It's Easter Sunday today, and while it may not have the self-reflective quality that say, Christmas, or the first day of school does, it's still a day to look back. When I was a kid, we often went to Massachusetts on Easter weekend, to see my grandparents who lived in North Reading, just north of Boston, in a small Cape Cod house at No. 29 Eames Street. My sisters and I loved the house because of how it smelled, but more so because we loved seeing our grandparents. They were funny and affectionate.
On Easter Sunday in North Reading, we'd get gift baskets from Grammie, filled with plastic, opalescent grass, a chocolate bunny, and candy you could only buy in the States. We'd then hunt throughout the living room for jelly beans that she and my mother would have hidden in the room, before eating ham for dinner, in the small kitchen with the red and black linoleum floor. After dinner, we'd watch The Wizard of Oz on TV, which was shown every year at Easter on CBS. The moment when black and white Dorothy opens her front door to a full-colour Oz blew my mind every time I saw it. It still does. And those flowers, the blue sky and the very beginning of the yellow brick road still feel like Easter to me, no matter how old I get.
So I think that new ROM logo is a big fat disappointment. There, I said it. And yes, I feel better. I don't know what were they thinking. Those letter forms are mere days old and they already feel dated, not airy and chance-taking like the new crystal did when it was built. This logo is heavy; it's safe without the ageless sensibility of something that is purely functional. It's like the black wedgy shoes with the laces on the side that the matronly Grade 6 teacher, Miss Mather wore at my public school in 1984.
And then there's the purple. Come on. According to the article I read, the ROM wanted a colour associated with things that are precious and rare. There are a dozen more successful purples they could have selected for this purpose. Something deeper, darker, edgier; something with depth; more mysterious and gauzy; maybe leaning toward a plum, or a claret. The list could go on. Instead, the flat colour they chose feels a bit thin and common, like the bedroom walls of an artsy teen girl. An American design firm created this identity. I do believe a Canadian group would have been better equipped to specify a more appropriate colour choice here.
Like thousands of 10-year-old kids, I went to the ROM on school trips. It felt so special to ride two hours on a bus to Toronto, and then to enter in the group door off of Queen's Park, to where all of those big coat racks were for kids, and where we'd get our little tin badges with the logo to wear. Walking toward the exhibitions, the first piece we'd always see would be the base of that giant totem pole placed beside the large interior stair. It was familiar and special and for such a public place, very personal to me. This was big city life to a 10-year-old from London, Ontario. I guess that's why it's hard to see an interpretation so off the mark from what I believe about this place. I guess I should start looking for positions on advisory boards of everywhere I ever took a field trip.
I used to collect children's books, that is before I became a chronic disposer anyway. I loved the big hard cover ones and I still have most of them. The first really good kid's book I ever bought was Animalia written and illustrated by Graeme Base. It's fantastic. Each page features a respective letter of the alphabet and is illustrated in this crazy maximalist style, and packed with objects and beings that begin with the respective feature letter. Check out the C page pictured above. Crafty Crimson Cats carefully catching Crusty Crayfish are surrounded by a castle, chalet, calculator, clock, cork, chair, cauldron, cactus. You get it. It's pretty dreamy.
The book was released in 1987 and the author, an Australian, released a contest along with it. Whoever could go through the entire book and list every single item that he had painted into its illustrations would win $10,000 and a trip to Australia. At 14, I loved lists almost as much as the chance to prove myself, so I began to scan the book while reading the dictionary. Every time I got came across a word I didn't know, I'd search the respective picture for any indication of the word and then write it on the list. It's how I learned the word 'akimbo', which is how the tiny Australian Aborigine, hand on hip, is standing at the bottom of the A page, pictured below. To this day, when I hear the word, I picture that little guy.
I made it through A and much of B, but that C page sure was daunting. (Hello, look at it - a double-page spread!) I left my list unfinished, so didn't bother writing the author. I also never found out who won the contest after all. I always pictured him to be some young, quirky kid, spending his Sunday afternoons at home in the basement, reading the dictionary.
40 used to seem old to me. It looked old to me. My own parents had me when they were 41 and 40. I came along in 1972 to a family of five, already established as a couple and three girls approaching teenhood. I didn’t know Mom and Dad were older than other parents until I started going to school and seeing what most kids’ parents looked like. The moms that came to pick up their kids at Brick Street Public School were often blonde. They had bobbed hair that moved when they did. They wore denim, one-piece jumpsuits with cream coloured turtlenecks and big fat shoes that were ready to run when they needed them to. They had names like Linda and Brenda.
My own mother’s hair didn’t move so much. It was permed to be curly and it was grey. Mom worked at Price Waterhouse as a secretary so she wore skirts with matching jackets, and shoes with thin heels that weren’t conducive to running. Her name is Elaine.
Other dads were different too. They were often tan. They wore t-shirts and Adidas jackets with stripes on the sleeves. Some wore gold chains or big rings. They moved fast and spoke in loud voices. Some had beards. My own Dad, Jim, was gentle. He spoke mildly and slowly. He didn’t like jeans so much, opting instead for grey or khaki slacks with a shirt that would button up the front. Dad was approaching 50 when most of my friends’ fathers were likely coming up to their mid-thirties.
