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King Dad

In The 60's on June 23, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Insert Trumpety King Song Here. Do Do Do Doooo!

In our household, circa 1968, there was never any question as to who the boss was. My father ruled the roost, and if you didn’t like it- you could lump it. There was none of this current day conferring with the kids about how they felt, or what they thought, or  any of that ‘warm, fuzzy crap’ to quote the man himself. The bottom line was: Dad paid for everything, was the biggest, strongest and (definitely) loudest, and was therefore The King. End of story.

Though it often felt unfair, particularly when he was handing down verdicts against us personally ( “You’ll eat it and you’ll like it-or I’ll give you something to cry about!’) we also had a deep-seated desire to please him. 

I’m Bob. The King of Four Muffin Lane.

One of our family rituals was the ‘School Report’. This took place during dinner (served at 5:30 on the dot-or else!) and was a game wherein my father would randomly call out “School Report!” and my brothers and I would throw our hands up in the air in a fury, waving, panting and squirming in our chairs.

“Pick me! Pick me!”

 We were frantic with the desire to be chosen. Once the words “School Report’ were tossed out-usually towards the end of the meal, my father would drop his fork onto his plate with a clank (having scarfed down a giant T-bone rimmed in fat and cooked in butter or perhaps some mammoth pork chops, the shape and size of the state of Florida) and dab his mouth with a harvest gold cloth napkin.

He’d scan the table, looking at the three of us, a mischievous glint in his eyes. This was a man who loved being in control and having our undivided attention. The anticipation from our end was unbearable!

Then: Boom! He’d point to the kid he deemed the winner, the groans of the ‘losers’ echoing across the table, two faces with lower lips jutting out far enough to host a perched bird.

The winner would sport the ‘how do ya like me now?’ grin, sometimes adding a thumbs up sign, or sticking out a tongue, infuriating the two losers even more.

These dynamics would elicit a “tsk, tsk. Oh…Bob!” riding on a sigh from my mother, who was not a fan of dinner time competitions.

My father would ignore her completely, then say ‘Shoot!’ to the winner, his index finger a fake pistol. The ‘winner’ was now to ‘report’ on what happened at school that day.

Though it was off the cuff and unscripted, we certainly wanted to impress Our Father the King, but as many a stand-up comic will tell you- improvisation isn’t quite that easy. Add this to the fact that you now had two instant, very bitter hecklers wishing you to fail, and you’ve got all the makings of the quintessential tough crowd, the kind comedians turn to legend. (‘School Report’ was responsible for an approximate 40% increase in family fights during the years it was in effect, according to recent studies.)

On any given night the game might go something like this: Rob wins. Negative vibes emit like radon from both David and I, funneled directly at Rob. Rob scrunches his face up at us, clears his throat, and  begins:

“Today….in school….we…ummmm…..had….ummm…math….with numbers…and ummm….I wrote numbers…..and….ummmm……”

 You have got to be kidding me! I would think. This kid can’t tell a story to save his life, and someone has to step in.

“That’s so dumb, Robby!” I’d say, truthfully.

“Lisa! Zip it!” my father would roar.  

Rob might attempt to kick me under the table, but can’t reach. Air kick! What a fool!

“Simmer down and wait your turn!” my father demands, a no-nonsense glare coming my way.

Being stripped of a voice and humiliated, I puff my cheeks out like a blow-fish, hold my breath, place one elbow on the table, drop my head into the crook, and let the air out of my pursed lips like a leaky tire. I could get an Academy Award for my conveyance of disappointment.

My father helps Rob along:

“Did you have recess?” he asks. 

“Yeah!” Rob says ‘…and Timmy Shoales fell off the swing and was bleeding!” I have to admit, this kind of gets my attention, but I credit my father for punching up the script, not Rob’s ability to tell a story.

“It was his nose!” Rob says “and his knee! and his…over here!” Rob points to his own chest. Ut oh! Now he’s going all  Michael Bay on us! I hope my Dad reels him in soon or this tale is gonna be all special effects and no story. 

‘Secret’ Formula

“OK!” says my Dad to Rob, having had enough

“Good Job!” and he claps. A pity clap.

“Now. Lisa! Bam!” he says, pointing his index finger at me.

I’m on!

I, too, start by clearing my throat. I  tap the olive green tablecloth and ask: “Is this thing on?” and wait for laughter that doesn’t come. 

“Samantha!Cut the Malarkey! We don’t have time for jokes!” my father growls.

This always gets me. I mean- even the best joke usually takes what? Ten-twenty seconds? And let’s say it’s super funny (which is what I strive for) then, including the laughter, people- we’re looking at maybe- what? a minute, minute-ten at the most? So, really-don’t we in fact have the time? I’m not just referring to jokes either, but other stuff parents say there’s no time for. It’s hard for me to imagine that we’re cutting it that close so consistently! Is all I’m saying. But whatever.

It says ‘No Time For Jokes’ on the back. Also: Made In Japan.

