I just passed in ten pages of a chapter for my writing workshop and my mind is rather deep in 1991. I was studying in London at the time and took my first trip to Poland as an adult. So I’m having a hard time switching gears back to the blogosphere. My 2012 self is talking to my 1991 self and we’re having quite the conversation. It’s interesting to notice streaks of wisdom with forehead slapping -you were so 19! Not that I did too many stupid things just that when you’re that young, you’re brave with inexperience.
While I didn’t write about my wardrobe I was thinking about what I wore back then: Black tights with jean shorts, Doc Martens, a plaid shirt and a velvet hat, rim tipped up. I swear on my life that was fashionable. (I think.)
I wore Juba-Juba Perfume Oil from The Body Shop. Sometimes I dipped myself in it when I knew I was going to the University of London Union and would see the bartender I had a crush on. He was tall and looked like a cross between a greaser from the 50s and a New Wave punk rocker. I got heart bubbles every time I saw him. I might have been the most perfumed Grunge girl on the planet. I imagine the fragrance coming off of me like Pig Pen’s cloud of dust only mine was of the clean and flowery variety. People still talked to me. That was good. No luck with the bartender though.
I can’t say that I didn’t have self-conscious thoughts back then. What teenager isn’t self-conscious? But it is fortifying to see how little fear existed in everything I did. Whether it was traveling alone to Dublin for a week or flying to Poland with a mission to meet family (some I had never met before, some I hadn’t seen in 16 years )or wearing my best plaid to talk to a punky bartender, I did so with curiosity leading the way. I just went with it. No noise. Nothing to overcome. Nothing to reason out. The motivation of doing what I wanted was pure.
It’s good to know that 19 year old is still inside me. It hollers up to my almost 40 year old self and says, Keep going!
I embrace technology with reluctance. Answering machine? I swore I’d never buy one in college wondering, why can’t people just call back? Eventually, I caught up with the idea but just shy of voicemail coming into the picture. If I could still be using my childhood black rotary phone, believe me I would. There was nothing like carefully dialing a boy’s number, heart pounding, finger releasing at the silver half-moon watching the disc circle back hoping my finger didn’t stutter a second dial on the way up. You had to be paying attention. Last I knew that black phone was in my brother Adam’s attic. His then young son had lifted it out of a box and asked, “Dad, What’s this?”
On a recent trip to San Francisco, my friend who works for Apple remarked that my cell phone was antique. “It’s only a year old,” I said. “You should have seen my last one.” When I went to trade my Ericsson up, the AT&T clerk turned it around in his hands like a rare fossil. Please. Let’s not exaggerate, I wanted to say. It’s not like I passed in a Michael Douglas 1980s cell phone from Wall Street.
It’s not that I don’t like technological advances. (I have an ipod that was given to me.) I’m just slow on the uptake. Why throw away what still works? I donated my mint condition VHS player when I moved in June. And you know what? I regret it. How am I going to watch my rare Peace Corps video vignettes from Eritrea, Africa that fellow volunteer Colin taped in 1995? If I know Colin, he’s already converted it to DVD. I must have thought this thought when I packed up the player (in its original box) as I loaded up the car for Goodwill. Otherwise, poof it’s gone. If anyone wonders whether I am my mother’s daughter, you needn’t look for further proof.
At least I don’t put plastic on the lampshades.
I’m more of use it into the ground kind of person. Enjoy it while you got it is my motto.
My mother used her Maytag for 40 years. It saw so much use, the dial was completely worn to white with only the slightest blue flecks as evidence that numbers once existed. She knowingly turned it to the click, like an expert safe-cracker. This proved to be a great excuse for my not being able to do laundry. It had its curbside exit after a few visits from the repair man who finally had to break it to my mother.
All this came up because today I was thinking about our family stereo. The wide console one with the smoky quartz colored plastic hood. I so clearly remember it in the “Big Room”- our fancy room. The Christmas tree room. The one with an ornate chandelier and crystal filled credenza. It’s also the room that for a time in the late 70s and early 80s got blocked off at the threshold with white chenille bedspread to conserve heat in the house.
