The Perfect Norm

I get thoroughly engrossed in the twenty minutes of previews shown before the feature presentation. It’s my favorite part of the moving going experience. When the screen casts its Kelly green glow on cheekbones and foreheads of everyone in the theater, assuring all present that the following preview is suitable for all audiences, I lean forward in my seat. I blink my eyes to make sure they’re focused and free of debris as I chomp popcorn and eagerly await a glimpse of what’s coming soon to a theater near me. At the end of each preview, I look at my wife with eyes that say “Oh man…I can’t wait for that one!” She returns a look of dismissive disgust and glances at her watch.

We don’t agree on film. I’ll watch anything. As a person always striving to find slices of life to incorporate into my writing, I sap dry the energy from my few surviving neurons before ten-thirty on most mornings. If I’m going to blow precious hours on a movie, I want the experience to be mindless. I want to be able to turn off my brain, and let someone else to run the show for ninety minutes.

My wife enjoys films that make us contemplate our very existence, and usually end up making me feel ashamed for existing. There are very few movies she’ll watch just for fun. Her mind is like an intricately cut diamond. If a movie doesn’t seem sharp enough to render her brain more sparkly when it catches the light of intelligent conversation, then she has little patience for the fact that it was even produced.

Of the fifty-three things for which I admire my wife, the fact that she’s never made me endure a bad film is definitely in the top fifty. All of her cinematic suggestions were moving experiences; they were also mentally exhausting. Make Trevor’s head hurt. Make Trevor mad. Make Trevor want to break things. Trevor fear what Trevor no understand!

I’m a preview man, married to an academy award winning documentary.

Outside of the world of fantasy, we find most of what life and nature have to offer mutually exciting. One of our favorite things to experience together is the weather. A storm looming on the horizon is something about which we both get giddy. An approaching thunderhead is nature’s preview of a coming attraction, and, man oh man, it might not be suitable for all audiences.

We lived at the northern tip of tornado alley for most of our lives, and saw plenty of storms steamroll through our town. There’s nothing more exciting than hearing the beep-beep-beep that precedes a scroll crawling across the bottom of the TV screen during regularly scheduled programming to inform us that the National Weather Service has issued watches and warnings for our area. We used to run to the TV like terriers who’ve heard their favorite can of treats being shaken. We’d look for the name of our county on that crawl the way kids look for the name of their school on the morning after a blizzard to see if they’re going to get a snow day. On the occasions when our county was on the list, we’d smack each other on the butt, smash our helmeted craniums together forehead to forehead, and run out the front door into the yard to watch.

We moved to Connecticut earlier this year and are enjoying a condo that’s thirty seconds from the beach. We’ve built up healthy anticipatory fervor for the new meteorological phenomena that we were sure we were going to experience living on the Eastern seaboard. Nor’Easters! Hurricanes! Ice Storms! Tidal Waves! Ted Kennedy’s car!

We were prepared to be astounded by the destructive forces of nature; as long as they weren’t too destructive. We’re not the types to relish tragedy; just impending doom.

A few weeks ago, it looked like hurricane Noel was poised to churn into our world. The news was showing all the effects it might have if it followed a certain track. A track towards my family! Our lucky-lisped local weatherman grimly informed us that we were going to experience: “…thustained windsth in the sthixtiesth, with gusths in the eightiesth and NINTIEEESTH!”

There were supposed to be ten foot waves. There was supposed to be coastal flooding. There was supposed to be widespread panic. We were going to get to panic! Finally!

I called my insurance carrier to make sure our policies were up to date and our coverage was adequate. We went to the grocery store and stocked up on food. We moved our vehicles to higher ground. We bought candles. We bought extra coolers and filled them with ice. We bought bottled water. We gassed up the cars. We replaced the batteries in our radio. We prepped.

We got caught up in the sensationalism of the previews, and were ready for the main event.

Upon returning from the beach on the morning the hurricane was supposed to be ushering hell and all its denizens across the skies over Long Island Sound, I alerted my wife:

“Honey, we need to evacuate. The waves are three inches high, and I saw one of them get a bird wet. That bird flew away. This is the real thing.”

“You’re kidding?” She sounded disappointed.

It drizzled all day, and the wind gusted a few times, but alas, our hurricane petered out and left us with a depressing rainy Saturday. My eighteen-month-old son and I watched Elmo’s Adventures in Grouchland three times, and chucked Cheese-Its at mommy. We also had a competition to see who could get the most ketchup in our hair using a single chicken nugget. We made do.

Sometimes we want disaster to strike because we’re ready. I wish the world worked that way. I wish that disaster would have the courtesy to wait until we’ve worked up the courage to face it with dignity. Life would be a lot better if the quota of hardships allotted to each of us would call and make appointments so we can tap them into our palm pilots with the option of rescheduling if necessary. I’ve often heard that our initial reaction to tragedy truly reveals who we are as people.

Our instincts have us programmed to either fight or run. My generation has been bombarded with the idea that it’s ok to run, and usually preferable, honor and chivalry be damned. Tell a teacher, live to fight another day, better him than me, bring all parties involved to the table to talk, every man for themselves, cannibals have feelings, too; on and on and on. I’m sure there are occasions when running is the most optimal measure to take for the propagation of the species. However, we have souls.

It’s our souls make us run back into a burning building knowing it’ll be the last thing we do.

It’s our souls that allow us to laugh in the face of tyranny as it cuts us down.

It’s our souls that will make us cradle infants close to our chests and sing to them softly as the world ends.

Laugh, sing, and smile in the face of adversity. Let what makes you human show like an embarrassing pair of underpants that ride up above the waistline of your slacks. If there are higher powers at work, and one of them is inherently good, and the other inherently evil, the evil side really hates it when you laugh at them, so let’s do that.

The Perfect Norm

Trevor Penick

Joined January 2008

  • Artist

Artist's Description

In this piece, Trevor again hits us with a unique blend of humor and pathos, wrapping it up with a call to stand bravely with him against adversity, whatever form it might take. As with many of Trevor’s pieces it starts as a typically silly male view on something mundane, and spirals into a piece that will change your views on life, instill hope where there might have been little, and as always, leave you smiling.

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