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Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

478213335The girl at the Bagel Grove looks exactly like Amanda, or at least like Amanda when I knew her, 20 years ago, back when the world was fresh and new. The girl at the Bagel Grove looks fresh and new, as if she has been in a state of stasis for 20 years, as if she has been waiting for this day, and this time, to return. At the Bagel Grove in Utica, New York. I’m sure stranger things have happened.

Her nametag says “Kina,” and I’m wondering if the “i” is long or short, if she is long or short, if her name is her mantra, or if she prefers to be called “Key,” or “Ki” for short. She has a gap between her top two front teeth, just like Amanda, and I want to ask her if it affects her whistling ability. I don’t ask, but I want to. I tell her I want a garlic bagel with garlic and herb cream cheese, and she looks at me like I’ve grown two heads.

“I’m not kissing anyone in the next couple of hours,” I tell her, by way of explanation for the question her eyebrows asked.

“That’s still a pretty strong combination,” she tells me, and there is a lilt to her voice, like it’s normally an outside one but she has forced it to come inside, where she is.

The woman behind her laughs at that one, a joke, just one among many that I think the place hears during the course of an ordinary day. The Bagel Grove seems like one of those places, all cinnamon and ribaldry, baked together and warm to the touch. This other woman makes a joke about the Target shirt I am wearing, and I have a snappy comeback ready. This is not my first time. Kina smiles at the joke and hands me my change. I never realized I paid her.

I can’t help staring at her, even though I know I shouldn’t. I mean, Amanda really was my first love, and the resemblance is uncanny, especially for a girl who has such a mixed ancestry as this girl obviously does. I can see European descent in her eyes and skin, African in her nose and hair, a touch of something else in her bearing that I can’t quite place but that Amanda had as well. But Amanda would be 40 now, and this girl is only 21, at the most. I still can’t help staring.

“Toasted?” she asks, and I have no idea what she’s referencing. She points to the bagel in her hand, and I notice she isn’t wearing gloves, although they are nearby on the low counter. Amazingly enough, I don’t mind.

“Yes, please,” I answer, and I consciously try to stop staring. She will think I’m some kind of lunatic, not that I’m remembering a time long ago, and a girl long gone, lost to the overwhelming ether that has been life.

“Name?” she says, sharpie poised over the folded paper bag she is now holding, the bagel already in the toaster oven, forgotten for the moment as it browns.

“Sam,” I tell her, because it is my name, and because she did ask. She writes it down using stock letters, the “A” starting before the “S” finishes, which is not like Amanda wrote my name.

I blink, and the resemblance fades as quickly as it manifested when I walked in. The ghost of a girl I used to love fades along with it. I slide down the counter to wait for my bagel, humming to myself a tune I know by heart.

Sam

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“I’m on my way. Driving at ninety down those country lanes, singing to ‘Tiny Dancer.’ And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real. We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill.” ~Ed Sheeran

the_castle_on_the_hill_by_estruda-dalq5st

It’s no surprise that I like to sing. Check out my youTube channel I’m about to take down, and you can hear for yourself how freeform it truly is — kind of like my dancing. More often than not I’ll be singing my song of the moment, whatever song has struck my fancy that day, that week, or that month. Generally it’s a song I play a lot in my car, but sometimes it’s random enough to be maddening even to me.

Currently that song is “Castle on the Hill,” by Ed Sheeran, a soaring anthem that tugs at both the heartstrings and my legendary sense of nostalgia at the same time. I love the whole album (Divide) but something about this one song brings me back to my childhood in a way that few songs not from that era have the ability to achieve. At least for me.

Which is funny because I don’t really have a relationship to look at in the same way as he remembers one of his earliest. I was pretty much strictly friend material to girls back in middle school, even though I would pour my heart out to them in poems I never sent, in songs I never sang, and in words I never said face to face either. It was this dichotomy between the me I wanted to be — strong and determined — and the me I couldn’t help being — fragile and tentative. Like oil and water, they didn’t mix.

So I sang to myself, but my song wasn’t “Tiny Dancer.” It was more often than not “Broken Wings,” or “Get Outta My Dreams,” songs of lost love or unrealized love that resonated with the teenage me much more than anything by Prince or those other guys who sounded like Prince. I was a bit quirkier, preferring “Motown Song” over more sensitive fare.

But that’s always been me, my songs of the moment somehow connected to me in ways only I could ever figure out at the time, then moving on to the next song when my emotions have moved on. I do miss those songs when they fade from my spotlight, though, when they’ve gone back to their regular places on their own albums, when they’ve drifted from my mind like so much snow blowing across the boulevard.

So right now it’s “Castle on the Hill,” and I nearly cry when I hit the chorus. Every single time I hit the chorus. Because it’s SO me right now, and the sun is setting over the hill. I’m just still waiting for my castle.

