“Serenity now, instanity later.”
Lloyd Braun, “Seinfeld”
I took a much-needed ride after work earlier this week. I’d run through the gauntlet of negativity and was taking it out on those I love. The frustrating thing about feeling that way is that I can’t always find the source of it. It takes some digging.
On the road again
There’s something incredibly freeing about getting out on the highway without a planned destination. This is coming from someone who likes to plan everything. The comforts and complacency you get when driving your car or truck are lost when you’re on your bike. I can give intellect a rest and let instinct take over. That’s incredibly liberating.
So I left downtown Corpus and took I-37 towards San Antonio. It’s a nice, smooth road with a few options where I can exit, explore and get back home.
Once upon a time, gum for a penny
I decided to take exit 47 at Swinney Switch. I had about two hours to ride and that’s a good hour out. So Barts Mart became the zenith of my trip.
When I was a kid, my mom would take us here to get gas and such before or after visiting her parents. We could get this little squares of gum, about the size of a Now and Later, for a penny. A penny! Even in 1989, that was a big deal. You can’t get jack squat for anything less than a quarter these days. (Damn, I sound old.)
Trash or treasure
Once, mom was getting gas and went inside to pay. I was a curious, hard-headed 6-year-old who found what I thought was a marker in the trash can by the gas pump. It had a clear case, was red, and had a twisting handle so you could get more if you ran out. Yep, it was lipstick.
I must have recently seen “Rambo” or something, because I thought it’d be cool to have my face painted. So, I ignored my brothers’ warnings to put it back in the trash and proceeded to draw all over my face with the lipstick. Then, I drew lines down my arms and legs. My brothers laughed at me and told me to look in the mirror.
Then mom came out to the car. I don’t remember getting a spanking, or anything else she said, but this one thing: “What if some fat, Mexican lady had used that?!?”
Scrubbing that shit off later on was beyond my ability, so mom did it. In her anger, she wasn’t gentle.
About that incredulous question
Some of you might find what my mom had said offensive or, at the very least, ignorant. But that was the kind of household in which I grew up. I could get away with saying insensitive words about other races or sexual orientations. But god forbid if I said, “Oh my god.” Perhaps mom was more concerned with us loving god, but not others.
Over the years I learned that there wasn’t anything inherently wrong, or infectious, about being fat, Mexican or a woman. The same can be applied to other body types, races and sexual orientations I was free to bash in my youth.
Now, I think it’s almost too easy for someone like me, a white, heterosexual male, to prop myself up among friends or certain family members by condemning the ignorance of racism and homophobia. What I mean is that, for most people, it’s almost automatic to use your actions and words to accept those different than yourself. It’s like saying, “I condemn murder. If you murder someone, you’re a dick.” No shit murder is wrong, Sherlock.
Explicitly condemning ignorance of this kind seems like going for low-hanging fruit. I’m not saying this kind of ignorance doesn’t exist, but I think it’s had to recede to the shadows. When I see or hear slurs, they’re in situations where the identity of the person using them isn’t immediately known (e.g. Internet forums, quiet whispers, graffiti in bathroom stalls). It’s not the same as rooting out ignorance by changing one’s beliefs and attitudes, but we’re moving in the right direction.
I believe I can combat it more effectively by overcoming the ignorance I was taught and by not passing it down to my children. We’re all just people trying to find some shred of happiness among the trash heap of life, after all.
I’ll get off the pulpit to talk about the gas station at the four-way stop in Swinney Switch. I like old gas stations like these. Independently owned. Bathrooms dubiously clean. Places to sit outside, right next to the entrance, and smoke a Marlboro. They’re unique and unpredictable. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t find the gum for a penny.
I took the rest of my route home, thinking about the difference between peace and joy.
For me, peace is when things are in order. Tasks have been done to my satisfaction. The trampoline has been assembled while strictly adhering to instructions. It’s quiet in the house. Ah, peace.
I believe I’m more logical than emotional and try to control my emotions. I have learned over the past year that my attempts at controlling my feelings are futile and leave me frustrated. Emotions don’t need a dictator, they need a guide to point them in the best direction.
Joy comes from the belly laughs I have when my kids and I are playing. Or when I sing at the top of my lungs when I don’t have music playing the truck. I feel joy even when I overcome my hang-ups and make small talk with someone I don’t know. It’s when I am happy and I don’t care about noise or seeming silly. YAY, JOY!
These are only working definitions. I’ll find myself pondering joy, serenity, ignorance again. It’s what I do.
Keep on going and going and going
I got home around 7:15 that evening, feeling great. My “batteries” are recharged. I think it’s what we all needed.
I am fortunate to experience a harmonious stream of serenity and joy while riding through the countryside. You ought to try it sometime.