Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lost in Place

Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia
by Mark Salzman
Hardcover, 271 pages
Random House, 1995
ISBN-13: 9780679439455
highly recommended

The oldest child in a middle-class household in Ridgefield, Connecticut, the son of a piano teacher and a social worker, the author was, from the age of six, an eccentric with enormous aspirations - none of them ever fulfilled, of course - who stood out not only from his more conventional parents and brother and sister but from everyone else in the neighborhood. In the tradition of Russell Baker's Growing Up and Spalding Gray's Sex and Death to the Age 14, Mark Salzman recalls his tortured years so fondly, so self-deprecatingly and so humorously that readers will devour this delightful look backward with smiles on their faces.
My Thoughts:

I appreciated and enjoyed Salzman's humorous memoir of growing up in the 70's. It's about a rather eccentric teenager (and child) who has a history of setting unrealistic goals to change into something he's not, like wanting to be a Zen monk after seeing his first Kung Fu movie. Although I never aspired to be a Zen monk, since we are around the same age I do remember the kung fu movies and TV show quite clearly. While it is very funny, it's also poignant and bittersweet at times. Highly Recommended


When I was thirteen years old I saw my first kung fu movie, and before it ended I decided that the life of a wandering Zen monk was the life for me. I announced my willingness to leave East Ridge Junior High School immediately and give up all material things, but my parents did not share my enthusiasm. They made it clear that I was not to become a wandering Zen monk until I finished high school. In the meantime I could practice kung fu and meditate down in the basement. So I immersed myself in the study of Chinese boxing and philosophy with the kind of dedication that is possible only when you do not yet have to make a living, when you are too young to drive and when you don't have a girlfriend. opening

Tutorials in Asian mysticism were not offered at East Ridge Junior High School so I had to design my own course of study. From my research in the World Book.....[I] became convinced that Buddhism was all about becoming oblivious to pain. Building up and immunity to discomfort became my spiritual goal, and toward this end I made my Zen and kung fu practice as uncomfortable as I could. pg. 7

If my dad knew he was about to be ambushed by murderous cowboys, first he would shake his head with disgust and say that he knew all along that something like this would happen to him. Then he would pace back and forth for awhile, muttering curse words and wondering aloud at the foolishness of people who romanticized the Wild West. Finally he would resign himself with the thought that his murderers, like everyone else in the world, would die soon enough, the sun would eventually grow cold and all of this madness would be mercifully consigned to oblivion. It was not difficult for me to imagine this scenario; my dad played out a version of it whenever a faucet leaked, the furnace made a strange sound or an odd smell came out of the engine compartment of our car. pg. 9-10

...I adored my gloomy father. He was fairly strict, did not care for board games, owned no power tools and had no interest in sports, but he was great company. Aristotle observed that melancholy men are the most witty, to which I would add that they are also the most fun to confide in. pg. 13

In an early display of what was to become my trademark habit - the obsessive pursuit of unrealistic goals - I decided to set a record for sitting still in a cramped space. I was sure this would get NASA's attention. pg. 15

She [mom] loved music, but what really made an impression on me was that she loved to practice. Performing was fine, but practice was what it was all about for her, and being able to do it for hours a day meant she was happy for hours a day. pg. 50

It may be hard for people who have grown up listening to bands like Talking Heads and Boy George to imagine a time when weirdness was an obstacle to popularity, but 1974 was just such a time. You could be wild like Ted Nugent or Ozzy Osbourne, but not weird. pg. 57

For the first time in my life I was reading real books, not textbooks prepared for adolescents. pg. 111

He leaned back in his chair and said, "Try to think of the school as a huge ocean liner. It's out there in the ocean, it's overcrowded, the engine is overworked, but it's moving slowly in the right direction. Then imagine that a kid falls overboard. We simply can't turn the whole ocean liner around just for him. I'm sorry; you'll just have to stick with the regular courses." pg. 117

1 comment:

M.J. Nicholls said...

From your quotes, this sounds quite a self-indulgent book, but I might be wrong.

I prefer having strong literary voices doing memoirs than showbiz ciphers.

You might like "A Lie About My Father" by John Burnside -- a powerful and poetic snapshot of wasted youth.