Miss Nopee Goes To Washington

I will skip over the scandalous fact that I have not written over the summer with the silence it deserves. Now that’s out of the way.

End of May, I received a call from a friend from church…which I have not attended in two years. I hear from Gail on occasion — she’s amazing — so, when she called, I was eager to oblige her request. Her ask was if I would help a girl who has been a member of the choir for the last nine years. The young lady is in high school and needs help in preparing for the arduous task of applying to colleges, essays, and the rest. Since it was Gail asking, and she told me that Ana was a “sweetheart,” I was happy to help.

The last three months working with Ana have been a delight. She’s super-smart, always prepared, passionate, committed…all good things. The antithesis of the usual characterization of a teenager. I liked her immediately and my affection for her has grown exponentially. Particularly when I discovered she has a sense of humor, and best of all, a sense of humor about herself.

Perhaps here would be a good place to explain the moniker (what dat?) of “Miss Nopee.” Of course, that isn’t Ana’s last name, I am certain she would bristle at the “Miss” for “Ms,” but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. While texting back and forth with Ana to ascertain her whereabouts – she had gone to Massachusetts to look at colleges — I asked, “Are you home?” “Nope” “Have you left MA?” “Nopee” I thought it was cute, started calling her that, and it stuck.

Ana LOVES politics, wants to go into politics, and the law. All brave ambitions at the best of times, and we aren’t in those presently. No moss grows under Ana, she’s active in her school government and clubs, in politics on the local level, state, etc. Her hero is Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. She drafts referendums for the banishment of plastics, founded the young democrats club, is in honors classes, and works as a waitress at a local restaurant. Her parents are from South America; she is invested in her roots, and in the democracy that we are all hoping to hold onto in her country of birth. Here.

Along with all that (the short version of the list) she has a serious boyfriend who is also super-smart – more in the area of STEM, so I imagine that they complement each other well. Ana is uber feminist, definitely her own woman, independent and on her way. The boyfriend – who is handsome and dreamy – comes from a strict Hindu family. This poor kid does not enjoy the freedom of movement that Ana does, and if his parents found out that he and Ana were seeing each other – that would be terrible. It really would. His dad checks his phone, his texts, calculates how long it takes to drive to school and home, it would be easier to put an ankle monitor on the kid. Since the father works from home there is no respite from the rigid gatekeeper. This is a secret romance, secret in the sense that the parents don’t know, but the whole school, or a good part of it, does.

The lengths to which these two sweet young people in love must go in order to conduct their love affair are both baroque and ingenious. If they “happen” to meet at the dog park…and there’s code phrases (and fake guys’ names — e.g. “Shane”!), like: “Hey bro, where we meet up for the study group?” Once there, they can’t walk the lovely paths and be normal, they have to hover in the back alley — probably where the dumpsters are — to have a minute alone. Ana must have noticed my quizzical gaze, so she explained. In this white bread suburb in which we inhabit the Indian community is not in the majority and is tightly knit – everyone knows everyone. No, and I mean no, Indian person can spot them or it will be reported back to his dad in a New York second.

At the same time Ana is also in competition with her beau. They are applying to the same blue ribbon/IV League schools. We’ll see who wins. I recently made two literary references in a row in a sentence (one of them was Dante), and Ana looked at me and said, “I have no idea who/what that is.” After recovering from my near heart attack and chiding her for not knowing these references, I sent her a list. A list that used to be on Columbia’s first page – but nonetheless the list for top schools of the books one should have read before entering their ivied walls. To Ana’s credit, she admitted she hadn’t read any of them, and true to form, I received a text from her: “I’m on it!” 👍

Bismark said (who he?) …and I’m paraphrasing: “People who are fond of sausages and the law should never watch them being made.” I haven’t shared this sentiment with Ana, nor my reservations of going into a field of endeavor which in theory is noble and in reality, ignoble. Who am I to drop her dreams all over the floor? Her optimism and insouciance may very well transport her magically to the highest office in the land. I have a vision of her skipping/floating with backpack and books in hand, her beautiful mane of hair blowing in the wake of her acceleration, and settling in behind the large desk situated in the Oval Office.

Well why not? Realistically she’s more prepared than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No experience necessary! At least Ana has read The Federalist Papers. And, she has heart, compassion, courage and brains.

I see her as a modern version of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart giving his impassioned and moving speech to the U.S. Congress. I see her pointing her finger at those smug well-fed old white guys, who don’t give a shit about anyone or anything, and who are wondering when they can discreetly exit the building in order to get to their restricted clubs in time for the cocktail hour.

There’s more, oh so much more, to Miss Nopee, but I must tie this up for now. Let’s say regarding the further adventures of the indefatigable (huh?) Miss Nopee….to be continued.

“Esteemed” Gentleman of the Congress, start your engines, and brace yourself. The times are a-changin’…for the better, I hope. I truly do. 

Clare Irwin

*Supreme Court image courtesy of Ana. Taken during her attendance of the ACLU’s summer advocacy institute: “Best week of my life yet.”

We Just Weren’t Made For These Times

Once again I was listening to the local high school radio station. A student whose show I enjoy was signing off for good. He’s headed to William and Mary in the fall. I will miss his astute music knowledge. His last show was comparing the Beatles’s Rubber Soul to Pet Sounds to Revolver, a sort of battle of the bands for the pinnacle of musicality. He played a Beach Boy song with the Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound, and then he played it without – just the harmonies of five beautiful voices. Marvelous both ways.

