Just read the breaking news that more than 100,000 signatures have been gathered on the White House website, asking for the President of the United States to consider the deportation of Mr. Justin Bieber. The Biebs. JB! Deported! One hundred thousand people care enough about JB’s influence on our nation that they feel the need to get our President involved and have this boy kicked clean out of the country! All the way back to Canada! Is there even a port in Alberta?

These anti-JB’ers are worked up, let me tell you. One petitioner made no bones about his desire to rid the United States once and for all, of this single offender, this scourge, this pox! This Baby child. One petitioner dude spoke for many, apparently the whole country, when he cited JB’s “reckless, destructive, drug-abusing behavior,” and said, “We the people would like to remove Justin Bieber from our society.” We the people? Who is this guy, Thomas Jefferson? Did he conduct a survey at school or something? This activist slash pop-icon-hating hater wants to remove Justin Bieber from our entire SOCIETY—because it’s obvious Justin Bieber is totally wrecking it! Things were great until Justin Bieber came along! Justin Bieber hit the scene a few years ago and all of a sudden, there’s chaos in the streets and on the Today Show plaza, and employers country-wide are losing millions as their employees stand around the water cooler and try to figure out what ‘swag’ means–and also, why JB insists on wearing those ridiculous pants. These people, these citizen crusaders, have had enough and want JB to get his saggy-drawed butt back to whatever province he came from and start making those streets unsafe. See if he can get away with racing his Ferrari down Main Street Calgary and not get his ass whooped!

People. Calm down. If you have time to log-in to the Presidential suggestion box and enter a complaint about Justin Bieber ruining our country, I suggest you take a breath. Why don’t you take a walk and pick up some litter around your neighborhood. Volunteer at your local food bank. Buy a college kid a cup of coffee. Take your grandma to her next doctor’s appointment. Think about doing something productive instead of trying to deport cute boys! Start a petition to get Beyonce to stop wearing those god-awful shimmering tights with her hideous sequined body suits! Let’s, as a nation, get Miley Cyrus to put her tongue in her mouth and her flabby hillbilly behind in a pair of proper pants. Let’s try to get women to stop marrying Charlie Sheen. There’s better things to do America. I mean there are.

Peace out. JB. Swag.

Luckily, I’ve been calling myself ‘50’ for the last two years in order to prepare myself for the real 50, which I will turn in a few weeks’ time. I was born a week after JFK was shot in ’63, if you’d like a mnemonic. There it is. I said it. 1963. Wow. That sounds like such a long time ago. It sounds like the wild west. Like the gold rush days.

“Pappy, tell us again about the olden days. Tell us again about the day the Hindenburg exploded! Tell us about the day you and Mammaw got the clothes wringer, Pappy!”

1963–the year they stopped production of the Studebaker. Color TV was all the rage! Everyone was talking about the invention of the water heater! Carpeting was introduced at a demo hall at the Missouri State Fair! 1963–the year Astronauts landed on Alaska!

50 years ago this month, my mother chugged a quarter bottle of castor oil each night for a week so that I’d come out in November. She already had a December baby and she didn’t want to double up. She got her wish and I came out on the last day of November. Someone’s keeping track of this stuff, because I got my AARP membership application yesterday in the mail. I knew it was coming, so I wasn’t completely surprised. I’ve read some friends’ posts about receiving their AARP card in the mail when 50 was a few weeks away. I read the funny jokes about the AARP envelope including coupons for MiraLax and adult undergarments, and other hilarious jokes about getting old. And as I read those funny posts, I thought, Fifty Schmifty. Big deal! It’s just a number! But until you see that thing in hard form, that plastic old person’s card with YOUR name on it, all official and correctly spelled, well you can’t know the feeling. “Don’t judge” is what I’m saying.

What’s the phrase now? 50 is the new 40? Or is it the other way around? 40’s the new 50? 50 is the new black? Or is it orange? Shit, 50 is the new what? I can’t remember. 50 is the new old, is what I’m gonna call it. We’re old, people. Get used to it. If you remember when the TV went to static at midnight, you’re OLD.  If you’ve ever actually used one of those cameras where you had to hold it just right and look down INTO the lens, like the freaking Civil War days, I got news for you – you’re OLD. If you remember getting mad in the 7th grade when you couldn’t get to the song you wanted on an 8-track tape because it skipped around at such stupid intervals, you’re OLD. Do you remember when Bob Barker and Alex Trebek had dark hair? Do you remember the Tarn-X commercial? You get where I’m going.

And who remembers the Selectric Typewriter? The one with that rotating metal disco ball thingy with all the letters on it? That was a long time ago, and the highest technology. Then when auto-correct tape came out on typewriters… well, that was just space age, pure and simple.

