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Aunt Joanie’s Farm

In Stuff I Post Just To Keep This Blog Alive... on August 9, 2021 at 11:38 am

I believe I was four years old when I first visited Aunt Joanie’s Farm. In my memory, it was me, my parents, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Sam. My brothers- who would have been three and one, respectively, are nowhere to be found in this recollection- perhaps they stayed behind to be watched by one set of grandparents. Or perhaps I was able to completely block them out, like I often did at home. I do remember it being a very long ride from Norwalk, CT to ‘somewhere near Oneonta, NY’ which is as much as my father remembered when I recently asked him about the location of the Farm.

Being four, I occupied the airspace of a yardstick. The adult banter existed high above me. Laughter, excitement, feigned interest, the snap of a Ballentine beer hissing open, clouds of cigarette smoke-it was all up there. Every now and then the adults addressed me. Aunt Joanie crouching down in the barn to show me the miracle of a breakfast egg! nestled under a feisty speckled hen. My father, hoisting me onto his hip, pointing west to ‘where the cows lived’. My mother stroking my hair as I rested my head upon her lap while she sat at the wood block kitchen table, drinking coffee and chattering with the other women after dinner.

I didn’t know it then, but for the rest of my life Aunt Joanie’s farm, in all its bucolic splendor would be the default vision for any and all farms, whether in conversation or in my beloved books. Charlotte’s Web most definitely happened in Aunt Joanie’s barn. Though I never met her, Fern must have lived in Aunt Joanie’s farmhouse. Stuart Little paid a visit during his country adventures. Chester Cricket must have at least driven past. And every Dick and Jane book elementary school had to offer (and they had so many to offer!) mentioned animals, houses, barns, and food- all of which were abundant at the farm.

The vastness of the Farm was overwhelming, Uncle John owned all the land my eyes could see! The scents in the air- black dirt, manure, fresh cut grass, animal- mixed with a hint of pumpkin and apple were somehow ‘thicker’ at the farm. Though we were on Fall’s doorstep, the trees were still lush and green, small patches of turning leaves visible to the discerning eye, a telltale sign of the season to come.

The farmhouse and the barns were separated by a long, sparsely traveled road, probably a Route Something-or-Other. I don’t remember seeing any traffic go by, but I had my mind on other things. I couldn’t wait to meet the cows, in particular- to look into their deep, soulful eyes and admire their long lashes. I imagined they wore bells around their neck, and sometimes straw hats like in my Golden books, and of course they talked! Sometimes they even gifted people with milk in glass bottles like the ones left on our front porch by Clover Farms in the early morning.. I knew one cow’s name was Elsie, and she had ice-cream, so I wanted to meet her the most of all.

Uncle John and Aunt Joanie had a barn full of roosters and chickens, the stars of my first ever barnyard mingle. There were gates that had to be unlatched, dirt paths to be followed and then we were inside the great, red barn, outfitted with chicken pens and nests and towards the back, cool, shadowy stalls where the horses lived. There was lots of hay, both fluffy and compacted into giant blocks wrapped with twine. Unlike in my Golden Books, the chickens were a third of my height and somewhat threatening in the way they bobbed and weaved, anxious to peck at anything in their path with their sharp beaks. I hid behind my mother’s skirt for most of the chicken/rooster meet and greet. The horses, like the cows, were ‘out in the field’ so there was no feeding one a bright red apple in my upheld arm, but I hoped the opportunity would arise. My father did as well, as he was filming most of the visit on his reel-to-reel film camera. He must have said ‘Wave to the camera, Annie’ a bazillion times.

Aunt Joanie planned a feast for us all, a meal my father said he still remembers. Fresh turkey (perhaps, axed this morning, fresh), cornbread stuffing, homemade gravy, bread-and-butter corn on the cob grown on the premises, along with biscuits and the last of the season’s fat red tomatoes which lined the windowsill, salad ready. We had all worked up an appetite and were pleased when Joanie announced the meal would be served soon. It was just me and Dad at this point, as the women had (naturally-it was the law) gone on ahead to help with the setting of the table and serving of the meal. Uncle John approached us, wearing his farmer overalls, a red bandana ties around his neck and holding a pitchfork. He told us that the cows were finally coming in from the pasture and directed us over to where they would soon be appearing, while adjusting the corncob pipe that hung in the crook of his mouth. Dad and Uncle John had a grown-up conversation ‘up there’ while I twisted my father’s fingers in the hopes of speeding things up.

