Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Junior High and Dolly

Junior high was an interesting time.  Interesting in the way one says interesting when they have no other adjective to use.  I attended Imperial Junior High in Ontario which was about three blocks from our house on Glenn Street.  Our house was on a cul de sac across from the Section 8 apartments where most of my friends lived. 

My parents bought the house new.  Within a couple of years they would lose it to a bank when my dad quit his truck driving job and mortgaged it to buy a bar.  As my mom always said, "a drinker owning a bar is a disaster waiting to happen."  And eventually, that disaster did happen and my parents lost the house.

But in Junior High, my mom and dad still owned the house.  It was the early 1980's and we had just transferred from St. George's, a parochial school in Ontario that we had attended for two years.  My mom couldn't afford the tuition or the uniforms any more so we started seventh grade back at public school.

I was happy because my best friend Melinda and I would be reunited again.  Duran Duran and Wham were all the rage and I remember my outfit on the first day of school: black leggings and a florescent pink oversized sweatshirt like the one in Wham's video.  My mom bought my twin sister Jackie the same sweater only in yellow and I begged Jackie not to wear it the first day. 

The first day of school I realized that Melinda and I didn't have any classes together.  All of my classes were GATE classes.  I remember Melinda commenting on it and I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "We will still eat lunch together."

My first class was English and I sat in the front of the class as usual.  A girl sat down next to me and said, "Hi, my name is Dolly, what's yours?" in a thick Southern twang.  Dolly and I became fast friends.  She had moved from Arkansas and lived with her parents in the condos next door to Imperial Junior High.  She used the word "fixing" as in "I am fixing to turn on the lights."

Dolly had curly blond hair and she wore her bangs over her face on a slant.  "It's new ro", she told me.  I pretended I knew what she meant, but later she explained that new ro was short for the New Romantic music phase.  I remember that she wore the coolest white overalls that had splashes of florescent faux paint splattered all over them.

We used to go to Dolly's house at lunch and watch movies on the cable channel.  Her room was covered in pictures of Duran Duran and we would always argue over who would get to marry John Taylor.  Simon Le Bon was always our second choice.

Dolly and I were close.  I would spend the night at her house and her mom would get us take out.  Her mom's bathroom cabinet was filled with medication for her "issues".  "She takes Valium to calm her nerves," Dolly told me one day her voice twanging on the word nerves.

My friendship with Dolly eventually faded.  I wonder what happened to her.  Did she move back to the South?  She didn't go on to Chaffey with us.  Where is she now?

It is interesting to go back in time and dredge up memories.  It can also be frustrating.

Dolly's story is one that that I don't have an ending to.  In junior high she was a huge part of my existence and now she is just a somewhat vague recollection.

If I had to imagine an ending, it would go something like this.  Dolly moved back to the South and graduated from high school early and went on to study film at NYU.  She changed her name when she became a famous filmmaker.

Fiction can be liberating.  I wish memoir was that easy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Importance of Being Good

A couple of years ago, I read a book by Nick Hornby titled "How to be Good".  The story centers around the conversion of a man from angry to good.  There is a spirtual healer and a lot of other issues involved (that don't matter for this story), but it was the concept that was most interesting.

This morning I was thinking of how hard it is to be good.  I equate good with nice and maybe that is the problem.  Maybe they are not the same thing.

Truth be told, I am not a very nice person.   I am bossy, irritable and I love to get up on a soapbox and voice my opinion even when unwanted.  My sister Annie calls me on it sometimes.

"Don't use your lawyer voice on me", Annie will say in her usual diplomatic but forceful way (yes, reader, she is an Aquarian).  She knows I can't help it.

My husband, after twenty years, also realizes my nature.  And, when I am (insert air quote here) nice, he is perplexed.  "Why are you being so nice?", he will ask in his usual droll Piscean manner.  "Are you ill?"

My clients seem to understand me as well.  I work hard for them and they seem to get it.  Lawyers can be nice and not be good.  They can promise you the moon and then screw you over (legally speaking).  I pride myself on never giving up.  "I am not Harry Potter," I sometimes tell people.  Yet, I always try to work some magic.

We public defenders get a bad rap.  We make next to nothing relatively speaking, have large caseloads and are called "public pretenders".  It is an uphill battle to get our clients to trust us.

My friend Tracy also understands me.  Tracy has known me since high school and she is so nice that she would probably say I was nice if I asked her.  But, I would know she was just being nice as opposed to truthful because bitch can be an understatement when I am in one of my moods.

The question is whether it is worth it for me to try to be nicer.  I will never be nice, but perhaps I could be less gruff, more patient and less bossy.  Is it possible?  The answer: possible but not probable.

The problem is that I like myself, bossy, annoying and opinionated person that I am.  I don't want to be a doormat, I think (actually I know) my opinion matters and I hate waiting.

It is JEM's world people and you are all just living in it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Perks of a being a Ghost World Girl

I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower (a film based on the screenwriter/director's acclaimed young adult novel of the same name) a couple of days ago and it brought back many memories of my high school years.  The only other movies that have touched me similarly are movies from the actual 80's era itself, namely, the John Hughes cannon of 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club.

And I can't forget about Ghost World, a movie about the post high school existence of a goth girl and her best friend.

The angst of high school was so prevalent in The Perks of Being a Wallflower that you could almost taste it.  I sometimes forget how beautifully bittersweet those years were for me.  Much like Charlie, the male protagonist of the movie, I felt like an outsider during high school.  My home life was so chaotic and upsetting that it impacted my ability to see a future and a different kind of life.  As a result, I tried to sabotage it.  The two things that saved me, just like they saved Charlie, were music (specifically the Smiths for both of us) and my two best friends.

Music for me was a salve to everything at home.  The Smiths changed my outlook on life.

The Smiths were not just a band, they were a lifestyle.  Morrissey was not just a writer, he was a poet and he touched the loner outsider in all of us.  He spoke of unrequited love, of longing and of loneliness.

"That music is so depressing" is what some say of it.  But, for someone struggling with depression, the Smiths was a kind of cure.

My two other favorite bands in high school, the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, were not just music to me.  The bands were style and substance and a view of the world that didn't accept that everyone had to look or be the same.

My two best friends, Tracy and Melinda, were my other salvation.  We had adventures that I will always treasure and cherish in my mind's eye.  The memories of those adventures are their own book, one I hope to publish some day.  We were our own little world together.

Ultimately, that was the perk of being an outsider.  I found other outsiders and created a life and a world for myself out of dust.

And it was beautiful.