They Say You Gotta Stay Hungry
When I was a kid, my mom tells me, I didn’t like The Boss. She recalls a time that she put Born In The USA on the record player in the living room of our three-bedroom, stucco-sided home for five in the beat-up city of Palmdale, and I apparently threw a fit; slamming the door to my room in disgust to presumably listen to Eminem on my headphones like a true youth in the new 2000s. I don’t remember doing this at all, but, having grown up, I understand now that it’s merely one of many times when I’m sure my poor mother was shaking her head, laughing inwardly at the actions of her children as they tried to grow up and find their way.
It couldn’t have always been easy. She didn’t have any support from my father, he was long gone. Instead, she ended up marrying a man from South Beloit, IL, and they had two more kids. He had a blue collar job with Lockheed Martin, but when Clinton got into office and the U.S. stopped building planes to bomb the Middle East with, he lost his job. He turned to being an alcoholic, and, in my eyes, she raised me alone.
Today, she has successfully raised three kids into functioning adults almost by herself, and I’d hope that she’s proud of the different ways that we’ve chosen to make our way through. And yet, at 26, I can’t help but wonder who my mom really was at my age, and if we’re similar. Hell, at this point in my life, my mom is one of the most interesting people I know, and the older I get, the more I begin to realize how little I know about her. And it fascinates me.
For instance, this past year, I traveled home for the holidays for the first time in five years. It was great to see everyone, and it was especially rad because my brother, who serves in the US Chair Force™, was able to make it home from Japan as well. While I was home, we did what any good LA family does and attended a Kings game, which they lost to the Calgary Flames in the last few minutes. En route to the game, we hit the 405 through Sherman Oaks and ended up passing the iconic Hotel Angeleno. As she noticed the cylindrical building, she casually remembered some mid-twenties birthday party on the top floor in the 80s, and then followed it with a few other tales of tending bar and playing in synth pop bands.
The more I learn, the more I have begun to see her as a bit of her own Springsteen character: flippant and whimsical with a shock of bouncy blonde hair on a thin, tall frame. A girl from the Jersey Shore (but not the gross spray tan version of late), she has owned a lot of Levis denim jackets, high-waisted jeans and big sunglasses. Her name could easily have been Bobbie Jean, and it would have been fitting. She has glamour headshots from the 80s in a box, multiple albums from bands she recorded with in another box, manages a large preschool / childcare facility all week, and at close to 60 she’s recently been tracking her runs with some Nike app and posting them on Facebook. My favorite band she was in was called GARA, the name she changed her name to before I was born.
Throughout the course of my life, my mom’s name has changed a good number of times. Mine has just stayed the same. My last name, like my mother’s when she had my sister and brother, is Doll. This name was bestowed upon us by my now ex-step father, a man named George Doll. Pronounced just like the word you would use for a child’s play thing, this name was originally given to him by a man of German ancestry.
My mother’s birth name was Phyllis Waage, and, to be honest, I don’t even know her original middle name. She was given this name in her hometown of Somerville where she grew up. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, she said she hated her “old white lady name,” and it’s associations with Phyllis Diller. She left college in Colorado to move to LA to make it as a rock star, and so she changed her name to Gara. It rhymes with Clara and Sara and pasta primavera. She made it up.
The last name, Waage, didn’t last long either. But it’s my mother’s maiden name, and it could have easily been mine if she hadn’t gotten re-married. (My biological father, whom I have never met, is from Aguascalientes, Mexico, and his last name is Deña, by the way.) Josh Waage Dot Com doesn’t quite have the same ring. The problem with Waage isn’t so much that it’s a bad word. It’s a german word that means scale or balance. The problem is that Americans are really lazy in their speech patterns. My mother’s eastern-seaboard, blue-collar family did not pronounce it with a V and rhyme it with bog or frog like you would if you were germanic in any lingual sense; they pronounced with with a W and rhymed it with froggy.
Josh Waage. We’re all glad that didn’t happen (though Josh Deña isn’t so bad).
These days, remarried, my mom is Gara Kolbow. I think that the name changes that she undertook often reflect the character of the woman she is: changing, adapting and rearranging. She is a woman who bravely gave birth to me at the age of 30, and who bravely kept me to raise alone, despite not having a father in line. She is rebellious, tenacious, and a fighter. She is all of these things even when she doesn’t know or believe that she is. And she is one of the few real inspirations I’ve had in my life.
She inspired me to imagine that I could chase my creative dreams. She taught me that money has less value than love, friendship, loyalty and truth. She fought aggressively to ensure that I was given a sound early education, and continued to foster my creative drive when poorly-funded California public school systems failed to.
She pushed me to realize that giving up isn’t a viable option. She taught me that success is the best revenge against an ex-stepfather who told me repeatedly that I would only ever be a failure, sometimes with his fists.
She taught me how to be a man by teaching me that every human on earth is my equal.
And she undoubtedly loves me so much more than I’m capable of understanding.
I can only hope to do life as well. Oh, and, for the record, I love the Boss these days.
EDIT: I met my biological father in October 2015.