Finally, Dad said ‘Let’s go, Annie!’ and my heart swelled in anticipation of meeting my new cow friends!

My father and I walked towards the field, Dad holding my hand and pulling me along, carrying the camera in his other. The sky was a muted orange, there was a chill in the air and soon the sun would dip below the horizon. We arrived at the western field and stood at the wooden fence. My father pointed out the herd of cows approaching, still so far away they were only inches tall. They slowly rumbled forward growing larger by the second. To me it looked as if there were a thousand of them, black and white, solid brown, solid black-all incredibly substantial. They were much more intimidating than my Golden books had let on. (Between this and the chickens, was this my first brush with ‘fake news?’)

At about the same time they arrived, maybe ten feet from the gate- colossal creatures, not a bell in sight ,I felt my fathers hands, under my arms, firmly lifting me up and over the fence. The confusion set in: the herd approaching, my father, on the other side of the fence-the safe side-his camera lifted to his face, gleefully directing me to ‘smile at the camera, Annie!’. Perhaps this was the first time I experienced shock, as I felt the color drain from my face, my heart beat out of my chest and I was confronted with forty 500 pound animals heading my way at a fast clip. The ground shook. I shrieked and began to cry, lifting my arms up like a sorry little wishbone, begging my father to lift me back out….but he was busy filming and laughing. The cows were now looming in my space, mooing, I felt a bump on the back of my head-probably a cow sniffing at this curious being. The air became muffled with the presence of the cows breathing and mooing behind my back, like something sinister, scaring me to death. I clearly remember reaching the ceiling of fear-wherein my will to be saved turned into a low-key, ‘oh well’, surrendering-and acceptance of my fate. That I did not literally faint is a testament to a four year old fortitude I did not know I possessed. When I could no longer hold my arms up, I grabbed onto the fence, my face pressed against the post, not wanting to witness my own end.

After what seemed like hours, my father finally put down the camera.

He lifted me back over the fence to safety. I sobbed and sobbed, hiccupping from a loss of breath, clawing his leg with all of my strength and vowing not to let go.

“Oh, Annie! Quit your blubbering!’ he demanded as he pulled my arms from his leg. ‘They’re just cows! What are you even afraid of?’

The trust I had in my father began to unravel that very day. Before that, I lived with an assumed sense of security that my father would be my protector, whooshing in to save me like the Superman we watched on television. Clearly though, looking back on it, it marked the beginning of a deep fear, not of cows, but of him.

Prologue: We both have our versions as to what happened that day. My father insists the cows were already by the fence, lazily munching on clover, meandering about, swatting flies with their tails. (In the the e-mail about the farm he refers to the incident as ‘the time you were afraid of the cows’ and ‘when you were crying about the cows’) In my mind, they galloped over the horizon like a herd of buffalo in an old western, hooves beating the ground, shaking the earth, menacing. The cows may as well have been wolves, and my dad threw me to them. I don’t think he meant to terrorize me (I HOPE, at least).. I’m forever grateful it did not affect my love of farms or cows. I wish I could remember telling my mother what happened-I must have, right? My father has since left me all of his reel-to-reels…and I know the trip to Aunt Joanie’s Farm is among them. I think it’s time to get them converted and find out. Perhaps the truth is where it usually is: somewhere in the middle. I cannot convey how much I hope my version-and one of my strongest memories- is wrong.

* Of course a four year old could not have been as aware of the pastoral ambiance…I mean, what four year old would use the word bucolic-so I made sure to use every cliché in the book, my favorite being Uncle John in overalls and bandana, holding a pitchfork and sucking on a corncob pipe! What the hell! lol!

‘SLIPPED DISC’

In The 60's on June 15, 2021 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!”

“Woah!” 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 360′, 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. Which, in turn, created the very chaos it was trying to avoid.

‘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  white knee-highs, rocker that I was) 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.  (Pink Floyd, I love you but your ‘life- sucks- everyone’s- against- me- we’re- all- gonna -die’ message really harshed my buzz in later years as I cowered behind a cloud of stonage, afraid for my life!! Why did you have to be such sticklers for the truth?)

When the wave of students subsided, only 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-like 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 disc, 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 (tonight Greg was getting caught with cigarettes!), 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 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 display board.

