My Favorite Days: 15th Birthday

April 21, 2009 § 3 Comments

Here’s a fun little feature I want to do as I continue to evolve and develop my blog.  In an effort to tell more stories about my friends and family, to encourage myself to write again, to write every day, and to make sure that the people I love and treasure know that I love and treasure them, I want to tell you about some of the favorite days of my life.

I am a birthday person.  I love celebrating birthdays, birthday presents, birthday cakes, birthday surprises…birthdays.  The WORD birthday makes me smell frosting.  I love the mingled smell of sicky sweet frosting and freshly extinguished candles.  It’s one of those very unique smells like “bag of halloween candy” and “mom gets dressed up” that I carry with me in a sensory scrapbook.  I love birthday surprises most of all; be it a pony tied up in the garage or a brown paper package from Grandma on the front porch, they’re both great because of THE SURPRISE.  The existence of something you never expected.

So it’s easy to see why My Fifteenth Birthday is definitely one of my favorite days. 

As I have previously stated in this blog, I was not … a superstar in school.  I wasn’t the worst of the nerds, but I wasn’t popular either.  I was one of those people who fit like a middlemost gear, one tooth reaching out to the smart kids, one tooth reaching out to the arty drama folks, one tooth reaching out to the bizarre, long gypsy skirts and poetry group, one tooth reaching out to the kids I knew from elementary school.  I was never fully integrated into any single clique, just floated like a free radical from place to place.  No roots.

I turned fifteen my sophomore year, in the midst of an artists in residence program in our English/Arts department.  A woman came in from New York to teach us the ritual and the history of Japanese Noh Theatre.  It was announced that our school’s Fall production would be, in fact, a Noh play (Noh Show?) in full costume, with the dances and songs and all that.  We had auditions a few days before my birthday and I was not too jazzed up because I was just a sophomore, and you know how high school theatre goes, the seniors get the biggest parts, then the juniors, then they kind of fill in the rest.  A freshman phenom might get a cool character part but that was never me.  I never get to be a phenom.  I wanted to play the lead character Sotoba (evil queen of everything) with all of my heart and soul.  But two vastly popular, wonderful seniors stood in my way.  And so I waited….all day…for the rehearsal after school.

At lunch the boy I had a giant crush on but was as unattainable as Zack Morris came over to talk to me. He wasn’t the quarterback of the football team, or the romantic literature type, or the brooding guy with a motorcycle.  What he was was the Zany-Class-Clown-Prankster-Artist-Oddball who could basically burn the school down and everyone, including the firemen would just chuckle and say “THAT JONAH!”  He was Ferris Bueller before it was cool to pretend to be Ferris Bueller.  He was everything I ever wanted to be or be near: the center of the universe, funny, popular, man of all seasons that made life just a little more bizarre.  He swooped over to my table and sat down uninvited, smiling broadly.  As we talked, I told hm it was my birthday.  Why, I’ll never know.  First of all, I couldn’t even believe he was talking to me.  Why?  I was  mousy, ascot wearing drama nerd with braces and poorly feathered hair.  What made him stop and talk to me?  Did he have pity on me?  The matchstick girl with the gimp leg?  Whatever the case, I was in heaven.  Before I could truly make a fool of myself in front of him, he got up and left.  My heart had risen, floated, swelled and now burst into a puddle at my feet.  Then I heard a booming voice from the back of the cafeteria.

“TODAY IS JESSICA’S BIRTHDAY AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO SING TO HER YOU HEAR ME?”

There he was, standing on top of a folding table while teachers, security guards, lunch ladies,nerds,dweebs,bloods,cryps,jocks, all fell silent, turning their eyes to the red faced girl in brown cordouroy eating a Buddig Turkey sandwich in the corner.  He counted to three and I sat agog while two hundred people who didn’t know me from Adam sang happy birthday to Jessica at the top of their lungs.  To cap it off, Jonah ran and dove on top of a rolling garbage can, belly surfing down the center aisle of the cafeteria yelling HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESSICA! before crashing spectacularly into a table, sending food everywhere and cooler heads dragged him out to give him a talking to.

