My best attempt at defining what I'm talking about when I talk about "cultural experiences" is example. As you can see, these experiences are not about Fun or Pleasure. In fact, they're often un-fun and not pleasurable.
Doing a reading ISN'T, being on an internet sex & dating panel at the MoSex IS.
Space Mountain ISN'T, Carousel of Progress IS.
Working at The Macaroni Grill in Michigan ISN'T, working at The Olive Garden in Times Square IS.
Taking a plane from Chicago to New York ISN'T, taking a Greyhound from Oregon to Chicago IS.
Six Flags ISN'T, the Clinton County 4-H Fair IS.
... it made me think of Zingerman's bread-ends, the fifty-cent bags we'd pick up for lunch when short on cash, smear generously with free packets of mayonnaise and then eat on the back lawn of our hippie alternative high school while the older kids, stuffed into inherited cars in various stages of erosion, smoked pot and ate real sandwiches. Everyone's car had something special wrong with it; no air conditioning, broken parking break, occasional inability to start, 1-4 windows refusing to roll down, faulty wipers, a consistent "check engine" light.
I wanted to be an older kid, I wanted a car, cars were freedom, cars enabled experience ... "how vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live ..." (Thoreau)
10) Of all the cars in that lot, I liked Jack's big red pick-up the best. Nearly ten of us -- lying on our backs -- could fit in the truck's deep bed. A bisexual before it was trendy, Jack sported multi-colored hair and he safety-pinned political opinions to his motorcycle jacket. He seemed slightly dirty always, which grossed me out & made me uneasy to touch him, but everything grossed me out then -- I grossed myself out, most of all, which's why I hid beneath layers of oversized clothing and caustic, off-putting snobbery.
He liked to drive us (us=a tight self-righteous clique of 14-15 year old girls & scrawny boys) places and not tell us where we were going (which panicked me, my Mom was strict, I had to be home), like U-Mich campus buildings with secret rooms and hideaways. We'd climb in windows, shimmy up fire escapes, slip into small cubbies of unused space where decades of punks and squatters had left wall scrawls for each other, maybe even for us. We'd just sit there, then, crouched together, checking engines, breathing, whispering, wondering what kind of architectural accident made this happen, brushing hoodie-sleeves, until Campus Security pounded on the entry we'd sealed shut -- the best part was the running out, trying not to get caught. We wouldn't; we had the car, the cool metal sending shivers down the backs of our necks, eyes to starry sky.
He talked a lot about one particular place that I knew I'd never see -- "the scariest place in the world," my girlfriends told me, thick with privilege (their mothers allowed such expeditions, mine wanted me home and always calling from sanctioned locales). Jack took my best friends there -- I had no details; outdoors or indoors? in Ann Arbor? Dexter? Ypsilanti? Detroit? Farther? an experience, a pit, a darkness, what, what, what, what's so scary, what's the secret, what kind of darkness and how deep? and they'd say, "we can't tell you anything about it, it's a secret, but it's scary." I still don't know what it was -- maybe it was just a lie, a metaphor, a story they told to piss me off.
I needed to get older and fast so that I could go look at weird things and scary things, too.
[photo by Vivian Joyner]
I'm a nonstop repository of anecdotes and after spending a few consecutive days subjected to me telling weird stories about things I've done for fun or considered "a good experience" ('We used to go to Cabella's hunting store for fun!" "Why?" "Um, 'cause it was weird?") ( I found every anecdote clearly incredibly relevant to whatever we were doing at the time), Cait asked me if there's anything I wouldn't do "for the cultural experience."
"Of course," I answered quickly, but couldn't think of anything just yet.
"Would you go sky-diving? Bungee jumping?"
"Oh, I'd totally do that stuff, totally."
Full disclosure: I'd just justified taking us all to Epcot Center's "The American Experience" "for the cultural experience." And it's not that I think I've had some wild life, I just -- I don't know -- maybe it's more deliberately weird since I like to write about stuff? I feel both firmly in this normal world and often dashing valiantly into others and I think it's got something to do with cultural anthropology.
iii. The Aforementioned Anecdotes
9) "You're in for an exciting adventure" at Arbuckle Wildnerness in Davis, Oklahoma, where wild animals come right up to your car for an authentic wildlife experience. Ryan was ecstatic -- THRILLED -- to bring me to Arbuckle during my first visit to his Oklahoma home (Ryan shares my taste for weird things; we spent most of that break video-interviewing people in Wal-Mart about religion and immigration). You're supposed to roll down your windows and feed the animals and Ryan thought it'd be a funny cultural experience to roll down and lock his Jeep's passenger window, so all at once I was attacked by five emus pecking furiously at the cup of feed in my lap, nuggets flying everywhere. He laughed so hard he could barely breathe, then unrolled the back window so they could get me from behind, too. I was screaming, totally scarred for life, never hanging out with emus again ever, it's only puppies for me from here on out.
