Funhouse

Just look at this ridiculous distortion. [Side note: I love the background.]

mirrorOver the weekend we were strolling the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. Inside an arcade, I came across a wall of funhouse mirrors. Each one presented a comic, distorted me. I studied each reflection carefully and realized that this is exactly how I present myself to the world. A series of preposterous exaggerations.

The people I work with have no idea who I really am and they never will. I won’t allow it. My daughters certainly haven’t a clue. How could they? They lack perspective. I don’t put my true self out here in blogland. Who does!? Don’t all posts contain a modicum of half-truths and boasts? I moved away from home decades ago so my siblings can’t know who I am anymore. My wife knows me better than anyone but there are still hidden crevices that remain unexplored.

Can we ever know our true selves? The voice in our head only tells us what we want to hear. Perhaps we’re all just a composite of these others selves. Maybe there’s no real true center. Just a series of funhouse mirror reflections.


When I was a kid, we never had a nice car. My dad bought a series of junkers that were ‘great deals.’ They were broken-down wrecks on their last legs. Rolling scrap metal. Time bombs. One car had a rusted-out hole in the floor. You could see the road speeding by underneath. We used to fight over who got to sit over the hole and watch the road. We finally had to get rid of it because we were on a freeway and the carpet caught on fire. The car filled with smoke.

Another time, my mom was driving the four of us kids to grandma’s house. While speeding down Fulton Street, the front axle snapped in half. We saw a tire rolling down the road and thought it was the funniest thing until we realized it came off of our car. We could have been killed.

Over the weekend we bought a brand new car. It’s a mid-sized SUV with only 96 miles on the odometer. A big, suburban snooze-mobile. 12-year old daughter expressed mild disappointment that we didn’t get the limited edition with second row captain’s chairs and leather trim interior. Can you imagine?!

72 thoughts on “Funhouse

    • It’s bizarre to see so few miles on the odometer. A most unnatural sensation.

      Are you implying you’re going back to posting? That’d be fine with me.

      Want to have an end-of-summer libation this Friday? It’ll be nice outside.

      • Sure, Friday sounds good.
        No, I still have no plans to get back online. I’ve been enjoying myself an awful lot this summer, and blogging still seems like a…chore?
        Just not fun anymore.

      • Blogging is a time-consuming, ego destroying chore. But I need the eggs.

        Can your bride join us? She’s great! We should find someplace outside. That option will be off the table soon.

  1. Yes, times have changed. Many kids today have so much more than their parents did and also so many more choices. That can be a good thing, but it also makes it more challenging to instill the right values in them. It’s one thing to preach about not-having to them, but it’s another thing to actually live it.

  2. You give us more glimpses than you care to admit, Mark, as you piece together the past and the now.

    Thank god you didn’t get the Captain’s chairs for the snooze-mobile. I can tell that the guy who grew up riding in junkers couldn’t live with himself with Captain’s chairs in his car.

    • I never thought of my mental mastications as glimpses. I guess that’s how they look from outside my head. [Autocorrect wanted something else for “mastication.” I’ll leave it to you.]

      Second row captain chairs are a terrible idea. You can only seat two in the second row instead of three. We deal in volume out here.

      • Yes, things always look different from the outside, Mark. That’s a great lesson I had to learn all those decades writing for the big daily.

        Captain’s Chairs in a vehicle are plain impractical. And dumb looking.

      • How many emails have you sent, how many articles have you published, didn’t hit their mark? Whose meaning was misconstrued by the audience? Do you know what’s even worse? When their misinterpretation makes perfect sense.

        I didn’t think about it but from a design standpoint but captain’s chairs are plug ugly, aren’t they? Excellent point.

  3. Those short legs make you look like the world’s thinnest dwarf, but your face is too grim for a circus career. Do you think your daughters would find out who you are if you let them read your diaries?

    • Thankfully, my real legs are actually much longer.

      If my daughters ever read my diaries, they’d be gravely disappointed in the person they thought was their father. Let’s all pray that never comes to pass. One lit match will alleviate all my fears of that happening.

  4. I love those mirrors and I agree, the distorted background fits the carnival idea.

    Of course we are all half truths. We have a different persona for each section of our life; a mask to wear for each event. I certainly wouldn’t discuss details of my private life or the private me on a public forum. My blog is as probably as open as I get but only pertaining to what I allow. I think it is important to keep an element of self to ones self. Plus I don’t bloody trust anyone!

