Some fifteen(ish) years later, I can’t help but hear the voice of my father screaming at me every time I use my turn signal, “SIGNAL YOUR INTENT, REBECCA” followed generally by some nonsense about “AND PUT ON A FUCKING PAIR OF PANTS, DAMMIT” because that’s the way my brain works: it remembers odd turns of phrase and holds them captive in some random corner of my mind that could be better used, oh, I don’t know, LEARNING HOW TO MAKE COFFEE?
(stands up holding cup of lukewarm coffee in Styrofoam container and announces:)My name is Becky, I’m 32 years old, and I can’t make coffee.
However, I CAN remind you (loudly) to SIGNAL YOUR INTENT to other drivers, which has always made me giggle: what if my intent was to flash them or whip donuts at old people? Is there a special signal for THAT because my turn signal doesn’t seem to do much beyond blink stupidly.
Nevertheless, I DO signal my intent every fucking time I turn, which means that somewhere along those years in which my father remains convinced I didn’t listen to him, I actually DID listen to him.
Goes to show you never can tell.
A couple of weeks ago, when the rains came and the river engorged, I checked the forecast on my i(can’t)Phone as I was dressing for work, figuring we were probably due for a tsunami or something. I learned that while we were NOT experiencing an earthquake, fire, tornado, random flinging of fish or *waves hand* some OTHER horrible disaster, we WERE under a flash-flood warning.
Which, no shit, Sherlock. The river looks as pregnant as half my Facebook feed.
I continued reading what the National Weather Center had to say about this particular warning, wondering if this here part of the Fox River was to be submerged that day. Turns out, not that day, but it did give me a particular bit of wisdom I can’t get out of my head for the life of me.
This message informed me that in the event that I should encounter a standing body of water on the road, rather than say, “Wow, my car needed washing anyway!” and truck on through, I should instead “Turn around. Don’t drown.”
I can’t tell you why this stuck with me long enough to tell my coworkers about it a couple of hours later (and, I should add, not having encountered any bodies of water on the ground or elsewhere), but it did. It’s not a particularly funny statement – the idea of drowning in a car is fucking freaky as fuck – and it’s not even a particularly useful statement.
I mean, SIGNAL YOUR INTENT can be applied to just about everything you do, ever…
Wanna go on a date? SIGNAL YOUR INTENT.
Want to eat? SIGNAL YOUR INTENT.
Want to lounge around in your underwear? CLOSE THE BLINDS, THUS SIGNALLING YOUR INTENT.
…but “Turn Around. Don’t Drown?” I can’t come up with a single other instance in which those words, in that order, would tumble from my mouth.
My coworkers seemed similarly befuddled by the sentiment and I vowed to cross-stitch it on something, well, if I cross-stitched anything ever, which I am pleased to say that I do not. We also told one another as we passed in the halls, “Turn around. Don’t drown,” for no particular reason whatsoever.
This morning, one of my coworkers frantically ran into my office, and, not noticing that I was in the midst of a particularly important conference call, practically screamed, “THEY’VE EXTENDED THE THUNDERSTORM WARNING UNTIL 12:15!”
I craned my neck to look outside, thought, “yup, sure is dark out there,” before shrugging at her and returning to my call. It’s April in Illinois. Thunderstorms are as omnipresent as deep dish pizza and a deep abiding hatred of Wisconsin.
Once I hung up the phone, I decided that I probably SHOULD see what sort of weather I was going to have to deal with some 9.5 hours later when I decided to leave Not Chicago. The Weather Thingy told me that St. Charles DID have… not 4. Not 5. But SIX entire warnings and not a DAMN one of them about the fish.
(won’t someone think of the fish?!?!)
I clicked on each of the six blinking advisories to see what would ACTUALLY apply to me and, upon scrolling down through the “you’re probably gonna wanna get the balls outta there,” I noted something. Something major.
“Hey Ames,” I said to my coworker who happens to have the misfortune of sharing an office with me.
She put down her paperwork and looked at me, “Yeah?”
“THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE THINGY DOESN’T TELL ME TO DO WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO DO.”
She blinked at me.
“What do I do if I encounter still-standing water on the road? DOES THAT MEAN IT’S TIME TO WASH MY CAR AND/OR SHOW OFF MY MAD OFF-ROADING ABILITIES?”
She blinked again.
“Duh,” she said. “TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN.”
And just like that, I lost my ability to retain any new phone numbers so that TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN can forever live in my subconscious*.
*And yours too!
It took me by surprise.
In part, I’m certain, because I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off for three months running (which, I should add, always gives me the delightful impression of a severed human torso running around with feathers stuck in it’s puckered pooper)(you’re welcome), and in part because I’m readjusting to my new life.
