Friday, August 12, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Dear soon-to-be graduate


Let’s talk about your future. Please. We must. Before things get too far. Sure, it was just a moment ago that you were trudging to class through ice and snow wondering if perhaps the glacier had permanently slid down from the tundra of Mason City to cover Des Moines. But, no, winter seems to have ended. Spring has sprung. And before you sink into that new verdant grass with only your sweetie on your mind, let’s get serious for a moment. In no time, every aunt, uncle and stranger in the check-out lane at the grocery store will ask you a variation of the same dreaded question. And you’re not going to be ready with an answer. But they will ask. And you will stand sullenly, or you will stutter, or you will blush, or you will lash out with anger, or you will fight back tears.

Unpleasant, for sure. And possibly causing you to stay in your bedroom until you turn 30. Not a good option for all involved.

Listen, I understand that graduation from high school or college is a particularly perilous time. Pressures come at you from so many angles. All of them seem to center on the notion that you are supposed to have a path, a dream, a plan, a goal, a spreadsheet of options. And people want to know what they are — thus, the variations on the dreaded questions: “What are you going to do now?” “Where are you going to school?” “How are you going to support yourself?” “When are you going to move out?… start a family?… finally grow up?”

Sadly, in preparation for this barrage, there has been no burning bush speaking with the voice of God, no training by a wizened elderly Jedi Master, and not even a decent horoscope to rely upon beyond the sound advice (which I actually received from my horoscope the other day) to always choose the mashed potatoes.

Well, aren’t you in luck? Today only, free of charge, I’m going to give you the one answer to all those questions. One simple answer that will even stop your Aunt Thelma from remarking on your weight gain at your graduation party. Are you ready? Say after me…

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No, don’t snigger, don’t turn away. I’m not joking. This is your answer. Its beauty is its simplicity. Let me explain.

1. Your parents at some point invested Great-Aunt Betty’s inheritance on your piano lessons, cello lessons, guitar lessons, tap-dancing lessons, singing lessons, violin lessons, ballet lessons, acting lessons — you get the drift. It didn’t pan out the way your parents envisioned. That is, at Carnegie Hall. Now you can turn the tables and explain that at last you see their wisdom and you’re off to Barcelona to play the harp (which you forgot you had) at that spot just below the bridge in Park Guell.

joes1See, the decision to go to Barcelona is really about giving back to the world what your parents provided to you. It’s just one more incident of you giving of yourself. In Barcelona. In the sun. On the beach.

2. They’ve complained about your lack of “non-virtual” friends for five years. OK, fine. Tell them that your friend Bill is going to play the cello while you play the squeeze box for hundreds of your new friends every day just outside La Catedral in the Barri Gotic quarter.

Perhaps you will sing, perhaps you will dance a jig, but you and Bill will entertain real people with real instruments. These streets, that saw the likes of Picasso and Gaudi, will now resonate with your voice ringing off the 2,000-year-old Roman walls. When you explain this to your parents, you might use some of the skills from that acting class they paid for and look off into the distance and tell them you are remembering your grandfather and just wish he was alive to see his progeny dancing where Christopher Columbus told the world of his discovery of America. There you go. Those folks at the Playhouse would be so proud.

3. But will it bring happiness and goodness to mankind, as your family and church so firmly believe? Respond with a gusty laugh, slap your dad heartily on the back, and explain that the pure joy of your music, as you play from cafe to cafe in the seedier parts of El Raval, will lift the spirits of the downtrodden, the poor and the widowed.

You might even mention the nearby hospital, where small children with illnesses that are only cured by music, will await your arrival each day with peals of delight. You know, the hospital right next to that place that sells real absinthe. No, I’m not kidding. Real absinthe.

joes44. “But you have no skills,” your parents say when you tell them your plan. There might even be a hint that you are a wastrel and a good-for-nothing. Tell them to have no fear. Everyone loves monsters. Everyone loves to be scared. And who doesn’t like a mime, right? There you go. You are going to be an 8-foot-tall scary monster mime, right down by the harbor at the end of La Rambla.

Sure, this option may not exactly be your parents’ dream for you, but, since your dad is scared of snakes, be sure to mention that your second choice is working as a snake charmer in the hills above La Sagrada Familia.

That’ll do the trick. Let your dad make the choice. The 8-foot monster mime or the charmer of an 8-foot snake? “It’s your call, Dad.”

joes5This will work. I promise. Just rehearse your line — “I’M GOING TO BE A STREET PERFORMER IN BARCELONA.” And as you’re paying for your Lucky Charms at the checkout, and the clerk asks THE dreaded question, turn to the long line behind you, smile, tap dance a “shuffle ball change,” sing a short aria, drum an exotic beat on the grocery conveyor belt, and then pass your cap. You’re ready to go to Barcelona.

And, listen, I’ll be there with you. Why? Because this answer also works at the other end of your life. Yup, that’s me over there. Thor. The Mime of Thunder. Or am I Princess Leia today? CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at

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