I looked into the benefits of AARP membership today, however, just for fun, and I found it has some pretty decent perks. For a membership fee of just $16 a year, you can get a free donut any day of the week at Dunkin’s, with a purchase of a nine-dollar specialty drink. Ten percent off of your entire purchase every Tuesday at Michael’s Craft Store, so you can take up knitting and needlepoint, now that you’re old. With your AARP card, you can get a “Brazilian Wax and Microdermabrasion” for $32! (Regular price $78). You can bet the Brazilian Wax Technicians get real excited when they see the AARP ladies shuffling on in for their monthly ass-waxin’. (Quick, Courtney! Here’s comes that old lady with the flip phone! Get me my surgical mask!!!)

With the AARP card, you can purchase two hours of “Dating 101” classes (two hours for the price of one! This is, apparently, for those people whose first marriage was so long ago it was “arranged” and they don’t know what “dating” is!) The list goes on: Three weeks of “Supported Intestinal Cleanse” for $49. (This is MiraLax with an 800 number.) One month of unlimited kettle ball classes for $32. (Unlimited!) Twenty five percent off all menu items at Papa John’s. (Yes!) Five percent off select cruises on Norwegian Cruise Lines. (Cruising with the Norwegians! Again, yes!) Twenty percent off everything from the Popcorn Factory. (Finally! Savings at the Popcorn Factory!) And the screamin’ deal of two free lanes of bowling with purchase of a Coke and a large chili fries at Sunset Lanes! Because us old people like to get out and do stuff after our ass-waxing appointments! When we’re feeling fresh and aerodynamic! Is there anything better than rolling a strike after you’ve had the Brazilian?? NO! Except maybe a handful of chili fries washed down with an ice cold Coke! I love America.

Oh my god, we’re old. I’m old. My plastic AARP cards says so.

 

I had to look up some words today. Gather round children, and listen carefully. I’m only going to say this once.

OK, the definition of bi-annual is “occurring twice a year; or occurring every 2 years.” The definition of semi-annual is “occurring every half year, or twice a year; also semi-yearly.” The definition of semi-yearly is “twice a year,” and bi-yearly means “twice yearly.”

Hmm. Ok. Got it.

So, let me summarize: Semi-annually, semi-yearly, bi-annually and bi-yearly can all mean “twice a year” (lay people refer to this as “every six months”), but bi-annual has the added bonus of also meaning something completely and utterly different from its first definition, which is, in fact, not twice a year, but a mere fraction of that! (Or is it double?) I don’t know, don’t quote me on that part.

Anyway, if you’ve ever been confused by these terms and are one of those people who can never figure out how often the goddamn Nordstrom sale happens, you are not alone!

English is stupid.

I saw a logo on a van the other day for some refrigeration company. “Affordable Refrigeration Services” or something along those lines. In big letters on the side of the van it had its logo and acronym: ARS. I read it outloud as I sat at a traffic light. ARS. Sounded like arse to me! Today I’m dealing with a vendor at work that administers our drug testing for us. They have a form which they have titled, “Electronic Change of Command.” They call it E-COC for short. E-COC. Rhymes with peacock.

People, just because you can make an acronym out of it, doesn’t mean that you should!

I hear and read these words: E-COC, ARS, the McDonald’s McWrap (McCrap) Sandwich, and the acid reflux medicine called Aciphex (Ass Effects), and I can’t help but wonder about the marketing geniuses coming up with the names! At any point in their brainstorming sessions are they speaking these words out loud? To maybe hear how they are going to sound, in the English language?

I had a journalism teacher in college, who was the sweetest person ever, and she told us, “You have to think dirty in your writing and your headlines…in everything. Because everyone else will.” This teacher looked a lot like the church lady, but gave us hilarious and naughty examples of bad headlines that she kept in a binder.

“Nixon Gets Pat on Back.”

“Surgeon Leaves 8-inch Tool in Patient.”

“McCallister Gets Head Job,” and other awesome lines. I’ve been thinking dirty ever since. I can’t help myself. Blame the church lady!

It is remarkable when your strict, suit-wearing, bald, and generally law-abiding dad pulls a gun on some guy in the middle of a daytime traffic jam.

It was 1977.  Jimmy Carter was President. The price of gas was up to seventy five cents a gallon. John Denver and Seals and Crofts were popular musical acts. So were Pink Floyd and the Alan Parsons Project. Soft rock was making room for hard and progressive. It was a tumultuous time, and the innocence of the early ‘70s was waning, at least in my life. People were experimenting with new musical sounds, new presidents, and a new type of passive/aggressive anger-releasing mechanism: road rage! Once again, my dad was a pioneer.