He also played the song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Watching the Showtime documentary on Brian Wilson reveals his emotional troubles, which are well-documented, and this song is emblematic of his discontent. And all our discontent?

I often have this thought myself and I know I am not alone. I think of my friend Will and a friend’s daughter who yearn for something….else. We’re fairly certain it’s not this. My friend’s daughter, Emily, is a beautiful tall blonde athletic Amazon. She’d been perfect for the surf culture decades back in San Onofre and Point Dume. She’s trying to find her way in this nutty world, and is not feeling the manic pull of over-achieving-I-have-to-get-into-Harvard nonsense. 

Will, who is her senior by ten years, is a sweet guy who wants everyone to be happy and love one another. He hangs out at a local vintage shop full of 50s and 60s memorabilia. He has not taken the usual route of “success” and chooses work where he can connect with people. He’s good at it – everyone loves him.

What we have in common is an attraction to a simpler, freer time, which through the rose colored glass is the 1960s. A time of division in the country and an vibrant youth culture – not unlike now. There’s a growing feeling inside of me to light out of where I am and drop out. Hunker down either for “the end” or for the backlash to lash back. I was always like this, even as a kid. A friend’s older brother would laugh and say, “Clare, how far back do you want to go? Do you want the right to vote?!”

Back to the student DJ and his open-mindedness and insight. As a counterpoint, I was talking to my friend Sebastian who is in his twenties. We were discussing a song from the 60s, and he said, “I know I’m supposed to hate it, but I don’t.” That was the saddest thing I heard and it also pissed me off.  What is this “supposed to” stuff? What happens if you download a song “not of your time” on Spotify? Does a red rotating alarm light go off and you’re taken to an underground bunker for reprogramming? To Sebastian’s credit he remains open, but I was discouraged nonetheless.

What is the remedy, I wonder, as we watch everyone exercise their right to act crazy – publicly and privately. While we are lamenting the death of the 99 cent avocado, some maniac who has just been on a high speed chase with police runs into Trader Joe’s wielding a gun and holds the store hostage. Or as we hand over our democracy to Russia with a big bow on it, will we rue the decision of learning Mandarin instead of Russian? 

My answer: not sure. Find a patch of peace, make it your sanctuary, watch, wait, and hope for the best. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Yes, some of us just weren’t made for these times.

Clare Irwin

 

Family Values

I was relating to a friend of mine a visit to an acquaintance’s house. My friend has a wry wit and a high sense of irony and amusement. My little social expedition was inconsequential except for the inventory of decor that I took in while others were engaged in polite small talk. The house, once called ranch-style, had been to the best of its ability, turned into the ubiquitous, generic, expensive, uber-suburb home that is prevalent in my neck of the woods. The property was indisputably the best asset – beautiful, untouched and adjacent to a horse farm – how could you go wrong? If it were up to me, and of course it isn’t, I would declare this a tear-down, and build something in its place that folds gently into the landscape, has at least a modicum of originality and doesn’t have a size complex. Or, let ranch be ranch.

The interior was expensively appointed but something was off. The window treatments, a term I dislike, were baroque. The furniture and do-dads were – I need Oscar Wilde for this; critiquing interior design is not my area – too coordinated as well as nonsensical. I hold to the axiom that it’s all in the mix, but that’s not what was happening here. While I was sitting at the silver-brushed wood dining table(!), I remembered a line from a movie I had just watched: Addams Family Values: “These are beautiful things! They’re from catalogs!”

This line is delivered by Debbie, played to perfection by the amazing Joan Cusack. Debbie is the grasping, kitschy, sugary, black-widow murderess who marries Uncle Fester. My friend had not seen the movie, so the conversation moved from the house of too many curtains, to telling him about the movie: mostly about the character of Debbie. I suggested that we’ve all known a Debbie, and he quizzically gave this some thought. He said that he had worked with a women who would wear at least three designer logos in evidence on her person at all times. “And, the funny thing is,” said my friend, “I’m pretty sure her name was Debbie.”

In the movie, Debbie and the other characters have enviable lines. The writing is razor-sharp. The overarching sensibility from director Barry Sonnenfeld, who has a cameo as one of the parents at Camp Chippewa’s Thanksgiving recital, is in evidence here as it is in the Men in Black franchise, Get Shorty, RV, et al. Sonnenfeld is particularly unforgiving towards suburbia. There’s a scene where Raul Julia, as Gomez Addams, delivers a horrified reaction to just that.

In the end, Debbie has her comeuppance, but not before she has a great monologue on the origins of her psychotic self. Ballerina Barbie NOT Malibu Barbie!

There was no Debbie at the house of curtains, instead our rail thin nervous hostess was wearing a Harvard University sweatshirt and informing us on the challenges of raising a German Shepard puppy. Her four children didn’t factor into the conversation. That confused me further, why does a grown woman wear a school sweatshirt? And, you need to go to Harvard for this?

I know I’m being unkind. It’s all in fun, isn’t it? I would imagine that my invitations will dwindle and my social calendar diminish – who would want me over silently collecting material at their expense? Ironically, I was supposed to go to a Buddhist prayer/chant/discussion group this morning, and instead I have penned this. For real.

So I will close, repent, and petition for forgiveness. And, I will try to be nice.

Clare Irwin