Musical Tastes and the Titanic

After I moved out of my parents’ house (for the final time), my dad told me he’d send me everything I owned when I turned 40. Luckily for me, he waited an extra year.

One of the fascinations of receiving these items (mostly movies and music) is to see what I was into at an earlier age that seems like a mistake now.

For example, Celine Dion.

Now, I’m not here to bash Dion. She has a great voice, but despite being far from my favorite singer in high school and college, I bought three of her albums: The Colour of My Love, Falling into You, and Let’s Talk About Love. Excluding classical music recordings, the only other artist who I bought as many or more CDs from is the Dixie Chicks (who I still like better than Celine Dion). True, Falling into You won a bunch of Grammies, including best album (beating out, among others, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness — a better and more ambitious offering by Smashing Pumpkins), and it’s my favorite album of hers that I own, but it also contains my least favorite song by her (or by any artist, for that matter): the pure schlock “Because You Loved Me,” complete with awful melody, horrible orchestration, and lyrics that are two steps below the worst of Hallmark card greetings. I’ll be honest, I only bought Let’s Talk About Love because of the song “My Heart Will Go On.” Though about as well-written as, well, a James Cameron movie, the merging of melody and vocals make this song just about perfect in its emotional impact.

I haven’t seen Titanic since it came out in theaters, and I ended up seeing it late in its run (in 1998, but before the Oscars). I enjoyed it, but I was a much younger, more inexperienced person back then, which is not to discount my thoughts on the film, just to point out that — like all those albums I bought when younger — my tastes since then have changed. Would I enjoy it as much if I saw it now? Who knows?

I saw it with my friend and her then-boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend). The boyfriend didn’t want to be there, and said disparaging comments in not the softest voice as the ship was sinking, including a highly sarcastic, “That’s so sad,” at the emotional climax of the film, when all of us in the theater wanted to focus on our tears and not on thoughts of physical violence. Plus, I had to pee with so much gushing water on screen, and so missed part of the movie –as did many in the audience. Listening to the song again made me want to see the movie again, which then made me wonder when the last Titanic survivor died, which led to me to Wikipedia articles of the last survivors of other maritime disasters (the Lusitania, the Empress of Ireland, the General Slocum). And then I remembered that I used to love reading about the survivors of these disasters as a kid. Well, okay, I was more interested in the disasters themselves, but I was six when they discovered the Titanic on the seabed floor, and I remember watching A Night to Remember on TV (and reading the book when a bit older), so this fascination had its roots in then-current events.

In this time of quarantine, I feel we could learn several lessons from these past tragedies. First, so many people died on the Titanic because they weren’t prepared for a disaster. There were too few lifeboats and the crew was inexperienced in loading them. Second, most of the people who died were in steerage, so as in most catastrophes, the poor got hit hardest. Finally, despite the massive loss of life on all these ships (and steamboat, in the case of the General Slocum), there were survivors. Often they were scarred by their experiences (if they were old enough to remember them) and kept those scars all their lives, but the fact is that they grew up and had lives of their own for all those people who didn’t.

Elementary School in the 80s

When I went to elementary school, teachers could still smoke in the teachers lounge. That rule, in fact, changed while I was in first or second grade.

The lounge was in a room off the cafeteria. We students could either buy hot lunch in the cafeteria or bring our own. If we brought our own lunch, we had places to keep it in the classroom, along with our coats and bags. There weren’t any fridges, so lunchboxes and thermoses were our friends, though some people brought bag lunches. Lunchboxes showed off popular cartoons or TV shows. My first lunchbox was a metal He-Man one. I later got a plastic one that had a plastic clasp instead of two metal ones. I don’t remember what was on that one.

Hot lunch cost one dollar. At some point, it increased to $1.10, though that might’ve been in middle school. Near the end of the lunch period, the cafeteria ladies would sell ice cream in the middle of the cafeteria and students could line up to purchase it. I think they initially cost 50 cents to buy. I believe this price also increased once before I left. 99.9% of the time, I’d get an ice cream sandwich. I got it so often the lunch lady would just ask me, “Ice cream sandwich?” when I got to the front of the line.