I am not joking when I say, that my brothers and I would slip into our snowsuits, carefully slink past the tasseled bedspread just so we could listen to the stereo. Winter 1980. I am eight years old. Adam had newly acquired Queen The Game album. I remember his careful, no thumb prints handling and the way he put the needle down and moved back from the turntable, palms down in a careful-do-not-disturb way. John and I would dance a jig to “Another One Bite’s the Dust”. Our dancing was a cross between the Peanuts Gang head wagging and some crazy ass kids in snowsuits trying to stay warm. On some nights we could see our own breath. The crystals on the chandelier were in gentle percussion with our steps. If we bounced too much, Adam still in lotus in front of the stereo would yell, “HEY! Don’t make it skip.” He’d resume his watchful eye, palms at-the-ready to lift the needle up.
We’d read liner notes and learned lyrics.
We listened to one side and then flipped to the other. We studied the album, understanding somehow that it was a work of art. A concept. A poem. Something to be experienced as a whole especially because you saved up to buy it with a special trip to Record Lane or RRRecords. At some point was it that year? Or later? Adam showed me how to put the needle down with my thumb.
And you know what? You can’t do that with an ipod.
——————-Let me tell you about my Victrola… That baby can pump out some SOUND!
My brother Johnny once paid me $5 to leave him and his neighborhood friend Tom alone. I took the five bucks. After a respectable 20 minutes, I found them. “You promised. Give it back, you big baby.” Johnny hissed.
John loved calling me, you big baby.
He also loved suffocating me with blankets in front of the TV and holding my head underwater in the pool at the Cape. Adam seven years older than me was disinterested in torturing me, while Johnny four years my senior relished it. Just the same I wanted to hang out with both of them.
I had friends up on Christian Hill but that wasn’t close enough for the quick after school hang out. I only had our neighbor’s granddaughter to play with and she didn’t visit all the time. Unlike my brothers who had their two friends Tom and John L., also brothers, just down the street.
I was the sidecar. The mascot. The tail. The pain in the ass sister with five bucks in her pocket dying to play.
Who are they kidding I thought, how can you play hide-and-go-seek with two people? They needed me, even if they didn’t readily admit it. Who else would circle around the house for what seemed like hours trying to find them. Who else would race a sled alongside them and appreciate the yellow shag carpet remnant they lined the sled with or marvel at the fake paper licenses they created for pulling themselves over for fast sledding down Mr. Ouellette’s backyard hill?
I made for the slowest snowball target. The gullible player in 52-Pick Up. I was the lightest projected human off ramps of snow and given the sacred “booster” request, meaning someone would lie on his belly and link their sled behind mine and just as I was about to hit the ramp, pushed my sled forward with all his might.
Getting air, as every kid knows, is like breaking the sound barrier.
One booster from John L. sent me flying vertical. Plastic crackling over the ice. My red sled fell away from me like the space shuttle loses its rockets when it hits the atmosphere. I ripped through the sky and then gravity barreled me straight back to earth. My head a pumpkin thud. Sky and tree branches seemingly moved in a circle. Faces suddenly popped into view. My response to are you okay, slow.
A goose the size of a plum started growing at the back of my head. No blood, a relief; a good indicator that my parents would not have to kill anyone with a look that night.
A fearful, don’t tell Mom, okay? And then a comforting, you’re okay. Somebody rubbing my head until I had to push the hat back up above my eyes. I can’t remember if I cried. I’m sure I did. It was Kryptonite to the boys when it came from a real accident.
“Man, did you see her go up?” Head shakes and ohhhhs lasted the whole way back up the hill and over our fence. They knew how to cheer me up. Our round-toed spaces boots barely gripped the chain link as we climbed over.
That night I sat next to my mom on the couch. She stroked my hair, hand stopping at the bump on my head. My eyes wide. She called it a guza. A bump– oddly similar to us calling it a goose in English, though I am sure the only relation is the sound.
“Aw, nothing. Jus’ bumped my head sledding.”
Some moments called for discretion, especially when future launches were at stake.
Years later, discretion was the same friend that would get me into my first party.