Sing – on shame, and dreams

When I was a child, my father played classical music records all the time. In fact he made a point of rushing into the house when Mom brought me home to put Beethoven on the stereo to make sure that was the first music I heard.

One day I was singing along to the music. I’d heard it all my life by that point, and I knew most of the works by heart. When he heard me sing, instead of being happy that his child shared an appreciation for his music, he shouted “Let the musicians play!”

I suspect he had no idea how damaging this was. It has been 40 years and I still remember how much shame I felt from hearing those words

The “musicians” weren’t live. He could pick up the needle on the record and play that piece again. He couldn’t replay the joy of hearing his child. I was live. They were recorded.

I think about his childhood, what would have made him do that.

I remember him telling me stories of how he would have to listen to his classical records in the closet. His parents thought that he was wasting his time. Perhaps they thought that he wasn’t being manly enough. I can remember he told me that he would secretly buy records.

Imagine being made to feel shame for buying and playing classical music, like it is the same as doing illegal drugs.

He wanted to be a conductor. He was taught that was not something to aim for. It wouldn’t support a family. It wasn’t practical.

He kept his love of classical music, but dropped his dream. He had a family and barely had enough money to support them.

I think we always hope that we aren’t going to be like our parents, but it is very hard. We try to remember all the things they did wrong and we resolve to not do them, but it is hard to undo our programming.

Especially when we don’t realize we’ve been programmed.

My father never did this work. He never dug down into himself, into his history. He never faced his fears and his brokenness. He was sad a lot. It was called depression, but that is just another name for sad.

He was sad because he wasn’t allowed to be himself. His parents were told the same story, and I suspect their parents were told the same.

The story was this – Don’t be yourself. Don’t be different. Fit in. Go for the safe route, the sure thing.

He didn’t remember them shaming him. So he shamed me for showing joy at something he loved. He was taught this. So then he did it to me.

To this day I cannot listen to classical music without crying.

Ring – getting hit on at the library.

I wear a wedding ring for a reason, but it doesn’t seem to mean much to some people.

I was at work yesterday and a patron came in who has been a regular for the past few months. He is in his mid 60s, weighs around 250 pounds, and gets only movies. He also reeks of alcohol. He smells so much of it that it is obvious that even if he isn’t drunk at that moment, he is drunk often enough that it is just part of his body chemistry now.

It was single digit weather, and he was wearing just a long sleeve shirt and overalls. He didn’t feel the cold, because the alcohol had numbed him.

He worked up the courage to ask me if he could see my hands. He said that he is a palm reader. Sure. Why not? So I gave him my hands and he decided that they said I had two children.

Nope, unless you count jewelry and writing. They are certainly creative outlets I have, and I put a lot of energy into them. But I don’t think that is what he meant. I already know that this is going to be weird from that start, but I let him continue. I’m curious by this point.

He goes on, with some vague things and nothing specific. I think if you want to know about somebody you’d be better off asking them than looking at lines in their palms, but it was making him happy. Meanwhile I’m breathing very shallowly because he smells so strongly of alcohol.

I let him do this because it afforded me a chance to see a different side of him. Sadly, I got to see more than I wanted. One day I’ll remember that being friendly is often seen as being a friend.

At the end he said that he’d wanted to read my palms ever since he met me, but just wasn’t brave enough. He mentioned that he was glad he finally did.

He left and then came back. His car wouldn’t start and he’d called a friend. He was going to wait in the library. I could tell that he wanted to talk more to me, but I didn’t want to talk to him. I have work to do, and I really wasn’t getting anything out of this interaction. Plus, again, the smell. I started getting books to check in and putting them up. This kept me from constantly being at the desk. He didn’t quite catch the clue so I suggested he go look for more things to check out while he waited for his friend.

He left again, and again came back. This time he said “I wonder if it would be too forward to ask you out to dinner sometime?”


I said my usual line for this “I think my husband would have a problem with that.”

Not to mention me. What would I get out of spending an hour or so with this man? He’s old enough to be my father. He’s an addict. He doesn’t even read. Totally not my type.

I can see why he’d want to be with me, but why would I want to be with him?