It all came about as Dad and I drove down a busy Portland street at rush hour on a hot summer day.

We were in the vicinity of the Lloyd Center Mall, an area with heavier traffic and more congestion than our comparatively quiet Southeast Portland residential neighborhood. Getting around our neighborhood was easy. Over by Lloyd Center, which incidentally was where my dad grew up, there were lots of businesses, lots of cars, and lots of asphalt. It was close to downtown. The Lloyd Center Mall was the center of the congestion, and businesses fanned out from there. Traffic was heavy and it was hot—the kind of day where the pressing heat and traffic have a tendency to make drivers sweaty and irritable and prone to violence. It wasn’t Watts or Bed-Stuy or Southside Chicago, and there were no fire hydrants gushing water on street corners or little kids getting shot in drive-bys, but my nice, normally cordial businessman father was ready to blow a gasket in a medium-sized town traffic skirmish.

We were driving in Dad’s prized 1948 Plymouth—midnight blue, with suicide doors. The thing was gigantic. We had driven over to NE Portland so Dad could run a business errand of some kind, and afterward, we began to make our way back home. It was nearing 5 o’clock. Dad was a planner and why we got caught in the evening rush hour on a hot summer day, I don’t know. Dad avoided rush hours. And traffic. He avoided left turns. He used to say that if he was mayor of Portland, he’d outlaw left turns. “Right turns only!” He would have imposed some goddamn German efficiency on the roads.

God, it was hot. As we drove up NE Weidler, we were moving along with traffic—slowly—stopping and starting, starting and stopping, doing a halting crawl along the busy four-lane boulevard. There was no air conditioning in the Plymouth, and Dad had blankets on the front seat of the car due to the upholstery needing repair, which made things extra uncomfortable and scratchy. The irritability oozing out of Dad was palpable; I could practically see it rising from his bald pate, like the steam escaping from an overheated football player’s head, as we inched along.

It was sweltering, and the blanket we were sitting on might have even been made of wool.

About every two blocks we came to a traffic light. The streets were clogged, the smell of exhaust wafted through our windows, and drivers were jockeying for position, as happens.

I was a kid, in 7th grade in ’77, and not paying much attention to what was happening on our drive. I was gazing out the window, checking out the 7-11 on our right, the Woolworth’s on the left. We were in the real thick of the traffic now. Dad started to get angry about something, which was common, and he began grumbling under his breath about how stupid the other drivers were. Dad was not a patient person on a good day, and his impatience became more pronounced when he was in a car with no air conditioning on a 90-degree day at 5:05 pm, sitting on an itchy blanket while stuck in Northeast Portland traffic “with a buncha dumbshits.”

Dad continued to complain about dumbshits, and especially some dude in the car next to us who was getting in his way, cutting him off, or exhibiting some other perceived driving irritation. Dad’s temperature was beginning to rise, and he continued to mutter under his breath at this dude next door, while continuing to drive more aggressively himself—as aggressively as one can drive in an eight thousand pound car built before the invention of the safety pin.

Dad kept grumbling. Revving up and slowing down. Bitching about the dude who was driving like a jerk.

It’s quite possible that Dad was exhibiting some jerky driving behavior too, and equally to blame for the back and forth taking place between himself and this dude. Perceived fault would probably have depended on who you were to interview.

In any event, a heated driving incident was brewing, and unbeknownst to me at the time, a 1970s road rage incident was about to go down. Things got crazy for a minute or two.

Dad and I continued driving up busy Weidler in the heavy traffic. We kept seeing the dude who had pissed Dad off to begin with. He seemed to be everywhere, at every juncture. We’d move, he’d move. We’d stop, he’d stop. Our cars were connected on a Hot Wheels track. And the dude seemed to be as mad at Dad as Dad was at him. I don’t know what had happened, who did what to whom, but Dad continued muttering and cursing this guy for several blocks.

Things got worse. Dad was getting into it with this guy. I had been sunk down low in the front seat of our tank-car, but hoisted myself up so I could get a better look at what was going on. From where I sat on the passenger side, I saw the offending driver, a beefy, rough-looking dude much younger than Dad, yelling and gesticulating at Dad from his car. I saw Dad yelling and gesticulating back. Our car was close to the dude’s—there was no doubt they were yelling at each other. I noticed more gesticulating from the dude in the car, fingers and hands flying, while Dad continued to speak loudly and curse while also muttering under his breath in between the loud speaking and the cursing. He was working himself into a real lather. We drove on, then came to a stop at the next set of traffic lights. I looked over and saw the dude who had been in a yelling match with Dad. He was again, right beside us. We couldn’t shake him. This guy looked mad. And capable. Like Robert Deniro in Cape Fear-capable. He also looked like a felon. My dad was bald and looked like an insurance salesman, which he was. A fighter, he was not, although he did get pissed off a lot.

