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Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Jailbreak: Part 4

In The 80's on March 31, 2012 at 10:07 am

We head to the record store. We purposely act pre-occupied, as if we couldn’t be bothered. We saunter into the Trumbull Graf’s like it’s an afterthought- perhaps we ‘veered’ in by accident. (The long haired guys are no good up close- they’re ancient. Twenty-seven if they’re a day)

As we walk by the registers, towards the fields of records and cassettes,under banners of rock posters and hanging t-shirts, we sense we’re being checked out, and we know how to play the game. We make no eye contact, as we’re being tracked by at least a few male shoppers in our age group. We pay special attention to our movements, knowing we’re on display. I venture into the vast collection of records, which are divided by musical style, and in alphabetical order. I  head to ‘S’ to check out the Scorpions, and Saxon, just for Starters.

Darla is quickly caught in a web, and within a minute is flipping through the poster display with some guy who looks like the singer in The Cars. He’s wearing a horizontally striped black and white shirt, black jeans and sunglasses fit for the blind. I think he’s an employee. Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’ is just ending, and the Police’s ‘Walking On The Moon’ begins. I can’t stand New Wave music, but I defend to death anyone else’s right to listen to it. Ok- maybe not defend to death, but I’d at least suffer through a slap or two. Maybe. I think.

I love the sight of album cover art in the afternoon…

I flip through the S’s and pull out some older Scorpions albums, mostly to be seen holding them, as I already own all of their stuff.

“Oh MY GOD! LOOK AT THAT ROCKER CHICK!” I hear someone yell loudly.

I look up.  Oh, brother! Literally. It’s my brother, Rob. He’s pointing right at me, and heading in my direction with his two sidekicks, Steven and Paul. He’s spinning his keys around on his index finger because he’s cocky, like he has the world by the tail. He’s wearing his black satin roadie jacket and fingerless driving gloves. His buddies are from the Norwalk High School Bears football team and are wearing their jerseys to prove it.

“What up, Sissie?” he says when we meet halfway. 

“What’s up with you?” I say, my standard response to the ‘what’s up’ question. Let them go first.

“We’re having a little soirée tonight at the Manor! Everyone’s gone till Wednesday!” he says, putting his keys in his jacket pocket and then rubbing his hands together. “You’re coming, right? Bring some beer!”

‘Everyone’ is my Dad, step-mother and two younger brothers. The Manor is our house- the place I used to live, before moving in with my mom. After the very dramatic Rich incident.

“Where are they?” I ask.

“Mount Snow. Brattleboro.”

Ah…skiing in Vermont.

“Well, good thing I saw you!” I say, ‘otherwise I wouldn’t have known” I say, enjoying the opportunity to act slighted.

“Oh, Annie!” he says, imitating my father, who calls me by my middle name “I already called Mom and gave her the message. You’ll see when you get home!” 

“Oh.” Guess I can’t argue with that.

‘Rock Lobster’ starts to play. Darla squeals. I look over to see she’s still full-on flirting with her new friend.  She’s doing a ridiculous dance holding her nose and shimmying up and down, her free hand wiggling in the air above her head.

Darla is one of those people who can be ‘into’ whatever music is trendy at the moment. I’m much more stubborn, and fight trends like they are cheap knock-offs sent from the Universe to annoy the crap out of me personally. Unless, of course- the trend appeals to me, and then I’m all in. I feel I’m more loyal, (and admittedly  superior)  staying true to one ‘scene’ (like I’m somehow more ‘real’) but others sometimes see it as being close minded. Either way- I’m getting tired of being bombarded with New Wave songs. I glance at the record store clerks working the registers, and note they are both wearing skinny ties. The New Wave isn’t going to end anytime soon, and even if it does- these guys wouldn’t play hard rock if you paid them double and put a gun to their heads. 

The Cars? Or C.A.M? (Clerks Against Metal)

“Are you getting anything here?” I ask my brother, ever interested in other people’s record store purchases.

Paul pipes up: “He’s getting the Debby Boone album!” We all laugh.

“I’m getting ‘2112’ actually…” Rob says.

“Whaaat? That’s so old! You already have that!” I say.

“Yeah, but I lost it on cassette, and I wanna listen to it in the car” he says. Rob’s big on steering wheel drumming and Neil Peart is his guy.

“Well….yeah, I always liked that album.” I admit, and then gift them with some tone-deaf ‘singing’: “We’ve been smokin’ Lebanon….” and then pantomime taking a hit off of a joint. Everyone smiles. (The actual lyrics are ‘Wreathed in smoke in Lebanon’ but none of us know that)

“Who are you here with?” my brother asks. I point to Darla.

“Oh, shit!” Rob gasps, “I think it’s time to go!”

Darla and my brother- much like Jess and Darla- have a love/hate relationship. Something about Darla rubs certain guys the wrong way- I don’t know if it’s because she’s loud and outspoken. It’s somewhat perplexing, because she’s an attractive girl, and -not to be weird- she has big boobs. Which seem to be a feature lots of guys approve of in a tunnel-vision kind of way.

“What time tonight?” I ask about the party.

Rob laughs. “We’re picking up a keg from Pathmark Liquor after we leave here- and I don’t know about anyone else- but the party starts then as far as I’m concerned!” 

Rambunctious energy ensues from the left.

“Roooooob! What are YOU doing here?”

Darla plows into our circle like a freight train, and practically topples my brother down while wrapping herself around him. She plants a kiss on his cheek, which Rob immediately wipes away.  He looks frightened. Me, Paul and Steve look at each other with wide eyes as if to say “What the hell?” Darla releases Rob and proceeds to fake-punch Steve and Paul “What are you JOCKS doing in here?!”-as if sports and music don’t mix.

Darla was a concussion risk.

 

Darla’s all hopped up. She squeezes my arm (ow!) and whispers “Oh my God! I just met such a babe! He asked for my number!” She hugs herself, childlike with giddiness.

My brother stands there, rubbing his arm, and gives me the split second ‘what the hell?’ eyes. I just shrug.

“Welp! we’re gonna get going now!” my brother announces.

“ALREADY?” Darla yells straight into my ear. I wince.

