catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 10 :: 2007.05.18 — 2007.06.01


Unwinding under the weeping willow

In the “I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar” episode of the ultra-hit animated television series Family Guy, a commercial features two women dressed in skimpy bathing suits rubbing lotion on one another as a burly voice arrives and the camera pans to reveal several 40 oz. bottles of, “Pawtucket Patriot Beer: buy it and hot women will have sex in your backyard.” On one hand a satirical comment regarding the inherent sexism of commercial beer advertising and on the other recognition that our back yards are places where a variety of things happen.

Where do you go? When the eighty-hour workweek is done and all the miscellaneous errands, superfluous chores, and procrastination are at their end, where do you go? Recently, I’ve read or overheard many an article or casual convo in which the topic centers on the American psyche and our inability to, as our European counterparts refer to it, ‘holiday’. It’s certainly not a question of IF we need it. Logically, there should be a place where we are able to retreat, to replenish, to reinvigorate, to revitalize, to refresh, to revive, to rejuvenate, to regenerate, to renew. Why you say? Just take a look at an oversimplified observation of the demand our bodies place upon us. Consider how our bodies demand that near a third of the day be authentic rest. Otherwise we slowly but most assuredly break down bit by bit until we…snap or worse! Our technological advances seem to advocate for this end as they help save us time and money. This presents us with an opportunity, but caught up in the ‘chase,’ we trade the time for more money, which seems to be more about the human struggle either to make amends or to maintain the status quo which has so perfidiously programmed our mind. Amid life’s challenges—those weeping willows of stress and overwhelming demand—there is need to unwind, to untangle, to undo, to unravel. The question is why don’t we?

As it’s noted both in the novel and film Fight Club, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need.” The hinge is this: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not…” Basically, we’re defined not by what the status quo or the great Industrial complex has programmed in us, but we are as Willy Wonka once noted it, “the music makers and the dreamers of dreams.”

There are many people, places, and things that serve such an end. Many escape into a good book as we get lost in pulpy pages of romance, espionage, and redemption. For others its celluloid and the visual stories both nostalgic and current. Buried in the crevices of a sofa underneath a throw blanket or hypnotized in a dark theatre, we get lost and found inside the narrative of a good movie. Again, there are many outlets: a good album, a nifty run or walk, a great meal, a nap. Fill in the gaps. Of utmost outlet are our family and friends. This is what life truly seems to hinge on. I’ve never seen a top-rated sitcom about a loner with an interesting life. Our friends and family are at the center and at the center of our center is often our back yards. Countless back yard cookouts and beyond fill the pages of our memory books, dog-eared in the mind for those special times and places in which we’ve found that most intimate and meaningful of connections. The back yard is just one of the places of haven where we find moments of escape. 

In a recent article in The Sacramento Bee on the current estate of the backyard condition, Dan McKeown, manager of Barbeques Galore, states, “People are really focused on creating a retreat, a place where they can relax, visit, cook and entertain their family and friends.” A wonder bubbles up: how has this become a six billion dollar industry? What is it about this ‘retreat’ that we’re creating that demands such attention? Don’t get me wrong, I applaud it. Why do we need a retreat? It inherently suggests that there’s something to retreat from. But we don’t seem all that eager to acknowledge that we’re in need of anything. Our ambition, endeavor, technology affords us much of everything we want and often nothing we need.

As we all know, yards come in all shapes and sizes. Growing up in the Redwood Estates trailer park in Texas, I had a nice rectangular grass yard a stone’s throw from the playground. Many a days were spent see-sawing, granny-shooting, and participating in adolescent shenanigans. Then we moved to the rural countryside where I had about an acre of the best arid Texas cracked soil you could find (which made for many an interesting afternoon of basketball), complete with stray dogs and grasshoppers galore. Then I moved to college. It was my home in Clark Hall Dormitory at Texas Christian University where our backyard was a shared space of green among several halls, a haven for those ‘hi how are you’ and potential future rendezvous moments. Then I got married and was introduced to the crème-de-la-crème of backyards at my in-laws’ house in Carrollton, Texas. Buried deep in the cloned housing communities of rural Dallas, there is a humble home nesting among many others with a retreat all its own.

I knew there was something special in this residence when I found out that the zip code ended with 007 (my dad would have been proud). The yard has obviously developed over the years like a junior high to college graduation transformation. Now, as you walk out on the deck, you have the pool which is surrounded by lots of greenery and flowers. The pool is towered over by a protective fence to ensure the greatest of privacy. Embedded within the patio cover is a sound system within which the music of our momentary fancies can run wild. Strategically placed throughout the backyard are antique soda coolers that during the summer stay full of ice-cold drinks. Next to the pool is a simple outdoor table and chairs with a fan to cool off that Texas summer sweat. When the evenings get cool, there’s a chiminea surrounded by soft-cushioned benches with spicy variegated jalapeño pepper lights to lighten the evening ambience. And when the day is done one can head in through the French doors to the bedroom adjacent to the backyard and prepare to do it all again.

It’s just one of those places I long for. When I come home to vacation, I’m authentically learning what that word really means. Now that my family and I are moving back home to Texas we’re anticipating many a day and night developing our lives, our minds with our dearest family and friends. This is what life’s all about. Another dollar and one less day seems to be our lot at this point. We’re losing those moments. We’re allowing them to slip away with content contempt. It was in the backyard that Brad, fresh off a shift at Captain Kid’s Fish and Chips and wearing his pirate hat, lost himself in a fantastical daydream as Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates) exited the pool in slow motion atop the rhythmic thumping of The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s those Backyardigans who transform their backyards into multi-dimensional landscapes through their imaginative wonder. And it should be us, creating, producing, and directing these moments of need, whatever our back yards might be.

Our backyards, both our literal ones and our personal cognitive ones, have been overrun by the lack of care. Our figurative and metaphorical lawns are bombarded with weeds and have been starved of cultivation. We need renewal, a place for our tired feet to rest. I beckon the words of musician Paolo Nutini’s song entitled, “New Shoes” to help us begin our trek. “Hey, I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything is right…I put some new shoes on and everybody’s smiling, it’s so inviting. Oh, short on money, but long on time, slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine. And I’m running late and I don’t need an excuse, cause’ I’m wearing my brand new shoes.” The song captures if but only metaphorically the pleasant sacrifice of something sweet yet simple. He goes further, unintentionally perhaps, “Woke up late one Thursday and I’m seeing stars as I’m rubbing my eyes. And I felt like there were two days missing, as I focused all the time. And I made my way to the kitchen, but I had to stop from the shock of what I found. A room full of all my friends dancing round and round. And I thought hello new shoes, bye-bye them blues.” The backyard can certainly be that place where we are able to discard the old shoes of constancy and neglect and embrace the new shoes of clandestine sunshine shoulder-to-shoulder and arm-in-arm with our closest loved ones. The song closes, “Take me wondering through these streets. Where bright lights and angels meet, stone to stone they take me on, I’m walking to the break of dawn.” Happy trails! 

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