Sunny Days in DC

Jack of All Trades, Master of 3-ish.

In which I come of age all over Luke Skywalker’s face…

“The Graduate it on.”

“I’ve never seen it,” I text back.

“You’ve…. WHAT?!” My friend is horrified. She’s been opining on the symbolism of the water metaphors for the last five minutes, and I’ve been trying to wrangle Max so he doesn’t eat our cat. “It was my COMING OF AGE film! I would do a young Dustin Hoffman so hard!”

“Uh huh. Graphic.”

“What was yours?” She and I are similar in a lot of ways; we’ve finished the other person’s sentences before… but there are some areas where we could not be more different…

“My…?”

“Coming of Age film?”

“Cantina scene: Star Wars.” I’ve placed Max into “Baby Prison,” which is what we call the pack-n-play in our house. He’s chewing on a blue elephant.

“Never seen it” she writes back. I am FORCED to explain exactly what she’s missing, and how that scene completely changed my life forever:

For so many people, Star Wars was an eye-opening experience. Whether it was the magnitude of the story, the first time they realized that a Sci Fi epic could speak to them, the Good/Bad dichotomy, or the concept of a group of Jedi warriors who eschewed worldly connections in an attempt to develop the inner self. Star Wars sparked imaginations.

For me, it was a wholly different experience. I went to private school in Brooklyn, because the Public School I was supposed to go to had to finish investigating how a student managed to strangle a teacher with his own tie. Shockingly, my mom felt that an alternative to public education may be the best option for her small, White, Jewish child.

But it’s not like I fit in there, either. It was an expensive school, and most of the kids there were wealthy. They were neat and clean and tidy. The school was neat and clean and tidy. It was in a former church, so everything smelled of old wood, old books, and old money. I smelled like the Grand Army Plaza stop on the 2/3. But it seemed like this was what you aspired to; clean and neat. You got your clothes from United Colors of Benetton or Gap, and your backpack had your initials monogrammed on them. Well, I didn’t, but that’s what everyone wants… so I figured, that’s what I want. I guess. Right? Sure.

And then, one day, I guess because it was raining, they showed us Star Wars in a darkened classroom. And there, right past all the boring bullshit that I couldn’t have given less of a damn about (fucking sand creatures and robots? PASS!), was the Cantina scene.

THAT. I FUCKING WANT THAT, I realized. It was yet another moment in my life where I looked around and realized that nobody else was seeing what I was seeing. This was the instant that both Luke Skywalker and I realized there was life outside of our limited experiences. And not just people living off of his planet, but REAL FUCKING LIFE was happening just beyond the horizon of his tiny world. This was that first moment. And guess what? Real life is dirty, and it’s a crossroads, and there are different types of people, and sometimes they fight, and they’re rude, and yeah – they probably smell.

When I was a teenager, my mom took me on a road trip to California. Our car broke down in Death Valley, and we ended up taking Peterpan bus service back. It. was. Amazing. Someday, I’ll write a post ONLY about that trip, because it was life-changing, but for now: Cantina scene. Bus stops full of people traveling from one side of the country to the other. People talking to each other, and making deep friendships with lifespans shorter than a fly’s. Highway diners. Stretches of road that lasted for days… it was dirty and hot and you’d better hope you liked the people on your bus because before cell phones, those were the only people you had to talk to. Everyone has a story, because people without stories don’t go anywhere or do anything; they’re not on your bus. Your bus, your bar, your ship is going to be filled with people who have histories and needs and motivations. They’re happy, they’re sad, they want to meet you, or they want to be left alone. They have enough money to buy a plane ticket but are too cheap, or they stare enviously at your sandwich until you pretend not to be hungry and split it with them.

That’s the Cantina scene to me. It’s unsanitized life, but it’s honest and forces you to realize how much you miss by only meeting people who dress in Benetton. That one scene in that one movie added dimensions to my tiny world that just can’t be summed up in words. In fact, in high school we were asked to write about our concept of a Utopia. I narrated the Cantina scene. I failed the paper. It’s the one F I ever got, and the only time my mom ever approved a crappy grade.

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