Seventh Grade Gangster Of Love….Part 1

In The 70's on April 27, 2021 at 5:57 am

‘Seventh grade is gonna be a trip!’ Jackie exclaimed, holding her paper schedule out to compare with mine. We had Mr. Gates twice that year- once in the Fall, and again in our last semester. Jackie and I didn’t share every class, so we were thrilled when we found we out had Metal Shop- together! as our final class of the day on Wednesdays and Fridays. This meant we could hang out in Mr. Gates class, barely do any work (he didn’t care!) and leave school together-we could catch the bus, or better yet- walk home and wait for the after school shenanigans to find us.

Nathan Hale: The ‘Junior Jail’

By the time June arrived, both Jackie and I each had boyfriends. Jackie was seeing a guy named Mike, who worked at the car wash on Westport Avenue, and went to Norwalk High. He was a much older man, a tenth grader. He wasn’t ‘to-die-for cute’, but he was one of those guys who, the better you knew him, the cuter he got. Mike was 16, and had a banged up brown Pinto which we loved, as he drove us around town endlessly, a delicious taste of the freedom we, too, might have when someday we got our licenses. Imagine- you feel like going to the beach-and you just go! Need something at Bradlees? Bam! You’re there! We were thrilled to go anywhere with Mike, and we’d tool around listening to WABC radio through his tinny speakers, singing along to “Band On The Run’ and ‘Bennie and the Jets’, and smoke our cigarettes like the high school kids we idolized. Mike was also known to bring us to Carroll’s and buy us 35 cent hamburgers, and sometimes, even fries to split, depending on how his tips went that day. Jackie, we both agreed, had found herself a catch, and I was glad to be along for the ride. Even if I wished Mike would invest in an 8-track player and some new speakers.

Lots of cool guys worked at the car wash..

Meanwhile, I was ‘dating’ Joey Baducci (by dating I mean: standing next to him at the pool hall and sometimes letting him kiss me -closed mouth of course!) I’d first met him at the beach, a few weeks earlier when Jackie, Mike and I were hanging out in the crowded beach parking lot on an early Friday evening. I was bored out of my mind, drinking what was left of a warm Shasta Root Beer, trying not to look at Jackie and Mike who were making out like Mike was leaving for the war. They had been promising for the past forty five minutes we were going to Carroll’s and I had skipped dinner in anticipation, grabbing only the soda as I sprinted out of the house.

Hanging out with these two could turn into being a third wheel on a dime- as soon as the kissing began- and nothing says ‘you don’t have a boyfriend’ as clearly as watching another couple make out, so I finally decided to walk over to the snack bar, and then maybe the pier. The sun was easing down on the horizon, a fiery orange ball, casting flame colored shadows across the sky, washing out the brick walls of the Calf Pasture outbuildings.  Soon it would be dark.

I started off across the lot. Somehow, Jackie noticed I was on the move (she must have come up briefly for air) and insisted that they come with. Whatever. The love birds trailed me like I was dropping crumbs, as I clomped along like a show-horse in my new white clogs. My flared hip- hugger jeans were extra long- so you couldn’t actually see my new clogs, but you could sure hear them. Any louder and I end up tied up to a lamp post! My halter-style denim vest- which tied behind my neck was nothing if not tres chic, showing just a hint of tanned cleavage. (Years later, I’d see this exact outfit on an undercover cop posing as jail-bait on 20/20)

Anyway, I could vaguely hear someone calling my name above the crowd. Or at least, someone was calling out ‘Lisa’ to any of the fifty thousand Lisas who were hanging out at the beach in the mid 70s.  But sure enough, I noticed Tony Baducci waving his hands at me. He was standing in front of a line of sweet muscle cars-Camaro, Chevelle, Camaro, Roadrunner- with a crowd I didn’t know. Mostly high school guys, probably gear-heads. They always had the best cars.

“This way, guys” I said to Jackie and Mike, gesturing the change of direction like an air traffic controller guiding a plane to the gate. The two of then walked arm and arm, forehead to forehead (hurl!) barely glancing over, then veering clumsily like loopy contestants in a three-legged race. Almost inevitably, a carload of boisterous teens almost ran into them, and the words ‘Watch it, D***wads!’ echoed out behind me. Glad someone said it. You would think this would stop them, but they hardly noticed. 

I approached Tony, who was acting overly happy to see me, as if we hadn’t just been together in classes all day hardly even acknowledging each other. Tony had longish, shaggy, brown hair, big brown eyes and a crooked nose that somehow made him look cool. In fact, he would have been boyfriend material if only he had been half-a-foot taller.  We didn’t run in the same circles because he lived across town from me, on the far side of the school district. Though this would matter less and less, and eventually not at all by the time we had cars -right now- at fourteen, it was important to keep your friends close by for convenience sake. Phone friends were good- don’t get me wrong- but you needed someone to traipse through the woods and smoke cigarettes with- someone whose house you could escape to when all hell broke loose in your own. In other words: someone within walking distance. Jackie was my close-to-homegirl.

