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Posts Tagged ‘1960s’

Ralph The Rooster:Part 2

In The 60's on October 9, 2015 at 12:38 am

Ralph The Magnificent!

Does it come as any surprise whatsoever, that having a rooster did not actually turn my life into a fairy tale?

Oh- there were the good times, yes indeed. Like waiting for a few minutes once I was put to bed- until the coast was clear, then throwing back my lavender chenille bedspread, and eagerly springing out of bed to play with the baby rooster in my closet. (Yes- he lived in my closet like a gay person in the military during the Bill Clinton years.)

To get to the closet in the dark, I felt my way blindly through the familiar braille of my bedroom furniture, (still somehow stubbing or banging something) arms outstretched until I reached the closet door knob. Bingo! Pulling open the door with a creak I turned on the closet light which spilled out across the shiny wood floor in a glorious golden cone, a stage light of sorts in which Ralph could ideally prance around.

Rubbing my hands together in anticipation of releasing Ralph from his  wooden crate, and peeking through the slats I’d try and locate him. The top was covered with chicken wire for security, and a towel to ‘put him to sleep’ according to my mom.

Peeling off the towel, then wire, I’d reach into the box, grabbing Ralph as gently as I could. Roused from sleep, he would startle awake and peck at my hand, and in turn I would squeal and drop him. The scene would repeat itself until I finally could lift him out of the crate, and quickly place (read: drop) him on the floor.

He was impossibly delicate and soft. I had to be careful not to crush him, his tiny body mink soft, his bones as fragile as the glass-blown set of fawns I’d gotten for my birthday (unfortunately, the doe was already sans one leg and half an ear). Once Ralph was free, I would smile with pure delight, and  watch as the tiny ball of feathers hopped about my room. He looked pissed off most of the time (and I wondered if it was because I took him away from all of his friends and/or frenemies) but I felt confident I would win him over in the long run.

I tried to be as quiet as possible, but at six, my ability to follow a ruse through from start to finish still needed to be honed. I’d had a few successful nights, and then got sloppy. Since Ralph was limber and quick, and my room was large, I would chase after him as he headed under my bed, or vanity, or back into the closet.

My bedroom happened to be right above my parents room so any move I made could be heard and frowned upon, by my parents (though I did not, as of yet, put two and two together. Rather, I thought them psychic.)

The first time I heard my father’s feet thundering up the stairs (muttering ‘god dammit’ all the way) I jumped frantically,  slamming shut the closet door  and flew back onto my bed, pulling the bedspread up and over my head,  my heart beating like a tom-tom.

When my father opened the door, there couldn’t be more evidence of ‘fowl’ play. The closet light still glowed around the edges of the door. Once opened, Ralph’s cage looked as if it had been ransacked, the towel on the floor in a pile and the chicken wire cast aside. The taut bedspread completely covering myself from head to toes was also telling. As was Ralph himself- gallivanting about the room, squeaking peep, peep, peep…..tirelessly running in circles on the floor.

“ANNIE! WHAT THE  HELL ARE YOU DOING UP HERE?” my father bellowed, switching on the bedroom light.

I froze, stick straight and wound tight under the bedspread. There was a muted purple glow from inside my flimsy cocoon.

 My father’s footsteps slapped the bare wood floor as he approached my bed. He pulled the cover off of my head quickly, like a magician pulling a tablecloth and leaving the plates intact. I squinted my eyes and feigned just waking up. ‘What? Huh?’ I said, thinking I could fool him. I was such a greenhorn.

“WHAT IS THE DAMN CHICKEN DOING OUT?!” he wanted to know.

“Rooster” I corrected, causing his face to turn red. 

He spoke slowly,  with a soft menace, his teeth gritted.

“I don’t care, if it’s a god-damned Bluebird! GET HIM!”Dad yelled,pointing in the direction of the cage.

“NOW!” he bellowed.

I jumped out of bed as though sprung by a slingshot. I scanned the room, but couldn’t see Ralph right off. Then I heard a faint peeping under the ruffly, lavender skirt of my vanity. I dropped to my knees and reached through the curtain slit, grabbing Ralph, who was standing on top of a ceramic sheep outside the manger I had procured from the Christmas Ornament Box in the crawl space adjacent to my room. The manger I was forbidden to play with, and which I played with everyday. I was careful to not let my father see.

I stood, holding Ralph up, hoping that seeing him would soften my Dad up. I began to pet his head and almost coo, but an impatient “HURRY UP!” put an end to that. I ran over to the cage, deposited Ralph inside, secured the top, and covered it with the towel- a little lopsided in my haste, but suffice for now. 

I jumped back into bed, careful to take the route opposite the side where my father ominously cowered.  I pulled the covers up to my chin, closed my eyes with all of my might and waited for punishment. I heard my father walk over to my closet and flick the inside light off. Then I felt his presence as again he stood over my bed, his anger visceral.  He said nothing for about a minute. I felt a phantom tingling on my butt, in exactly the spot I assumed the Fanny Whacker would land.  

Finally he spoke:

“IF….I… Hear……A Peep Out of Either One of You……(Of course, Ralph peeped at this exact moment, but my father pretended not to hear)…I Promise You…..I will come up here…….with……..The…. Fanny Whacker!!….(cue psycho theme here)

When I was seven- the Fanny Whacker, a wooden paddle used for spanking, was the equivalent of modern day waterboarding, a cartoon Karate Chop, or an Anvil straight from Acme dropping on one’s head. I’d no more get out of bed again than give my father the middle finger while yelling out swears.

He stomped back down the stairs, muttering, as I whispered ‘shhh!’ to the peep-happy, wide-awake, Ralph, now pacing in his cell thanks to my wake-up call.

After my father’s ultimatums (repeated over the course of several weeks) I kept myself in check at night and went back to reading books with a flashlight under the covers. I occasionally whispered to Ralph, who rarely replied.  Meanwhile, Ralph grew, and grew fast. He became more silver and black, with a beautiful sheen.

One day when he was an adolescent rooster (who still hadn’t sprouted his comb or wattle) my brothers and I were playing ‘war’ (basically, peering out of our respective rooms, and throwing stuff- Hot Wheels, Barbies, anything durable- at each other ,using slamming doors as shields) Ralph ran out into the fray and was clocked with a mini rubber football, which sent him scurrying sideways, where he went sliding down the varnished staircase.  There, he rounded the corner, scaring my mother, who had a white  hob-nailed milk glass vase of freshly picked brown-eyed -Susans in her hand, which she dropped after being startled by the wild-eyed rooster. The vase didn’t break, but there was water everywhere, and we were picking up Susan petals for days. Ralph was banished to his cage until further notice.

Meanwhile, at the supper table, my father had taken to calling Ralph ‘Shake’n’Bake’. “One of these days…..” he’d say, and then he’d shake his wrist “We’ll be having Ralph for dinner!”

“Oh, Bob….stop!” my mother would say. Which I didn’t understand because I pictured Ralph sitting at the table, not on. “Are we gonna get him some clothes?” I’d ask. I mean, it would be rather rude to come to the table naked, as my brother Rob had learned one night fresh out of a Mr. Bubbles bath.

“The Shake’N’Bake will be all the clothes he needs!” my father said, laughing, but I still didn’t get it. Until one night when I was about to bite into a drumstick and he said “Ralph sure tastes delicious tonight!”  holding up a chicken leg with a crescent moon bite in it.  

All at once it hit me- chicken, rooster, dinner. I dropped the chicken leg I was holding onto my plate, and tears welled up in my eyes. My dad was going to eat Ralph- maybe we all were! Maybe this was Ralph! 

“OH, Bob!” my mother scolded, ‘don’t tease her like that!”

My brothers- smelling blood in the water, began to taunt me “Ralphie! Ralphie!”, chanting like the Flying Monkeys from Oz (only not as cute), marching their drumsticks across their plates, the bony ends clanking against the porcelain.