“See ya!’ I say with a quick eye roll and wave.

Rob and his boys walk towards the back of the store, and I confer with Darla as to  where we can go to buy bodysuits for the gym. We decide to go back to Norwalk, and check out Body Designs. I still haven’t decided whether or not I’ll tell Darla about Rob’s party. I might just want to go by myself so I can spend the night and not have to drive anyone home. We leave Graf’s and walk towards the exit. Darla tells me all about Mr. New Wave- his name is Glenn, he’s from East Haven, blah blah. He’s going to call her tonight. They might go see the Talking Heads in concert. To me, it sounds like torture.

 

Click, Click -Doom!

In Frayed Connections on March 28, 2012 at 10:24 am

I hate to get bossed around. I know nobody likes it, but I have always been extra reluctant to be told what to think, feel or do- without turning it over in my own mind first. I’m not  talking about common sense rules: I obey traffic lights, pay my bills, act properly in public, and do all those ‘good citizen’ type things. I’m talking about popular opinions and personal taste.

For instance- I don’t care if fifty billion people watch a show- if I don’t like it, I’m out. I don’t care if a book gets a five star rating- if I read it and it sucks, I’m going to shout it from the rooftops. I don’t care what the neighbors drive, wear, eat, or think. I’m not saying I don’t respect them -it’s just that they aren’t going to change my opinion about anything, and I can’t imagine either a) competing with them if they buy a brand new SUV -all I can think about are the payments! or b) feeling better about myself if they rattle home in some piece of crap. In fact, I cannot see how their actions pertain to me at all! 

On a scale of one to ten, this show gets a ZERO!

That being said- I really hate getting pushed around online. Like when you post things in an attempt to strong arm me into making a move I hadn’t planned on. For instance: a long diatribe (usually peppered with specific political leanings) that ends with ‘Repost if you’re a TRUE AMERICAN!’ I hate to tell you- but you don’t have a monopoly on being a’true’ American. In fact- I completely disagree with every word of said diatribe and am still a ‘true’ American-because that’s the very essence of ‘freedom’.  

Your opinion of me does not define who I am, nor is it your place to spell out the ‘rules’ of what it means to be an American to anyone! I am thankful I am not as presumptuous as you are, and sooo grateful that I don’t hate any particular groups of people, including you. (I would never give my energy away so cheaply) I can’t imagine yelling ‘Get Out of My Country’ like you do when you are challenged. This country is not YOURS to begin with!! How do you not ‘get’ that?

I also hate being told to re-post anything in general. I  don’t appreciate about you threatening me ‘Facebook Tony Soprano’ style. Just because I don’t re-post your things I:  Don’t really love my mother/father/brother/sister/daughter/son or pet. I don’t want cheaper gas, lower prices or equal rights. I don’t like/hate my President, do like/hate my President, don’t want better schools, cleaner air, or freedom. That due to my non-repost I’m against butterflies, puppies, newborns and bald eagles. I’m also responsible for both the death of the ecosystem and gun sales at Wal-Mart. 

So?!

Which brings me to the really crazy stuff. Sometimes you post a Friend Litmus Test. It starts out by saying, I like you, and like having you on my  friend list BUT-surprise!!- I’m giving a pop quiz today to see how many people are paying attention to me. And be warned: if you don’t re-post this, you’re off the list!. (Oh, the horror!) News Flash:There are some questions I could ask, but never would– and this is one of them. Because the truth is: I don’t want to know! I don’t want to find out you hate me, or think my posts suck, or wish I wasn’t on your list.  I trust you to do the right thing and hide me, or block me or drop me. For the love of god: Have at it! (Methinks-somehow- I will survive!)

The Warning: Part 1

In The 80's on March 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Warn1

It’s the early 80’s, winter. I have my big, blue Cadillac sedan, and am getting my shit together as far as what I want to do with my life. I know I want to be involved with writing, and I love music, so I’m considering combining the two. I’m not thinking there would be money in it- but it’s important to me to be happy. Most of the adults I know are miserable and hate their jobs so I’m sure as hell not taking their path or advice. 

I’ll start school in the Fall-at the local college. It’s seven months away to September, as the current semester is already under way.  I’m still of the mindset that summers are for slacking so summer courses are out. I’m nineteen years old, working part-time and hanging out with my musician friends, helping them shore up their acts by listening to them jam, filling in lyrics and critiquing their ‘look’. Also bar-hopping where they perform and taking notes. It’s backbreaking work.

The person I’m with most often with is Jess, my new best friend. Ever since Adrian and I broke up, we’d been hanging out. We met at one of Adrian’s many band auditions. Like most bands, there was a perpetual search for a good singer. Like quarterbacks on NFL teams, they were rare and valuable.

Jess showed up after answering an ad in ‘The Bargain News’ He sidled up to me during the audition and began taking shots at Adrian and the band, whispering such doozies as “Who dresses these guys?” (to be fair, the band wore  street clothes- jeans and flannel shirts- because it was mid-afternoon on a Thursday. Jess was in zebra spandex pants, black cowboy boots draped in silver chains, and a ripped up Aerosmith shirt, which I immediately coveted. It was like seeing a sliver of the moon in the daytime)

He auditioned, his white blonde mane, twirling about in a frenzy, but his voice wasn’t as impressive as his get-up.  He later blamed it on the band in a stolen whisper to me: “Their timing is too fast!”he spit.

I was off in my corner, reading a book-as usual ‘waiting’ for my boyfriend’s much more important than mine to-do list so Jess’s approaching me at all was a surprise. His comments struck me as ballsy- he had no idea what my relationship was to the band.  But since I already had one foot out the door with Adrian (which, come to find out was mutual) I found Jess’s comments funny.

I also recognized that though Jess had the  perfect stage presence for a front man, he was quite possibly the worst singer I’d heard that day. Or possibly, year. I would best describe his style as ‘caterwauling’. Though he seemed completely unaware, I was pretty sure that his only musical legacy might be to have custom ear plugs named after him. This is how I felt, though it is scathingly hard to admit.