    Congrats on your new toy!

    • Look how the lights in the background swirl and create the perfect frame. I didn’t do that on purpose. It just worked out that way. A happy accident.

      I think the people who really let it all hang out there and discuss their most intimate details are STILL doing it through a filter and not being themselves. They skew reportage in their favor for dramatic effect. So where does the real person reside? Can we ever know?

      It’s actually not MY toy. It’s my wife’s car. In fact, we got it last Saturday and I still haven’t driven it yet. Maybe she’ll let me this coming weekend.

  5. You had cars?… Seriously we never did, my Dad never bought one, never learnt to drive. I used to be mildly ashamed particularly at senior school where everyone seemed to have new cars every year (they clearly didn’t but my head said they did). However… he bought me my first car when I was 19 and paid for the insurance for the first year… I mean now I look back he sacrificed the car for other things he wanted… for us kids.

    In my adult life I’ve had brand new cars, and old cars, these days I buy nearly new the ones the dealers have got to show people, last one my wife bought had less than 10 miles on the clock but wasn’t the colour she really wanted but we saved £2000 on the price of the new one.

    Now the serious comment… we only are who we are in our heads. You are who you are in my head based on my interactions with you (all via blog and email) … is that you? It is to me… am I me – to me I am and to you I am what you perceive me to be… Reality is only our perception of the moment – that is my thinking on it anyways

    • Not having a car sounds like a dream to me. I’ve never liked driving and the upkeep is a headache. It’s part of the reason why I stayed in NYC as long as I did. I didn’t need a car. You can get anywhere in this town on public transportation or via taxi. No need for wheels, which is fine with me.

      You’ve provided the clearest definition yet of who we are but I still think you have to come to terms with some hard, unfiltered truths before you can be completely honest inside your own head. That’s a long road and a lifelong project. You have to constantly hit refresh to insure you’re not lying to yourself.

      • Ahhh… now… honesty… hmmm… I thought that meant just not telling lies to people. Ten years ago that was a massive step for me just to stop lying to people but real full true rigorous honesty with myself… well that is still a work in progress frankly the deceptions my mind will cast in my own conscientiousness is incredible. I think to go somewhere – I get there thinking my intention was pure, then “she” walks in and I realise that my intention was anything but…

        Not having a car in the 1970s was for me a mark of my family being a failure – having been labled “a dockyard boy” at school since my Dad worked in the yard separated you from the bank managers son etc. Such was the class system that my son may think has gone but still lurks just beneath a veneer of equality. “Working class till I die”… remember shouting that in some rally in support of the miners or someone fighting against the crushing of socialism in the UK

      • Honesty with yourself is a tough sell, I hear. I don’t think I’ve experienced that yet but I’m hopeful that one day I might.

        So I turned myself to face me
        But I’ve never caught a glimpse

        It would appear we both rose above some rather humble origins. That counts for plenty. Let’s raise a glass (of club soda).

  6. I know far too much about far too many people I shouldn’t. I think it’s important that people don’t share everything about themselves, and it’s the nature of things that you’ll be different things to different people. Take blogging – it has to be carefully curated – if you tell everyone everything, they start to form opinions on situations that they can’t possibly really know about.

    • Hi Jo. Nice to see you, as always. You (we) may know far too much ABOUT the unfiltered masses on social media but I’m not convinced we actually know who they are or what makes them tick. And even if you are guarded about what you reveal, opinions are still being formed. I have an opinion of you, as I’m sure you do of me. But where does the truth lie? Which bent mirror is authentic?

  7. I don’t know many people who really know who they are to themselves much less to others-as we briefly talked about yesterday I am a total introvert when it comes to conferences; hard to to see me that way since I usually am not a loss for words. Throw me to the wolves and I stand in the corner…..

  8. If there is one person you can never truly see, then it’s yourself. I pondered that quite often over the years. And that’s everything – inside and out.
    Back in the day, cars were a lot more fun!
    Sx

  9. Me Da never had a car, never learned to drive. We walked to where we had to be, or got the bus on good days. But then, no one had cars where I grew up back then.

    I’m outa here, as is my tall pal. You know my address, write me a letter, send me a line, put pen to paper, see ya sometime. 🙂

    • Not permanent, I hope. I always looked forward to your brief snippets of news. I’ll definitely keep you on our Christmas card list. You’ll be missed, sir. All good wishes to you and your family. Come back soon.