Smoking: Why do it alone?

“How you doin’, Lisa?’ Tony asked excitedly when we walked up. “What are you doin’ down here?”

Like I was the last person he’d ever expect to see, despite the fact that what seemed like the entire junior-and senior-high schools were here at the beach. If there was a more popular hang-out, it was yet undiscovered.  Tony was smiling kind of weird and kept glancing at the guys standing behind him, who all stared at me with laughing eyes. I shrugged my shoulders, pointed at Mike and Jackie, who stood behind me sucking face and brilliantly said “I dunno……..just hangin?’ I mean- what is anyone doing down here?

Abruptly, Tony said “Lisa- this is my brother, Joey” and pointed to a guy standing to his left. A tall, sun-drenched guy-much older, maybe even 20 (!) with long, dirty blonde hair, wearing jeans, no shirt, and holding a Budweiser pushed him forward, and all of the guys laughed. Joey looked irritated and put-upon, but he held his hand out and I shook it. He was taller than me and wearing a blue silkscreen ‘Keep On Truckin’ t-shirt. He had thick brownish-red hair, afro-ish in texture and style, a sprinkle of freckles across his nose and cheeks, and a noticeable resemblance to Tony in his brown eyes. 

Joey was a stylish kinda guy…

“Hi!” he said flatly. Then he stared at me. Uncomfortable silence followed, and threatened to take over. 

Suddenly- someone’s car stereo blasted to life:

“Some people call me the Space Cowboy….(doodoodoodoodoodoodooodo) Some call me the Ganster of Lo-ove (doodoodoodoodoodoodoodo)…Some people call me Maurice…..(whit-wooo)….

We all jumped, like cats in response to any sound or movement. My heart thumped out of my chest. The stereo, which belonged to the shirtless wonder sounded awesome, once the startle passed. His car was a sweet silver Camaro SS, with black stripes on the hood, jacked up high like a toddler in her mother’s high heels.  It had shiny silver rims, Cragars all around. It was my dream car and my dream stereo.  

In order to hear ourselves talk, we had to move away from the stereo’s force field, so the five of us walked away from the car until the music was at a reasonable decibel. It was quite the voyage.  (Which was an homage to the intensity of the Camaro’s sound system!)

Halfway across the parking lot, we could once again hear ourselves talk. Tony got the ball rolling by telling Joey we were in Metal Shop together, and eventually Joey started talking a little. He had a nasally voice that brought to mind Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.  Maybe he had a cold? Joey told me he went to Norwalk High, was in tenth grade, and was getting his license next Saturday morning. I asked him if he had a cold, and he said not that he knew of.

“Wait’ll you see his car, Lis!” Tony said suddenly, to which Joey blushed and said “It needs work, but….”

To the left of me,  Jackie pulled her mouth from Mike’s with an audible ‘pop’ and said “So- are we goin’ to the snack bar or what?” wiping the slobber off her chin by rolling up the bottom of her t-shirt (hey! I see you went with the white bra covered in tiny red roses…now I can sleep) and wiping. I guess all semblance of order was out the window for her. 

“Ummm…I was waitin’ on you!” I said defiantly. Tony, sensing we were leaving blurted out: “Hey Lisa. Gimme your number” At which Joey elbowed him hard and spit “Don’t!” under his breath…Good Lord! These two were not on the same page.

Paper mixed with little specks of candy …mmmm!

I told Tony my number was ‘in the book’, along with what street I lived on. It’s not like any of us had pens or paper anyway. I wasn’t even clear on who was going to call, or even why, but the situation seemed harmless, so I went with it. Let the future me deal with it.

I said ‘Later!” then me and the lovebirds headed to the snack bar, where I bought a pack of Candy Buttons with my paltry change while Mike shared a red-checkered cardboard box of fries swimming in ketchup with Jackie, then devoured a delicious looking yellow Scooter Pie. My stomach growled. I had planned on catching the sunset, but by the time we walked the pier, the sun was already gone, leaving in it’s place a dark gray sky. We did however, see some impressive pails of bluefish and snapper, caught by the old men on the docks with bamboo fishing poles. Men with leathery, brown faces, who spoke only Spanish and whispered ‘bonito’ as Jackie and I strolled by, abruptly turning away at the sight of Mike. I was so hungry by now that I mentally pictured grabbing one of the fish in the pail and eating it cartoon-cat style, pulling out a complete fish skeleton when I was done and tossing it off the pier into the Sound.