 I scooted out of my seat and ran for the stairs. My heart beat in fear as I charged into my room and ran to Ralph’s cage. Thankfully, Ralph was there, clucking safely in his cage.  I was overwhelmed with emotion for my bird. I told him how much I loved him, while downstairs my parents loudly argued about what was and wasn’t appropriate to say, while using words that fit both categories.

 

From then on I covered Ralph’s stormy eyes whenever ‘Shake’n’Bake’ commercials came on on the upstairs black and white tv, often getting myself hella pecked in the process.

By deep summer, Ralph was almost full grown. He still wasn’t crowing, or looking like an adult rooster, but he was confident and bossy, and he practically took over my room. He could get out of his crate in two seconds flat, and I was often awakened by the sound of his guttural clucking and spindly claws scratching across the wooden floorboards.

He once wandered into the crawlspace (which spanned across to my brothers room) and went missing for a day and a half, only to be found roosting on my baby brother’s butt (David slept face down, butt up)-in his crib.  This is when my father declared “Ralph’s moving out!”-and by ‘out’ he meant: ‘Outside’.

I wasn’t at all happy about this turn of events, but I helped (read: stood by) while my Dad built a makeshift pen on the side of the house for Ralph. With cast-off lumber from the garage, and more chicken wire, the pen was quite large and impressive. There was a dog-door sized opening, through which Ralph could enter, but nothing that would actually lock him in. This worried me.

‘Check out my new crib, Home Slice!”

“Annie!” my Dad assured me- “Chickens can wander around, but they will always come home.” He said this with the surety of a biologist- turned- farmer.

“But Ralph’s a rooster!” I said, alarmed.

“Even better!” said my Dad, who- naturally-being a white male product of the  50’s-was positive males were naturally superior to females in every way.

Once the pen was completed, we brought Ralph out (this involved my mother, some cussing and a broom) and led him to his pen, where we had placed bowls of feed and water.

While my mother went about popping a bottle of champagne in the kitchen, celebrating some unclear event, Ralph strolled into his new pen, like a king to his castle, and after a minute or two at the food bowl, he paraded back out.  He then headed across our back yard, into the Terrusa’s backyard, across the Smith’s and beyond. He was ecstatic- pecking and  bobbing – not even  bothering to look back. My father watched, smiling-I think he may even have waved and mouthed ‘Bu-Bye!’- and I remained concerned, arms folded across my chest, a frown on my face.

“What if he goes too far?” I whined.

“He’s just going to check out the neighborhood!” dad insisted.

I pouted.

“Let the guy live life, for Chrissakes, Annie!” he told me.

Hmmm. Someone else might think my father was actually encouraging Ralph to get lost, but I still trusted that my Dad knew best. I also figured that Ralph would come back, because he didn’t have his stuff packed into a bandanna hanging at the end of a stick like all of the animals that went on long trips in my story books. 

I missed Ralph dearly for the first few nights. I couldn’t even look at the lonely, empty space where Ralph’s crate had been for several months, though I did notice my room smelled remarkably fresher.

As for Ralph- he loved his new digs. He seemed to adopt a confident, new- dare I say- swagger? And every morning, like clockwork- there was Ralph, strutting around the back yard, just waiting for us kids to come out so he could run away from us.

One sweltering summer morning Ralph wasn’t in his pen. It was strange because we had such a dependable routine going. I decided to take a gander (so to speak) around the neighborhood to see if I could find him.

Since it was the late sixties, I was allowed to wander around freely, as long as I stayed within a ten or fifteen mile radius of the house, and my mother was perfectly fine with it.

I started my search at the perimeter of Muffin Lane, then decided to go over the wall, into the outer reaches. Ralph wasn’t at my best friend Becky’s, so I methodically checked  the houses behind hers, until I came upon one that had actual chicken coops and chickens. I climbed over the stone wall and peered through the pen’s fence, cupping my hands over my eyes, scanning for Ralph. There were many white chickens, but no Ralph.

I turned and looked towards the house on the large property. I decided to knock on the door and ask if anyone had seen Ralph. Maybe he was in the house, maybe he was nostalgic for the feel of being inside and running atop the furniture again, leaving broken ashtrays and knick-knacks in his wake. My mom always said he enjoyed aggravating her, so maybe he missed it.

I was almost to the house, when I heard a tinny version of  “Groovin” coming from a transistor radio. I looked towards the sound and saw a lady stretched out on a blue and white webbed lounge chair.  She wore a big, beige straw hat and a black and white striped bathing suit. She was smoking a cigarette and holding an aluminum foil reflecting board under her chin. There was a small plastic table sitting beside her, which held an open can of Rheingold beer, a pack of Viceroy’s  and a pink, tattered copy of a book my mom had “Valley of The Dolls’. (What a dream! A valley full of dolls! Why wouldn’t mom let me read it?) 

“Um…Hi?” I said loudly, from a few feet away. She jumped a little, then adjusted herself, resting the aluminum board on her stomach. She lifted her Jackie O sunglasses- which made her look like a beetle- and took me in.

She looked confused, eyebrows furrowed, trying to register the strange seven year old in her backyard who had appeared out of nowhere. She had dark red hair in a flip and a beauty mark on her cheek. In my memory she is Ginger from Gilligan’s Island.

She looked me over, while taking a long drag off of her cigarette.

‘Can I help you, kid?” she finally said in her Suzanne Pleshette-like voice, smoke pouring out of her nose and mouth like a cartoon bull getting ready to charge.  She smashed her cigarette into the ashtray and took a swig of  beer. 

“Yes, please” I said….”I’m looking for my rooster, Ralph”

“What’s he look like? Is he black and gray?” she asked

“Yesss!” I said, excitedly.

“You mean that chicken, right?

“No…No…Ralph’s a rooster!” I said.

She described him again- perfectly.

“I got news for ya, kid. That was a chicken!” she insisted.

I was starting to not like her. “She’s been coming around here a lot, disrupting our hens” she said. Disrupting? More like trying to make friends, I thought.

And then-God strike me down- she casually said: “The boys shot him yesterday afternoon with a bow and arrow”

What?!

The whole world seemed to fall off its axis. I felt faint. I knew this lady wasn’t kidding. 

 I was began to tremble, and my eyes filled with tears, but I was determined not to cry in front this woman. I felt it would be rude to her if I showed my distaste for what had happened, I owed it to her to play it casual. It was a pattern I would repeat over and over and over in my life, to hide my emotions in the real world,  to not to be perceived as weak, or a sissy.  To ‘stop my blubbering.’

The radio was now playing ‘Homeward Bound’ by Simon and Garfunkel, and that’s exactly where I needed to go.

“OK! Bye!” I said pleasantly, a fake smile on my face for her benefit as I turned to run. She yelled something but I couldn’t make it out. I ran past the coops, past trees, bushes and staked tomato plants and scrambled up the high stone wall, fearlessly holding my head back so the heavy tears which pooled in my eyes wouldn’t spill. I jumped over to the other side, landing in the Corbett’s back yard, and ran towards my house.

I was sick to my stomach and barely able to see through the blur. I ran so fast, through yard after yard, tears whooshing off my cheeks into the tailwind.

‘Oh my god!’ I thought, picturing my proud, funny friend Ralph pierced through the chest by an arrow!  I pictured horribly heartless people laughing at him as he lay slowly dying, as he wondered what he did wrong. Ralph was  all alone in the end, maybe crying out for help, calling for me… but I wasn’t there for him. 

 

I ran up the back porch stairs, ripped through the dining room, screaming for my mom. She was ironing, but immediately stopped and sprinted to meet me. I barreled into her, burying my face into her cherry print apron and sobbed, letting my tears flow as if from a faucet.  I was hysterical as I blurted out the story, gulping through a tearful stutter. My mother comforted me as best she could, wiping the tears and snot from my face with her apron.  She ran her fingers through my hair to try and soothe me. She told me everything would be alright. I eventually stopped crying, exhausted and spent.  I remained solemn and distant for the rest of the day, not eating, not talking.

