Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cheap Skateboard Betrayal

We were runts. We were the squirts at the bottom of the campus totem pole. As eighth graders, we were the lowest grade at our five year high school, the junior high schools having been shut down in the late 70's, due to budget cuts in the city of La Mirada. At 13-years-old, it would be months, even years before some of us reached our growth spurts. The juniors and seniors at the high school seemed to tower over us.

Some days I rode my skateboard to school, if I wasn't carrying my trumpet case to 'zero period' jazz band. It was a cheap skateboard but it worked. It was salmon pink in color, just reddish enough not to look like a girl's skateboard, so the color never bothered me.

It may have been made of compressed fiber glass, I'm not sure. But it looked like it was made of thick plastic, which looked more like candle wax when it got scuffed. My Aunt Pat had given it to me for our first Christmas back in the U.S., after we had moved back from Japan. I was 10-years-old when I received it. I hadn't seen any skateboards as a kid in Japan, so I was happy to have such a very American toy.

But it wasn't a cool skateboard, not for a junior high school student, and especially not at a high school campus. The cool skateboards were much bigger and more expensive. They looked like mini surfboards, almost, made of flat, sturdy wood and lined with black strips of non-skid material. They were true status symbols.

I didn't care that my skateboard was smaller, something that should have been left behind with the other toys from elementary school days. As a runty eighth grader, I had already found acceptance among the other social misfits in the school's marching band. I didn't have to worry about anyone making fun of me for my cheap skateboard, not around the band room, at least. Hanging outside the band room with the other band geeks, during the mid morning snack break and at lunch, was always a safe haven.

Shawn was one of the other eighth graders in band. He played percussion, mostly bass drum which was funny because he was shorter and punier than me. He practically looked like a sixth grader with the giant coin of a bass drum strapped to him for halftime practices in the mornings.

During snack break one morning, Shawn asked to borrow my skateboard. He rode it up and down, short distances, past the band room and theater department, and back again to the gated entrance by the one of the side streets.

"I'm going to the snack bar to get something to eat," Shawn told me. "I'll be right back."

I panicked a little. "Leave the skateboard here. Don't take it with you!"

Shawn must have thought I was worried about not getting it back. "Don't worry! I'll bring it right back!" He rolled away, past the theater department and toward the main quad area in front of the gym.

I'm not sure why I ended up at the snack bar, too, a few minutes later. I almost never went, mostly because there was never enough extra money for a daily Hostess fruit pie or a bag of potato chips. I must have agreed to walk over with one of the other band geeks.

I saw Shawn waiting in line among a crowd of students, most of them taller than us. And most of them cooler than us, if only for the fact that they weren't in band. Some of them had the cooler, bigger wooden skateboards.

I'll never forget the look of embarrassment and slight fear in Shawn's eyes, behind his glasses. Without a word, he kicked the skateboard to me as I approached the snack bar lines. My face heated up with embarrassment as I picked up the salmon pink skateboard. This was exactly what I had wanted to avoid - having people see my stupid, baby toy among all of the more sophisticated skateboards.

Shawn never said a word about it to me later, back in the band room, or any time after that.

One of the reasons I remember this event is that I wrote about it in my journal. For some reason, I wrote that Shawn had run up to me later to apologize, and to thank me for taking on the embarrassment of the situation.

He never did that. But even in my own private journal I felt the need to tweak as much of a happy ending as possible for that entry. I guess I also felt the need to protect Shawn, even if I was upset with him.

This was more than thirty years ago. I am reconnected with Shawn on facebook, now. I have never brought this memory up to him. I'm sure he doesn't remember it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Die a Little Each Day

It took some effort for me to plod through all four of the 'Twilight' books, but I ended up being glad that I did. The last one was my favorite. I enjoyed Stephanie Meyer's descriptions of the vampires' diamond-hard bodies, and of the marble stone texture that their skin acquired once they had died to their former mortal selves.

I especially appreciated the special power that the main character, Bella, discovered in her new vampire identity - her unique ability to protect her loved ones within an invisible force field, a protective mantle. I thought the author was smart to give her cast of vampire characters different super hero powers, considering her target audience.