I ignored the dude for a moment, figuring we’d shake the guy, Dad would calm down and we’d be home soon. I reached into the glove compartment where Dad kept his stash of chocolate. I found a melted Hershey bar. In a Ziploc. Dad yelled some more.

I did not see or notice what happened next, but something triggered for the dude, because in an instant, he was out of his car and walking. Hitching up his pants by his belt loops. Walking fast and purposefully. Toward us. Toward Dad. So pissed off, he had left his own car, still running, in the middle of a NE Portland street! Who does that? He was obviously insane! My dad was just crazy. And what about safety?! Passive-aggressive road-enraged people are supposed to feel safe in their vehicles as they swear and gesticulate at their fellow road-ragers! Drivers are supposed to stay in their vehicles! This was 1977. There were unwritten rules of the road then, and one of them was: Everybody involved in a traffic altercation stays put and keeps the anger inside! People weren’t beating each other up or committing murder in road rage incidents yet. Road rage was in its infancy! It was play-acting! All in fun.

The dude was close now, looking big and inflated under his sweaty shirt. He was younger and stronger-looking than Dad. His chest was much, much bigger than Dad’s. He was coming around the front of his own car toward ours, heading straight for Dad’s driver’s side window—striding over to come have a chat with this man in the old car—leaving his own vehicle unattended on one of the busiest streets in the city.

As the dude continued walking toward Dad’s side, and with our old Plymouth idling like a beast in the middle of stopped traffic, Dad reacted. In one move, Dad reached under his seat with his right hand, and calmly and deftly pulled out a handgun.

A gun!? What the hell? I didn’t know my dad kept a gun in the car! Who was he, Al Capone? Not since Dad had me and Andy shoot magazine cut-outs of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in the basement of the house on Sherrett Street had I seen him with a gun in his hand. Jesus. This was getting weird.

Dad took the gun and carefully placed it in his lap, barrel facing away from me. The gun was small and fit easily into his palm. I just froze and watched.

With his left hand, Dad rolled the window up so that just a few inches clearance remained. He kept the gun pointed sideways toward the door, and below the line of the window so nobody else would be able to see it from a distance. Dad had gone temporarily nuts, but he wasn’t about to wave a handgun around in a gangster car in the heart of NE Portland. He was smarter than that. Dad kept his finger near the trigger of the gun and on his lap as the dude continued to walk toward our car. The dude’s intent when he got out of his car was obviously to intimidate Dad, and who knows what else. Dad’s apparent intent in bringing out the gun was to say to the dude, “Dude, I have a gun.”

Dad kept his eyes trained on the dude as he huffed toward us. My dad’s intensity was at an all-time high. He was AMPED. I was paying close attention at this point, but it all happened too fast for me to get scared. I was simply watching. Silently. I knew Dad had it under control. The dude was big and scary, but we were in a huge car and we had a gun. As the dude approached Dad’s window, just steps away, Dad said through clenched teeth, something like, “Try it, you son of a bitch.” Actually, this is exactly what my dad said, as I remember that line distinctly. Dad speaking this line was more for Dad’s benefit, as the dude would not have necessarily been able to hear him, being several paces away from our window at the time, and the window being cracked just a few inches. Dad’s threat was more of a stage whisper. An element of theater. A pep talk from Dad, to Dad. Adrenaline talking. Super intense German-American bald man who doesn’t like being intimidated holding a gun talking.

The dude approached Dad at the window in a menacing manner and was about ready to say something, for sure, but he suddenly stopped short. As he peered in, he caught sight of the handgun and the bald man in the shirt and tie holding it.

Just as he registered that he was dealing with a possible insane person—what with the handgun and also the veins in Dad’s head clearly visible now—the dude’s entire demeanor changed. His chest un-puffed. The aggressive stance and intimidating stare melted into a look of shock and surprise, and then, morphed further into what appeared to be the base instinctual survival notion of “what the fuck.”

It was now the dude’s turn to freeze. He blinked a couple times, and appeared to be thinking. Thinking of ways to not get shot at, perhaps. No longer trying to scare the shit out of my dad with his puffy chest and clenched fists and beefy thighs. No longer reacting in anger. Suddenly, there was no more looking at Dad menacingly. No more eye contact with the gun. No words spoken. The dude paused for two seconds, blinked again, and rotated his body slightly toward his own car. He then began to check the air in the tires on the passenger side. Because lots of people do that: check on their tires in the middle of a traffic jam. He looked at his tires, and saw that they were all filled up good. He may have reached down and touched one of them for show. Tightened the little rubber caps on the air nozzle thingies. Shrader valves, they’re called. Yep, tires were all filled up nice.

