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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Memento Demento

I'm entering this phrase into the lexicon of ridiculous medical conditions. Kind of like Vibrata Nervousa, which is the act of continually checking your mobile phone because you feel the sensation of it buzzing in manner mode against your leg only to find it still. In short, Memento Demento is the compulsion to buy or acquire something from a trip. It could be a ticket stub from that Styx reunion concert. You know the one you went to last summer wearing the "Kilroy was here" t-shirt that was two sizes two small making you look more like a sausage than a middle aged, middle management, left over from the early 80's father of three who still thinks that Erin Gray's Colonel Wilma Dearing was the pinnacle of hotness. It could be a box of God awful Salt Water Taffy from Ocean City, Maryland, that your aunt Twyla buys you every year when she goes on her late May sojourn. This condition is not a new one. I mean I'm not breaking any new ground here. I don't expect to be published in the JAMA anytime soon. After all, buying dumb souvenirs has been around for centuries. When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson took a little break from their diplomatic mission to Europe, they traveled to the birthplace of William Shakespeare and carved little slivers from a wooden chair that supposedly belonged to the late Bard. Granted, these founding Fathers didn't pay a cent for their items but regardless of the item or its price, it's a sickness nonetheless. I am comfortably ashamed to admit that I have indulged in this act on numerous occasions with results that defy logic.

On a trip to Virginia Beach at the ripe old age of 12 I felt that I just had to have a souvenir from my trip. It was such an overwhelming compulsion that I did not give any thought to my selection and only formulated an argument that no matter what I bought, it would be a reminder of my trip to the beach in 1987. So, on a day trip into the heart of tourist trap heaven I was given ten minutes to buy something. I frantically searched as if I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. With my allotment of $10.00 I was feeling the pressure. I couldn't get something extravagant but I couldn't get something small and put the rest on a gift certificate. Damn you Wheel of Fortune. I will be forever haunted by the sweeping camera movements over merchandise that I would never take freely let alone spending my winnings on, although that Cigar Store Indian would have found a great place next to my old style gumball machine. Where was I? Oh yes, I was on the quest for the perfect embodiment of a trip to the beach. With sweating palms I flipped through the racks of printed t-shirts, "FBI: Female Body Inspector," ugh that was so 1985. Wait, what was this? What is this pastel shirt that harkened to a highly rated television show cleverly marketed with anthropomorphic rodents sporting sunglasses and sockless loafers. Why, it's beautiful. It's shiny. It's just under $10.00. I must have it. So, I grabbed my purchase and handed it to my mother who held my money.

"Are you sure you want this?" She asked.

"Yes." I quickly answered frothing at the mouth.

"Positive, because you can't return it and we're not buying anything else?" She again, cautioned.

"Good God, woman, don't taunt me further. Buy it already. I can't wait to slip into its silk screened, poly-cotton, decadence."

"Ok." She submitted.

I had it. I obtained my souvenir. I was cool. I... I.... Why the hell did I just buy a Miami Mice shirt?!?!?



This is similar to, but the not the same as the shirt I bought.
The original picture I had here disappeared and I cannot find another copy of it.


Why didn't anyone stop me? Why was there no intervention? Damnit, my $10.00 was wasted! I might of well just threw it all down on double zero in a roulette spin. I was crushed. I wore that shirt maybe once. I didn't dare wear it to school. Lord, if someone had seen me in that shirt it would have been the worst wedgie and swirlie combination of my life. It would have been the beat down of adolescent history. After a trip to Promises and a few sessions with a counselor I felt that I was in control. This was not something that you could cure and you just had to take it day by day.

I was doing well for about two years when my family went to Cedar Point for a vacation in the summer of 1989. It was the end of the 80's and there was a transition into airbrushed shirts. It was all the rage at the County Fair. After all, if you didn't have a license plate with a sunset, silhouetted palm tree and the name of you and your sweetie encased in a heart showcased on the front of your IROC with feathered roach clips hanging from the rearview mirror then you were behind the times. Everywhere you went down the midway, a different artist had set up a shop with his collection. "Hey, look at the Bart Simpson stuck in the ass cheeks of that fat girl with the witty saying of 'Crack Kills!' Oh, would Nancy Regan approve or what?" On the last day of our trip around the park I found myself jonesing for a souvenir. I had to be strong. My sponsor had told me that it was okay to buy a souvenir. The trick was doing it with some clarity. You can't go in half cocked and expect to be all right. You need to relax and find your center. So, I did just that. I took a seat next to a calming fountain in the midway and began to chant the mantra I had learned from my support group.

Give me the serenity
to change the things I can
and to accept the things I can't
and the wisdom to know the difference in souvenirs.
Trendy Fads are always bad
Salted Confections are never a selection
A globe that snows always blows
and a shirt within reach with the name of the beach
is always lame to wear in that city when there.
Once finished I felt as if I was ready to purchase a suitable souvenir. Being a little older, I was in more control of my expenses and didn't have to go through the whole rigor moral of asking 'Mommy' for some cash. I calmly walked up to a vendor and said, "Good day, my good shop keep. I require a remembrance of your retreat here. What is the going rate for your work with hand painted garments?" Noting that the shirt was only $15.00 I felt as if I was getting a break. He had a portfolio of his work in a three ring binder and perused his portraits. He then asked for my selection. Suddenly, I froze. What did I want again? With the mental block of Ralphie Parker trying to remember to ask Santa for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle I found myself drooling. Dear God, what did I come here for? Who are you people? Where am I? This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! Getting perturbed the artist began making a sighing sound that mimicked his airbrush. Quickly, I managed to rattle off some instructions. He gave me some quizzical look and said pick it up in an hour.

