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Murph

Here’s the Tetherball Chimes excerpt I referred to in last week’s comments:

The first time I left the library for summer vacation I was sure I’d never return. I remember watching the two-story multi-purpose room—the junior high’s tallest building—sink into the horizon of my rear-view mirror as I drove away. I remember the optimism of that June afternoon, the self-assuredness […] I remember buying a toothbrush that summer and thinking the band would be famous by the time I bought another.

In April of 2002, my spring quarter at CSUSB just underway, things were starting to take off for the band. I know I was taking four classes, but I can only remember three of them off the top of my head: “Chicano Literature,” “Art and Ideas,” and “Foundations for Lifelong Fitness,” the last of which, an early morning class, I dropped outright. I stuck it out with the <quote-01>other three<quote-01> for the first few weeks even despite missing a handful of classes—something I never did. I remember taking the only make-up exam of my life early in that semester, listening to some opera on a discman in the testing center and answering a multiple-choice question about it. Still, by the end of the month, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the semester. The band had meeting after meeting, a demo session scheduled, a showcase to put together—there simply wasn’t time for school, much less focus or desire.

So just before midterms, I submitted my letter of withdrawal to the registrar, made the happy journey back to my ’89 Camaro parked in a “15 Minute Parking” spot, and drove south on University Parkway, the Humanities Building descending—forever, I figured—from my rearview mirror. Maybe I’d return to school one day, but certainly I’d be able to leverage my modest rock stardom towards admission at a top-tier university. I mean, we had just turned down <quote-02>a signing bonus of nine-hundred grand<quote-02>. The moment—at the time—was a sweet one. So fucking sweet.

And then there is the memory of this moment.

I think this is what you’re getting at, Wuck, in your “might nostalgia tell us more about where we’re at than where we’ve been?” or your “I wonder how much the past isn’t defined by the present.” But memory and nostalgia, while obviously linked, are very different things. You’re right, Wuck, in that the memory of that specific moment has become a painful one for me because of what unfolded afterwards, and that the severity of that pain depends on where I am in the present. But nostalgia is a feeling summoned from the past, not a specific memory. I can still summon the excitement of April 2002, feel what I felt all over again, almost as profoundly if I consciously suppress my reality—the present. I can allow a kaleidoscope of recollections to accompany that feeling, sure, but they do not need to present themselves in order for that feeling to swell in my heart. That is nostalgia; from the OED: “sentimental longing for […] a period of the past, esp. one in an individual’s own lifetime.”

To wit:

Last Thursday night, Dave, Max, Pat, and I got dinner at Legends before HeroQuest. When we arrived, the place was basically empty: a noisy family finishing up in the corner booth, two chubby office-park-churchgoers sharing a chili cheese fry, an old man waiting for this to-go club sandwich. We ordered—<quote-03>is it pleasurable to know what?<quote-03> Dave got chicken taquitos and a milkshake; Pat got an avocado bacon cheeseburger and chili cheese fries; I got a turkey melt with bacon, which I wouldn’t order again; and I don’t remember what Max got, but I know he shared the fries with Pat. Again, we ordered, paid, spent our time at the soda fountain, got our food, asked for more ranch, and tucked in. About halfway through our meal, however, some high school students started trickling in. And, sure enough, eventually straggled in a girl wearing a ComedySportz jersey. Had I been alone, I wouldn’t have said anything to her, but bolstered by the presence of not just my friends but a former CSz brother-in-arms, I interrupted the focus she shot back and forth between her phone and the menu board.

“Did you guys have a game tonight?”

She beamed. Now I fear that when I stir in you both the image of a beaming high school girl in her ComedySportz jersey you’ll imagine Becca White. This girl was no Becca White. Still, she beamed.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Our new players match!”

From there we three—Pat soon joined in—proclaimed our shared and significant fondness for ComedySportz, extolling the virtues of certain warm-up exercises and comparing the merits of different head-to-head games. It was made known <quote-04>how incredibly old we were<quote-04>, Pat very seriously asked her to keep us in mind for future alumni games, we all lamented that their games were now on Thursdays instead of Fridays, and eventually she left our side to go and order—what, I know not.

