Call Me Lisa

Romper RoomMy niece’s husband has a great sense of humor.  He fits in well with our family because we all enjoy taunting each other to see who can get the most laughs at someone else’s expense. No one is safe and nothing is sacred in this wholesome Lord-of-the-Flies-meets-a-Don-Rickles-Celebrity-Roast family tradition.

Recently, it was my turn to suffer through the taunts when aforementioned nephew-by-marriage [we’ll call him Sean]  had control of the conch. He summoned the other family members via a group e-mail and it was game on.  He sent a picture of Santa consulting a long list of good children he would reward. All my sibling’s names were on it. But not mine. He found it quite amusing.

Little did he know the deep, painful history this would conjure.

A history I will disclose to you now in all its dysfunctional glory…

It all started in The Time Before Cable Television,The 1960s,  In other words, four channels in glorious black and white one of which was host to my most cherished memory:  Romper Room.  It’s where I learned to be a good Do-Bee [despite forgetting what that meant during my adolescence and subsequent failed marriages where I engaged in lots of Don’t Bees but that’s for another time]. It’s where my fascinating with entertainment started. I was mesmerized from the start.  I wanted to be one of those kids.  What star were they born under that bestowed on them such a coveted gig?

Regardless of my misguided envy, I held out hope. Hope that one day, Miss Nancy would speak my name at the end show when she looked through her magic mirror. If I couldn’t be one of those privileged kids, at least I might hear my name uttered by the golden voice of my godess-like idol. Each day I would wait patiently for the end of the show, teetering on my Romper Stompers for good luck.

But she never spoke my name.

EVER!

Each day, I would collapse in a heap of steaming hot despair, gnash my baby teeth, wail to the highest heavens [there’s medication for fits of this nature today, but alas, I was behind the curve in those early years]. It brought my parents great distress.  My older sisters, on the other hand, would point and laugh and claim I needed a good spanking.

And now, thanks to the man who shall henceforth be called “Sean of the Doom”  I learn that my name didn’t even make it onto Santa’s top-twenty list fifty m-effing years later?! Even after all the years of repentance, all the years of self-improvement, all the years of I’m-sorry-I-was-just-too-young-to-knows…I still can’t make the grade.

Come to find out, my name didn’t even make it into the Top 100 Most Popular Female Names of the 1960s. Yes…I looked it up.

The number one name was Lisa.

I knew a couple named Lisa during my childhood. I have no good memories of either of them. One tortured me during lunch in the third grade, the other had an aversion to bathing and smelled like urine.

I don’t care.  I’m going to change my name anyway.

So, please. Next time you see me?  Call me Lisa.

 

 

 

The Crossing Guard And The Blue Wool Jumper

When I tell people I was a painfully shy little kid, they look at me with this weird anticipation… like they’re waiting for the punch line.  But I really was. I wouldn’t raise my hand in class if the paste-eating kid who sat beside me was free-basing it under his desk. This could stem from an incident on my first day of kindergarten but that’s another story which will  eventually become clearer after I complete my regression therapy.

But I digress.

There is something I share with Sarah Palin [besides genitalia]. Just as she can see Russia from her house, I could see my grade school from my house. So I walked every day. And I had shoes, thank God, so this isn’t one of those “I walked ten miles to school in waist-deep snow with no shoes” bullshit.   The bane of my existence was not shoeless-ness but rather an obstacle called The Crossing Guard.  And back in the day? The kid who bore the heavy burden of keeping us younger kids from being hit by one of the four cars that went down our street every day was a bona fide authority figure. And I feared him.  He was a sixth-grade boy which put an extra slice of Holy Shit on this third-grader’s fear sandwich.

And then….the Incident.

It was a bright, crisp Spring day. I was wearing a light blue, wool jumper with cross-cross suspenders in the back probably worn by my two older sisters before me which, given the age span, made me a fashion disaster.  Not to mention my horrifying plaid lunchbox…PLAID! Oh, the humanity, the injustice!!

And this next part is difficult to write….

On the day of the Incident, I was late for school.  Late. For. School.  That’s like saying My Mom Got A Job or My Parents Are Divorced which no one in my neighborhood said in 1968.

And so it went. My mother shoved me out the door and told me to run.  I did, but it was endless like one of those crazy dreams where you’re running as fast as you can but never getting anywhere…and that wool jumper was heavy and hot and I knew what was waiting for me when I finally got to school….late.  I was Dead Girl Walking.

