Going to Costco with Eric Clapton

The idea for this essay came to me when I happened upon the documentary “Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars” on Showtime. Then last week a friend took me to Costco which reminded me that I saved this idea in my drafts folder – involving both. I bet you’re wondering how I’ll manage to get Clapton and Costco to intersect. I’m wondering that myself. 

I re-watched the documentary last night. The first time I watched it I remember being engrossed in the story of this remarkable musician; at the same time, I felt annoyed and aggrieved, and totally overwhelmed by the gravitas of this man. I had to stop watching and it took three more attempts to finish it. Not because it wasn’t good, it was, but the level of intensity was more than I could handle in 135 minutes.

Forgive me if I am recapping what many people may already know, but most of this was new to me. Clapton’s life story is compelling and his childhood was deeply wounding. His talent emerged early; by 17 he was already part of the music scene in Britain, hanging out with members of emergent bands like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, et al. What a Renaissance! This quiet skinny kid who could play the guitar was right in the eye of the hurricane. On first viewing I thought, yes terrible childhood but he had so much too. I thought of Frank McCourt’s line from the first page of Angela’s Ashes, “the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.”

Clapton’s anguish was mother-related (what else?), his grandmother and aunt had a hand as well, so trust issues abound as well as a confused idea of women. The woman who he thought was his sister was, in fact, his mother who after giving birth leaves for Canada and starts a new family. Abandonment, rejection, cruelty: it’s all there. From stills and home movies one can see how this betrayal impacted the unsmiling little boy.

I was puzzled by my conflicting impressions of Clapton’s story. Let’s fast forward through the meteoric rise and get to the part, where upon first viewing, was where I had to stop. Perhaps this is Clapton’s story arc as they say in Hollywood: falling in love with Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife and Clapton’s best friend. Bit sticky. Clapton’s obsession with her bore out some of his greatest work. The song “Layla” took inspiration from a Persian tale that Clapton had read, involving Prince Majnun who loves, unsuccessfully, a beautiful girl – Layla. It all ends in tears with Majnun in the desert giving his soul up to Allah and dying alone. The album — which includes the song “Bell Bottom Blues” also about Pattie — is momentous.

While I’m watching this part, the first time, I’m thinking, “there are girls stupid enough to think this is so romantic: this man is writing songs about how much he loves her and how lucky she was….” Boyd appears to have a fairly qualified reaction to this in the documentary. She seems like a nice enough person and someone who let two men push her around. I thought, you know after a week of this guy it’s got to get old, or completely exhausting. How can anyone live up to the ideal he has in his mind? It’s impossible. The pressure alone would kill you. And when they finally “do it,” forget fireworks and waves crashing on the cliffs – nothing less than a supernova – the death of a star – will do.

It wasn’t lost on me that even in all this pain the men have all the fun and all the talent. Apparently, Boyd was a famous model in the ranks of Jean Shrimpton, whom I have heard of, but not Boyd. That’s all very nice but it’s not nearly as good as being in a legendary rock band. So, you’re an ornament, an ideal, the long-suffering wife of the unfaithful George, and the other rock star down the road, literally, is writing you love letters.

Where does Costco come in? Well, I was thinking that as an affair this could work for a short while, but long term, and Boyd and Clapton did get married, how can this sustain itself? The mundane tasks that need doing, or delegating, they kill the perfect picture. I don’t know why I thought of Costco, maybe because I have an allergic reaction to the place, so the question came to mind, how do you go to Costco with Eric Clapton? Every little thing, every moment, has to be so laden with meaning, so pregnant with profundity, so fraught with significance – what happens? Does everyone’s head explode?

While I was at Costco last week, which gave me nightmares, they had on display an entire living room and entertainment center, all appointed as if a family could just walk in and occupy it. I thought, unkindly, that Clapton could buy a new birth family, equipped with a proper mother, and all would be well. Or would it – the prevailing theory is art is born from pain.

And, more pain is waiting. Boyd and Clapton marry, during the depths of his severe alcoholism, and inevitably it doesn’t work out. There’s a long period of isolation and affairs which bore one daughter and one son, Conor. The tragic death of his 4-year-old son is horrifying. Clapton was in New York staying at a friend’s apartment and Conor falls from an open window. I then remembered that my sister’s friend, who was at school in New York at the time, told us that she was walking home up Lexington Avenue near The Armory and she sees a man running madly towards and past her. In the flash of him she realizes that he’s Eric Clapton, and not until she was home and saw the news, that she put it together.