Then it happened: the entire team streamed in. Legends, just a half hour from closing, previously next to empty, was now teeming with the overflow of the night’s ComedySportz match: dorks and outcasts and ugly ducklings of all shapes and sizes, some in jerseys, some not. In a way, they did not size up. I remembered our group as so much cooler and smarter and funnier than these fucking lames, lovable as they were. Objectively, I think this is merited in that we stood out amongst our cohort even in our day, receiving, for instance, serious reprimand from league management about how we comported ourselves. Still, I searched for their Pat, their Becca White, their Tom and Wuck, their Murph. I ascribed to them strengths they may or may not have had. I watched one of them—I couldn’t decide if he was their Pablo Narro or their Chris Gualtieri—pour himself an unironic suicide: equal parts Coca Cola, Mr. Pibb, root beer, Sprite, orange Fanta, and—get this—blue fucking Powerade, and sip from it with sincere enjoyment; nobody else saw him make it! I simultaneously loved and judged each of them: the girl I could have found attractive, the girl I would have clashed with, the kid with the dimples and glasses who might have come closest to being my rival. And as I watched them all, I admittedly experienced glimpses of specific moments from my ComedySportz past. There was, unmistakably, something of memory in all of this, but more so, <quote-05>nostalgia<quote-05>.

I felt, not just plainly nostalgic, but I felt what I felt after all those ComedySportz matches, all those late Friday nights spent at Round Table or Lamppost Pizza with my best friends. I, thirty-seven-going-on-thirty-eight, felt what I felt at seventeen-going-on eighteen.

And I feel it now, typing this, a feeling unchanged all these years, different from an image or noise or odor or flavor, some sensory impression I can only imagine. I know, for example, what a Round Table crouton dunked in Round Table ranch dressing tastes like, but I cannot summon the actual taste to my tongue. I can, in contrast, summon the feeling of those Friday nights, especially so after my run-in at Legends last week. Right fucking now can I summon it.

That, for me, is the effect of nostalgia—and it is priceless.

And so, I find myself nostalgic not so much for specific memories—there are a few, I admit—but for, as the OED suggests, “period(s) of [my] past.” And, incredibly, each of these periods—some as brief as a weekend, some as long as a season, some spread throughout decades—feels different. Each “happiness” is unique, the product of an exact combination of physical and psychological space, a precise blend of hope and/or weightlessness and/or a million other inflections. Thus, the happiness of April 2002 feels wholly different from the happiness scattered throughout a score of late 90’s Friday nights at pizza restaurants or the happiness of victorious summer nights at the Ravine to which I can still physically return.

What wonderfully distinct feeling might have lingered throughout the fall of 2017 <quote-06>had the Dodgers won that World Series?<quote-06> We were all robbed of that, not just of the individual memories, but of the feeling that would have underscored it all, a sweet and satisfying “period.”

Maybe I am rambling now, or saying the same thing over and over again—I don’t know. What I do know is that being around the people who shared those periods with me—and to a lesser extent <quote-07>being in those same places or surrounding myself with the artifacts—grants me access—most reliably, at least—to the endless library of “feelings” that exists inside<quote-07>. So many varieties of happiness, and what a joy it is to return to each of them, because that is what’s happening.

When I long to eat a Chicken McNugget, I cannot actually taste it on my tongue. But when I long to be four-years old again, to be sitting on a hamburger stool across from my father in the basement of my childhood McDonald’s, to be finishing a last nugget dunked in Sweet and Sour before charging the wavy slide and teeter-totter, to be enveloped in the snug and seemingly invulnerable security blanket of my first years, I feel in my stomach the same thing I felt in my stomach then. To long is to feel.

Nostalgia, as <quote-08>Proust<quote-08> knew by the end of his masterwork, is time-travel magic. And I will not stand for any <quote-09>goddamn-quantum-world-bullshit<quote-09> attempt to disparage it.