I couldn’t believe it when Gina Nagy – the five-foot tall eight-year-old – told me in Grade 3 that her parents slept naked in their bed. They sounded like wild people to me. I’d picture their bedroom messy, with dirty crumpled white sheets on the bed and ashtrays on the side tables. I met them once. They drove a big blue Lincoln. They were tall and spoke with accents. I knew they slept naked. I hated that I knew that.
And Michael Brock's mother was the local Beaver leader. We called her Akela, but her name was Diane. She wore track suits and was always out running in the neighbourhood. She was "active". At Michael's birthday parties, Akela would play a game with us called Poor Pussy. She’d sit on the floor in the middle of the room and one by one, each kid there would have to go sit with her and stare into her eyes without turning away or laughing, this while she stroked your face and repeated the words "poooooor pussy" over and over again. It was humiliating, but at least she baked money into the cake.
My own parents didn’t play games on the floor with us. We played cards at the table sometimes – crazy eights maybe, or cribbage. They slept in pajamas like my sisters and I did and on Sundays we went to church before coming home to eat molasses poured on crusty bread from the Italian bakery downtown. They taught my sisters and me to be polite and to speak to strangers with kindness. They loved me and they told me so every day.
I am finally older now than my mother was when she gave birth to me and almost as old as my father was, and my 40 feels different than I perceived theirs to be. I never pictured that I’d live in Toronto. I never thought that I wouldn't own a car by now, or that I wouldn't be a dad. I didn't know that I wouldn't have traveled as much by now as I would have wanted, or that I'd have stopped drinking coffee because of the effect that caffeine has on my nervous system. With a slowly balding pate, a greying beard and one root canal behind me, this is what my 40 looks like, what it feels like; a conspiracy led by my body and denied by my heart.
I was a real pack rat as a kid. I kept everything. I was the youngest of four, so with no one to give my old toys and clothes to, I knew if I didn't keep them, they'd leave the house for good.
I was desperately nostalgic too, not only always looking back at my own childhood, but at those of my parents too. As a result, I kept it all for the first 20 years - toys, books, souvenirs. It wasn't until I moved to Montreal for school that I started getting rid of things and really got a taste of the catharsis that comes from shedding belongings. I've since become a chronic disposer. I don't care if it's a butter knife that I don't use anymore, or a pair of socks that's just starting to fray, or an old email that's taking up room in my inbox. I love getting rid of it.
Last weekend, I brought up some Rubbermaid boxes from my basement to see if I could downsize at all. I knew what was in them - things from my pack rat years, pre-20 - objects and books I'd accumulated through childhood. For all the things I've always easily thrown away, it's this collection that I've simply never been able to. By 20, I'd already owned so many of these things for so long, that I couldn't possibly get rid of them. I own almost nothing that I did when I was 23 and almost everything that I did when I was 13.
My mother's linen calendar tea towels from the 70s. The mouthpiece from the euphonium I played in high school. The first plastic cup ever bought for me at Disney World in 1980 when I was 7.
I own every report card ever handwritten by my teachers about me back to Kindergarten and every single school book I ever worked in from Grade 1 up to the final exam booklet I handed in for the last Art History class of my degree at McGill.
Every journal I ever cried into; and every school and class picture I ever sat for, chronicling my aging face and self-reflective curiosity. To this day, I still own every single empty cologne bottle I've ever gone through back to Polo from age 14. Even those cans pictured above were in there. They came from an old abandoned house that my friends and I discovered in the woods when I was 17. I can't get rid of them now.
I knew when I was unpacking these boxes that I'd just look at things and be happy for them and put them back. And I did. It feels like a burden, this collection, but I've invested so much emotionally into it all, into the nostalgia and memory of it all by now, that I can't get rid of these things, not yet anyway. So back into the Rubbermaids, and into the basement it all went for another few years, until I try to downsize again, at a different time in my life.
Bonnie Franklin died yesterday. She was the mom, Ann Romano, on One Day at a Time. It was a show I never loved, but watched a bit as a kid. I thought Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) was really pretty and I had a crush on Julie (Mackenzie Phillips). In recent years, after hearing of Mackenzie's problems with drugs and her fucked up family, I've discovered I still have a soft spot for her.
The colour on the show was terrible - all camel-y and tans and some light golds. I never loved shows with palettes like that. M*A*S*H* was another one. All that army green and desert-y brown. Blech. So depressing. And Schneider's denim vest and white t-shirt - something I could probably find hot now on the right guy - seemed dirty to me. Not sexy dirty, which hadn't occurred to me yet in the late 70s; just dirty dirty. I will admit that Glenn Scarpelli did improve the viewing for me. I thought he was nice to look at and I liked his scratchy boy-man voice. I don't want to know what he looks like now, but I'll probably Google him anyway.
But anyway, when I heard that Bonnie Franklin died yesterday, I felt sad. For her a bit, yes, but really, more for me. It's people like Bonnie Franklin that played roles in my childhood, no matter how small. Isabel Sanford. Sherman Hemsley. Beth Howland. Linda Lavin. My beloved Celia Weston. I am hating getting older, so as the components of my childhood disappear from the world, I notice. And I hate it.
I won't admittedly miss Bonnie Franklin, but I'm sorry to experience the disruption that her leaving has caused.