SLIDE! I was living the good life, Poolie was my best friend.
The only other memory I have of that birthday is actually from the day before. July 17, 1973. It is a moment which has been repeated, retooled, reconstituted and re-drilled into my life every year for 48 years. Every year of my life, okay, I guess it is more accurate to say every year of my memory . . . either way. My whole life, as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. Nope, let’s try that again. My life, as far back as I can remember the day before my birthday my mother has told me the story of my entrance onto the world stage.
It might be more accurate to say that she has told me the story of what a colossal pain in the ass my entry into this world was. Here is how is goes. The day before my birthday every year my mother tells me the same story. It was July in California. She was hot and miserable and very pregnant. She was ready to be done. Mom tried everything to coax me out into the spotlight, walks, stairs, even playing basketball but I was perfectly content to have the pool all to myself and would not be moved.
Finally, she tells me, in what would be the first of an established pattern of her giving up on what she wanted and letting me have my way, she just gave up and let me have my way. She decided to go to a drive-in movie where she could just loose herself in the stories. As sleep had long since gone by the wayside a double feature seemed in order. From the many fine cinematic options available she tells me that she chose a Clint Eastwood Double Feature. Now remember this is 1970 era Eastwood – damn!
As my mother’s tale of woe unfolds she describes how the film she really wanted to see was the second feature, Two Mules for Sister Sarah. So, film one plays without incident. However, at the intermission I decided that I was bored and it was time to shake things up. My teeny tiny water-logged toes kicked at the door until something gave. Her water broke and damp pants and all, off she rushed to the hospital leaving Clint Eastwood alone on the big screen with Shirley MacLaine playing a prostitute posing as a nun.
The tragic events of the evening continue conspire with my not yet oxygenated form against my mother. Once she is checked in and situated in the hospital it seems that I changed my mind. I was once again content to stay put, at least for another fourteen hours. Leaving only one rational conclusion, she could very well have seen the movie she wanted if I had been less rambunctious and unruly.
My mom’s telling of the story goes like clockwork. All the pauses are the same every time. All of the crestfallen piteous moans of regret for missing what is now a basic cable film of the week. Sometimes the story is about missing the movie exclusively, and sometimes it is about me getting my way. Just a thought, but if you are bested in a battle of wills by a fetus that is on you, not the shrimp.
This year, for the first time, the exchange between my mother and I was peppered with some new spice. 45 years after my glorious summer with Poolie and his slide, something finally clicked. I asked her, for the first time (why did I never think of this before) what the first film was. What exactly did she see? I have heard so much about what was missed but what was watched remained a mystery to me. Wait for it now, don’t get ahead of me here . . . my mother could not remember what the first feature was. She had no idea what she saw. This is just too delightful. This whole story is about what I took from her and there is no recollection of what she did get. As it unfolded this was only the beginning of the revelations.
While we talked my mom began wondering out loud if maybe she HAD seen Two Mules for Sister Sarah and that is WHY she remembered it. Maybe she missed the SECOND film. I’m sorry, what did you say? Did you just suppose that the single most impactful moment of my birth for you – this missing of a Clint Eastwood movie – may not have actually happened? Everything I know is a lie. I don’t know who I am. What the actual hell is going on?
I was in a stupor for a few days. I had a lovely birthday. Cody and I went crabbing for the first time. I caught, killed and ate some sea creatures. It was nice. However, all the while there was this thing tugging at the base of my brain. This moment when I was such a problem, an inconvenience, selfish and thoughtless before I had even shed my gills, it may not have happened. At least not as I had always been told. I needed to know more.
I could not tell you what it was that finally drove me to dig into the past. It may be that after all this time something changed. It may be that I finally felt like there was an opportunity for vindication. I started to think that I needed to guard the honor of my pre-terrestrial self. And so, I began to dig.
At first I figured I would try to figure out what library to call or email. Remember kids, the librarian is your friend. I guessed there might be some dusty microfiche somewhere with newspaper listings for drive in double features July 17, 1970. Why not? I wriggled deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole online. Mom had said she went to the movies in Lakewood, but we lived near Long Beach. I don’t remember that, it is on my birth certificates – yes plural but that story is for another day.
Suddenly, after clicking link after link and following the fluffy white tail of the truth round corner after corner and down to the sea, I found a fully online scanned copy of the Long Beach Independent from July 17, 1970.
Anxiously I scanned page by page looking for movie ads. I read every headline. I learned more than I wanted to know about tax cuts and Cambodia and crooked politicians and even climate issues in 1970. The all at once, like a castle on a hill, there it was in all its glory. A large advertisement for Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sarah. I saw the face of God right then. It was real. I could not look away.
I gathered my wits and read the ad carefully. A drive-in double feature the infamous film that mini me was supposed to have kept from my mother and . . . Sweet Charity. That is most decidedly NOT a Clint Eastwood movie. Nope, it was in fact a Shirley MacLaine double feature playing in Long Beach at a theatre on Lakewood drive. Oh, just in case you are curious Sister Sarah was indeed the first film. She had seen it.
So, here we are. I know the truth. My mom knows the truth – Yes I called her and told her and then also sent her the printout of what I found. Why don’t I feel any different? Why hasn’t the world tipped its axis, revered its poles spun backward reversing time and bringing us all back to that moment so that the truth can be the victor of the day. Probably because life is not like that.
What we believe to be true is very often our truth in the moment. What is real is real until it is not and then some other reality takes it place. It happens all the time in a million little ways. Have you ever watched a leaf until it turned out to be a bug and flew away? That is what it is to learn, to grow and expand our known world. We open up the real truth hidden inside the thing we thought was true only to find that the entirety of human knowledge is just a bunch of Russian stacking dolls.
I am looking forward to next July now. Not for my birthday but for the day before. I am just dying to know if the story remains the same with a different title or if in my quest to find out what was real I inadvertently emptied the myth. I wonder if this is what the giant killers felt like. Surprised to find at the end of the day that the absence of the giants did not make the killers giants themselves.