8) A temp agency in Michigan I worked for over holiday breaks had a $10/hour position that entailed wearing a Tony the Tiger costume for a professional recruitment event Kelloggs was hosting at the U of M business school -- I was like, this is the best job of all time, sign me up right now. They needed a Toucan Sam, my friend agreed enthusiastically (neither of us cared really about the money, we just wanted to wear the costumes). It's so hot in those costumes! You can only wear them for thirty minutes or so. They wouldn't let us take photos, which was the point, we brought our Nickelodian four-square cameras too ... but whatevs. We snuck a few pics during one of our ten undressings (30 minutes on, 30 off, 30 on, 30 off):
iv. Answering That Question
But then there are things I think would be valuable experiences that I haven't done but want to,
and then things that I think'd be valuable that I haven't done ... and never plan to, like these:
5) I've heard from those-in-the-know that heroin is the purest most ecstatic high ever but also instantly addictive. Plus, I'm high on life: sunshine, raspberries, unicorns, etc. Mostly, I'm freaked out by that scene in The Basketball Diaries when Leonardo DiCaprio's coming down from Heroin in a locked room. Also, that freaky baby crawling on the ceiling in Trainspotting, that was serious, imaginary babies freak me out. Also, heroin's so 90's!
4) Food's great, love it all day long, totally, but I'm not exactly a "foodie." There's absolutely nothing on earth I haven't tasted that I think I must taste to be alive -- I mean, most food tastes like other food, right, but different? Has tasting something new and exotic ever changed your life? I mean, obvs there's things you oughta taste that could become culinary staples, like salad & ice cream. But I'm not gonna taste pork chops then suddenly start preparing it for myself every night. There's only so many ways food can taste and so many feelings food can trigger. No interest in duck, quail, dinosaur, kangaroo, water buffalo, raw fish sushi, pigs, rabbits, or any other dead animals, especially ones with bones. Foodies always act like if you don't taste their latest concoction of dead animal and ambigious Chinese vegetables that somehow you're refusing to taste the very marrow of life itself, condemned always to a boring existence of Wonder Bread and American cheese. The last thing I need is another kind of food I enjoy shoving down my gullet, it's hard enough to choose meals as it is. I guess actually this isn't "something I think'd be valuable" and shouldn't be on this list, but too late, already written. And so well, too!
3) Once upon a time, my life's dream was to be one of seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. I'm too old now anyhow, but 'cause of the internet and the general abundance of digital, easy-to-reproduce media (and the reality-recap shows they spawn), being on reality television's officially lost its allure. In fact, I'm petrified of television in general, unless it's something I'm editing myself, like vlogs for my own website. (Speaking of vlogs, I'm gonna have to start interviewing replacements for Haviland in this interim period, like on The View. First up: Lozo. He's not a lesbian, but he's a lesbian supporter.) Like I don't wanna be one of those clips they show over & over on VH1 specials; Shandy confessing her hot tub tryst to her boyfriend, Bree throwing a fork at Stephen, Vanessa attacking Brandi's hair, Tyra yelling at Tiffany, Stephen slapping Irene in Seattle, OMG ... I start to hate myself after editing my own vlogs for a few hours, I'm sure I'd be appalled to witness what a real editor would do to me but it would've been nice if a camera-person'd been there to capture Cait getting hit by a wheelchair, as mentioned above. The woman goes: "you backed up into me!" as if it was her fault or something.
2) In the introduction to her essay collection A Little More About Me, Pam Houston talks about edges she's been to and mountains she's accepted she'll never climb and says that in the five years it's taken her to write this book, she's "run more than 40 whitewater rivers .. hiked in the backcountry more than 3,000 miles ... visited 43 countries on five continents ... had search parties sent out for me twice ... been on more than 400 planes and been told to get into crash position for landing four times ... been to every United State except North Dakota ... put a total of four hundred thousand miles on three different cars." In this interview, she says: "My father, when I was growing up, was very fond of saying, 'Pam, one of these days you are going to realize you spend your whole life lying face down in the gutter with somebody else's foot on your neck.' In many ways, the aim of my life has been to prove my father wrong."
Almost everything Houston's done is something I'd like to do one day, too, except for the essay where she camps out alone for a number of days in twenty-degree-below zero weather to build character. I've just spent a bazillion minutes trying to track down this essay, beginning with my shelves and ending with the often frustrating annals of the internet, to no avail. I'll just say I hate extreme temperatures, and if you own A Little More About Me, speak now!
1) Anything involving: forced socialization with large crowds of socially confident humans without interruption for long periods of time, waiting in really long lines.
MY: And also [I liked] how you described yourself as the person who has friends that are slightly more adventurous than you, and it's your job to say, "Yeah, I'll do that." To make it okay.
EILEEN: It's like telling the story from Sancho Panza's point of view, not the hero, but the hero's friend. It's a more passive position, but you can describe everything that's going on from there because you're constantly watching.
(Interview w/Eileen Myles, Index Magazine )
"I like to listen. I like to look and to watch. Maybe I have an Attention Surplus Disorder. The easiest thing in the world for me is to pay attention."
(Interview with Susan Sontag, The Paris Review, 1994)