I wrote this unedited piece as an ode to music lyrics after an invitation to a writer’s circle where I intended to share, but episodes of freezing and other crappy symptoms of Parkinson's stole my ability to drive that evening and I was forced to sit that one out. I did manage to get to Beck, who amazed us with his talents in Oakland the other night. Wow, indeed, Mr. Hansen! You’ll find a unique playlist below including each song reference, in italics.
BELTS AND BECK
There are 17 books on my nightstand and not one is finished. Much to the dismay of every teacher I’ve had, I’m not good at following… as in following directions, the crowd, or social norms. It’s customary to read a book in sequence, beginning at one cover and finishing at the other. I prefer moving around someone’s writing in no particular order, because it allows me to ponder each passage out of context. I follow beats, not what dominant culture or society dictates.
Perhaps I read this way because life itself seems out of context. Linear and organized patterns escape me and though my right brain is now compromised, I experience spontaneous and magical brainstorms more often than logic and routine. My brain makes drugs to keep me slow.
The last passage I read before sleep last night (holy sheet, I slept from 2AM til 7:30 AM sans medication...a miracle!) was about belts. So let’s talk about belts. Like belting out a song or the belt your papa used on rare occasions to whip you with after you chose to do something off limits. “Just wait until your father gets home!” was a potent weapon in every harried mother’s repertoire, since nothing was more terrifying than hearing size 12 boots hit the stairs after Dad’s long day at work.
I would have hurdled my 60 lb frame out the second-story double-paned plate glass window to avoid one of those spankings! My brother’s trick of putting a hardcover book in his pants only guaranteed the belt. There was no escaping punishment for my crime of chucking butternuts from a neighbor’s tree into oncoming traffic (totally dangerous) or stealing a cork plane from the local Convenient store (failing one of the Ten Commandments).
A belt to cinch your waist and hold up your ‘hand-me-downs’ when your legs were like a pony and you ran for the sake of feeling the wind in your hair. Do you remember that feeling? Spritely and feral, running on hot pavement that promised to scrape skin right off those knobby knees and elbows.
“Oh for God’s sake Heather, did you have to skate off the half-pipe without pads again?”
“But Mama, that’s where the fun is!”
You only pretended you could skate in an effort to impress the charming and desirable boy-next- door adorned with an Elvis belt buckle. He didn’t know you existed then, but when he saw you at the local watering hole last year he’d begged you to sleep with him… said he’d tie a belt around your wrists. You were thinking that night about Elvis. In reply you simply asked if Elvis would approve. He had no idea what you meant and you didn’t bother with an explanation and you told him to find himself some fun… somewhere else.
Has anybody seen my mind or is it too busy making connections and vignettes from a single word?
On the beltway he reached over and punched you in the face because you questioned his loyalty when you left the garden party. You had on pink and his tie matched- the perfect couple! If those socialites had seen him hitting you, as he did sometimes out of sheer frustration, it’s unlikely they’d have voted him into his position of influence in the community. Now you were a double threat- you knew what he had done to those girls and could potentially leak it to the opposition. He had plenty of people eager for his seat. You now had a growing bruise on your cheek and a deep purple splotch under your left eye.
“I fell. Tripped on a belt.”
“Tsk tsk...Oh how awful!”
The old ladies would cluck and shake their blue cotton candy hair heads. They gave one another knowing looks, offering you sideways glances of pity. This was your story and you’re sticking to it, even if it meant feeding the monster. At least he would not come after you for that, too.
The gaggle of old women in Greenpoint were Eastern European and had belts that might appear in a mock vintage catalogue as knock-offs selling for twenty times the price of their original. Fashionistas in Brooklyn would buy them in every color and resell them to other fickle vintage hipsters for the next season. Martha’s was a leopard print and made from some small animal agony factory in China, but don’t bother mentioning ethical treatment of animals or dogs mashed into cages. Just say, “That dress looks nice on you,” and go about your business.
Across the street a man with a belt around his arm is languishing on a filthy couch. The needle enters slowly and his eyes roll back in ecstasy. For the near future, he is free from his oppressor. He has piss on his pants and he looks like death’s chauffeur in a crumpled military jacket and new steel-toed boots he stole from a cowboy store on 86th.
You remember the heroin addict from school as a bitter, furious boy with no particular place to go. He could belt out insults faster than Eminem and was a masterful slut-shamer, humiliator, and all-around menace in your junior high school. What glass splinters lie so deep in his mind? He will die alone in six months because no one can see him through such ever-present rage.
