Thursday, March 27, 2008

Some Fictions Are Faker Than Others

When I was young--when I was younger--I wanted to seem important and interesting. What I didn't yet realize was that in order to be important and interesting, you had to actually do important and interesting things.
Since my childhood experiences were fairly undistinguished--swimming lessons, action figures, comic books, etc.--I quickly began to create a fantastical, infinitely more interesting autobiography.
It began, as most double lives must surely begin, with an imaginary friend. Johnny stayed up past 8 o'clock. Johnny liked to boogie dance. Eventually, I came to see Johnny for what he really was, a stuffed doll. Instead of projecting my fantasies on an inanimate object, I internalized them.
My softball career was entirely unremarkable save for the time I cried after being counted struck out when the pitcher had plainly only thrown two strikes (my dad intervened, and, if I recall, I was allowed to properly strike out on the next throw), but in my secret life I was nicknamed the Saskatoon Slugger, and was regularly carried on my teammates' shoulders to the nearest Dairy Queen for Dilly Bars after I saved the game with yet another grand slam. One afternoon, I sat down and put pen to paper, listing all the different fictional nicknames I had fictionally earned in the factual activities I was factually mediocre at.
  • Softball : the Saskatoon Slugger
  • Track : Speedo
  • Karate : Karate Kid (hey, I'm about to say my fantasy life was satisfying, not original)
  • Drama Class : who has a nickname in drama class? Get real, Matheson!
  • Spelling: The Wizard of Words (I have always been preternaturally good at spelling, so while the nickname is fictional, the merit of one is not)
  • Swimming: Dolphin or Shark, I couldn't decide whether my pretend excellence at swimming was flashy and playful or swift and deadly)
To this day, I have yet to actually earn the kind of endearing and glowingly favourable nickname I have always desired. But I'm still working on it.
Sometimes, I would blur the line between what was a rich and satisfying imagination, creatively developing my mental prowess, and my humdrum quotidian existence. One wintry day while I was in Kindergarten, amid a fingerpainting project with three classmates, the subject of birthdays came up. Tommy said that his birthday was coming up soon, Matt said his was too. Chris said his was coming up in only twelve sleeps. My birthday was months and months away. I felt different and inadequate. "Oh yeah," I said defiantly, my cheeks hot with five-year-old indignity. "Well, it's my birthday today."
Before I knew it, what had been meant as simple one-upsmanship of my fingerpainting table had spiralled out of my control and the entire class was singing "Happy Birthday" to French. It was embarrassing, but also flattering. My brain told me it was wrong, but the adulation of my peers told me it was so right.
Le lendemain (as we who went to French Kindergarten say when we feel like "The next day" sounds trite), I figured the whole thing would have blown over. As I had already a whole hand of fingers' experience with them, I knew that birthdays are a big deal; the day after is not. But I underestimated how much my stock had risen on my fake birthday. Chris, who had been at the fingerpainting table with me when I made my bold deception, had brought a gift. Wrapped it and everything.
This was unexpected.
Hesitantly, I opened the wrapping. Inside was a plastic replica of something similar to the Pontiac Firebird Jim Rockford drove. Thanks to two C batteries in the under-carriage, it moved around on its own, turning occasionally, eventually running into a wall. It wasn't in any packaging, and it looked like it came from his own toybox. There was no remote control or anything fancy like that, but still, a birthday present. I just went from being a fabulist to a fraud.
I brought the car home and played with until my dad got home from work. He asked me where I got it, and I told him. He told me I had to give it back to Chris. When I did, the next day, rather than admit that it hadn't really been my birthday and that I'd played him for a sucker, I told him that my parents wouldn't let me keep it because they didn't let me play with violent toys. Which was mostly true. My parents wouldn't let me keep the car, and they didn't like me to play with violent toys. That the two things had nothing to do with each other in this instance was beside the point. The matters of the car and my claimed birthday were never mentioned again.
As a shameful coda to my early education as a liar, when my real birthday did finally come around, I invited nearly every boy in my Kindergarten class. Except Chris.
This would not be the worst of my pre-teen perjuries. Or at least not the one that still bothers me.
By the 8th Grade, I had evolved in my truth-bending ways. I was, at last, starting to becoming interesting in earnest. The year before, I was hit by a car on my bike one day after school. I wasn't even scratched, the front tire was bent just a little, but the worst damage was to the comic book I was carrying in my backpack. I landed on my back and skidded a little, so the front cover of Green Arrow #17 (the single most gruesome and profane comic I had ever read at that point in my life--seriously, I can't believe anyone would let a 12-year-old buy that filth) was ripped off the rest of the issue. I was some pissed off when I discovered this later. I wanted the driver who had hit me to replace it, but I had no idea who he was. I skulked on the corner where I had been many afternoons that spring, hoping to track down the offender. But like so many of my adolescent vendettas, nothing ever came of it.
My narrow escape from the clutches of death wasn't too impressive among my classmates, however. Especially since no one they knew had witnessed it, and I had no scars from the ordeal. I might as well have made it up.
