I’ve been thinking more about memories, memoirs, telling personal stories rather than just fictitious ones.
So how do you start a memoir? Where? I’m tempted to look it up. “Top 10 Ways to Start Off Writing Your Memoirs.” “You Weren’t Paying Attention, Were You: 5 Strategies for Assembling Your Past Without Pissing Off Your Relatives Too Badly.” Surely the Internet knows all.
This morning, I stopped and looked at John Cleese’s memoirs at Costco, while Lee and I were looking for Christmas cookies on sale. It started with the first time he performed, I believe. Which made sense, if you think of “John Cleese” as being summed up as “a performer,” and the sum total of his life as being “my development as a performer,” “performing,” and “aftermath of being in Monty Python and a few other things.” It’s what people want to know about; the rest of his life is a lagniappe, local color.
What, then, is the story of my life? I’m not dead yet; I can’t really have been said to have achieved much. I’m not an achiever. I’m ambitious, but that’s not the same thing. I haven’t done anything worthy of note, and I can’t remember details for shit (or be bothered to pay attention to them in the first place). So what is there for me to say?
And yet – the world has moved on since I was a kid, and there are things (good and bad) that we’ll never get back, and if someone doesn’t write them down, where are they? And I find that being part of a family in which all possible embarrassments are kept secret means that a lot of my inherited history has vanished, and I don’t want to do that to my daughter. I rely on the fact that most of my dad’s family are very ADD-like. I tell people that fact (if it is a fact) all the time. I can’t shut up about it. Here are people who should have been on drugs. Instead they broke horses. Among other things, it helps me understand, when my daughter brings her (almost invariably) ADD-diagnosed friends home with her, why they have no idea how to cope with anything. Their families didn’t have those myths. They don’t know what to do with people of high energy. My family knew what to do about ADD (on the one side) and depression (on the other). Mostly. There was one of my cousins who destroyed himself with heroin after his father refused to understand his need to be creative. A waste of time. A cautionary tale – but nobody will take anything from it, if it’s never told. There are reasons for me to write things down. So I will.
There were no Christmas cookies on sale at Costco. The receipt-checker girl at the exit wanted to know if we’d found what we were looking for. She recommended we check for cookies in the cookie aisle, because they’d been moved; there had been Swiss cookies around there somewhere for $3. Off we went, not because at that point Lee particularly wanted the cookies, but because she was nice. I’m a sucker for nice. We didn’t find the $3 Swiss cookies, but later went to the Trader Joe’s nearby.
The furor of the newly-opened Trader Joe’s obsession has died down to the point where the aisles are navigable, although it still takes more than the normal amount of interpersonal radar to avoid backing into someone behind you. Is there something about the store design that invites collisions? Is it that so many things are distractingly packed onto the shelves that it is impossible to keep one’s sense of personal space intact? Trader Joe’s calls for a certain type of customer, summons them like demons in fact: it places a hundred entitled middle-class people in a fishbowl with each other, forcing them to face each other’s taboo rudeness like a nightmare or a horror movie about mirrors. We have seen the monsters, and they are not us. Definitely not us. It’s impossible not to back into someone. I must have apologized twenty times in the ten minutes we were there. Trader Joe’s feels like some kind of elaborate joke. I imagine each member of the management, upon being hired, is taken to a room full of monitors looking down on the customers, and forced to watch them interacting with each other for a full double-shift, at the end of which the new manager’s faith in humanity is both destroyed and restored: everyone is self-centered when distracted; everyone is delighted when they find exactly what they didn’t know they wanted yet; it is so easy to push people around like cattle; it is conversely easy to make people smile, with a few kind words at the checkout aisle.
I like to think about what repeated activities do to your brain: How does playing World of Warcraft rewire you, versus EVE Online? What does being on Facebook do to you, versus Twitter? How does Trader Joe’s compare to Costco? At one point, we had memberships in both Sam’s and Costco: Sam’s was cheaper and often more convenient, but usually left me in a worse mood than when I went in. Costco leaves me feeling compressed by other people, but not necessarily hateful (unless it’s a Saturday). Leaving Trader Joe’s has consistently made me want to stop shopping for the day. Who ever heard of that? A place to shop that makes you want to go home. Not even WalMart makes me want to do that, and I hate WalMart.
At Trader Joe’s, Lee bought cookies, even though we had just been discussing how eating too much over the holidays has made both of us want to go on a diet, not to loose weight, but to stop feeling so yucky. I found green tea with coconut, lemongrass, and ginger, despite having a full shelf of tea in the cupboard, post-Christmas. The guy at the checkout counter praised my pre-chopped kale choice; his bagger debated some other kind of bagged mixed green versus the kale. They cared, or at least pulled off a convincing performance of caring. They were nice; they talked to me like I was a person, even though I clearly was only a customer, a piece of meat, a mark being drawn through an elaborate con job that most places have forgotten how to play. We’ve forgotten, in a world of minimum-wage retail: don’t forget the kiss-off. It’s so rare that we’ll pay more for it, every time.