Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Madeleines & GI Joe

Proust had his madeleines, me, child of pop culture that I am, got GI Joe. Went to see it yesterday evening (JE surprised me with popcorn and a movie and it was Monday, which is senior night.)

Did I like it? It was fine, the movie that hopes to be a franchise. Kind of like those Saturday matinee serials that I actually only saw once. (I haven't read Proust either. Actually I'm rather pretentious.)

Lots of explosions. Bad people on the side of evil. Good soldiers on the side of, well, good. The GI Joes (name of this top secret force) is multinational and integrated by gender and race as well.

Esprit d'corps up a gum stump. WE leave no one behind even if we have to bend the rules until they break. Amazing number of explosions, all of which the good guys can outrun. Collateral damage everywhere but no children or pets were every harmed.

But I'm not going to do in depth analysis or view it through any sort of lens, feminist, philosophical, or political. (I told you I'm pretentious.)

Instead I'm going to walk barefoot through the past. A big duh about the barefoot because that's the name of this thing and besides the only way to bring back the past is barefoot rather than with velvet shoes and rose colored glasses.

GI Joes. I think my dad and/or my brothers started the boys on them. Or maybe it was their own dad or their constant, insistent pleading. I had been adamant that MY children never going to play with guns or war toys of any kind. Somehow the big GI Joe action figure with the scar, fuzzy stuff for hair, and lots of uniforms and accessories (just like Ken, but MANLY) showed anyway. This GI was maybe six inches tall, his body was stiffly articulated so he could turn his head to look for enemies, bend his arms to fire his weapons, kneel, look like he was striding--or dancing when I got hold of him, creating an awkward arabesque. Not the wimpy mini ones that were the next gen, these stood tall and ready for action, like a good action figure should. (My brother just informed me that GI Joe was probably more like 12 inches tall and they now make them as expensive collectors' items. I wonder if there's a market for original actual child abused Joes?)

My finger tips remember the feel of that flocked head covering that was supposed to be a military brush cut. I knew how fake it was. I had run my hands over my dad's quarter inch stubble all my life.

Of course, like Barbie and Ken, Joe had been neutered. I can't recall if he even had butt cleavage, though I'm pretty sure Hasbro was stamped on his backside.

Nice Gwen, you're probably thinking, but what's the point and where is the barefoot path?

Watching the movie, I was back in the then. Boys in the backyard. which handily always seemed to have bare dirt somewhere. (A fondness for gardening does not necessarily equate with plants actually surviving.)

I think they had a tank that fired real little projectiles and other weaponry that actually did stuff. But what I remember and what I can see almost as clearly as this screen was a big yellow vehicle that could play both offense and defense. It was blocky, rectangular--can't recall if it had wheels or treads, but it was always sitting in the backyard. Once it arrived it became an outdoor toy and never got cleaned up to be brought in the house. Dusty, muddy, eventually battered, inevitably pieces broke off, went missing.

None of that seemed to affect its usefulness. (So at least they grasped the destructive capability of war and acceptable losses.)

G.I. Joes--of course the boys had many--sometimes surrounded it, sometimes the Joes were off on missions elsewhere and it sat, abandoned.

Hovering over that image is my dad's delighted aren't I a bad boy grin. He loved it, the boys loved it when Granpopper defied his peacenik daughter and bought the war toys that his grandsons delighted in far more than books I bought them. I minded less than I showed, but it was a dance where we all knew our parts, a game enjoyed by everyone in it. Marine Corps brat that I am, I cut my teeth on a pearl handled 45. I know that war toys don't inevitably make for warriors.

Then there's that familiar stomach twist of grief. Although my dad died in 1983, loss doesn't have an expiration date and you always miss someone and who you were to them, with them. And the other part is regret and those things you wished you done and wish you hadn't done.

I think the sins of omission stab more than than the ones of commission, though both why didn't I and why did I are almost as good as a hungry baby for waking you up at 3:00 AM.

That's part of the barefoot walk. I want to remember cozy Christmas mornings, everyone smiling, delighted with each gift, the surprises that Santa brought exactly what each child dreamed of, the stockings fill with the most loved sweets and the most fun and funniest small thingies, the family gifts all evoking actual and sincere just what I wanted's.

On the screen, Duke, the GI Joe to be, is watching the woman he loved, as she strides in to the secret base, wearing the black leathers that have been requisite since Diana Riggs. He flashes back to the night he proposed to her, she was a blonde, and they danced. The music is lovely and so are they. The past, in movies, is always a little blurred. Good idea--most everything, including memories, look better when softened.

The actual Christmases? There were starry eyed children, and the just what I wanted's. But the plates didn't match and none of them had Christmas trees on them. The fire spit sparks and I wasn't wearing that long plaid velvet skirt I didn't own.

The tensions--the house is messy and dirty, George is embarrassed, wishes I hadn't invited so many people to celebrate. The dog shits on the floor and someone steps in it. Dinner is complicated when my mother-in-law Ethel is there. She is The Cook and the kitchen is her domain. My mother and I bow out and chop, stir, and mix at her direction. And wash up. But this means my family doesn't get some of the old familiar dishes like cornbread dressing.

Which was my dad's domain on the Christmases he was at home. I can see him now, at the countertop of my kitchen the way it was before we remodeled, next to the refrigerator, the big brown mixing bowl (I wonder what ever happened to that bowl) at hand. "Here, taste it, doll. What do you think it needs? " He didn't have to offer a taste, of course. All of us, walking by, would steal a pinch. It didn't matter what you answered either because he really wouldn't listen.The cornbread itself was my mother's responsibility; she made it the day before so it could dry out a bit. And biscuits. but there always biscuits so no special effort was required for those. I make the cornbread now but of course it doesn't taste like my mother's just as hers never tasted like Mamaw's. Somewhere in a far distant past all food was ambrosia and mana and tasted exactly as it should taste and the memory haunts the human race.

Regret. Remorse. Our Town playing on my mind's stage.

Why didn't I spend every moment just watching the boys play? Appreciating the awkward love and good intentions done so badly that we all tried to give. however it was said or shown?

Hair shirts and deliberately chosen paths of rocks and broken, blistering asphalt aren't any more true than velvet slippers, of course. It simply was and the real pain is that it passes. Nothing stays.

Eventually the boys abandoned their GI Joes, though I suspect some are still around, stuffed in the boxes I keep in the garage. Battered, missing hands, feet, limbs--casualties of the wars.

The yellow thing is gone.

I don't remember when. Or how.

GI Joe ends with that iconic Star Wars march of the heroes side-by-side to a swelling triumphant theme and a quick, ominous glimpse of the villain in place for the sequel.

The lights come up; the movie's over. J.E. and I hold hands as we walk down the steps more carefully than we might have years past.

I don't remember when steps became something take with a certain amount of care.

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