This was some bad luck for the dude. He picked the wrong old man to try to start a fight with today. But his tires were at the appropriate air pressure.

The dude turned—looking smaller now—and walked back to his car. Back to his car which was still idling in the middle of NE Weidler. Dad un-tensed a bit and carefully put the pistol down.

Traffic started moving and we crept slowly up Weidler, heading for home. I absent-mindedly licked my chocolately fingers.

Bald man with the gun wins. Violence deterred.

The hallway is dim, and I can see light coming from the living room. We’re all crammed into the corner of the hall just off the living room—next to the bathroom and butted up against the linen closet that holds no linen, but instead, my mom’s massive stockpile of MD toilet paper. When you have seven kids and TP goes on sale, you clear the shelves. From the hallway, I hear the faint sounds of after-dinner coffee talk and polite adult laughter floating on the air. We have company, a few of my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side. Dad has rearranged the front room furniture into a comfortable semi-circle. A little show is coming, and the relatives know it. I’m sure they are super excited.

Out of view of my aunts and uncles and their spouses in the next room, we wait.

I’m in a dress and my hair is brushed. I am forced to wear shoes, this goddamn dress, and a matching “velvet” jacket with three-quarter sleeves, which I hate. I despise dresses for one thing, and the jacket is too small. I can barely move my arms. Mom has combed the boys’ hair down with water so it doesn’t stick up all over the place. No hair gel back then, of course, no mousse, so water is what Mom has at her disposal for a temporary slick-down. The hair-do’s will last 5 or 10 minutes or so, as long as it takes to get this thing over with.

We’re all lined up at the threshold to the living room, ready to make our entrance, and I’m dreading it like you can’t believe. We’ll be singing our song again tonight, a little Catholic ditty called, “Joy is Like the Rain.” It’s a song our dad makes us sing for relatives, and it sucks. Dad must think it’s a positive experience for all of us, but it’s not. It’s a bad experience. And a bad song. The song sucks and singing it in front of relatives is really, really sucks. It’s piling it on.
We do as we’re told. We will sing the song.

Dad stands in the doorway of the hall, his back to us, addressing the adults in the living room. All of us kids line up behind Dad, still out of view of the audience. I peek around Dad and spot Mom in the wings, absent-mindedly dipping a rat-tail comb into a cup of hairy water.

We enter, stage bathroom hallway.

As always, we are a sight to see. Seven kids lined up in age order. Of course we’re lined up in age order. When you have a whole bunch of kids, you’re always lined up in age order. It’s cuter that way. The eldest, Mitzi, is on piano. The youngest, Andy, is about four, and it’s possible he has a doo-doo in his pants.

Hit it!

I saw raindrops on my window
Joy is like the Rain!
Laughter runs across my pain
Slips away and comes again
Joy is like the Rain!

Oh, the song. The wretched song. Joy is like rain? Laughter runs across my pain? Since when does laughter run across pain? This song causes me pain. And laughter is not running across it. Mortification and lifelong mental scars are running across it.

I hear polite “ohs” and “ahhs” and other vowel sounds from my aunts and uncles as we sing the first verse. They’re encouraging. They’re supportive. Everyone’s looking side-to-side at each other, nodding in cordial agreement that yes, in fact, we are adorable.

Only a few of my relatives are in attendance this evening. Dad is one of nine, and two or three of his sibs are here tonight for dinner, along with their unfortunate spouses. My dad’s brothers and sisters, I can understand, but their spouses, too? Those poor people have to sit through this thing, and they aren’t even blood-related!

I’m hot. This jacket is cutting off the circulation in my armpits.

I hate this song.

This song is not a good song. It’s a Catholic folk song, I suppose you could say. Maybe a song that could be sung at Mass, but it’s possible that it’s not sufficiently monotonous or depressing enough for Mass. Not quite a hymn, not a gospel tune, it’s smack dab in the middle of the Bad Song Continuum. Somewhere between “Gregorian Chant Dub-step Remix,” and “Afternoon Delight.” This song is yet another reason a million Catholics give up Catholicism every year for Lent. If I would have been tuned in to the notion that a kid could create an alternate personality due to trauma in childhood, I would have created another personality in order to absorb the trauma of singing this stupid-ass song in front of relatives. I would have called this personality Petula Clark.

