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Category Archives: fruity and cheesy

In sixth grade, I was Tom Cruise. Five days a week, weather permitting, I was Tom Cruise. Between 8 am and 8:15 am, or as long as it took me to walk to school, I was Tom Cruise.

I wasn’t trying to be a fighter pilot; this wasn’t about a boyhood aspiration. My Tom Cruise moments weren’t even about pretending to engage a flurry of befuddled MIGs, and I didn’t imagine myself in the kind of dogfight where the ground and sky zap into a single blur. No. It was simply about being and feeling cool, Tom Cruise Cool. My experience on those walks to school was a sixth-grade, approximated version of the feeling that followed the heinous dogfight, came after the aircraft carrier landing, after the cockpit high five. It was a taste of the coolness that was a fortunate symptom of being a fighter pilot. As far as I was concerned, this version of me radiated an aura identical to the one Maverick projected as he rode his crotch rocket into the fiery Jerry Bruckheimer sunset, knowing all the while that he was a complete badass.

Careful, Charlie. You might get burned by the cool. (He even looks like me.)

I didn’t even walk to school; I floated an inch above the ground accompanied by my own bass-heavy theme music.

This was my sixth grade cool.

Mom and Dad bought me the jacket for Christmas. It was a classic bomber jacket from Burlington Coat Factory made with fake leather, adorned with fake military patches, and finished off with a fake fur collar. But it was the sweetest thing I’d ever worn. It still might be. I mean, I slid my arms into those sleeves and my biceps grew, my mind a flutter with memories of hard battles, carbon-stained teeth, and the women who helped me clean them. I’m pretty sure that jacket accelerated puberty. It was wearable testosterone.

There were also the accoutrements of my Tom Cruise Cool. Hair gel—I used enough to choke an Iceman. Combed it down into a nice clean part, the comb leaving evenly spaced rows in my hair like striations on the barrel of a gun. You’ve got to wear jeans with a bomber jacket, which I did, or a sweet pair of camo green cargo shorts, just in case a tactical situation arose. Never knew when I might need a bunch of pockets. Finally, since naval aviators didn’t eat breakfast, neither did I. I was much cooler with an empty stomach.

L.A. Looks: The gold standard in aviator hair products.

You’d think that glasses would have been a necessary piece, a nice mirrored pair of aviators. But I was smarter than that. After all, how would my flock of female admirers see into my hardened, yet benevolent soul if they looked into my face and only saw their own reflection? Thanks, but I’ll leave the glasses at home. In doing this, I even out-badassed Maverick.

During a walk that spanned a single Strasburg block, I was the guy.

Authentic cool.

Sixth grade was when coolness started to take shape, when I knew the feeling and could name it and understood what it meant for me—confidence, rightness with the world. In many ways, cool is and has always been comfort. I was a twitchy goober in sixth grade, but those walks to school allowed me the comfort of being less goobery for about fifteen minutes.

The feeling of cool is an important one, so are its cousins: phat, groovy, funky, happening, fly, chic. And we all have our own bomber jacket, our own artifacts that catalyze the emergence of cool or uncover the personal phatness residing always somewhere inside. Those artifacts, if only for a little while, help us to brush aside airport lines, bills, empty gas tanks, debt crises, poor cell reception, and chirpy Starbucks baristas, with a feeling of… cool. For some, maybe it’s the sound of a basketball that triggers the memory of the time in high school they scored at the buzzer the feeling of which generates a moment of crowd-cheering cool. Someone else might feel their cool creep in as a hip-hop drumbeat reaches their ear. Even the still-goobery thirty-something me feels a tickle of cool at the memory of that jacket.

What awakens your cool?

-MC J Light

P.S. The quirk of my cool is this: it’s often tied to movie character types that I imagine as very cool. I have never been these characters, but I have felt their particular brand of cool.

The Guy Who Knows the Band – This is the guy who has the pull to get backstage. He may not have the musical aptitude to be in the band, but he’s the guy all the band members with they were. He is, in a sense, the wind beneath the band’s wings. His traits include; street smarts, shrewd business sense, and music industry pull.

The Cowpoke – This guy shares drinking water with his horse. Happy on the open plains with nothing more than a harmonica and the soreness from riding all day. His traits include: really good at chewing toothpicks, believes the saloon girls deserve more respect than they get, tough but only when provoked, happily eats beans and cornbread.

The Kung Fu Master – Similar temperament to that of The Cowpoke, quiet, compelled toward the way of peace, speaks in nature-centric metaphors. Traits: Good posture, baggy clothes, wiry, makes would-be aggressors look stupid without laying a hand on them.

The Guy Who Girls Find Undeniably Cute but Won’t Approach Because They Think He’s Out of Their League Even Though He’s Actually Pretty Down to Earth – No explanation necessary.

Others: The Sports Star, The Werewolf Sports Star, The Comedian, The Rap Star, The High-Powered Lawyer, and The Mountain Man.

Warning: This entry contains a shade of sentimentality. I’ll go ahead and apologize to anyone who reads this and says, “That Josh is such a cheesy fruit.” While I do not like abundant fruit and cheese in my writing or otherwise, I’ve been thinking about things like this and I’m giving myself a pass this one time. Everyone should get the occasional cheese pass. This is mine.

