There are two pair of opposing forces that I’ve come to understand as sharing the title of the most dynamic battles shaping my first 30 or so years on Earth. One is best saved for specific conversationalists in my life and certainly not to be dealt with in an unannounced blog post. It wouldn’t exactly be fair of me to spend months luring you in with phrases like “shots on goal” and “completion percentage” only to double (triple?) down with long, oft-dry ruminations on the consistent tugs of mortality and legacy (not to mention where they belong in our day-to-day lives).
So instead I hope you’ll indulge me in a dialogue regarding the other pivotal pair placing in my chair this late Friday evening: noise and silence.
I was in a room adjacent to a co-worker today who was playing a number of songs from my past — in this instance Deftones, Tool, Stone Temple Pilots — when I began to vividly recall not just memories but actual sights, sounds and emotions from the tender years of high school. I was a bit of a mess back then but believe it or not on a road to stability from a less-than-wonderful ride through middle school (I had an adult-sized head and quite-picked-on birthmark that certainly set my self-confidence on a shaky course).
There are plenty of notes in the songs of memory, but it’s very easy to forget entire portions of our lives. Sure, I remember the anticipation of afternoon sporting events, the long lag between alarm clock and first pitch, but I rarely feel that vibrance. I can recall how much I loved playing pick-up baseball with my buddies up at Parker Field but what I wouldn’t give to experience that care-free-no-job-just-hit-the-ball-and-snag-pizza-from-Gino’s summer. Yeah I can go snag flies at dawn with the help of a friend, but I can’t erase the obligations of adulthood. “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”
Before you begin a descent into some morose abyss — can abyss carry such an emotive adjective? — project some sense into the “nowness” of adulthood. I wouldn’t trade my present life and relationships for the undeveloped tenor of 15-year-old Nick Mendola (third person… I’ve arrived, Lord!).
Today I realized that those enveloping feelings do return with full vigor thanks to one sense. It’s not sight; Yearbooks and photographs don’t do the complete job. It’s not touch; I can’t be certain but don’t test this out by running your hand down a teenager’s arm, Creeps McGeeps. It’s not talking; Everyone hates a constant reminiscer. It isn’t taste, either, so you can stop licking your old Trapper Keeper (or Five-Star notebook to the more evolved crowd).
No, it’s unquestionably sound (go ahead and question it, jerk). Take this, for example, recalling the aforementioned co-worker and his afternoon playlist: Today, thanks to a song on a CD whose art was a man in quite a compromising position, I could literally place every odd feeling of riding my blue 12-speed with Tool blaring on my Walkman, racing up Parker Blvd to play baseball with my best friends and a girl on whom I had a monster crush. And despite the fact that she’s now a distant friend with a most-excellent husband I’d count among the cooler guys I’ve met, I momentarily felt the jitters of that summer. The bizarre feelings of simultaneously “liking” — hilarious verb kids use for attraction, eh? — both the metal-blaring jock and a clique-tastic ‘popular’ girl.
While I don’t envy those times at all, the example is meant to show that there is simply no question I’m remembering those emotions without the 2012 airing of late 1990s music made by a genius-cum-lunatic tendencies from Akron. And it definitely takes the right combination of sound and time, but the majority of times I vividly recall feelings without shared storytelling, a campfire or watching my son dabble in childhood, it’s because of music.
Certain Christmas songs bring me back to riding shotgun in my then-friend-now-wife’s Jetta with all my Spectrum (college newspaper at UB) pals in town after a late night at the Pink and John William Norman buying a burned CD of Christmas carols off an ambitious homeless man. I remember the snow, the cold, the laughs… and watching Macho Man’s wedding in James Francis Byrne’s living room (I keep using middle names to make the shenanigans seem cheekier. Wait til I tell you the one about my old pal Willard and his rascally and whimsical penchant for cutting hair he deemed too long!
Music does that. A newspaper clipping reminds me of my dad taking me to my first concert (Tragically Hip, 1996), but it’s listening to the live tracks that make me remember how cool I thought he was and the nervousness of knowing that I hadn’t disclosed my first ever “C” in school for fear of not being allowed to stay-up late on a weekend with Messrs Gordon Downie and Salvatore Mendola II.
Perhaps its incredibly fitting that my best conversions of attempts at diagnosing my present feelings happen due not to any other sense, but to a lack of sound (or close to it). When there’s very little to no sound is when I’m able to command so many of my three decades into a few precious moments. Watching my son sleep gives me the gifts that looking after him can’t possibly; I know why my parents have been able to unconditionally love a screw-up like their eldest. Sitting by a fire tonight in my backyard, faint laughs from a party down the street and dry wood crackling were the only noises captured by my ears. I’m willing to wager that these moments are what allow me to gather myself away from the pressured mania that leads me to brand myself a screw-up and realize I’ve done alright so far in this dance.
I’m going to go to sleep now and it’s unlikely the passing cars and small critters making their way through my garden are going to stop me from continuing this monologue until I awake to your joining the conversation, although there’s always the chance one of those cars will whiz by giving me a bar or two of “Stinkfist” — yeesh, why couldn’t it have been a more poetic band this afternoon — and lead me back to infields, immaturity and infatuation.
Here’s to sound.