"Born in the USA" Made Me an Asshole

May 2, 2018

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Ahhhh, the impertinence of youth. As I'm making the uncomfortable turn around the second half of my life, I'm frequently prone to reflecting on just the sheer audacity I possessed in my younger days. I started a habit when I hit puberty that I still practice today. On my birthday, (Thanks, Visit to Korea, for fucking that up for me!) I will initiate a very thorough and brutal performance evaluation of myself one year prior. I apply the standard of: if I had met the previous year's version of me in a social setting, would I want to kick the shit out of myself? And the answer until I was 25 was always, "I'd curbstomp that motherfucker." I mean, I genuinely disapproved of who I was the past year, and I would resolve to be less punchable 365 days later. Psychologists will say, of course, 25 makes sense because it is when we finally set into our personalities. I maintain at 25 I finally had enough drugs in my system I was starting to get a little fuzzy about how many days a Julian calendar year actually had. What do psychologists know? It's not like they went to school to study exactly this topic or anything. OK, maybe youth has nothing to do with impertinence. Apparently, I have still stubbornly held on to that trait.

 

Over this journey you and I are setting on, you'll realize I might exaggerate a wee bit, but you will also come to realize, "Crap, he wasn't kidding. He really was impertinent. And he's also right, he still really is" and then, "Oh my god, I just looked up curb stomping! That is terrible! But yeah....I kinda would have as well."...  Are you done eagerly acknowledging my shortcomings? Are you sure? I can always come back. : )

 

The lens of experience has allowed me to see things in completely different ways. And my gosh, did I ever misinterpret, or associate absolutely ridiculous concepts to some pretty obvious things. Hold on, Sparkles, I'm going to clarify. But first, we need to go on a little tangent. My favourite hobby when I was a kid was to annoy my mom. If she disliked it, it was guaranteed I was going to adore it. If she said the sun was bright, I would say it looked dusky. If she said I was being a jerk, I would say I was being precocious. In fifth grade, I had saved enough money to get a boombox. So, off to RadioShack to buy the very first music player that gave me freedom from 98.7OGL FM - We play your favourite oldies! That jingle still haunts me to this day. It also rescued me from endless Barbra Streisand record playing as well. As there was no radio station suited to complete tools like myself, the next purchase was to buy some cassette tapes. I had enough money budgeted for three tapes. Two of them were going to be just for me. The third I was saving for what would irritate my mother the most. I don't really want to share my first two picks, but I will because I respect you and trust that you won't judge me too harshly. Please remember, I was a fifth grader. My first two selections were Vivaldi's - The Four Seasons and Whitney Houston’s album creatively named: Whitney Houston. I SAID PLEASE DON'T JUDGE ME! They didn't have Weird Al Yankovic, ok? Sheesh. Most importantly, I had that third and final album, the one my mother would tell me immediately to put back. I have no theories at all as to why my mother dislikes Bruce Springsteen so much, but she really does. Maybe as an ultra-feminist, she didn't like the idea of a man's nickname being “The Boss". All I know is since she hated him, I needed to have one of his records. My dad said he liked Bruce and he wrote great songs. The record collection at home had no Bruce Springsteen albums, so you can Sherlock Holmes the conclusion as to who wore the pants in the family. The Boss at the Fisher household most certainly did not resemble Bruce Springsteen. Maybe, she was in a good mood that day, or maybe my father had promised her he'd confiscate it when we got home, but miraculously I was allowed to buy all three tapes! She did look at me and call me a pansy for the Whitney Houston selection and I had to reluctantly agree with her.

 

I wore the shit out of that tape. I still know every single word to every single song. I know every band member. I read every letter of the liner notes. You know what the definition of irony is? A kid who was born in Korea's second favourite song being "Born in The USA". I tried to change the words to "Born in the ROK", but for some reason no one else would sing along with me, not even my siblings, who were most definitely born in the ROK. I fully embraced that song, I even sang lustily "to go and kill the yellow man." I mean, it was lyrically beautiful, I sort of had to. But, my absolute favourite song was "Downbound Train."

 

DOWNBOUND TRAIN

Bruce Springsteen, E Street Band

 

I had a job, I had a girl

I had something going, mister, in this world

I got laid off down at the lumber yard

Our love went bad, times got hard

Now I work down at the car wash

Where all it ever does is rain

Don't you feel like you're a rider on a downbound train

She just said, "Joe, I gotta go

We had it once, we ain't got it anymore"

She packed her bags, left me behind

She bought a ticket on the Central Line

Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining

I feel her kiss in the misty rain

And I feel like I'm a rider on a downbound train

Last night I heard your voice

You were crying, crying, you were so alone

You said your love had never died

You were waiting for me at home

Put on my jacket, I ran through the woods

I ran till I thought my chest would explode

There in the clearing, beyond the highway

In the moonlight, our wedding house shone

I rushed through the yard

I burst through the front door, my head pounding hard

Up the stairs I climbed

The room was dark, our bed was empty

Then I heard that long whistle whine

And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and cried

Now I swing a sledge hammer on a railroad gang

Knocking down them cross ties, working in the rain

Now, don't it feel like you're a rider on a downbound train

 

Here is where the impertinence comes in. I'm in fifth grade. I had no job, I had no girl, and I most definitely didn't have something going, Mr. in this world. But, I loved the lyrical cruelty of working at a car wash where all it ever does is rain. I loved the very end where he dropped to his knees, hung his head, and cried. I thought I could relate to this song. It was my anthem of the bane of my existence. It made the pain of not playing Little League baseball so clear. It made not being able to go to Sesame Place again for my birthday tragic. It's starting to make things really clear why my dad would pop his head into our bedroom and just shake his head as I'm building F-15s out of legos and balefully singing my favourite song. I mean the song didn't even get a video like "Dancing in the Dark," or "Glory Days". I basically had no business believing II could relate to this song. But, I would have fought you tooth and nail if you told me otherwise. I know pain! I know suffering! I know what it's like to swing a sledgehammer on a railroad gang! (I had a very mature and diverse circle of imaginary friends)

 

I think this is a classic example where we so often think we know a concept, or a feeling because in our limited world it really feels that way. It doesn't make it true. I think I learned this lesson far too late in life. But thankfully, better late than never. Some people never learn this lesson at all. They are called the cast of Jersey Shore. I guess I would say I started learning this lesson 5 years later when my first girlfriend broke up with me and I was playing George Michael's "One More Try" and then two weeks later was dating her best friend.


I think back to my fifth grade self and I don't necessarily want to beat the hell out of him, I want to sit down and tell him the laws of metaphysics mean you can't play with legos and sing "Downbound Train" at the same time. Fifth grade self will tell me it's a great song. I will say, “of course it is.” But, it's great for reasons he cannot possibly comprehend. Then, I'll teach him that showing a girl you like her by kicking her in the ass is a really terrible method. I'm sure fifth grade me would ask why he should listen to someone who is talking to an elementary school kid. So, ok ,yeah, I guess I would curbstomp myself. What an asshole.

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