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Posts Tagged ‘funny’

King Dad

In The 60's on June 1, 2019 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 slow  leaking 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 my spoon on the olive green tablecloth and ask: “Is this thing on?” and wait for laughter that doesn’t come. 

“Lisa! 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 Kristen 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.

“Susie 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 Tim Taylor brought in a worm, while I checked out ‘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, fake pistol on point.

“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 all 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 a shoelace 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 was never 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. 

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple

In Books on April 27, 2013 at 2:57 pm

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Every now and then, you read a book that makes you wish that you could be friends with the writer – be privy to their ruminations on even the most ordinary of things, be able to tap into their brain at a moment’s notice. Maria Semple is one of those authors. Not only her- but to know her characters in real life- well, that would really be an excellent adventure!

Bernadette is a smart, wisecracking, straight-shooter of a woman- a quirky, but loving Mom, former architect/artist, living in Seattle- the wife of a Microsoft big-wig/geek, a man renowned for having the fourth most viewed TEDtalk, a man some called a ‘Tech Rockstar’. I don’t want be a spoiler, so story specifics are out- but I will say- predictable this book is not!

Seattle

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It’s hard to ‘cherry pick’ favorite moments, and like I said, I don’t want to reveal any of the many twists and turns presented in the story, so I’ll just quickly discuss my second favorite character and be done with it. Bee (Bernadette’s extremely bright-but not perfect!) daughter. Take for example: upon traveling through a poverty-stricken barrio she says: 

‘Kids were kicking a ball among trash, running with mangy dogs among trash, even squatting to wash their clothes among trash. It was totally annoying, like, would one of you just pick up the trash?’

Only an affluent, private-schooled eighth-grader could come up with that one. (Not saying I don’t think environment can effect the esteem of it’s inhabitants. As the aforementioned scene just proved on both sides)

On the other hand, I like Bee’s very sophisticated outlook on her father’s invention, Samantha 2- a servant robot, who does menial chores through voice command- for me it also rings true for so much of technology and where we’re heading (for better or worse) 

‘What’s Samantha 2? It’s just something so people can sit around and have a robot do all their shit for them. You spend ten years of your life and billions of dollars inventing something so people don’t have to live their own lives.’

Amen, Sister! It made me try and think more clearly about what it is that bothers me about technology- while at the same time embracing it. We seem to be finding all of these ways to eliminate minutia and menial tasks, like we’re clearing the decks so we can finally concentrate and put our full attention on: what, exactly? So we can spend even more time being ‘watchers?’- watchers of internet content? Maybe it’s the chores, the effort of keeping  our life on track that make our lives fulfilling. What if we clear all of our decks just to find out we’re all assholes, and that we were better off being distracted from our narcissistic minds for at least several hours a day? What if a lack of purpose turns out to lead us down the idyll- minds -devils- workshop path,(symbolically, of course) only now we have 24/7 to hone our errant craft?  What if all of the things we do reluctantly are the very things that test (and build) our mettle?

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Rant over. Bernadette is by far the best fictional character I’ve ‘met’ in a long time. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a thought-provoking, fun, satirical look at family, parenting, the importance of following your own drummer, and a whip-smart, middle-aged woman who’s the most interesting woman in the room-and I’m talking any room!

Kids Books: 1

In Books on December 31, 2012 at 12:59 pm

A Look Inside Some Thrift-Store Finds: Bookshelf Edition:

MUD PIES AND OTHER RECIPES, 1961
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I really love this thrift-store find “MUD PIES AND OTHER RECIPES’ by MarjorieWinslow, illustrations by Erik Blegvad. This charming little book was published in 1961, and is ‘a cookbook for dolls.’ It is written for ‘kind climates and summertime’ and kids who actually play outdoors.. It includes recipes for Rainspout Tea and Dollypops: (pick a dandelion from the lawn carefully, so as not to disturb the fluff. Hand it to your doll and tell her to lick’)

TSBks

This book brings such fond memories of a different time, when as children we spent practically the entire day outside, entrusted to ourselves and able to play very intricate and involved games of house and school, tell each other stories, make up games, improvise, share, argue, and resolve (without parents stepping in) We didn’t have ‘play-dates’ we just played. And, as very smart person once said “Play is the highest form of research”. 

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It’s an adorable book, that touches the heart of anyone who remembers games of make-believe played outside with good friends, in all four seasons, incorporating all of nature’s offerings into our play and our lives. 

A KID’S TV GUIDE – 1979

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This is an interesting throw-back, full of television watching rules (don’t wear sunglasses when you watch tv) and although much of what they present is true, you can’t help but think that television was like an avalanche, one that would not -could not- be stopped. Nowadays we walk around with tv on our phones, and it’s hard to find a person in public that isn’t looking down at them! Or who isn’t constantly occupied and/or distracted by them. It’s almost as if ‘they knew!’ (the authors)

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This book lays all the television rules out for kids and then warns about the dangers:

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TV might tempt a child into creating a bomb, or worse (imagine what the authors think of the Internet!)