Lemmie back up, for those of you not playing along at home: the weather here in Chicago is one of two seasons:
1) Ass hot
2) Ass cold
(I wasn’t so good at mah maths)
Collectively, we refer to them as “ass” which, in a nutshell, is accurate but couldn’t be farther from the truth of what Chicago really is. We’re a great city, we love our cheeseburgers, passionately cheer for our favorite sports teams (North SIIIIIDDDDEEE) whether they’re winning or not, and we’re a loyal bunch. It may take time to win us over, but once you have, we’re yours for life.
Which is why we all still live here, despite the temperatures fluctuating from ass to, well, ass.
The winter had been mild, as far as Chicago winters go, until the endless snow began in January. And February. Then March, that wily whore, decided to get in on the snow action. In April, naturally, the rains came.
I should stop to mention that the only reason I noted the rain was because I have moved from higher ground to on the motherfucking river (not, I should clarify, to be confused with “Rolling on the River” because I’m pretty sure that the Fox River is not the river of which Ike and Tina sang), which, naturally, is in a valley, which means that when the river gets high, my pooper puckers alarmingly. In the six months I’ve lived here, I have to admit that I’ve grown quite fond of the FBI Surveillance Van and would, therefore, hate to see it underwater.
I should’ve been annoyed today. My i(can’t)Phone was broken, which meant that the fancy whoodilly on my dashboard that allows magical gnomes to play my digital music over my radio would not be working. Which left me with two radio stations: The Badger* and some SUPER Christian station that’s always damning someone or another to hell. While occasionally amusing, I was running late for therapy because while blogging is SORTA like therapy, therapy is pretty awesome and allows me to flex my narcissistic muscle for upwards of an hour.
It had been a long day in Not Chicago, and while it was a good one, I was annoyed that I’d let myself do “just ONE more thing” before realizing it was time to scoodledoo, and OMG if I’m late, I’ll probably FAIL or something *whines* and and and and…
That’s when it hit me.
Instead of being annoyed by the mountains of “white” snow, which I call “Chicago white” because they’re grungy and gross by April flanking the country road I take home, I was smacked in the face.
The world, well, it had woken up.
I cracked my window, preparing for some sort of weather incident in the car (I was imagining tornado, but it’d have probably been an ice storm, just for kicks), just because, well, obviously, and there it was. The wind blew into my car, smelling of fresh earth and new beginnings, reminding me, once again, why I pink puffy heart springtime in Chicago: the possibilities that yawn before us truly are endless.
The farmland that follows my merry way home had somehow transformed – where there had, just yesterday, been miles of yawning Chicago White sludge, I could see vast acres of green miles into the distance, peppered occasionally by crisp red barns. The robins, fluffy and fat on the earthworms the rains had dredged up looked fatter, more healthy and more determined than I’d seen them in many years.
An endless parade of people seemed to exit their homes to busy themselves, helping their bit of earth to wake up and coax their flowers into blooming, all of us pasty white from this unbearable, endless winter. They stood as I drove by, hands in the air, waving hello. I waved back like a lunatic, probably preventing them from ever attempting to wave at any stranger, ever, but I could tell they felt it, too.
The world was waking up.
The endless winter had, at long last, passed.
And the possibilities, well, they are endless.
*I can’t make this shit up.
“Where’s Dad?” a teenage Aunt Becky asked, mouth half-full of toast. I don’t quite know why I’d asked, it was a day ending in “day” so the answer was always the same.
“Making copies,” my mom said, distracted by the huge puddle of piss my dumb-as-a-stone-but-sweet-as-fuck dog had left on the floor in outrage at very notion that a chair would be moved without her oversight. I’d neatly stepped around it, thereby pretending it didn’t exist and therefore not tasked with “pee removal services.”
I headed out of the room, and using my most annoying voice, mimicked that SNL skit with Rob Schneider that was funny for about four seconds (this particular usage neatly using up one of those seconds), which no one seemed to realize, “Makin’ copies.”
Quite literally, I ran into him as I made my way back to my room to “put on some goddamned pants, Rebecca,” which I knew would be the first thing out of his mouth when he returned from his errand. His remaining three hairs on his head were standing straight up, his hands full of several reams of paper and a bottle of super pricy clear nail polish, he rushed, “I just had to make some copies” as he skittered up the stairs as though there was a real emergency, not just a frantic need to file papers.
Those same three hairs flapping in the breeze, he flew up the stairs, gasping, “I gotta nail appointment in 20 minutes,” to no one in particular.
I just laughed – that’s my father for you.
Earlier in the year, inspired by the windsong or the pattern of the sun on the hardwood floors or because he wanted to be a hip, cool dad, not just some guy who looked like a pharmacist, he’d managed to take up a hobby. Sweet, right? Everyone should have a hobby.
But this is my dad we’re talking about. My dad takes everything to eleven.
In an effort to increase his coolness factor or reclaim his long gone days as a rock-n-roll guitarist*, he took up classical guitar as his hobby, as my mother had put an end to the “annoying her” hobby he was so very fond of.
