A long standing tradition of the American educational system is the How I Spent My Summer Vacation writing assignment for returning students. The idea being is that you trick the kids into writing a paper about something fun like what they did over the summer before you turn around a week later and make them write papers about The Columbian Exposition or magnets.
The parallels here hold up. Summer is ending, and those of us in school are heading back. Our vacations are nothing but a distant memory, and preparing for Fall and Winter and the holidays that come along with them take center stage. And while Grimerica certainly doesn’t deserve the negative connotation some of us associate with school, there’s no denying it’s pretty fucking educational at times. So, having that said…
HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION by Pat O
Towards the ass end of June we took my son down to Lake Geneva for a week. For those of you not familiar, Lake Geneva is the premier middle class Chicagoan tourist destination of Wisconsin, located less than two hours away from the city. Boating, fishing, sandy beaches with crystal clear water. Rural and chill but still with WIFI and McDonalds.
Being city folk all of that got boring pretty fast. One afternoon I decided to take my son on a boat tour around the lake. Actually it’s not much of a tour. They sell it like that, but really you just cruise around for an hour and look at the ridiculously huge mansions that occupy the side of the lake opposite the hotels. The Wrigley Family (chewing gum empire, used to own WGN, the Cubs and a bunch of other shit) own several miles of shoreline with several mansions and three pool houses, even the smallest one bigger than the house I grew up in.
While everyone else on the boat was all Ooooh and Aaaah over the size of these houses they would never be allowed to set foot in, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of crazy drug fueled orgies people with that kind of money must have. House after gigantic fucking house, each one the summer getaway of one Chicagoland captain of industry or another…how many of them at one time housed victims of human trafficking? Who throws better coke parties, the Maytags or the Sears empire? As we toured the exterior of these houses from several hundred feet offshore, what were the chances there was someone chained to a wall in one of their basements at that very moment? I mean with that kind of money…what’s to stop you?
When I got back to Chicago I confided in a coworker my experience on the boat tour and my theories about what really went on in those multimillion dollar strongholds of the rich and famous. His response was dismissive to say the least.
“Maybe the reason they’re rich in the first place is because they’re NOT oversexed drugged out perverts. They’re too busy being successful and making money.”
You think? Part of me just naturally assumed all rich people (and I’m not just talking about the upper class here, I’m talking hundred of millions of dollars of generational wealth) were misanthropic deviants. Shit maybe he was right. Maybe I was guilty of the same class bias that folks complain about all the time. Maybe they had earned it all and worked hard for it, and to accuse them of child exploitation was just a byproduct of my xenophobia.
But then I talked to one of my buddies from the old neighborhood and he pretty much confirmed how I felt. Him and I grew up together in a neighborhood where our parents were all cops or firemen, and we got away with fucking murder. Not literally murder, but all kinds of crazy shit, and simply because of who our parents were. Can you imagine if our parents weren’t just cops, they were senators? CEO’s of company that supports the local economy of a town? The son of a newspaper tycoon? If you can buy your way out of a speeding ticket or underage intoxication by dropping a name, imagine what you could bribe someone into looking the other way for with a couple thousand, even more. Why was I so sure all those millionaires had animal masks in their underwear drawers and dungeons in their basements? Because I know I would.
But like my coworker said, that might just be me projecting, so the verdict is still out on Lake Geneva. 50/50 shot the rich people have Eyes Wide Shut parties there in the summer.
This summer I also took a theater workshop here in Chicago. I make short films in my spare time (Checkout my You Tube channel Movies for Hangovers next time you’re bored at work) but Chicago is such a big theater town it feels like if you haven’t paid your dues till you spend at least some time working on stage. I spent 8 weeks studying under the Neo Futurists, a group that originated here, but whose alumni from the NYC and San Francisco branches are responsible for the wildly popular Welcome to Nightvale podcast. I took studying with them as an opportunity to not only work on my writing skills, but also explore other avenues of storytelling and grow a deeper appreciation for the acting process. I’ve always had an admiration for stage actors. Acting for film is a marathon, long hours, repetitive tasks. Being on stage is like running a sprint at break-neck speed. Once you get started it doesn’t end until the show is over.
It also gave me the opportunity to work with some really talented, creative people. The 8 week workshop culminated in our class/ensemble getting together to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. We wrote, pitched, voted, then directed each other and finally performed the material all in front of a live audience. The shit was insane. I learned a ton and when it was all over I was glad to hop off the stage and go hide behind a camera where I feel most at home. The whole experience was utterly terrifying for me at times, but isn’t that what life’s all about? Trying new things, pushing boundaries and working outside your comfort zone? I puked my guts out the day of the show my nerves were so bad. That’s something I’ve been doing since I played in bands as a kid. Someone once told me that when you stop getting nervous before you do something like that then it’s time to stop doing it. Getting nervous means you give a fuck in the first place. There are stakes involved.
One of my favorite 2 minute plays that we performed was called I want to be at least 5 drinks in when the world ends and involved the cast drinking cocktails on stage while yours truly(perpetually typecast as the narrator with the golden voice) stood offstage and read the death tolls from several current conflicts taking place all over the world. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of people losing their lives in an effort to change their living conditions and politics. It was at this same time though that right here at home in the States we were experiencing our own turmoil and social upheaval in Ferguson Missouri over the loss of a single life at the hands of a police state that’s spiraling out of control. Syria 191,000…Ferguson Missouri, 1. I couldn’t put down the juxtaposition. What did it all mean? Were we a more noble people for jumping into action after a single death, or were we just paper lions. How long have the battles is Syria or the Ukraine been raging? How long did Ferguson burn, three days? Or what about the reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff (and just tonight David Haines). How big of a impact are their deaths making in regards to foreign policy and public outrage? How many hundreds of nameless, faceless men and women and children died in Gaza last month alone? Why are the deaths of the nameless and faceless any less powerful to us? Shouldn’t those numbers mean something?
We can disagree about politics and policy, preemptive strikes versus self defense, but the one thing that should supersede all that bullshit is the belief that all life, every life is sacred, and the loss of a life is a tragic event whose ripples exceed far beyond the point where we lose sight of the rock as it hits in the water. James Foley, the JFK Assassination, Michael Brown, are all examples of how the loss of one life can carry such a weight that we should all be openly fucking weeping when we see the news reports coming out of the Syria. But more importantly than that if just the loss of one life in a small Midwestern can spark national outrage and debate, social upheaval ect, then imagine, just imagine, what each and everyone one of us has the power to do while we’re still living. I cannot believe we’re more powerful dead than we are alive. That’s just the shit people trying to kill us want us to think.
That was my summer in a nutshell. Some other shit happened too, but it’s hard to look back on any period of your life and sort the significant from the insignificant. How can you ever tell at the time? Oh and for the record I started smoking again. I know, I know I’m an asshole and I’m going to die young. Maybe I’ll trying quitting again in a couple weeks. I got a lot going on right now.