“OK….” I begin…

‘Today in school Krissy was wearing the best peace sign t-shirt, which she got at Caldors, just in case anyone wants to know.” I look directly at my mother, who knits her brows and frowns. She recognizes a shakedown when she hears it.

“Becky said we shouldn’t have to do the ropes in gym, so me and her and Renee signed a paper about it- but Lara wouldn’t sign it because she can get to the top. Mrs. Baxter in the library said a bad word (I mouth ‘Damn!’) when Todd Taylor brought in a worm, while I checked ‘Stuart Little’ and ‘The Cricket In Times Square’ – and then Todd dropped his library book on the worm and it turned into like 50 worms!” I exclaimed. “It was soooo icky!” 

“Alright That’s enough” says my mother, “Or I’m going to upchuck”

 “Oh for godsakes- it’s fine!” insists my father. 

“Yes, Bob, it’s fine!…We have one story about a child bleeding out, and another about smashed worms! What’s next? Murder?” says my mom.

“Well- let’s SEE!” says my father,turning towards my little brother.

“David? Whatch ya got?” he asks.

It looks like I’ve been Kanye’d. No one’s gonna let me finish! And I had killer knock-knock jokes lined up!

“Yo, Lisa! I’m really happy for you. Imma let you finish but David put his coat in the cubby by himself!

David is only five, in kindergarten and doesn’t really understand the “Hunger Games’ type stakes he’s up against. Every night he acts like he doesn’t know ‘School Report’ is going to happen. You can tell by the quality of his ‘stories’.

“I put my jacket in my cubby all by myself” he says – and practically gets a standing ovation by my parents.

“Oh, that’s great!”

“That a boy!” says my dad- whistling. “Good job!”

This is because he hung a jacket on a hook! Not even a hanger. A hook!

Had my parents had Zippo lighters at the table, they might have held them high and called for an encore. Then David could have stood up, leaned over in a bow, tied his shoelaces and sent the parent crowd into a frenzy!

Regardless of story, the younger you were, the more you got congratulated on everything. And I was the oldest. I put such effort into my school reports -cherry picking the best-of’s from the day, but it wasn’t exactly appreciated.

It’s hard to be a headliner, when you’re surrounded by openers who think they’re the draw, and the kind of management that sends everyone onstage willy-nilly. Still, I kept giving it my best shot, and every once in awhile, it was like magic. Like Carlin in the 7o’s, only not a millionth as good. 


A Touch Too Much

In The 80's on June 3, 2012 at 1:43 am

‘Is my tray in its upright position? Am I?’

Tragedy struck the following Tuesday, and its effects were felt from the Night Raven to the Pines- all the way out to the Agora and  beyond. Bon Scott, the gritty, gravely voiced singer from the vertically challenged but extremely hard rocking band AC/DC was dead. Cause of death: Acute Alcohol Poisoning. The news spread through the  phone lines, multiplying like a Faberge Organics (Herbal Essence?) commercial. I told a friend, who told another friend,who told another and on and on. The grid grew by tens, probably to 40!

During the infancy of our heavy metal ‘scene’, this was big news.  News that was tragic yet exciting. We were both grief stricken and weirdly energized. There was lots of ‘when it’s your time it’s your time’ talk, with all of us glossing right over the excessive alcohol consumption that killed him. We all agreed that this (alcohol overdose) was something that could just sneak up on you- it’s not like there was some alarm that went off when you’d had enough, right?  (the stumbling, weaving, puking, fighting and memory loss not obvious enough) Not once did any one of us express an interest in ‘slowing down’ or partying less. No way! In fact, if we could die on any day at any moment, we felt it was time to kick it up a notch. And so we did. It’s hard to say how many shots and drinks were consumed after a toast to Bon Scott. Clink Clink. Cheers! And the word ‘irony’ never once crossed our minds. Even to the those of us who actually knew what it meant.

Bon Scott: Quite the shirtless ladies man!

Perhaps what made Bon Scott’s death seem ‘cool’ (to a bunch of barely adults who still felt as immortal as ever, rounding the bases at 18, 20 or 22) was that although the reason for his demise was drinking to the point of alcohol poisoning-the official reason was listed as ‘Death By Misadventure’.  This made it sound risky and- dare I say it? Fun! It was dark, yes- but also very rock and roll. It ensured that Bon Scott would never grow old, never burn out, never find religion or go to rehab, renounce his wild lifestyle, or marry a famous actress and start hanging out with rich people. He would never do these, or any of the myriad of things that rockstars did to get on our nerves. He would remain our eternal bad boy. His dirty deed would stay dirt cheap. And all it cost him was an early death.