 The waterworks began again at 5:15 when my Dad came through the door. Although I believed he genuinely felt for me, when he tried to tell  me he would miss Ralph too, I sobbed “But you were gonna shake and bake him….” to which he laughed, then caught himself.

My father went to the lady’s house (the murderers) that evening to find out what happened. The  story had changed. Yes, Ralph was killed by the teen boys with an arrow, but ‘by accident’ and ‘they were really sorry’.  And of course, Ralph should have been kept in his pen, like their chickens. I never saw that lady again or her ruthless, faceless family nor did I forgive them, regardless of the fact that we had let Ralph run free and were absolutely, positively, no question about it- the ones at fault. 

 Recently my Dad broke some more news to me. Ralph, he told me-some 40 years late- was not a rooster.  She! was a chicken after all, and better suited to a name like Rose.

The truth is, the world was a tough place- even tougher for animals than people, a place where bad things happened no matter how much you wished they didn’t. I cried at stories like the Little Match Girl and the song ‘Puff, The Magic Dragon’ but this was my first direct hit.  To this day, when I visit my hometown and drive past ‘that lady’s’ house, I think of Ralph.  It was the start of realizing how pliable we all are, as life sets to molding us on it’s incessant potter’s wheel.

 

 

Bridge Over Troubled Daughter/3/27/14

In The 60's on March 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm

I was a weird kid, that’s for sure-I had quirks and habits that must have driven my parents nuts, but at least I enjoyed being alone in my room (reading, making up fantastical stories of my parallel, imaginary, perfect life) and hey- I wasn’t clingy. Give me a book and you won’t see me for days.

What kind of quirks am I referring to, you might ask?

Perhaps the most maddening -because it was a daily occurrence- was my strange eating habits. I was completely obsessed with my food not touching. If a kernel of corn slid off the top of its little pile and collided into the meatloaf and/or mashed potatoes- bedlam ensued!

Even if I was starving (or super-hungry- let’s face it, no middle class kid is ever starving!), I would not (could not) touch either the corn, potatoes or meatloaf. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with my father, who would bellow “Ah, fongool, Annie! Just eat your damned food for chrissakes!”- but I could not. Knowing that a kernel had touched the meat was akin to witnessing deadly contamination-similar in revulsion to a cat peeing on my plate. I have no explanation for this ‘phobia’, but it felt painstakingly real.

My mother became exceptionally good at segregating the items on my plate, but it wasn’t foolproof, what with gravity and all. In some cases, after my alarm, my mom would slice off the offending corner of the meat, and toss the kernels with tell-tale dots of  potato shrapnel- but I would gag just thinking about them. It was best if she brought my plate into the kitchen and pretended to bring out a new plate of food, though my father saw this as cow-towing to a five year old, and the only person who should be cow-towed to in this house was him.

He tried to reason with me by pointing out that all of the corn kernels were touching each other and I could eat them, so what’s the frikken difference-( jesus christ! Annie!) but logic wasn’t involved. I also hated milk (unless it was infused with Bosco) cereal, mayonnaise, gravy, onions- the list went on and on.

That being said, I had zero compunction when it came to eating an old, melted-to-the-cellophane butterscotch disc found in between the seats of the car, and I’d sneak  my grandmother’s dog, Peppy’s green, red and gold dog biscuits (shaped like bones) when visiting her cabin in the woods. I’d been known to pluck a dusty plastic grape or two, from my mother’s basket of fake fruit on the dining table- which I would argue was entrapment.

And this: I loved the smell of gasoline. Whenever we pulled into a gas station, I would roll down my window and breathe in the sweet smell of petrol like it was Chanel #5. The station attendant would be filling up the family car, and I’d be sniffing the air like a police dog in a grow house. How lucky this man was to be working in a place where he could smell that magical scent all day long, I’d think! When I grow up, I’m gonna be a gas-pumper!

Sometimes, I’d try to casually loiter around the gas cap of my father’s car in the driveway, just to see if I could get a few whiffs. If my dad caught me, I’d be told in no uncertain terms to stop lurking around the car or I’d  be in for a fanny whacking.

“That’s all I need is to pull out and run you over!” he’d yell “I need that like I need a hole in the head!”

I guess he thought a) I’d be invisible on the driver’s side of the car and b) I loved the smell so much, I wouldn’t notice that my father just opened the door, got into the vehicle, slammed the door, started the engine and threw it in ‘R’)

How ashamed he would be the day I got into Mensa!

Just kidding!

The only other way I could get my ‘fix'[ was by being in the car when it needed gas. This led to requesting we drive to other states, the farther the better. Why not Disney World? That would require several glorious fill-ups! My parents probably feared I’d grow up to be a huffer, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. (The fact that I’m often ‘in a huff’ is a different thing entirely)

Another foible: Being afraid to cross bridges, especially the big ones that led from Manhattan into New Jersey, where we had relatives. As a kid, I’d have terrible dreams about bridges crumbling as we crossed them in the family car, so I would panic when I saw the majestic George Washington looming in front of us in real life, knowing with every fiber of my being that we’d soon be plunging into the Hudson river. I can’t overestimate how real my fear felt.  My heart beating loudly in my ears,  gray with flop-sweat and nausea, so by the time we paid the toll and rolled onto the bridge, I’d be weeping.

This may have garnered sympathy the first couple of times, but it got old quick (thankfully we didn’t cross large bridges too often) I would try and gulp in my fear, but once the toll was paid I would freak out, and the whole family would be in a frenzy ‘thanks to me’.

My father was unable to comprehend what a wuss I was- ‘Jesus Christ, Annie! Quit yer blubbering!’, while my mother would be telling my father to stop yelling at me (and then she’d yell at me), and my two brothers-tasting blood in the water, would dig their P.F. Flers in for a good old fashioned Sister Takedown.

‘Scaredy Cat!’ morphed into ‘We’re gonna crash!’ by the next round. It didn’t occur to them that they, too, would be plunging into the river below- I guess they felt it was worth the trade-off of mocking me.

Halfway across the bridge I’d be belting out the sobs, as my father threatened to ‘pull over the car and wallop us all’, while my mother massaged her forehead with her index finger and thumb, shaking her head, no doubt wondering why we couldn’t be more like the family she’d actually had in mind.

Once we made it across the bridge I’d be relieved, even good-spirited, and the waterworks would dry up like a four o’clock downpour in the Panhandle.  I might even try and lighten the mood by joking about my phobia, elated that we’d survived, high on relief. My parents weren’t falling for it though- they knew the scene would be repeated later, on the return trip. And then it would be a long time before we went into New Jersey again. Which some might say I should be thanked for. (Not me. I loved Jersey- never more than when it when it coughed up one Mr. Jon Bon Jovi to MTV in 1984)

THE LADYBUG: PART 1

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, The 60's on August 23, 2013 at 12:15 am

     

Courtney3

 

Me and Rob. I just won the tug of war for that book.

Me and Rob. I just won the tug of war for that book. And yeah- my hairstyle-it’s the ‘Eunice Higgins’

   

 

                       THE LADYBUG: PART ONE

 

    It was a Sunday. The sun shone brightly through the sparkling clean bay window, adorned in olive- green curtains with ruffles and matching cotton ball trim. The couch upholstery (presidential heads, covered wagons and old coins) was fluffed and pristine, the braided rugs freshly vacuumed, the coffee table lemon-Pledged.

My mother, Mary Jayne, worked the kitchen, replete in her cherry print apron, making h’orderves for the company that was set to arrive at any moment. The smell of vanilla and apple wafted from the oven. My brothers and I were in the Blue room (our den, named after it’s freshly painted sky-blue walls) watching ‘Casper: The Friendly Ghost’ (who I completely identified with as he struggled to fit in, but also envied because he could fly away at will and was barely visible…diaphanous in his ‘otherness.)

 My parents were having friends over on this crisp New England day in early May. Though it was still chilly outside, my father was determined to barbecue on his round charcoal grill, which he wheeled out from the cellar, cleaned thoroughly, then hoisted (along with a bag of Kingsford lump charcoal, and a can of lighter fluid) into the back yard.