This didn’t matter to me at all (I didn’t have a band-nor did I ever think to form one-damn you, Patriarchy!)) and I was happy to exchange numbers with him (undercover, like coke seals) on tiny pieces of paper.  I accepted his invitation to meet for a drink. It was a friendly invitation and there was no ‘I’m trying to pick you up’ vibe. I don’t know why- he certainly was cute enough. 

It was clear from that first drink that we would become good friends. He had me rolling with laughter, mostly mocking people, especially my ex, who I  caught cheating on me only days later. I walked into the Night Raven mid-week, on a whim and noticed him playing footsie with some girl with badly crimped yellow hair, who looked at me condescendingly as I walked over to their table. Adrian played innocent (the room they sat in was open and raised- one had to walk up several stairs to get to it. From the bar you could see the undersides of the tables, something these two rocket scientists couldn’t deduce. Which is how I witnessed the not-so- subversive ‘footsie’ playing)

“Oh, hiii!’ Adrian  said, fake smiling, looking nervous.

“Heeey!” he continued, a quick flash of ‘ut-oh’ in his eyes. I played cool.

‘Whatchya doin?’ I asked. They glanced at each other (totally in cahoots) and I said: “Be sure you don’t trip when you stand up. Looks like your feet are all tangled up under there” The girl gasped, and Adrian’s eyebrows shot up. With that I turned and walked away.

I pictured this new girl nested down in my old ‘reading chair’ for hours,(if she could read) bored to tears and begging Adrian: “Please-please! let’s go out  somewhere!” I’m sure she thought she’d won a prize, but it was the kind of plastic prize that tumbled from the silver slot of a gumball machine.

I stopped at the bar for a quick Kamikaze shot, which I downed in two seconds and headed out the door. I was shaking and humiliated.My pride was hurt- I didn’t think Adrian would actually cheat on me (and of course, I wondered how long it had been going on) . Worse yet, I thought I was  hanging on to him until a more convenient time to break up  (like when met someone new?) But the joke was on me. He had forced my hand, and in doing so, had done me a favor- though I couldn’t see it then.

'Undercover' Footsie

‘Undercover’ Footsie

I drove straight over to Adrian’s house from the Raven, mere blocks away.  I had a few books there, as well as some expensive Paul Mitchell conditioner (which Footsie certainly needed, but would get over my dead body) and a few incidentals. I rapped on the front door, until his brother Lance let me in, nervously babbling something like: “Adrian went to The Fortune Cookie with Steve”(he was the one brother of the three who was a shitty liar) but I busted right by him, heading downstairs for my stuff, and pointed out that I didn’t recall asking where Adrian was in the first place.

I grabbed ‘Interview With A Vampire’ and ‘Helter Skelter’, purposely leaving behind an old, tattered copy of ‘I’m OK, You’re Ok’ , crossing out the second OK and writing in: ‘A Dick!’ with a pen on the desk..There was a pack of EZ Widers on the dresser, which I flicked like a paper football, where it disappeared into the void. (Ten to one, they’re still there) I turned his desk clock back an hour, and took one last look around. 

After I left, I drove  aimlessly down the main drag, and tried to think of somewhere to go besides home. I was supposed to be meeting Suzy and Heather at the Night Raven, but I wasn’t going back in there tonight. I remembered I had Jess’s number in my wallet, so I pulled into the Pizza Den parking lot and searched for it. It was right underneath my Led Zeppelin ticket stub. I got out of the car and headed over to the pay phone, standing precariously on a little pile of dirty snow- depositing two dimes and dialing the number. Finn answered almost immediately. I started to explain who I was -he knew- and after  I told him about Adrian and the girl,  he laughed and said: ‘Oh, just be glad to be rid of him! If you come and pick me up, we’ll go out and get drinks, and you’ll be sure to forget about his ass!!” I loved it. I got directions to his place and headed over, cranking Van Halen’s ‘You’re No Good’ and singing along…loudly.

Warn6

Jess was standing outside when I got to his house. I recognized the shock of white blond hair, hanging past his shoulders and his pouty lips. He was wearing a white leather biker jacket, black jeans and snakeskin boots. He held a lit cigarette in one hand and a St. Pauli Girl in the other one. When I stopped the car, he nodded, and strutted around to the passenger side, easing himself in. ‘Ahaaa!’ he said, almost giggling ‘I didn’t know you drove a BOAT!!’ I laughed and headed slowly down the street. We decided to go to  a small bar we knew, located on a golf course, called ‘The Pines’. On the way we couldn’t stop talking about Adrian. Jess said he wasn’t that good of a guitar player, and I agreed- finally! I had the freedom to admit that! 

 Jess said he was glad they didn’t pick him to be the singer because he’d been jamming with a much better band, two towns over called Saint something or other.”If Adrian can’t see what a good singer I am, fuck him!’ he exclaimed.

I noted the phrase see how good of a singer he was, and realized that it was like being at a wedding when they say ‘If anybody here sees any reason why these two should not wed’ and that if I said nothing about his bad singing, I’d never be able to. I decided I was good with that. Besides, maybe he’d grow into his voice.

Muffin Lane: The Basement Tapes

In The 60's, Writing on March 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Blurry and Snowy Backyard. On the edge of ‘The Hill’

The first house I ever lived on was situated on a cul-de-sac, on which sat ten similar ranch style houses, ours being built in 1964. Our house was painted gold with white shutters, had a concrete front porch with black scrolled railings, and a slate walkway leading across the front lawn. The house sat on a hill, which was excellent in the winter  because when it snowed (and it snowed often in the 60’s)  every kid in the neighborhood would gather at our house, sleds in tow, to ride the steepest hill in our backyard.

Bundled up in snowsuits, boots, scarves and mittens….and bringing a variety of different sleds: wooden, plastic, makeshift-many with exciting names:Red Racers, Flexible Flyers,Flying saucers -along with the occasional staid Toboggan, and for the truly desperate: flattened cardboard boxes. They all came to ride the best spot on the street.