I study human nature, sure. There’s that. But I like going to the zoo, where the animals are in their cages and safely away from me. I don’t invite them in my home. I don’t go out on safari to find them either. So no, I’m not going out to dinner with him.

How could he not notice the ring? I wear only one ring. It is gold. It is plain. It is on the proper finger. There is no ambiguity about it.

He had my hands right in front of him and he still didn’t get it.

Or maybe he did and he just doesn’t care.

Things will be awkward between us for a while. He was embarrassed. That is obvious. But will he even remember? Who knows how much he can retain these days. He’s pretty pickled.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been hit on at the library. It is always by older men. Sometimes when I remind them that I’m married they say things like “That doesn’t matter in my crowd.” Uh, it matters to me. If I was into that, I wouldn’t have gotten married.

Some ask me out and they have just met me. They don’t even know my name. They don’t know anything about me other than I am female.

Do they go hunting with birdshot? The wide dispersal pattern has to hit something, right? If they ask everybody out, they’ll eventually get lucky.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking that I’m really glad to be out of that rat race.

It isn’t about finding just anybody. Most of it is being OK with yourself first. I want to ask these guys, would you date you? Really? If not, then work on that first. Get sober. Get healthy. Develop a hobby. Be interesting. Don’t be desperate.

Because women can smell desperate the same way they can smell the fact that you’ve been drinking yourself to sleep every night since your wife left.

And any woman who says “yes” to that isn’t worth having.

Crazy hair – on poverty.

You know those people that you can look at and tell they are poor? We have several of those in the library. Some seem one month away from homelessness.

There’s a new lady who has started coming in who this describes. I’m going to call her Tommie. She only gets videos, and they are for herself and her husband. She is short and wears leftover clothes and has hair that is wild and stringy. Recently she held out her hands and showed me her French manicure. This was her Christmas present. She was really excited about it.

I was a bit conflicted. It was beautiful work. It was the one beautiful thing she had done for herself. She would have done better if she had gotten her hair treated so it didn’t look so wild. Her hair is a white person’s equivalent of an afro. It isn’t as thick or as tall, but it is very wavy. It looks like she hasn’t put conditioner in it in ever.

Of course, she doesn’t have to. There is nothing saying that people have to manage their hair, exactly the same as people don’t have to wear makeup or shave. But if they don’t do these things, they will get judged as different or as dirty. I understand this all too well. I don’t wear makeup or shave my legs, and I understand the social lines I’m crossing when I do it.

One of my coworkers thinks she and the friend who drives her to the library are both dirty. I don’t think they are. I’ve never noticed a smell coming from them. We have plenty of patrons who smell very badly. Sometimes the smell is best described as a blend of cheap cigarettes, the sweat that comes from lack of showering and a diet of convenience store foods, and ferrets. They too get only DVDs, and the cases come back reeking of this poisonous cocktail.

Then again there are people who are aware of how they smell and they try to cover it up with perfume that is very strong. As much as I dislike strong body odor, I prefer it to the perfume because it doesn’t set off my asthma.

Back to Tommie. I can only imagine what it was like for the tech who did her nails. That is literally hands-on work. Our counters are pretty deep, so we don’t have to touch anybody. We also generally don’t have to deal with them for long. Doing someone’s nails is another thing entirely. Maybe the tech doesn’t even think about this. She does this all day long. This is her normal. But for me to have to hold someone’s hands while working with them would be really strange.

Don’t get me wrong – Tommie is a nice person. Simple, but nice. I just can’t imagine spending a lot of time in close proximity with her.

It was also weird because getting your nails done is a very girly act, and there is nothing girly about Tommie. Sure, she is female. But she doesn’t seem to care about it at all. Maybe I’ll see her in a different light once winter is over and she stops wearing that immense grey puffy jacket. Maybe she will wear something pretty and colorful. I doubt it.

She reminds me a lot of a friend I had in high school. I’ve talked about her before. That friend who I was assigned to for her good, not mine. That friend who had no friends. Perhaps that is why I notice her, and why I’m curious/concerned about her.

I had suggested that she ease up on the constant diet of movies and she assured me that she soon was going to get books because she needed to study for her GED. I wasn’t surprised. This just seems to be such a cliché all around. If you want to stay poor, drop out of school and watch a lot of movies.