by Margaret Hundley Parker

Rock and roll, facial piercings, suicide and other thoughts on aging.



I've been 29 for a million years.

Not because I've been lifted, tucked, or that I've washed-that-gray-right-outta-my-hair. I'm not the Hollywood has-been with the cockeyed wig at the end of the bar drooling over her warm martini.

It's not that I've started lying about my age.

It's that this space between 29 and 30 has become infinite, like the drawn out screech on the asphalt between stomping my foot on the brake and slamming into the truck in front of me.


"...the toes that looked like TV sets."


I started turning 30 when I was 25.

I sat poolside with my mom and her cousin, Adelaide. She wasn't actually a cousin anymore, in fact she had always been one of those relatives only my mom could explain. Anyway, Adelaide was rich, Raleigh newspaper-family rich, buying-big-hunks-of-property rich. It was the indoor pool at her new house in Asheville, North Carolina, we lounged beside. She had only one breast and carried a silver flask of whiskey in her briefcase. She had never been a cheek pincher when I was little; she was never sentimental. The removal of her breast might have been to make room for her to draw her bow back more efficiently; it being ravaged by cancer would have been too ordinary a fate. This is all to say that I was very impressed by her. Sitting with our feet in her pool, my mother and Adelaide talked about growing old, a conversation I thought I was immune to until they both admitted that after 25, their bodies had begun the slow descent. But I was 25! I stared down at my feet that I had not learned to like, the ankles that had never bothered to taper delicately, the toes that looked like TV sets. I stared at those rude thugs in the water and thought, that was it?

I realized I had been waiting for something that was never going to happen. I wasn't going to get tall and skinny, I wasn't going to be a model -- not even a hand model -- or a Barbie. At best I was going to be like the hippie version of Barbie I had been allowed to play with -- the Sunshine Family mom with the small breasts and the flat feet that never longed for stilettos. Great. I looked at all of our toes, wavy in the water, wishing I hadn't spent all those years hiding. I lamented the fact that I had always hid my teenage butt under long untucked shirts, thinking it was fat. I realized that by the time I had the nerve to try and appreciate my body, she was already crawling towards the grave. Soon, I too, would be gray, withered and perhaps unibreasted.

That information settled in and was forgotten. They were right, of course, my body had settled into the shape it would stay in. It was the beginning of the physical stretch to 30, but these things became less important. The body hangs on the soul like a loose dress.

I continued to thrash around after that day but I have more profoundly tilted towards 30 only in the last couple years. Little realizations, slight twists of the kaleidoscope, have brought me here to where I am, in the middle of another metamorphosis, the butterfly wings closing back into the cocoon.




Here are some changes:

I agree with our moms.

Facial piercings don't please me like they used to. I'm no longer a fan of the charging-bull style septum ring. When I got my nose pierced eight years ago, my mom's first reaction was to try and get a chain to connect my earring to my nose ring to my belly ring, all the while laughing hysterically. She was making fun. One morning a few months ago, without thinking about it, I took my nose ring out. As suddenly as I wanted it, I didn't. I, too, have started to think they look silly.

Every Christmas I go sit on the couch with my best friend's mom and get my advice for the new year. Last year she told me to quit bleaching those streaks in my hair, "Your natural color is so pretty." Flattery will get you everywhere! I let all the weird colors grow out.

Whenever I have the urge now to bleach out my hair and streak it crayon red, I remember Momma Hicks, and besides, if I wait a few years, that Manic Panic will really hold in gray.

The other day I was in the gym, cranking away on one of those weight machines I swore I'd never get on (I used to look up at the people working out at Crunch on Broadway, just look at them, I used to say, like mice on wheels -- go dancing or something!) But there I was, watching my pea sized arm muscle strain against a one pound weight, I glanced in the wall size mirror that faces such machines and there she was. My mom.

I'm relieved, not offended when telemarketers call at dinnertime and ask for my parents. I usually say they're dead, not because they are but because it's an efficient way to get someone off the phone. (By the way, it's also good to tell the Jehovah's Witnesses at your door that you're a Quaker because they usually smile and walk away.)


"...I have to be alone at least once a day..."


My faith in rock and roll wanes.

In my early 20s, I was living a life straight out of the "Half Assed Rocker Handbook." I was living in the East Village, working at a record company, and cocktail waiting at CBGBs. I posed for a group shot for In Fashion, under the heading "People in New York under 30 to Watch For." Some other dorks from CBs were invited to pose for it, so it wasn't a big deal. I know it was silly, and yet here I mention it because I'm trying to make myself out to seem very impressive. I look back and feel like maybe they thought I was on the edge of something. Maybe I thought I was too. Truth is, I hated what I was doing and one of the reasons I went to that photo shoot was so I could get out of work for an hour or so. Then, being "under 30" hardly seemed relevant. 30 was light years away, and now being that young seems like another lifetime.

Back then my dream was to live in a van with my bandmates and play in clubs all over America. I don't want to anymore. What would I do with my cat? Plus, I realize I have to be alone at least once a day or I get pissy. Where could I hide on the road?