Sam

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“…and that R.E.M. song was playing in my mind. Three and a half minutes. Felt like a lifetime.” ~Better Than Ezra

remsplitI always wondered what “that R.E.M. song” was, which one from their vast catalog made such an impression on a young Kevin Griffin (lead singer of Better Than Ezra) that he immortalized it in his own song. The song is about the death of a young friend, who after graduation had a car wreck and died, the lyrics a poignant reminder of the brevity of life, and how quickly it can be taken from any of us.

With that in mind, I began to dig deep into what could possibly be the mystery R.E.M. song from the lyrics. It’s a good thing, then, that I own the entire R.E.M. catalogue, because it would take a hell of a lot of digging to arrive at the ultimate truth. For starters, here is the full list of the band’s songs that hit 3:26 – 3:34 on the scale (prior to 2001, when the Better Than Ezra song was written)…

Gardening At Night (3:30)
Disturbance At the Heron House (3:34)
Romance (3:27)
Good Advices (3:30)
Begin the Begin (3:28)
What If We Give It Away? (3:34)
I Don’t Sleep, I Dream (3:28)
Let Me In (3:28)
Moral Kiosk (3:31)
Perfect Circle (3:30)
Departure (3:30)
Low Desert (3:32)
Half a World Away (3:28)
Time After Time (3:34)

That’s an awful lot of songs, so I tried to break them down by lyrics, by which ones might be depressing. I realized as I was doing this that most of R.E.M.’s catalogue is full of depressing, sad songs. Kevin Griffin literally had his choice of songs to complement his own, just by the sheer volume of sad songs to choose from, even from this relatively small list.

For a very long time I thought the song he referenced was “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream,” from the Monster record. It fit nearly every aspect of a depressing song that would hearken back to a premature death. “I’m looking for an interruption. Do you believe? Some medicine for my headache. Hooray.” The only thing that didn’t fit was the length of the song, because while I thought my range was pretty good, the lyric of the song was “Three and a half minutes,” and if I was being literal that one would not fit.

In fact, the more I thought about it the more I thought the song I was looking for was exactly 3 minutes and 30 seconds, which left me with Departure, Perfect Circle, Good Advices, and my personal favorite, Gardening At Night. In fact, the lyrics of “Gardening At Night” are very compelling. “We fell up, not to see the sun. Gardening at night just didn’t grow. I see your money on the floor. I felt the pocket change. Though all the feelings that broke down that door just didn’t seem to be too real.” Something about the shifting reality, the yearning to do something that seems right but doesn’t have positive consequences, it clicked in me.

But that wasn’t it. Here is the full lyric of the verse from the Better Than Ezra song from earlier…

“And I know I wasn’t right, but it felt so good
And your mother didn’t mind, like I thought she would
And that R.E.M. song was playing in my mind
Three and a half minutes, felt like a lifetime.”

5b8a1cb234e9b2d7ba2ad332ab262588That part of the song has always hit me like a hammer to the gut, the idea of something feeling so good but not being right, of approval out of nowhere, not for the means to an end, but for the end itself. It’s almost like it is a eulogy, not for the person who has died, but instead for the enterprise itself, for being adventurous. That R.E.M. song felt like a lifetime because when it ends the glory of a life lived for adventure ends as well.

The song was “Perfect Circle,” by the way, the idea that life is indeed this circle. We are born to die, but in the space between the wails of birth and the silence of death we either truly live or we go through the motions. “Perfect Circle” is all about truly living, taking the moment and wringing every ounce of glory from it so we can live on the nostalgia of that moment for years to come.

“Pull your dress on and stay real close. Who might leave you where I left off? A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends…”

Three and a half minutes. Felt like a lifetime.

Sam

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cute_sitting_fox_journalDear Journal,

When I was 10 I got my first journal, and I named it Fox because it had a painting of a fox on the cover. It was rather generic, but I was excited about it anyway. It was my excuse to go into my room and put my thoughts down on lined paper instead of scraps left over from shopping lists and whatnot.

Of course, as happy as I was having a journal at long last, I didn’t know how to begin writing in it. I had no precedent, and I knew no one else who admitted to keeping a journal, only girls with diaries. So I just took out a pen and started writing on page one. It went something like this:

Dear Fox, I am writing in you because I got you as a gift, and I don’t want you to be bored. I don’t know what I will tell you, but I promise I’ll keep you safe. Well, I can’t promise that because there is no lock on you, but I’ll keep you under my bed and no one ever goes under there. I’ll write in you more tomorrow.

I didn’t write in Fox that next day, or the one after it. I got busy with life, and it was three months before I wrote in him again (it took me forever to determine whether he was a girl or a boy). By that time I had pretty much forgotten why I needed a journal in the first place, but I came back to him anyway, and I’m glad I did. Because I finally had some secrets to put down on paper. And put those secrets down I did.

