Elsewhere on Earth

    My new gig drags me by plenty of evocative sites. On one hand, these cameos across former stages dent the job’s drudgery. On the other, being an older and worldlier actor permits clearer vision and better excavation of how certain scenes skewed wrong.
Nothing like going past a boyhood marker and confirming that age’s innocence to have been blessed ignorance. Knowledge, truly a two-edged sword for adults.

    In the setting and people behind this post I merely occupied the periphery. Events unfolded outside my modest Quarropas neighborhood. All this occurred before money became an even greater determinant. Was ours the last generation in which affluence remained understated and character a worthier gauge?

    Quarropas schools properly fulfilled their jobs. Besides cramming our heads with practical rote, they also jumbled the social strata. Inside neutral classrooms executives’ children made the acquaintance of factory workers’ sons and daughters. These introductions frequently developed into social interactions that given today’s communal striations seem exotic.

    From melting pot to mosaic to distinct camps upon the wide canvas. Where we once mixed, we now crowd slots. The direct marketers’ dream, no?

    Anyway, what happened and what got left behind occurred in one of Quarropas’ pricier precincts. More country clubs than playgrounds, rare was the mother not a June Cleaver housewife. Hazels who worked and their latchkey children populated my asphalt setting.

    An obituary enlightened me.

    Back when more residents than not still read The Reporter Dispatch, now considered the local newspaper in all but coverage, the surname of a deceased caught my eye. As I aged and until it became too irrelevant for me, R-D obits more and more started reviving memories of people life and motion had put aside. Not so much my contemporaries, though occasionally a snatched too soon ex-classmate grinning on newsprint jolted in a manner strong, scalding, bitter morning coffee never can.

    Seldom were any accompanying photographs recent exposures. The figure shown had been captured during his or her apex. Therefore reading the cause of death — should the family have opted for that detail — then juxtaposing it against literal pictures of health added momentary confusion to the starkness of mortality. Ours. Inevitably.

    Calls to mind a line from Out of the Past, a classic noir movie. Jeff Bailey, a cynically philosophical former PI on the lam portrayed by Robert Mitchum, accepts we all must die. With one important caveat: “Just as long as I’m last.”   

    More common were death notices informing of passed parents. Such was this instance.

    Maggie and Max epitomized our suburban splendor. Golden and straight, theirs are the faces those today harkening back to an earlier homogenized America see. The father  made his career with I Been Moved; his wife, mother of four children, was a stay-at-home domestic high priestess; while three of their four outwardly perfect children suffered short bouts of normal teen ennui before building on their considerable advantages.

    Maggie and Max were my contemporaries. It was Maggie whose dissatisfaction overwhelmed rather than dissipated with age.

    They resided in a house dwarfed by lawns. That was a matter of visual comparison. Nobody in their particular enclave lived in a small house. Greenswards either jiggered perspective or excessive foliage provided concealment. Luxurious as we saw them, homeowner propriety seemingly reduced these addresses into salt boxes.

    Weren’t people more modest then?  We never conceived of “bling.” Encouraged to be forthright, we were also taught to frown upon gaudy displays and braying. At least the kind indulged for the distinct purpose of fomenting envy or some other sinful expressions.

    Another attribute lost. The concept of “sin.” True sin. Not that convenient talking point for the upright and moral caught transgressing.

    Had our connections not grown so naturally, I think we might’ve congratulated ourselves on making these friendships. As self-aware aggregations surely would today. Or at least be fulsomely noted by a renown-hunting, trend-hunting, eager-to-publish sociologist.

    We were probably just as possessive, though certainly less covetous. Obviously more money often lends to greater materialism; whereas straitened circumstances prompts creativity that distinguishes individuals from the mass.

    Since consumer pressure then never reached anywhere near our current fever pitch, it was easy to resist coopting the others’ signifiers. Especially those born through custom, where appropriation gestures could quickly be mistaken for insult.

    Were we happier then? Or just simpler people?

    Compared to Maggie and Max, their caste, my stratum crowded modest conditions. I recognize that today. Despite their plenty, I’m hard-pressed to recall pronounced instances of superiority/inferiority. Away from schools’ mixing bowls, we dined at another’s homes (medallions of lamb/neck bone and beans), expanded “our” respective music tastes by listening to the others’ albums (stadium rock with its guitar or drum solos/the whole 1970’s R&B cavalcade Rhino Records later issued under the “Didn’t It Blow Your Mind” rubric), attended parties – keg or kegless all without fail parent proctored – in different ends of town (same red light glowing in every basement facilitated grinding to the jams) while involving ourselves in two universal pursuits: smoking dope and becoming drawn to an increasingly attractive opposite sex.

    The latter far more thoroughly than the former.

    How many boys did Maggie help yank from adolescence towards manhood? Rather than school, I knew her through Max. Funny. We seldom passed in those hallways but she seemingly appeared anytime Max and any of our floating association met at their address. If Maggie had been doughy or awkward, we would’ve considered her a barnacle.

    She was neither. We were never any kind of best buds, yet then raging hormones heightened her presence. Her effect.

    Not bursting sex bomb voluptuous, Maggie was a slight teen rushing on the way to shapely. Wheat hair framed a kind face further softened by its lack of guile. When presented her smiles thawed rather than warmed. She was carefree. No intrigues boiled behind her blue eyes. Did anyone hear malice or cattiness from Maggie’s pink glistening bow lips? Did her smooth brow ever furrow?

    Hers wasn’t mantrap allure. More like a canvas with an outline already penciled in. She let those who regarded her apply their own shadings. That’s all I can figure. That’s all I can surmise after unearthing Maggie and merging memories of that girl with her mother’s obituary.

    Once we all dispersed into adulthood Maggie veered off paths expected of her. Carefree became concupiscence.

    No useless four year liberal arts degree for her. Therefore, detouring from the courting course she never came across an appropriate suitor. That was some mannered stud outwardly stabile for a while, if not a lifetime. A husband who’d maintain or improve her already substantial standards. Until developing independence, their children should’ve had a mother resembling Maggie’s own: absolutely dedicated, selflessly subsuming her needs and desires into theirs.

    Instead, the quiet Quarropas girl who inspired who knows how many twisted sheet fantasies lived out a decidedly down- market life. She chose a marginal existence above the lofty one she’d been prepped to lead. Rather than finding one white knight, she spread herself among serfs. The children from these unions called Roseanne on meth mother rather than Donna Reed in pearls. That is on those occasions when she was present.


    A good obituary tells plenty. The better ones don’t dissolve into homilies.  

    Semantics gently revealed Maggie’s and Max’ mother’s utmost devotion. She’d already reared her children. Time had come for time for herself. After 20 years of serving others, she could’ve finally slipped off those pumps and kicked up her heels.

    Instead, she harnessed herself to another woman’s two-decade yoke. Willingly and uncomplainingly.

    Contemporaneous grandparents, those within my age range, may show the same devotion. Plenty probably do. But much of our pampered generation demands recognition. Its nobility must be made aware. Boldly. The quiet doing of our parents just won’t suffice.

    Maggie’s late mother assumed the burden of raising her wayward daughter’s issue minus attendant fanfare. I can’t imagine a counterpart my age and experiences taking responsibility for raising the namesakes of her own itinerant spawn without issuing press releases – or getting booked on some daytime shared agony show – describing in cringing detail their relative martyrdom to familial duty.