Singing “Joy is Like the Rain” for our aunts and uncles is especially traumatic in that it happens to include humankind’s number one anxiety-producing activity: “Public Speaking,” only this is public speaking in singing form, which makes it exponentially about a thousand times worse. The song itself is horrible, but when you throw in relatives, tight-fitting, fake-velvet, three-quarter sleeve jackets and bad Catholic metaphors set to music, you’ve got yourself an experience that 40 years later can still cause a break out in the hives. God! Even at age 6, I know this is a lame song and I know that having to sing it in front of relatives–people who just had a free dinner and are bound by good manners to hang out for a while–is extremely uncool. I know this. This is a bad deal. We’re getting screwed here.

I saw clouds upon a mountain
Joy is like a cloud!
Sometimes silver, sometimes gray
Always sun not far away
Joy is like a cloud!

More vowel sounds. My aunts and uncles are attentive as they listen to our song, which is really the worst thing they could be. I’d rather they be loud and inattentive. And drunk. Drunk would be great. Like at a dive bar! Pay no attention to us please. Somebody start a fight in the back. Please. Throw your coffee cups and stirring spoons on the hearth as to distract the other patrons. Please.

Please.

But that’s not going to happen. Dad’s sibs are lovely North Dakotans. They’re polite. They bring a jello salad to dinner, even when they were told they didn’t need to bring a thing, only themselves–and their appetites! They do not eat and run. They stay and they watch and pretend to enjoy the after-dinner skits and performances of their nieces and nephews, however awkward and painful they may be. We’ll all get through it. The night will end. The song will end, I pray. Seems like the only time I pray with my true heart is when I want something Catholic-related to end.

My relatives watch the show with plastered-on smiles and glassy eyes. Balancing pie plates on their laps. What must they be thinking? Maybe they’re thinking this is a stupid song, too! Maybe they are extremely uncomfortable also! Why doesn’t someone say it? Somebody stand up and speak the truth! The Emperor Is Wearing No Clothes! And this song is moronic.

I saw Christ in wind and thunder
Joy is tried by storm
Christ asleep within my boat
Whipped by wind but still afloat
Joy is tried by storm!

Could it have been that “Joy is Like the Rain” was written by a well-meaning, mildly progressive nun in an attempt to show Catholics in a new light? That Catholics weren’t a completely somber and depressed people? That we could sing lilting tunes, on occasion? That not every Catholic song had to be a monotonous dirgey piece of water-boarding set to music? That we could sing about joy, in a somewhat melodic manner, even as it related to pain and suffering and guilt? And expound on the notion that joy was somehow, like a cloud?

I suppose you could argue that it’s an OK song, if you don’t count the lame lyrics and artless melody. Maybe this song was written as a class project by a group of Catholic School second graders.

Maybe I should be kinder.

I saw raindrops on the river
Joy is like the rain.
Bit by bit the river grows
‘Till at once it overflows
Joy is like the Rain!

No, it’s just a dumb song. What is this song trying to say? I didn’t get it. Joy is like rain? Joy is tried by storm? Songs that sounded like music to commit suicide by and tried to make sad things into happy ones bugged me. Like Puff the Magic Dragon. I hated that song. Joy is Like the Rain was like some creepy painting of a seagull, a half-eaten pomegranate and a melting rodeo clown. It did not speak to me. Did it speak to anyone?

It must have spoken to my Dad. He chose it. I blame Dad. Dad and “The Sound of Music.”

I think Dad developed some small-scale delusions about us becoming a singing family shortly after we all went to see “The Sound of Music” when it came out in the 1960s. I loved The Sound of Music. Our entire family went together–it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I remember the dark auditorium, the big screen, the rolling hills, the marionettes. It was amazing. Dad must have really liked the movie, too. I think The Sound of Music inspired him. For a while, Dad thought us kids had what it took to be a singing family. We were good enough. We were cute enough. We would take our shot at being a kid group. We’d start with “Joy is Like the Rain.” And for a test audience, we’d use Aunt Delores and Uncle Wally.

Even though Dad was delusional, there were, perhaps, a few similarities in us and the Von Trapp family: They had a lot of kids, we had a lot of kids. They were Austrian, we were half-German. They sang, we sang. The Von Trapp’s dad was a strict disciplinarian, our dad threw frozen hamburger through the window when he got pissed off.

Why was I born?!

I saw raindrops on my window
Joy is like the Rain!
Laughter runs across my pain
Slips away and comes again
Joy is like the Rain!

This song was all bad. There wasn’t one good thing about it. I knew the song and performance were super lame, but what could I do? I was in kindergarten. I was compliant. I had to do as my dad said. We all did. There was no free will.

