Recently, during the midday lunch rush, I found myself sitting on a strange man’s lap, drinking an old fashioned, while smoking a cigarette. With a scratchy sizzle, I crushed the tip of my Lucky Strike into an ashtray. In that moment I realized: I don’t have affairs, I don’t smoke. I don’t drink old fashioneds. What is going on?
I stood up, gingerly smoothing the pleats of my ankle-length skirt. I checked the bounce in my curls and walked back home. My heels clicked up the front stairs and I went over to our rotary phone. I dialed my husband’s number and confessed, “I think I’ve been watching too much Mad Men.”
It’s hard for me to acknowledge that I am so easily influenced. I’m newly shocked each time I find myself disappointed that the latest laundry detergent leaves my clothes just as dingy as they were before. Why do I keep believing in “New and Improved Stain-Fighting Power”?
When I was a kid, my parents (knowing my easily persuaded personality and probably holding each other in fear) would annoyingly recite the phrase to me, “Garbage in, Garbage out.” Swayed by all voices but theirs, I never listened to them. (Sheesh, these people have never been kids before.)
For added humiliation they would sometimes sing “Garbage in, Garbage out” to the famous* Petra song “Computer Brains”
Computer brains, put garbage in
Computer brains, get garbage out
As if singing Christian rock would help.
But even if I tried to listen to them, I didn’t really understand their point. How does not eating out of a trashcan relate to my desire to watch endless reruns of Married with Children? Plus, what does “Garbage Out” mean? You’ll poop garbage? Isn’t that basically what already happens?
Between Petra’s “Computer Brains” mixed with my limited exposure to 80’s pop culture, the only thing I was getting out of the phrase “Garbage In, Garbage Out” was an image of the Garbage Pail Kid, Valarie Vomit gagging over an IBM 5150 personal computer.
It’s not until our thirties that most of us begin to admit to ourselves that the people, images, and ideas that we surround ourselves with have an influence over who we are. And unfortunately, this is right around the time that our kids start wanting to kill fluffy bunnies on video games and watch TV shows with plot lines centered around flatulence.
Just like our parents before us, our new understanding leads us down the fool’s path of desiring to spread our knowledge to the younger generation. Which in turn leads us to the idea of speaking to kids on their level.
And the next thing we know, we are sitting at the computer researching the name of the coolest, spiritually ambiguous, non-twerkable song on choosing good influences.
While our children roll their eyes at us in humiliation.
* to white, suburban, Christian kids in 1986