Approachable

10mm_280x@2xIn the mid-nineties, my wife and I decided to go see a couple of our favorite bands at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City:  The Doobie Brothers and the Steve Miller Band; staples of the 70s and early 80s. Naturally, The Zoo Amphitheater derives its name from the Oklahoma City Zoo where it is located. It is Oklahoma City’s premier outdoor music venue, and mostly features older rock bands touring the country with the hits that made them the superstar giants of my youth.

I was newly married, and although we had our spats including one where a tub of Turtle Wax was hurled against our apartment wall with a great splat (by which of us I cannot remember), this was a wonderful time in our lives together; before kids and mortgages–just the two of us developing our style with each other which consisted of humble apartment living, healthy eating, card games, church family, singing in the choir, Franzia box wine, Roseanne and Nick and Night, and classic rock.

Our Zoo experiences of that time are swirled together in my memory.  We saw Steve Miller twice, The Doobie Brothers, James Taylor at least once–sometimes with family and friends, sometimes just the two of us, so I can’t remember exactly who was there.  It may have been the time my twin brother and friends joined us. Paul danced like a madman in the hot sun next to a very sweaty lady with the unchanging stomping dance move.

Summer concerts there usually started very hotly.  We sat in folding chairs or reclined on blankets spread out on the grass, cooled only by cold, overpriced domestic beer in large plastic cups and the rare Oklahoma summer breeze carrying the occasional whiff of cannabis smoke. But as the music heated up, the sun went down and the crowd became a happy, singular sort of organism–singing, grooving, laughing, and applauding together.

During a quieter number deep into the evening, in the haze of beer buzzes, Jennifer made a request. She said, “David, I want you to pierce your ear.  We can do it at the mall tomorrow.”

“Why?” I said.

“I dunno, I think it will look cool on you.”

I was a pretty straight-laced young man, still too self-conscious to break out of that mold.  Getting an ear pierced was a big deal then and very trendy for men. I was not one for trends.  But at that moment, I was experiencing a freedom that I wanted to carry with me into the next day so I say “Ok. I’ll do it.”

“You promise?  You’ll do it tomorrow?”

“YES!  I am DEFINITELY doing this,” I said, and we sealed it with a kiss.

That was the last I thought about it until the next day when she said, “Ok, you ready to go to the mall?”

I was close to chickening out, but I had promised and after all, she said it would look cool on me. We went to Claire’s in the Sooner “Fashion” Mall. I could see quickly that I was not the target customer for Claire’s. It was filled with young girls shopping for all things sparkly with their weekly allowance. I shopped around for some masculine earings and settled on a variety pack of small men’s hoops and then got in line for the piercing behind a seven-year-old girl who was a lot braver than me.

Anxiously, I turned to Jennifer and whispered, “Just how bad is this going to hurt?”

“Babe, it’s just for a moment.  It’s not that bad.”

It was fine. The young lady running the piercing service tabbed my ear with alcohol, put a piercing gun to my ear, and counted to three.  CLICK and it was over. She gave me instructions about how to prevent infection and when I could change out the piercing stud for one of the earrings I had purchased.

I must have tried to look at it a few times in shop windows as we walk out of the mall, but it is not easy to look at your own ear in the mall without attracting a little attention–at least that’s what I believed. Jennifer was pleased, and that was worth a lot to me.

I don’t remember much about the earring.  I’m sure people commented and were perhaps a little surprised, but the memory I’m headed for here occurred at Jennifer’s mom’s family reunion at a Girl Scout camp outside of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

This is a fairly old-fashioned group of Baptist folks who taught me to love fried eggs and garden tomatoes and taking it easy on a hot summer day. In the afternoon, after a burger lunch, I sat at a folding table with Jennifer’s Uncle Scott. He was the only person at the event who said a word about it.

“So, what’s the deal with your ear?” he said, with a teasing but friendly smile.

Self-consciously, I touched it and said, “I dunno.  I guess I thought it might make me a little more approachable.”

He laughed, “More approachable?  Are you a difficult person to approach?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I guess I’m a little serious, you know? I’m not sure people feel all that comfortable around me.”

He grinned and shook his head. “Approachable. Well, I guess that’s one reason to put a hole in your ear.”

I didn’t wear an earring for long.  I soon took my first teaching job and decided to put it away.  The hole slowly grew over and it is nothing more than a slight indention on my left ear, but Uncle Scott never forgot it. Over the years, he has affectionately chided me about it at family events. In some ways, it became the basis of a friendly relationship between the two of us.

But what’s the deal with “approachable”? It is still a relevant word for me. I’ve struggled over the years to feel comfortable in my own skin. I spent my younger years wanting to be liked and accepted by my peers and came up with many theories about why that didn’t seem to be happening. Was I not approachable? Was I really so different, so intense, so rigid that people didn’t want to be around me?  Perhaps. Maybe that silly earing was the beginning of a journey to fit in, to not be so contrary, to go with the flow, and ultimately to know and feel comfortable with my self.

I strive to be authentic now.  I do not strive so much to be “approachable.” I figure if people want to approach me, they’ll approach me without the condition of me having a little bit of glitter on my ear lobe!

 

 

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