Modernism Monday: “Jellyman Kelly,” James Taylor



Yesterday was Father’s Day and I couldn’t very well post a song about my Dad during Shame Week, that’s just not nice.  But I obviously want to acknowledge him.  Happily, it took all of four seconds to hone in on the song that, to me, embodies what it has been like to have my Dad as, well, my Dad.

It.  Is.  So.  Much.  Fun.  OMG.

When I was a little kid, I decreed – kids love to decree – that Saturday was forever to be known as “Dress Wild Day.”  This meant that everyone had to wear outlandish outfits around the house or even outside (though I can’t remember if I tried that, or even wanted to).  This was right around the age in which I realized that civilized life had rules, and some of those rules were okay, and some of those rules were fun to break.  So, Dress Wild Day basically translated to Wear Your Underwear Over Your Pants day.  Dad joined in without hesitation.  We would walk around the house together with our underwear over our pants.  Dad asks me from time to time whether Dress Wild rules are still in effect.  I assure him they are.

Dad let me do his hair (putting barrettes in it, combing it thoroughly beforehand), pitched the wiffle ball to me in the backyard and gave me a high five when I clocked it through the kitchen window, quizzed me on the nationality of the composer playing on the record player during dinner (the usual choices were British, French, German, and Italian), got Abrams tank-shaped firecrackers for the 4th of July (they rolled around on the ground shooting sparks), and got to know who I was as a person so well that his teasing always made me laugh so hard I got a cramp.

Since I’ve become an adult, we have traveled through half a dozen countries together when we’re not having wit-offs about philosophy, and when he’s not scraping mysterious black goo off my kitchen floor with a spatula (sorry again about that, Dad).  We also have text conversations that are so funny that I take screen-captures of them and send them to my friends, who will quote back to me things my Dad has said months or years later.  Below are three of my favorite examples.

Me: Off to vote in the DC mayoral primary!  Woohoo!

Dad: Cool.  Vote no.

Me: Nuh-uh!  I’m pro mayor!  I’m really pro non-corrupt mayor.  I have discerned there are, like, two choices for non-corrupt mayor.

Dad:  Well hell.  That changes everything.  Vote “both.”  Many people don’t know that’s an option.  But it is.  I published poli sci textbooks.  I know.

Another favorite, from when I had a cold:

Dad: Feeling any better?  I’m drinking gin; hope that helps.

Me: That just clinched it – I’m cured.  Actually am feeling much better.  Went in to work today, which is where I am now.

Dad: Don’t kid yourself: it’s the work that’s making you better.  No better tonic than that work.  Gin and work: mmmm.

Me: It’s what won the war.

Dad: We won!?!  Gin all around!

And finally, after I made a bracelet that said “Pueri Sunt Amente”:

Dad:  Wow.  Most impressive.

Me:  Know what it says?

Dad: “Boys are dumb?”

Me: Yep!  I didn’t want it to be that obvious so I put it into Latin.”

Dad:  “Excellent.  Rigorously educated boys will at last have something useful to talk with you about.  Carry on.”

So, in sum, the greatest gift Dad has ever given me is making me feel that who I really am is just awesome, and that what I’m interested in is worth being interested in.  It has made me into a person who is really, really enthusiastic about life – a lot like those little kids are enthusiastic about yelling the chorus of that song.  That little kid yelling those words is me, his only child, thinking about going to college in another country, the most pivotal decision I have made in my life to date, and James Taylor is my Dad saying, “kid, yell as loud as you want.”


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