  10. What is the background? I thought it was a huge mouth at first, now I think organ pipes. Reminds me of a Terry Gilliam movie.

    I did my undergrad dissertation on the self: what is it? how does it come into existence? that kind of thing. I used Nietzsche as my Daddy, but also Sartre, Rorty, and a couple of psychologists: Yalom and Rogers. I think I concluded that it’s an ever shifting entity fashioned from how one’s particular experiences play on one’s particular psyche, but that you can with effort make your own self what you want it to be. The self as a creative act. I’ve been trying to prove myself right ever since.

    My father didn’t drive, but my mother did, and I still remember the excitement of actually getting a car of our own. We had that same car for years, until both it and my father died. Then my mother got a job managing a contract cleaning firm and we had a work’s van after that. I drive, but don’t have a car at the moment. Maybe one day someone will pay me enough for my labour or art that I’ll be able to get one, I’d like to be able to drive to the beach sometimes.

    No idea what captain’s seats are, I will google them.

    • Behind me are the lights of a carousel. It’s really old and though it survived a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy, they’re about to dismantle it. Everyone is sad.

      That’s an excellent, albeit, unsettling definition. If you’re correct, then we’ll never get a handle on our real selves. I agree that we’re ever-shifting. Trying to understand the true self will be like trying to grasp water.

      Cars are an unfortunate necessity where I live. I honestly can’t imagine how anyone would survive without one. There are no food stores in walking distance. We’re trapped in automotive addiction out here.

      Captain’s seats are like what Captain Kirk sat in except you can’t launch photon torpedoes from the ones in our car.

  11. my grandpa taught me how to change a tire and the oil on his chrysler imperial because he reasoned that a “girl” should never be dependent on a man when it came to her car. of course, even with all of that, i didn’t have a car until i was 19 and married! i think i had to be one of the few cali girls who DIDN’T get her driver’s license at 16! in fact, i got my license the day before we picked up the car…but that’s another story. as to who i am? hell, if i know! if anyone who reads my blog can tell me, i’d be most appreciative! 😉 xoxoxo

    • Your grandpa was 100% RIGHT ON. If I knew anything at all about how to fix a car, I’d pass it on to my daughters. I am sadly lacking in that department. My understanding is that kids are waiting a little longer to get their driver’s license these days. Whatever for I don’t know. Driving = freedom.

      I’m sorry but I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I am!

  12. “Can we ever know our true selves? The voice in our head only tells us what we want to hear. Perhaps we’re all just a composite of these others selves. Maybe there’s no real true center. Just a series of funhouse mirror reflections.”

    I think Socrates got it all wrong: The examined life is not worth living, or at the very least, this can be dangerous, i.e., don’t delve too deep.

    And yeah, about the car… I bought one with a credit card from a pawn shop when I was having a bad day and couldn’t call a cab. Yeah, I get it (And no. It did not have… what was that? Oh yeah: Captain’s Chairs…)
    But it had four wheels and an engine, which was all I required to complete my mission, which now, thinking back, I do not recall. Let’s just assume for the sake of my Discover Card, that it was a succinct success.

    • And as a mission statement, I generally read all comments before I ‘comment’, but today, I have vetoed that.
      Becauses I am in a hurry, chasing (actually running) from a heart attack, so my time is limited. Hope all commenters understand. I will get back, God (sic) willing and the creek don’t rise.Or gits risen….

    • I’m with you on that idiot Socrates. Human nature is such that close examination will only lead to despair. Better to leave it to the professionals or, preferably, not at all.

      All I ever wanted growing up was a car that wasn’t an eyesore and didn’t trail thick, black smoke when it drove down the street. It was embarrassing. That stuff stays with you.

      • Where I grew up, Honey Grove Texas, (go ahead Google Earth it), a belching car much like a belching man (and wo-man) was something to take pride in.
        ehehehe
        Cheers Mate

  13. That photo looks just as i remember you from my last visit to NYC. But i was probably drunk, so there’s that… Remember that amazing mutual friend, when he used to blog? “our lives become the stories that we weave.”

    No shit.

    • My Bride received a ping from our Blogfather not long ago suggesting that we come to Spain for a visit. How spectacular would that be? I miss that big lug. Sadly, we won’t be going to Europe. Instead, it’s another trip to Orlando withe kids. Why do I let them lead me around like this? I should take a stand. I’m not getting any younger or prettier.