Being young, sensitive and imaginative, I had my share of schoolyard crushes. One such was a gal we'll call Sadie Mendelson. She was smart, witty and had that natural gift for sarcasm I have always admired in other people. She had read Catcher in the Rye. She wore denim shirts with cow prints on them. She wasn't really into me. Like pretty much everyone else our age, though, she was into Saturday Night Live. This would have been 1990, maybe '91. So this was the best time to be into SNL. By this point, I was really more into Kids In The Hall, but to miss an episode of SNL in the 8th Grade was to be horribly out of step with your generation for the next seven days.
The key attraction during this period of SNL was "Wayne's World". It had yet to become a movie or a sequel, but there could be no doubt that Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar resonated true to a pack of 13-year-olds. You couldn't walk down the hall to play full contact floor hockey without hearing a "Not!", "Schwing!" or "Asphinctersayswhat?".
In a move that subconsciously laid the groundwork for my brief career in entertainment journalism, I figured out that if I could somehow connect myself with someone that other people liked, other people would ipso facto like me. (Yes, I used the phrase ipso facto in the 8th Grade--is it any wonder I had to make up fake reasons for people to like me?) And who that I could plausibly associate myself with did people like and admire more than almost anyone else? And that's how Mike Myers became my uncle.
It wasn't such wild lie. I really did (and still do) have a show business uncle who has at various times been based out of the Toronto area. He just doesn't happen to be Mike Myers.
Sadie Mendelson arched her eyebrow at this revelation, and I'm sure that I could see a new respect for me in her eyes. "Really? Wow."
And that was it. I had completely betrayed my real family to further my own questionable agenda, like Peter did to Jesus before the rooster crowed.
Being the fake nephew of Mike Myers paid absolutely no dividends. Sadie Mendelson just wasn't into me. Sensing what a dud of a claim it was, I didn't repeat the lie for the rest of the school year. I went to a different high school than the rest of my 8th Grade classmates, and a year later left Saskatoon completely.
Strangely, when I moved to Regina at 15, a complete unknown free to create a whole new backstory entirely of my own creation, I managed to get by socially without the help of my imagination.
As the 90s wore on, I, along with the rest of the world, pretty much forgot about my fake uncle Mike Myers. So I Married An Axe Murderer had its moments, but it wasn't really worth selling out my family in order to seem interesting.
I eventually grew up...some. I did some interesting things, travelled some, had some esoteric jobs. I became, ridiculously, a writer. I mean, not a good one, or a well-known one, but I was actually making a very small amount of money on a regular basis from writing. I had finally become the interesting person I had always pretended to be (which is maybe an argument in favour of being full of shit for the first part of your life--at the very least, it gives you practice). And so it was that a carload of my cool and interesting friends and my cool and interesting self ventured up to Saskatoon one blustery night in the late 90s, a year or two after the first Austin Powers movie was released, to see some indie rock awesomeness too cool to book a show in Regina.
Of all the people in all the world I never expected to see at some indie rock show in Saskatoon, there was Sadie Mendelson (I actually would have been more surprised if it was Chris from Kindergarten--though how a five-year-old could get into a bar is beyond me--or the guy who hit me with his car, but what the hey? This is a real true story here, not some fake fiction, I can't force symmetry on it), with her still-arched eyebrow (perhaps it was a muscular dysfunction, and not a representation of hip cynicism after all), recognizing me even though I'm about 20 now, instead of 13, and it feels like an entire lifetime has passed since I last saw her. Really, it has been a lifetime, so many major events happen between 13 and 20, none of which merit great detail here. There's so much I want to tell her about the man I've become, about the things I've done. I want to impress her, I want to show her and the world how I've transcended all the inadequacy, all the shitty, ugly, awkward things I felt about myself when I was 13. I want someone who knew me then to see me now and bask in the glory of all I've become.
But what does she say to me? What are the first words out of her mouth after we acknowledge one another? What is the one thing about me that stands out in her mind after all this time?
"So, I see your uncle's still doing well for himself," she says.
All the self-growth, all the personal development, all the things I've accomplished--a beard, I can grow a beard now!!!--THE INTERESTING AND IMPORTANT PERSON I'VE FINALLY BECOME disappears and I'm reminded that I'm nothing but a lousy lying liar.


I don't know what any of that means, but Chicago's the Fake Fictions have a new album called Krakatoa coming out soon on Comptroller Records, and they were kind enough to send a couple of mp3s along for me to share with all y'all as a sneak peek. In terms of fuzz-pop trios from the American Midwest, they're pretty much the pips. At least that's what they tell me.

mp3: "(Don't Drink The) Office Coffee" by the Fake Fictions - okay, this is quickly becoming one of my favourite songs of the year, easily the best song of Spring 2008. There's a wicked bit of Historia De La Musica Rock trashcan rock vibe under Nick Ammerman's desperate wail about being "skeletons with personal computers" full of malice and menace. It almost makes me wish I worked in an office again so that I could adopt it as a theme song.

mp3: "Lasers + Mirrors" by the Fake Fictions - Sarah Ammerman takes lead vox on this one, a disturbingly catchy sci-fi epic about being alone and doing magic tricks. I think.

Because I like you, and because you've come this far with me today, I'm going to throw in a bonus MP3 from the Eff-Effs' 2005 Experimental Cheerleading EP (available as a free d/l in its entirety at the Eff-Effs' website!).

mp3: "Lasso the Moon" by the Fake Fictions

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff.