Saturday, May 1, 2010
In its most literal interpretation, to crush (squash/ squeeze/ mash/ pound / devastate) - is to be forced into a compressed position, a position of submission to a greater force. It its context as a romantic state, the literal meaning of crush has not, to my mind, been sufficiently remarked upon. I intend to clarify this in as explicit a manner as I can manage, hopefully without becoming impossibly strident, circumspect, diffident or bitter. However, I make no promises. If you are a romantic and sentimental sort of person expecting gossamer prose that makes you well up with tears and dash off to scribe meaningful and warm phrases in your journal, I suggest you cease reading this and move on to the fictional works of Danielle Steel, Nicolas Sparks or Robert James Waller.
If your quest is for unfettered sentiment, in particular, Robert James Waller pours rapt, boundless energy into all that capers and wafts down a rose petal path; he will not cause you a moment’s doubt in the Heart’s Desire and Soulmate aisle, replete with claw foot bathtubs and handwritten notes pinned on quaint, covered bridges in the slanting evening sun. In exchange for an exploration of the romantic crush, Waller will give you that marvelous oxymoron: a Good Cry; I freely admit he gave one to me. Indeed, The Bridges of Madison County is highly recommended for anyone who lusts for high-concept pastoral romance, especially Dear Readers pining for escape...those mature bipeds hopelessly laden with responsibilities, meetings, taxes, and a ballast of children weighing down their beautiful, pea-green boat.
The Bridges of Madison County was a runaway bestseller, instantly made into a blockbuster film with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood (Although no one I knew claimed to have read a single page or seen the movie; what notorious liars people are.) Watch the movie, it’s impossibly wrenching and poignant, even though one suspects that in the modern world, our barefoot curvaceous heroine, Francesca the Farm Wife With Italian Sex Appeal, would have paired off with her paramour, Robert Kincaid the Dashing Photographer/Cowboy With An Excellent Position At National Geographic. Francesca would have, one intuits, procured a nice sensible divorce, and probably kept a few acres of the farm in the bargain. Trips to Venice and the Uffizi would have ensued, and her children would have visited the happy couple at their villa in Tuscany. (Prices were still modest, then.) Everyone would have worked things out for the sake of the children and Francesca’s Farmer Man husband would have understood, grateful for the time he had managed to have with Francesca, who was wistful to the point of suicide for most of their marriage. Farmer Man would have remarried a local girl and in time the humiliation would have been borne. You know it would have.
Yet the film, set in 1962, holds the Family Value line, rejecting the idea that Robert Kincaid and Francesca’s extreme crush, their four-day love affair, could see them safely through the rest of their lives; it shuns the sudden and potent crush of impromptu love as a serious contender. During the climactic Great Sacrifice scene when Francesca almost but not quite flings open the passenger’s side door of her husbands’ pickup truck to run toward her lover, I myself nearly collapsed a lung weeping. The red light that Francesca and Farmer Man are stopped at, just behind Eastwood’s truck, goes on being red for what seems like a full eternity while Francesca kneads, rubs and grapples the door handle; she almost pulls it out of the goddamned car door. (Eastwood, who is standing in the rain looking bereft as a clubbed baby seal, straddles a very fine line between masterfully tender and puerile.) But it is 1962, and so I notice Francesca does not get out of her warm, dry vehicle. I notice she understands that what she and the flinty-eyed, roving shutterbug have is not a serious love, but a rather serious crush...one that might crush her and her entire family if she gets out of that rickety ass truck – it seems she suspects that if she plays it through, her crush on photographer Robert Kincaid might flourish, throw out seed and then inadvertently choke her bucolic life’s well tended, deeply rooted garden.
As if to confirm its lack of weightiness, the word crush in a romantic sense is not recognized in traditional dictionaries -- in their expert opinion it is an ethereal thing and cannot be pinned down to a fact or definition. So I turned to the Urban Dictionary, which traffics heavily in cultural catch phrases and ineffable matter of all kinds.
In the Urban Dictionary, the second definition of crush is “A painful experience, very common among middle schoolers (and high schooler's and even adults to a lesser degree) that involves being obsessed with a member of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if u (sic) prefer), being attracted to them physically (most common), or emotionally- also called 'puppy love'.”
At the ripe age of eight, had I known what crush was when it entered my bloodstream – and blood it was, make no mistake – I might have opted for a more supine position in the general scheme of things. Instead I ran to embrace it like a trusted ally. I thought, "Well, this is a good feeling, what a glory, what a marvelous sensation, tingling and engulfing body and mind. I intend to please the object of my crush as hard and as convincingly as I can, even if it means giving up a few afternoons of going to the library, jettisoning girl friends, disobeying my parents and teachers, keeping dangerous secrets, or giving up my own soul. And if I am very, very lucky, I will be crushed back. Oh, yes, what a glory, what a marvelous sensation, was traversing my body to the ends of my hair. My toes are involved, my breast is alight, and I have no thought for anything except this very moment, and perhaps the one after.
To be in the moment may very well be the best thing the average crush has to recommend for it. Let us not confuse it with love. It doesn’t want love’s duties, its complexities. It is the soft drink of emotions.
To confirm my point, I see where in its fourth definition, the Urban Dictionary defines crush as: "A kick-ass bottled soda pop made in orange, grape, and strawberry flavors. Comes in six-packs. Example: I drank nine bottles of Crush today.
Soft, perhaps, but with undeniable merits. Certainly it has pleasure going for it, and some importance; a cold soft drink can be delicious and even life saving, if one is in the desert without the benefit of a canteen.
Then again, there are nefarious, darker meanings to the act of a crush-- see definition six in the Urban Dictionary: Verb. The process by which people are killed when thrown beneath a steamroller or placed in between two solid surfaces with force being applied toward them that the body cannot withstand.
Sumbuddy: Hey, hao es your familie?
Guy: They got crushed by a bus and died.
Sumbuddy: Daz so sad...wanna get iscreem?
Historically there is the Witch Crush: The medieval process of laying one flagstone upon another and another, until the alleged sorceress’ body held beneath the stones is unable to draw breath, and her bones broken like so much peanut brittle -- often performed to the recitation of religious passages, and with many capering, excited onlookers – with the end result of pressing alleged witches into the ground until they are dead. This reinforces my feeling that crushes and crushing may not be the harmless, gay concepts they parade as.
Much later -- sometime around the nineteen nineties, crush became a verb; in the same way many nouns that had no business being animated became verbs. "Network” became a verb, and this was vastly troubling. And crush became a verb, the better to toss from here to there. Grown people took on the term…and in so doing, it was ruined for children and teenagers, in the same way that Facebook was ruined for them when their parents took to it. (A complete travesty of justice but not an unprecedented one…the uninspired have always stolen with great entitlement and treachery from the inspired. Whites stole jazz from blacks, as they did rock and roll, urban fashion, modern dance and everything they could get their pasty mitts on. "Inner City Minority Crimes” -- when juxtaposed with multitudinous centuries of slavery, lynching, Native American genocide, the ruthless and bloody snatching of California and much of the Southwest from Mexico, and the stealing of vast and sweeping cultural and intellectual property from non-Caucasians into the hands and pockets of Caucasians -- is a drop in a vast ocean, as crime goes.)
And yes I do stray from the original point of this essay; I digress in the most widespread and egregious fashion from the topic of the simple crush. Perhaps I dance and flit around the subject because I am overwhelmed by the (greedy, fleeting and petulant) conviction that all crushes and giddy emotions have passed me by, like an express train headed for a fine metropolitan center, while I – awash in children, stepchildren and the quotidian of being past twelve, in a time when our economy and our country is anything but buoyant and youthful - stand at the doorway of my home holding a frying pan and a spatula with which to pry the daily egg.