There were two lunch periods. The first lunch period was first through third grades (kindergarten was split into morning and afternoon classes and so didn’t have a lunch period). The second was fourth through fifth grades. There was a microphone that the teachers could use for announcements. The first through third graders had recess while the fourth and fifth graders were eating. After they went in for recess, the fourth and fifth graders went out for theirs. When I went to Japan, I was happy to discover that recess continues through ninth grade. In my school, it ended after fifth grade.

If we were being too loud, one of the teachers would get on the microphone and tell us to be quiet. Except Mr. Lessig. He was a fifth grade teacher. He’d just walk into the room and the kids would shut up (he only did this in the fourth and fifth grade lunch period. No need to scare the little kids). When I was in third or fourth grade, they installed a stoplight in the cafeteria. If volume levels got too high, it would change from green to yellow. Way too loud, and it’d jump to red. If it stayed on red more than a few seconds, an alarm would sound, and recess would be canceled. That only happened once or twice while I was at school. Even so, Mr. Lessig was a better deterrent than the stoplight. Ironically, he was actually a really sweet man who passed away while I was in high school.

Kindergarten didn’t have recess. Instead, we had play time. There was free time in the other grades, too, where you could grab a book and read if you finished all your work ahead of time. We had indoor recess if the weather was bad, so each of the rooms had games you could play. I remember there was a game called “Hi Ho Cherry-O” that I misread as “Hi Ho Cheeri-O.”

For outdoor recess, we had a playscape built for us between my second and third grade years. They’ve since torn it down due to worries about pressure-treated wood and splinters and put up a plastic piece of crap in its place. Adults always know how to make childhood less fun. It had a tire swing that kids would spin other kids on so much that for large chunks of time, it would be off-limits. They spun one kid so much that he threw up.

Recess attendants (who were teacher aides) would blow two short bursts on a whistle if they caught someone misbehaving during recess and give them a warning. Bullying still happened, though. A long blast on all the whistles meant we needed to line up to go back inside. When we lined up in the classroom to go anywhere (lunch included), we did it alphabetically by last name. For recess, we’d do the same, lining up by room. Or maybe we all just lined up together. It’s hard to remember what archaic activities we had to do back then, especially when they became second-nature.

I have many more memories of elementary school: of gym class and plays, of the book fair they’d have every year (I still have all of those books) and the Scholastic Book Club (I also have all those books somewhere), of the animated movies they’d show after school on what must’ve been 16mm with the sound turned way up (terrifying when watching boys change into donkeys for Pinocchio), of the short films they’d show in class, which was more likely 8mm (including a b&w version of A Christmas Carol and some Halloween shorts by Disney). In second grade, Miss Fisher drilled it into us not to clap after the movie was over. Luckily, I’ve since unlearned that practice, particularly for film festivals.

Ten-Year Milestones

On May 30, 2009, I posted my first blog entry (note: the link on that page no longer works). Back then, I was writing on blogger, living with my parents (to be fair, I had lived in Japan for three years prior to returning home), and unemployed. None of those things are true now. Nor is it true that blogs are a major “thing” anymore. Several of the people whose blogs I used to follow have gravitated to other platforms or vanished altogether, while a select few still write as regularly as they did in the blog heyday. As for me, I’m somewhere in the middle. If you look at my blog posts, you’ll see that I never published regularly. Some months I posted like a madman, others I wrote nothing. Still, I used to write more, and only recently have I started posting as regularly as I used to.

I passed another milestone on October 22 of this year, which is the day, ten years ago, that I moved to Seattle. I originally stayed with friends for a couple months. I’ve since moved three times. The first two places were houses, the second two were apartments. When I moved here, I was 30, single, and unemployed. Now I’m 40, in a long-term relationship, and a lead at work. We also have a cat.

Some things remain the same. I still haven’t finished the novel I started writing back in 2002 (it changes more than a chameleon changes its colors), and now I’ve started a second one. I’ve been collecting together my best poems for a poetry collection, but so far there’s only the one that I’ve published. I still cover the Seattle International Film Festival (and just celebrated my 10th festival this year).

Anniversaries like these make me reflective of all that has happened in between. It’s amazing to think I have over ten years of memories to sift through for both of these milestones. And how I wouldn’t be speaking of these milestones if I’d lived my life differently, ten years ago.