Family Movie Night

wreck 

Oh boy, family movie night.  I remember the excitement so well.  Let’s fire up the Jiffy Pop and get ready to enjoy an educational, cautionary tale.  Why cautionary?  All movies have a moral, don’t they?  All movies educate in some way, don’t they?

They certainly do if they’re entitled “The Bottle and the Throttle” or “The Last Prom.”  As a police officer, Dad screened vehicular snuff films to driver’s education students.  Not wanting to endure technical difficulties in the class room, he would dry run his presentation in our living room the night before.  No matter how young we were, this was family entertainment of the highest order and we all looked forward to it.  Only Christmas elicited more anticipation.

Movie night is where I learned that when people bleed out, they turn a beautiful, delicate gray-blue color.  Movie night is where I was fascinated that the force of a crash can remove the shoes from your feet while they are still tightly tied, complete with neat, symmetrical bow.  Movie night taught me that brains are slippery things, and the only way to remove them from the asphalt is with a spatula.  Movie night suggested that perhaps the back window is not the safest place for an infant to ride.  Movie night revealed that windshields are unusually cruel to faces, whether they are exiting or returning.

Yes indeed, movie night was exciting.  After watching, there would be a question-and-answer period until Mom deemed it was all too creepy and sent us to bed.  As if we were going to drop peacefully into la-la land after the potent images of destruction that we’d just absorbed.  Violence is truly primal and difficult to forget.  The images invaded our little lizard brains and fermented.  As a youngster, one does not just drift into butter cream dreams after staring slack-jawed at twisting metal and blood spatter.  I wanted more; much, much more.

My favorite scenes were the ones where the car was wrapped around something, front bumper kissing the rear.  I found it remarkable that the stoic tree or telephone pole didn’t snap, didn’t give, forcing the speeding car to accommodate.  Truth be told, I always rooted for the tree.  The tree was just minding its own business, not a care in the world, when — BLAM — some drunken young stud in his mother’s sedan hits it at full force.  How rude!  As penance, the driver endured a vehicle with considerably less interior room than before, often fatally so.

And then there were the questions.  I couldn’t stop questioning what I’d just witnessed.  Why would anyone ride on the hood of a car when a comfortable seat was available?  What idiot invented the game of chicken and why did anyone go along with it?  Why would you ever get into a car driven by someone so drunk they couldn’t walk?  When a drunk driver says “I’m fine, really, I’m fine.” does that phrase magically banish critical thought from everyone else’s mind?  “Oh well, if you say you’re fine let’s go for a drive.”

I had even more questions about drinking.  No one in my family imbibed, so I had no practical knowledge of how alcohol worked. Just how much do you have to ingest before your eyeballs turn pink?  How much alcohol does it take to push you past fun into fundamentally moronic?  Is this threshold the same for everyone or is it different?  Why would you drink something that smells like cough medicine?  I thought Kool-aid was quite tasty, why not just stick with Kool-aid and avoid trouble?  No one ever got pulled over for drinking Kool-aid.  No one’s mama collapsed into racking sobs because they crashed the car while high on Kool-aid.

Another stumper I posed to my parents was this one.  If you’re drunk and crash your car, why does it seem that your chances for survival are better than if you’re sober?  Is it because you don’t realize what’s happening so you don’t brace yourself, locking your arms and legs into stiff twigs to be snapped?  Does being drunk make you bounce like Tigger, and being sober makes you crack like Humpty-Dumpty?  What’s up with some drunks just walking away from massive crashes?  What law of physics makes it possible for them to emerge from a crushed and flaming carcass of a car completely unscathed?

Why is it that the beauty queen is always the one that dies?  I learned early on from these films that being named prom or homecoming queen was the kiss of death.  By third grade, I had made the mental note to avoid all pageants.  According to these films, winning a pageant was a quick road to an early, ugly demise.  Better to be the long-lived drama club geek, than the tragically dead Snow Ball princess.

Straight A students didn’t die in these movies.  The football star and the Junior Miss County Fair ruptured and bled out like slaughtered livestock every single time.  Their death was even more assured if they had (a) just won a scholarship, (b) were scouted for professional sports, or (c) had recently gotten engaged.  Oh, the tragedy!  Obvious message:  don’t get into a car with someone who is too sloppy drunk to talk, no matter how cute he may be or how long you’ve been crushing on him or how much it will impress your girlfriends.  Hidden message:  study hard, get good grades, and be way too geeky for the sports stud to ever want to drive you home guaranteeing your continued health.  It’s the better way to go.