And then there he was.  The Crossing Guard at the bottom of the hill.  With his back to me! He doesn’t see me! He’s gazing up into the trees, picking his underwear out of the crack of his ass! How will I get his attention? How will I cross the street? Should I make some noise? I may have to speak to him!

No! I can’t!

And I ran home and collapsed on the kitchen floor.

My mom shoved me out the door again after reviving me with a strong sniff from a Mr. Clean bottle cap.

I had no choice now. I had to run balls out down the hill and across the street…alone….with no help from That Bastard, ADD Crossing Guard who was long gone. Happy now, Crossing Guard?  I could have been killed by one of those four cars! Or impaled by the hood ornament from Mr. Sawyer’s ’66 Plymouth Fury but hey, at least you dug your BVDs out of your ass you selfish prick!

I looked both ways fourteen times, closed my eyes and ran.

I survived.

I raced up the hill to my school only to be faced with obstacle numero dos.

Being that it was Springtime in Illinois, our school black top was covered in dark, murky rainwater…Our Own Private Lake Michigan.

And it had to be navigated.

My choices were:  A) go around which would mean being even later because Lake Michigan was pretty fucking wide that time of year….or B) run through the middle and hope I didn’t hit a deep patch.

I chose foolishly and my hideous velveteen oxfords found the deep patch. I  went full frontal into the murky void.

The next thing I remember is showing up at the door of my third grade class. My teacher looked me up and down, pointed me to my seat.  I slinked to my desk without a word and sat quietly mildewing the rest of the day.

In case you’re wondering, the approximate weight of a soaking wet, wool jumper is forty-six pounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound Of My Voice

When I was in the second grade, I got a rude awakening.  It was parent’s night.  Probably 1969 or some year where the technology had words like reel-to-reel or mimeo in the description.

I was a shy kid who never spoke up in class or misbehaved for fear of being sent to the principal [gasp!!].  It can still run chills up my spine just thinking about what might have happened had I acted up.  The principals of my era are all extinct now.  Relegated to peeling, photographic archives that hang on the walls of pre-60s elementary schools.  I don’t remember them being on the endangered species list but I read a while back that fossils of human-like remains clutching large, wooden paddles were found buried near an asphalt playground.

My school was one of those probably built with lots of asbestos and lead paint and all those great construction materials we didn’t know would eventually kill us.  Fortunately, I’m still alive to tell the tale of my very first “recording”.

Parent’s night always gave me the jitters but this one was downright nerve-wracking .  Our teacher, her name escapes me so I’ll just call her Teacher, had us all read in class one day so she could record it on her big metal tape-recorder (probably shared by the entire school) and play it back for the parents on parent’s night.  I wondered if  this would tack on unnecessary time to “the big night” and make us all fidgety and irritated.  T.V. was a big deal back then and most of us just wanted to get home and watch the latest episode of Bonanza in stunning black and white.  I know I did, because I was in love with Little Joe.

There was only one last thing to do after Teacher gave my parents the glowing review of Julie never utters a peep in class and can spell her own name and keeps her hands to herself  and doesn’t eat paste….you know, all the really important stuff.

The recording.

Teacher flipped a button on the hulking device.  The plastic spools spun and whirred to life….and  spewed forth the most horrifying voice I had ever heard.   Turned up to the right decibel level, they could have used that voice in a North Vietnamese prison to extract information from an unbreakable John McCain.

My head felt like it would explode.  I think I actually stumbled backward like the words were made of buckshot. I just wanted it to stop.  Doesn’t anyone see my ears bleeding?  I’m only eight for cryin’ out loud!

Peace finally came and I wiped the blood from my neck.

“Who the hell was that?  “That gul can’t say hu awws!”  I asked which was the most I’d ever uttered in a classroom to date.   The public smack upside the head for using the word hell went a long way in conquering my shyness so that’s the silver lining in all this.  I mean, once you get publically smacked by your parents most inhibitions fall away… until the time you give birth which puts the icing on the cake of who-the-hell-cares-what-anybody-sees.

I still hate the sound of my own voice….but I can say my Rs now.

Lying: The New Truth

It’s kinda like gray being the new black but more fucked up.