For the next several months I wrote in Fox more days than I didn’t, which was the beginning of getting my thoughts out, thoughts that I would never dare share with another living soul. When I look back at it now, though, it’s funny how irrelevant those secrets and thoughts really were back then.

Dear Fox, thanks for listening.

Sam

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“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year which makes my eyes feel sore. Oh, I never should have said the books that you read were all I loved you for.” ~The Sundays

audio_mix_tape_wall_decal_singleI don’t remember exactly when I first heard it, but I do remember how it made me feel. Something about it was ethereal, airy in a way that few songs to that point had ever been for me. It had a whimsical side to it that was both lilting and fragile at the same time. It drew me in and I wanted to hear that voice again. The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea who was singing it, and it drove me absolutely insane.

It was on this mixed tape that a girl sent me. Don’t ask me to remember the name of the girl because they all blur together from back then. Needless to say, it was a girl whose musical opinion mattered to me. We didn’t know each other in real life, but in the early days of my Internet obsession it was surprisingly easy to talk to people outside of the cluster of real life acquaintances I had at the time. After we had been conversing for a few weeks, I suggested we exchange mixed tapes. So we did.

I have to back it up a step, though, because back then I exchanged mixed tapes with a LOT of people. In fact, I would go into Tower Records and purchase a package of 20 blank tapes for expressly that purpose, and use them up almost as quickly as I bought them. I had one rule, though, when exchanging mixed tapes. I wanted to come into the experience completely oblivious to what I would be hearing as I listened, so I told each person who was going to send me a tape not to label it in any way.

Hence, my dilemma. Most songs on most mixed tapes I got at that time were easy for me to figure out as they were mostly songs I had in my collection already, or were songs I had heard on the radio. I must have listened to about 50 mixed tapes through those years of swapping, from all kinds of people all around the globe, but there were very few songs on those tapes that I didn’t know. Arguably the song I liked the most from one of those mixed tapes was one I didn’t know, and thus began the journey.

“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year which makes me wonder why. And it’s the memories of the shed that make me turn red. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.”

Remember I said this was in my Internet infancy? That would play a huge role in my growing frustration over the next few years. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just email the girl who sent me the tape and ask what the song was, and that would be a good question to ask. However, it took me ages to actually listen to that particular tape for the first time, and in the intervening time I had a falling out with the tape’s sender. For all the beautiful songs she put on that tape for me, it was surprisingly easy for her to completely cut me out of her life. So I was back at square one.

So yes, my Internet infancy… it wasn’t just mine, because the network of sites and resources that we take for granted now wasn’t even remotely in place back in the ’90s. Lycos, or AltaVista, or whatever, didn’t quite have a lyrics engine, so my typing in random parts of the song into the search engine yielded absolutely no results. There was no social media so I couldn’t exactly ask my FB friends if anyone recognized the song. There was no Shazam, so I couldn’t hold up my nonexistent cell phone and capture the song in its clutches. I was stuck.

Years went by, and I wore that tape out from constant listening. It wasn’t the only song on there that I loved to pieces; it was just the only song on there that I didn’t already know. And as the years passed I guess I just forgot about trying to figure out who sang it anymore. I just let it wash over me when I listened to the tape, enjoying it for what it was, and just happy that I had a version of it at all. I even copied it from its location onto other mixed tapes that I sent to others.

Eventually I’m sure the Internet progressed, but I stopped typing lyrics into Lycos, AltaVista, or wherever, anymore. I’m certain at some point along the way if I had kept it up the World Wide Web would have caught up and spit back a name for me. It’s funny how some things happen, though, when we least expect them. By the time I had finally given up on finding out who sang the song it fell from the heavens into my lap. And in the most coincidental of ways too. It was on another mixed tape.

You see, after several years of swapping mixed tapes with others, I relaxed the rule of no labels, and the tapes kept pouring in. So many people were pretty creative with their labels, too, mixing in some artwork around the song titles. I still have so many of those tapes, and I have to say they put playlists to shame. But this post isn’t about that, even though it’s still fascinating to me.

On one of those mixed tapes I heard a voice I had listened to so many times before that I had memorized it for all time. My mouth dropped wide open as I flipped over the tape case and scanned the song titles for the one I wanted. And there it was, at long last, the name of the band that sang the song that had haunted me for what had seemed like forever. Oh, it was the Sundays, by the way. The song was “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” and before too long I had all three of their albums and I was in heaven.

Well worth the wait. Shortly after that, the mixed tape broke.

