Birthdays and Anniversaries
Though I seemed to sleepwalk through this day plagued by a lack of seratonin production, don't let that detract from the importance of March 21. Today marks two anniversaries/birthdays. It is a day of great importance in our family.
First, though I am a bad brother and have not called, lets pause to recognize my little sister's (who comments as Bud and/or Marsi) birthday. The mom most likely to send her child to private school in a Che Guevara t-shirt is 35, thus removed from the lucrative 18-34 demographic. Scottsdale is a long way from the Olympic Auditorium, where she reportedly enjoyed numerous punk shows as a rebellious teen.
Several moments frozen in time: my older sister (known here as Noodles' Mom) and I dancing around in the kitchen on March 21, 1971, chanting, "We have a little sister! We have a little sister!" The toddler with insane curly hair: afro baby. The tough seven-year-old playing football with future Mater Dei football coach Dave Money and I, Dave and I on our knees. We were twelve.
The sudden transformation when Noodles' Mom went away to college. Where there once were curls and little girls' clothes were now Doc Martens, dirty sweatshirts and buzzed hair. The teenage runaway: finding her first at midnight in a field near the high school with a bunch of other runaways.
Promising her that "I'd talk to Mom and Dad," and then, upon failing, hearing her jump out of her bedroom window and then slowly, methodically, removing everything from her bedroom walls with my mother at 2 a.m., only to find her a few weeks later, holed up in her older sister's bedroom, appearing at the door wearing a mohawk and a sullen expression.
A few years later, somewhat reigned in, sense of humor intact, challenging a would-be intimidator of her older brother at a show in Huntington Beach with "Your mohawk's crooked." Claiming that one of her friends laid on the couch with fried eggs covering his eyes, a strip of bacon covering his mouth.
Doing a spot-on imitation of our mother sitting in a chair with her legs crossed, holding a pretend cigarette, at a motel in Carmel. Me on the phone, sitting on the bathroom floor of my dilapidated North Beach apartment, trying to talk her down after the Philomath police shot her boyfriend dead in an alleyway, my parents somewhere on the road between Orange County and Oregon.
And then, inexplicably and completely out of left field, marrying a nice boy from a good family, moving the Phoenix and becoming a rabid Phoenix Suns fan (favorite player Shawn Marion).
Now a rabble-rousing mom, a dog groomer and a John Kerry supporter, a lover of the cartoon rock band KISS and Howard Stern, and someone who apparently still owns t-shirts I gave her 20 years ago.
There she is: my little sister. 35 years old.
We have one more family anniversary today. With apologies to Sgt. Pepper, it was 30 years ago today that we moved operations to California. Infected by an innocent version of the California Dream that has not existed for many years, we cut our ties with the East Coast and moved West. My father had already been here for a few months. He left, coatless, on a freezing day in January. I can see him walking across the tarmac at Scranton-Avoca airport in his short-sleeved shirt because he was moving to California and would no longer need a coat.
We got here on March 21. On that day, my little sister turned 5 three times, once for each time zone. From the slushy isolation of small-town Pennsylvania we came to Orange County, unprepared for the culture shock that awaited us. Now, 30 years later, I am the only family member to voluntarily reside in California. Noodles' Mom, whose husband the Rocket Scientist goes where Uncle Sam tells him to go, is presently sentenced to live at Edwards Air Force Base in the Antelope Valley, a God-forsaken desert 80 miles Northeast of Los Angeles, where she swears her area code is 666. I'm not sure that counts as actually "living" in California. If she had any say in where she lived, it would not be in the Antelope Valley.
Current family lore maintains that we would all be better off if we had never moved to California. Still, and despite 10 years of living in Washington State, I am a Californian. A few years ago I decided to reclaim my East Coast roots. After all, I did live in Pennsylvania for 10 years, and have been reminded more than once that I am actually a New Yorker not fortunate enough to have actually lived in New York.
Thirty years ago today I was a ten-year-old, marveling at the palm trees outside our Holiday Inn window. It was 70 degrees in March, and there was a big league baseball stadium 5 miles away. The 1970s were a golden time for the California Dream. The schools were good, the skies were blue and developers hadn't yet leveled all of the orange groves. Imagine opening your eyes to that after spending your entire life in the rust belt.
Of course, the honeymoon didn't last long. We soon learned that a childhood spent in the safe embrace of a small town in no way prepares a kid for the fast-moving world of Southern California. And an Orange County adolescence is something that would probably require years of therapy to completely sort out.
But we are left with this: of the 40 years I have so far logged, 20 of them have happened in California. You won't find me bashing Southern California, because I think that requires about as much imagination as it does to bash frat boys, business majors and supermodels. As with most Californians, I have a complex relationship with my home state. It's a mix of hope, disappointment, sentiment, anger, pride, wonder and boredom. And as for San Francisco, I love it enough to complain about it.