My first experience with a person who used bullshit as their own reality was in the third grade.  Her name was Carla.  I won’t give her last name even though she is one of only about three kids I remember from grade school.  There was also Lisa and Jay, both of whom smelled like urine….always.

I was envious of Carla’s page-boy haircut and freckled nose.  She was darling.  I can still see her.  She did not smell like urine.

But she did have a dark side.

I remember being profoundly puzzled by Carl and her strange, manipulative behavior.

Funny how childhood lessons suddenly come flooding back when you’re faced with the adult version.

It takes on a more disturbing tone when you’re older.  You know what I mean.

So Carla….

She was just like the rest of us, I thought.  None of us kids had money or family with money or friends with money or friends of friends with money (except cousins of my father who ran a farm implements company rumored to have had money despite the fact they never wore anything that didn’t have an Oshkosh B’Gosh label on it).  We were accustomed to never asking for anything because we knew we couldn’t have it.  On the rare occasion that I DID ask, my mother threatened to pull out the infamous “ledger” to show me just how hard it was to raise 4 kids and there wasn’t anything more boring to an 8-year-old than looking at a bunch of numbers in a 3-ring binder.   My mother knew how to shut us down.

The only claim to fame I had as a little kid –  besides brick rather than ply-wood on the front of our house – was a green stingray bike (not a Schwinn) and anything that the great outdoors had to offer which was free.  This made it all the more fascinating when Carla claimed to have the latest Barbie Dream House and an Easy-Bake Oven.  She knew I lusted after the Easy Bake Oven with its tiny little cake mix and single, bright lightbulb that gave it delicious, gold-brown life.  I don’t know why I was so fascinated by this invention but I was and obviously made that known throughout the halls of Rosewood School.

If only I had an Easy Bake Oven.  How grand life would be!

And there-in lies the problem.

Carla promised to give me her Easy Bake Oven.  All I had to do was come to her house and play.

You have got to be fucking kidding!! (of course I didn’t use the F word since the only curse word I knew in 3rd grade was “hell” but if I were in third grade today, I would probably use the F word)

After the choruses of Ode to Joy faded away, I remember thinking this was odd because I would have gone to her house to play even without the toy bribe but this offer was beyond my wildest dreams!.   Can’t blame a kid for caving to temptation….every good pervert through the centuries knows that, right?   Obviously, Carla was no pervert but you get what I’m saying. I also asked myself how all this wealth had been so well hidden for so long.  Hmmmm.

So off I went to Carla’s undoubtedly palatial estate that had mysteriously escaped detection in our metropolis of 15,000.

It was not what I expected.

Carla lived in a single-wide trailer.

Her parents were nowhere in sight.

She did not have an Easy Bake Oven nor a Barbie Dream House.

I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed but it was a profound day in my very young life.

It was when I learned that not everyone tells the truth.

It was when I learned that there are those who cannot see past their own desires and will do and say whatever it takes to get what they need be it friendship, money, recognition, a career.

For the record, Carla and I had a perfectly fun day doing what all small-town kids did in those days: making up stuff in the great outdoors and just being kids.

Lately, I’ve thought a lot about Carla and her need to tell such big lies at such an early age. It had to be more than a single-wide because none of us had a whole lot more than that and nobody cared.  I wonder what deep and ugly place that need came from.   Carla taught me the dark and pathetic side of lying that day and it stuck with me all my life.

Not long ago I saw a news segment about an author who wrote a book directed at recent college graduates.  In a nut-shell it was about why one should lie to get ahead because if you don’t, the next person will…better you than them.

I do not understand this thinking.

Never will.

I’ll tell you what else I don’t understand and that’s  how that tiny lightbulb could actually bake a cake.

A Dubious Distinction

Remember wax lips?

They still have them.

One night when I was with a couple of girlfriends, we ran across one of those vintage candy stores in Laguna Beach.  The kind of place that has all that great candy from your childhood like Cow Tails and Bit-O-Honey.

Naturally, we migrated toward the lips.

Big, giant red ones.

I was never into the wax mustaches or funky, hillbilly teeth but those  lips….now that’s what I call fun.

I couldn’t wait to get them in my mouth.  Just the memory of sinking my front teeth into that soft, chewy Red #6 brought a tear to my eye.  Oh, to be young again.

ME

Mmmm. Eee rrrr lvvv tees thnns.

