Uno momento por favor
How is inspiration born?
I was using the evening to write a story about an epic snowball battle that I was a front line pre-teen soldier in one winter long ago. It was shaping up as a memoir-ish reflection on the innocence of youth and the heat of competition and the blind rage and lust for revenge that can quickly thrust forward out of the pain of an injury and the embarrassment of a defeat. You know, I was sifting my memories through a Hemingway filter or something. But I got bored, and blocked, and I decided to go surfing instead. Cowabunga, dudes!
Surfing the InterTubulars that is, you cool cats and crazy chicks. Sadly, there is no beach in Lomville, yet (I have immense selfish hopes regarding Global Warming though). Hanging Ten on the keyboard was the only option. The cyber-tide carried me to this post by someone bylined as Anne B (hee, hee) over at Basket of Kisses, the must-read place for all things Draper, it is writ. It’s a fine pondering on Lane Pryce, one of Mad Men’s richly drawn side characters who is ripe to be a significant part of Season 4, if the Weiner-god deems it so. Anne B nicely illustrates Lane’s apparent growing fascination with and fondness for American Culture and then at the end of the post she asks about our personal American moments. This got me thinking big thoughts so I checked all perspective at the Suite’s door and started typing.
First I thought of grand, sweeping true American Moments like perhaps the bombing of Nagasaki—we had just vaporized 100,000 humans a few days earlier just a few blocks over, so of course! let’s do it again because Yes, We Can! and so the whole wide World will know that we are bad mo-fos and we will do any and all, old and new, blood thirsty thing to accomplish our missions and stuff. That was a supremely authentic American Moment fer sure.
There are many others more recent.
Rationalizing waterboarding has become an American Moment. Thirty plus years of half of all children needing food stamps to buy cheap carbs and sugars in order to exist; that’s a very measured and wide-ranging American Moment. Women still making 80 cents against the patriarchal dollar, having to use male sounding pseudonyms to get more work, having to be inside the proper state borders in order to receive basic adequate health services. More American Moments.
But what about my own more personal, individual American Moment?
Here’s one. It was the night before my twenty-fifth birthday. The plan was to meet a few co-workers at a nightclub for a birthday toast or two. I had to lock down the restaurant so I was the last one to the party. My friends were congregated at the bar when I arrived and I suspect they may have been drinking alcohol (oh noes, what a surprise!!) as they waited for me. I shook hands and patted backs as I moved to the center bar rail and one of the girls gave me a big animated hug and a smooch on the cheek; I anticipated all-night reveling in these birthday perks, but I didn’t count on any variations. That’s probably what inspired what happened next. My friend Mike –possessing an outrageous sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd and the shocking; a humor that rivaled my own in many fine ways – spun me around, yelled “happy birthday”, grabbed me by the face and planted a big manly wet one full on the lips in front of all, friends and strangers alike. I was stunned; I, the mentally nimble One, was caught flat-footed. I would have smacked my gob if Mike’s mouth wasn’t already parked in that space. Mike was a big guy; muscled, former Marine; notoriously hetero. That’s why the gag was so genius; it was effective on at least two levels. Our friends were shocked because that kiss was ridiculously out of known character for both of us; and because it was 1987 in a night club in South Carolina, any other witnesses were likely to be “amazed” too. It took me a minute to appreciate all of that though because I was just entirely dumbfounded. But still even now I chuckle at the sudden theatrical Monty Python absurdity of the gesture. Now that alone would have been a great American Moment, if I hadn’t just compared it to a great British comedy troupe-like Moment. But the bestest American part came about an hour later.
In that span of time, my girlfriend and her posse came in and I gravitated to the other side of the room to hang with them. I went up to the bar to get us some drinks eventually and the owner of the club, Paul, who I knew fairly well, came up and wished me happy birthday and told me we had to talk. He started on about how Mike had just pummeled two guys in the restroom after they had begun harassing him about our big homo kiss earlier. Broke the tiles around the sink, unhinged a stall door, shattered a mirror. Both guys were apparently down and bleeding in a matter of a few seconds and Mike had hastily left the building. I laughed, they had clearly picked the wrong person to call a fag. Paul grinned, kind of. The misguided aggressive homophobes had come in with dates and friends. These remaining five people were lined up three feet behind me. They wanted me thrown out because . . . because. . . I was on the other side of the room the whole time?? Paul asked me to consider leaving. He didn’t want any trouble. The place was packed and a fight was not a good option for him. It wasn’t a good option for me either. I was buzzing, and outflanked; any back-up male muscle was either on the opposite side of the room or had already retreated. My girl and her friends were captivating dancers but I wasn’t sure of their ability to knuckle down right there.
And that was a shame because I needed a few females in any potential scrap because three of my five confronters were young women about my age. This included their point person, their speaking representative, the woman who stepped into my face when I turned around. I asked what the problem was. She told me my “friend” had beaten up her friends. I countered that Mike was just someone I worked with and that he was ex-Special Forces and maybe a bit unstable and perhaps her friends should have considered the possibility of such stuff before they got offended and outraged and picked a fight with a person they don’t really know. My soberish verbosity may have caught them flat-footed; they could only summon up a few angry stares. So I went on. I politely smiled and said I was sorry for their buddies but I was not a part of that fight, I did nothing wrong and it was my birthday!! And I just wanted to drink and have fun with my friends and I asked her to be nice and to wish me a happy birthday and then leave me alone. I thought this rational, unemotional appeal would work. My massive ego believed I could bend any situation to fit my will and my wants. I hoped I would not have to find out if I was capable of punching a woman in the mouth. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know that about myself then, if ever at all. I didn’t like the idea of hitting one of the dudes either. I always perceived myself as a drinking lover, not a drunken fighter. I didn’t want to be forced to re-evaluate my self image then and on my fucking birthday no less.
The She-leader regained her self-righteous anger though and glared past my shoulder back at Paul and then one of her boys vocalized the threat-option to still kick my loquacious ass . And so I relented. The confrontation was lost, I could party elsewhere, “Discretion is the better part of blah, blah, blah.” I paid my tab and tipped the bar generously and told Paul not to sweat it, he and I were cool, business was business, and we could talk about it all another night. My fucking birthday party grudgingly rolled out; my moveable feast moved.
So there was less of me’s young adult American Moment. It had all the proper, necessary elements: violence, homophobia, moral outrage provoked by the subversion of someone else’s expected gender role, and then the surrender of an individual’s rights and liberties in the face of the imperative to maintain the societal order of the patriarchy and the pressure to keep the machinery of Capitalism running smoothly.
It gets no more American than that.