My two older brothers must have really hated it. They had to have been even more conscious of its lameness and the potential repercussions of performing it than I was. I was little–socially, I could survive this. Kindergartners let things like this slide. Tony and Joe, on the other hand, were on the cusp of their teenage years. Middle school. If word got out that they had to dress up in suit jackets and clip-on ties and sing this ridonculous song–as a “family group” and in front of food-compensated aunts and uncles, no less–well, this could have spelled certain death for them come Monday morning at school. Super-atomic wedgies and flushies until the 9th grade. Who knows how their lives would have been different if word got out that they had to sing this asinine song to relatives. We all kept it under wraps, like a shameful family secret.

I knew it was the night of the Naked Bike Ride, Portland’s premiere Hippie/Free Spirit Showcase. The night when thousands of Portlanders who want to ride a bike naked and get away with it hit the streets on their two-wheelers to go for a ride around the downtown! I’d never seen it first-hand, but this year, it came into my consciousness in a bigger way, and I thought about it all day. I wanted to see it. I lived in this city. I grew up in this city, and I had never in my life seen a naked person on a bicycle. Tonight could be the night.

My daughters and I were out and about on the east side on Saturday night, and as we were heading home to the west side, I realized our timing was going to be just about right to see some naked people. It was 9:30 or so, almost time for the nakeds to be hitting the streets, as I had heard, making their way to wherever it was this naked ride thing was commencing. I didn’t know exactly where to look for them, but I figured the HawthorneBridge would be a good guess. I was right. The Hawthorne is the bridge with the best bike path.

As we drove north on MLK Blvd. and approached the bridge, I looked to my right and saw a big slug of bike riders beginning to cross our path. “Are any of them naked??” I said to my daughters sitting in the backseat. I didn’t want to be a perv, I was simply interested in seeing the scene. It’s not everyday that you see a bunch of naked people, let alone on bikes! My older daughter said, “I don’t want to see it Mommy!” I kept on. I was on a mission. We were going through with it. Damn the mental scars! My kids would get over it. We were making memories. I was already thinking of how I could scrapbook this.

Whoa, I just saw my first bottomless man on a bike. Rethink the scrapbook page.

I continued up  MLK, quite excited that I might be seeing this event in real time, when all of a sudden, as if a gate opened, a whole clot of bike riders came into view on our right. Heading west toward the river, approaching the light at MLK, and riding in front of us. Most of them had clothes on, but carried empty knapsacks that would hold the clothes they were going to be stripping off in a few short minutes. Cars were bumper to bumper on MLK, and bikes were everywhere now, everybody trying to get downtown. Bikes and cars alike. It was starting. The World Naked Bike Ride, as it was officially called. I didn’t know for sure if the whole world was involved, but excitement was in the air at this intersection.

I wanted to know where the official start was taking place. I made three right turns off of MLK and around the block so I too was heading west on Hawthorne, the same direction as the riders, dozens and dozens of them. I stopped for a brief moment and hollered at a group of bikers parked on the sidewalk, twenty-somethings who appeared to be psyching themselves up to take their clothes off. “Where are the Nakeds starting?!!” I asked them. One young man yelled back, “Park Blocks!” I thanked him and rolled up the window—he was nice, but the smell of patchouli doesn’t agree with me.

We continued west over the HawthorneBridge. Cars were honking and joyous noises could be heard all around. It felt–no it didn’t just feel, it was–as though all the cars on the bridge were reveling in their crazy luck and good fortune that they were on the bridge right now. Sharing this moment with the many semi-naked and soon to be naked riders politely and delightedly riding on the bridge’s bike path. The people in cars were part of the parade. Bikers were calling out to the drivers and passengers in cars on the bridge, and vice versa.

I had to really concentrate on my driving—do you know how hard it is to drive across a narrow grated bridge in traffic while trying to rubberneck on a bunch of naked people on bicycles? Very difficult. We had hit the jackpot. We had an excellent view of the city, the water, the bridge, and a shitload of naked people.

Everybody in the city was heading into town, it seemed. It was as if a miracle was occurring and people were just becoming more and more naked by the minute. How were their clothes coming off? These were some skilled riders, removing clothes while riding on a bike path and across a bridge. The cyclists were hooting and hollering, feeling beautiful, feeling free, waving at us normal folks in our Acuras and Camrys and Jeep Cherokees. Us normies, staring and honking. Gawking. Giving hesitant thumbs up. I was happy, so happy for these people, and wanted to encourage them. But what was I encouraging? That they were naked? On bicycles? I guess so. That they were showcasing their individualism? I guess that’s a yes, too. I didn’t care if there were twenty thousand of them doing it, they were each and every one a gutsy individual. I’d never have the nerve to do ride a bike with no clothes on. Hail no. I’d be way too cold for one thing. It was something.