Through Clapton’s grief he creates an album that is a tribute to Conor. All acoustic, it wins six Grammys. More creating, more successful collaborations, awards and honors – they are legion. In an early interview in the documentary, Clapton claims he doesn’t think he will live long. He’s outlived many/most of his friends and peers: Harrison, Hendrix, Duane Allman, B.B. King…

Quite a journey and in some ways a happy-ish ending for a man who, I am sure, does not believe in them. In 2001 he marries his current wife and now has three teenage girls. At 73 he is outnumbered by four women. I wonder if fate has lent a hand here. Without exception, all the fathers of houses of girls whom I have known, especially during their teenage years, just try to get through the day without having a heart attack. Maybe Clapton in his older age can see women for who they are – perhaps still mystifying but definitely human. 

Christ, I’m at 1100+ words and I’m getting annoyed again. This guy is still in my head. I’m sick of this whole subject and am returning to my initial mean-spirited feeling which was: wake up and realize how fortunate you are! You have it all! There are millions of people who have it so unspeakably worse, and nothing good happens, or if it does it’s not of this Olympian magnitude. What a lucky man you are.

And ladies, get your own rock band, career, something – don’t just sit in attendance and/or nursemaid these talented men. You know all those romantic songs about “their lady loves?” Well, they are more about them than you. Get over yourself, move on and get a life! Cautionary coda: Google Pattie Boyd now, take a look at her website and attending articles. At 73 she’s living in the past and swiftly approaching an eerie imitation of Miss Havisham. 

After all this hammering at the computer I wonder why I ever did this. Life is hard and it’s wonderful and for all the horrendous shit you go through – if you like yourself now, then it was all absolutely necessary.

 

So, Mr. Clapton, I bid you adieu. Try to be happy, be a good parent and give generously.

Clare Irwin

PS I never want to talk or write about this ever again!

Clare versus the Squirrel…and the Cat

We’re having summer weather still and it is perfection. I’ve spent more time outdoors than blogging which makes me feel guilty. But, I know that in short order it will end, so carpe diem is my motto of the moment. I can see the subtle changes, the green of the trees is muted, some are changing color just a little. The song of the earth is different too – plenty of birds, but less birdsong in the early morning and early evening. There are a lot of monarch butterflies around, I tried to capture a photo of them, but they move too fast for me. They’ll be heading to points south soon; I wish I was going with them.

Where I live we have a family of squirrels who live in a hollow of a tree off the porch, and they look adorable when they are peaking out of their little home. They’ve been with us for a while, especially the male, the alpha male, of the brood. I recognize him because he has a mark on his right flank. Normally he and I have a good relationship. He has the run of the place and I enjoy watching him doing his gravity defying leaps and twists. However, depending on what flowers I plant in the spring, that is when the cold war begins. He loves to tear and dig up and eat all the flowers. I come home at the end of the day and find the carnage strewn over the deck. So, I Googled what squirrels don’t like and some sites said hot sauce or pepper flakes, another said coffee grounds. I was getting weary of replanting everything so I started putting out the hot sauce and flakes. That seemed to work. Then we rearranged the flowers and suddenly the hot sauce wasn’t enough! Was he taking an antedote? I decided it was time for the coffee grounds. Which worked. Yet the obvious purpose of flowers is their beauty and their flourishing, but with the hot pepper and the coffee grounds – it’s a mess. From a distance things look nice, but on close inspection – well it’s just ridiculous. 

About a month into the coffee ground period I stepped outside one morning and found, nearly at the first step, a nice little pile of squirrel poopies! How’s that for throwing down the gauntlet? This was a clear protest. Okay! So he wants a war, we’ll have a war! I upped the coffee grounds and things settled. I did make the huge mistake of looking on the internet for cleaning up the “droppings.” One guy has a website meticulously documenting every kind of wild animal poop with descriptions and photos. Amazing. Who has this kind of time?

Then I made my second mistake and looked up the best way to clean up the area. I had already removed, with a paper towel, the offending pellets, and then figured I better do more than that or Brother Squirrel will make this his new bathroom. Well, the alarmists were out there in full force- you can get this from squirrel urine and feces, you can get that – and THEY ARE ALL FATAL! Maybe I should just burn the house down, sow the ground with salt, and call the undertaker and short hand the whole thing. One suggestion was to use bleach and dish liquid. I’m sure I did more harm to myself inhaling the bleach fumes than from the gift Brother Squirrel left me. I also called my friend who’s a nurse, and she said as long as I didn’t handle it with my bare hands I should be fine. This was in a voice mail and she added, “Clare, think of all the s%$t you touched and put in your mouth when you were a kid and nothing happened!” She’s absolutely right! We went around barefoot through deep woods and fields all summer long, God knows what we touched and walked on. One of our dogs used to enjoy eating deer poop. And, as my dear friend said, NOTHING HAPPENED!

