Monday, October 21, 2013

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Live in the now! (Why won’t my husband stop talking about crappy music?) Part I

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I started feeling old after the birth of my first child. I was 24. Which really isn’t that old, now that I think about it. In fact, it made me a young father. But at the time I had a wife and a child. I went from a fulltime student and part time socializer/ TV watcher, to a fulltime waiter, fulltime student, and fulltime father. Friends attended late night parties while I attended late night feedings. I fell asleep at strange times and in strange places (hallways, busses, stoplights…) because my son was gassy or cranky or colicky or whatevery… Most nights, I was up all night.
I felt old and worn out beyond my years because I held to a sense of duty. I wanted to care for my wife and son. But there was another part, a more sinister part, that wanted to let my hair grow out again, slash a few holes in my jeans, run off to L.A., join a punk band, and bang groupies. Not that I have any musical talent, but there was something about listening to punk music from the late 90s (my teen era) that made me feel young again. As I drove from one obligation to another, I often listened to Taking Back Sunday, BadReligion, NOFX, Hot Water Music, and handful of other bands that had long ago broken up, and only I remembered. I imagined myself on the stage of some shitty basement club. I was always the lead singer and I was always sexy.  I longed to, once again, be part of the punk scene. 
Is that a Hot Water Music Tattoo?

Mel and I often listened to my music in the car, not because she liked it, but because I insisted. I was a jerk that way. We’d drive and I’d tell her about the time I saw this band or that band: “The singer jumped off the stage!” or “Henry Rollins shook my hand!” or “I was crowd surfing and someone stole my shoe.” Mel nodded, as though she were interested, but most likely she wanted me to shut up. So much of her love is shown through her toleration of my ridiculous stories, immature understanding of love and sex, and lame ideas for financial success.  Sadly I didn’t realize this fact until I was nearly 30.
After we had Tristan, however, Mel started paying more attention to my music, saying things like, “Did that song just drop an f-bomb?” or “Did that say, ‘you drink, you drive, you spill’? Really? Really? Your son is in the back seat.” She used angry hand motions as she spoke, motions I’d only seen from my mother and other mothers.
Once, as we were driving to meet with a pediatrician, Mel asked, “Do we really need to be listening to a band called Kill Your Idols? Are they even speaking English?”
I looked in the back seat and Tristan was bobbing his little round head and smiling. Whether he was really into the music or simply passing gas was undetermined, but I jumped on the opportunity. “He’s digging it, babe. Future punk!” I held up my fist and Mel exhaled, loudly.

Tristan (age one): future punk
The problem was that the two of us had very different understandings of what a “future punk” meant. I saw it as a cool kid that played by his own rules. Someone who'd sow his wild oats early, and would use his determination and straight shooting demeanor to become a successful lawyer or liberal arts professor. In contrast, Mel envisioned the jackasses in high school who tried to put her in a garbage can.
“I don’t want Tristan to grow up and trash people. He is better than that. He is a sweet little boy. With a sweet smile. You want to turn him into a criminal.” Mel got a little misty as she spoke, as though Tristan was already heading down a dark path, while I rolled my eyes and tried to change the subject back to a fight I once saw in a mosh pit.

Once Tristan was just over a year old, things started to settle down a bit. Mostly because Tristan had started sleeping a little better at night. We discovered that he was lactose sensitive. Apparently this can happen to babies. He grew out of it, eventually. But for the first year of his life, if we gave him formula with any lactose in it he’d get moody, and then puke, or fill his pants. Sometimes he did both at the same time. And it always seemed to happen at night.

A couple friends, Dan and Scott, invited me to see a few old punk bands that were still touring. Dan was a large black-haired man with a spindly beard and a shoddy home haircut. He wore baggy and faded clothing, and from a distance he looked a lot like a medieval butt-kicking kind of dude, but upon closer inspection, he is actually meek and nerdy. The kind of person who asks a lot of awkward questions about girls. He was impulsive. For example, Dan moved to China, more or less, on a whim. I have always envied this quality in him. He'd only been back a few weeks when he invited me to the show.

Dan: living by his own rules

Scott was 6’ 3” and over 400 pounds with blond hair. He was known as a spaz in high school, always yipping and yapping about this and that while flinging his arms around in an attempt to get attention. He still held some of that awkwardness, only it was watered down now through a mix of maturity and years of being mocked. He was one of my oldest friends. When my father died, I called Scott. And I called him a few years later when I decided to marry Mel.  

Scott had never been married, while Dan was going through his second divorce.
Scott: Before and after he lost over 50% of his body mass. Really proud of him!

The show was at The Great Saltair, a venue on the shores of the Great Salt Lake that was surrounded by dirty grey earth and a handful of abandoned factories. It had a reputation as an “anything goes venue,” and it sounded exciting to cut loose for a while. 
“Yes,” I said. “That sounds amazing. I’d love to go. But I have to ask my wife.”
Dan said it back to me in a high-pitched voice, “But I have to ask my wife.” Every time I said, I have to ask my wife, I felt like a huge pussy. Like I couldn’t take care of myself. And every time my unmarried friends heard it, they rolled their eyes, or slapped me in the balls, and told me to grow a pair.  Mel always said this just showed that I needed new friends, while I always wanted her to see that asking for her approval showed my dedication to our marriage.
Reluctantly Mel agreed to let me go under one condition: “Don’t do anything stupid.”
I put my hands up and assured her that I wouldn’t. “You’ve got nothing to worry about,” I said. “I’m totally an adult.”
Mel looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you, but sometimes I’m surprised you’ve lived this long.”

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.