Thursday, August 18, 2011

Because I Said No

Sometimes the writing of my bi-weekly column, Because I Said So, for The Commercial Appeal rolls right off the tongue of my pencil without much effort at all. And sometimes I have to pry the damn thing loose with a crowbar.

I spent most of last Sunday, and all of Monday, working up a column. It felt like I was forcing a square peg into a round hole. I wrote three versions of the thing, I really wanted it to work. Alas, it just didn't. For stupid little reasons, in my mind, it just wasn't working for me.

Around mid-day on Monday, panic begins to set in for me if I haven't completed and polished a column to submit (deadline is Monday ... Tuesday at the latest), so at some point I pulled out a column I started a month or so ago and tried to rework that to no avail.

Monday evening, after dinner and throwing the Frisbee around in the yard a bit, as the kids were being put to bed by Kristy, I sat down and wrote a whole different piece in about 15 minutes. And that's the one you read in the paper today.

As a bonus, though, I'm offering the original (version three) here. Maybe it - or parts of it - will show up in the CA at a later date. Maybe not. I'm just making this all up as I go.

Last weekend I took my sons to the Summer Twin Drive-In. During intermission of the double feature, we watched the advertisement for the concession stand – a piece of archival film spotlighting soft drinks, pizza and hotdogs from the 1970s – and I told them that this was where I first saw “Star Wars” as a six-year-old boy. I also saw “Grease” there and, if memory serves, a re-release of Disney’s “Dumbo.”

I went on to tell them I saw “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” at the Park Theater, “Ghostbusters” at the Paramount in Eastgate Shopping Center, “Romancing the Stone” at the Plaza Theater and “The Empire Strikes Back” at the Highland Quartet.

When the movies ended that night and we lined up to exit the rutted and potholed drive-in, it was after midnight and my sons wished me happy birthday. Newly 41, my capacity for buckets of popcorn and gallons of Coca-Cola had outlasted that of those venerable venues.

Around the table the next evening amidst gift wrap and with a cake on fire, I asked the kids if they knew who the president of the United States was when I was born in 1970. “George Washington?” Joshua answered.

His piece of cake was delicious.

I told them that the year I was born Richard Nixon was president, Henry Loeb was the mayor of Memphis, we were at war in Vietnam, The Beatles had just broken up and Apollo 13 barely made it back to Earth.

They stared back with a mixture of confusion and sugar. These are the subjects of movies and documentaries, links in a browser that will take them to songs, audio of speeches, cast lists and countless facts and figures.

How is it possible you were alive then? they wondered. How were you able to stay awake through a double feature?

I napped.

The times of our lives can be marked on a calendar and they can be archived alongside world events and pop culture. History comes alive for children when we give them the context for it. These personal touches act as anchor in the vast sea of time and recollections in an ambiguous “past.”

I recently watched the final shuttle launch with my kids streaming on a laptop computer the size of a spiral notebook and told them of watching the first in a fifth-grade classroom on a television the size of the teacher’s desk.

I can pass along the “where were you” moments of the shootings of a pope, a president and a rock-n-roll peace icon, and can tell them where I watched the Berlin Wall come down, Live-Aid and nothing at all when an ice storm quieted things in Memphis.

My memories sink into their memories, into their own gray matter wiki of facts and comprehension, even though much of what I tell them is met with that same sugar-glazed look I’m sure I had when my elders began their own stories with “In my day …”