Disclaimer: Let me explain my outlook on the crush, in the present moment. This week in my shared household with my fiancé, Tom, 49, we are horribly short on time and adequate childcare or slow dancing; our ratio of children to adults is 16,000 to one. And so the eggs and cooking utensils and laundry loads of my life as an engaged divorced mother have become overwhelming, the relentless homework and crying toddlers and Mac and Cheese encrusted meals of my life have taken seniority over the niceties of bubbling feelings; therefore I am hard pressed to feel the proper ebullient outlook toward crushes and gay, insouciant states of being…the right tone has not been set. I admit this.
But let the record state that despite all this, I absolutely do want to crush on a regular basis, to - like Francesca and Robert Kincaid - have my hair washed by Tom and make love for hours at a time while a big band station plays on an old radio and brandy is drunk from thin snifters around a Formica table, all children tucked away with a responsible farmer at a 4-H meeting in Kansas. I want to continuously crush. Although, it must be noted, Tom and my sharing a massive crush and parlaying it into love and commitment and a blended family is absolutely what led me to this very position in the doorway, with the spatula and the frying pan. I don’t see how it could have been avoided, as we both came into relationship with past crushes and so forth under our belts, we entered this undertaking as adults with children, some of them small.
Why don’t I just say it: Crushes lead to love lead to marriage lead to children, which lead to the grave. Yes. Here, I – quite waspish, wracked with fatigue, and without the proper perspective - state this without the frill of political correctness or the maternal yoke of everlasting gratitude, grace and feminine forbearance around my neck.
In my defense, I look to self-honesty and truth telling as a pressure release valve, so that I can within this venue consider the topic of the sweet, deep, uncomplicated crush without being bitter and preemptive. In fact, I would posit that this essay’s (rather horrifying, I admit) honest and confessional tone is a kind of inner crush…a crush on myself, on my past and perhaps the childfree future, a crush on my own freedom. The time when I was a girl and could let loose the infatuation dogs, the time I could, with no thought of consequence or Right or Wrongdoing, indulge a flood of sensual feeling, release the emotion love dogs willy nilly, could walk home at a leisurely pace, at age eight, with thoughts of Jimmy Duke and his way of riding his stingray bike with real abandon.
Now I will tell about my first crush, which I believe was the original objective.
Jimmy Duke was my first crush. I meant to say this in the beginning, here, but other things took over. (In my life as a grown woman with children, and in the year 2010, other things take over with a relentless and firm hand. This is why my first crush is so slippery to describe and buckle down to.)
But here goes: On the school yard of Allendale elementary in Oakland, California, on a short fifty yard asphalt race course painted with five white lanes, abandoned after school and unmonitored by adults or men with starting guns or girls holding up gaily colored flags or sportscasters with strident tones, Jimmy Duke and I raced, just the two of us, while Roy Campbell looked on in mild interest on his Schwinn bike with the playing cards stuck in the spokes. Jimmy Duke won, although I tried my fierce best and almost lost a shoe. He won and he said nothing, because for Jimmy Duke, winning was a given. (This says it all, crush-wise. In my time, most women – even girls not on the brink of becoming women – want men who win and say nothing. We do not want to triumph over men in any physical way, it is not sexy and it goes against the biological imperatives which keep human beings from being wiped off the earth by insects and crabgrass.)
Jimmy Duke had a crooked smile, the flaw being the very entry point of the crush knife. Historically, I have always spent my crushes on males with elemental good looks but an array of interesting flaws that distinguish them from the other, more perfect and some would say pretty boys, the plethora of narcissistic man child that grow thick on the ground in California - especially San Francisco, Marin County, San Diego and the greater Los Angeles area.
