Nostalgia is a Weapon

I was talking to Sam about books, books and books. and about travel, and math. And vocabulary. The boy’s got it goin’ on.

I told him I’d remembered a rubber-stamp image in the margins of Generation X , “Nostalgia is a Weapon”. And it is. And it’s an insidious fucker.

Even though I’m a big fan of the present-tense, and have certain definable leanings towards the future-tense, the Past sometimes has its say. I say that because I sit here watching Inside the Actor’s Studio, with none other than the redoubtable Billy Joel. So impressive, it’s a 2-hour episode.

I don’t believe there’s any other phenomenon during my adolescence and young-adulthood that had more of an effect on me. Most people thought it was an obvious or safe choice; some thought it made me a lightweight. But i was absolutely certain of how I “got” his genius. I never wanted to BE him. I did not idolize him. It was his creativity, his genius, his ability to take the harsh and the mellifluous and make them harmonious.

Because it was his talent, and his works—and NOT him—that I idolized, I never felt the need to defend him, nor defend my love of HIM. And given that I knew, with absolute certainty, where the genius was, and even better, that parts of my love of his work were simply irrefutable: what was magically, individually, my visceral reactions to his melodies and my intellectual resonances with his lyrics.

This is very important. I cannot overstate this. I learned, at age 12, that my own opinions were simply that: MINE. When called upon to defend the castle-walls of self-respect, self-presence for that first time, and you’re successful at it, you discover that inner calm, that poise of repose inside, where the noisy-without cannot penetrate. Your own garden of eden, but without the nettlesome boobytraps from the almighty.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. The tree of knowledge is the tree of life, the tree of shade, the tree that is your own personal landmark.

So I guess I can heap ‘gratitude’ as yet another aspect of my relationship to Billy Joel and his creations.

Watching him on TV as I write this, I remember buying the 8-Track of “52nd Street” when it was brand new. I am fairly certain I got it through the Columbia Record House. I believe the tape’s housing was beige.

Watching him on TV as I write this, I can remember singing along with my adolescent soulmate, Marti Lawrence. She ‘got in’ where no one else did. I remember telling her once, as we were about to celebrate our graduation, that I knew we weren’t meant for each other immediately, that we’d marry other people, but that one day down the road, we’d be together. We were that close.

Watching him on TV as I write this, I remember having the temerity to rewrite his lyrics from “Lullaby” to suit the death of my partner, Allen, shifting its meaning from sleep to death. Tonight I discovered that he wrote the lyrics about what happens when we die, and to assuage the fears of death and divorce of his daughter, Alexa.

Tell ME I don’t “get” his stuff. Go on, I dare ya.

We carry the Past with us. No avoiding it unless you’re seriously disturbed or seriously in denial. None of us has the luxury of an Undocumented Life. Nostalgia isn’t the Past, it’s a manipulation of the Past, to suborn an individual, a group, a nation.

The Past is just the Past. Nostaliga is a Weapon. Never forget that.

A Confluence of Nicknames

I never had a nickname of any sort until high school was almost over. I was Jeff. Only Jeff. I am a fair-skinned, fair-haired (or was), blue-eyed, fair-temperamented person, not the type to stand out in much of anything except my intellect. And let’s face it, who makes up terms of endearment based on being the smartest one?

It was a fateful day at the video arcade (it had been the pinball arcade until just prior to this story—THAT is how old I am) when, after a game of Breakout in which I did exceedingly well, but not well enough to get to put my initials in the top spot, that I rolled and clicked my way into my first nickname: spinning the machine’s trackball wildly and randomly tapping out a staccato on the ‘Fire’ button, I entered ‘C U B’ instead of ‘J J B’. (Fate would play a cruel trick later when that name became associated with the bear community).

I still hear that nickname from some when I go back to Pennsylvania for a visit.

I acquired “Skippy”, then, when I was in charge of a biomedical research lab. A gleamingly handsome and very muscular surgical resident was spending the year in the lab with me, when I dismissively called him “Skippy”. His response, in a deeply timbrous voice: “If anyone in this room is Skippy, it’d be you. Skippy.”

Social structures being what they are in a gaggle of general surgery residents, it took no time at all for all of them (many of whom had already become good friends) to cement the name in place. Even my boss, one of the most gifted teachers and General Surgeon’s on the planet, came to call me that.

In the same timeframe, my bestest friend in Pittsburgh, Lisa, came through with yet another one: BEEF. Short for beefcake, in turn it was in response to me calling her “cupcake”. I was teasing her about her crush on a dermatologist. To this day, I am greeted in IMs and on the phone with “BEEF.” and she is forevermore my “CUP”.

Along the way, as a consequence of hanging out with friends of mine, who I still believe are the best live band that ever was, The Toll , gave me the name Verbose, a play on my last name. And also because I rarely spoke when I was in the company of the four of them—Brad, Rick, Greg and Brett. They thought I was being shy (yeah right), when really, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. This was all in the late 80s.

Fast-forward to the Pleasure Piggy . ‘Nuff said.

That was just a few months ago, and just a couple of weeks ago, Rich, who is the most laconic IM’er I have ever known, chimes in from outer space with “Peaches”. Dominic finds out, and broadcasts it. He’s better than the internet. Here’s Rich & me at the Fair:

Yesterday at Dore Alley, I was dressed like this:

Anyhow, I show up at the Dore Alley Fair and run into most of the gang, attempting a conserved comportment, a dominant deportment—y’know, just for kicks. Troy speaks up first, and says, “Hi, Peaches!”

And I’m thinking “Damn that Rich!”, even though I smile when he’s around:

Anyhow, I can’t just let Troy go unchallenged. I don’t want to be his enabler. So I reply, “That’s DADDY Peaches to you, bitch,” my eyes barely visible beneath the leather cap.

And he giggled!

No wait, that was me.

I told Marcy last night at the FUSION dance about the surge in sobriquets. His response? “No, no, no. It’s ALL about the piggy.”

Indeed.