What began as a relatively benign hobby soon turned into… I suppose if’n you wanted to wrap it up in a nice fancy bow, you could call it an obsession, but it was more than that. Much more.
Not long after he bought his first classical guitar, painstakingly procured after months of deliberation appeared a second classical guitar. When asked about this mysterious need for two classical guitars (two dueling banjos I’d have expected, you see) came about, I asked him, “why the fuck would someone with only two arms have two guitars?”
“Well Rebecca,” he explained, without taking his eyes off the sheets of notes that he’d been playing and replaying for approximately twenty-niner years (but in reality had only been fifteen or so minutes), “I needed one to take with me on vacation.”
As though THAT explained it all.
I backed warily out of the room, more than a little afraid of him.
Soon, he was deforesting entire rainforests with the copies he’d make of various and sundry sheet music, the only person I’ve met who enjoyed visiting Kinkos on a daily basis. He’d file his sheet music in such an order not even the most well-seasoned librarian could understand, always happily tearing down yet another rapidly shrinking rainforest somewhere.
My mother and I simply shook our heads, baffled and somewhat bemused by his “hobby.”
One day, he caught me after school, and fearing one of his dreaded sixteen hour long lectures about taking his three-hole punch from his office, I backed myself into a corner, hoping I was wearing comfortable enough shoes to stand there for as long as he needed to hammer whatever point he was about to make.
“Rebecca,” he asked frantically. “Where do you get your nails done? I broke one of these fucking nails and I need it repaired immediately.”
My mouth dropped open.
I looked down at my hands which had been painted a soothing shade of “fuck you in the eyeballs pink” and said, “um, Dad? I do them myself.”
“I’ve GOT to get the name of Jim’s nail guy,” he said as he hurried frantically off. Jim, I knew, was the eccentric man who gave my father classical guitar lessons many times each week.
But getting his NAILS done? This was going a bit far.
Hours he’d spend each day carefully tuning and retuning his guitars, making sure that he had not only the top of the line guitars, but the top of the line gear. I played concert cello for many years and never even dreamed of some of the equipment he’d happily purchased to feed his obsession. He’d play a fragment of a song over and fucking over, trying to get it JUST right.
Music, it turned out, was HIS passion, too.
Until one day, just as frantically as his hobby had begun, he simply… stopped.
No more Kinkos trips. No more meticulously filed nails. No more lessons. No more “same three chords” coming from his office at all hours of the day and night.
He was, as it turned out, done. I never did quite learn why he’d stopped; why his love affair with his guitar was over – if, as I’d always joked the guitar was my father’s mistress, they’d had a falling out or something. I can’t even tell you if he knows.
He was just done. Quietly and softly, he was done.
In February of this year, I found a job in the most unlikely of places, a place I call, “Not Chicago,” for reasons that should be obvious**. The job as EVERY LINT PICKER-OFFER should know, was a serious one, and I didn’t know that I’d be able to continue to use my words in a manner in which I felt comfortable. With all the “write about this, not about that” bullshit flying around, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to use my words any longer.
I was tired of inadvertently hurting those around me; weary of the games people play. I’d begun to use my words as a hobby – to connect with people I’d never normally meet, to use my words and tell my story in my way. I have.
But I’d begun to feel like a dinosaur – I’m a PR intern’s worst nightmare – I have a mouth that rivals any sailor, I’m purposefully inappropriate, I’m snarky, and I don’t give a fuck. I never wanted to be a “brand,” I just wanted a space to fill with words.
In July, the sky fell and the darkness took over. I continued to blog, although my heart wasn’t in it.
I began to wonder if I was, as everyone always claims, truly my father’s daughter. That I’d take a hobby once loved more than butter and simply… stop. I wasn’t certain.
The turning point came, I think, when a group of people attempted to find my new employer to attempt, one can only ascertain, to fuck with my job as a LINT PICKER-OFFER TEAM LEAD. I am a public person, but I do have a private life that I am allowed to have, and if it was a matter of keeping my job or keeping my blog, I knew which one had to go.
So, much like my father, I simply stopped, assuming I had, in fact, used up all my words.
I was, as it turns out, happily wrong. Turns out life? Not an either/or equation. It’s time to go back to basics – tell my stories in my way on my time in the hope that I can make friends and connections I wouldn’t otherwise have the pleasure of knowing.
I may have had to rebuild my life, but I’m not doing so without my words.
While I will always be my father’s daughter, I have something he never did: I have my words.
And, perhaps most importantly of all, I have a Band of Merry Pranksters, without whom, I can’t say for certain I’d have survived Skyfall.
And those? Those I won’t leave behind.
*As far as I can tell, my father never rocked, nor did he roll, unless it was completely by chance.
**It’s Not Chicago.