Monday, December 12, 2011

Zen and the Art of the After School Special

Hello Everyone!
My name is Spike and when I'm not walking around feeling totally irritated with my fellow human beings and/or being held (sort of gleefully) captive by running snarky commentary in my head about say, how the American Apparel model type in front of me in yoga class apparently forgot to wear underpants beneath her sheer stretchy pants (Wait til you're 47 honey, then let's get a look at that ass without a foundation garment!) I actually, believe it or not, LOVE BEING NICE TO PEOPLE! 

I love it. I really do. 

I'm not going to spend a hell of a lot of time here today going over one of the big things I learned in Emo Chemo (my name for therapy). Let's just say that someone smarter than me pointed out what appears to be a pretty clearcut pattern on the part of yours truly to swing, sometimes wildly, between good girl and bad. Could it be the heaven and hell model in which I was raised? Oh sure, why not, if I can still get away with blaming my parents, sign me up. Or let's point our finger at the media for hyperbolic hero/villain breakdowns of everything. Or hey, how about fucking Santa Claus with all that Have you been naughty or nice? bullshit? What, Santa? No gray area in which I wasn't naughty enough to merit a spot on Middle Age Bitches Gone Wild nor nice enough to pass full-stocking muster? Can't I have one goddamn day (or week or month or year or decade) where what I do doesn't get judged?

Anyway, so being nice, yeah, it's the nice antidote/counterpose to my love affair with sarcasm.
Por ejemplo:

The other day, I ran into my friend Alyssa at Cherrywood Coffee. Not a surprise-- we live blocks from each other and blocks from the cafe. Nor was it a surprise that Alyssa looked beautiful. She always looks beautiful. But on this particular day, instead of keeping my secret admirer observations to myself, I decided to enthusiastically let her know just how beautiful she looked. How did I do that? I said, "WOW ALYSSA YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL!" just like that. And when we leaned in for a hug, I noticed she also smelled beautiful (also not a surprise-- Alyssa's first book is about to come out and it's all about scents). So I said, "WOW ALYSSA! YOU SMELL DELICIOUS!!" And then me, being me, I invited her to come over to my house and make out with me, which Warren might applaud but I'm thinking maybe Alyssa wasn't so interested in and likely, too, her husband might not get behind (which isn't to say he isn't liberal or generous, but probably just, you know monogamous).

Alyssa lit up even more than her already glowy self when I told her how cheering her loveliness was to my eyes and nose. And when she lit up, I kinda lit up, too, and it reminded me of something I think I sometimes forget: Saying nice stuff to people can actually feel as good as ripping someone a new asshole! Cool! I know I know this, but damn, I do forget it sometimes so it's really nice to be revisited by the concept. Because E=each time I recover from my ongoing amnesia-regarding-the-saying-of-nice-things, a couple of things pop into my head. They are:

Your hat is so beautiful! 
No, no, YOUR hat is so beautiful!

Number One: Yeah, I guess I kind of am the crazy lady that will walk up to you, a complete stranger, and ask if I can touch your beautiful fuzzy hat, or pet your beautiful fuzzy dog, or admire your beautiful fuzzy haired baby. I like to think I have good boundaries around this-- offering a balled hand to be sniffed, a gentle hello for the kids, a non-lingering caress of the hat. Maybe some other people (Warren? Henry?) think I'm borderline nuts and possibly freaking out these people/pets/babies simply by approaching them at all. But I swear I just try to get in and get out with the niceties UNLESS, say, the clerk with whom I am discussing the benefits of buying slow cook steel cut oats in bulk vs. overly packaged quick oats wants to segue off and talk about how his grandmother, before she died in a freak Arizona snowstorm in July, used to always make him slow cook oats softened with possum milk. Then, okay, I will either a) cheerfully stick around for the extended dance mix conversation or b) stick around for the conversation and fake cheerfulness because even if I'm bored out of my skull, I can tell the clerk is feeling all warm and mushy inside (not unlike the oatmeal at the heart of the discussion) and so that's a good thing. Plus, you know, I started it, right?


Number Two: Episode 6, Season 5 of the ABC After School Special, titled Very Good Friends and starring Melissa Sue Anderson, she of Little House fame. (While I admit that this episode got stuck in my head from the moment I first saw it in April, 1977, IMDB did just lend a major assist for me in tracking down the exact episode, title and date because you know what? I'm not THAT big of a freak.) In the episode, Melissa Sue's character (described in IMDB as "a sensitive young girl") has to come to terms with the death of her little sister who, as I recall (freakishly, yes) dies when she falls out of her treehouse and breaks her neck. The moral of the story is not, as you might guess, to be careful climbing out of your treehouse.

Instead, we discover that the dead girl had a super cheerful demeanor and a self-imposed rule by which she always remembered to find something lovely about everyone she met, and to give voice to that loveliness, to let the other person know know! So when she looks at a rather plain looking neighbor and sees not her plainness, but instead a certain spark that reminds her of... get ready for it... Elizabeth Taylor! (Remember, this was '77), she says, "YOU REMIND ME OF ELIZABETH TAYLOR!" and the woman totally lights up. On the one hand, we-- the young and easily influenced home viewer avoiding pre-algebra homework to watch the program-- are now doubly horrified that this super sweet child was so rudely robbed of a future by an evil treehouse ladder. On the other hand, trauma often makes for more indelible memories than joy, so fueled by our horror, some of us-- by applause how many of you also remember this episode?-- clung to that moral and carried it with us.

Which is to say, yeah, I can't ever just compliment someone now. I have to then immediately think of that After School Special episode, the single thing that most inspired me to be grow up and become the scary lady behind you in line who no, does not want to tuck your tag in but, yes, wants to say, "Gosh, you remind me of a young Peter Frampton, sonny! Do you know who that is? Want me to show you on my smartphone?!"

I'm so grateful to Alyssa for showing up just when she did. I was having a kind of crappy day before then. But afterwards I felt much better thanks to our big happy energy swap. And even now I'm getting a nice residual boost as I discover that somebody or somebodies actually went to the trouble to list every single After School Special at IMDB, along with synopses like these:

Season 4, Episode 6: Blind Sunday

Original Air Date—21 April 1976
In an effort to understand his blind girlfriend, a teenage boy decides to spend an entire Sunday blindfolded.

Season 6, Episode 4: It Isn't Easy Being a Teenage Millionaire

Original Air Date—8 March 1978
14-year-old wins the lottery and thinks all her problems are over. But she quickly learns that her real problems are just beginning.

Season 8, Episode 5: The Heartbreak Winner

Original Air Date—13 February 1980
Teenage figure skater learns to true value of winning when she meets a paraplegic youngster.

Season 11, Episode 3: A Very Delicate Matter

Original Air Date—10 November 1982
Teenage girl is shocked when a former boyfriend tells her he has gonorrhea. Not only does she get tested, she must tell her current boyfriend to get tested as well.

I think I might just stop reading all the bad news in NYT and from now on only ever read After School Special descriptions. Damn I loved that show. I wish I could run into it at a coffeehouse and say, "After School Special, you STILL look hot 35 years later!"

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