There is a great deal of time and effort spent on the discussion of “finding happiness” – as though it were something you lost in your apartment or a small town in eastern Idaho that isn’t on any map. In these existential treatments, happiness is a creature of myth and legend, inexplicable in form and indescribable in function. In addition to the meandering and secret path that is alleged to lead you there – provided you’re willing to follow the advice of life coaches, talk show psychics and religious zealots – no one can really tell you what it’s going be like, only that you’ll know it when you get there. But this treatment of happiness always made me feel like it was no more reachable than the sunset; no matter how hard I tried, it never seemed to get any closer. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve realized that happiness is not some far off and shapeless thing, and that, I’ve already found it.
There are only three things in my life that have made me so happy that I’ve cried. Each of which I’ve been reminded of recently. Which is not to say only three things have made me cry – hell, after a couple of particularly nuclear break-ups, I’ve been known to cry during movies, sad songs, and certain well-crafted beer commercials. No, these are the sort of tears that result from a shameless and unexpected joy. And these things are happiness. Now, they may not be happiness for you, or they may even be – but I hope you find, after reading about these simple pleasures, you can recall those few things in your life that made you purely, unbelievably and ridiculously happy. And maybe after a return trip through or to them – you can tell you life coach to take their mantras and mottos, and put them where their aura doesn’t glow.
There aren’t many things as universally fun as dancing, so I suppose now you think I’m going to regurgitate some universal platitudes about “dancing like no one’s watching” and then go watch a Hallmark movie and cry myself to sleep. Wrong. In fact, I always dance like there is someone watching; the more people that are watching, the better.
For reference, I was a pretty shy kid. Now, I wasn’t a quiet kid by any stretch of the imagination – but I was about as comfortable around the opposite sex as though they were heavily armed and I were painted in bulls-eyes. The thought of actually striking up a conversation with a girl I was attracted to made me anxious the point of physical illness, and I spent the majority of my youth so physically non-descript that even if I had immolated myself and run down the hallway, I wouldn’t have turned a head.
But, when I found dancing, everything changed. I was able to jump into a crowd full of strangers and perform. There I was, just being myself – my overly energetic and crazy self, and not only was it o.k., it was good. Suddenly, these strangers weren’t strangers anymore. We had created some sort of bond between artist and audience – and they would strike up a conversation with me.
I remember working on my own and with other dancers on new, more challenging moves. I remember the newfound ability to simply laugh it off when I didn’t hit something just right, rather than beat myself up. I remember having a crew of guys who would go crazy when I’d hit something particularly cool, and who wouldn’t let anyone get in my face on a dance floor. I remember knowing I’d do the same for them. I remember hitting one particularly tough move I had been working on and barely missing for weeks; the bald joy of the moment, enjoying the private success of it with the few friends I had there, the public cheers and the tears that I was simply powerless to prevent – and that I’m not sure I really wanted to anyways.
80’s Rock and Roll
I really believe that rock had two revolutions, and always roll my eyes at those Baby Boomers who insist that I “missed” the golden age of rock and roll. Because as far as I’m concerned, not only did I not miss one of the two great eras of rock, I was a part of the better one. Rock and roll has always been part revel and part rebel. It’s grown ups singing about a good time and the good life, but it really belongs to the kids who don’t, can’t or won’t do the same. It was the good kids’ first taste of just how good behaving badly could be, and there was no better time to find that out than in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
It was hair metal, cheese metal, pop rock or whatever else you want to call it. It was the power bands of the decade before (e.g. Aerosmith, AC/DC) perfecting their sounds and generating stadium anthems that demanded rebellion and fist-pumping commitment to Hedonism and rocking for rock’s sake. It was also the American take on “glam”; bands whose androgynous big hair and make-up made KISS look positively manly. These rockers (e.g. Motley Crue, Poison, Def Leppard) insisted on couching their power chords and fast-paced drums with impossibly high-pitched lyrics and lyricists who always seemed, despite their decidedly feminine look and sound, impossibly bad ass.
I remember the open disdain my parents had for this music and the furtive way I had to listen to it. I remember the excitement it built in me, and the bigger life it promised that helped me break out of the orbit of my small town at 18. I remember not being allowed to listen to the records and the unimaginable prospect of actually attending one of the associated concerts.
Which I think is why, now, I never miss an opportunity to see one of these bands when they come through my town. I know it’s not the “coolest” thing to have front row tickets to see Extreme or Motley Crue with Aerosmith, or to fly hundreds of miles to see Def Leppard and Poison. And I know it certainly wasn’t cool to be crying through the first three songs in the front row of the AC/DC concert because of how impossible that would have seemed to a younger me. But I do know that signing along with thousands of my closest new friends to the songs that I used to sneak a listen to as a teenager, promising me the bigger, better life that I went out and found makes me forget just about everything else, except how to smile.
I am a true sports fan. You can usually identify us by noticing that we’ll watch back-to-back and identical episodes of SportsCenter with the same sort of intensity as though it’s our cardiologist bringing back test results. For most fans, there is one team in particular that turns us just plain crazy. There is one team for whom we have an irrational love for; a team we will defend like a family member and support like a first-born child. Because at some point in our lives, we became inextricably attached to this team, and it’s as much a part of us as the fingers on our hands. For me, this team is Navy Football.
It started, as you might expect, while I was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. There, attendance to home football games was mandatory for the Brigade of Midshipmen and one of the most memorable sights of those games was the 4,000 or so of us clad in our dress whites (or blues) and cheering together in the southwest corner of the stands. But, as much as I loved being a plebe (freshman) and taking the field to do pushups each time we scored, my love affair with Navy Football didn’t really begin until the end of my sophomore year, when I beat long odds to become the man behind the mask; our school’s mascot: Bill the Goat.
For two seasons, I had an all-access pass to all things Navy sports, including home and away football games (even one in Ireland), and my passion grew to a fever. With the license afforded by the anonymity of the costume, my outsized personality was allowed to grow and flourish. I didn’t simply jump up for touchdowns, I jumped up, danced, and ran around the field high-fiving fans. A bad call didn’t simply cause me to turn away in disgust; I stomped my feet, stirred the ire of fellow fans, and ran down the field gesturing at officials. I didn’t simply cheer the battle on the field, I found the other mascot and made a battle of my own. Far from simply being a nickname given to anyone who ever donned the goat’s head, I was Navy’s biggest fan.
Although a few of my antics had to be curbed when I took off the costume for the last time, not much has changed from those days when it comes to me watching Navy Football. I still jump up and dance when we score, I still let the officials have it after a bad call, and I still hug strangers when we’re winning. And after 43 years of losing to them, I recall crying like a little girl when we finally beat Notre Dame two years ago. Then I went to find every Irish fan I could to let them know that the day of reckoning had finally come, and they’d no longer be able to count their date with Navy as an easy out. Can ya hear me, Matt Couture?
* * *
In the past month, I’ve gotten to dance in front of a screaming crowd, see Def Leppard, Poison and AC/DC (again) live, and watch my beloved Navy Football team just about ruin Ohio State’s season (and in Columbus, no less). I didn’t cry at any of these events (more likely owing to my age than the intensity of the experiences), but I did laugh and smile and forget about all the other stresses and nonsense in my life. For a precious few moments I was young again, or perhaps young like I never was – carefree, blissful and alight. And for the myriad of suggestions I’ve heard offering a road to happiness paved with seminars, counseling and selected pharmaceuticals, I’ve come to find that road is actually best walked with dancing shoes, best accompanied by a bitchin’ lead guitar, and paved with gold (and blue) bricks.