In the last week the coffee grounds are not working! Does Brother Squirrel have super powers? Was he bitten by a spider whose diet was hot sauce and coffee? So there’s been a bit of tension because I’m just trying to get the flowers to make in through the next weeks until a cold night decides everything. Then Brother Squirrel can have it. But it’s a battle morning and evening. As I am writing this he is lying on the railing of the deck, lounging in the sun and looking right at me. He’s a real agent provocateur.

The other morning I found him in the same position and went to shoo him off, and I must have startled him because he jumped and lost his footing for a second. I felt terrible – I’m attempting to draw boundaries not give the poor thing a coronary. Then I remembered one winter a couple of years ago. It was relentless, one blizzard after another, the kids hardly had school and people were starting to crack. During that long winter of discontent, Brother Squirrel came to my back door and looked mournfully at me. There was so much snow he probably couldn’t forage. I swear if I had opened the door he would have come in and we could have all sat by the fire with graham crackers and milk and waited the winter out. I started to leave him little plates of chopped apple and other fruit and peanuts in shells, and I would find the plate quickly emptied So all this nonsense now seems like a bit of a betrayal – weren’t we cool?

In the final analysis I believe the animal kingdom will defeat me and maybe that is as it should be. I was going to also discuss the unending power struggle with the family cat – who is 14 years old. That’s 70 in cat years. She’s also a female, so there’s that. Happily she’s still pretty frisky – I guess 70 is actually the new 40? Either way her will wins out over every issue. No quarter is given with her. Ever. You would think I would learn, but am I foolishly trying to bring some order (which we all know doesn’t exist) into our world, and animals don’t bother with order. Let’s face it they’re both smarter than I am.

To be continued…

Clare Irwin

The Enneagram

I was listening to the radio and happened upon a show that I follow when I can. It’s hosted by a psychotherapist who is smart, practical, engaging, and not seemingly insane. I’ve found that psychiatrists, and there have been a couple in my family, are just as nutty as the rest of us. The host was explaining in a clear and compelling way all nine personality types of the Enneagram model, what they mean, and what sort of childhood or family dynamic engenders each type. He also used as examples certain celebrities.

The psychiatrist and two of his acolytes started going through the types, not in order, or at least not in any order I could anticipate. I’m listening to the description of each personality, and how that personality emerges through early experience. I learn too that one can have sub-types. Maybe that’s like declaring a major and a minor in college. The odd thing is every type, I mean every type they describe, I exclaim (maybe some with more enthusiasm and assurance than others) That’s me! I’m like that! How can I be so many of them? And, the root causes — none of them are good. Well that’s not entirely correct, the Ego Fixation and the Basic Fear, these are not great, but the Holy Idea and the Virtue — those are attributes one could embrace. Am I a 3, a 6, a 7 or a 9? Help! Mommy! Wait…maybe not Mommy, did she having something to do with this?

Later that day I Googled the Enneagram test. Now this was also too much for me. I think depending on the day, or what is going at that moment, quite a few of these answers would change. Or maybe I’m missing the whole point. So in my noncommittal way I answer in the middle – a lot. The test comes with a proviso that more neutral answers will render a less accurate assessment. Some of the questions I found amusing like, “I am too relaxed for my own good” — maybe. Or, “I maintain my spaces in an orderly way” – not by a long shot. And, “I have been called or described as dopey” – I can’t remember that ever happening, but who knows what goes on behind my back? Do I want to know? No. Who would?

So considering I probably didn’t take the test properly, it turns out that I am a 6, 3 & 9: the Loyalist, the Achiever, and the Peacemaker. I can’t remember which was the main one and which were the sub-types. Apparently Jennifer Aniston and Alec Baldwin are 6, Madonna and Bill Clinton are 3, and Barak Obama and Beyoncé are 9. I’m good with that – all of them are fine company. There’s seems to be some controversy over what type Steve Jobs was – he will be enigmatic always, I guess.

The Enneagram is considered by some schools of thought to be “psychobabble” and not an accurate professional appraisal of an individual. To be sure, all generalizations are just that – general. In any event it was an entertaining exercise, listening to the analysis, taking the test, learning the origins of behavior. It’s both gratifying and self-affirming, and simultaneously alarming, upsetting and nightmare inducing. Good times!

Have fun finding yourself.

Clare Irwin