FRIEND #1

Huh?

I remove the ruby reds from between my teeth to clarify; little specks of red still clinging to my veneers.

ME

I said:  I really love these things!

FRIEND #2

Wait! Put them back in.

She grabs her camera and I schmooze  for my close-up.

FRIEND #1

Holy shit!  You actually look good in those!

She eagerly shoves the digital image into the face of Friend #2.

FRIEND #2

Oh, my god!  She’s right!  You look like that figure skater, Oksana Baiul!  Your short blonde hair, your—

I snatch the camera and look for myself.

Damn.

They’re kinda right.

I pass it back.

ME

Fuck you both!  Why don’t you go suck on a Sugar Daddy and leave me alone.  Better yet, go take a giant puff off  a candy cigarette. 

I sulked the rest of the night.  I mean, why couldn’t I have looked like Marilyn Monroe or Angelina Jolie or some other hot mama with full, sexy lips?

Oksasa Baiul?

Thanks.

And no, I will never post that photo.

But here’s one of my dog.

Guess he shops at the same store.  His could use a little color, though.

IMG_4557

Hot, Baby, Hot!

When I was a kid, I lived in fear of something:

Puking in the school cafeteria.

Y’all know what I’m talking about.

It happened to at least one unlucky soul every school year as long as I can remember.

It was the ultimate humiliation. 

I don’t remember much about grade school (besides Mrs. Mace who was 112 and still teaching 2nd grade) but I can conjure every puking incident that ever occurred.

To wit:  Winter 1968.  The cafeteria is jammed.  It’s hot because our coats are still on from recess.  We’re sweaty.  The kind of sweaty only a Midwestern kid swaddled in wool can understand. The hairnet–wearing lunch ladies dole out over-cooked food to an unfortunate few whose mothers either worked (what? worked???) or couldn’t be bothered to slap a hunk of bologna between two pieces of stale Wonder bread and stuff it in a bag.  The rest of us enjoy mom-made PBJs and slurp down white milk purchased with the 3 pennies taped to the lids of our metal lunchboxes.  Mine was plaid.  Yes.  I said plaid.  Not Brady Bunch, not Flipper…..plaid.  I fucking HATE plaid.  Go ahead and laugh, shitheads!  My mom was frugal and she probably got a really sweet deal on that beauty beaucause no other consumer on the planet would buy it.  Just like the army green parkas with fake fur collars she got for $15.95 that EVERYONE in our family wore including my grandfather. I think they’re still wrapped in plastic and occupy a remote corner of closet space in my childhood home.  As for the lunchox…well….I’m sure my dad dug it out of the trash after I attempted to wipe it from my memory when I entered middle school. It’s probably stuffed full of old shooting medals or spent shotgun shell cartridges.  I suspect I’ll run across it again some day.

Anyway…..Robbie M. (name has been changed to protect his dignity) had a caring mommy like mine who packed a wholesome meal every day in Robbie’s GI Joe lunchbox (it was not plaid).  That lunchbox will forever be etched in my memory because Robbie hurled into it with a vengeance like he’d been subjected to a diabolical tilt-a-whirl operator at the local fairgrounds.  Poor kid.  I still think about him from time to time and what caused him to hurl so violently.  If you asked me,  I think Robbie had a nasty ear infection because there’s only one thing that can produce a color that distinct: liquid erythromycin…cherry flavored..  Robbie’s mommy must have forgotten to pour the Cheerios that morning because you never give a kid liquid erythromycin on an empty stomach.  Just a word of advice for any of young parents out there who don’t want their kids to end up on Jerry Springer with some unresolved self-esteem issues when they’re pushing the big 5-0.

Meeeeemories…like the corners of my mind. Misty, water color…never mind.

I wish I had better grade school memories… like, oh, I don’t know….a teacher who tried to inspired me to become something or another?  A teacher so filled with a passion for learning that it motivates even the weakest link in the academic food chain?  The kind that accomplished people thank 30 years later when they’re receiving a profound award?

But no.

I only have memories of incidents involving other children that I prayed would never happen to me.  Kids can be so self-absorbed!

So why this particularly memory?

Hot yoga. 

Hot like an in-fucking-ferno yoga.

For those who have never experienced this unique form of fitness torture, imagine this:

A room full of profusely sweaty people with lots of tattoos smelling of curry twisting themselves into knotted, agonizing positions in a room heated to about 145 degrees with 40% humidity. 