2020.02.21

<pull-quote>other three<pull-quote>
<avatar-murph><avatar-murph><author-name>Murph<author-name>
<p-comment>I just realized I have my undergraduate transcripts on the flash drive I use for school. The fourth class? Race and Racism. I ended up retaking Chicano Literature and Race and Racism when I returned, but not Art and Ideas, which I liked a lot.<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>a signing bonus of nine-hundred grand<pull-quote>
<avatar-hoke><avatar-hoke><author-name>Hoke<author-name>
<p-comment>Did not know this. Or forgot it. I feel the nausea with you more now.<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>is it pleasurable to know what?<pull-quote>
<avatar-wuck><avatar-wuck><author-name>Wuck<author-name>
<p-comment>i would have gotten a grilled cheese and a steak taco or two. i used to get that grilled cheese with that pile of seasoned fries and a big side of ranch for lunch. smell up the ford at least until the next morning, the fries, that is. best grilled cheese in upland, i’d imagine. i remember referencing the legends grilled cheese around your mom, murph, and her saying, oh not for me. i like fancier cheeses than american in my grilled cheese.<p-comment>
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<avatar-murph><avatar-murph><author-name>Murph<author-name>
<p-comment>If the woman ever made me a grilled cheese sandwich with anything but American cheese, she heard about it, I promise you.<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>how incredibly old we were<pull-quote>
<avatar-murph><avatar-murph><author-name>Murph<author-name>
<p-comment>Pat could not wrap his brain around the fact that we had both played our last round of object freeze years before this girl was even born.<p-comment>
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<avatar-wuck><avatar-wuck><author-name>Wuck<author-name>
<p-comment>glad you mention this fact. i wouldn’t have thought of it. it’s a good one. it’s usually september 11th for me when it comes to age. you were born after the towers fell and we’re waiting tables together? fml<p-comment>
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<avatar-murph><avatar-murph><author-name>Murph<author-name>
<p-comment>Oof.<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>nostalgia<pull-quote>
<avatar-hoke><avatar-hoke><author-name>Hoke<author-name>
<p-comment>Suicides! Didn't know that was the term, but man I rocked that shit as a kid too, but not past 6th grade.<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>had the Dodgers won that World Series<pull-quote>
<avatar-wuck><avatar-wuck><author-name>Wuck<author-name>
<p-comment>are you more pissed they didn’t win, or that you won’t have the memory of them winning? honest question.<p-comment>
<p-comment>are there moments when as a father you say, wow i can’t wait to remember this, sooner than you do, wow this is great to experience? or is maturity realizing those are the same thing?<p-comment>
<p-comment>seems like the nuances might be better savored in the reflection than in the experience. but maybe i still long for the full blinding engagement of experience. maybe with some things more the one and with others things more the other. now i’m just pondering.<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>being around the people who shared those periods with me—and to a lesser extent being in those same places or surrounding myself with the artifacts—grants me access—most reliably, at least—to the endless library of “feelings” that exists inside<pull-quote>
<avatar-hoke><avatar-hoke><author-name>Hoke<author-name>
<p-comment>That makes sense to me of not only your accumulation of objects from your past around the house, but even more the regular convening of these relationships, year after year, season after season.<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>Proust<pull-quote>
<avatar-murph><avatar-murph><author-name>Murph<author-name>
<p-comment>The madeleine—to return to the start of Hoke’s most recent letter—is merely a profound surprise reintroducing him to the world of nostalgia. By the end of his million words, he figures it all out: “Yet a single sound, a single scent, already heard or breathed long ago, may once again, both in the present and the past, be real without being present, ideal without being abstract, as soon as the permanent and habitually hidden essence of things is liberated, and our true self, which may sometimes have seemed to be long dead, but never was entirely, is re-awoken and re-animated when it receives the heavenly food that is brought to it.”<p-comment>
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<avatar-wuck><avatar-wuck><author-name>Wuck<author-name>
<p-comment>i love this quote so much! i wonder in what ways what is here described could be defined as divergent from nostalgia.<p-comment>
<p-comment>there must be a thesis out there, “the proustian experience as antithetical to the nostalgic”<p-comment>
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<pull-quote>goddamn-quantum-world-bullshit<pull-quote>
<avatar-wuck><avatar-wuck><author-name>Wuck<author-name>
<p-comment>fuck off. it was the perfect phenomenon to explain my posit. i stand by it. shit is fascinating.<p-comment>
<p-comment>*bookmark murph’s viciously competitive need to win and how it can at times subvert the joy of a more rewarding engagement. not entirely valid a point in this case, but the nerve was touched.<p-comment>
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<avatar-hoke><avatar-hoke><author-name>Hoke<author-name>
<p-comment>I cheered for the passionate defense and logic return in this last line. But we can't dig into our shit without Murph's interesting competition impulse getting a fair exploration. I loved you as much as ever, Murph, when after one row on a bachelor week you threw your hands up and talked about it as an addiction--"why would you give a keg to an alcoholic who you KNOW is an alcoholic?"<p-comment>
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<avatar-murph><avatar-murph><author-name>Murph<author-name>
<p-comment>I meant this more humorously.<p-comment>
<p-comment>I have many times unsuccessfully attempted to diagnose the source of my insane competitive drive, which--again--I don't really think is on display here.<p-comment>
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<avatar-wuck><avatar-wuck><author-name>Wuck<author-name>
<p-comment>i know. i’m sorry. it intoned a sensitive thread.<p-comment>
<p-comment>still, i think the tendency to reframe an argument through the conflation of posits is worth calling out, however much i find the process of storytelling and reflection more interesting than the theoretical debate.<p-comment>
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