Thursday, June 3, 2010

79 days to Bar Mitzvah: making a mess of things

Driving from Hillsborough to Brandeis Hillel Day School, somehow a Kelly Clarkson song made it onto my car radio. I don't know how it happened; my mainstream culture blocking functionality must have been on the fritz. One minute I'm pumping Golden Smog through my iPod. The next, Kelly Clarkson. Must have been one of Sandra Bullock's pre-set radio stations.

The chorus of Kelly's song, which I'll be the first to admit was very catchy, said something about how her life would suck without whoever she was singing to. It took me awhile to figure out what she was saying. I thought she was saying, "My life's a mess without you." Although I like "my life would suck without you" better, it was "mess" that got me thinking. As it turns out, unexpected Kelly Clarkson intrusions can cause digressive analytical thought.

So there I was, driving slowly up El Camino Real, having just toured a home worth $13.9 million, thinking about what it means to have your life be "a mess." Your life "sucking" is much easier to get around. Everyone knows what it's like to have their life suck, except for David Lee Roth. I don't think he'd recognize it if his life sucked and more power to him for it. The rest of us, periodically our lives suck.

But a mess? That's different. From "my life's a mess" it's a short jump to the term "I've made a mess of my life," which of course got me thinking about the Jawa's recent troubles at school. Did he somehow "make a mess" of his social life? Do all of those refusals to join everyone else at Club 18 on Fridays, a tendancy to deliver long monologues about roller coasters and an admirable (to me, at least) obstinance when it comes to giving up his less socially-accepted interests in the service of fitting in add up to social outcast? If so, it doesn't seem fair.

This is something I think about often. Not just when I'm listening to Kelly Clarkson.

Several years ago, when my AOL co-worker Kathleen Hennessey and I were merging into two halves of a really cool person, we used to talk only slightly tongue-in-cheek about how disappointing it was to realize that we were both incapable of screwing ourselves up badly enough for people to "be worried." Though I would often pass bars open at 7:30 AM and think, "It'd be so cool to just be sitting in there, really delving into the dark side of life," I never once broke stride. I just continued on to work. The skid row drunks had their world, and who was I kidding; it wasn't mine.

They had something -- a physiological disease, some would say -- that I lacked: the ability to really make a mess of your life.

Give me some isolated instances. Yes, there have been times when I've "really made a mess of things." I've managed to insult or offend people to the point where they stop being my friend. That happened just this year, as a matter of fact, and makes timing after-school pickups paramount. I arrive too early and I have to slink around the halls, trying not to notice my former friend pointedly ignoring me.

Usually, when I make a mess of things, it's because of something I said or wrote, hardly ever because of something I did. My mother was right: someday that mouth did get me in trouble. Unfortunately, her warning came when I was too young to realize that "in trouble" could mean something other than "beat up." It went unheeded, though occasionally repurposed internally when responding to a sassy Jawa.

I've made a mess of certain jobs. In fact, you could argue that I've made a fine mess of my career, especially if you were an adult or teacher who only knew me as a little kid, pre-California, when I was cranking through the math books and drawing intricate pictres on the backs on my tests because I was done too early. Yes, you could make a convincing argument that I'd made a mess of it.

I once made such a mess out of a romantic relationship that it ended with me getting slapped in front of my friends at a New Year's party.

My favorite stories always feature self-destructive protagonists. Gene Clark was my favorite Byrd. Earlier this year, I was obsessed with comparing Shane MacGowan to Shaun Ryder, poring over their biographies to determine which had made more of a mess of his lfe. That book I'm reading right now about Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed? Man, were those guys screw-ups. Awesome screw-ups who could always deliver a witty line no matter how drunk.

And yet here I am, wrapped in middle-class comfort with a butt-kicking wife and a Jawa who often listens to me, despite my best efforts to make a mess of things, which is very comfortable but lets face it, not very romantic. Which is probably the root of this fascination with making a mess of things. Self-immolation is much cooler than remembering to buy new socks the next time you go to Costco.

Of course, even people who make such a mess of things that it warrants a memoir, story or 90-minute special on the Biography Channel spend the majority of their time doing mundane things. And the meditation Kathleen and I did on lacking the commitment to mess things up badly enough to cause worry or, even better, an intervention, was us playing with the dying embers of adolescent daydreaming. We knew we weren't going to make a mess of things. That's not who we were.

Yes, you say, but there's still time. I could yet make a mess of things in ways foreign and tragic.

I suppose I could. Something tells me that I'd find the reality of making a mess of things far less romantic than the abstract notion of making a mess of things. And that's the built-in rev limiter that keeps me getting on BART every morning when I'd rather throw my messenger bag on the tracks, walk back up the escalator and maybe go go for a nice long walk instead.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Don't romanticize. If you're compos mentis you'll be miserable, in part because you'll be taking innocent people down with you.