  14. I just came back from a 3 week visit to my small home town in north central Ohio. Of course it has changed some in the last 50 years. Now they have a heroine epedemic. I like how the pop culture is explained/justified today. Went to Cedar Point, no more funhouse or mirrors.
    Why can’t we learn from history to see our problems today? Your description of who we are is right on as usual. I like reading your younger reader’s thoughts, a perspective I don’t know where they are coming from. Going to NYC this holiday weekend and seeing the “Book of Mormon”, The Frick, and other touristy things that you can do every day. You’re so lucky!

    • I detected a certain quality about you that I couldn’t put my thumb on. Now I know what it is…you’re a Buckeye! Yes…Cedar Point is not my kind of fun anymore. It’s all about near-death experiences. Each year they unwrap a new high-tech torture device. And it ain’t cheap!

      Have a nice time in NYC. The weather is going to be great, so that’s a plus. ‘Book of Mormon’ very funny but extremely vulgar. I don’t recommend it to everyone. I told my mother- and father-in-law to stay far away. Prepare yourself. Don’t knock the touristy things. They’re popular because they’re FUN. I do that stuff all the time.

      I am a lucky man for many reasons but, yes, especially for having the city at my disposal. That wasn’t by design. It just worked out that way.

  15. My Dad was an auto mechanic and we had all the old cars that you mentioned and then some. One car was a pink 1957 Buick convertible with a hole in the roof. While riding over the newly opened Verrazano Bridge, the hole started to rip, the wind whipping wildly. My brother and I were in the back seat holding onto the roof, or what was left of it. I’ve got A LOT of these old car stories, one of the reasons I gave up my old car 18 years ago and have relied on public transportation every since.

    • I’m betting what’s kept you in the area for so long is the certainty that if you moved you’d have to buy a car. They’re an expensive headache. A nuisance. Give me the F train to 2nd Avenue everytime.

  16. That is the question, Mark. Can we ever know our true selves and how much of ourselves do we present to others. It’s all about perception, and that perception becomes truth to others. This is deep. Is the funhouse ever really fun?

    Your car stories are hysterical! What a riot. And kids today. Yes, they want the sun and the moon, and heated seats. What gives? Your car stories remind me of my childhood car memories. My dad liked to buy fancy cars, but there was always something wrong with them. We had an older Mercedes, but none of the windows worked. Through rain and wind, we had the windows down, and had difficult time talking to each other! I hated that car! But it doesn’t top your experiences. Wild!

    • Shakespeare said, “To thine own self, be true,” (Technically, it wasn’t Shakespeare. It was Polonius in Hamlet) but can you ever really know yourself? Is it possible? People with Master’s Degrees try to solve that question. Who am I to ask it?! I’m just a blog. Love your idea that the funhouse isn’t really fun at all.

      My daughters are both precious and grounded. Not spoiled at all. But when they come up with gems like that, I just want to sit her down and give her the old “when I was your age” speech. I won’t ever do it but I sure would like to.

    • So good, in fact, that it drew you out for your first comment. Thanks! Maybe it should be FPd. Can you talk to your dad? 😉

      If I never drove again, that would be fine with me. Last month we went to a demolition derby. The first heat was all minivans. It looked like an afternoon on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

  17. Great car stories. We never had nice cars when I was growing up either. Or at least until I was about halfway through high school. They were embarrassing, but definitely not dangerous. Except my dad would constantly run out of gas while driving with us. Not so deadly, just inconvenient really.

    But my grandpa on the other hand, had tons of cars like that. He had an old van that could easily give it’s users lock jaw. There was one infamous family story, about them driving the cliff roads in Colorado. My dad had two brothers, and one was sitting in the backseat with him, and the door flew open. Back then nobody wore seat belts. I can’t remember if the car even had them actually. And my uncle almost flew out! My dad had to grab him! Scared my grandpa to death. But apparently didn’t effect his automobile buying habits much…

    • These car stories are all fun and games in hindsight but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s no fun. When I got old enough to drive we had a car that, in order to stop it, you had to pump the break peddle a bit. To this day I still catch myself gently pumping the break. That stuff never really leaves you.

  18. I’m done with cars. As BB King sang ‘The thrill has gone.’
    I still remember fondly my little white Spitfire taking me down to the south of France with just me at the wheel.

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