Monday, March 08, 2010
When you consider some of the things I’ve made public in this space, the following statement may appear insane, but I assure you it’s a fact. I am a very private person. My need for privacy is higher than most. As a matter of fact, if I go too long without being alone, I tend to become irritable and grouchy. My alone time is when I decompress, so to speak, and if you intrude upon me then – no matter how well-intentioned your intrusion – you’ll likely find me non-communicative and less pleasant company than you might have expected.
I was an only child. I became used to being alone early in life, and subsequently grew to like the experience. I developed a taste for solitary pursuits: reading, writing, listening to music, doing puzzles and figuring statistics. Anything that interrupted such activities – the telephone ringing; someone coming to the front door and knocking; a neighbor’s dog barking loudly; some idiot being too lazy to get out of his car to alert someone to his presence, but rather sitting in the street and honking his horn – became anathema to me. In today’s world, whenever I hear some boob driving down the street with the bass cranked, my initial reaction is to shoot the son of a bitch. The point is that I’m acutely aware of invasions of my personal space, of whatever stripe.
One reason for MY WIFE and I getting along so famously is because she is aware of my need and she endeavors to give me the time and space that I require. For instance, we sleep in separate bedrooms. Now, this probably has as much to do with her need to get away from my snoring as it does anything else, but it works. When we want to get together, we get together, but if I wish to read a book before sleeping, I don’t have to worry that the light I keep on will disturb her. Likewise, if she wants to watch TV, it won’t rattle my cage. I think the sort of arrangement we have is an excellent preserver of happy marriage. Your mileage may vary, but, in general, if two people share a room, one of them is getting a better night of sleep than the other. If you wake up rested and refreshed every morning, that could be why your significant other is becoming less significant and more other.
Be that as it may – and, if you can afford more than one room, it is - I have spent much of my adult life searching for private places equivalent to those I had as a child. For the most part, the search has been unsuccessful.
One of the advantages of being a kid is that you’re small enough to fit into places that adults don’t tend to inhabit. Getting away from adults, no matter how loving they may be, is an important consideration. This is because adults (with the exception of most uncles and some select aunts) are buzzkills. They insist that such things as homework, cleaning your room, and not eating cookies, are important. In order to avoid such obvious lunatics, you need to duck under a table every so often. While there, you can read the stuff written on the underside. Usually, the manufacturer has left some sort of imprint, and there may be a few pencil marks or such drawn by whoever put the table together. If you chew gum, you might find an old piece worth resurrecting. If you manage to stay hidden until dinnertime, you might pretend you're the dog and beg for scraps (which doesn't work so well if all your family has is a cat.)
Another place a kid can go is under a bed. Adults don’t usually go under a bed unless another adult they don’t wish to be shot by comes into the room. I haven’t been under a bed in ages – I’m sure MY WIFE is glad to hear that – but I might go under our dining room table soon, just to see what it would be like as a grown up (if you can call me that). As a matter of fact, I’m going to do it now. Hold on; I’ll be right back.
OK, I’m back. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it certainly didn’t afford the same sense of security it might have when I was two feet shorter and 100 pounds lighter. And, while it was relatively easy getting under there, it was one hell of a lot harder getting back out than it used to be. I’m happy to report there were no spiders under there. No chewing gum, either, but I did find a french fry of indeterminate age, so it's a good thing I made the exploration.
One thing you definitely need privacy for, as a kid, is hide and seek. For hide and seek in my neighborhood, I always used the same hiding place. There was a big lilac bush in a neighbor’s yard on Monson Street. This bush was, for some odd reason, mostly hollowed out inside. It was a great hiding place, and only a really small kid could get into it without totally destroying the bush. I had to slide myself through a small opening in the back. I don’t know how I first discovered that I could enter that bush, but once I had myself secreted in there, nobody ever found me. And I didn’t care if I was never found. It was a cool place on a summer’s day, there were always interesting beetles and such sharing the space with you and which didn't seem to mind if you picked them up to say hello, and – the best part of all – you got to smell the lilacs. To this day, I think my unnatural fondness for Lilac Vegetal after shave lotion stems from playing hide and seek in Dorchester.
Closets were always a good place to go if you wanted a little peace and quiet. Of course, the deeper the closet, the better. It also helps if the closet is right next to a heating duct, which the one in my childhood living room was. It was like my own private sauna. I’d go in, sit on the floor, enjoy the smell of the various coats, boots, rubbers, and hats, and doze as contentedly as a cat on top of a TV set (which is, unlike crawling under the dining room table, something I won’t try now, although I might have done so had I thought of it when I was six.)
Of course, as people grow older, the reasons for wanting privacy tend to change. Teenage boys – and, I suspect, teenage girls, but they'll deny it – tend to spend a bit more time in the bathroom than they previously might have, and not because they’ve suddenly decided to brush their teeth more often. The unwritten rule, in most homes, is that the bathroom is the one place nobody will just walk in on you, unless you’re a dummy and you don’t close the door tight and lock it. If you don’t, you get the embarrassment you deserve for being so inattentive to detail.
Aside from the sorts of activities you no doubt imagined already, the bathroom was where I would go to sneak a cigarette. Some of the most contented moments of my entire life were spent sitting on the edge of our bathtub at 3am, my head halfway out the open window, listening to the crickets as I polluted my lungs. And some of the most hideously tense moments of my entire life were spent trying to close that window noiselessly when one of my parents came out of their bedroom at 3:05 to take a pee and then knocked on the bathroom door. I’m sure that, more often than not, they knew what was going on, but I feigned sleepy innocence as I walked back to my bedroom with a pack of Marlboros uncomfortably stuffed in my shorts.
Of course, as you mature – or try to pass as so, in my case – you find out that adults wish to limit your privacy more and more severely the older you get. For some kids, the first lesson in how shockingly they wish to curtail it is gym class. At a time when your body is doing all sorts of weird things, some of which you’re proud of and others not so much, they throw you and your classmates into a shower together, naked.
I was one of the lucky ones. Even though I was the youngest in my class, I had started to… let’s say, ‘sprout’… quite early, and by the time we hit the showers, I had no reason to be ashamed. Still, it was quite a shock to see some of the guys walking around naked. I certainly didn’t want to stare, but the salamis a few of them were carting around made my hot dog seem inadequate for any buns by comparison. But then I looked around and saw the poor souls who still only had hairless cocktail franks and I felt better about myself - and truly sorry for them. And I marveled at the thought that any adults thought this would be a good thing for kids to go through. I have no idea what it’s like in a girl’s locker room (although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit to having fantasized about it quite often, and if any of you ladies would like to fill me in on the details, I’ll consider myself in your debt.)
I’m sure I had a point to this when I started, but I’ll be damned if I can think of it now.
Soon, with more better stuff.
[Got the lilac bush from Gardening Resources For Attorneys. I'm sure there's a good joke to be made concerning this, but it's a website for lawyers. I won't take any further chances than I already have by stealing the photo.]