The Fiery One Has Gone, Little Boxes, And Malvena

The Fiery One left on a work trip this morning at around 6:00 am. I always want our last evening together to be all cuddly and just us and full of quality and I-love-yous and nooky, but it rarely ends up that way. Take last night, for instance. There were four major impediments to abounding sweetness. I came home, tidied a bit, and excitedly awaited his return from work so we could do all that sweet stuff. I even called him about a half-hour before he was supposed to be home from work, because I was just that excited to talk to him as much as I could before he left for his work trip. Here is where the first impediment struck. He informed me that there was a bunch of work he still had to get done before the trip, so he would have to stay there for another hour. This was not surprising, because this often happens before he leaves town, but it was compounded by impediment number two: the fact that we were going to P's birthday supper at 8:00 pm (Friday's significant other). I had nothing against going to P's birthday supper (except for an issue that I will outline later), and I am glad we went, but the Fiery One only had a few waking hours left to be loved sufficiently. After supper, would you believe that the Fiery One and I fully intended execute the third great impediment to one sweet evening? We were going to do our taxes. We did intend to. It is ridiculous, I know, to leave doing taxes until the last possible minute before he is going away for over a week, but we did, because we are both great procrastinators. I, of course, had not bothered to try to locate the pertinent forms, and we were unable to even start on them, but at that point, I no longer cared about taxes or the government or late penalties or whatever. It was late, I was tired, and I was suffering psychosomatic symptoms of the strep throat that Friday and P brought to supper. Enter the fourth major impediment. I got my period on Monday. Since then, I have been constipated, bloated, neurotic, and depressed, and last night none of these things lent themselves to my feeling sexy or desirous. In fact, I had not been feeling sexy or desirous all this week. Poor Fiery One. He was running around trying desperately to find a carry-on bag that would accommodate both his personal reading materials and the massive work trip binder that he had been given, occasionally bursting out with shit and bloody bastards and fucking idiots, and I was sitting in bed with my Toby Young book feeling quite pathetic and farting. We had a lovely evening, really. We love each other enough to overlook evenings such as this, thank the powers that be, but boy, does he deserve some honest-to-goodness sweetness when he gets back.

I guess I should mention P's birthday dinner so that Friday doesn't wonder what I mean by issue. It was P's birthday, but I knew from past experience that the Fiery One would be the man of the hour again. Friday's parents love the Fiery One and seem to find him infinitely fascinating, and so I knew that he would be showered with attention while P quietly ate his saag paneer. This made me vaguely uncomfortable, like somehow I'm a party to this exclusion by being tied to the Fiery One. I made sure to wish P a happy birthday not once, not twice, but three times in an effort to compensate for our presence last night. I don't how much P is affected by stuff like this, and I might be overcompensating here, but Happy Birthday, P! Despite this vague discomfort I experienced, I did truly enjoy the meal and the picture-taking and the discussion of disgusting ailments I had with Friday. There's nothing like sharing the story of the time you woke up with a strep infection that manifested itself as many open, weeping sores all over your face over butter chicken.

There is a song from the 1960s that has followed me in my thoughts for years. It is a fixture now, and it usually pops up when I am feeling stressed about my direction in life. The song is "Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds (I found out recently that the name "Malvina" is part of a joke in my family, but I will get to that later). The melody can be found here (but ignore the stupid alternate lyrics). The original lyrics are:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there's doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

- Words and music by Malvina Reynolds. Copyright 1962, Schroder Music Company

Pete Seger did a version of this song on his album "We Shall Overcome", which was originally released in 1963, but Malvina's folksy rendition is closest to my heart. It makes me think about choices and why we make them and how I got here and what I am choosing to get there. In some way, it reminds to remember who I am aside from what I perceive is expected from me.
My uncle Puck's son was having his fourth birthday party one year, and because my aunt is in medicine, most of the other kids at the party had at least one parent who was a doctor. All the kids were in the basement playing some variation of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and my mother and I were watching from the bottom of the stairs. The first thing my mother noted was that all the children were blonde and blue-eyed. Indeed, it looked like an idyllic version of Hitler's Lebensborn in that basement. She grinned at them all broadly. Then she turned to me and said in an embarrassingly loud stage whisper, "all of these children's parents are doctors". She smiled at me and around the room with this look of approval. These children were impressive to her simply because of the conditions that they were born into.
It was at that moment that I realized the level of class-consciousness that I had been raised with. It was always stressed that I should look and act "classy" and that my friends should at least appear to be of a certain class. One evening, my mother sat me down to have a talk just before I left the house to meet some of my friends for coffee. I think I must have been seventeen or eighteen years old. The gist of the conversation was that my mother thought I should reconsider whether or not I wanted to continue seeing the friends I had at all, because they reflected poorly on my character and would do nothing but limit my ability to excel. (That was over a decade ago, and I still have those same friends). There were many occasions when my parents would buy a product and talk up the fact that it was "the best" or "the top of the line" to our family, their friends, and me. I remember this with a particular stereo that they purchased. The brand name plate fell off on the first day. They pasted it back on with glue and continued to tell me that it paid to always get "the best". At the time, it annoyed me. Now I see it as kind of sad.
Needless to say, I never responded well to this kind of pressure. It never suited me or made sense to work to appear to be of a certain class that we already belonged to. I'm not sure why my parents and my mother's family have this obsession with class and proving their right to their position there, but being continually confronted with it throughout my childhood has given me my own set of insecurities about social worth and acceptability to deal with. It is a struggle sometimes for me to remember that I have wants and needs that are more important than what I think I should be doing, and "Little Boxes" reminds me to sort that out and get over it. Malvena Reynolds, you rock my little leftist world.

Okay, here's my family story about the name Malvena. When my dad's mother (I think of her that way because she died before my father was married) and her siblings were in school, the school wanted full records for each of the students, and these records included middle names. My grandmother and her siblings had never been given middle names, so my grandmother decided that they should all choose ridiculous middle names for themselves. The only place my grandmother and great aunts and uncles had middle names was with the Saskatchewan school board, and she chose the name Malvena. It would be great to be able to go back and choose something huge and silly like Persephone or Althena-of-the-Waning-Moon. What middle name would you choose given the chance?

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