Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Why Why Why
A warm day sometime in 1990
I ran down the patchy grass slope toward the downstairs MPR entrance to the Commons. I started to dance around by swinging my arms around with my elbows held upright in an imaginary slam pit circle. I kicked my knees high in the air and circled back towards the basement double doors. Various misquoted lyrics from the Dead Kennedys “I Kill Children” flew from my mouth as Ian (inexplicably pronounced as ION) charged and tackled me. Julie was standing off to the side with her arms folded across her chest watching the display.
Owen stepped out from the doorway and shouted for us to all gather inside. Owen was the boss for one of my work study jobs. One was as a “manager” of the campus radio station and one was being part of the set-up crew. The set-up crew consisted of me, Brian, Ian and Owen. We were charged with transporting and setting up equipment for events all over campus. If there was to be a speech given by the University President in Marsh Hall, then we’d wheel the special fancy presidential podium over there along with the sound equipment. Whoever was the one actually wheeling the podium around would have no choice but to give an impromptu mobile lecture to all the unwilling audience members who were passing by. Since there was rarely any kind of actual event happening on campus, we spent most of our work time screwing screws into broken chairs that littered the MPR storage closet or checking on the raw meat sacrifice laid out on the floor of the boiler room for the giant beast that allegedly lived there and not in my mind. This day, however, was a different story. The Dharma Bums, a Portland band that was getting some national underground notice, were performing in the Commons on a Friday night and we had to set up staging and move all of the tables and chairs out of the cafeteria. This was a big score for this little college out in the middle of nowhere. This also meant that Owen was all business. He had asked us to recruit as many people as possible to help us out with this major project. We were only able to gather a few. Julie, who I had recently been spending time with, agreed to help out. As did “Dula” Dave, the dreadlocked mellow man I had befriended the prior year through the radio station. Unfortunately, he had already disappeared (we had also coined him “Dead Air” Dave because of his penchant for leaving during the middle of his radio show). Brian had recruited the mostly deaf Dungeons and Dragons playing Nate, and Ian had brought along Cynthia, who was a freshman who I always assumed Ian was seeing, but was never sure, and who always reminded me of The Pixies’ Kim Deal. Instead she was a fan of Paula Abdul and her plastic sounds.
As we all noisily gathered in the MPR scattered around Owen, who was inside waiting for us, I spotted the piano in the corner and raced toward it. Immediately, I began pounding the keys with authority and allowing the ringing discordance to linger in the low-ceilinged, wide open, sterile basement room. Ian followed me over and we began to bark out the sinister words to Swans’ early stand against fascism “I Crawled.” At that moment, I had a flash of déjà vu, because I had once before hammered out this, one of my greatest hits, on the piano at the church for Baccalaureate a year or so earlier with a different Ian from high school. That time we were shouted at for disrupting the proceedings. This time, Owen simply watched silent until we petered out, gave up our performance, and wandered over to join the rest of the group. This method of dealing with disruption was much more effective. His lack of intervention somehow sucked all the fun out of it.
Owen spoke to us about our game plan for the evening. I thought back to that weird Baccalaureate evening. I remember unwittingly sitting down when we were supposed to stand. I remember Andy, sitting next to me in the pews, dropping his freshly emptied can of Coke onto the floor, interrupting the proceedings and causing everyone to stop what they were doing, and focus their attention in our direction, until the rolling can finally came to rest all the way down near the front. I remembered Watson’s dad’s strange sermon about how we should all be praying for specific things in life. It sounded different than what I’d always heard, but whatever, right? Who needs to make a wish for world peace? If I want more of those short little extra crunchy French Fries in my large sized order, when I make my way through the drive-thru, then I had to go ahead and pray for such a thing. Then I found my thoughts drifting to the Dharma Bums. How many times had we all seen them open for some band at the Pine Street Theater? It had become so ridiculous that when they entered the MPR to meet with all of us in the set-up crew at that moment, they recognized me as the floppy haired guy who always stands stage left at shows. I asked the drummer who they were opening for that night. He did not respond.
Owen had stopped his huge list of instructions and the entire hubbub of meeting the band died down. We had been instructed about what our goals were and how much time we had to complete them in with far too few people, so we were dispersed back outside. I had missed everything having been lost in thought. I grabbed Ian as we headed out and asked him what we were supposed to do. He seemed annoyed. I figured it was because Nate was shouting to Brian something that should only have been shared between them, if at all, but Nate was never very good about keeping his voice down. Julie was standing away from the rest of us, though she was supposedly here with me and was good friends with Cynthia. I kept looking around for her attention and she kept avoiding me.
Earlier that day, I had told her that I loved her. Now, I had to track her down to join in on this group job. She looked at me with sympathy. She continued to watch from a distance and lit a cigarette. This surprised the hell out of me, because I didn’t know she smoked. I approached her and asked her what was wrong. She said that she didn’t want to talk with me. She was only there because she had already agreed to be there and because she needed the money – however minimal. She told me that I would never understand her. She told me that we would never work. She told me that she was sorry for me. She felt bad for me, because of what I had said to her. She said that because of it, she couldn’t believe a word I would ever say.
I was devastated, as she told me all of these things in front of everyone else. She continued on. She said that I did not treat her with respect - instead I was only in love with the idea of her. She pointed out that I rarely spent time with her and that I did not know her. Looking into her eyes, maybe for the first time, I could see the words: “Why did you have to say it” scroll across them over and over like a mantra. She clearly had lost all of that initial attraction and respect for me. She could only manage a mothering look of sympathy, hoping that I would learn from this lesson. I felt like a child in that moment that had just touched the hot burner on the stove despite warnings to not do so. I was that child and I knew she was right.
Story inspired by the 1995 song by Containe