There was lots of laughter and screams of delight as we all soared down the hill (being careful not to hit the stone wall that sat at the bottom- though it could not always be avoided) We’d ride down, then trudge back up-red-faced and frosty, breathlessly egging each other on- tossing snowballs, sucking on the giant icicles we’d rip off the lower shingles of the house, sometimes using  them for swords, or ‘baseball bats’ for snowballs. We’d never tire of playing out in the cold- wind, snow- snot bubbles be damned-it was a winter wonderland- especially when the snow had a smooth layer of ice over the top, which made for the best sled rides (and more than a few bruised noggins down at the stonewall)

I loved being the ‘boss’ of that yard in the winter, as my minions of tiny friends vied for my friendship by letting me go down the hill first, complimenting my style, and freely lending me their superior sleds, all in an effort to stay in my good graces. Even at five, I was drunk with power.

The bouncers up at the sledding hill.

In the springtime, my mother  had small gardens growing everywhere-colorful azaleas and petunias in the front yard, tomato plants on stakes next to lush, purple lilac bushes growing along the edges of the hill in the backyard. She cut fresh flowers and kept vases full of fragrant flowers around the house. There were always big, fat tomatoes sitting on the kitchen windowsill, tomatoes so delicious we’d eat them like apples.

Mom kept a clean and orderly house, all decked out in colonial style decor, which was fairly common in the mid-sixties. Oval braided rugs in shades of brown, olive green and burnt orange lay atop the shiny wooden floors, slipcovers depicting president’s heads, antique coins and stage coaches covered the couches, perfectly fitted with buttons on the seat backs, and pleated along the bottom. (Many a hot-wheels car would fly under those pleats, never to be seen again.)

Hobnail vases and  and lamps, clusters of creamy milk glass roosters,  were placed among the latest hardcover bestsellers (‘Portney’s Complaint’, ‘Valley Of The Dolls’, ‘Naked Came The Stranger’-which made me blush when I read the title from across the dinner table) There were lots of hutches and bureaus. There was a life-size spinning wheel/planter combo, alongside various brass watering cans, which my mother used to water the ivy that grew up and around the wooden wheel. The olive green-or buttercup yellow curtains were ruffled along the edges, with fuzzy fabric ball fringe. The curtains were drawn up on each side like the barrettes that held the hair out of my eyes, and they let the bright sun in through the big bay window .

Copper colored tin plates were displayed on the walls, along with framed paintings of dour pilgrims and historical figures- mostly white haired men with rosy cheeks and wrinkly faces, wearing ruffled shirts under military style long coats and pantaloons. They were so stodgy, with their grim expressions and hangdog ‘vibe’ as they signed various documents with feathered quill pens. I disliked looking at them while I ate dinner- they were staid oldsters who looked like they never once had any fun in their life! If only they knew they hung above a book that talked about ‘Naked!’

The dining room.  I was looking at a pilgrim-emphasis on the ‘grim’ on the opposite wall.

In the living room, we had a black and white tv, with two dials and five channels: 2,4,7,9 and 11. Sometimes channel 13 came in, albeit fuzzy and dull of program, emphasis on public broadcasting and education (insert Bronx Cheer here) I don’t remember watching television much, until my father converted a downstairs bedroom into a den, which we called the ‘blue room’ after the paint scheme. (Incidentally- I recently discovered the holding room at Bellevue is also called the Blue Room. Obviously, there’s a connection)

When my parents  bought a color television set for the den (solid state with walnut veneer!) they moved the black and white one upstairs into the room my brothers shared, which was across the hall from mine. I remember  placing a clear  plastic sheet on the screen of that old tv, and drawing ladders and stairs with special crayons, all in an effort to save Winky Dink from imminent danger. It was a flimsy gimmick, and didn’t work very well, but hey- we were legally coloring on the tv screen and couldn’t get enough of it.

Football Fever since the 1960s!

My father and his friends gathered in the ‘Blue Room’ on Sundays, to watch football together. Ballentine and Schaefer beer for all (Shaeffer…is the…one beer to have when you’re having more than one, went the tv jingle) cigarettes galore (my Dad smoked L& M’s) and lots of rowdy laughter, clapping and booing during the games- to me it sounded like the funnest place on earth. Names like Bart Starr, Guy Lombardi, The Green Bay Packers, The New York Giants…..I would sit at the bottom of the stairs and listen. It sounded so exciting! But anytime I would try and stroll in unnoticed (in my pigtails and Mary Janes) I would be shooed away, to my great dismay.

If I was lucky- I might be asked to fetch a beer, or refill the clam dip or bust open a giant tin can of Charles Chips, but even I couldn’t stretch the task out to last through the game. However, it was here that a love of football was sprouted, one I carry to this day.

Me, Mom, The Bouncer for all football games, and my brother.

Speaking of shooing away- my parents enjoyed ‘shoo-ing’ us away to whatever part of the house they weren’t in. If we were downstairs, Mom would say: ‘Go upstairs’ and vice-versa. Not that I blame either of them. There were three of us kids, all under six, and we were always asking for stuff, complaining, vying for attention or whining. Skirmishes broke out at the drop of a hat. Dirty looks were perceived (real or not), names were called and undercover pinching and slapping was rampant. If were my parents I would have left the house. In the car. Over the state line. But they stayed, and shoo-ed, and the best place for us to be was- in another room.

Outside was a great option as well. In fact, we spent most of our day either in school or outside, with all of the other kids, and with myriads to do. I ranked myself among the top players of such games as ‘House’ ‘School’ and ‘Doctor’, along with the more basic ‘Mother May I’, ‘Red Light Green Light’ and ‘Freeze Tag’.  

But sometimes the weather wouldn’t cooperate, particularly when it rained and that was when we were relegated to playing in the basement- especially if my Mom was doing her cleaning tour of the house (‘with stops in every room!’) and so, downstairs we would go. 

The backyard of our house right before we moved in. 1964.

The cellar was at best chilly, and at worst, freezing. It was unsettling to me- the dark corners, the damp concrete floors, the possibility of spiders. But, of course, like anywhere else there were adventures to be had. There was a washer and dryer in the back of the basement, on a small platform that raised them off of the floor. This could be used as ‘Safe’ during basement tag. A rope clothesline was strung across the ceiling diagonally, often with wet towels or clothes hanging from it by wooden clothespins.This could become an imaginary car wash- with us running back and forth through the towels and clothes. Several random chairs- lawn chairs with bent aluminum or ripped webbing, bar-stools with peeling upholstery were incorporated into our games, usually as ‘time out’ punishments, doled out for a variety of reasons, modeled after our own parents’ gripes (‘You need to settle down!’ or, ‘Sit down before I get the fanny whacker!’)