As I walked around the park for the next hour I thought of all the cool conversations I would have while wearing this shirt. "Why Yes, it is an airbrushed shirt. You are jealous, aren't you? I can see it in your eyes as they continually focus on the hypnotic nature of my cool-ass airbrushed shirt." I envisioned myself at beach parties with the cool cheerleaders showing off my shirt. It was a simple design. It was clean. I was so cool that everyone would want a shirt just like this.

I came back around to pick up the shirt and pulled it slowly out of the brown paper wrapping as if it were a Playboy with Erin Gray on the cover in her Buck Roger's skin tight jump suit brandishing her Lazer Tag styled fire arm and flight helmet slyly placed in front of her naughty bits. This....was.....so....dumb! What did I do? Desperately, I searched my brain for the exact instructions I gave to the artist. A tiny voice played inside my head. "I want my name in chrome." MY NAME IN CHROME?!?! Dear Zeus, what was I thinking? It's not like it means anything, either. It's just my name in bubble type font across a white shirt. I mean, it left a lot of negative space for additional artwork like "Is a bad Mutha F@#ker" to added later, but when in the hell would this ever be cool. Suddenly, my life flashed before my eyes. I was back on that beach talking with Susie Pompoms. "In fact, it's so cool, everyone will want one with my name instead of their own." Then, I heard the sound of shrieking laughter as the entire student body gathers around me to point and laugh. I tripped through more of my life. I'm now 30 and still living in my parents' house wearing this shirt. I go out to the store and people think I must have some mental disability. "Look, the poor thing has to have his name on his shirt so he remembers it." I might have well just had the guy airbrush the words, "If found, please return to..." and my home address. Better still, I could have him airbrush a giant sticker around my name with the words, "Hello, my name is..."

I was crushed. I had gone and done it again. I tried to recall what had gotten me so flustered and formed those words in my mouth, "My name in chrome," but there was no thought. It was all a blur. It's not like I could ever wear this shirt out. It was a high end recreation of my junior high gym outfit. That must have been it. I was probably so psychological damaged from this class that I kept those words deeply rooted in my psyche. On the first day of gym class we were required to bring a white shirt into the teacher's office. He sat there in his navel high pants and short sleeve colored shirt with a Sharpie marker waiting for the next victim. The smell of the Sharpie flooded your senses as he called you in, his voice playing in slow motion as he waved you into the room. Your head pounded from that marker smell. He would pull your shirt tight against your body and began spelling your name across it. God forbid you had a letter I in your name because he would stamp the dot with the force of a pitcher in the Major Leagues. In fact when it became my turn, he had pulled the shirt so taught that he missed the material all together and dotted my clavicle. It was the kind of pain that you didn't feel at first but came on seconds later nearly dropping you to your knees. Have someone take their index finger and push into your ribs as they meet your spine. Then, wait a second. It just keeps radiating out into your body. Somehow I must have repressed that memory and two years later it was unlocked while standing in front of a guy at a booth in Ohio holding a Paasche F#1 single action external mix airbrush.

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to climb your way out of an addiction and I think this was my lowest point. From then on, whenever I go anywhere on vacation or for business I usually pass on the tourist trap type places. My friends all want to go shopping and I say, "You know what? I think I have to pass." To be fair to others I may linger outside the door or even go inside and just keep my hands in my pocket clutching a penny that I had flattened into an oval and stamped with the Statue of Liberty on a trip to New York. It has become like a medallion and a reminder of the last stupid thing I ever spent money on during a trip since it cost more than a penny to make. It's been quite a few years now and every so often I fall off the wagon and buy something stupid and realize later that I have tripped up but that's okay. The road to recovery isn't an easy one and I take it one vacation at a time.

Here's a list of red flag items that might point out a problem.
  • Local Post Card that you never intend to send.
  • Pet Rock painted to look like the location.
  • Hermit Crab.
  • A piece of rubble from some historic spot.
  • Florida Snowman (a jar of water with a top hat floating inside.)
  • Big Johnson shirt.
  • Paperweight in the shape of a landmark.
  • The Bible from your hotel room.
  • A stuffed animal bigger than anyone in your party, that you have to carry around all day long, and cost you more than your family's dinner at Red Lobster.

1 comment:

neglet said...

My memento compulsion is somewhat different, but still annoying: I collect playing cards. So every place we go, I look for a deck that (hopefully) has a nice photo of the place and maybe the name of the place lettered on the photo. And I don't want tacky pictures, either. No cartoons. No bad art.

The end result may not be as tacky as your collection, but it does require an annoying number of trips into tacky souvenir shops until I find just the right one. My husband is very patient, although I can see the mental sigh every time I say, "Can I just check this place for cards?"

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