September 11th came and went last month, and for once I thought that I had found an appropriate event that we could take part in as a family. You see, for the past couple of years we’ve had to endure a memorial service of sorts put on by a neighbor up the block that resulted in our street being overrun by fire engines, foot traffic, and hundreds – and I mean hundreds – of bikes. And not the kind of bikes whose riders pump the pedals and occasionally jingle a tiny bell on the handlebar, either. I’m talking about Hogs. Big, metal things driven by men and women who would kill you without a second thought, though not before revving their engines aggressively and making you spill your Kombucha.
As you might imagine, all of these people and their machines need to park somewhere, and consequently the street is closed for several hours in the evening to accommodate all the ruckus. When we first moved here we were intrigued, and excitedly walked up the street to see what was going on. Sadly, the gathering proved to be less a heartfelt and touching memorial to those fallen on that day than an opportunity for jingoistic chest-thumping. Nice.
Anyway, we had already decided to vacate the area this time around, and while scanning the local paper the week prior I found what seemed to be just the thing for us: a drum circle.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been part of one of these things – I’ve sat in on a couple myself, once back in the 90’s with an assortment of older, ex-stoner types I knew from my aged, hippie landlord, and once more recently in the decidedly less substance-reliant environment of a work related morale-boosting session. The latter occasion was one of those non-spontaneous and, in fact, paid for orgies wherein two goofy, late-middle aged men in Hawaiian shirts and gray ponytails pass around an assortment of percussive instruments and whip up the reluctant attendees to beat their tom toms or djembes in order to create some sort of communal, cacophonic bonding session. That experience wasn’t all that bad, so I figured, why not again?
I know, I know – I don’t know what I was thinking either. Maybe I expected it to be a more dignified event, with well dressed, educated and multicultural NPR listeners milling about. Either way this one, advertised as an alternative to the typical September 11th memorial, seemed appropriate. So I signed us up.
What we got, unfortunately, was a gaggle of dread-locked and patchoulied trustafarians whirling about on the beach while a DJ bobbed over a large CD player and music blared obnoxiously over loudspeakers. There were drums laying about alongside mini-accordions, flutes and peace tambourines, but no visible “circle.” Even worse, some of the attendees had apparently been encouraged to wear costumes, the unsightly result of which was far more visible skin, piercings and Bob Marley tattoos than is traditionally appropriate at an event billing itself as “for the whole family.” Apparently to these hippie-types the words “wear a costume” mean “dress like a Gypsy stripper with a Meth habit.” And to think I was this close to having Sarah show up wearing a Winnie-the-Pooh suit.
Needless to say, it really soured my mood, and we left almost immediately. So much for unity.
I’m not quite sure why this kind of thing bothers me, but it does. I try not to be judgmental, and I don’t begrudge anyone’s habits. It’s just that I don’t like to be in close proximity to their display.
Another example: a few years ago when we lived in Arlington, Mass, I used to take a bus down Mass Ave to Harvard Square, where I worked. If the weather was nice, I would get off the bus several stops earlier than I needed to and walk the remaining half-mile or so.
Anyway, once as I was passing alongside the park just before the Old Burying Ground by Garden Street, I noticed, up ahead, a shadowy figure lurking furtively behind a tree. I could tell that the shadowy figure was waiting for me to pass, presumably to surprise me with some unwelcome assault. I wasn’t worried about being mugged – this was, after all, in broad daylight and in public, a stone’s throw from one of this country’s most prestigious Ivy League schools. I couldn’t see much, but something in the demeanor of the person suggested a fate worst than violence. Something, in fact, far more sinister.
He looked like a Liberal Arts major. And he looked like he was going to smile at me.
Sure enough, just as I approached the tree out popped this guy, dressed in sandals, shorts and a t-shirt. His hair was long and curly, his face rotund. He was, as I had feared, smiling. A lot. Now I’m usually pretty good at avoiding these types, having spent many years dodging Greenpeace workers and Lyndon Larouche supporters, but the absurdity of the moment caught me off guard, and before I could react he had positioned himself to my right and, pointing to me in an animated fashion, exclaimed,
“Hey man, you dropped your smile!”
Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m a pretty happy guy. Sure, times get tough, dark clouds occasionally gather overhead – these things happen. But I always keep the stiff upper lip and soldier on. What I mean to say is, I’ve had adversity just like the next guy, but I keep things in perspective. Once, for example, the Whole Foods near me was completely out of sprouted Kamut. For, like, two weeks. But did I waver? Did I give up? Nope.
But for god’s sake, people, if there’s one thing that interferes with my natural state of cheeriness it’s when other people feel the need to pop uninvited into my universe. I don’t know about you, but I have a visceral aversion to anybody, ever, trying to get me to be part of something they’re involved with. In my experience these things never end well. You know how it is – a nice couple you used to know cold-calls you out of the blue saying they’d love to catch up, and the next thing you know you’re enduring an hour-long, glassy-eyed Amway pitch, followed by a return visit thwarted only by the last-minute act of hiding in the bathroom until they’ve stopped knocking. You can feel your individuality and freedom of choice drip away steadily with every word. It’s the same way, I’ve found, with Mary Kay parties, volunteer work, toddler play dates, and any leisurely trip out of the house that involves more than two people.
So when faced with an obviously MDMA-saturated, parent-financed, Harvard Square-loitering goofball encouraging me to display happiness, the last thing I’m thinking about is picking up a smile that I had “dropped.” In fact, if I could have picked up anything at that moment it would have been a rock and bunged it at the guy’s head. I mean, come on! I was having a perfectly nice day!
Anyway, my experience with last months “drum circle” was similarly disheartening. Maybe it’s me, but if passing a sign that reads “Peace, Love & Unity” creates in the passer-by feelings of anger, repulsion and violence then something’s wrong.
But who knows? Maybe, upon reflection, the problem is with me. Maybe I’m not as mellow and happy-go-lucky as I think. Maybe I need to address my own issues before judging others based on their interests. Maybe I need to be less aloof.
Or maybe I just need more Kombucha. That I can do.