Miscellaneous boxes of junk were stacked up against the walls, and there was a little ‘room’ under the stairs, with my rickety old doll crib in it. I loved switching on the bare  bulb that hung inside, and putting my Thumbelina and various stuffed animals down for their naps in there. With it’s cold cement floor and cobwebs, it  would have been a great interrogation room. All I needed was a bigger shadow and a lit cigarette.

My Dad had fishing rods and nets hanging on pegs on the walls, rusty toolboxes and slip-shod cabinets alongside a thick workbench. The bench was covered in paint splatters and tin coffee cans (Sanka, Chock Full Of Nuts) bulging with stray nails, bolts and screws. Hammers, wrenches, even knives in leather protectors (used to fillet the bluefish and flounder my Dad would catch on his small boat on Long Island Sound) were in easy reach. I suppose we could have gone six ways to Sundays with tetanus shots, lost fingers and split skulls, yet despite the fact that ‘child-proofing’ hadn’t yet been invented, we somehow managed to stay safe.

Maybe it was because our parents weren’t worried, or that they assumed we had common sense, it turned out fine. Even if (and this was most likely) it was just plain luck-we emerged intact.  We collected the usual bumps and bruises from regular horsing around, but there were few, if any, emergencies. 

Thumbelina, moments before she was released into the wild.

Although we liked to play in the cellar, an object of concern was the big, churning furnace in the middle of the basement, which would startle the living bejesus out of all of us when it would roar to life after being dormant just long enough for us to forget about it. I hated the noise it made- a deep bellowing sound, that literally shook the ground, and caused the whole machine to shake and rattle. It was loud enough to hurt our ears and even when yelling- we couldn’t hear one another over the ruckus. After two long minutes of this serpent like fury, the furnace would finally settle down, and go into a calmer stage, more banging than roaring, then tapering off to a hum  and we could finally go back to playing ‘army’ or ‘let’s see if we can hammer this in over here’

What could go wrong?

I was even more afraid of the furnace one evening after the subject came up at the supper table.  My father warned us that if anything  got tossed into  it -an errant Super-ball, marbles, a balsa wood plane, or a badly dressed Barbie (all things that regularly flew through the air down there!) the furnace could (we heard ‘would’) explode, and cause irreparable damage and great harm to all involved. We three kids gravely looked at each other and gulped. There was no stopping the inevitability that toys would fly (we were far from infallible)-and nothing could be scarier after Dad’s ominous warning.  

I remember watching in almost slow motion,the first time (after ‘the talk’) an airborne toy (GI Joe)  flipped through the air, and began to descend…falling…straight into the belly of the beast. I was frozen in fear, my eyes wide, hands clasped on both of my ears- zeroing in on the terrified looks on my brother’s faces- heart pounding against my chest, Thump, Thump, Thump. I knew that at any second, the big, fiery blast would likely end my life and blow me to pieces, hurling me through the sky to my destination: a cloud, where even though I would have wings and play a harp, I didn’t want to go.

I thought, matter-of-factly: ‘Welp! This is going to happen. Just like Dad said. And there’s no one to blame except my stupid brother Robby!’ For a moment I was actually calm; resigned to my fate and accepting of it. Oh, I’d miss Mom and Tiger and Christmas, but what could I do? Good-bye Cruel World!

“Welp… If the sh** goes down, I’ll be over here”

By then I realized  the ‘explosion’ wasn’t coming. Peeking through my hands, one finger at a time- glancing from one of my brothers to the other (both of them with covered eyes as well) the GI Joe by now deeply embedded in the bowels of the giant furnace- until – as if on cue, we snapped like mousetraps, springing towards the stairs. Racing each other to the top, balling like the ship was going down. (And who goes first, when there are only children? The strongest, fastest one- that’s who!)

“Mommy! Mommy!’ we screamed, a tangle of arms and legs, scrambling up the steps-each one of us hoping to be the lucky one, the survivor. (Who knew? my dream of being an only child might actually come true) My brothers were ten months and three years younger than me, respectively, but they could kick and bray like seasoned billy-goats. It was all I could do to try and poke their eyes out first.

Seconds later we were at the top of the stairs, and I managed to twist the door handle, which released the door, and deposited a pile of hyperventilating, feral brats onto the hallway floor. Red faced, teary eyed and relieved. “M-oooooo-M! Moooooom!” we cried, and heard her footsteps-like music to our ears- click-clacking from the kitchen.

She stood, towering over us. Much too casually, (and way too calmly, if you ask me) She took the scene in (did I detect a little eye roll? Are you kidding? She might have lost her three children in a fiery explosion? How would she carry on without us? Especially me?!) But, instead of being hysterical, she just stood there, in her cherry covered apron, drying a wet plate with a striped towel and asked: “What?… What NOW?” (Umm- what now you ask? Well, we were almost blown to smithereens- what’s the protocol? You tell us) Her complete lack of emotion, rendered us speechless and slowed  our tears.  We were reduced to intermittent sniffles and wet faces.

My mother assessed the situation for several more seconds, then shook her head and said ‘You kids really need to stop being so dramatic! Sheesh! And stop fighting with each other, or I’m telling your father!” And with that, she turned on her heel, and walked back to the kitchen. It was very anti-climactic. My inner Sarah Bernhardt was left hanging.

‘Awww cripes! What NOW?”

Neither my Mom or Dad rescinded the furnace story, and they never admitted that it wasn’t actually a death trap. The scene repeated itself several more times, even though we were extra careful about throwing stuff in the direction of the Beast. When I asked my father, years later why he didn’t tell us he was exaggerating, he snapped:  “Well, it kept you kids away from the damn thing, didn’t it?” and I had to admit he had a point.

