I should wash the dishes every night at the end of a long, varied day. I am usually too tired to sit still for very long; I start to fall asleep when I do. But doing something physical produces just enough energy to keep me going (a fact to remember.)
In makes one quite philosophical, standing there methodically scrubbing a large stainless steel platter that cam from Ski Hill in 1977. A great many holiday means were served from that platter. There’s a snapshot of Jan about 10, holding a platter-full of roast turkey slices as my father selects a nice cut. She is laughing, her face scrunched up in what seems to be an expression of completely amusement and pleasure. My father is pulling an early version of the “Ernie Face,” as it is called here.
The Ernie Face consisted on an overly somber, somewhat heavy-lidded, look, such as you might find at a funeral. The corners of the mouth are pulled down to a ludicrous level, much deeper than an unhappy person normally would make. It is almost caricaturish. Only a child’s drawing of a sad person would have that kind of mouth twist. You can see it in the last photo that I have of my father, the group shots at Amy and Jamie’s wedding in 2005. We laughed in stupefaction when we saw the photos. “Oh my God!” said Jamie, “I can’t believe he wore that look at my wedding! He looks like he ran a mortuary, and was greeting guests at a ceremony.” “Oh, we have a name for it It’s the Ernie face,” we replied.
To which, the whole company burst into laughter.
We wondered f he was trying to be ironic – but at his son’s wedding? Ironic about what? Being invited? That Jamie was getting married at all, and was foolish enough to be so happy? Or had he gotten to a point where any happy celebration was enough for the Ernie Face?
Because he had pulled it at Jan’s wedding, as well. Ernie wore it for most of the ceremony, at least in the church. He didn’t even crack a smile for the kiss or the recessional – still just overly somber and reserved. Jake had been little, perhaps 2 or 3. Later, at the reception, as he sat on his Grandpa’s lap, he’d poured a whole plastic cup of soda into Ernie’s boot (yes, Ernie wore his snow boots into the hall, which was held at a lovely mansion up on 5 th Ave, a complete underdog’s thumb-in-the-eye) Jake later said he did this because he hadn’t liked the unhappy look on Grandpa Ernie’s face.
Anyway, that’s when we gave that look the title of “Ernie Face.” It has only become more entrenched every year. We wears it still, all the time. It’s just that now he cannot control whether he wears it or not. He has lost the ability to have emotions. All he has is the expression that he must have begun to slip into unconsciously, and ever more frequently.
Well, there it is, back on his face at Thanksgiving 1970. Ernie obviously meant it as a joke then, pulling a long face at what was obviously a happy occasion. Jan certainly knew it was a joke. I must have, as well, if it were I that was taking the photo.
I was a camera, myself. I took a snapshot of the event, 41 years ago, when America was still the King of the World, we were still in Vietnam and Nixon was still in the White House. My mother hadn’t had her breakdown, my father had the pharmacy, we still had the house and the entire family was together. I had roasted the turkey and prepared the side dishes (probably under my mother’s direction.)
I was 14, a freshman in high school. I was the girl in the photo.
And here I was, mechanically, meditatively, washing that big platter again, in the double-bowled stainless steel sink of om own home.
After Dragon Ball Z – a joke of a movie. The basic philosophy of it is still there – the tai chi and qi gong movements. In order to win, I must embrace both sides of me: the failure and the sinner. The depressed person and the happy one. The anger and the calm. The emotion and the tranquility – to combine them both is the poetry, the testimony, the snapshots that I carry within me and must produce now.
I realized tonight that Jack and I are just about to pass our prime technologically. There are going to be more *things* , and those things being developed faster, than we can follow or afford. We are going to become part of the old, passe generation, who sit in their homes listening to those old-fashioned forms of musical reproduction, the same way my grandparents did. They had the Victrola and a collection of beloved 78s. We will have CDs, and down in the basement, a 2000 disc collection of LPs.
Already there are essentials that I have little interest in. I pads? Fun but not necessary. Apps? No Ipad, no Iphone, not needed. A Iphone or a Droid would be useful, but are unaffordable and expensive to use. Twitter? Also interesting, but I have enough distractions already. My I pod is beloved, but each new iteration has more features I never use. My cell phone, also, is about as vanilla and uncomplicated as it gets. With a band, it could double as Dick Tracy’s wristphone.
It’s the sam, or worse, with jack. He can’t really get another Corporate IT job because he has dropped out of the learning market in new IT ideas. The concepts that slide into the Inbox every day here seem to redouble in numbers and development every 18 months. Yet some bright-eyed 20-year-old is able to keep up with all these developments, and be superior to Jack in every facet of new computer networking, security, and architecture. Jack doesn’t even care to read the magazines anymore, those eternal bed-sharers of the first ten years of our marriage at Regency Manor in the upstairs, and later the downstairs, bedroom. He’d much prefer reading the Harvard Classic before bed now, or just dropping off to an audio book.
We are becoming obsolete, and our earning capacity in this climate is very limited. We have no savings. We have no retirement account. We have no home equity. We have nothing but our aging bodies, our minds, and the unfinished house renovation we are sitting in. Oh, and easily $100,00 worth of debt. I am healing from severe physical blows – caused by what or whom, I am still discovering.
The country we live in is in the beginning of its senescence, as well. It was showing its frailty to the world last decade, when it made such obvious errors in Iraq and Afghanistan, mistakes that only enriched large corporations but did nothing for the American people but pander to and assuage their feelings – of fear and of wounded pride, of revenge and power. Financially, it was devastating.
Combined with the unregulated banks and financial markets – another sop to America’s fantasies of the desirability of great wealth – and the bubble inflation of the stock and housing market, which lured in the suckers only to fleece them – America’s middle class has pretty well been held up by the heels and had its pockets shaken out. Now it’s going to watch as its pensions and Social Security funds are also finagled away from them.
This greatest of all Long Cons coincides with the collapse of America’s towering respect among other nations. It was once the greatest, a Colossus – my life has coincided with all of that.Now it, too, has begun to realize, even if dimly, just what faces it. It may even be too late to win back the respect of the world – the Fall of Mubarak, and Obama’s muted, cautious reaction to it, has forever lowered it in the eyes of the world.
We will no longer be the leader of the World’s opinion. We will merely be another voice in a crowd, another precinct heard from – albeit one with the largest standing army and number of nuclear weapons in the world.Yes, though – they are both aging rapidly, and consuming still far too much of our wealth.
Is there still time for us? Do I have the strength and will to pull this off – to find my strength within myself by combining both the selves, the loser and the winner, the procrastinator and the achiever? This is the time, at this moment.