Balls are dropping, and I don’t mean geezerly Larry King’s.
There’s also a sparkly one in Times Square that’s making a slow descent. People are drinking jaw-dropping amounts of alcohol and wearing pointy hats and acting as though hands moving on a clock can signify change, all of which sounds like my last birthday party, to tell you the truth.
However: Yawn. End of a year. Start of a new one.
To mark the passage of time, everyone’s putting out Top Ten lists, attempting to prove something actually happened besides that Brittany Murphy not eating enough and causing her ticker to seize up while it made a wheezing noise that sounded suspiciously like “haaaammmbburrrger…for the love of Fuddruckers, give me a haaaaammmbburrrger.”
There are “Top Ten Movies of the Year,” “Top Ten Books of the Year,” “Top Ten Most Interesting People of the Year,” and, in my world, “Top Ten Things of 2009 That Had the Potential to Hit a 10/10 but Failed Just Enough to Rate an Average.”
Here, then, is my list of stuff that was fine in 2009 but, with the addition of a little slap and tickle, could have been better:
1) Farrah Fawcett’s last visit with her son, Redman O’Neal, should have been a moving moment of good-byes and mother-son tenderness. It coulda been a 10/10 heartwringer. However, Mom was in a lot of pain, distracted by imminent death and the sounds of her bodily organs shutting down. It could have been a 10, but -3 for Ryan not bringing some of his heroin from jail to that visit. Have some compassion, you felon, and give a motha one last high;
2) The Lost City of Z by David Grann has been getting attention as an amazing thriller and tale of adventure–one of the top ten books of the year. I was, hence, pretty jazzed to read it, as I’m nothing if not a complete whore for a rousing “ooh, this doesn’t bode well” exploration book (although my preferred sub-genre is polar expeditions that result in cannibalism). Completely ready to toss a 10/10 at Gann’s story of British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett’s passionate attempts to find the mythical Lost City of Z in the Amazon rainforest–and feeling quite upbeat, from the first mention of under-skin maggots, about its ability to score a top rating–I felt bereft when, midway through, the story started spinning its wheels like a jeep beached on a muddy rut in the middle of the rainy season. Fawcett, like so many of his ilk, is monomaniacal, egotistical, and thoughtless. After about the third time he plunges into the forest with nothing but scorn for his suffering compatriots, leaving his wife and kids back in England, penniless, I began thinking, “Listen, Percy. I work in academia. I know your type. The technical term for you ‘uns, in the Latin, is Jerkis Buttwipeus.” Further plaguing the book is the fact that the author, David Grann, attempts to weave his own HIGH-larious foibles in the Amazon into the story of Fawcett in several “look at what a modern doofus I am” chapters, and before I knew it… -3 for a faux-journalistic book in which the author attempts to cast himself as a character and in which the characters themselves need significantly more maggots coming out their nostrils to hold my interest;
3) I also have to issue a loud “Feh” for 2009 in regards to light movies whose purpose was sheer escapism. You know the movies I mean: their only redemption is that they make us laugh and forget the reek of our armpits and the stack of dishes on the kitchen counter. Historical examples of 10/10 “good dumb” movies would be Elf and Legally Blonde. After such movies, viewers want to yell at the screen, “Thank you, silly movie, for taking me to a different place without actually making me think or care. That was a damn relief, compared to everyday life!!!” However, recent dumb movies are failing to amuse me even one “I hardly remember I have papers to grade” whit. Tropic of Thunder (watched after its DVD release) was the most egregious disappointment, with its arrested-juvenile/male/violence-as-the-basis-for-all-humor story, but The Hangover and even the promising 500 Days of Summer also left me with a feeling I rarely get, one called “I’m smarter than this shit.” -3 for Tom Cruise’s lame cameo in Tropic being ballyhooed as a comedic revelation.
4) Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour ended up dramatically disappointing fans. Seriously, I got to the venue, and the place was dark and empty, which kind of put a damper on the show, at least until I started amusing myself by krumping to the beat of the silence. -3, This Is It tour, for poor t-shirt sales;
5) Sadly, I have to award a shrug of the shoulders to a certain pair of jeans that I purchased excitedly in 2009. You see, in making them, Manufacturing Company used a highly-sophisticated and sought-after stretch denim which, in turn, allowed me to purchase a size smaller than usual–a fact that, because I am a lush female with shaky self-esteem, makes the case for 10/10:
Added bonus points (+2) for fun zippers and nifty accessorizing belt. Woefully, -5 for the fact that whenever I wear them, no matter how upright my posture and unflinching my eye contact, no matter how much I whizz the zippers and flick my fingers against the belt studs, I still look like I bought jeans a size too small;
6) Much of 2009 was devoted to remodeling our kitchen; the project was carried out by 10/10 talents who turned a dated box of a room into a warm and welcoming heart of the home. As we use the room, though, we can’t ignore the fact that it’s as high as it is wide, which means I spend a fair amount of my day on the step stool, craning for the kettle corn and cashews. It is, quite simply, a tall room. And even though I’m 5′ 7″ and not afraid to jump, height and audacity are no way to get a bowl of soup into a microwave located six feet up. Here’s my view when I warm up curried squash:
+2 for the slick stainless steel exterior; but -2 because my shrimpy kids, even standing on each other’s shoulders, can’t microwave me a hot toddy, and -3 for having to get on my tippy toes just to tap the “popcorn” button.
7) How fitting that #7 on the list is a 7/10! Ours is a game-playing family, and generally I delight in the shelves and shelves of board games that cover the paint peeling off the walls. Anytime I go to a new place or store (read: The Bookies in Denver!), I grab a handful of new games, pay shipping costs to get them to the frozen tundra of Minnesota, and eagerly anticipate ripping into them. Such was the case with the 10 DAYS in the USA game:
In the abstract, this game should perfectly satisfy my social studies-oriented/travel-loving nine-year-old Girl. The object of the game is to be the first to cobble together a trip from one coast of Our Fair Republic to the other, using train, car, airplane, and foot travel. Girl likes it fine, but since she doesn’t sleep with the box under her pillow, and since there are no mule trains to get a player across the arid Southwest, -3.
8) Although Missouri is one of the places Where They Keep The Humidity, it does offer up a great many 10/10 experiences, such as The City Museum in St. Louis. A +1 bonus goes to the humidity, in fact, for the verdant foliage it creates across much of the state: trees and bushes so high and thick that a Northernish, boreal-based family quivers at the prospect of camping amongst their complexity. +2 for the family having packed both a tent and a knobbly blue ball. +7 for discovering a relatively-secluded state park, empty of drunken riff-raff (outside ourselves).
-5 for the unforeseen presence of garbage trucks emptying dumpsters mere yards from our tent at 6 a.m. -5 more for the fact that the night before the garbage trucks came, I’d done this thing I do when we’re car camping, a habit loosely titled “Jocelyn Is a Night Owl and So, When the Rest of the Family Goes to Sleep at a Reasonable Hour, She Sits in the Mini-Van and Reads for Hours with Her Headlamp Because, Friends, That’s What She Calls ‘Getting Back to Nature’.” On the night in question, I’d been reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and, even though I was really tired by about 1:30 a.m., I was at the part where I found out about–spoiler alert!–the serial killer guy, and he had The Girl and her dragon tattoo caught his basement dungeon, and I was all creeped out and couldn’t even exit the mini-van to pee, which I really needed to do, much less to climb into the tent with my sleeping family, even though I was a tidge hysterical about the fact that they were ripe for serial killing themselves, laying there defenselessly in their bags, all soft and snoring, and I also was certain that the flashing light I kept getting blinded by was the serial killer coming down the road with his axe, even though I realized sheepishly each time it happened that it was just the reflection of my headlamp in the side-view mirror and not an axe blade, and so, well, ultimately I just had to keep reading because I couldn’t move and was maybe crying a little and shrieking inside, and then the book finally ended, and I decided I would just want to be slaughtered with my family if that was what it was coming down to, so I climbed out of the mini-van, peed near a particularly verdant clump of trees, didn’t die one tiny bit, and then was woken up 3.5 hours later by those damn garbage trucks which, mercifully, weren’t taking our corpses out of the dumpsters and so, em, I think you can see why camping in Missouri is only a 7/10 at best.