The Warning: Part 3

In The 80's on March 13, 2012 at 12:16 am

Jess and I became tight very quickly. When we weren’t together, we yapped on the phone, and within a few weeks we knew each other  inside and out. We bonded over a shared a contempt for Adrian- after all, he’d rejected us both- so we loved to  dissect his every flaw, real and imagined. We loved the same music and shared the same primal fear: That we would someday live a normal (read: boring) life in suburbia.  To me- at nineteen years old, (Jess was twenty-one) nothing seemed a worse fate, or more cliche. (The fact that we were walking cliches: 80’s rockers who liked to wear leather, listen to hard rock and paaar-taaay! never once occurred to us. You see-wwere special!)

There was no chemistry between us, not even the slightest hint of becoming more than friends. Jess had two sides: one very, very playful, and another I called ‘Mr. Blackwell’ after the harsh fashion ‘judge’ of the day.  Jess was intensely critical of everyone’s looks He could find a flaw on anyone, anywhere. We argued about it- with me on the defense, taking these criticisms to heart.

It wasn’t that I was so nice I’d rally for the ‘victim’s’ sake- it was the nagging feeling that if the drop-dead gorgeous girls (and guys) had faults- what chance did I have? People could say whatever they wanted, all the ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ crap-ola, but at nineteen,  I knew that looks were what mattered, they were what got your foot in the door. Good looks equaled winning. In the back of my mind, every failure I’d ever had, every bad day, every boyfriend I’d ever lost, could have been prevented had I been better looking. Thinner. Smaller boned. Less tall. (The fact that my gorgeous friends had horrible relationships, suffered from eating disorders,  drug addictions, alcoholism, etcetera, did not matter.  It didn’t fit in with my ‘theory’, so I chucked it)

I saw Jess’s evaluations as both true and  typical, because I believed he represented how most guys thought. I argued with him about it to get more insight. That being said- even if Jess had thought I was gorgeous, we still  felt more like brother and sister.

We spent a lot of time loafing around or living the nightlife. There was so much more more to life than partying -even at nineteen I knew this (knew it- didn’t like it) As for jobs- I blew through several (boring) part time gigs: An ice cream shop, Caldors, a convenience store, cleaning houses even a three day stint in a rug shop. a rug shop.

(There’s a story involving the rug shop.We had a piece of equipment-kind of like a big ‘slicer’ which was used to cut remnants. You would lift the handle that housed a long blade, place the rug on the flat surface and pull the  handle down. The sharp blade would slice the rug beautifully. So, whenever I would hear the song ‘Gimme Three Steps’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd and the lyrics “I was cuttin’ a rug, down at a place called the Jug, with a girl named Linda Lu, when in walked a man with a gun in his hand and he was lookin’ for you know who” I would furrow my brows and think: First off- what are the chances that this guy would walk into that rug shop at the same time  they were there, – how random! and secondly, what a dumb name for a rug store! And why was Ronnie Van Zant taking dates to rug stores? It drove me freakin’ crazy. The song was everywhere. I had never been taught (or overheard, or read in my zillions of books!) that the phrase ‘cutting a rug’ meant dancing!) 

I guess: 'pretty?'

My current job was at a tennis club, watching kids while their moms played tennis. It was boring, but the hours – 8am – 2pm, were nice. I had the daycare room to myself, and there were times when no kids would come in- so I could write, or flip through rock magazines, balance my checkbook, etc. I figured I could skate until September, when I started college. My jobs were just a means to an end and I took the path of least resistance as this is who I am.  Still, I was reasonably conscientious, and never called in sick…which meant I wasn’t above going in hungover.

Jess was always talking about ‘looking’ for a job, but even without one he always had money. Way more than I did. I wasn’t sure how he got it, but I never saw him dealing drugs or stealing, or doing any of the underhanded things people who don’t work but have money sometimes do.

He spent his days practicing. He had a battered amp and microphone, and sang along to records and cassettes. He and his slightly crazy grandmother, christened “Pearlie Bean’ by Jess, lived in a two-family house, and Jess was constantly fighting with the other tenants in his duplex over the volume of his music.

Sometimes I would stop by his house on the way home from work,and I’ve got to be honest: If I pulled up and could hear Jess wailing all the way out onto the street, I’d do a few laps around the block, maybe stop at Cumberland Farms for cigarettes-that kind of thing. 

Sometimes when I went into the house, we’d go through his closet, putting together ‘stage’ outfits. I spent a lot of time cutting sleeves off of t-shirts, and draping scarves over his lamps in various combinations. Also, smoking Newports while perusing rock magazines. I was also good at borrowing shit that I could wear the following weekend.

At some point Jess would insist I listen to his latest ‘jam’ and my ears would explode from the volume, and/or lack of melody in Jess’s voice.  I quickly learned that some sing-alongs were better than others. Lower voiced singers – like Ronnie James Dio were manageable. But for the love of god, when I’d see him pull out Judas Priest’s ‘Unleashed In The East’ I knew I was in for trouble. Nothing compared to listening to him attempt ‘Victim Of Changes’. It was one of those ‘blast the terrorists out of their compound’ numbers as interpreted by Jess. I guess if there’d been an ‘American Idol’ back then- they could have told him (and made him a star-of ridicule like that fat Asian guy), but I couldn’t give him an honest opinion for fear of hurting his feelings.

Oh no! Not that one!

He was still band material though. His look was amazing. His silky, chalk white hair, grew past his shoulders and was spiked on top.  He had deep set blue eyes, a slightly bent nose (ala Rod Stewart) and lush lips. It wasn’t unusual for us to be at a restaurant and have the server ask  if he was ‘somebody’. Jess loved it, and lied by omission.  His answers were vague: “Wouldn’t you like to know!” and “Why? Who do I look like?” I liked the fawning as well- it was a good reflection on me.

I did attempt to talk him into taking up an instrument, but he wasn’t interested. He was determined to be a singer. And at a certain point, I started to think that maybe he wasn’t that bad-maybe he was improving with all of the practice. Because I wanted to believe. I was also sure that my future as a rock writer was written in (rolling?) stone, so I was just as un-self aware as he was- and, like him- I had no idea it might not happen.