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…and not only might the child get into mischief, but he will be flagrant and defiant about it!! The child in this picture has not only gotten his hands on a stick of dynamite, but has also sought out warning signs against what he is about to do and parked himself in front of them like the flagrant little anarchist he is. Not to mention that his location an outright taunting of Smokey The Bear!

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Television can also lure children into biker gangs. I know this is true because every time I watch  ‘Sons Of Anarchy’ I have an urge to ‘take a ride’ with Jax Teller, and I have no doubt that I would if the situation presented itself. Ahem!

Kidsb2

I think this is the best page in the book. Relevant to how we live now, and the place that Entertainment (TV, Internet, Social Media, etc) has in our lives. Some might say we’ve gained a lot- while others lament that we’ve lost a lot. But either way- it’s obvious- you can’t un-ring a bell.

DAVEY AND GOLIATH: BLIND MAN’S BLUFF, 2005

Kidb1

I was surprised to see that this book is only eight years old. I figured it to be from nineteen-seventy something. Anyway- it’s all about race relations. Evidently, Goliath is a closet racist, and has been one all along. It’s quite jarring:

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and then he goes all Archie Bunker on the visiting dog!!

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But Davey’s got his hands full with his good friend’s cousin, Scottie:

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You have to wonder just how racist this Scottie is, if his reputation precedes him this blatantly! (If only this were published in the seventies! It would have made a great After School Special: “Scottie: The Boy Who Hates White Kids’) Anyway- Davey rushes over to hang with the kid who hates him (who could resist?) only to discover a twist in the days plans:

KidsB7

 

Turns out, Scottie has had a little accident (I suspect he’d been watching tv and was under the influence of it: see ‘A Kid’s Guide to TV’, above )…..one that has rendered him blind for the week (that’s one precise diagnosis!) and therefore, ripe for Davey’s psychological experiment. 

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Luckily, we’re now privy to Scottie’s completely valid and rational reason for being a racist:

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Davey and Scottie have quite the day together- sharing hot dogs, hanging out in the hood (I think?) and bonding:

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A somewhat creepy conversation about Davey’s sister commences……leaving me with a hefty dose of that ‘Wait.What?’ feeling…

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Finally, the day the bandages come off arrives. Davey, of course, is front and center for the unveiling. (I know I always brought my friends to my doctor’s appointments as a young child.) And much like George Jefferson meeting Jenny’s parents for the first time, our Mr. Scottie is less than pleased:

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Just when it seems that Davey will expire from the sadness he feels about Scottie rejecting him, Goliath confesses that he’s no longer racist, and will now be hanging out with the white spotted dog. And for reasons very unclear (Pssst! I think I know the secret: the book is near the end) Scottie ‘Jefferson-Bunker’ has decided to open his mind and befriend other races.  The End. Someone cue the music. (May I suggest Aerosmith/Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ perhaps?)

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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.

‘Metal Shop’

In The 70's on September 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm

A new program that had been initiated at Nathan Hale Middle School in the mid- seventies involved the trade classes. Home Economics, Metal Shop, Wood Shop went co-ed, partly as a result of the women’s liberation movement that was suddenly front page news.

Home Ec. was desirable to both sexes, in that, for six-weeks it involved cooking and more importantly, eating. For a typical class, we were divided into teams of two or four and had to follow a recipe to completion in one of several mini kitchens. The best part was that we got to eat the assignment. (In the past, this task had been relegated to imaginary dogs)

My specialty was muffin pizzas, which may sound simple, but evidently was not, as we had to make them every other class. I vaguely recall cooking blueberry muffins, filling celery with cream cheese, and tossing cherry tomatoes around the room- but it is only the pizzas I actually remember eating.

Since I was usually teamed up with Chad Reed, it was difficult to get graded before Chad devoured the day’s assignment. I would complain to the teacher, Mrs. Barry- who would point out that it was partly my responsibility to control my partner by refraining to ‘serve’ the food until she made her inspection. Did she think that Chad would be deterred by not having a paper plate?! He’d grab a muffin or three right off the baking sheet like a crafty seagull,  while I was still taking them out of the oven or looking the other way. And why was I always serving him?!

‘Am I supposed to guard the oven?’ I would ask, to which she would reply, “You do what you have to do. Someday you’ll be in charge of your own kitchen!’

Obviously, this woman didn’t recognize the take-out type when she saw it.

Meanwhile, Chad, standing behind her, would be making faces at me, pointing, faking a belly laugh, and mimic eating more invisible food while crossing his eyes. When Mrs. Barry turned around, he would instantly look doe-eyed and apologetic, eyebrows knit, shaking his head like: ‘I know! She’s incorrigible!’ and then give me the finger after she walked on to the next group, marking another big, fat zero in her grade book for me and Chad.

