Internet/Telecom/Social Media

How to win a meme, or how I avoided working this Spring but still managed to get all riled up

By Jennie Ver Steeg

I like Sam, of Dr. Slammy fame. Let me be clear on that, I am more likely to at least entertain the notions Sam floats out here than I would be those same notions from other like types: this to me is a character flaw, but I admit it freely. I’ve been playing along with his Facebook 30 Day Song Challenge Sequel the last few weeks, mostly because I like music and I live by the list: listing may be my only real skill. A friend points out to me that it’s not much of a challenge: he says challenges have winners, and wants to know what the prize is for the best. This challenge does have a winner, and as always, it’s me, motherfucker, or possibly those who get to read my challenge answers each day and feel… Jesus, how do they feel? Appalled, bemused?

Three of the recent “days” got me a bit riled. I thought I’d share because if they got me riled, they may send others right over the damn moon.

Day 21: a song by a band or artist that has never achieved the level of fame they deserve.

I’m probably the last person to be judging who deserves what level of fame: I still haven’t mastered dividing a cake into the right number of slices so that everyone gets equitable access, and don’t get me started on pie slicing. But this reminds me of a story, as do most things.

I was an early reader, and generally one of the indoor kids: lots of colds, allergies, surgeries, so I was indoors a lot. My mother too had been an early and passionate reader, and told me one rainy fall day when I was in first grade, “when you have a book, you are never alone.” I nearly swooned at the thought, not so much because it hadn’t already occurred to me, but that someone as old and clearly out of touch knew it too. It must be the most important shared secret of all!

In third grade I tried to check out a book that was reserved for girls fifth grade and over in my elementary school library, no surprise, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. To that time, I had never been denied any book, and was so, so angry to be told I wasn’t old enough to read it, when it clearly, with its purple cover and 7-up ad graphics, was perfect for me. I went home and told my mother, who was the president of the PTA. Her eyes narrowed, she put on her best go-go boots, and paid a visit to Miss Mix, the spinster librarian who spawned the stereotype. It was no Harper Valley PTA moment – my mother was more subtle than that – and besides, she and Miss Mix were friends (we were invited to swim at the Wakonda Village pool at the invitation of Miss Mix on two occasions). Fifteen minutes later, I had free rein at school, and as I already had ADULT PRIVILEGES stamped on my public library card, the world of information was open to me.

What I did with it was predictable. I read the entire fiction section, starting at A and working through the alphabet. I found the germane Dewey classifications for sex-related works (612 and the first part of the 300s, for those needing this info), and I devoured 1950s era books on how to keep your marriage alive and find and ensnare your own beauty through mud packs and air baths. I also developed a fascination for yoga, reading a late ’50s book that gave a technique for passing gas that all of my friends used during a long, pungent 1974 summer.

But my big fascination was with magazines: unlike books, every month they were new and yet the same, endless variations on a theme, and my obsession in 1973 and ’74 was Seventeen magazine. It to me seemed to have dropped from the gods to assist me to becoming a cool teen, maybe a couple of years before I even needed to be one, or practically, could be one. It all came down to an understanding of brands, it seemed to me: brands of jeans, perfume, shoes, school supplies, and I checked out all the back issues of Seventeen I could (most before it changed format and shrunk down to Newsweek size, this was a tabloid sized, full color explosion of mass media that just barely fit in my bike’s basket) over the course of the first summer of adult access and committed them to memory, even keeping notes on how trends changed from 1972 to 1974: “Jeans more bleached out. Hair still getting longer.”

When I turned 12, my mother cut out the middle man and purchased a subscription to the magazine for my birthday, which she maintained till I went away to college, long after I had ceased to find any useful information in those pages. Two years ago, feeling old, I bought every issue of Seventeen from that era, slowly, on Ebay, and have pored through them trying to find me (I seem to be lurking in the back matter, as we librarians would call it: small ads for moustache bleach, fat camps and cheap pewter necklaces), and am embarrassed at how many of the articles I remember, the recipes, the annual, I kid you not, bridal issue, the going to college issue, the summer hairdo issue. One article I still cannot find in my stash so far, but that I know was there, was a short article, in the far left column of a three column spread on the music of today, about singer Wendy Waldman, and how she deserved more recognition. It mentioned that her fan base, though small, was loyal, and specifically said they would “drive in a snow storm to see her at a small club and buy her records from the bargain bin.”