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I’m not big on surrounding myself with canonical quotations by great thinkers. After a while quotes can just become a mélange of theoretical room decorations. So I try to stick with the ones I can actually deal with, that I can enact. And I have this one quote that I strategically place in my eye line so I’ll see it whenever I write. Show me a day when the world wasn’t new, it says. It’s the kind of thing I always consider when I’m writing: the amazing exists if I just try to notice. For the purposes of writing it’s a reminder to keep things fresh—that even if a character does boring things and speaks boringly and acts like a boring slug… even then there is something unexpected about that person. There is some reason to be amazed by him or her. If not, the story’s not worthwhile.

But finding amazement in real life is an entirely different tamale. I’m just as guilty as anyone and often find myself bored, bored, bored. I don’t mean this as an insult to the people I hang out with or to David Letterman—you regal little cat. But I am generally not enthralled by my daily activities. That’s why I have to write, to keep myself interesting and interested.

Why is amazing so difficult? Maybe it’s human nature, but it feels like the capacity for amazement is slowly being programmed out of us. For one, we just don’t have time to notice anymore. We’re always in a rush. I rush to get up. I rush to get my errands done and my run in and my writing finished and my grooming perfect (this always takes a while). We want things fast. We no longer have an attention span (whatever happened to just staring at the ceiling?) because we don’t have to wait for anything. I can have Steel Magnolias cued up, ready to watch in five seconds. Two more minutes for the popcorn to pop and sometimes that’s too long. We can get a fully cooked burger in 30 seconds. You can buy pre-made PB & J sandwiches. What? Worse yet, we’ve progressed to a point where we can explain away everything. Good? Yes. But bad for our capacity to be amazed. Thermodynamics, cloning puppies, ultrasounds, brain mapping, robots, satellites, infrared stuff and lasers… lasers for God’s sake. Right now my window shades are moving by themselves and that would (and should) be pretty cool in and of itself. And it is, right up until the a-hole fluid dynamicist in my head informs me that it’s simply the result of the sun heating up the window and creating hot air that’s moving up and taking the shades with it… or some such.

Perhaps the world’s newness has become invisible because we’re constantly focused on what we want, not what we have. That is, newness has become synonymous with faster, better, more gigabytes, sleeker, higher resolution, richer, happier. Newness in this sense is based not on noticing or appreciating, but on possessing the latest and best of something. We’re always told what we don’t have and, consequently, we’re unable to be impressed—as we’re walking down a street and talking on the phone to a distant friend about how much our cell phone sucks because it can’t take high-resolution video—by the amazing fact that we’re talking with our distant friend using a device small enough to fit in our pocket.

Amazement itself, too, is being somehow perverted. It’s like our capacity for it is redirected elsewhere: some dark and sinister place, like that basement in Silence of the Lambs. That’s right, I’m talking about reality TV. Reality TV is a dangerous two-headed monster. First, like it or not, we see this human image on TV and we identify with it, an identification that goes deeper when we know it’s “reality.” Secondly, we give precedence to the people on TV, their lives, etc. because a producer has deemed them worthy, i.e., they’re lives must be more amazing than ours because they’re on the screen. Thus, we have a presentation that is both close to us and, somehow, better. What results, I think, is a hermetically sealed, force-fed—albeit tasty—imitation of amazing. Our amazement at reality TV is like Krab. We think it’s real, but it isn’t. What’s worse, if we taste it enough our ability to appreciate the real thing slowly dissolves. Things like reality TV take amazing out of our hands and minds; we become numb. We watch the drunken, imbecilic cast of Jersey Shore do drunken, imbecilic things. We say, “Oh, how novel.” Kim Kardashian takes a dump. “Oh, how extraordinary.” Danny Bonaduce drinks himself silly, head-butts a limousine window, and—with blood streaming down his face—proposes to his girlfriend. “Oh, how heartwarming.”

In the face of Kate Plus 8 and 4G networks and particle accelerators all I can think to do is this: forget. Forget it all, even if just temporarily. Pull away and let all that stuff recede into the background. We often use the word naïve as a bad thing, an insult even. Naïve is the one who sees the world from a different vantage point: a distant overlook from which it’s only possible to see general shapes and shades, not the world’s details and faults and rigmarole. Naiveté resides in disavowing all the scientific and technological knowledge, all the explanations, we’ve amassed. It’s seeing just to see. This is the person who, despite everything we know about pollution, is still captivated by the reds and yellows of the evening. It’s the kid rolling around in the dandelions sending white parachutes all over the yard, germination be damned. Naïveté is when you forget any knowledge of osteoporosis and focus instead on the knotted beauty of your grandmother’s hands, on the clapping and handholding and exertion and worry and enjoyment that made them that way. (Thanks, Jourdan.) If nothing else naiveté is a hell of a lot more interesting than the alternative, even in small doses. Think of it as a way of writing the world.

Here’s some amazing stuff I saw today: David methodically grooming himself, a clump of dust twittering in the heating vent, a bike staying upright, a floating Cheerio, a woman walking a dog bigger than she was, a beaver paddling in the pond outside my apartment, a little girl’s wiry, cotton-ball afro.

Keep it amazing.

-MC JLight

P.S.-Here’s a great little short film that accentuates newness in the face of ordinary. Directed by Ramin Bahrani and narrated by one of my favorites, Werner Herzog.