When Theresa died they buried her with her favorite belt…..a Hermes. The only couture item she’d ever touch. You remembered her as a kindness from your tiny broke-down hometown and wept inconsolably during this entire time, a period of “why do the righteous suffer so?” in which you railed against the Pol Pots and the Hitlers and Stalins. You took it upon yourself to lament and worry over why kids get cancer or accidents happen to the best people. You shook your fist impotently at a world that felt like a vampire. Your rage was palpable, like the heroin addict and because of this, you lost friends who could not hear you anymore.
“What if God was one of us, just a stranger on the bus?”
You had enough by the time you had your second child. An abundance of death, and someday your precious babies will be gone, too. So you made the only choice you could to survive and this is how you learned to live a bit more courageously. When you were young you thought you had time and took people in as collections in your virtual glass menagerie. Look at this collection of fascinating people! Everyone seems so cool just strolling by in a charmed life. Sometimes, in the middle of the night you wonder how everyone you’ve ever met is doing. Even the ones who hurt you.
The popular girls were just mean, so be thankful if you weren't one. In the immortalized words of Culture Club, “Popularity breeds contempt,” and yes, the cliques really do want to hurt you. They were ‘frenemies’ for life and that was how it worked. Ah, but Virginia, those Catholic girls start way too late and only repeated holy words for ceremonial services, they didn’t have to live by them. Tricks were for kids, and you’d played the role of silly rabbit assuming they’d choose collaboration over competition.
My mother is a public school teacher who happens to be uniquely witty and quick with clever asides. She enjoys twisting or mispronouncing things on purpose so that a stranger might pause and get a bit of a laugh when she inserts “Historical” instead of “Hysterical” or “No thanks, I had an aunt that died the same way, “ if someone offered her a drink. Her favorite in a rotating and ever-expanding repertoire was probably “Let’s talk about belts,” which she inserts into heated conversations with an impish grin. An inside joke that never got an explanation in public. The gen pop- like the grocer or the painter or her co-workers, must have been a little confused. No wonder neighbors looked at us with furrowed brows and tilted heads.
“What’s a belt got to do with it?”
In my Mother’s family of origin, bickering and arguing were highly discouraged. Imagine her disappointment as her assertive and sharp-tongued daughter, a little old lady (not from Pasadena) doggedly pointed out the elephant in every room! I was not always nice, but instead painfully and inappropriately honest. Oh Momma, I’m sorry I stirred things up instead of pretending, along with all the other good daughters. Girls were not supposed to be so… aggressive in conversation. It’s different for girls.
“Let’s talk about belts” was a hallmark my mother’s family of origin. It abruptly ended hostile or tense disagreements at the dinner table and was the cue to chill out and take a deep breath. Life gets complicated and evoking the trivial was a tactic. It originated because my Aunt was mad about fashion and brought it into conversations even when it didn’t belong. Once she asked a neighbor about the rhinestones on her belt while waiting for an ambulance. Cheering the gallows was Aunt Betty’s forte. It was not uncommon for her to treat a captive audience to a 20 minute monologue on why belts were an important accessory and should be a requirement for every outfit with pants. Aunt Betty was part of the resistance… against the “just got outta jail” look in saggy pants AND the cameltoe causing her so much distress.
Feeling upset about politics or your dog died or you are going through another break-up? Maybe you woke this morning with a pain in your neck?
Let’s talk about belts.
Laura Shape creates buckles you can view her creations here. Her Shiva buckle floating on my waist and reminds me of getting completely lost in dance. Though my body stubbornly refuses to create or process dopamine and my movement is not at all what it once was, I will dance every chance I get, and with great enthusiasm even when my body is not cooperating. I prefer to frequent the somewhat forgiving and open floors of small clubs, like 1220.
Welcome to your life! You better dance all night! A dance of the mundane, of agony, of exuberance -ultimately, one of pure release. What medicine and mercy in movement… “What a feeling, I can have it all, now I’m dancing for my life!”
I’ll wear my new belt and we can talk about whatever we want, or not talk at all. See you on the dancefloor. Put your phone away, let’s groove tonight. I hope our dancefloor is double-parked, unless there’s no parking on the dancefloor.
For your listening pleasure, here is the playlist that includes each song in italics above. The cover image is c. Quietus and does not belong to me. Beck does not belong to me either, but I am endless inspired by his creativity.