The tie that binds…

We ran into Adrian and his new ‘gal pal’ (aka: Footsie) a few times during those early days and it killed me.  Once, we saw them at Karl Graff’s Records where they were all googly-eyed and kissy faced. I wanted to puke. Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’ had been released as things began unraveling with me and Adrian. I didn’t like it- it was sooo…..not heavy…..and to this day it reminds me of when Adrian cheated on me. ‘Fool In The Rain’ – fun fact: that was me. Not only had I been dumped by my boyfriend, I was also legally separated from my beloved Led Zeppelin!)

So, natch, ‘All My Love’ was blaring in the record store as my ex felt up his new girl in aisle 2. Of course they were over in the ‘Fusion’ section, no doubt checking out the latest Al DiMi-dildo album, so I  was at least comforted by the fact that I wouldn’t have to listen to that for weeks on end. Though, looking over at Jess I realized I wasn’t exactly off the hook.

I’d always love them, but we were growing apart…

The two of us pretended to ignore Adrian and her,and made a big deal of ordering some ‘NWOBHM’ (New wave of british heavy metal) imports from Ken, our cool ‘High Fidelity’insider (if those guys hadn’t loathed our genre) who would have them shipped directly from England. We ordered something by a new band called ‘Def Leppard'(whuuut?) and another by  ‘Saxon’ It felt good to be ahead of the curve.

The lovebirds stayed in their ‘area’ and Jess and I left without incident. But I was bummed. Why did it always seem like your ex was having a much better time than you were? Even when you knew they could literally! bore you to tears back when you were together? The minute you broke up, you pictured their life like a beer commercial montage: All that smiling, laughing, cleavage and beer. It really sucked as a mindset.

“She’s gone! Let’s party!”

 

The Warning: Part Four

In The 80's on March 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm

We exit the record store- when Finn stops to talk to Jolly Jim, an old, decrepit gambler who hangs out in front of the OTB window, which is diagonally across from the record store. Jolly Jim looks like a mangy Pop-eye….covered in a layer of grime, dirty brown ski parka, ripped dungarees. He’s about 70. He still thinks he’s going to win the big one, and who knows? Maybe he will. When he laughs, (inappropriately loud) you can’t help noticing  that most of his teeth are gone, and that his breath is at least 80 proof. Finn gives him a high five along with a dollar, and tells him ‘That’s for the Wheels bus, Jolly. Don’t you go buying beer with it!” Jolly gives us the thumbs up and an exaggerated wink,his chin jutting out and mouth falling in like the Man in The Moon. We wave good-bye and walk towards the King Liquor store, where our friend Tom works, to pick up some beer. On the way, I point out to Jess that if anyone really needs a drink, it’s got to be the lost souls like Jolly Jim and why do people give a shit what a poor, homeless person buys with your measly single dollars and loose change?)

Tom’s working the register when we walk in, bagging up the Saturday afternoon liquor booty for a small line of customers. There’s a huge tower of Budweiser six packs stacked in the middle of the store with a giant sign that reads ‘Budweiser. $2.29!! Stock Up!!’ “We should just do beer tonight” I say, and Finn agrees. Enough with the ‘fancy’ mixes and crazy concoctions. Tonight it’s back to (cheaper) basics. We each pick a six pack off the Tower O’Bud, hoping the whole thing doesn’t topple like some bizarre beer can Jenga.  We then head to the back of the line and wait for our turn to pay. The line moves quickly-and soon we’re face-to-face with Tom. Tom hangs out with my brother Rob. He’s always using big words that none of us understand. Not normal words (as a voracious reader, I’m quite literate) but rather, the kind of words you’d see on a “Word-A-Day’ calendar, or that might be used by a snobby old man with an english accent and a monocle. For instance,  if Finn said he was still looking for a band to play with, Tom might say: “Oh, how I admire your juvenescence!” to which Finn will say: ‘Thanks!’ Or if I’m wearing a ton of jewelry he might say “Madame-let me see your hand, for I am a master of dactylology!”. Or, upon looking for a new apartment because he can’t stand living with his brother anymore might lament: “Oh, I must find a place soon, I simply cannot live much longer around such lestobiosis!”. When I first met Tom (whose brother happens to be the one and only Trey-my ‘gang’ buddy from middle school-good old Nathan Hale, the Junior Jail! I would pretend to know what he was saying, and if I could even remember the word- I’d look it up afterwards. But now-a couple of years in, I just sigh and say flatly: “OK…what does that one mean?” rolling my eyes. I finally realized that no one knows what he’s saying, so I’m not playing anymore, but I don’t mind learning new words-even though most of them don’t stick, and are never heard from again for that matter. 

“What’s crackin?” Tom asks, grabbing a bag and lifting a six pack, giving it the once over. “The usual” “Not much”…..Tom rings up one of the six packs, but puts both in the brown paper bag. “Hey! You don’t have to-” I say, but Tom just laughs. “Have a drink on me!” he says.”Libations!” I say with gusto , an attempt at impressing him. “Ah! And you, Miss- must then be my God!” he answers. Huh? We bid him good-bye and head towards the door. As we’re walking out  we hear ‘Heads Up!’ and  turn around. I throw my hands up and catch a mini bottle of Absolut. ‘THANKS!” I yell,grinning back at Tom. I hand the small bottle to Finn who throws it in the bag. “What was that all about?” asks Finn as we stroll towards the mall exit. “Ummm- do we ever know?” I answer. “Maybe he’s getting religious?” guesses Finn. I shrug my shoulders. “Could be.”

 

We walk through the Mall doors, and are assaulted by the glare of the sun off of the snow. Plus it’s freezing. The wind is doing awkward things to my hair. I’m pulling it out of my eyes and mouth. Finn straightens his posture and does a weird scissor-leg fast walk towards the car. Good luck getting in when I have the keys, pal. He’s holding the bag of beer and turning in circles outside the passenger side door when I catch up to him. “Come ON!” he yells, teeth chattering “I’m dyin out here!” I pop my driver’s door lock open, jump in, lean across and pop Finn’s. He throws the beer bag in the back with a big thud and slams his door shut, as I’m starting the car. Power on, heat blasting. We put our hands up to the vents for some straight- on warmth. “I’m so fucking sick of the winter!” Finn says. Me too. It’s only January, albeit the end of. I rock the Scorpions, turning up ‘Lovedrive’ as we navigate the busy parking lot. The biggest decision we face is where we’re going to go tonight.When it comes to committing to a particular bar or activity on a Saturday night-, you have no idea the pressure!  It comes from all sides: Who drives.Who’s playing? How much is the cover charge? What to wear. Who comes with. It’s a whole thing!

