Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life as we know it

I also remember the feel of sponge curlers in my hair


Time to start blogging again

  1. Wake up thinking about Micheal Jackson.
  2. Realize I can’t remember the name of the girl who lived across the street when I was growing up.
  3. Am excited to get up for the first time in a long while.
  4. Feel glad I am blogging again.

In the days following Micheal Jackson’s death, I spent hours on the computer watching YouTube.

I can’t remember a time in my life not being aware of Micheal Jackson. As the oldest of four children in our family, I had to rely on sources outside of the family, namely Teresa Mastrionni who lived across the street and was two years older, to enlighten me on things going on in the outside world. Back then, television was limited to cartoons like the Jetsons;  the Wonderful World of Disney and programs like the Munsters, the Monkees, Family Affair and Beverly Hillbillies. The Ed Sullivan show was considered an adult program which came on after I was already in bed, 7:30 p.m. in the winter and 8:00 in the summer.

I can only remember snippets of my life prior to 1972, the year we moved from the little brick house on East 42nd Street on the Hamilton escarpment to the little brown house on First Road East, also on the escarpment but in Stoney Creek. What I do remember about life “in the city” was the day a neighbour boy fell out of a tree and smashed his front teeth; tasting coffee ice cream for the first time, (made by a neighbour who had her very own ice cream maker, a luxury for sure) and whether or not it was the flavour or the caffeine I don’t know, but I became instantly hooked; the night our black lab named Queenie was hit by a car and died on the vet’s table.

I remember the afternoon I got into a fistfight with a neighbour girl (not Teresa) in the middle of the snow covered street, worrying all the while that a snow plough would come at that very moment and heave us into a death pile on the sidewalk. Mom believed that fighting was okay, especially if it was to ward off being bullied and I think I might have won that one because as I worried about the snow plough taking my life, I was looking up and down the street, not up at the sky, so I think I was the one on top. The street was a dangerous place to be. Just ask poor old Queenie.

My friend Teresa was of Italian heritage so her life was different from mine. Her parents barely spoke English, they had lovely furnishings on the main level of the house, but spent most of their time in the basement making daily use of their older but still useful furniture and appliances. Not a thing was out of place in their squeaky clean home that smelled like tomato sauce and wine.

Their dog was kept in a small, fenced in portion of the backyard and when Teresa's Dad would take the dog hunting for rabbits, he’d put the dog in the trunk of the car, shocking me beyond belief. Queenie slept on my bed, owned the backyard and rode in the passenger seat of our Volkswagen. Although I was only eight years-old, I sensed Teresa’s parents didn’t think much of me, since they corrected my manners and watched me with off-kilter eyebrows. Back then, kids from families like mine, only took baths on Sunday night. Girls like me who were overly sensitive and insecure, always felt somewhat inadequate when compared to someone like Teresa who was beautifully exotic and never had dog shit on her shoes. Enduring the consternation was worth it though, because Teresa had a record player. She is the one who introduced me to modern music and the Jackson Five.

Since it is still a vivid memory, I expect I will never forget the first time I saw Micheal Jackson. Not in person of course, but poster-sized on the closet door in Teresa’s bedroom. I scanned those smiling, five black faces assessing quickly which one was closest to my age. I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of him. Afterall, he was five years older and black. This is my first conscious memory of realizing that not everybody in the world was white-skinned like me. But wow, could he ever sing.
It is horribly cliché to say that we are a product of our times but it is also horribly true. As a child of the 60s who grew up in the 70s, I know from experience that life back then was pretty black and white. Eat or be eaten.

Squeaky clean Michael Jackson fell out of favour quickly. Then Disco became a casualty. Anyone who dared say during the late 70s that Micheal was a fabulous singer was laughed at. So were those who didn’t have long hair, feathered and parted down the middle. Straight-leg, Levi jeans were in, everything else out. Having your own personal style set you apart in a not-so-good way. Rockers were the exception because being outrageous and self-destructive was okay. So long as you were tough. Sensitive people didn’t do well during that era.

Somewhere in that time between me getting married and starting to teach aerobics classes, Micheal Jackson made a remarkable career comeback with his albums, Dangerous and Bad, interesting titles when you think about it. But I never really watched him dance until after his death. I mean, really watched. And once I started, it was hard to stop. The proliferation of videos on the internet tell the story of Micheal’s life. What is astonishing is that as the cameras captured his every move, chronicling how Michael changed his music, image and looks to satisfy society’s insatiable desire for something more, something better it also captured forever chronologically, for anyone who chooses to acknowledge it, a bold statement about society and its expectations.

Some things aren’t learned, they are absorbed. Watching the dissection of Michael’s life post mortem, made me reflect upon my own life. The styles, the insecurity, expectations and scrutiny. Do any of us escape life without a few battle wounds that eventually turn into scars?

Micheal Jackson was fine just the way he was. A good-looking, sensitive boy who had he been born a decade or two later, would have taken pride in his heritage and embraced what had set him apart from everyone else. Instead, plastic surgery, outrageous behaviour and addictions took him away from us.
This world of ours can be a dangerous, unforgiving place.

Just ask Micheal.

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