9) Some people’s vision is 20/20, which can be reduced to 10/10, but my whack vision is more of a 7/10 with reduction and correction. 2009 marked the year I made the leap to bifocals, a process that wasn’t all that sobering, seeing as I was put in bifocals first at the age of 7, back when people had party lines and held their babies on their laps when they drove to California. Indeed, I greeted bifocals as welcome, especially if they made it easier for me to read by my headlamp during camping trips. At home, where everything is stainless steel and full of games and studded belts, I generally use an Itty Bitty Book Light clamped to the tome of choice, all the better to illuminate so-so stories of British explorers with, my dears.
BUT. This time around, in adulthood, I have found bifocals a bit difficult to adjust to, often causing bouts of vertigo when I’m out for my Walkies, little episodes of “Whoa, John Boy, where’s Mary Ellen gotten off to?” wherein I feel like the earth is surging and receding beneath my feet. For several months, I became convinced I was having blood sugar issues and was taking after my dad and grandma who developed Type II Diabetes late in life. “If only I could eat a banana,” I’d muse, “I’m sure I could find Mary Ellen.”
Then I realized my blood sugar only seemed to dip when I would look downwards while out for a walk and that I was Type II Diabetes-free when looking straight ahead or even when looking up really high into the microwave. Effing bifocals and their insidious mind games.
Compounding the mock diabetes has been the “not great, just fine”-ness of the Itty Bitty Book Light, which makes my already-strained vision work harder than it wants to.
With the ho-hum Itty Bitty Book Light in hand, I’d never find that damn Mary Ellen. Then, what’s more, the bulbs on the Itty Bitty started blowing out with regularity, which meant I kept having to walk to the hardware store to buy a replacement, and sometimes it would take me a few days to find the time to make the vertigo-imbued walk, which then meant I had no book light for a couple of days, and so I’d have to read at night next to my prone husband using my headlamp, and can you say “Serial killer flashback?”
So -6 for bifocals that make me woozy and for crappily-made book lights that lead to flashbacks, but +3 for my recent willingness to toss the Itty Bitty and replace it with the triple LED Mighty Bright, a clip-on book lamp so intense that, when I turn it on, my sleeping husband dreams that UFO’s are landing outside our house.
10) Finally, the potential of my student, Tiffany, whom many of you met in a previous vlog, isn’t lighting a fire in me. To tell you true, despite Fear of Wrinkles, Tiffany is actually a good-hearted, motivated student, and I think we all know she has glorious hair–so her future should be a 10/10. When I was able to steer her away from topics on religion (what with her being a curious combination of charismatic, apostolic, and fundamentalist) and politics (she refers to Obama as “the anti-hope,” a position I’d certainly allow her to defend, but when pressed as to why she holds this sentiment, her response is a rather drawn-out, “Ummmm…because….he’s….ummmm??”), Tiffany wrote some solid essays. That noted, I do have to give her future a -3 when I take into account this chortle-inducing admission on her final exam: “Working the cash register at Subway is the most stressful job in the world because I was taught wrong in first grade or something and so I can’t tell the difference between nickels and dimes.”
There you have it: the best “coulda been betters” of 2009. I’m actually grateful that so much was so very just all right. In contrast to the 7/10’s, the periodic 10/10 experience stands out in stark relief.
Without 7/10’s populating my days, I wouldn’t be so aware of how excellent Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn is; I wouldn’t marvel at how outstanding my husband’s Thai curry is; I wouldn’t take thirty seconds each time I use our new bathroom to stare at the gorgeous black-and-white hex tile flooring.
Perhaps most importantly, if I weren’t surrounded by “average,” I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the undeniable quality of the people who populate my life:
friends like Colleen, who sent me an amazing boxed set of 1970’s punk for Christmas;
family like my sister-in-law Erin and new brother-in-law Ben, who walked, just the two of them, out into a field on the Solstice and held their own personal wedding;
readers like all of you, who leave comments that heal something in me that was ripped open in junior high.
Thus, as the balls descend (this time I do mean Larry King’s), I am thankful to all the 7’s,
for without them, I’d live year after year, decade after decade,
blind to the 10’s.