“God-you take it so SERIOUS!” he huffed, reaching around me to wipe some stray crumbs off the counter, and licking his finger.

“Yeah- well it’s kinda hard to explain to my Dad how I can only pull a “C’ in Home Ec, Chad. He thinks this is a class that should (here I imitated a low ‘dad’ voice) ‘come naturally to all broads!’

“Well he’s right!” Chad answered, not surprisingly. At which point I faked punching him in his protruding stomach, just to see him jump.

Another new co-ed class was a combo Metal/Wood Shop, taught in the same room by the same teacher, Mr. Gates.  He was the ‘good looking’ male teacher at Nathan Hale, and a fuss was made over him by the teachers, lunch ladies, substitutes and visitors. He was six-feet tall, with a slim, muscular build, and had surfer-blond hair, parted on the side, a bit longer than most teachers would normally wear. He had a rugged complexion, the hint of a tan even in winter, and smiling blue eyes. Everyone compared him to a young Robert Redford, and he did resemble the Hollywood star. (I knew this because I had actually seen Robert Redford and Paul Newman in real life, as me, the Wreath boys and Toni gathered by the woods one  day last summer.  Newman (driving) and Redford came whipping around the blind corner on Wolfpit Road in a brand new Porsche 911 Turbo. Startled to see a group of teens hanging out on the side of the street, they  suddenly downshifted, slowing to a crawl. They proceeded to drive by super-slow, and waved at us, flashing their hundred watt smiles. Newman lived the next town over, but we’d never seen him. At the time they were BIG Hollywood stars. We stood there, shell-shocked after they passed by, o-mouths, eyes popping! At some point we started screaming, high- fiving and arguing over who they actually waved at. (Of course-as you can probably guess- it was me!)

As for Mr. Gates- he had a ‘cool-guy’ vibe-and he was a very laid-back teacher. He  wore khaki pants and tucked in long-sleeved button down shirts, usually in pastel colors, with a tie which always looked half-undone, as though he might pull it off at any minute.

We loved that he didn’t yell and ran a very loose ship. He barely even took attendance, and taught by going from workbench to workbench, rolling up his sleeves and demonstrating the technique of the day to individual students. Most of the girls sat together and chatted, passing out gum (it was allowed!) and gossiping, and we rolled our eyes and giggled when Mr. Gates approached us with a demonstration.

“Isn’t that dirty?’ we’d ask, upon being presented with a sheet of metal. Followed by ‘Ewww!’ and ‘That’s gonna break my nails!’ We supported the women’s lib movement, but also embraced being girly-girls, when it came to getting out of class work.

“Well, at least read the worksheets, girls!” he’d say, before quickly moving on to the boys, many of whom actually wanted  to learn these skills.

Me and Toni were thick as thieves in this class, looked forward to a class where nothing was required of us other than to show up. We sat together and clucked like hens, traded jewelry, braided each others hair, and even painted our nails (not full manicures, but we fixed the chipped ones) We did all of this as we sat, twirling around in our high, bar seats in the back. We were constantly snorting with laughter, pointing at and mocking classmates, and doing busy-work- such as dividing up our cigarettes to be ‘even’, or seeing who could blow the biggest bazooka bubble. As long as we kept it on the down-low, Mr. Gates didn’t mind.

The only time Mr. Gates actually asked us to do anything was when he needed worksheets. He would hand me and Toni an example of which sheet he wanted, tell us to count the students (“and by all means, count yourselves in, girls!”) and then have us fetch them from a small storage room, located behind a door in the back of the shop.

Inside there were metal shelves holding worksheets and boxes of  metal bolts and screws. Several old, green file cabinets, and a heavily blinded, dusty window added to the overall drabness of the room. The window looked out onto the side parking lot, across to the tennis courts that no one ever used. Toni and I would play with the string on the blinds, up and down, light, dark, light dark and look for signs of life outside (there was none). We’d then snoop in the file cabinets (old instruction manuals- nothing good) and eventually  count out the worksheets, bringing them to Mr. Gates.

“Can you please pass them out to everyone?” Mr. Gates would ask, obviously expecting us to do so, to which we’d roll our eyes (haven’t we done enough?!)-sigh, and reluctantly make a pass around the room, snapping gum and avoiding eye contact with anyone except maybe the cute boys. But for everyone else, we’d hold each sheet up with our thumb and forefinger, hovering over the workbench in front of a classmate, until letting it go mid-air, leaving said student to either catch it, block it or hunt under the table to where it whisked off the desk, floating for a moment before winging sharply to the ground. It’s times like these when I wish I could go back in time and kick my own ass.

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