  My mother filled the dining room table with platters of food- antipasto salad, deviled eggs, hard rolls, and two Lazy Susans-one with condiments: ketchup, mustard, relish and horseradish sauce- the other with finger-foods- black olives, green olives, baby gherkins, roasted red peppers. She’d also baked a ham, spackling it with brown sugar and pinning pineapple rings and cherries to it like badges. There was potato and macaroni salad in rooster adorned glass serving bowls and a vat of Boston Baked beans in a heavy, brown earthenware jug. I could always recognize a cooking-for-company frenzy by looking at mom’s two-tier wooden spice rack, the big gaps between the jars where multiple spices had been called to duty.   

  My Dad set up the drop-leaf rolling hostess cart with all kinds of liquors and mixes. There was a shiny silver ice bucket with tongs,  and a silver slotted plate with wedges of lemon, limes, maraschino cherries and cocktail onions. There were all of the fixings needed for Whisky Sours, Tom Collins and Martinis. He also filled a big white fishing cooler with beer (Rheingold, Ballentine, Schaefer) and ice. Waiting in the fridge was a colossal tray of hamburger patties, shaped and ready to go on the grill, along with links of kielbasa plus hot dogs for the kids. There was also a massive four pound steak, marbled with fat, a big bone running through its side that my father beamed at with loving eyes. 

    I was in dress clothes against my will.  A long sleeved white cotton shirt with a red Winnie-the-Pooh insignia on it’s turtleneck, red corduroy pants, white socks and black Mary-Jane style shoes, a black leather rose on each strap. (I was very impressed that my mother had a style of shoe named after her, but I wasn’t surprised. She was a very good walker!)  

My hair was painstakingly brushed (tangles ripped out in a hurry by mom as I wailed)- and held up by cherry-colored butterfly barrettes on either side of my face.  My two younger brothers had been scrubbed and shellacked within an inch of their lives as well, and were not very happy in their Ban-Lon shirts and dress slacks, cowlicks wet down, hair combed back. Not to mention the stiff, brown dress shoes they wore with the grace of tennis racket-shaped snowshoes, their slippery black laces constantly untying.

  Rob, who was five at the time, couldn’t wait to shed these clunkers for his faithful P.F. Flyers and sulked about the humanity of being forced to wear the stiff shoes. David, who was three, was far more honest with his feelings, and repeatedly pulled his off, hiding them under the couch cushions, then sitting atop them to further the ruse. 

   The visitors began arriving shortly after noon.  Some were familiar- neighbors from Muffin Lane, along with my dad’s work associates from his Insurance Company and relatives -including both Nannys (each bearing one beautifully frosted cake, and apple cake, respectively)

  My brothers and I were introduced to all of the unfamiliar adults and did our part being polite, putting on our ‘such good kids’ show in the living room, even though we were struggling with each other like the Three Stooges in the Blue Room. Pinching, slapping and wrestling over  jacks, super-balls and the tv guide, stopping abruptly at the hint of any bystanders. Eventually Robby’s friends, Johnny and Kevin showed up, and the boys went outside to watch Kevin’s older brother pop some caps and hopefully  ‘find some snakes’

    The company spread throughout the living and dining rooms, drinks and cigarettes in hand, the murmur of chit-chat cresting and falling, punctuated by squeals of laughter. About an hour in, while Frank Sinatra sang about a very good year, the front screen door opened with a screech, and in walked a girl about my age who was everything I was not.

   Her name was Melody, and she took my breath away. She had long, silky, white- blond hair that fell almost to her waist and big blue eyes, like puddles of turquoise. Her nose was small and upturned, her lips bowed. She wore a sky-blue velveteen dress, with long white puffy sleeves, lace ruffles and coordinating ribbon stitched into the wrist and bib, along with white frilly socks, and patent leather Mary Janes.

Her skin was golden, like she’d been kissed by the sun just so. When she smiled, I noted perfectly straight, white Chicklets, and cute dimples. Naturally, she was petite, like a fairy princess who slept in a walnut shell, using a flower petal as a blanket. To ratchet up the envy I was already feeling,  she was carrying a blue Kiddle Kase, swinging it from it’s white strap. 

Kiddle-Time!

Kiddle-Time!

   It wasn’t just me that was taken with her. It seemed like the whole room erupted in ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ and the words ‘beautiful’, ‘doll’ and ‘precious’ were volleyed across the adoring crowd. I had only gotten a lukewarm response from all of them I now realized. Melody looked down as she was being fawned over- flattered, but obviously used to it, batting her eyes like Bambi and feigning shy. To me, the only thing missing from the reception was the offering of a sash and a crown.

  Melody was the daughter of one of my father’s business associates and it  didn’t take long before my father was fawning over her, too- congratulating her parents on such a beauty, complimenting her dress, curious about her Kiddle Kase and what was in it. (Never once had he asked me about my Kiddles or any ensemble I wore)

   If only I’d been born looking like her, I thought. How happy my father would be! There’s be no more ‘moo’s’, no more mean limericks, everyone would like me -my life would be perfect! 

  Could it be that this girl was the daughter my Dad had wanted instead of me? All of my dolls, all of the girls in my storybooks were pretty. Only the mean ones were imperfect. It reached beyond my family, beyond Muffin Lane and across the world. If life was a deck of cards, beauty was an ace. I wasn’t even a picture card.

  After several minutes the crowd reluctantly dispersed from around Melody. People did need to refill their drinks after all. Her father let her down  and she continued to be complimented, her head stroked here and there as she worked the room like a golden retriever. In truth, she didn’t really ‘work’ anything. All she did was walk by and exist. People were just drawn to her.  

  Meanwhile, my father had a grill to attend to, and in turn, men with open beers followed him out of the room like he was the pied piper leading them to the promised land.

  My curiosity got the best of me, and I approached Melody, asking to see her Kiddles. She sweetly agreed, and we sat at the bottom step of the stairs, where she struggled a bit to open the case. The zipper was caught, but after a good yank, it burst open. Kiddles sprung out,  falling onto the steps and the floor, where I quickly jumped to collect them. She had five- all good ones: Liddle Diddle, Greta Griddle, Bunson Bernie, Lola Liddle and Calamity Jane. They all looked new. But Melody didn’t seem concerned with the dolls, she was too busy petting a metal Lady-Bug, winding it up by spinning its wheels backwards, then placing it on the floor, where it flew into the living room, sparks flying. Melody giggled and chased behind it.

“This is Lu-Lu!” Melody announced when she got back, holding ‘Lu-Lu’ within inches of my eyes. I was busy admiring her Liddle  Kiddles, but  placated her by saying “Hi Lu-Lu!”in a monotone voice.

  This cracked Melody up a lot more than it should have. She stood up and again put the bug on the wood floor near the front door, aimed it towards the living room, and rolled it several times backwards with all of her might.

  She let it go, and Lu-Lu whizzed and sparked, careening into the living room, right through a set of panty-hosed ankles and pumps, and straight ahead where it hit the edge of the braided rug, flipped into air and rolled like a car in a cop show.

  Mrs. Phillips- whose legs had almost been clipped, jerked her head around to see who the culprit was, an annoyed look on her face. It also caught the attention of  my mother, who was standing by and looked at me  sternly.  But when  Melody scrambled over to pick up LuLu, she was being ‘oohed’ and ‘aaah’d again, Mrs. Phillips stroking her blond hair. 

“What have you got there?” she asked, sounding completely enthralled, and taking another puff off of her cigarette “Can I see it?!”

  Of course, Melody was only too happy to show off her bug, and soon a small crowd was again focused on the little girl with the sugar-spun hair. My mother made a pass by the stairs, where I sat with Melody’s Liddle Kiddles, examining them for flaws, of which there were none. Mom looked especially pretty in her light yellow pastel shell, a single strand of pearls, white pumps and for the first time all weekend- no apron. Her dark blonde hair was in a bun, her pretty face complimented by the style.

“You’d better be behaving yourself, missy!” she said.

