Earlier this week, I went to a book reading by Harrison Scott Key, author of The World’s Largest Man and one of my favorite essays of all time, Fifty Shades of Greyhound. Today’s advice: If you enjoy laughing, then you should read both.
One of the reasons why I love his work is because it’s so relatable – not because his experiences are transferable, but because the characters he creates seem so familiar.
Like his father. The story he read during the event was about the time his dad forced him and his brother to dive into alligator-infested waters to retrieve a fishing pole they dropped earlier in the day. When that approach proved fruitless, his father fashioned a dredge out of an old stop sign and several oversized fishhooks. As a surprise to no one except the young author, the pole was safely recovered and order was restored.
While few people have been thrown out of a boat in search of sunken sporting equipment, the beauty of Harrison Scott Key is that he makes us recall the times our own fathers did something equally reckless and disrespectful to nature.
In my family, we “went shootin’.
I didn’t think there was anything uncommon about that past time until freshman year of college when I found myself to be the only person in the room to have ever fired a gun.
“Your family hunted?” someone asked.
“Oh never,” I said. “We just shot garbage.”
“So you went to a shooting range?” my friend asked.
“No,” I said. “We went to a swamp.”
I knew that sounded bad, but I still described how my father collected old cans and bottles, loaded them into our Dodge Raider, and hauled them into the woods to a pond so polluted it practically glowed. There, from the top of a small cliff, we’d throw the garbage into the foul-smelling water and shoot until it disappeared.
“Are you from Florida?” the person asked when I was finished.
“No, I’m from Pennsylvania,” I said. The South of the North.
“Believe it or not, I was a better shot than my brother,” I bragged.
The looks my classmates exchanged made me decide against telling them about the occasional trips I took to Barney’s – my dad’s friend Barney, that is. (I wouldn’t come to learn about the department store until decades later.)
Barney had a shooting range in his backyard. It consisted of a few pedestals at varying heights set between his house and an old barn. I thought the whole setup seemed wildly unsafe, but I had a very good reason for not saying as much: I was 11.
When I found out that none of my new friends shared these experience – that not everyone possessed a vivid childhood memory of their father accidentally shooting the door of the family car or played with three unnamed dogs while waiting for her turn at a backyard shooting range – I loved it.
My childhood was special – what a relief.
As much as I enjoy telling those stories, I hardly ever do anymore. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by my experiences, it’s that I resent the way some people react to them. In the words of my mother, “People think we’re stupid.”
Sadly, she has a point.
“Well at least you turned out normal,” people often say, nodding approvingly at my clean clothes and designer shoes – as though it were a small miracle that the girl who once operated a bolt-action rifle could someday assimilate into cubicle life.
The irony, of course, is that the life I have now is anything but normal. Sure, by New York City standards it’s perfectly reasonable to drink $18 cocktails, and ride bikes that don’t actually go anywhere and live in single-room apartments stacked thirty high, but that’s no more or less normal than shooting Coke cans in the woods. The people who are quick to share their pity at my stories don’t seem to recognize that life is just as odd on the other end of the spectrum.
What’s worse, this side seems much less special.