When I asked some high school students recently what they listen to, a lot of them said, "Rock, rap, pop, anything but country!" I, too swore I'd never listen to country but now I get all moist-eyed when I remember watching Roy Clark on "Hee Haw," or listening to Johnny Paycheck -- Take this job and shove it -- at the beach. A few weeks ago I even heard myself yell, "turn up the Hank Williams!" at a party. My rock records all sound the same. Those three chords just aren't getting me going the way they used to. The Stooges records that got me through two decades just aren't rocking me through the millennium.

I never thought I'd say, "No, I don't want a hit of ecstasy for Friday night." I'm shocked when I answer, "No, I can't go to see your band at 2am on a Monday." I go to readings now, for Christ's sake

I like getting carded at bars.

The parties, clubs, drugs, drinking -- they still hold some appeal but not like they used to. Now, if I don't go out, sometimes I actually feel relieved. As recently as last year if I missed a party or stayed in on a weekend night I felt like I was missing something. I realize now that I'm not. The same things are always going to happen. I left the East Village for five years, and when I came back the same bartenders in the same outfits were playing the same records (Gang of Four, Black Sabbath, the Stooges, Ziggy Stardust).




Suicide is boring.

Like all budding punk rockers, I thought I'd definitely be six feet under by 13. I used to "hope I die before I get old."

I don't feel that sense of suicidal immortality that I felt before. Suicide under 20 seemed glamorous, suicide after 30 is pitiful. Suicide under 20 is a failure of the world, suicide over 30 is failure of the individual.

Being dead and being alive are practically the same thing. Time is. I am rotting in the grave and being born, I am seven and 88. I walk through Grand Central and the people wash over me like water, the same souls inhabiting different bodies, people are ghosts waiting to happen. There is no point to suicide, you might just wind up back at the beginning. You could resurface as the man in the suit squashed like a split pea in a subway can, consumed in a Wall Street Journal. Wouldn't you prefer your lot?

Here's a Dorothy Parker poem:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.


"...living in a damn Judy Blume novel..."


When I was three or four, I stood in my front yard and watched an airplane pass overhead. It flew over the house and got smaller and smaller and fell in the backyard somewhere. I ran back there and kicked leaves and turned over sticks, but I never found it.

Years later, when I was eight, I was in the backyard again. I stood beside the rope swing that hung off the giant oak like a noose, staring at the bushes that separated our yard from the neighbor's, breathing in the warm Charlotte air. Probably wearing my first pair of Levi cords (a big deal, the step up from TuffSkins). It must've been spring. The earth cracked open and I fell in. I would never find the airplane in the yard because it was never there. I understood that. I felt a wave, I felt older. I was more in my body, more in the world. I was happy. I felt strong and rubbery -- I could still run fast, ride my bike, climb trees, fall headfirst on cement and bounce back up unbothered.

The kaleidoscope twisted; I became more aware of myself.

Of course, I also must've had more sinister revelations in the yard that day. Things had already happened by then that I still wear like a suit of armor; we all have our homemade chainmail, knitted by those closest to us. I had already been taken out of class to go to court when a neighbor molested my friend. Although I didn't really understand what had gone on, I knew it was scary. I still dream I see blood in the windows of that neighbor's house, but when I go in, there's just a bunch of kids with feathered hair listening to Led Zeppelin.

My family already hated each other. I had listened to the books and words slam against the walls of my parents' room next to mine. My own cat hit the wall with surprising velocity. Once I sneaked to the back door to let my mom in when my dad locked her out. When they separated, I sat in my dad's hotel room and put a quarter in the bed for magic fingers. Then they got back together, then separated, divorced. I was living in a damn Judy Blume novel, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.




I had a dream after I started writing this. I go to a bar with Richard Pryor, Dennis Hopper and Veronica from "The Archies." Richard Pryor walks in and announces that he wants to smoke pot, he's jonesing, nearly panicked. Nobody has any, not even Dennis Hopper. Veronica says they might have left some when they were playing cards back at her and Archie's place so she and I go get it.

She and Archie live next door to Jughead and Betty. They're all married, been together since high school.

We couldn't find a bag but the pizza delivery guy left some shake on a chair and I scrape it together and try to roll a joint for Richard Pryor. I tell Veronica I've been trying to cut back on pot. I say I'm all too familiar with Richard Pryor's jonesing. As I'm scraping together this pot, Veronica says, you shoulda brought some, then she says, ohh, no, I guess you wouldn't want it around. She says it's hard to resist something that's always around. She says, living in this town, Archie can't resist the strip clubs. They're everywhere.

In the dream I think, wow, even comic characters have their dark side. Everybody grows up. No one gets through this unscathed.


"Who knew?"







Last night I talked to my dad on the phone. I told him I was writing about turning 30. He asked if I had any "job lined up" for when I graduate (with an MFA, puh-lease). He called me a "late-bloomer." Who knew? I feel like I've already lived a thousand lives. But if you judge success by wealth, then I will still be, on my birthday, negative nothing. I haven't exactly built that indoor pool. I told him I want to write. Translation: I'll be making spit biscuits in a dirt floor kitchen, writing love poems with burnt toast.

I don't expect (or want, for that matter), to get a coupon for three babies and a Ford Explorer on my 30th; that's not how 29 will careen into 30. Maybe if I could find a backyard, I could look to the trees to find out what -- besides the plane -- hasn't crashed, but has only flown over the house.



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