  I squinted my eyes at her, scrunching up my face. What the heck did I do? Was it possible that Melody could break the rules and get me in trouble? Evidently it was: She ran Lu-Lu all over the house, and rather than getting reprimanded, everyone was delighted.

  Mrs. Jenkins, who lived on Sunlit Drive and sometimes yelled at kids to get off her lawn and away from her precious petunia beds, almost tripped on Lu-Lu as she navigated the living room. I saw her startle,  the familiar dark clouds moving across her eyes, and expected Melody would get her just do. Mrs. Jenkins could yell almost as good as my dad. But moments later-miraculously- Mrs. Jenkins was hugging Melody, and petting Lu-Lu.

   When she came back by the staircase I asked Melody if she wanted to go play in my room, but she said no, completely uninterested. I  was insulted. I told her I had 16 Barbies and a real Christmas manger hidden under my vanity (my mom would kill me if she knew, but the family crawlspace was through a door in my room, and stuffed to the brim with holiday fare. Last week I’d made several of my Barbies sparkly boas with silver garland for their imaginary trip to Las Vegas)

  I asked again a few minutes later and Melody still said no. I couldn’t admit to myself that even if she’d said yes, I was probably going to stick her with Tressy, and the old Barbie whose hair I’d cut with safety scissors, the one who had a wire coming out of her wrist inside a circle of green mold. 

Trust me-my Tressy could only aspire to look as nice as this one!

   It was right around this time that Melody’s mother insisted that Melody ‘eat a little something’. Of course, Melody was the kind of child who didn’t like to eat and had to be monitored lest she starve herself-perhaps wasting away on a tiny tufted satin fainting couch.

  A few minutes later,  my father had brought in a platter of hot-dogs for the kids, and we all gathered around, grabbing for them hungrily. Melody didn’t want hers, even after my father mentioned he cooked it ‘special’ for her. I checked mine to be sure it hadn’t fallen off the grill,  rolled in the grass or been nibbled on by a squirrel.  Because, obviously mine wasn’t cooked ‘special’.

You Can Do It, Honey!

You Can Do It, Honey!

   A few ladies lured Melody to eat with a tiny plate of choices:  two  olives on tiny plastic swords, a saltine, a petite orange melon ball and some left-over garnish. A crowd gathered around the dining room table to watch.

  It was an eating play-off of sorts between the plate and Melody. I decided to go get some tutti-fruity ginger-ale from the kitchen, and cut through the hall in order to avoid the clusters of company sitting and standing by, coaxing Melody, poor thing, to eat.

  That’s when I spotted her. Lu-Lu. Sitting by herself in the corner at the end of the hall.  Lifeless and unsupervised. Vulnerable. I looked behind me, and seeing no one in the hall, I approached the black-dotted  bug. I reached down and picked her up with what I thought was the intention of returning her to  Melody. I heard the phrase “what a good girl you are,  Melody!”and a spattering of claps (no one clapped when I ate an olive! Heck- I could eat like seven of those bad boys!) And just like that I put Lu-Lu face down in my front pocket and felt as she dropped down  to the bottom, out of sight.

Girlie6

    

The Lady Bug: Part 2 (of 2)

In The 60's on August 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm

 

This ladybug was short on good luck, no?

Not good Luck

 The beloved tin Ladybug was now burrowed in the front pocket of my corduroy pants. It created a lump by my hip, one I was sure would stand out and alert everyone, including the proper authorities.

  From the moment I plucked the toy up, I was overcome with nerves. And so it was shocking to me that no one noticed or paid any mind at all. I walked gingerly into the dining room- just as Melody was being rewarded for eating a single olive  (standing ovation! sold out crowd!) with a slice of Nan’s frosted cake, one of the prized pieces with a pink confectionery rose on it. Melody only ate the icing, whispered the adults- this news was passed around the table like Secret Service Intel. Evidently, it was not a known fact in the adult world that if they could get away with it-every kid in the world would prefer ‘frosting only!’ Melody was running a complete eating scam, and hers was cute and fascinating-unlike mine which got me yelled out and grounded.

Cakemix1

   I was even less than pleased that one of Nanny’s cakes had been targeted to soothe Melody. Nanny’s cakes were special. I had intimate knowledge of how my grandmother made those roses- the piping bags, cardboard cones and metal decorating tips and nozzles.

  I loved nothing more than ‘helping’ my grandmother with her cakes, standing on a wooden step-stool, wearing one of her hand-me-down aprons. I’d watch in awe as she placed a small square of wax paper on a small plastic spindle, twirling it with her fingers while dropping frosting onto it, spinning butter cream frosting in a halting but precise pattern creating beautiful roses, like magic.

  I was fascinated by her paint brush and little bottles of food coloring, how she could lay two or three colors at a time out of those piping bags. I loved how she’d ‘accidentally’ get flour on her cheeks and nose, sending me into fits of laughter. She’d always play surprised –now how did that get there?-and call me a little rascal for not telling her sooner.

  But the best part of the cake making was when she would open up her special case of cake decorations, which she stored high on a shelf in the kitchen. Inside, lay a treasure trove of plastic figures and novelties: pink ballerinas, seals balancing balls on their noses, cowboys, several renditions of Santa Claus, reindeer, jack o’lanterns, witches, bunnies- even a Cinderella Pumpkin coach and an Apollo spaceship. I loved the clatter as they spilled out onto the table, the examining and sorting, all that went into making and presenting the perfect cake. But I’d always assumed this labor of love was exclusively for our extended family- not strangers like Melody.

CakesOne

  Meanwhile, with the lifted item in my pocket, I was acutely aware of everyone in the house and tried to read their every expression, knowing I’d committed a crime and trying to sense if anyone was wise to it. I’d never stolen anything before, and I didn’t enjoy the buzz of adrenaline rushing through my veins that made me feel extra awake, extra focused on my discomfort.  

  Yet no one paid attention to me in the dining room, which seemed impossible -couldn’t they see the boulder in my pocket? I made my way around the house, in and out of rooms filled with guests and still, no one paid me much mind. I got a few  winks and’ hello, sweeties’ but that’s about it. I considered putting the Ladybug back in the corner of the hallway where I’d found it, no harm, no foul. But what if somebody saw me? I felt stuck with my racy decision. 

   It was right about then that I heard the shriek. I’m not sure if Melody was crying out ‘Bug!’ or ‘Dad!’ but either way, her tear-filled voice filled the hallway. I stood in the living room near my grandmother who sat on the couch chatting with guests. I froze. Though other conversations went on, and much of the company had yet to hear about the bug-snatching, my ears were trained on the distant voices of Melody and her parents, like a dog to a canine whistle.

  Within a minute or two her parents were helping her look for Lu-Lu.  Before long, an ‘official’ announcement was made, and almost everyone joined in, eager to be the hero that returned Melody’s toy to her.

  My grandmother moved to the side as couch cushions were checked, and lifted her legs for the under-couch inspection. My father and his friends scouted outside, asking the boys if they’d seen the toy, shaking bushes, peering under picnic tables and porches.

    I noticed my grandmother remained seated, calmly sipping tea, not joining in with the hunt, and  suddenly I craved her company. I wished we were back at her house, baking, and cleaning, and taking a break to watch a little ‘I Love Lucy’, having lunches of liverwurst, cottage cheese and dill pickles. I scooted up on the couch next to her, and leaned against her gently, careful of her teacup and saucer. She smelled heavenly, like baby powder and Sen-Sens.

   “Hi Honey!” she said “Aren’t you going to help the girl find her toy?” 

   “No” I said, wondering how sad Nan would be if she knew I was a robber. Tears came to my eyes, so I looked up at the ceiling, hoping they’d plop back in. Melody came through the living room, held on her father’s hip, all red-eyed and sucking her thumb, her silky hair disheveled.

   “She’s got a nice dress” I said to Nan, testing her loyalty. Maybe Nan liked her better, too. She put her cup on the end table and hugged me closer.