Wendy was in the same vein as Maria Muldaur (in fact, I believe they were on the same label), Nicolette Larson, Karla Bonoff: all back up singers for Linda Ronstadt, it seemed. The next time I went to Woolco with my mother to buy after season holiday ornaments, I checked the sale bin for her records but found none, though I did buy my first Emmylou Harris album by accident that day. I thought a lot about Wendy Waldman, for about four days that summer. Was she happy? Did she think she got the right level of recognition? Were the snow storm bargain bin shoppers enough for her? Would they be enough for me?

Here’s some Wendy Waldman. I don’t know what she deserved, but on my end, I know what she got.

I see you’ve met my mother.

Day 20 of 30-Day Song Challenge, the Sequel: a song that could easily have been written about your life. Easily?

What’s easy about it? Ah well, let’s go with the conceit. I have never heard that hot disco hit, “Middleaged Librarian Widow Who is the Product of Two Very Different People and Identifies Strongly with Des Moines, Iowa etc. etc.” That being said, let’s talk about my mother.

My mother was a practical woman for the most part: she embraced her life, even though it was not what it could have been had her life and her family’s story life not taken some dramatic turns. I never saw a hint of discontent, as she seemed to tackle every challenge with the same flair and single-minded desire to do this right or die trying. While she had a single-minded, nearly maniacal desire to be my mother (specifically my mother, she tells me, not be simply be a mother) it’s apparent that those were days in which perfection was not the goal, or possibly it was defined differently. My diaper bag was her old bowling ball bag in a brown leather and tweed like a professor’s sport coat, and my baby book was meant for a boy, or at best unisex, with a baby blue cover and pen and ink drawings of babies of indeterminate gender and sex. I asked her own why my baby book was a boy book, and she had several answers. Her first was “Some kids don’t even have baby books, Jennie” followed in the next fifteen minutes by all of the below:

  • As your grandpa Cook would say, in China, they drown girl babies.
  • I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend good money making sure your baby book is a color acceptable to you.
  • I don’t see any boy things in here aside from the color: seriously, Jennie, you wear blue things!
  • I certainly don’t think you need for this book to be a certain color for you to know you are a girl. It’s quite clear, Jennie.

We let it drop, and my mother, being the older mother of an only child who was the product of 17 years of trying and failing to produce same, kept copious notes until I went to school, when I had many firsts, but none very cute or worth noting in a book of baby blue moiré (I was looking at it once in high school and my mother asked me if I was recording my first bad grade. “My little girl,” she spat, stabbing at a pile of mending). Until then though, everything is down for posterity. My first word, “Hi!” the first time I did a push up, which she claims I could do from birth, and adoring summaries of the highlights of 1964, 1965, 1966. “She is in love with her dad, bats her eyelashes, sits at his knee,” she wrote when I was 2, “Mom has no use whatsoever till she’s hungry and wants a can opened.” When I was 3 she wrote “I have no idea where people get the “terrible twos,” as 3 so far is shaping up to rival certain Indian Wars.”

My first two word utterances, three word, four word, and five word phrases are noted. My first two five word phrases, heard when I was two and a half, were:

  • Let’s see if it fits.
  • I was born that way.

Although I find the endless mention of a deity exhausting and unnecessary, I must admit that I am a Gaga fan. She, unlike Madonna, is not afraid of being unattractive and scary for her art, and she treats her fans well, aided by social media. Perhaps Madonna would have seemed warmer if she’s had Facebook and Twitter too, but looking back, I find Gaga more dignified, and this song works for me.


Maybe I overstated my undying like for the Challenge founder, Mr. Slammy. One day once nearly sent me into orbit, Day 13 of 30-Day Song Challenge, your favorite make out song. My favorite what? What?

I was admiring this 30-day whatever. I thought it beat the shit out of the original 30-day song challenge: take a look here for what may have been Sam’s inspiration, or at least, his nemesis. I took part in that challenge as well, but argued, fretted, pouted the entire way through, and with the Sequel, I haven’t altered the terms of the argument, questioned premises, or anything, this whole challenge long. But that day, the 13th, was one up with which I simply could not put.

First, I had the suspicion that Sam, the creator of the challenge, the founder of this feast, saw an excuse to show us another snippet of one of his quite good-but-not-nearly-as-good-as-his-poems stories in which the globed perfection of some Carolinian coed’s ass seen through a glass darkly in the misty ’80s figures prominently (Beneath him? I think not. Click here.) I’m all for Sam’s personal brand, and men with as little hair as he must cultivate an air of something: nostalgic regret, mysterious rue, whatever. More power to him: he stayed cooler longer than I ever could. But making out? Making out?