I have been trying to apply the same concepts to my own body, even if just figuratively, to have my own human weakness and vulnerability "die" as much as possible in exchange for a harder, stronger self.

I entertain this theory while jogging flat-footed in the Vibrams Five Finger gloves. I run gingerly on neighborhood sidewalks, trying to gently absorb the shock through my non-supportive shoes, focusing on the beating my calves are taking, and visualizing the transformation of rock hard strength that permeates to the rest of my body.

I try to overlap these fictional concepts with the more realistic idea of our bodies' cells completely regenerating every seven years. While jogging I focus on the idea of old cells dying and being carried away as newer, stronger cells replace and rebuild my organs, my bones, and my skin. Part of my motivation to exercise is to deliberately die to my weaker self.

I also try to apply these concepts to my emotional state. If I've been frustrated by a day at work, or if I am angry about old dysfunctional family issues (again), I use exercise as a time of healing, of "dying to my old self," and building a new self in its place, even if just at the cellular level.

That's such a Protestant Christian ideal, thanks to my upbringing. But as people are always saying, it's more on a spiritual level for me than a religious one.

It's the only way I know how to "let go" for now, to move beyond the past with baby steps at an amateur and elementary level. At this point in my life, I don't know if I will ever be able to let go of my grudges and anger before I die. I believe in forgiveness, but not in forgetting.

I'm better now than I was in decades past. I like myself better, now, and I am more at peace with myself. But I still want to put to death parts of my former self. I want to kill off the weakest and most pathetic parts of who I used to be. The challenge is in killing only the weak and bad aspects while still keeping the best of me alive, including childlike innocence and perhaps even naivete.

The good and bad are too intertwined though. The weakest facets of who I am are too intermingled with the few strong parts of me to be killed off separately, it seems. Fallible and vulnerable I remain, not invincible. Playing with these concepts only reinforces the truth of how very human I am.

For now, I will continue to attempt dying to my former self on a daily basis, even if it is a lifelong process. I will stay inside my plastic bubble and reinforce it from within, one layer at a time, perpetually strengthening my own protective mantle.

My bubble is not a coffin: it is a cocoon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

What I Did For Love

I did not get the Christmas caroling job. I am more disappointed than I want to admit, even to myself. I had really wanted this.

For the last month, a small part of me was still hoping that someone would have to drop out, and that I would be called in as a replacement.

And I've been "hiding from myself" because of my disappointment - part of the reason why I haven't been writing new posts for Plastic Bubble World lately . . .

My life is good. I have no real reason to complain about anything. If this is the worst my life gets, then I should just feel thankful - and I am.

I keep reminding myself to focus on the fact that I had a very good audition, good enough to have been invited to callbacks. Also, it's been over a year since I have been to an actual singing audition. It's foolish of me to think I can just automatically book the first gig I audition for, but that's what I had been counting on.

Next year. I'll try again next year, and I'll be better, more prepared.

I got to sing a couple of weeks ago at the annual Autumn Fest, a fund raiser for the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo. There are two reasons I enjoy this one night performance so much: I get to work with a small group of fun and amazingly talented theater friends, and I get to write new lyrics for familiar Broadway songs, lyrics to fit the evening's theme of the live auction.

I added another friend from the past on facebook. Dave was our Director/Choreographer for a production of 'A Chorus Line' that we did about a decade and a half ago. He posted a couple of pictures from the show on facebook. Our small, regional production is one of my most cherished memories of performing, so it's been encouraging to see these photos from the show's program again.

So I didn't get the caroling gig. So what? It just means I have to attend more auditions until I am in right place at the right time, again. I am ready to be in a show again.

I think.

It'll be exhausting when the right show and the right part comes along. The opportunities are out there, even at just community theater level, which would be fulfilling enough thanks to the day job. I can now afford to perform for fun. But I already know that I would be constantly exhausted, being at my desk job all day and at rehearsals all night, with fewer hours of sleep in between.

It'll be worth it - I know this from experience. There are pictures on facebook to prove it. I am ready and anxious to create more great memories.

(The photo above is from the recent Autumn Fest event in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, with a few good - and talented! - friends from East West Players)