   “Yeah, well…..bully for her!” my grandmother said, rolling her eyes. “She couldn’t hold a candle to you” 

  I couldn’t have loved her more in that moment. Even though I pictured Melody literally burning me with a candle, and was glad to hear it was off limits, my grandmother was choosing me! She reached down and picked up her cream colored pocketbook from the floor where it sat. Unclasping it, she asked “Sour Ball or Sen-Sen?” I went with the Sen-Sen like a self imposed penance. I needed cleansing.

   Eventually, the interest in finding the Ladybug waned- after all- a child had  lost a toy- not a limb. More people returned to the living room, and my mother announced she was readying the coffee and dessert table.

  A big silver percolator, perched on the kitchen counter, safely out of the reach of children, began to bubble on top. I knew this because by now, I had wandered into the kitchen to test my mother’s reaction to me and my plight. Surely she would notice the bump in my pocket and save me from myself. But mom was busy, running around, carrying cakes and pies to the dining room, and setting out small pitchers of cream and milk,  white milk-glass bowls of sugar, harvest yellow cloth napkins, and fancy, gold-leaf dessert plates. When we made eye contact, she suggested I go outside and play- she’d call me for in for dessert soon. 

Mom had a show to run...

Mom had a show to run…

   “Do my pants look good?” I asked, pushing  my hip out at a weird angle in an effort to expose Lu-Lu. 

   “Oh for heaven’s sake, you look fine! Pretty soon you can change into something else, so please- just be a good sport about it!” Earlier in the day I’d scoffed at wearing the corduroy pants, and had wanted to wear dungarees instead. 

   Realizing that if my own mother didn’t sense my guilt or notice my bulging pocket, no one else would either, I decided it was time to take the real litmus test. I passed through the dining room, where I noticed all of the lovely desserts spread out like a picture in a magazine, except for Nanny’s rose cake- which already had a slice removed for Melody. The once perfect cake now looked like it was missing a tooth. What a shame.

  I exited out the back door, walked down the porch stairs and kept to the perimeter of the crowds manning the grill. I heard adult laughter, the clinking of ice, and the whoosh! of lighter fluid being poured onto the flames. I kept on through the backyard, and down the steep hill until I came to the stonewall.  I scaled the wall as I had a hundred times before and walked up to Jenni’s  back porch. The screen door opened with a screech, then slammed with a whack once I was inside. I knocked on the inner door.

   Jenni answered and I could tell just by looking at her that she going somewhere. She had a bow in her hair (which I knew she didn’t like) and was wearing a pretty flower print dress (which I knew she didn’t like), white tights (again, no like) and patent leather Buster Browns (these, we liked…the boy and his dog under our heels).  

  I’d been shopping with her and her Mom when she got them. Afterwards we went to Kiddy-Town and looked at all of the beautiful dolls behind glass-the kind of dolls you weren’t supposed to play with, as Jenni’s mom informed us- which made not a lick of sense to us. What’s the point of a doll you can’t play with?

  But this was weeks ago, back when I’d been a good girl- before I’d gone gangster. I’d probably play with those special dolls anyway if I had one. I was lawless.

   “Where are you going?” I asked, deflated that I couldn’t just cocoon myself in Jenni’s room and read books until everyone left my house. 

   “Old McDonald’s Farm” Jenni answered. Lucky! This was a petting zoo/amusement park/restaurant on the other side of town that Nanny sometimes took me to. They had a train ride, and lots of cute animals. Baby chicks and ducks, little turtles, ponies.   

   “You can come in till we leave” she said, and I wanted to hug her. We went to Jenni’s room, which was off the kitchen. I walked directly over to her window, glancing up the hill to my house, on the lookout for traces of the police. I could see gray smoke rising from the grill, and the boys playing catch with a football. Ah- to be my innocent like my brothers!  

   I turned to Jenni, holding my arms out at my sides, like a scarecrow. 

   “Can you see it?” I asked her. 

   “See what?” she asked, as she was packing up her Little People Bus for the trip. 

  “The Ladybug!” I huffed. I was beginning to lose my patience with everyone’s weak powers of observation. Jenni stepped closer and closer, squinting her eyes, scanning my sweater and pants up and down, and across.

   “Where is it?” she asked. I realized she was searching for a real ladybug, which was Jenni and my favorite bug, even though, technically, she’d called it first, on the day we played  favorite bug. I’d settled for dragonfly, reluctantly.

   I reached down into my pocket and pulled Lu-Lu out. Where once I’d seen an innocent red-and-black Ladybug, I now saw something sinister- like a spider atop a ticking time bomb. I quickly put her down onto Jenni’s glossy wooden Mother Goose reading table. Jenni reached over and picked her up. She immediately began revving her up, the wing-ding-ding sound painful to my ears, the sparks signaling the tempers that would flare once I was found out. She eased the spinning wheels onto the table, and once they gripped on, Lu-Lu raced across the table, flew off the side into the air, and landed right in one of Jenni’s Keds sneakers, sitting over by the radiator. She was face forward, back wheels still spinning. Jenni laughed and pointed, but I couldn’t take it anymore- I had to confess!

    It was then that Jenni’s mother opened the bedroom door, purse in hand, all dolled up in a yellow mini-dress with long puffy sleeves. She wore huge sun-glasses and looked like Marlo Thomas in ‘That Girl’. She greeted me warmly, then told Jenni they had to leave right away- Jenni’s dad had the car running, and was waiting for them in the driveway. I picked  Lu-Lu up, carrying her in plain sight, hoping Jenni’s mom would notice and question me, so I’d have to spill the beans. But she didn’t.

  Jenni gathered up her Little People Bus and carried it like a baby towards the front door. Her mom placed a dark blue knit poncho across her shoulders, insisting it was too chilly to go without. Jenni sighed, and we stepped out into the crisp air.

  The Jag hummed in the driveway, steam rushing from it’s tail-pipe, it’s shiny black-onyx paint gleaming in the sun .I could hear ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ from inside the car. I knew Becky would be squished into the back of the two seater, but her Dad loved that car too much to switch it out for the larger family car. He liked to go fast.

  I waved good-bye to them and looked back as I heard the familiar crunch of the pebbles on the driveway, as the Jag’s back tires gripped the gravel fiercely. The brake lights went bright red, as they reached the end of the driveway, where the car stopped short to check for passing vehicles, before  roaring off down the road, ‘Let me take you down, coz I’m going….’ still audible. I walked around to the side of the house and climbed back up the stone wall.  I placed my feet on the proper rocks (which I knew by heart), hoisting my right leg up and over, gripping Lu-Lu in my right hand.

The climb was harder than normal to do in patent leather. I shoved Lu-Lu back into my pocket once I was over the wall. Even though the party crowd was high up on the hill, I wasn’t taking any chances. As much as I’d wanted to be caught (just to get it over with!), I now had my preferences on just how I wanted be caught, and by whom.

I didn’t want to be caught by Melody, her parents, or my father. That would involve yelling. I didn’t want to be caught by my other grandmother, whom I loved dearly, but who was far more intimidating than Nanny C. In later years I would describe her as ‘Maude Findlay.

Jenni's mom's doppleganger

Jenni’s mom’s doppleganger

   I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but the situation had spun out of control- and it no longer had much to do with Melody. It was about me, and my perceived slights and assumptions about what other people were thinking.

  I would come to find out in later years that, indeed, my father and I had very different senses of humor. Whether it was malicious or not no one could say for sure, but through my own actions I had let myself become jealous and petty. I crossed a line- and it wasn’t going to change my father or Melody- it would only change me!  And not for the better.

   I  slowly walked up the hill, skirting the grill crowd- mostly my Dad and his friends drinking beer and flipping hamburgers, and a few tipsy aunts dancing to the a.m radio as it squawked out a tinny version of ‘Georgy Girl’. My Dad called out to me: “Hey Annie!” but I couldn’t bear for him to be nice to me now, and ignored him. He had no idea the burglar he’d spawned. He’d really be cheering for Team Melody once this caper was exposed. It was also inevitable I  would be seeing (and feeling) the Fanny Whacker before sundown.

