Squirrel Hearts= The Ballad of VA Beach
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Virginia Beach is a land my last post got me thinking about. This place was my home for precious few years (92-97?) but houses most of my best childhood memories. I guess it’s unfair to say everything went to shit when we came to Northport but V.B. time was my first taste of America, the bloom of my youth (6-11) before adolescent nightmare, and just so physically beautiful.
I was big into Goosebumps so I hosted a scary sleepover where we rented a Tremors sequel and Clueless and made a grossout recipe from this really great book they used to feature at the bookfair. There was still something illicit about staying up until five a.m. and stupid or not, Clueless was exhiliarating because it was a projection of highschool and sex. I swam a lot at the recreation center and like the music and movies, the smell of chlorine and uncomfortable filminess of the gym floor is forever synonymous with that place. I grew really excellent peppers too, and in a weird episode found a series of pieces of paper with the number 5 on our front porch. Like every day, for a while. I was in love with a boy named Michael Williams who had black hair and stupid acid washed jeans and whose mother was my busdriver. I think he was pretty poor (a demographic that would be nonexistent where I moved next) and I still wonder about him.
I’m not sorry we moved because for all I know I might be dead or different now, and I enjoy the life and experiences I’ve had. I’m not old now but I realize now what naivete and youth really is. Like, I was this goofy little kid but so sincere and so excited.
A few years ago the store I work at, a sex positive sex shop, offered an in-service on boundaries.
The philosophy of the company is to maintain a safe space for everyone. We do this by using inclusive language. Our staff is polite but you won’t hear us call someone Mr. or Ms. (at least before they’ve specified that we should)- because it would be an assumption about how they want to present their identity to us.
It can be hard, and is sometimes cumbersome but, when done well, is a pretty amazing tool as far as normalizing an experience for skittish customers, and putting down a hard front line against creeps or any “funny guy” who might try to dance us out of our comfort zones.
Gender and language class is part of new hire training but a full on in-service is different. An in-service is special.
They’re met with a little groaning (because they start at 8:00 am- a harsh time for retail bodies) and a lot of excitement because in-services are one of the few times the entire company gets to be together at once in the magical solitude of an un-customered store. This time to eat pastry, check in, and process together.
The thing that sticks with me about this in service is a “yes, no, maybe” exercise we did. We all paired up and took turns saying each command and doing a physical cue to go along with it.
So, scuffling first as we took our places and then a chorus of
“YES!,” freely smiling at one another, arms at our sides.
“Maybe!,” hands slightly lifted. A few of us giggled, trying to get the gesture right.
“No…No.” Hands up in defense. The lack of unity on this one seemed weird. Giggling opened into out right laughing. The in-service moderator had us try it again.
We kept laughing as we continued to repeat the exercise, it only lessening as our discomfort grew. So many of us, language-trained fringes, most socialized to be women, had such trouble saying no. Even the fourth and fifth times, we (me especially) struggled, giggling and smiling, deflecting, apologizing for, and empyting our “no’s.” It got a little better as we practiced.
Walking through Park Slope, on what might be the nicest night of the year so far, I took a turn onto Seventh avenue. I used to avoid Seventh avenue because it’s dangerous- lots of ghosts:
The ghost of the Methodist Church where that man shared his Barnes and Noble booty- books for me, a leather bound thermos for your coffee. He gave with the sole request that we reignite the world’s appreciation for reading.
The ghost of Rite Aide where we’d get cigarettes. The cigarettes themselves are haunted- every puff a little specter.
The ghost of your apartment. It looks just like you and wears your green shirt. It floats up behind what was your vestibule and rattles phantom keys.
The most dangerous ghost is the one that looks like me. You can see her walking quickly from the F stop. She’s nineteen and happy.
Enter and meander
I’m in 7 Eleven. I’m in in Brooklyn, but branding tells me that I’ve been here before. The machines hum and I’m in the East Northport 7 Eleven buying laffy taffys at fifteen years old, and the Virginia 7 Eleven at ten. I’ve biked here and have never had a Slurpee before. I’m thirsty and drink it quickly because I don’t know what a diet is. This is my stand against time- every 7 Eleven is my hometown 7 Eleven- turning forever like Slurpee mix.
This comfort is the same any time I buy something to reinforce the person I am and the group I belong to. I remember making my mom buy kidzels, pretzels for kids. No worry that I’d been talking dirty on the internet, the battle for kidhood is fought by (bought by) pretzels.
With age comes awareness and I sort of know what’s happening to me. This might make me buy less/more carefully but it won’t ever change my emotional response to being inside a 7 Eleven. My cohort thinks we are savvy and we make fun of the construction. This feels sad but makes sense- like victims laughing at assault.