Though it was uncharacteristic of me in general (I had yet to become ‘shy’), I found myself nervous and unable to talk to Alex directly. When I so much as walked too close to him- in a line, or on the playground, my cheeks would get rosy and I would feel warm, almost feverish. And so I stuck it out with Joe, through February (on Valentines Day, he presented me with a ‘Speed Racer’ Valentine’s card, and candy necklace) and on my ninth birthday in March (Theme: ‘Rock ‘n ‘Roll Record Party’)-he got me a stuffed, white angora kitten with pink bows and a comb-which I really liked, and kept for years. We sailed past April Fools Day (we were literally the day’s ’poster children’!) and didn’t officially break-up until the beginning of May. I handled it by telling Joe: ‘I don’t think I really like you anymore’ to which he replied: ‘Good!’ in a way that sounded like ‘Phew!’ The only discernible difference between being with Joe and not being with Joe, was sitting apart at lunch, (after giving each other our respective 45′s back). But with the trees beginning to bud, and Spring in the air- I tried to figure out a way to get closer to Alex, who made me swoon. The rumor was that he liked Karen Edwards, who looked a little like Marcia Brady ( to my chagrin) but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that get in the way. There certainly was no ‘proof’ that they had anything going, they didn’t even socialize- at least not in class. But then again, either did we.
The plan to spend more time with Alex began to sprout in my fertile young mind. I knew that he loved music, and noticed he was always finding ways to shoehorn in stories that involved his guitar lessons (I listened intently to every word he spoke in class- I was like the ‘Magic Ear’ that the elderly can buy on late night tv, so they can ‘hear better’ but we all suspect they use it to eavesdrop on the whole neighborhood) I figured that suggesting we start a band might be a way to spend some extra-curricular time with him. Plus- it would automatically make me cooler: a chick in a band!, so it was a ‘win-win’ right there. Of course, I’d have to hustle to learn how to play something- anything-that would qualify me to be a member of a band, and that might require actual work. I figured it would be worth it. Alex- a stone cold fox, all shiny dark hair and neon white smile, was my ticket to both top-tier popularity and dreamy, golden moments. I day-dreamed (inexplicably) about lying in a field of softly swaying wheat, him laying beside me, snow-angel style, holding hands and occasionally kissing on the lips (‘visiting relative style’- no tongue) and having lots of conversation. Mostly him, telling me how much cooler and prettier I was than all of my friends (it’s about time someone noticed!) and pledging his undying love. The fact that he was somehow talking more than me-in any situation- proved it was a fantasy.
I knew I couldn’t sing (as indicated by the ‘wincing’ of friends and family when I attempted to) so I’d have to play an instrument. Although I’d been begging for a piano (preferably ‘grand’) since I was four (along with a horse, and an in-ground pool) and in the eight (count’ em) Christmas’s since had seen zilch, what I did have was an old, scruffy, portable organ. It had been given to me by Lauren Sandberg, after she got her grand piano for Hanukkah when we were in second grade. Since Lauren was the size of Thumbelina (rumor had it she slept in a walnut shell) and everyone thought she was the cutest little thing! (and paid no mind to her fish-eyes, no offense!) she usually got whatever she asked for on the first try. Although secretly jealous of her size (I, too, longed to sleep in a walnut shell, use a dandelion for a pillow and and an oak leaf as a blanket!At my size though- I’d have had to hollow out a log) I couldn’t deny that she was kind to me-and generous to a fault. She shed her old stuff like a snake does it’s skin- having no use for it once she’d moved on. She gave me the organ without any hesitation, shrugging her tiny chicken-wing shoulder blades, saying: ‘I don’t know why you’d want it- but here ya go!’
My Dad picked me up from Lauren’s house that rainy Saturday afternoon, after I’d spent the night before at her house and she’d bequeathed me the grand instrument.I admit, I was excited. I popped into the front seat of the car, organ cumbersome in my arms-adjusted it onto my lap and gave him a ‘check this out!’ tight-lipped smile, lifting my brows and giving him a thumbs up. He looked down at the worn out instrument, made a face like he smelled something awful, and said: “Jesus, Annie! Where’d you get that piece of crap?” I folded my arms defiantly across my chest and turned my smile upside down, refusing to look at him, and stared out the passenger side window instead. He’d totally bummed me out. Just when I thought I’d scored a prize, he’d reduced it to rubble.