   I climbed up the porch steps, and pressed my face against the screen door. My mother sat at the head of the dining room table, sipping coffee with my grandmothers and various lady friends flouting bouffants , flips,  pastel colored dresses and capris, as they willed spring to arrive via fashion. (The same thing the men did by breaking out the grills)

  A heavy, gold glass ashtray sat in the middle of the table, filled with lit cigarettes, their smoke intertwining, having a dance, then swirling towards the ceiling,  A few dirty plates sat off to the side, remnants of cake slices and pieces of pie put out to pasture. My mother glanced over at me, no doubt seeing my face imprinted against the screen door like a stocking faced robber (most appropriate) and demanded: “Lisa! Stop that!”

I pulled my face away, and slowly opened the door, plodding over to where she sat. I leaned against her and fidgeted, hinting for attention, but she was engaged in lively conversation with the ladies.

Spring has Sprung!

Spring has Sprung!

   “Mom?” I asked, full-on moping.  I turned and tried to rub my pocket against her leg. Nothing. I was now getting desperate. The bug was beginning to feel like a hot potato. I left the table and went to the front door.  I walked out and down the cement steps, grasping onto the scrolled iron railing listlessly, then slowly followed the slate path across the front lawn to the street. I walked down the hill, dejectedly kicking a small stone, head down in shame, to the bottom of Muffin Lane.

  I stopped when I got to the sewer grate. I peered down into the dark, muddy bottom. I pulled Lu-Lu out of my pocket and looked at her closely- for the first time noting her pretty painted eyelashes and cute smile. I felt awful about what I was going to do. I held her over the sewer, closed my eyes- and let go. I heard a loud ‘ping’ and opened my eyes just as she shot off the grate, then landed on top of it. I had to step over and nudge her into the abyss with the tip of my Mary Jane.

  My heart dropped as she fell. I assumed she would fall endlessly and out of site, but she landed in the mud about four feet down. She stood out like a flower growing up through a tenement sidewalk. She looked so pretty, so innocent- and now she was cold, frightened and dirty! I burst out sobbing. I was the worst person ever.

  I thought of God, and Mary and the lambs, and Nan’s ominous church- and knew that I was a sinner from now on. And not just that: Batman, Robin, Superman, Courageous Cat- they would all hate me…I was a villain. I was Dr. Smith! I was on the wrong side! How was I going to live like this? How long did life go on, anyway? I hoped not too long.

“Holy Ladybug, Batman! Look at that bad girl”

   Still bawling, I ran back towards my house, up the porch stairs and into the living room. Melody sat on her mother’s lap in a chair, still  red-eyed from all of her crying,still sucking her thumb but now looking exhausted as well. I blew by her and made a bee-line to my Mom. Once there, I buried my face in her lap and sobbed even more loudly. 

   “What on earth is wrong?” my mother asked, standing up and pulling me towards the kitchen, away from the crowd at the table. Once there, she crouched down and looked me in the eyes. “What is it?” she asked gently, wiping my tears away with her upturned thumbs under both of my eyes.

   “Mommy!”…. I said, in between big breaths- “I TOOK IT! I TOOK IT!” 

   “Took what?!” she asked, holding me by the shoulders, trying to find a lower angle and meet my down-turned eyes. I just couldn’t face her after I admitted what I did. Shame washed over me in waves.

   “Melody’s Ladybug” I said, then dissolved into tears once more.

   “Where is it?” mom asked, all business.

   “Outside!” I moaned. 

   “Show me!” she said.

   I led her to the front door.  The ink was barely dry on the confession, but the wheels of justice were moving swiftly. And so would the fanny whacker. I felt phantom pain on my rear-end as I walked across the front yard, leading my mom to the sewer grate. I pointed down into the sewer, where Lu-Lu still sat with her cute little smile, and fancy lashes. Smiling at her assailant! You couldn’t beat the nice out of this bug!

  “Oh, for crying out loud, Lisa Anne!” my mother said tersely, shaking her head “What in the world inspired you to do something like this?”

   I shrugged my shoulders, bit my trembling lower lip, and said “It fell” before breaking down yet again. Snot bubbles inflated then popped from my nose,  my turtleneck  damp from the succession of tears.  

   Of course, we had to tell my father, who- along with his  buddies, went to the end of the street, lifted the extremely heavy grate, and fished Lu-Lu out with a metal rake. I ran to my room, and continued to cry, occasionally checking on the progress of the rescue from my second floor window. Lu-Lu was brought into the house, cleaned off in the sink and given back to Melody with much fan-fare and some applause.

  I overheard my father downstairs alluding to a certain ‘walloping’ that was in my near future. I hid under my blankets, fully dressed, anticipating the punishment. I was unable to resist leaving the door to my room open though, to hear the buzz about myself and my fate.

  I overheard several well-meaning theories- that maybe I was just trying to roll the Lady-bug down the street, and since it was a hill,  it got away from me, landing in the sewer. The truth was much worse- I was a monster. And yet- even at the age of six, I  felt something I can only describe as relief…relief  that I had confessed, relief that I was no longer carrying the burden of guilt in the form of a toy in my pocket, relief that Melody would be getting her favorite toy back, and that cute-little Lu-Lu was okay, after all. Had I known the word ‘redemption’ I would have also been relieved to know that it existed, and that it would be offered up to me-eventually-, by my parents, and their friends, and my Nannys, and maybe even Melody, though I never saw her again. 

Cross2

 

  I don’t remember the fanny whacking or the punishment I more than likely got that day, but I’ll never forget the weight of the guilt, and how cumbersome it was to carry. I would remain a person who moved far more freely without the weight of guilt, and one who couldn’t rest until it was absolved. Which of course meant I would never become a great leader, performer, celebrity or politician, but oh could I sleep! I could sleep like a log.

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. 

 

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 this could not always be avoided) We’d race down, then trudge back up-red-faced and frosty, breathlessly egging each other on- tossing snowballs, sucking on the enormous icicles we’d rip off the lower shingles of the house, sometimes using  them for swords, or as ‘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, violets and petunias and 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 all through the spring and summer. 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 and credenzas. 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 balls as 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. Make your own 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,  mesmerized by the curtain of snow that seemed to be always falling during these games, 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. I also honed my love of cuss words on gameday-who knew there were so many, and how interchangeable they were! It was here that my love of football 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 alive.

Maybe it was because our parents weren’t worried, or that they assumed we had common sense, it turned out fine. Maybe they were just too tired to fight it and rolled the dice. 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 fallible)-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.

Thirty seconds in, 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.

‘Bait and Switch’ (Follows ‘On To The Next One’)

In The 60's on November 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Friday Nights. The 70s. Partridge Family. Appointment TV.

I decided that the best way to entice Alex into forming a band was by bringing my Partridge Family ‘Up To Date’ record album to school. I felt it would automatically entitle me to speak with Alex, because The Partridge Family and record albums in general, were so universally revered in the third grade universe. My mother was adamantly against the idea and tried to talk me out of it, citing the chances of the album being damaged during the long school day. (Mom’s Prediction: 100% Probable) “You may as well be carrying an egg around school all day!” she huffed, but I did not see the connection (and what the heck did this have to do with breakfast?) She finally gave in to my incessant badgering after I promised that I would not ask for a new one when (not if) something happened to it.

“I’m in no mood for your hystrionics today, young lady!” she told me, like there was some special day when she was!

Complete with permanently sour smelling thermos.

‘Up To Date’ was, by far, my favorite album. I loved the cover artwork-individual squares featuring each Partridge Family member, as if on the hippest calendar ever! That sunny spring morning I set out: dented “Campus Queen’ lunchbox, which smelled faintly of sour milk, in one hand, and record album in the other. I quickly found myself holding the album across my chest, cover facing out- so as to declare my coolness to all passers-by and various school crossing guards, who did their best to act unimpressed and hide their jealousy. I walked with a bounce in my step, and basked in Partridge glory.