Jess and I began perusing the papers and club hotline numbers for the inevitable AC/DC tribute bands that would be barrelling down the pike. Meanwhile, like rock and roll ambassadors, we spread the news to all of the crevices  it hadn’t yet reached. The clerk at Cumberland Farms, where we bought our Newports, Kools, and Michelobs? He found out from us. As did Jess’s vocal coach and my  entire ‘Feel The Burn’ Aerobics Class at the Figure Forum. God knows how many they then told! It was assumed that everyone cared. (Most people had no idea what or who we were talking about)

The loss also inspired many ‘philosophical conversations between me and Jess. For instance, we wondered if a person who was passed out drunk would even know that they died. If they were dreaming, and then crossed over how would they be able to tell the difference between the dream, and the crossing over? Wouldn’t it just seem like the dream was continuing? Listen: at least Finn’s deep probing philosophies were inspired by half a joint! I had no excuse. (It shocks me now that we were just assuming there was an afterlife! Why weren’t we arguing about that?!) We talked about how cool it was that Bon would exist forever on records, his voice saved for eternity, that he found a way to leave a permanent piece of himself behind. Someone should actively recommend us to the Algonquin Round Table. Surely an invitation to join would be forthcoming if were overheard by the right people.

‘It’s all fun and games until someone dies!’ Bon Scott’s autographs weren’t always uplifting…

Even Adrian called me at the end of the week, to get my ‘take’ on the loss. He acted like we had just lost a close, personal friend. He spoke as if we were still in cahoots, like he hadn’t cheated on me! I was immediately suspicious. I mean- yes I was bummed that a kick-ass lead singer had succumbed, but it’s not like it was Led Zeppelin or even Van Halen, no offense. AC/DC was good, but I hadn’t actually shed any real tears, as is usually the case with famous people who you admire but don’t actually know. Yet Adrian asked ‘how I was holding up’. Not only was it an odd question- but I got the distinct impression he was asking me about something that had nothing to do with a dead rock singer.

“Umm, I’m fine!” I said,quickly adding: “It’s not like I was invited to the funeral or anything!”

“Yeah, but I know how you liked them!” Adrian replied, oblivious to my wise crack “Always cranking that stereo of yours!” 

“Adrian! What do you really want? Why are you calling me?” I asked, cutting to the chase. Like I was the one with a loud stereo. His once cracked a window with his!

“Well!” he said, indignantly. And after a short silence, “I was just checking to see how you were! Is that okay?” He laughed uncomfortably.

“How’s your new girlfriend?” I asked, daring him to hang up and end the misery.

“I dunno” he said…..”Because I kind of miss you”

Oh brother! They must have gotten into a fight or something. I forced myself to think of all the shitty things he’d done to me less than six months ago: the lying, the cheating, the general deception. I thought of what Melody had told me at Rob’s party. But a part of me- besides being flattered (oh, look! I really am irreplaceable!) was also thinking that if I could get back with him, that I’d ‘win’ in some twisted head games kind of way. It would change the story that had already been written-that Adrian cheated on and dumped me, and gave it a better ending-one where Adrian came back to me after all, where maybe I could dump him at some point. I would save face after all! (Am I embarrassed to be copping to all of this? Of course. Wouldn’t you be?) Did I still love Adrian? Nah, he was pretty tiny in my rearview by now. However it was a potential friends-with-benefits situation, and Adrian was always generous and romantic- heavy on the gifts and out-to-dinner dates, especially in the ‘win her over’ phase. (For which I now qualified -kind of like re-registering after a certain amount of time as a ‘new customer’)  More importantly- he was a cute musician and lots of girls liked him. And  I really didn’t have anything else going on. (My last crush had been Christian, and I hadn’t seen him since he’d been sprung!) My reappearance in Adrian’s life would also be a symbolic Bronx Cheer to the floozy he had been dating  and I wouldn’t mind slapping some karma back her way, just for sport. I could still see the condescending look she gave me at the Night Raven on ‘footsy’ night. I sometimes hold grudges. I’m not gonna lie.

Not necessarily? Right?

“Oh, really?” I asked, trying to hide the smile in my voice.

“Let’s go out. To a movie or something!” he said, seizing the moment.

“Like what movie? And when?” I asked, trying to act uninterested, even though my responses proved otherwise.

“They’re playing ‘The Warriors’ at SoNo. I know how you liked that-“

“They ARE?!” I burst, “I LOVE that movie!” The theater in South Norwalk played cult and independent films and movies that were in the regular  theater last year, but were now showing at a deep discount. (Remember kiddies, we had no Netflix, you spoiled little things) When the Warriors first came out, I had to go with JJ because Adrian ‘had to practice’.

We had to go LEAVE THE HOUSE to see movies, kids!

“Let’s go tomorrow night then” he says.

“Maybe…” I say “I’ll think about it. Call me at 7:00 and we’ll see” 

“Oh, come on! Just say yes!” Adrian laughs.

“No!” I say firmly “I’ll tell you tomorrow night. And if that’s not okay- oh freakin’ well!”

Adrian sighs, but reluctantly agrees. Sure, I might decide not to go, but we both know I probably won’t. We can’t bring Bon Scott back to life, but with his death as an excuse to break the ice, we might just breathe new life into what was once a hot and heavy romance. Though this is highly- and I mean HIGHLY doubtful!

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