September 1970: “Shut the fuck up back there!”
It was a cavernous black-on-black metal beast out of Detroit. A 1969 Cadillac Convertible with slick leather seats. With each turn, lane change, interchange between brake and acceleration, my little body was slung from side to side in the backseat (we weren’t fans of seatbelts back then) like an amusement ride just for me.
Every year, it was an adventure I looked forward to. A chance to escape the urban filth, the smell of incinerated used Kotex pads, the endless mounds of dog shit. A daddy/son adventure.
To upstate New York.
Where trees survived in packs and the air smelled sweet. The Catskills, specifically. The plan was always the same: First, the Catskill Game Farm (now gone), then Carson City (gone too), and last, a small retail establishment named “Roy’s,” which only sold stuffed animals.
Hundreds of them. I’ll never forget behind the front plate-glass window sat a monstrous black stuffed gorilla with a five-foot yellow banana. And I mean huge. With arms open wide, this cloth beast spanned the entire length of the store.
I couldn’t sit still for the entire trip. I loved to read the billboards, especially the quirky homespun wooden relics as we traveled farther north. It was only a matter of time before the iconic Catskill Game Farm billboard appeared. I mean it was “America’s Greatest Zoological Playground,” for God’s sake.
The radio stations would ebb and flow in on crackles and frequency farts. Most important was dad to turn up the volume when my favorite song hit the airwaves. It was a song my dad hated. It was a song Brooklyn hated.
“Beneath this snowy mantle, cold and clean.”
“What the fuck is this kid listening to?” Dad.
Anne Murray sings again in that memorable, soothing tone:
“The unborn grass lies waiting, for it’s coat to turn to green.”
“Oh, I’m changing this shit!” Dad again.
It was a song my friends hated. It just didn’t belong in an urban setting. But to me, it represented something clean, natural, open.
Like when I watched my favorite early Saturday morning television program, “Agriculture USA,” a show about farming that unnaturally appeared on New York City 6AM television.
“The snowbird sings the song he always sings…”
“What the f**k is this snowbird?”
And now we’re swerving. In a tank. On a dysfunctional family adventure.
Dad was always up early. He sought to be out the door before mom. He’d walk into the living room. See me sitting cross legged, staring up at the old black and white TV screen, watching the farm report.
“Who the hell are you? You don’t belong here.”
He never meant anything bad by it. I sort of knew that. And he was correct. I never felt like I belonged in a dirty city. I hated people living on top of people. I longed for something more quite, desolate. Even at six years old I sought escape. Dad was indeed correct. I often wondered if God misplaced me. Must have been some celestial joke.
Oh, the song: It was “Snowbird.” Lovingly recorded by Anne Murray in 1970. Written by some dude in Canada (where I always believed there were lots of trees).
The opening was distinct. Later I discovered it was an electric sitar. Soothing.
The first lyrics. Hopeful. Let’s play it again. Or as a DJ on WABC radio in New York would coo in a broadcast – “Let’s hit the instant replay!” Exciting.
Beneath it’s snowy mantle cold and clean,
The unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green.
Cold and clean. Not dirty and hot like the grime on a New York City street. No dog crap in “cold and clean.”
More refreshment. Get me out of here:
Spread your tiny wings and fly away.
And take the snow back with you where it came from on that day.
Yes, spreading my tiny wings would have worked.
Flying away would have been terrific.
1). Our souls must be from somewhere else and occasionally dropped into the wrong vessel. It took 40 years for me to be comfortable in my own skin even though I believe (still) it was not my own. Who has mine? Please contact me. I’d really like it for my second half.
When your country spirit is placed into a city kid or vice versa, shit is gonna happen. Your self esteem is going to be battered. You’re going to be on the outside looking in most of the time. And then it happens. You’re grateful that you’re a square dropped into a circle.
The experience formed something unique, a way to interpret life different from everyone else’s. It gave you the appreciation of people’s faults, to see the beauty in them. If you were “misallocated,” have you become aware of your gifts, yet?
2). You’ll be a better investor. If you’re comfortable in your own or someone else’s skin – you’ll better understand your very human pitfalls and realize how they will kill your investment returns. Turn your clean virgin snowbird into yellow and black snow; nature’s afterbirth stuck to the bottom of a NYC taxi.
Individual investors aren’t “dumb,” just humans not equipped to handle the skin of investments. Morningstar, the mutual fund “gurus,” completed a study that fund investors are indeed good at selecting funds (imagine that). They just are not “in their own skins,” when they allocate. In other words, they consistently buy HOT categories and sell COLD ones. Can you believe it?
We like hot and sexy instead of cold and sterile? When it comes to investing some of your best returns come from COLD. And cold is cleansing.
3). Your home is your home. And that home is in you. Until you’re comfortable with who you are in the housing you’re given, you’ll never feel secure, confident or stand for the people you love or the convictions you hold dear.
Those Catskill locations are long gone.
Carson City, a simulated wild west town, is now home to a bunch of condos.
Yet somewhere in a room, in my store of memories in whoever’s skin I’m in, those places are as real as they ever were.
And even if the rightful owner of my shell comes to return it, there are some things I refuse to give back.
Because for now and going forward, I’m home.