Ten minutes later, I arrived at school. I walked up the sun-dappled hill, the many crab-apple and maple trees forming a tunnel, following the sidewalk as it trailed up a steep hill, then leveled off and wound around the back of the school to the rear parking lot.

Here we would line up to socialize and wait for the morning bell to ring. Located in the actual parking lot, each classroom had a parking space, designated by the numbers on the curb, written in chalk, and subject to change. Luckily, there was a long line of yellow, plastic cones separating this section of the parking lot from the busy drop-off area, lest some stressed out parent in a wood paneled station wagon accidentally barrel through and mow down the entire student body. It was somewhat less than secure, but appreciated just the same.

Just as I predicted, the kids already in line for 3B immediately noticed my album, positioned as it was like a sandwich board across my chest. They clamored around me to examine my treasure up close. Bringing the record to school had been a genius idea! I thought, mentally dissing my mom.

“Wow!” said my BFF, Kristen,” I LOOOOOVE this! My Mom’s getting it for me,  when Bradlees does a sale!”

“Whoah!” said Renee Siegel, sounding bawdy, and exactly like Cher. She bobbed her head in even closer, like a free-reign ostrich at an animal park- zeroing in on David Cassidy, and licking her lips like a half-pint harlot. “He is so scorching hot!” she said, eyes a sparkle. I felt a twinge of possessiveness, and let out an involuntary little hiss.

Joe Smith, clearly perplexed and scratching his head, squinted his eyes and managed to bleat out “What the?…”-another insightful comment from his side of the peanut gallery. I had to scoot down considerably to let Lauren Goldman see it, as her eyes were level with my knees. Luckily, I happened to catch Barry Nelson, mid nose-pick, and milliseconds before he had the nerve to reach out and try to touch the cover with his nasty hand. I slapped it away, just in time.

“NO TOUCHING!” I bellowed, and the crowd scattered, like a flock of birds when the cat pounces.

Barry stood back and wiped his filthy hand across his Sears ‘Husky” sized, horizontal-striped shirt, and I made a mental note to have Kristen hit me up with a cootie shot later on. Better safe than sorry. This was going to be a long day, filled with hundreds of potential land mines, and most of them would be my fellow classmates.

‘Come ‘sale’ away!’

Since there was no sign of Alex yet, I spent the next few minutes perusing the lot and trying to show-off my record even more. Holding it against my chest and doing a slow spin, like one of those fancy restaurants on top of skyscrapers…very, v-e-r-y slowly displaying it in an eventual 180′, a gift to all gawkers. I felt as cool as Mick Jagger’s girlfriend,  getting busted at a Rolling Stones all- nighter, wearing only a fur coat and diamond necklace, as the Paparazzi rained flashbulbs upon her.  I could see the older kids-fifth graders- pointing and whispering -and the younger grades- well -who cared what they thought, really? All I could do was show them how it was done.

Finally, the bell rang, and the usual, semi- organized chaos ensued: Teachers barking out directions, instructing us on how to enter the building as if we’d never been there before. Like cops in rough neighborhoods, the teachers and assorted school personnel  were no-nonsense, and took an overly serious,  hysterical stance.

‘Move to the RIGHT!! Keep MOVING!! Go Directly To Your Cubbies! NO TALKING!”

All of them yelling and carrying on as if the bell had been a fire alarm. Sometimes, if gym teachers were involved-we even had whistles blown at us! Sheesh! All they were missing were the billy clubs and hoses. What did they think we were going to do? Veer out of line and slam into the brick building, like birds into freshly wiped windows? Sit down in circles and stage a hippie protest? Demand Equal Rights? Or any other unspeakable, liberal acts that might separate us from the sheep herd we were expected to be? It was a very stressful way to start the morning, and was the very essence of getting bossed around.  Unfortunately, it often set the tone for the day.

Teachers waiting for the morning bell to ring….

It was during this confusion that a very sour turn of events occurred. As I began to march into the school like a good little soldier, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Glancing down- almost as if in slow motion- I saw my Partridge Family disc slip free of the sleeve and crash onto the concrete sidewalk! A large split in the black vinyl appeared (coinciding with the one in my heart) during the first, gruesome slow-bounce, followed by three or four shorter hops, as shiny, black shrapnel exploded to the left and right, until, like a bullet ridden cowboy in a spaghetti western, the album spun several times and then flopped onto its side,  dead as a doornail.

My heart stopped, then reluctantly resumed beating with slow, chest thumping croaks. I felt faint. I collapsed to the ground, pebbles and dirt embedding into my bare knees (I was wearing a plaid jumper and-no longer- white knee-highs) but I barely noticed the pain.

I tried to make some sense of the horror I had just witnessed, and went through the first four stages of grief in about fifteen seconds. ‘This isn’t happening! God-damn it! Maybe my Dad can fix it with Super-Glue? I’m gonna kill myself!’ Acceptance would have to wait.

As predicted by ‘Mom-stradamus’

As I knelt on the ground, an army of kids legs marched by me on either side, trooping towards the door. It sounded like the bell-ringing, chattering children  in “Another Brick In The Wall’, and it irritated me even more than that song eventually did. (By the way, Pink Floyd: Life Sucks. Everyone’s Against Me! We’re All Gonna Die And It’s All For Nothing Anyway! Thanks for the info!)

When the wave of students subsided, Mrs. Cantarow remained, holding open the heavy entrance door with her back pressed against against it, motioning at me like an air-traffic controller:

“Young Lady! Get inside immediately!…NOW! (If ya don’t eat yer meat, ya can’t have any pudding!) I looked from her, to my broken record, and back, frozen in fear and sadness. I couldn’t just leave the ‘body’ there!

“I SAID-GET IN HERE!”she bellowed, arms up, palms to the sky as if to say: “Hey Dummy! Do YOU understand the WORDS that are coming out of my MOUTH??” She sounded thoroughly disgusted- as if I’d been caught loitering on a street corner, taunting passers-by with a three card Monte trick, wearing a ‘School Sucks’ t-shirt, a pack of L&M’s rolled up in one sleeve.

Here I was mourning my most prized possession, quickly scraping up pieces of vinyl and gravel and all she could do was shriek. I wondered when she last got a tune-up on her broom, and pictured a black, pointy hat on her head. It fit perfectly.

Mrs. Cantarow BEFORE I dropped my record….

Mrs. Cantarow AFTER I dropped my record….

I dragged myself up, making a last ditch effort to salvage what I could of my ruined record, mostly the big, pathetic pieces. I then dramatically trudged down the sidewalk towards the open door as though wading through quicksand. I half-expected Cantarow to swat me on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, not caring if she did. Behind me, a trail of vinyl crumbs mixed with broken dreams. I had no idea how I was going to hold back the tantrum that was brewing inside me until I was safely at home, hours from now. (There, I would ‘gift’ my mother’s afternoon with my Sarah Bernhardt caliber hysterics, while begging for a new copy of ‘Up To Date’ until she finally agreed to possibly get me a new one “when Bradlees has a sale!”)

“I can’t LIVE without my album!- I can’t LIVE! *sigh*

Naturally- as luck would have it, the day was full of reminders of my tragedy. Since it was Friday, there was lots of talk about watching ‘The Partridge Family’ that night, right after the Brady Bunch, but even the more subtle links felt like knives in my already bruised heart. Learning about birds in Science, ‘Partridge’ made the list in my textbook (Did you know that the plump little partridge is easily recognized by it’s unusual orange face? How could you not think Danny Bonaduce after reading that?!) I was unreasonably disgusted with a kid named Keith during gym class (the shorts didn’t help!) and Renee Siegel (herself with a bird name- the kind we all fed french fries to at the beach!) had the nerve to start whistling ‘I’ll Meet You Halfway’ while drawing ‘My Favorite Food’ during Art class! She then went on to draw an ice-cream cone- (how original!) Mine-a slice of white-bread and glass of plain water Still Life spoke to the prison that was my mind, stuck behind bars where the vision of my album dropping played on a continuous loop. Neither one of us made the board.

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