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Posts Tagged ‘family’

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. 

 

And The Cradle Will Rock

In The 60's on September 2, 2011 at 11:23 pm

It all started when I was born the size of a three year old. It was the early sixties, and  I’m sure the fact that their first child, a baby girl, was listed at 22 inches and ten-pounds-four-ounces came as somewhat of a shock to my parents. My father promptly nicknamed me ‘Moose’, and lamented that my bulk would be so much better served had I been a boy, ensuring my future as a linebacker for the New York Giants, and his future of free football tickets. As it was, an over-sized female was not ideal, and certainly less than desirable, as my entire future would attest to. I was literally born needing adjustments in order to fit in.

My Dad was a six-foot-three ex-football player (high school and college) so my size was attributed to his side of the family. They were of hearty Lithuanian stock, straight off the boat, and (I’ve always assumed) sepia-toned. I’ve examined pictures of my ancestors-particularly the women, and rarely have I seen a more intimidating bunch. Wide-bodied, dressed in frumpy, dark dresses, babushkas on their heads, aprons tied at the waist and wielding rolling pins-these were not ladies to be messed with. Their facial expressions went one of only two ways: Grim and Grimmer. I don’t know what went on in Lithuania, but as a child, hearing the stories my grandmother would tell, I imagined cobblestone streets, with sheep and chickens roaming free among the crowds, children in knickers, livestock, and mobs of dark cloaked adults.  I imagined my large and in charge ancestor women-folk stirring boiled potatoes in large iron pots, grabbing chickens off the street randomly (through the kitchen window! By the necks!) with arms the size of Christmas hams. Then, in one fluid motion, axing off said chicken heads on blood-stained, wood-block counters in dismal kitchens, under pictures of Jesus, the reluctant witness, who hung in several places on the kitchen walls sporting different poses (portrait, panoramic, nailed to cross) .  I assumed their lives to be difficult and stark, and secretly thanked god that the newer generation had gotten on the boat! Even though I eventually learned it was common practice to command people not to smile in the days of early photography, I had a feeling these women didn’t need to be reminded-as no smiles were on the docket for that, or any other day.

My mother was given a puffy, fabric covered baby book on the day I was born- little lambs danced across the cover, frolicking over the pastel word ‘Baby!’, the exclamation point seemingly demanding an exciting performance.  Inside were spaces to fill in all moments ‘baby!- height, weight, first steps, first words. I’m sure my mother intended to fill out all of the entries as they happened, but she became pregnant again- six weeks later!-with my brother, an ‘Irish twin’ and flagrant interloper- whose existence I would never NOT know. Oh well! At least I had six weeks of ‘me-only’ attention- God knows I didn’t want to be greedy! (In fact, rumor had it, I was pretty self-involved during that month and a half- thinking nothing of crying for bottles in the middle of the night and too lazy to even use the bathroom!)

Anyway- the baby book remains practically empty to this day, save for little tidbits. For instance, the first sentence ever written about me by anyone, is in my mother’s lovely cursive under the ‘First Impressions’ category, where she earnestly wrote:  ‘She’s really isn’t as fat as the picture shows!’ Somehow- my mother had nailed my life’s underlying theme, after knowing me for less than 24 hours!

Babyst3

Depicted here: Me as a baby, completely floored that I’ve got critics before I’ve even left the hospital for home.

It was also height that  set me apart.  I was roughly the height of someone twice my age, and there was constant dialogue about this, from family, friends, and especially strangers. ‘She’s how old?!’ a ‘friendly’ neighbor would squeal, upon running into my mother shopping at  Grand Union, while I sat in the back of the grocery cart, chewing on a rattle or babbling incoherently . I’d already outgrown the shopping cart’s front seat by eighteen months. (Which was a good thing, because Brother was sitting up there anyway, riding shotgun, and rarely looking back- the perfect metaphor for his life!)

“Whatever are you feeding her?!’ a Donna Reed wannabe would gush, white gloved hand to her rouged cheek in mock surprise and catty judgement. And then-predictably the jokes would swirl: cliches about Miracle Grow, Popeye’s spinach and Baby Huey-we’d heard them all. An original -and may I say-sassy!bunch of amateur stand-ups they were, so clever and original, as comedy gold sprang forth! Right there in aisle 3, by the Eight-O’ Clock coffee grinders at the Grand Union. I hear Jerry Seinfeld got his start in Produce but understood the risk going in.

My mother was used to the reaction and always defended me (because a girl must always be defended from the implication that she is not petite and dainty!) by saying, ‘Oh! She’s just tall’ but it got old, the same remarks over and over, and she later confessed that sometimes she would lie, and up my age to strangers. In fact, up until the end of middle school, the revelation of my age could always be counted on to cause a gasp, a squeal, a ‘You’ve gotta be kidding!’- a constant conversational ‘commotion’. It was a huge pain in the ass. And it was the fabric of my life….

‘This turkey feeds 8-10’

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