Thirty-one years ago the film Pretty in Pink came out. We watched it on Netflix but didn’t remember anything: not Andrew McCarthy’s flickering eyes, nor Molly Ringwald’s quivering lips. Nor the scene with the two of them in a library on a computer where she doesn’t realize it’s him writing to her until his picture appears onscreen and the two of them stand and smile (he was sitting opposite her the whole time!), and they make plans to go out. It was the ’80s, it felt safe. The internet was just another toy, more of an idea. We had some halo from the ’70s still.
I was stringing together low-skill jobs managing tills at 16, restocking shelves. I graduated college and avoided traditional ideas of success. I thought to do art you had to suffer, so I temped in factories, flagged for construction crews, delivered pizzas, quit when they offered me advancement, moved away. My success was a precious, personal thing: a fortune cookie promise I imagined but couldn’t put into words.
I moved to France after they offered me a promotion at work. I stalled out in Pennsylvania temping again, tried to grow a beard. I hand wrote love letters to a girl I liked but didn’t love, because she liked my writing. And then I came back and got tired, settled into a job, began a career, bought a house…sold it, went back to Europe, returned to the States to work, quit, went back to Europe again.
We drove down to the fair, in Puyallup. We hadn’t been to the fair since Lily was in first grade: we’d either been too busy in past years, or were in Germany. As we pulled into town and followed the signs for parking, I asked the girls if they remembered it and they said they did, but I wasn’t so sure.
Lily bought a T-shirt of the Walt Disney princess Ariel flexing her bicep, but the T-shirt designs are perversions of the Disney characters so Ariel’s got spider web tats and she’s wearing a Tennessee Whisky shirt that says something about mash. (She wanted the one with Snow White, who looks like she’s holding a bomb, but it’s an apple fashioned as a bowl/pipe she’s trying to light.)
Dawn and I stood off to the side while the two of them waited in line for the wooden roller coaster. The wait time is deceptive; you get into the queue and think it leads right up to the ride, but there’s an area around the back that winds tight like a small intestine and stretches out for miles, and it took a good hour for them to get through.
We only had three hours planned to be at the fair and the ride took maybe 45 seconds, but they’d use an hour just waiting to get on. And I thought with their instant gratification mindset it would drive them nuts but it didn’t, and when they got off they were exhilarated, and went off to buy cotton candy and lemonade.
There was time for just one more ride and Charlotte wanted me to go with her on the spinning, upside-down thing. We got in the air and it sped up, and I thought about the blind bourbon tasting from the night before, all we ate and drank, the Taiwanese Scotch…and my stomach turned, I blanched as we made our way off, and felt markedly older.
Dawn seems out of sorts with her work, wants more recognition or status, needs to find a place to park her success. The need for success gets co-mingled with identity, ego, pride, and self-worth. As a consultant mine is now split, to where my success is in my client’s ability to feel good about her work and me supporting her: and my ego/pride/identity can park itself elsewhere, in my writing. Our idea of success should grow with us, and vice versa.
Lily and her friends got tossed out of the Sherwin-Williams for playing with the color wheel. They said if you’re not going to buy anything you have to leave. The divisions start early: the demarcations and crude lines of authority, commerce, caste, the reality of fools in charge, the injustice. Our success is a sliver of a dream we keep like a talisman, ours to protect and enjoy.
In that movie, the scenes with Molly Ringwald working the record store, there’s posters in the background of UB40, The Smiths…bugs trapped in amber, the moment: we cherish our time and bottle it like a wish, a message on a distant shore we hope someone will answer. Our success is both enjoying what we have now and imagining what we will later.
Post title from song by the band Prolapse of the same name, 1999.
Another fine piece. Living on the bubble. And, of course, one can never go wrong with a roller-coaster, metaphor-wise. Our school is doing a run today after classes, and I was tempted to wear the T-shirt my son gave me, I think as a joke. It says “LIT.” But I’m getting too old for this shirt.
Right, good, thanks. I know, on the rollercoaster metaphor, could say the same for waiting in the queue, and it all goes by so fast! Ha! Enjoy the day, thanks for reading. Happy almost-fall. Bill
I don’t remember no internet in the ’80s … but I do remember Molly’s quivering lips.
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She does that little tremor well, and is a convincing crier.
and what we have now is the upside down spinning thrill ride and we imagine and then realize the return of the bourbon and thai food not that much later –
Just not as young no more, not able to take those rides the same. But didn’t spew at least!
I remember internet in the 80s, you had to put the phone into the rubber thingies on the modem and call the bulletin boards directly, and you could punch in pretty much any four numbers as a Sprint access code to avoid the long distance charges. Those were the days. Don’t remember that in the movie though. Just a young, creepy James Spader at his youngest and perhaps creepiest, and the Psychedelic Furs. That’s definitely a movie trapped in amber. I like looking at it and hearing the music but I can do without the movie part of it, if you know what I mean.
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The movie was pleasing as seen through the eyes of our kids, I’ll say that. And what you could imagine as a reflection of who we were then, in a manner of speaking. Man Spader is good. And Harry Dean Stanton! And Dice Man! And cameo by…Dweezil Zappa!?
It’s true, isn’t it? Art = suffering. Why is that? How did we get here?
Maybe that’s the perversion of the mind necessary to want to.
I’ve never really bought into the idea that you have to suffer to create art. Sure, suffering creates grist and art an venue to grind it, but inspiration and creativity do not require suffering. Likewise, success is more a question of personal perspective than whether the throngs lay adoring at your feet (unless you have a ridiculous ego).
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Yes, to the suffering: I think it’s a younger definition of that, is what I felt at the time. There’s an element of the blues to that too I wanted to convey (that’s genuine I think, and related). And that also depends on your spectrum of art, and where you fall. I identified with a quasi-beat persona that was blue collar and “rugged.” So I tried to garner that without any credible reason, to try it on and see if it would yield similar results as writers who lived that life or feigned it. I think your view of success is advanced and what I aspire to, of personal perspective:as again younger, we put our definitions of it in others’ view of us, and relinquish our power/potential that way. God, that’s enough. Have a beer with me in the back yard Dave.
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