Friday, May 23, 2008

Sometimes a Fantasy...

Earlier last week Mariah Carey and new husband Nick Cannon celebrated their recent nuptials by renting out all of Six Flags Magic Mountain in California and having a private party with about a hundred of their closest friends. Now at this point I could take an obvious cheap shot at how a private party at an amusement park would be quite apt considering their May December romance, but I won't. When I stopped and thought about it, it's really not that ludicrous of an age difference.

As it turned out Mariah Carey was a bit younger (38) then I thought she was and Nick Cannon was was surprisingly much older (28) then I thought he was. I guess it's just that Mariah's been in the game for so long and that Nick Cannon works on TV and movie projects that feel like they were written by teenagers, that this gap felt a lot wider. Ten years seems like a drop in the bucket compared to some of the more lopsided celebrity couples out there: Jay-Z and Beyonce (11 years), Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher (15 years), Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (16 years), Harrison Ford and Calista Flockheart (22 years), Michael Douglas and Cathrine Zeta-Zones (exactly 25 years), Celine Dion and that old guy (26 years), basically anyone Larry King ever married, and don't even get me started on the many loves of R. Kelly. We may even be looking at four years of a May December White House; presidential candidate John McCain has 18 years on possible future first lady Cindy McCain.

No, it wasn't the age issue or anything about the marriage that made this bit of news stick out at me. The real reason why this news item was of note to me begins with the story of a disappointed young child in the mid-90s:

Ten or so years after leaving Korea for America, my parents had worked themselves out a modest living running a grocery store in the Bronx. Those scenes with the Korean store owners in "Do The Right Thing" are so accurate it's beyond eerie (I'm the little kid in the store). The work was hard and the hours were long but they soldiered on, motivated and inspired by the common dream shared by all immigrants to this country past and present of providing for themselves and, especially their children, a better tomorrow.

Growing up, my parents tried to provide for me and my sister as best they could under the circumstances. I wouldn't go as far to say things were as desperate as let's say Carl but we definitely qualified for reduced price school lunches and would be accurately described as underprivileged. Growing up in front of the TV, my little pre-adolescent self pined for many of the things those perfect sitcom families had that I assumed every American family also possessed. I wished for things basic "necessities" like roller blades, Trapper Keepers, a Super Nintendo, a room that I didn't have to share with my sister and grandmother, home with a backyard, and a basketball hoop. However, as much as I wanted all those material items, what I really wanted the most was time with my parents.

Running a 24 hour grocery store, 7 days a week made it so I would only be able to see my parents for an hour in the morning before school and about an hour at night before bed. In the mean time it was my grandmother and TV raising me at home. My parents worked on the weekends so I would only get some rare afternoon face time for church on Sundays which my mom at least took off for. Suffice to say there were no extended summer family vacations.

The only times where we would take trips out as a family were the handful of occasions a year when my parents would work out a schedule to have an entire day off and take us to Rye Playland. Playland was a quaint, old school amusement part just a half hour north of the Bronx with standard carnival rides and attractions (think Coney Island with slightly little less filth and faded glory) and a trip there was the absolute highlight of my pre-adolescent years. It may have seemed fun but unspectacular to many (especially for the cast of "Step by Step" who I assumed went to amusement parks on a daily basis) but to me it was heaven. The days leading up to an expected weekend trip up to Playland my little 10 year old self would write out elaborate personal itineraries of rides to go on that I remembered from the previous trip and draw up little homemade countdown calendars; all the while finding myself getting less and less sleep as the day arrived.

So one early spring circa 1995, the Lees headed out to another fun filled Saturday at Playland. Arriving at the gates, waiting for my dad to pay the parking fee and move into the park, I was my usual ball of unbearable excitement. However when we got to the booth the guard briefly said something to my father and directed our car into the opposite direction. Concerned at the distance we were suddenly putting between us and the park I asked my father what was up. My father, never being one to soften any bad news, told me that the park had been rented out by a private party for the whole day and that we were heading home.

I don't remember the rest of the day but all I could recall was crying as we stopped for a conciliatory meal at McDonald's and spending the rest of the day at home in utter depression. As far as I can remember that was my first taste of true, read world, unfair disappointment.
It taught me a crucial distinction between the world of TV and the books I'd read and the reality I lived in. In reality, in contrast to every piece of fiction I ever took in, there really could be moments where things were unfair and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it but experience the indifferent inequity of the universe. I recall it being painfully unfair not just for me, but for all the other kids in the cars behind us. One of only a handful of my yearly experiences actually having fun as a family was denied for some rich individual who wanted the park and didn't want to share.

The similarities between my mid-90s experience and Mariah's recent experience should end there, with me hoping that another generation of poor kids aren't taught an early lesson about the breaks by the actions of the privileged rich; but the connection runs deeper. In 1995 the music video for "Fantasy," Mariah Carey's hit single off her smash album "Daydream" was released. The memorable video, directed entirely by Mariah Carey, showed scenes of her roller blading, enjoying a roller coaster ride, and performing a night time dance sequence at Rye Playland. Now, while I don't have definitive proof and odds are probably unlikely, there is still a distinct possibility that the heartless soul that shattered my dreams that bleak summer day may very well have been Mariah Carey filming "Fantasy"!

While I do enjoy the song and appreciate its excellent sample of "Genius of Love"; until the day that my suspicions are finally extinguished that light and breezy video will forever remind me of my first bitter taste of real disappointed and a part of my childhood that died and never came back. Sure, Mariah, you may have gotten your 9th number one single at the time and sold millions of singles but was the cost of my youthful optimism really worth it?


  1. that sounds like the denouement of a national lampoon movie without the redneck family members, awkward sexual moments involving chevy chase and women 15-20 years his junior, or tired, frat boy humor.

  2. unfortunately this time, we didn't get to go to Wally World.