Jimmy’s hair was sandy and straight, with body. A boy with body in his straight hair is not to be trifled with; he has an advantage over the stingy haired boys who are constantly peering out from a curtain of hair. Curtains of hair are a plus for girls but for boys, a curtain of hair is a liability. It suggests femininity and perhaps a lack of stiffness, a bit less confidence, which may in fact lead to impotence in his later years. (No one wants to admit it, but a mostly reliable and stiff penis is sometimes all that stands between a successful union and a lackluster and grim union of potentially obese individuals. Without sex, heterosexual men and women would never have anything to do with one another beyond procreation, the impromptu rearrangement of furniture and – well, I can’t think of another activity they might share willingly and with benefit to anyone.)
Roy Campbell had a Moe Howard hairstyle and Roy Campbell hung around Jimmy Duke, looking to scoop up his leftover girls. This worked well until Roy Campbell developed acute acne and was summarily shunned by girls of all ages. Later, he developed a fondness for controlled substances. So that’s it. My first crush.
My own fiancé, Tom’s, hair sticks straight up and don’t I know it. It stands at attention and is ready for what happens next. It never falls into his eyes or threatens to conceal or flop on his face in ways that could only mean a weakness in character. Tom is unquestionably the biggest crush of my life, arriving - to my chagrin - after I had already married and divorced and given up on anything like crushes, secretly feeling that love, perhaps, was “an affliction curable by marriage” to crib from Ambrose Bierce.
So it is lovely that the Urban Dictionary nails and also validates my at-first-sight crush on Tom, in its Definition number three:
1. The act of falling hard for someone even though it isn't love yet
2. A precursor to love
3. An amazing thing that gives you feelings of nerves and excitement whenever you see them
Since the day we met, I seem to have been stripped of all knowledge save emotional and carnal knowledge. (Surely the way this essay meanders is proof positive of this theory) In my “nerves and excitement”, I am very close to being a mildly retarded adult, happy almost 100 percent of the time. The difference is that I am happy approximately 80 percent of the time; the rest of the time I am fearful and anxious that my happiness will be snatched from me. Other differences include the fact that mildly retarded, even some Down Syndrome, adults are genetically plump and puffy all round. Conversely, I am not plump, but, in the right light and clothing, could actually pass for willowy and smooth, something that surely cannot last but which this great and perplexing love has brought out. (Tom, being under the influence of crush, thinks this is my natural state.) While it’s all happening nicely and in a lovely manner now, I fear I will eventually be hard pressed to keep the pace. I mistrust this makeover from crushing new love, and feel it is only a matter of time before my somewhat frowsy self reappears and I am catapulted from my crush afterglow, back to a thickened waist and uneven skin tones. But Tom is very close to being an evolved and perfect mate for me. This is why I have agreed to marry him, despite my suspicion that all crushes are doomed, and that marriage is a conspiracy from Tiffany’s, the Diamond Industry, and Christian Fundamentalists. Whenever I try to sabotage our union, or wax jaded and pessimistic about our love, Tom deftly and summarily quashes my dissent in firm and absolute terms. He will not brook dissent in the ranks; like many fine and good German Americans he has his fascistic, impeccable standards and they will not be chipped at. He is the most Teutonic man I have ever known, unassailable and zealous in his ability to work, to be perennially practical and patient, and take me into hand when I run amuck and begin to be crazy, which is my default setting. Having fallen in the greatest and most solid love of my life, I am fully and with emphasis carried away from my shabby notion of independence and intellectual distinction.
Tom, while doing his fulltime job impeccably and caring for his children and my own, is also taking on infatuation side effects; he is exhibiting mildly retarded or brain damaged characteristics. For example, yesterday he ran full force into a seven foot metal pole in his backyard, in broad daylight and while under the influence of this deceptively innocuous thing, the crush. He is being crushed under the wheels of infatuation that became infected with Love and is, at this very moment, headed toward the gully of Marriage, where much will be lost but much will be gained. We will be wed. What will become of us? Whatever happens, the ubiquitous crush was the genesis of – to quote from Zorba the Greek – The Full Catastrophe. Let us lobby for it to have its own place in Webster’s, if not a sacred nook in our lives. Amen.