When I hear that someone has died, I always want to know how. I am not sure why, it’s almost like I think there is a giant menu for deaths so I can know my options when the time comes. It’s like that old joke; I want to pass like my grandmother did, peacefully in her sleep. Unlike the passenger in her car.
Maybe this morbid curiosity was born out of the house I grew up in. Both my grandmother and mother loved movies, old movies in particular. My sisters and I grew up watching the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s with Kathrine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Rosaland Russel and William Powel. As we watched these, and other great films, we got tons of backstory and grizzly gossip on each actor provided by my grandmother and mother who were avid fans of movie star magazines in the day. For us, they were the original Entertainment Tonight and TMZ. We’d hear how people died and who they had affairs with. While watching Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight we might hear she died of kidney failure and how it broke her fiancé William Powell’s heart. Learning that William Holden bled out in a hotel after falling was just another movie night at the Freeburg house.
Later my nieces Kaelea and Gillian were subjected to the same diatribe of facts when watching old movies with their mother and me. On road trips we would play the alphabet game with names of famous people i.e., the first person to go says Jean Harlow. The next person has to come up with a name starting with H, Henry Fonda. Our sick twist on this was if you knew how they died or any gossip you got bonus points. Generations of my family have useless, morbid movie gossip and trivia stuck in our heads. Perhaps we are horrible people, or maybe we have a gallows type humor for the tragic, twisted and awkwardly human aspects of life. We definitely could be both.
In my family we modify games, create moments and experiences to add weird twists solely to amuse ourselves and each other. As a teen I was enticed into jamming my lanky teenage body into an old mildewy mail carriers bag found in the basement during a contest to see who could get into the bag fastest. Once in, my sisters cinched the bag up and drug me to the front lawn and left me there to free myself. I heard my sisters footsteps recede as I desperately tried to expel myself from my canvas womb. Their laughter was near hysterical as they moved away, and I heard the front door slam leaving me rolling there on our manicured suburban front lawn in a wild panic to escape. Whether it be teasing, torturing each other or inventing adventures were boredom lie, we were raised to create fun. Sometimes twisted, but none the less amusement was had by most, i.e., see above on being stuck in a mail bag rolling around on front lawn.
In later years that fun has consisted of wanting to bring back language and culture from the 30’s and 40’s, using words like gams and stems for legs, or calling a dopey person a mook. While my sister Chris was visiting me in San Diego, we decided we needed to bring back an old cocktail that had a crazy name. This was before the era of craft cocktails, mind you. We spent hours looking for the perfect drink while chatting. For it to be good it had to have tasty ingredients and a bizarre name that might elicit a reaction from the waitstaff. A bonus might be that it become popular again.
After much searching a Monkey Gland won. We could think of no funnier thing then to dress up, go to a fine dining establishment and ask the waiter for a couple of Monkey Glands. After settling into our plush seats our waitress asked if we would like to start with a cocktail. I asked her for a couple of Monkey Glands which is essentially gin, orange juice, grenadine and absinthe. No monkeys are harmed in the making of this cocktail. Unless of course they have trained monkey’s for bartenders. Though I think their penchant for throwing their own feces would hurt an A rating with the health department and trifle with the patrons dining experience, to say the least.
After I ordered our glands there was a long pause, in which our waitress’s eyes widened a hair and then she gave a small nod before returning to the bar. Watching them I could see the bartender shrug and pick up her phone and I imagine research how to make a Monkey Gland. We laughed and enjoyed the moment even if there was a subdued reaction. The fun was in the process of finding the drink, building it up in our heads, and ordering them. It was less about other people. It was about exercising our sense of whimsey, humor and quirk. Finding small things that can make us laugh has been a great way to create a life that feeds us, that is playful and brings enjoyment, which has helped in dealing with stress and trauma. Finding fun and laughter between the drama, work and funk makes for a richer life. How we choose to articulate it doesn’t look like someone else’s life, but that is okay, it just has to fit us.
Creating ways to have fun, to play and own your weirdness is key to accepting yourself, your past, and your family. Knowing that we are all awkward, goofy and silly even as adults is a good first step. Ultimately, we want to appreciate and love who we really are and from that know our worth. I think people believe that when they become an “adult” they should leave these things behind. That is a lie, our sense of play and humor are the things that sustain us, lead us to ourselves and deeper connection with others. Taking life too seriously is a mistake, it’s not like we get out alive. What we want in the end is to have lived a rich life, to love and be loved, to leave this place better than we found it. Whether that is a room, a job, or the planet. So why not on this short weird little journey enjoy it, relax into who you are, play a game and have a couple of Monkey Glands?
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