The rest of the day was a haze, with people smiling and nodding at me in the hallways, my association with this town demi-god giving me some sort of new instant status, the beautiful and the rich wondering if perhaps I was worth acknowledging as a human being after all!  My association with Jonah lasted a few months more, a very chaste and innocent “going out” that didn’t actually involve going anywhere, but made me feel like a celebrity for the first time in my life.  He then met Rachel who stole his heart and they had some meaningless fling that lasted a little over ten years or so. pfft.

After school, I skipped down the hall to drama club, eager to learn what sort of role I’d be getting in the Noh play, hoping for something elaborately costumed, something masked and interesting, anything but the ‘CHORUS’.  What I found was that when you have an artist in residence, they don’t know the hierarchy.  They don’t know that Molly Always Gets the Lead.  They don’t know if you’re a hopeless nerd or not.  And so they read off the cast list and lo and behold, on my fifteenth birthday, I was graced with the lead in the school play, Sotoba, Evil Queen of Everything…with her very own dance of madness- an elaborate choreography of fans and masks that I adored.  I got to train with a Jo stick  and fight my evil husband. It wasn’t your ordinary school play, and weeks after that fateful cast announcement, as I stood backstage preparing to put on my mask, tying my hair back in black ribbons, configuring the complicated sash on my robes, I remember thinking “I could do this all my life.  I love how I feel right now”, and my love of acting was born, having gestated for years in the back of my mind.

That evening after rehearsal, I walked home from school in the crisp Autumn air, the sky a jewel like purple and blue, the moon rising on the horizon in front of me, and I found myself smiling so hard that I ached.  I had never looked forward to growing up.  I loved the safety of childhood, the womb of mommy and daddy and sister around the kitchen table in our four bedroom house.  I loved the freedom, the fun, the play of childhood that I never saw adults enjoying.  But that day, my fifteenth birthday, I felt the first pangs of ambition, the rush of color to the cheeks that comes with new love, I experienced the thrill of an audience, the joy of success that follows hard work.  I saw what is great about being grown up.

And yet I ran home, following the smell of a fresh crackling fire, the golden glow that poured from the windows, anxious to get back to childhood for just a little while longer.

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In which Patty Melt Chases a Deer to Wendys

April 2, 2009 § 12 Comments

I’d like to break format this week in order to give a shout out to my parents, who I believe had children for the sole purpose of poking them with emotional sticks and having a captive audience for their buffoonery.  How many times did my mother regale me with tales of her role as Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker with hushed tones of memory holding fast to greatness?  Will I ever live up to the afternoon drive D.J. stylings of my dad, FLASH THUNDER on Columbia College radio?  My college radio name was Patty Melt, and believe me, she won no awards.  

But reader, do not think I say these things out of some kind of bitterness.  On the contrary, I think it beats a lot of other reasons for reproduction i.e., a living dress form, a companion for your maltese, a plump christmas dinner…

deerfamily

J, look outside! It's a whole family of deer!

 I say it because yesterday was April Fools and I was reminded via a discussion with my coworkers that I am, contrary to my street tough, sarcastic, whatchoo talkin’ about willis attitude, THE. MOST. GULLIBLE. PERSON. IN AMERICA.  And if that’s a superlative too negative for this crowd let’s say I have a strong respect for the honesty of authority.  

As a child I was nerd of many colors, a good child who did exactly what her parents told her.  And more importantly, didn’t do what her parents told her NOT to do.  My earliest memories of bowing unquestionably to authority was on the road to Six Flags Great America up in Gurnee, IL.  As you trundle along up I-94 to get to Great America (whoever sees the top of the American Eagle rollercoaster first wins), you have to go under an overpass that is a rest area. It’s a rest area that goes OVER THE STREET.

KIDS, DO YOU HEAR WHAT I’M SAYING? 

So in essence, you can sit and eat your lunch and look out the windows and watch the cars drive under you.  For a five or six year old, that’s a whole afternoon’s worth of fun.  So naturally, whenever we approached this overpass, I would ask if we could stop there and go to Wendys.  This was preposterous.  We were never allowed to stop when dad was driving.  Even when mysister was struck by a painful, evil bout of *ahem*  the…green apple quick steps, if you know what i mean, my dad told her to let loose in a styrofoam cup which he then tossed out the window.  Tell THAT one to your local ecology major.