Where should we go tonight? What a dilemma!

“Hey-don’t you have next Friday off?”Finn asks. As a matter of fact I do! (Yesss! High Five!) The Tennis Club is closed for renovations.

“Ok-listen….I need you to drive me somewhere. To pick up a friend of mine” he says.

Finn has a license, but still no car. It’s an issue. He always give me gas money though- enough that I rarely complain.

“Where?” I ask.

“Bridgeport” he says.

“Really? Who do you know there?” I ask.

It’s about a thirty minute ride north. Finn looks at me sheepishly. I know him like the back of my hand. I squint my eyes in suspicion.

“WHAT?!” I ask. “Why are you looking at me like that?!..Oh, man, what?”

 Finn starts laughing. Then he clears his throat and  pulls an earnest expression across his face, wide-eyed and solemn.

“OK-but don’t freak. I have this friend.We have to go get him from jail.”

“Oh, jesus!” I say “that is soooo lame! I don’t want to go to a jail! And pick up a prisoner!” I yell. What do I look like over here?

“I’ll give you fifteen dollars for gas and pay for the new import tapes next week!”Finn says, sweetening the pot. I’m so easily bought!

“Do we have to go inside?” I ask.

“Hell no!”….”Okay…What time do we have to be there?”I say.  Something tells me this isn’t a wise idea, but I rarely listen to my own advice. Even if it sounds really loud- like a warning.

 

Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?

In Frayed Connections on March 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm

“Hold on, honey! Let me get your helmet!”

Mickey Goodman: Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?.

The above article got thinking about our generation as parents. There is so much complaining about schools, bullies, drugs, alcohol, social networks, busy schedules, etc- but very little is laid at the doorstep of us-the parents.

Meanwhile, there is a startling amount of ‘children- of- a- certain age’ who rely solely on their parents for everything – at ages far beyond the ages we were when we were expected to be on our own. I think the problem is a lot worse than we even admit to, out of embarrassment for how it has all turned out.

When I grew up in the 60s and 70s, there were parents and kids. The parents were the bosses, and the kids were bossed around. My mother did not shop at ‘Forever 21’ – and much more importantly, she didn’t want to! In fact, she would be mortified at the idea of a grown-ass woman wearing sweatpants with the word ‘Juicy’ across the butt- in sparkles! (I know my references are old-no one wears ‘Juicy’ anymore)

My father was strict, but not abusive. You DID NOT talk back, and if you did- there were repercussions! Our parents had their own world- cocktail parties where they listened to Frank Sinatra and talked about ‘adult’ things. The women dressed like women- not girls, and the males  dressed as men not boys. Our parents did not want to be decades younger than they were. There was a very definite line drawn between the kids world of colorforms and Kool-aid, and the parents world of credenzas, and hi-fi’s…it was a clear line, one we all respected and could see.

“Be Careful! Be Careful! Be Careful!”

A lot of us thought of this distance between the generations as cold. Many of us spoke of (especially during punishments, groundings and restrictions) how we ‘would never be like that!’when we had kids. And we weren’t like ‘that’. Instead, we became ‘friends’ with our kids, and set out to spare them the injustices of the world.

It always makes me laugh when I read those ‘Back when I was a kid, we didn’t sit on a computer all day- we went out and played!  When we did something wrong- we were punished! Sometimes by the neighbors!’ Well, knock knock mofo- but who stopped kids from going outside to play? Who dared the neighbors to say one negative thing about (let alone spank!) our precious children? GUESS WHAT?! It was US!! Nobody came along and ‘did this’ to us- we did it to ourselves! (And the only reason we didn’t stay in and use computers was because it wasn’t an option! We seem to be using them pretty good right now! duh!)

 

So we decide to be ‘cool’ parents.  We hang out with our kids, bring them to concerts (and is anything sadder than kids who are listening to their parents music- kids too unmotivated to make their own? Most likely because they have nothing to rally against as they get waited on hand and foot!)

By becoming ‘friends’ with our kids, we have deprived them of parents! We complain about teachers and coaches instead of getting down on our freakin’ hands and knees and thanking them for taking these jobs in the first place! (Too bad they can’t tell us to f***-off! Often they should!))

We think our offspring are SOOO SPECIAL- based on what? That they are OURS? That we are so special that we have golden eggs and magic sperm, and our children are narcissistic proof? Are you kidding me?  Perhaps we all should take a look in the spiritual (and literal) mirror first! We need to GET OVER OURSELVES! We are, in fact, so narcissistic that we don’t even accept that we are aging!- which is why we have women shopping at Teen Stores to begin with!

We complain about bullies when half of us ARE bullies! ‘Don’t like the flag? Get out!’ ‘Don’t agree with what I think? Get out!’ -plastered all over Facebook. What are you- ten? (Half the time these rants are misspelled as well- an overall embarrassment of stupidity and bullying!)

There are Mothers who sit down and watch ‘Fashion Police’ with their daughters, and laugh together as a deplorable Dragon with 167 plastic surgeries ridicules how other people look?! (Which has to be the ‘circle of irony’) And then these mothers cry when their daughters are outed for not wearing the right clothes by the witches of Mean Girls 101? 

“Not only should you be thanking me- you should be washing my feet and giving me a RAISE!!”

The only way this can get any better that I can see, is we’d better hope that our children rebel against us, and are extra strict with their own kids, swinging the pendulum back towards the middle. Which, admittedly, does not seem likely. I think we all meant well by trying to make life easier for our kids- but in the process, we deprived them of ways to build character, and praised them for doing nothing more than existing. We tried to over-compensate for our parents being ‘distant’ without realizing that their parenting skills – and distance- were a necessary component to our eventual independence.

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