The Pier

 

Seventh Grade Gangster Of Love: Part 2,3

In The 70's, Writing on April 26, 2021 at 9:13 am

When Tony actually called that next Saturday, I was surprised. Fact was, I’d forgotten all about our conversation at the beach. But I was more than happy  to meet him and his brother Joey, who said they’d pick me up in front of the Woods, because it sure beat what I was doing, which was nothing. I took a shower and put on my navy blue halter top, the one with the white polka dots, faded bell bottoms, tan suede belt, and white Adidas with blue stripes. Of course, I added my ‘gang-affiliated’ red, white and blue terrycloth sweatband from Trey, lest I run into any of my fellow Top Sixers out for an afternoon cruise.

The Woods. With a capital ‘W”

I clicked open the screen door and headed down my steep front lawn, then  stood at the end of Ronnie’s driveway. Cars flew by, zooming up and down Wolfpit Avenue, and horns beeped, guys shouting ‘wooo!’ and other stuff as they sped past. It scared me when they did this, it was aggressive; almost threatening. Of course, I’d get used to it, and eventually even (kind of?) take it as a semi- terrifying compliment? but this was a confusing time, hormones affecting everything in our lives now.

After a few minutes, I spot what Tony had described as a ‘silver’ Chevelle driving towards me. I guess primer gray is a kind of ‘silver’. Joey slowed down and pulled carefully onto the strip of grass and dirt in front of the Woods. He was being very precise-you could tell- not settling for the spot until it was exactly right. Moving forward, then back, then forward. If I’d had a tape measure we could have verified his dirt to grass to tire ratio. I look both ways  and crossed the street, skirting around the back of the car to the passenger side. As I approached, I notice Joey pushing Tony, and Tony pushing back, and I hear Joey say, in a growl ( I suspect this is a familiar tone to Tony) “Get in back, asshole!” but they both stopped short as my bare midriff is framed by the open window (super sexy with dabs of pink calamine lotion from yet another bout of poison ivy). Tony scrambled to open the door, then scoots into the back, while I slipped into the front seat.

Joey’s Chevelle on a good day. Sweet!

“Nice car!’ I say, as I get in. It’s not exactly super nice now, but I see it’s potential, without a doubt. There’s no hiding the beauty of an American muscle car, regardless of condition. Good bones are hard to come by. 

Joey blushes, then  grins with pride and says ‘Thanks!” and I can tell it’s already the best car to him.  I turn around and say “Hey!’ to Tony, who smiles and gives me the thumbs up sign.  We sit there for a minute, no one saying anything.

“Welp….where are we going?” I ask, anxious to get a move on, and verbally dancing to try and prevent any signs of  it being awkward, since I can’t deal with uncomfortable silence. I also want to leave before I’m spotted ‘in a car’, as I’m (technically) forbidden to drive in cars yet, though mustn’t we all agree that as far as that goes, the train left the station a long time ago? 

“Where do you wanna go?” asks Joey, which I take as a good sign. A team player. I quickly look him over and decide he’s pretty cute. His brown hair is in a neat white-boy ‘fro, and he’s wearing  a Stones Tongue t-shirt and jeans. This is somewhat problematic, as music wise- it tells me nothing. The Rolling Stones in the 70’s are the kind of jumping off point that can land you anywhere. Joey could be into Black Sabbath, Loggins and Messina, or Lawrence Welk for all I know. And only one of the three is acceptable. Still, it beats Tony’s iron-on transfer t-shirt: two cartoon frogs underneath which reads: “Your Pad Or Mine’ (no question mark) with little green hearts above their heads. I know one of the frogs is a girl, because she has on lipstick and mascara. If the lilly-pad’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin?

Your Pad or Mine?

I suggest the pool hall over by Bagel King, which is close by and probably pretty happening on this early Saturday afternoon. The guys agree it’s a good idea. Joey adjusts his side and rear view mirrors, and is very thorough and careful about pulling back out onto the road. He’s only had his license for two hours, but to his credit, drives like someone who’s had it all day. 