Sam

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“There’s nothing where we used to lie. Conversation has run dry. That’s what’s going on. Nothing’s right. I’m torn.” ~Natalie Imbruglia

happynewyear_1920x1200

It was my last year in Philadelphia, but I didn’t know it when the year started. Funny how that happens, how the monumental moments in our lives, the seismic shifts, often happen with no warning. I woke up on that New Year’s Day without a hangover, but the day was mostly over, testament to the insane amount of drinking I had been doing the night before and until the early morning hours — in celebration mode. That of course resulted in eventually passing out.

But it was okay. I was a newly minted 21 year old. I thought I was invincible.

Soon, though, even my invincible armor would be tested, as my engagement fell apart, my school lies began to unravel, and my relationship with my mother hit a huge wall. It was all my fault, but as a 21 year old I was angry with everyone else. I couldn’t blame myself because we just didn’t do that. It wasn’t the age of self-reflection; it was instead the era of pointing fingers and asking questions later. So that bluster took me from a young man who had hopes and dreams to a scared rabbit who was reacting instead of acting.

And I didn’t let anyone in, past the facade that masqueraded as my fearlessness, as the bravado that would ultimately lead to so many ridiculous and harmful decisions in my life. For me, 1998 was the turning point because so much could have gone differently in my journey if I had simply accessed and addressed my emotional state early on. It was like I dreamwalked through the year and woke up on the other side dazed and confused, and so much worse for wear.

“I don’t wanna close my eyes. I don’t wanna fall asleep, ’cause I’d miss you baby, and I don’t wanna miss a thing.” ~Aerosmith

By year’s end I was an outcast, shuffling off to Tennessee with a few boxes of my possessions, under cover of night because it was more appropriate that way. I was a married man then, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like a prison break, yet I was still natalie-imbruglia-tornsomehow in prison, as if I had escaped a maze to be told it was part of a larger maze that I was only just beginning. Leaving the city of my birth was devastating, and yet it was my own decision making that precipitated it; I could blame no one but myself.

I still blame no one but myself. But if I had never left I wouldn’t be where I am now. I make myself remember that part because as 1998 ticked down, as I turned 22 in an entirely different place (both physically and emotionally), I was worn down. It was so drastic and so sudden that I guess you could say I was in a state of shock, all my problems and issues center stage that I would have to deal with sooner or later, but probably sooner. As much as I could see all of that even then, it was a whole different story¬† trying to rectify the situation, to reconcile myself to the loss, to grieve and to move on.

Maybe that’s what it was all about, that year, after all. Perhaps it was more than just a turning point. It might very well have been the beginning of my whole life, the old me turned to ash and bone, eventually fading over the passage of time. I do know that the promise I felt the year owed me was quickly snuffed out, and I have never been good at adjusting to change, so it festered and left me empty instead. So I went to Tennessee, and rung in the new year with absolutely no fanfare, fast asleep with no future in mind.

Only thinking about the past, and what went so astronomically wrong. In 1998.

Sam

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“Describe a ‘first day’ in your life.”

first_place_blue_ribbonI’m really big on firsts. The first tooth I lost was a cause for utmost celebration, even though it created an imbalance in my mouth, because I knew more would follow. The first time I kissed a girl the smell of her gum (cinnamon) stayed with me for weeks afterwards, even though we shared only the one kiss. The first movie I saw in the theater was abbreviated because I arrived late, but I will never forget it for as long as I live.

There’s just something about firsts that is special, that draws me in and makes me want to indulge them for as long as I can, because once each one has passed there is no getting it back. The first time is special simply by essence of being the first time, and nothing can change it once it has occurred. That’s why people celebrate anniversaries, because each one reminds them of the original, of the first time something happened, good or bad.

The first time I realized I was black, and what that meant, was in fifth grade, when a class of white students visited our all-black school and I was introduced to the “other” for the first time. Before then all the faces I saw looked like mine, and everyone I knew had a similar history and heritage. But that day, the first day they were at the school, I saw that there was more to this world than my own insular understanding of it based on those near me. That was when being black became a differentiator and not just something I saw in the mirror every day.

My first day in Tennessee was a study in contrasts. For a boy from the ghetto in one of the largest cities in the country, moving to an up and coming college town in the heart of the Bible Belt was a shock to the system. I remember looking around when I got out of the car after driving all night, and wondering what this brave new world held for me, if I could even survive what I knew would be a radical change. I walked around in a daze that day, faced with the surreal idea that I lived there, that it wasn’t just some chaotic dream.

Life is full of firsts, from the first step we take, to the first song we hear, to the first time we hear the word “dad” and know it means us. Those firsts tend to define us more than many other things can because they stick with us. Often we memorialize them, and revisit them in our thirst for a nostalgia that may or may not have been truly amazing that first time but becomes so in the reliving.

Which is our prerogative. Which is our joy.

Sam

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