“Oh..it’s probably fine!…Bet it sounds good!” my father said, realizing he’d rained on my parade yet again, but I knew a back pedal when I heard one. A few minutes of uncomfortable silence passed, the wind shield wipers plodding back and forth, back and forth “Do you want to get an ice-cream from Dairy Queen?” my Dad asked, as ‘MacArthur Park’ played on the radio. I said nothing. For eleven seconds. The thought of a strawberry dipped soft-cone was irresistible. Especially while hearing about a cake left out in the rain, a tragedy I hoped to never to witness. ”I….. guess” I said, sounding a lot like Eeyore. I kept a downtrodden crescent on my face, along with my trademark chipmunk cheeks. I’d take the cone, but I wasn’t about to actually talk to my Dad.( There was a slight chance that my not talking wasn’t the punishment I thought it was.)
My dream of learning to play a few old-timey numbers on the organ, so that my parents would see I was a natural musician, and then bestow upon me, the world’s best Grand Piano was off coarse almost as soon as it started. This is because, unfortunately, I was not a natural, and having this busted organ wasn’t helping. Between my weak skills, and the sub-par keyboard, I sounded like Bela Legosi interpreting the background music for Dark Shadows while being held against his will in a sanitarium.
The organ was constructed of brown plastic, with yellowing keys, and had been dropped on the ground so many times it had cracked open in places, leaving gaping holes in the plastic. The sharp, jagged edges often drew blood from any unsuspecting person who picked it up without a ‘plan’. It had a short, non UL tested cord, that had been gnawed on by Lauren’s free-roaming guinea pig, Wilbur, so the slightest movement would cut the power off, usually mid-song. One would have to then randomly wiggle and throw the cord around until finding the ‘sweet spot’ which would restore the organ’s power. I developed mid-range lassoing skills on that old cord, (but like I said, never received my Christmas horse. so these skills were wasted) Had my parents been living in the helicopter-parent world of today, they would have been reported to Child Services for even letting me play with the thing. (I probably would have been removed from the home on account of the hard-shell, full fat ice cream cone, as well)
Still, I was determined to get a few songs under my belt. I was self-taught and clumsy on the instrument. My fingers tripped over each other, and I had to concentrate like a mother just to play the simplest of songs. Sitting on the wood floor in my room, hammering out ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ and ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’-tip of my tongue darting from the side of my mouth, sweat forming on my brow- it was all a labor of love. After a few weeks of this, I actually thought I was getting somewhere, until the day Mr. Mario, who was in our den watching baseball with my Dad, asked me, as I headed to the kitchen for a Devil Dog: “What are ya? Trowin’ a funeral for ya dolls, up dare?” Have another beer, Mr. Mario. I hope your team loses.
Somehow, I mastered the Partridge Family’s hit ‘I Think I Love You’ …up through the first verse. This was by far, the coolest song of the year, and I didn’t know a single classmate who wouldn’t have sold their soul to be in the Partridge Family. We loved the fashions: The white puffy shirts, under maroon, crushed velvet bell-bottomed pants suits (to die for!) Laurie’s wispy, peasant blouses and mini-skirts-and don’t even get me started on David Cassidy’s pukka shell necklaces and rib-knit shirt with the zippers. His long ‘shag’ haircut was the benchmark for all cute guy’s hair, and Laurie Partridge was not only pretty and doe-like, but had written a law book about being cool called ‘For Girls Only’, something I was on the look-out for every time I went to Caldor’s. The bus they traveled on, which was painted in colorful,’bricks gone wild’ style was incredulous in that it seemed to go everywhere BUT to school! It was a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want such a life- rockstars, on the road, no school? And, considering our age- what the hell?-Bring Mom along. She could cook for us and iron our clothes. She’d have a ball.
It was almost time to present my idea to Alex-and a few stray classmates (for show) and of course, Kristen. I was just going to come right out and say it: why don’t we form a band together and just become the Partridge Family? I mean- who was gonna stop us? We didn’t know from trademark or copyright infringement- we were nine for god’s sake! The scheme seemed as easy to hatch as the little yellow chicks in homeroom, who went from egg to damp, smelly little birds, lurching about in their cages like tiny drunks, simply by sitting underneath a light bulb for a few short weeks! What could go wrong?