And I PAID for this? 

Yes.

And during that first, brutal step toward fitness enlightenment, I had but one thought:

Do. Not. Vomit.

Attention, Please!

I’ve never been one to want attention. 

 

I avoid it, actually. 

 

This, of course, begs the question of why I have a blog but more on that later.

 

As a kid, I wouldn’t allow people to take my picture.  I’m not sure if it was just to irritate my parents or if I really felt insecure.  I would also never play the piano for people. I was actually pretty good at it but for some reason it would just infuriate me that my parents wanted me to show it off.   They were proud.  I shunned this with bitchy little girl attitude that I still sorta have but don’t want to admit so I won’t.  When they visit, they still want me to play.  I still won’t.  I have no excuse for this.

 

I’ve come to believe this is some sort of deep emotional rebellion.  

 

Yeah.  That’s it; rebellion.

 

Because I love music in all forms so why wouldn’t I want to share it if I could actually make it?  Perhaps it was because the only thing kids were taught to play in small town Illinois was classical music.  I resented that.  What I wanted was to play that kick ass piano solo from Layla by Derrick and the Dominos but instead, I was stuck with Beethoven Concertos in some sort of minor or major or Debussy’s weird impressionism (although Clair de Lune haunts me in a weirdly comforting way).

 

And while I’m on the subject of music, I also played the flute.  My idol was Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull.  What a cool, wild-haired-spitting-into-his-woodwind-hunk-a-rock-‘n-rock he was.  But I’m here to tell ‘ya, they don’t make sheet music for that either so this merely added to my frustration.  Not that I would have tried to emulate him anyway.  I would have looked like an idiot.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention, I’m deathly afraid of fucking up in a public sort of way. Like playing the wrong note or losing sight of my place on the page; of getting lost.

 

Damn!  Why wasn’t I born with any of that try-out-for-American-Idol-no-matter-how-bad-I-suck kind of chutzpah?  *big sigh*

 

So….back to the subject of the blog and why it doesn’t bother me that it draws attention, albeit in a rather controlled way.  I’m alone when I do it.  There is no one watching me, no one listening, per se.  It feels like a solitary pursuit and that’s where I’m most comfortable. It’s peaceful and non-threatening.  I won’t release anything until I’m confident I haven’t made a mistake unlike music where a sour note is reflected on the faces of the audience…..like…immediately.   I am safe here and my sour notes are usually edited out before they go anywhere.  At least that’s what I tell myself, anyway.

 

One last thing:  For all of you out there with classical music on your “please hold while your party is reached” cell phone message; can you please just get some Coldplay for fuck sake??

On Memories

I’ve always been fascinated at how I can be immediately transported back in time by words, a smell, the way the sun shines on a particular stretch of road or a reminder from someone I don’t really even know.   It fills me with a sense of wonder.  It pushes away the jaded thoughts that threaten to undermine the last remant of “kid” that clings to my psyche like a drowning sailor if only for an instant.

That happened today.

A guy in a writing workshop I’m in made mention of a kid’s book called The Monster At The End Of This Book based on the  Sesame Street character, Grover.  It was my son’s favorite when he was about 3.   He’s nearly 31 now but that memory is so very precious that it had me rushing to Amazon to get a copy;  one for me and one for him.   I don’t know if he remembers it.   No matter.  I will send it to him anyway and tell him his sappy mom is not as hard-assed as she appears.  I’m sure he’ll laugh and pretend he doesn’t already know that.  He still humors me when necessary.  

The memory of that book hit me like a tsunami because, for me, it represents a bond, a connection so utterly profound as to bring tears to my eyes remembering it.  He never tired of that ending where the “monster” is revealed to be Grover himself;  as benign and innocent as that full-of-wonder little boy to whom I was reading the story.  I can see my son’s  beaming face to this day as I’d turn that last page over with the best mommy drama I could muster, that furry creature  revealing himself with the same ear-to-ear smile as if to say “See!  No need to be afraid.   I’m just like you!”   I may be wrong about this but I felt  it held a poignant message:  do not judge or fear others by how they appear but rather what is in their hearts. 

As a realist, I know that’s not always possible but as a human, I desperately want it to be.

What a glorious thing, memory. 

Thank you, David.  You are my hero today.