Sure enough, the pool hall is bustling, the parking lot is abuzz with people milling about and we wave and nod to those we know, or with whom we feel an affinity through t-shirts and hair lengths. Joey parks a good distance from anyone, so I assume parking isn’t his forte yet. Inside there’s a fury of commotion. Joey holds the door open for me (another good sign), and I feel a strong, welcomed blast of a/c, and hear the opening notes to ‘Summer Breeze’ coming from the jukebox, along with the crack of ball-on-ball action atop the green felt covered pool tables.  There are no open tables, so Joey tells me he’ll be right back, and heads over to put his name on the list. Tony and I walk the perimeter of the room, looking for familiar faces. I always feel so exposed in places filled with people until I find refuge in a familiar group of buds. 

C’mon Norton! Just hit the damn ball!

Joey joins us again, and asks me if I want anything from the vending machine. Nah. I could never eat in front of all these people! We lean up against the wall, and watch various games in progress. I like that Joey’s taller than me, so that also gets an invisible thumbs up. At 5’8, you’d be surprised at how few guys are even close to my height, especially at 14 years old. The jukebox plays ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and the mood gets funky. Well- as funky as a room full of white people can get, anyway. I see that guy again- the one who looks like the singer in Pink Floyd, the one with the suede fringed jacket who has the chopper right out of ‘Easy Rider’. He stands to the side of one of the tables, holding a pool cue by his side, waiting to take a shot. He looks me in the eye, winks and smiles. I smile back,  then avert my eyes and feel the heat of a blush in my cheeks.

By the way, which one’s Pink?

What I remember most about these early relationships is that I had no idea (nor did I spend much time contemplating) what they were, or what they were supposed to be. At fourteen, the thought of sex didn’t even cross my mind! Kissing did, but certainly not sex! Bad things happened in the ‘sex world’. Girls ruined their lives with bad reputations and babies could be conceived (there goes all the fun in life! I knew that from babysitting!), and evidently,  once you ‘did it’ guys would never call you again. Which was part of the confusion. Why did guys even want to do stuff with a girl that would make him not like her anymore?  I would’ve been mortified that I was so replaceable….had I been even half aware.  As a young woman I took it as a compliment when guys liked me, and thought it was something about how ‘witty’ and ‘deep’ I was that attracted boys (and made me unique)- when in fact, at that age, the last thing on a guys mind was a girl’s mind!

Only girls with big ‘personalities’ made the cut….

Still, I had known, since last summer in Florida, that something had changed in the way guys were looking at me, by the way they were yelling things out of cars and whistling, and the way that the gross businessman had twirled his tongue at me, day after day (scaring me), as I rode my beach cruiser around the neighborhood, looking for a pick-up game of kickball, or someone with a pool. I knew things were different from the way my grandfather and grandmother discussed what I was wearing all of a sudden (Grandfather: ‘Jesus Mary and Joseph, she’s dressed like she’s on her way to Bourbon Street!’ Grandmother: ‘Oh Peter! She’s wearing shorts and a bathing suit. It’s 99 degrees in the shade out there and she’s going swimming!’) I knew when the lady next door to their house predicted I would be a ‘heartbreaker’ and then she and my grandmother  laughed. That sounded awful, like I was going to be cruel! How dare she? But nothing was clear. Except that a shift had taken place, and that there might be no going back. Which was in many ways sad.

The thing was: I liked the anonymity of being a kid .I liked being autonomous-I’d gotten comfortable with it.. I liked living life under the radar. I liked not worrying about my appearance, or wearing make-up, or putting together ‘outfits’- I liked to roll out of bed, grab a ping-pong paddle and find someone to play. I liked eating and running and playing outside without worrying ‘how it looked’. I was uncomfortable, and achingly self-conscious in this new ‘spotlight’. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who measured their self worth by how desirable they were to the boys. I didn’t care what the boys thought, and didn’t want to. If anything. let them be the worried about what I thought! But I could feel the whole mess coming at me….complications and drama, like a giant wave- and I knew I couldn’t run far enough away not to get wet-or hurt- or drown. I never would have willingly left the cocoon I was in, it was fine! Sure, we all had problems here and there, but it was easy to push them to the side and just live!  The girl I was was okay and liked her simple life. At least until until Gollum, the evil one -stepped up and slipped away with her. 

PART 3: THE FACTS OF LIFE

When I was twelve my mother did a number on me.