Lesson learned?  Don’t drink to the point where embarrassing YouTube videos can be posted of you.  Don’t drink to the point that people can write on your face with permanent marker and you not realize that it’s happening.  Don’t drink to the point where you think you can really sing and that American Idol should just hear your rendition of Purple Rain.  For God’s sake, don’t ride with anyone who has.

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Letter to a Young Dumbass

(This post was one of the most popular I’ve written and it appeared on my old blog in 2013.  Since it is time for graduations around the country, I am replaying it this week.)


 

Two of my nieces, Megan and Katie, graduate from high school this month. They are both gorgeous redheads, full of potential and possibilities. They’re so young, so fresh, so unaware. That’s not a criticism, that’s actually right on schedule. That big picture perspective only comes with time and experience. They’ll get it. Life is always willing to teach. All Megan and Katie have to do is listen.

I remember being their age like, yesterday. I was busting with promise. I remember being so very proud of myself, full of teenage wisdom. In other words, a total block head. Didn’t realize it at the time, but I was clueless. I was a big fish, but didn’t know how tiny my fishbowl was. If you want to cultivate a healthy ego, grow up in a small town. If you want that ego to get resized by reality, leave that little town. Eventually, you’ll have a bigger, better life but first your pride is going to get pummeled.

It’s a big world. What a kick in the teeth to find that you aren’t quite the superstar your Mama said you were. There is always going to be someone smarter, faster, better than you. You’re going to bump into them all the time. Don’t hate the hot shots, hang out with them. You’ll find yourself getting smarter, faster, and more talented to keep up.

I would not presume to tell my nieces what they may encounter in life and how to deal. They wouldn’t listen anyway. They probably shouldn’t listen. Lessons shared by others don’t stick like the lessons life beats into you personally. You’ve got to figure stuff out for yourself. If you’re smart, you’ll do it quickly. If you’re a dullard like me, life will keep heaving the same lessons in your face until you learn. I was a member of the National Honor Society but in life, I was as remedial as they come. So I have decided that the best way to celebrate my two beautiful, brilliant nieces is to address the idiot that I was. Maybe they’ll appreciate it.

Dearest Dumbass,

You don’t know me but I am you in 35 years. I know, I know. Ancient. Shut up, it’ll feel young when you get here. You’re going to do a lot of really bonehead stuff in your life and I thought maybe I could give you a few pointers to smooth your path a bit. You won’t listen because you’re a thick wit, but I feel obligated to try. Please pay attention.

Lesson 1: Just because a guy waves something sparkly under your nose does not mean he’s the right guy for you. It only means that he had enough cash for a diamond. Big whoop. In fact, the quicker a guy coughs up a ring, the more disastrously wrong he is for you. (I was engaged five times and married twice, I have learned. I am still a sucker for sparkly things but I don’t make life decisions based on them anymore. I buy them myself.)

a.         Never date anyone who is rude to waiters and valets. That’s asshole behavior.

b.         Never marry anyone until you’ve seen them with some sort of stomach ailment like food poisoning or flu. It’s a real window into their true personality.

c.         Never date anyone whose values vary wildly from yours. It will crop up in embarrassing, shocking, and destructive ways.

d.         Things that merely annoy you about a person when dating will make you homicidal in ten years. Never believe that things will improve after marriage. If personal idiosyncrasies change at all, they get worse.

e.         Always date someone who makes you a better person. Someone who has your back. Someone who encourages your dreams. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not Rick. Never Rick. Forget Rick.)

f.          Interesting factoid for you. You do not have to marry at all. Society, friends, and family haven’t a clue what’s best for you. Don’t conform to their expectations if it feels wrong. The worst thing you can do is marry because you think you’re supposed to. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not David. Never David. Forget David.)

Lesson 2: Before you marry anyone, sit down and write out a job description for them as your spouse and have them do the same for you. Everyone grew up in different households and what is normal is one family is unheard of in another. By talking out roles ahead of time, there are no hidden expectations that go unfulfilled. Trust me, you never want to have the conversation where someone shouts, “My mother always did that in our house, why can’t you do it?” That talk does not end well. Continue reading