We continued across the Hawthorne and dropped into the streets of downtown, which were now completely clogged with hundreds of onlookers, people in cars and on foot, looking and staring at it all. Everyone in awe of what was surrounding them. Naked people everywhere you looked. You couldn’t have thrown a hacky sack without hitting a naked person on a bike. You could smell the nudity.

My kids were scared. “Mommy, I don’t want to see male genitalia!” This was Angie. She apparently learned the phrase “male genitalia” in the last few months, because she used it about six times in the short drive from the HawthorneBridge into the city. Evie said about one gal, “She had stickers on her boobs!!!” My girls were looking and yet trying not to see from the car windows. Covering their eyes like they were watching a scary movie.

As I drove slowly, so slowly and carefully up the street, I wondered how many people were from out of town, the business travelers or other various visitors to the Rose City, maybe here to catch a Timbers game, or attend the “Critical Components: Mastering the College Admissions Process” conference being held at the Downtown Marriott. There had to be plenty of people who had no idea this event was happening. What must they have thought when they saw all these naked people, cruising by on bicycles, in the downtown core? What in thee fuck is going on here? they must have thought. Or, Man, you don’t see this in Pendleton!!

There were scores and scores of people on bicycles passing us by–some partially naked, some very naked, some naked but wearing a big, huge 16-inch-long cloth-filled sock apparatus attached to their penises and held with a small string tied around the waist, a device that (I can only surmise) was meant to hide the actual penis, while simultaneously drawing attention to it. Especially the multi-colored or striped ones. Now that I think of it, multi-colored or striped ones would probably be the way to go. Anything flesh-colored would have just been weird.

We were in the thick of it now and at a near standstill near the Elk Statue Fountain thingy that sits in the middle of the street on whatever street that’s on, crawling alongside a parade of bikers streaming by in various levels of nakedness. We were in a traffic jam of voyeurs, all the drivers trying to absorb this sight. On bikes were young and old, skinny and fat, hairy and hairless. Some dressed in tutus, and nothing else. Some wearing only shoes. (Sensible.) I saw more than one  rider sportin’ a “cock cozy.” (That’s what those things are called, I looked it up on etsy.)

We saw henna’d backs and bums. Feather boas decorating bare chests. Crowns and tiaras, capes and angel wings. And at least some of the nakeds had the good sense to wrap a dish towel around their (bike) seats. That was impressive. I appreciated that these hippies displayed good hygiene. That dish towel might smell like some funky-ass patchouli later on, but at the very least, it had to have added a bit of cleanliness, and comfort. Now that I think of it, maybe this is where they harvest patchouli oil. It also crossed my mind that those bike seat dish towels should not be stored in an airtight container after the ride. (Spontaneous combustion.)

Anyway.

I miraculously found a parking spot in the midst of the mayhem, and my daughters and I got out of the car and ran to the Park Blocks. We heard the roar of the crowd from blocks away as a yell went up from what must have been the center of it all. I wanted to see this mass of people. I wanted to see what twenty thousand naked people on bikes looked like. I was practically giddy, while my daughters and I speed-walked toward the crowd, they trying to walk with their eyes closed, me trying to soak as much of this in as I could. Soon we were there, among the hundreds, maybe thousands who lined Jefferson Street as well, close to what looked like the beginning of the parade. We were part of it now, part of the gawkers come to cheer and take pictures, or simply stare at the spectacle of naked riders riding west on a mild late-Spring evening. I asked my older daughter to take some photos on her device, cuz my phone doesn’t do that. She hollered back, “I don’t want pictures of naked people on my iTouch!!!” My children were completely grossed out. Angie was standing on the curb holding on to her sister’s arm, looking down, trying to look at anything besides all the naked people, while I stood well in the street, straining to get a better look.

One young girl, a naked on a bike, seemed a little peeved at the gawkers. Why was she upset?! We were part of the party! We were all in this together! Except we were clothed. Everyone I saw on the sidelines was happy, absolutely delighted at the sight. The young girl on the bike yelled to the crowd of parade-watchers along Jefferson, “What are you all staring at??!!”

Ummm, we’re staring at all the naked people on bicycles! I wanted to yell back. What the hell do you think we’re staring at?  Honey, I suggest if you don’t want to get stared at, you ought not to ride down a city street with your lady parts flapping in the breeze. People want to look! This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some of us. But she had already passed. There was no need for trash talk. I was feeling love and happiness. I did not need to indulge her remarks.

My daughters and I hung out for a few more minutes on the street and sidewalk, then headed back to our car in order to beat the crowd. Really, if you’ve seen a hundred naked people on bikes, you’ve seen a thousand. It was pretty cool though.