My mother was pretty easy-going and even funny, but when it came to the subject of sex, she wasn’t exactly forthcoming. I was eleven-going-on-twelve when she decided to tell me the facts of life, though had I known this was the plan I would’ve been much less on board. That balmy summer night, we stopped at Venezia’s and got a mushroom pizza, then drove down to Shady Beach in her Gold Duster to have dinner by the sea. An uneventful, but pleasant evening. We sat at a picnic table, both eating a slice, complimented the gentle breeze and the temperature,  as we dabbed the corners of our mouths with paper napkins. Until, after some more small-talk when she suddenly changed things up  and announced: “It’s time we had ‘The Talk!” She may as well have pulled out a switchblade- that’s is how ambushed I felt. It was ‘Shady’ beach alright! 

About to take a nice bite of delicious pizza when she said this, I stopped abruptly, furrowed my brows and asked ‘What talk?’ in the same way little Arnold might say: ‘Whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?’

Remember, this was the 70’s-the decade of After School Specials, and ‘talks’ abounded. The Drug Talk-starring ‘Pot leads Into Heroin’ spiel, the ‘Someone’s Dying/ Already Dead’ talk, the ‘Hitch Hiking Leads To Murder’ talk  ,and of course, the classic  ‘Dirty Old Man In The Park’ talk…..you name it -there was a talk. But the worst one of all- was the Sex Talk. I rolled my eyes and realized my mother had cunningly set the trap by luring me in with mouth-watering Venezia’s pizza. Well played, Mary Jayne…I made a mental note to stop liking pizza so much.*

“Can we at least wait until I’m done eating? Because I know this is gonna make me sick…” I said petulantly, rolling my eyes.

My mother let out a big sigh, and stared directly at me “Well…..I guess….” she said, obviously disappointed. I proceeded to take tiny bites of my slice, and even began pulling off some of the cheese in little strings and individual mushrooms in a lame attempt at stalling. Is there anything grosser than your mother talking about sex? (Well, maybe your father talking about sex?) She kept staring at me, and I kept pretending I didn’t notice. In the distance a dog barked, a man’s voice yelled ‘Where’s the god-damned lighter fluid?’ and gulls squawked. The air smelled like barbecue and salt water. The sun was turning from yellow to orange as it began its descent.

“Okay, missy!” she announced, after finally seeing through my ploy- stopping short only of adding ‘chop! chop!’ “Let’s get this show on the road!”

I threw my crust in the box, and slumped down onto the picnic table, crossing my arms on the table, then resting my chin on  them.

“LISA ANN(E?!)” she cried “SIT UP! PAY ATTENTION! AND CUT THE MALARKEY-NOW!!” I instantly sat up, even folding my hands neatly in front of me, twirling my thumbs in circles. I was deathly afraid of anyone over-hearing us. I gazed  with dead eyes over her shoulder. I looked everywhere but in her eyes. She pulled out a Virginia Slim and lit it with a yellow Bic. She inhaled deeply, then exhaled a bullhorn shaped cloud of smoke directly into my face. The After-School Specials hadn’t covered the ‘Second Hand Smoke’ talk yet. 

“Now…’ she began, “There are certain things in life that involve a man and woman..”

“I know-a!” I said, frustrated and embarrassed. 

“And there is the whole sperm and egg thing….that…….well, you need to know about it”

These words sounded so obscene to me. Even sex vocabulary was nasty!

“I know-aaa!” I said, this time more forcefully, teeth gritted.

That’s nothing! Mine talked about sex!

“The man’s penis…you do know what a penis is, right?” she asked. Seriously.

“OH MY GOD! KILL ME!” I cried, covering my eyes with my hands.

“And there’s, the vagina-which is on the woman, and where…..”

“OH MY GOD! STOP!” I looked up into the sky and put my hands over my ears. I couldn’t be less mature or less sorry about it.

My mother started blending her tongue into her right cheek from the inside. She was getting riled up.

“Y’know, what?” she said, disgusted, her voice taking on a ‘let’s cut the crap’ tone “Ya can’t make this easy, can ya?” she threw her cigarette down and crushed it under her sneaker forcefully. Then she leaned down and brought up what was left of the unlit cigarette and  placed it on the table, readying it for the trashcan. My mother would never litter. She would not be held responsible for making an Indian cry.

“So- I take you to Venezia’s, out of the goodness of my heart-” she continued. ‘I try and-“

“Well, we didn’t really go in…. sooooo….” I said, interrupting. 

My mother’s mouth formed an ‘o’ and her eyebrows shot up to her hairline.  Her face was red. The tongue was going. But right before she blew her top, she seemed to think the better of it and switched her approach. She began talking softly, sweetly- like she was trying to lure a squirrel to eat peanuts from her hand. We both knew that I was not being disrespectful out of spite, but because I was crazy with embarrassment, and trying to distract her. I would rather have a terrible fight with her than listen to her talk to me about sex.