Terms defined. No one makes out anymore, do they? Is this the action of someone of a certain age, either young or old, or someone of a certain  gender or does it have to do with propinquity to the Mason-Dixon line, or what? My dad told me that in his day, if you said you made out, you had done the rest of the activity that went past my definition of making out: when did that cheese move back 10 yards? And only boys could say they made out: the girls, I’m not sure what happened to them, but they didn’t talk about it anyway, so they apparently never needed a phrase to describe the process of having been done to (thus he was quite concerned to hear that I went to a party and people were making out all around me. But we clarified and his heart kept beating, for a few more years anyway).

Let me be plain. Even in my teens I hated making out: making out is something wonderful about 75 percent accomplished, banquet burned and no plans to get take-out, game called. Who would designate particular songs against which one writes half a good poem, gets the stove about half clean, see all but 30 minutes of a darn good movie? And don’t give me bullshit about the tantalizing torture of blah blah blah and the delicious agony of ABCDEFG and the exquisite delayed release of XYZ.  The point of starting is to finish. You can quote me. Widely.

This also seems to invoke a time period where there was a lot more thought and planning that went into the being done to than has ever been the case in my own late 20th century experience: doesn’t this mean someone is inhabiting a mid-’70s sitcom world where a stewardess comes by your bachelor pad and you have a stack of LPs on the hi-fi and some Gallo at the ready? Who dates? Who plans? How does one get the making out to occur at exactly the time the make out song is playing? Do you hit rewind and explain with a playful chuck on the chin that you need to stop being a naughty minx and polishing your andirons, because this is the designated make out song? I had sex at a birthday party once: does that make Happy Birthday a make out song?

Sure, there are romantic songs, sexy songs, erotic songs, songs that would, in perfect circumstances, set a mood, but usually when those songs have played in my world, I’m usually alone at a bus stop, talking to a distant relation about the death of long form journalism, or bathing a skunked cat. Either I’m doing this life thing all wrong, or the make out song is a myth. Certain songs do remind me of fucking, but the song was incidental, secondary. The connection was made after the fact, the being done to didn’t happen because of the song.

Having said all that, indicted myself, insulted my 30-day sequel host, let me throw a few at you. Here’s the first, and it’s the first because I can tell the whole story, or rather, there is a whole story: the others, not much narrative.

My friend Batista and I went to see Dirty Dancing when it was a new movie (1987? 1988?) at the dollar theater in Nevada, IA: I think it was Nevada, and as I recall the flood was wooden. I went with a chip on my shoulder: I saw that the hair dos were all wrong for the time period, and no one white danced that way in 1962 in the Adirondacks, I also had an irrational dislike of Patrick Swayze: his head seemed too big for his body, and I suspected he waxed his chest, and I disapproved. Tista and I were not the perfect test audience (I was too old at 23 to buy any of it: imagine being too old for anything at 23!): we laughed at the wrong places, and Jennifer Gray’s big line got a huge snort from me:

Baby: Me? I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of what I saw, I’m scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.

Jennie Ver Steeg: Honey, you don’t feel that way now!

Then of course came the big seduction scene to a song I’d never heard but instantly recognized on your basic cellular level, even then, I knew I would store it away for this time, this place, this 30-day Facebook social media brand building frenzy. Watch it here. It’s quite something.

So my late husband wanders into my life in the fall of 1994, and he loves Patrick Swayze:  specifically loves Road House, loves me, and in the early months of dating and engagement, was willing to jump through nearly any hoop, God love him. So, when I said we should replicate the sexy dance, he tried. God knows he tried. But poor darling! He couldn’t lead, he didn’t quite know how to dip me without dropping me, half way through I started leading, a wrestling match ensued, he couldn’t figure out, if it all ended with sex anyway, why we’d keep our clothes on that long (behavior he found inexplicable in his pal Patrick Swayze, who seemed more sensible than that) and in our last throes of making the damn sexy dance happen, he got his finger caught in my hoop earring and ripped my right earlobe right down to the edge. Replication of this scene ended in blood, yelling, four stitches.

There’s your make out song. There it is and I hope you never get a days’ rest with it. But if Sam ever asks you for a list: grocery list, laundry list, why not give it to him?

4 replies »

    • We’re trying to get her to write more, so encouragement is good.

      And she talks about how much she likes me, but some day we’ll have to get her to open up about all the daily, epic beatdowns she laid on me in 1988 and 1989.