My dad said NO, we couldn’t go to Wendy’s, that we were making good time.   Each year I asked, each year I got a no.  Finally, when I was approaching my tween years, I ventured to throw back a “WHY NOT?” at him, just to persevere somehow.  And my father, a good Christian man of virtue, turned in his seat and told me,

“Because that’s where the gorillas live.”

That was all it took.  I was gripped with fear and disappointed in the institution of Wendy’s that had allowed a band of gorillas to take over their restaurant and set up camp.  One thing I didn’t do was ever ask to go to Wendy’s again.

Given my unwavering trust, you can imagine that my parents just about wrung their hands with glee when April Fool’s Day came around.  I mean, I was kept from seeing my Christmas Doll House before Christmas Morning by having my parents tell me that the extra bedroom in our house was broken, so I couldn’t go in.  Broken.  Did I ask how a ROOM could break?  Or how a  ROOM could malfunction and cause injury?  No I did not, I just knew not to go in there.

But even with all this ammunition, my father kept it simple for April Fool’s Day, and successfully tricked me for approximately 11 consecutive years with a simple, one line trick that haunts me to this day.

He knows I love animals.  And our neighborhood in suburban upstate New York was stocked quite well with all kinds of wildlife: raccoons, rabbits,deer, squirrels, possum, geese, all kinds of fauna.  So on April 1st, my father would rush into my room about an hour before the alarm went off, shake me awake from a sound sleep and say:

“J! J! get up!  Quick!  There’s a whole family of deer standing in our back yard.  It’s beautiful!”

Bleary eyed and half asleep, I would stumble from my bed and into their bedroom which held the only good window to the back yard.  I would stand at the window, freezing in my Garfield nightshirt, staring into the blue gray pre-dawn light, only to hear my mom and dad whisper hoarsely:

APRIL FOOL’S DAY!

I would turn around, seething with the kind of rage only a 12 year old can muster, and find my dad standing there in his underpants, laughing hysterically and my mother joining right in.  It happened every year until I was about 20.  I don’t know why I fell for it.  Maybe I never read The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

But you know what?  I love nothing more on this earth than making people laugh, especially if they’re people I love and care for, people who have done so much to make me laugh all my life.  And hey, if it has to be at my expense, it’s a small price to pay.

The Giggle Twins

The Giggle Twins

I don’t know what kind of tricks I’ll be playing on Charlotte yet, what kind of Gorilla tales I’ll tell her, but if they don’t end with everyone laughing, then I’ll consider them to have failed.

Happy April everyone!

The Mighty Me

November 7, 2008 § 3 Comments

Now that Charlotte is a little older, we can start watching a little more “fun” cartoon shows rather than the horrendous horrendous teletubbies.  Look, I’m not one who thinks they’re evil or gay or Aryan or some other bizarre hyper conservative “subliminal propoganda” nonsense, I just…can’t stand the repetition.  I like the songs in the beginning and at the end when we’re saying “bye bye” to that hideous baby, and I like “Big Hug”, but what’s with the vacuum that harrasses them, and the ‘custard’ that comes out of a faucet.  Hey, I love custard. I am a fan of any eggy, creamy meal item: pudding,custard,flan,brulee,zabaglione,rice pudding,tapioca pudding,cream filled anythings, a big bowl of vanilla frosting, confectioners sugar icing just poured in my mouth, but even I would have to draw a line of sensibility and maturity at a faucet, a never ending faucet that dispensed those treats.  I mean, I’d have to draw that line in public, for the benefit of the children.  Besides, I like the little skin they form on top, and you don’t get that with a pudding faucet.

Folks, this isn’t my point.

The point is that I’m tired of being Suzie Derkins.  In my youth and old age, I read Calvin and Hobbes voraciously and I always liked to tell myself that I was indeed the grown up girl version of Calvin. 

Susie ponders how to best get others into trouble

Susie ponders how to best get others into trouble

 Yes, I tried to write my life story at age ten, talked to my invisible friends aloud and with pride and had a wild and colorful imagination, which could spur countless hilarious novels, movies and plays, but sadly…has not.  But then the sad truth was revealed to me after college, when I was married and living in Chicago.  I’m sitting here trying to remind myself who called me Susie Derkins.  Could it have been my loving and honest husband?  Indeed, I believe it was.  But he wasn’t alone.  Co-workers, castmates, strangers off the street indeed called me Susie Derkins.  Why?  Why this barrage of slaps in the face?  It’s because I’m a tattletale.  Because I want very badly to please the teacher, and the mother, and father and clergyman and random elder that walks by.  I am not ashamed to say that as a student, I often raised my hand to remind teachers of the fact that we were supposed to have a quiz today, or that the book reports were due and I’d lke to go first when we’re reading them aloud.  As I’ve reported in the past, I slapped Mindy Andrews across the face in fourth grade for being a bad Mormon and wearing lipstick at school.  I WAS PUNISHING PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS FOR THEIR SHORTCOMINGS IN A FAITH I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT.  It was my impression that by tattling I rose in the ranks to best loved gal of all adults.  Turns out I didn’t.  Turns out Mr. Brainerd thought I ‘babbled babbled babbled like a brook all day long’. 

:: cough ::

The trouble is, I thought I was cool.  And that’s where I take leave of Susie.  Susie had no illusions of being popular or cool.  She was lonesome and studious and told herself it would all be worth it some day (trust me susie, it really won’t.  Get cool…now.)  Susie, as it happens, is a total drip.

And that’s where we meet The Mighty B!.  I practically beg Charlotte to watch this Amy Poehler cartoon on Nickelodeon.  It’s about a girl named Bessie, a girl who is popularity challenged.  She’s in a Girl Scout type organization called the Honeybees, and believes that once she earns all  the possible Honeybee Badges she will turn into a superhero:  The Mighty B!  I can see myself as a kid believing that sort of thing.  I believed the world was a magical place.  I truly believed that life, even adulthood, was focused on fun and creativity and surprise.  I woke up every morning wondering what was going to happen…what COULD happen.  Could we leave on a vacation today?  A surprise vacation?  Would there be a little wrapped present on my breakfast plate? (sometimes, yes…that’s how great my parents were)  I always looked for little notes in my lunch, a package in the mail, a holiday, a party, an event.  I remember getting up before dawn to watch Princess Diana get married.  It was exciting to think that everyone was up that early, watching the same thing – that we were all huddled in our living rooms in the dusky morning while it was bright happy daylight across the ocean.  I put together time capsules, intending only to open them ten years later, but quickly grew impatient and opened them within the week, marveling at how the world had changed since I’d put Sunday’s comic section in a sticker covered shoe box.

Just this morning, while opening a new tube of toothpaste, I remembered how, as a kid, I thought that anything in relatively tiny writing was a secret message.  So when I looked at the toothpaste tube and saw the tiny writing that said “For best results,squeeze from the bottom and work your way up”, I thought it was

Get ready to rage with Bessie and her dog Happy

Get ready to rage with Bessie and her dog Happy

basically, like a fortune cookie for all of us, although I was unable to translate exactly how it applied to my life as a nine year old.

Bessie is kind, thoughtful,loves doing reports,selling Mary Kay and lecturing about pickles.  She throws her friend a birthday party filled with candy, turns on the music and yells out “LET’S RAGE!”.  Indeed.  I always thought I was raging.  When I invited seven of my friends to El Torito for my sixteenth birthday and was told I could order ANYTHING on the menu AND Fried Ice Cream, you can bet I thought I was raging.  When I was putting together a latchhook rug of a hawk on a branch while listening to Muskrat Love, the only thing running through my head is, MY GOD AM I RAGING.  I had a rock tumbler, I made chocolate candy, I started a small puppet business, I sold green beans door to door.  My youth was filled with entrepreneurship and fresh ideas and I pushed forward, assuring myself of a life as a child prodigy, either in the field of 30 Page Novels, Home Made Greeting Cards, Acting, or Home Decor.

In short, I don’t ever want to lose the tattletale, book report loving, tea party hosting Susie Derkins side of me who made me the well rounded adult I am today.  But in addition, I would like to nurture the Bessie Higgenbottom side of me, with big plans, great ideas, and the ability to walk into any party, let loose and rage.

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