Mom: “Honey-Have you heard of the  fallopian tubes?”
Me: “Please kill me”

“Why do you do this? This is really all I want to know. It really is.” she said, her hands fluttering about, almost as if she was talking to another (invisible) adult. “Why? I ask? Are you just contrarian by nature? Is that it?” she asked gently, like it was an affliction I was not responsible for, and couldn’t help. At this my eyebrows shot up, and my eyes popped. Hadn’t we already established this? Like ten years ago? “You know who you remind me of right now?” she asked, arms folded across her chest, tapping her foot annoyingly in the grass, eyes wide 

“Your father” “My father” we answered simultaneously.

She reached over and picked the cigarette butt up, walked to the trashcan a few feet away and tossed it. She peered inside for a second, and I’m sure it pained her that she couldn’t take that garbage can and throw it into another, bigger one like she did to me at home when I so much as tossed a Kleenex into the bedroom wastebasket. The tissue wouldn’t have time to hit the bottom of the basket before she was emptying it out into the kitchen trashcan, and twisting that one up to go out. God forbid a wastebasket contain actual waste!

Somehow though, she tore herself away and walked back, perching on the edge of the picnic table bench, a signal that indicated we were leaving soon. She secured the pizza box, still half full, and took her keys out of her purse, placing them on the table. Then she cleared her throat. 

“I need to know if you have any questions about the Birds and the Bees?'” she asked. ‘And I’m not foolin’ around here, Sister!”

“No-aah! I already know everything….I swear!” This was not true, but someone opened the gate and I was getting the hell out of this conversational pen.

“Well, Miss Missy-let me tell you!… you’d better bet your sweet bippy that you do! Because this is important stuff! And you don’t want to end up…with…well…you know…” her eyes darted furtively back and forth, as though checking for bystanders who might accidentally hear the horror that was about to come out of her mouth. Certain the coast was clear, she then leaned in menacingly and hissed: “with child!” Her argument couldn’t have been more valid. After all, look what she was going through right now with her own child! 

“No, Mom- I don’t! You’re right…..Now can we go?”

After heaving a big sigh in my direction, she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. She grabbed her keys and pointed at the pizza box I was to carry to the car. The woman had done all she could.

And thus ended the ‘Great Sex Talk’ of  1972.**

 

 

 *it didn’t ‘take’

**She ended up buying me a book. It was gross….

 

Everything Is Awful

In Stuff I Post Just To Keep This Blog Alive... on February 26, 2021 at 10:43 am

Or is it?

The Corona Virus seems to have created yet another divide, and guess who suffers the most (it took research to find this out…and yet I feel we could have guessed)

Yes, it is the poor, the struggling, the ‘unfortunate’ who bear the brunt (pretty much of everything, right?)

Bill Maher (with whom my love/hate relationship runs deep) said (and I’m paraphrasing): ‘Half of us are at home in our sweat pants ordering take-out while the other half is delivering it. We are NOT ‘in this together!’

Amen.

What if I said, barring the inconvenience of having to wear a mask to the grocery store, that for many people, Covid 19 may be the best thing going? That the only real change is not having to commute into the office, which was arguably the worst part of the job to begin with?

This month’s ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazine which now bills itself as ‘Life’s Headquarters’ opens with “A Year of Silver Linings’ which documents the struggles of the editors of the magazine. Among them:

‘I’ve found uplifting nurture in streamed music, dance and visual arts…and gotten hooked on goofy videos of celebrity crushes…’

‘I turned to exercise, cooking and reading…’.

‘We ere finally able to get the dated kitchen in our historic home renovated…’

‘My phone is filled with photos of my kids playing outside, baking, dressing in costumes….turns out we’ve had a fun and special year at home!’

‘We got a Peloton…I’m hooked!’

‘My husband and I have breakfast together…It’s a real treat!’

Meanwhile, the poor suffer….with employment, child care, home schooling, food insecurity (no Instacart for them!) I’m not saying the rest of us don’t CARE (I am among the fortunate) it’s just that…..well, these problems run deep and there’s no quick fix, soooo….

I would like to propose a ban on the phrase ‘We’re In This Together’

We are SO not.

For half of us, this whole virus thing has been….dare I say it? Kinda cool.

As for the rest of us….well……maybe not so much.

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