16 April 2017

A Whiter Shade of Chill 2.0 (for Ungagged 18)

“He said, ‘there is no reason and the truth is plain to see’.”

This piece is redited from one I first wrote back in 2008 and have redone with different titles, this being the latest.  This current name—“A Whiter Shade of Chill 2.0”—comes from one of my all-time favorite movies, 1983’s The Big Chill, and one of the songs featured in it, Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.  The quote with which I began is a verse from the latter.

The film is about a group of friends who attended the University of Michigan in the late 1960s and considered themselves part of The Movement, against the war, for women’s liberation, for the war on poverty, against segregation, for civil rights, etc.  But in the end, it turned out that they were just role-playing trendy revolution, following fashion, and the illusion never changed into something real. 

The action in the movie takes place a decade and a half later after their ideals have withered and the cosplay yippies have all become yuppies, an industrialist, a high-end doctor, a TV action star, a corporate attorney, a writer for People magazine, a wife to an accountant married for security, and a drug dealer to the wealthy.  They had all fallen down like the toy soldiers they were.

The catalyst for the story was the suicide of the one member of their clique who was still trying to live by those formerly professed ideals.  Alex Marshall, the dead guy in question, was Kevin Costner’s first movie role.  The original opening scene, later cut, had him in the bathtub bleeding, still alive.  In the release all we saw was his body, no face, as the mortician was dressing him for the funeral home, the last shot being that of his slit but now sewn up wrists. 

Alex was the true believer, the one person in the group who really believed the things he was saying, the principles they espoused.  And continued searching and believing long after he left the university and the others had gone on with their yuppie lives.

Everyone I knew enjoyed the movie, but the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers had different takes.  To the Boomers, the movie showed that ideals weren’t as important as friendship, and that trading principles for cash was just pragmatic common sense.  For me and my fellow GenXers, how most of us felt is best summed up in the words of Winona Ryder’s character in the opening scene of the 1993 movie Reality Bites.

“The Baby Boomers wonder why we aren’t interested in the counterculture that they invented, as if we didn’t see them disembowel their revolution for a pair of running shoes.”  Running shoes at the time were one of the motifs of the yuppie stereotype.  They were even featured in the movie; in fact, the afore-mentioned industrialist manufactured them.

One of the many conversations my friends and I had about the movie figured in one of the more memorable series of events from when I was at UTC.

One evening, I was being given a ride home late one afternoon by a female friend with whom I was having a date that next weekend.  I forget the reason exactly that I needed a ride, but it may have been after Sunday Mass at the Newman Center.

Mary, the girl driving, and I had both seen “The Big Chill”, her twice, me four times, and were discussing it.

As we passed out of the tunnel through Missionary Ridge from McCallie Avenue in downtown Chattanooga onto Brainerd Road, Mary half-turned to me and asked, “Who do you see yourself as?  Which one of the characters?”

“Hmmm...,” I replied. “I guess I'd have to say Nick.”  Nick, played by William Hurt, was the cynical drug-dealing anti-authoritarian former psychology student and war vet had who lost his genitalia, or at least the function thereof, in Viet Nam.


"He's so cynical, and so am I." 

"Well, you’re as cynical," she answered, "but that's not who I'd say."

"Oh, who do you see me as?"

Keeping one eye on the road, she looked at me sideways with a funny look in her eyes and said, “Alex.”

Alex? I thought. The dead guy??

So I asked, “Alex?  The dead guy?”

She told me she was talking about the things the other characters said about him, all their memories, all the ways he'd touched their lives.  It wasn't a dead guy she was comparing me to, it was the memories of that dead guy.  She wasn’t casting me for Zombie Apocalypse, at least.

For mine and Mary’s date that weekend in 1983, we went to a Sicilian-owned restaurant in Brainerd Village, Mama Theresa’s, very intimate atmosphere, delicious food, great wine, then to a movie.  Typical dinner-and-a-movie date, but the conversation at dinner was fantastic, lively, and engaging.  All-in-all, one of the best "just-a-date" dates I had ever had to that point.

I couldn’t get Mary on the phone for the next three weeks after our dinner and movie, nor did she show up at the Center in Sundays.

When Mary finally did show up for Sunday evening Mass there after three weeks, she came up to me and said, with no preamble, “I’m sorry, but things between us would never work out. I'm too conventional for you.”

(Conventional: 1. Following generally accepted principles, methods, and behavior. 2. Ordinary, commonplace. 3. Lacking originality or individuality. 4. Typical, stereotypical. 5. Conformist.)

I just stood there with my mouth open. What do you say to something like that?

After a time, Mary and I did get back to being pretty good friends again, but for a while it was pretty awkward.  She never explained nor gave me any hint of what had brought her to that conclusion after just one date, and it wasn’t exactly like we didn’t know each other. 

Mary graduated UTC and began teaching at Notre Dame, the local Catholic high school which was her alma mater.  She graduated there in 1980, a class ahead of my best friend at UTC. 

A few months after she started working there, I got a call from her asking if I wanted to come to her wedding, and if so, she’d send me an invitation.

The 22-year old too-conventional-for-me Catholic girl was marrying a 38-year old divorcee who had 19-year old a daughter.  And she had called me unconventional.

(Unconventional: 1. Not adhering to accepted standards. 2. Out of the ordinary. 3. Dissident, unorthodox, heretical. 4. Atypical. 5. Nonconformist, maverick.)

Sure, I replied, I’ll go. Why not?

The wedding was surreal. The only person whom I knew there was Mary, my friend and one-time, literally, date.  I ended up slow dancing, very closely, with her new 19-year old step-daughter Darly, which her boyfriend, whom I hadn't known about, didn't seem to appreciate, though he took it out on her rather than me, by delivering her to her grandmother, me in tow.

What ensued was a lot of screaming and yelling and scolding.  In Cuban Spanish.  No one paid me any attention.

It turns out Darly was not happy about having a step-mother only two years her senior, but she wasn’t pissed at Mary, she was pissed at her dad.  So she’d overindulged in refreshments.

A couple of weeks later, Mary was fired from Notre Dame High School on grounds of moral turpitude for having married a divorcee, by the same organization (the Catholic Church) that has provided so much aid, comfort, support, and shelter to the kiddie-fuckers in its ranks all over the world with the cooperation of its highest echelons, including the head of the Inquisition later known as Pope Benedict XVI.

Before that, though, I had called Darly, my friend Mary’s new step-daughter, two nights after the wedding, and the two of us wound up dating on-and-off for several months.

As for those ideals I spoke of espoused by the Baby Boomers of the New Left?  The Millennials whom so many Boomers and GenXers scorn and belittle are their Second Coming, and unlike their predecessors, they really mean it.

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