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Ode to the 80’s

22 Mar

This is just an ever so slight music ode that may or may not veer off,  for the 1980’s couldn’t be captured in a mere blog post, no.

I mean, there is no way I could fully podium Madonna, for starters.

“Gonna dress you up in my love. Get into the groove, boy, you’ve got to prove your love to me. Papa don’t preach. I’m in love again. I’ve made up my mind; I’m keeping my baby. Borderline. Feels like I’m going to lose my mind. Gonna dress you up in my love. You might be my lucky star ’cause you shine on me wherever you are…I hope I live to tell.”

They just don’t make music like this anymore. Has anyone even heard from Tears for Fears?

And where did the Jets go? Any chance of Kool & the Gang doing a reunion tour?

How could I possibly forget songs by Gregory Abbott or Cameo?

These were the days pre-cable when on Saturday mornings I would get up after a teenaged night of drinking four consecutive sodas and 3.5 slices of pizza and turn on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and see George Michael of WHAM!  in a huge t-shirt with one shoulder exposed singing “Careless Whisper.” Or Foreigner oozing “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

While I stumbled out of bed I would actually take sips from the can of soda that sat on the nightstand all night. See, before going to sleep I would plug up the can hole with tissue to preserve the fizz. Sure, the sugar liquid was room temperature but the fizz was still intact at 11 a.m. eastern time. 

Gosh, there were delicious bands like Simply Red and The Human League and Club Nouveau. And, geesh, Bruce Hornsby & the Range.

I could meet a cute guy at the mall on Monday and be IN LOVE with him on Tuesday by lunchtime. His full name would be drawn all over my notebook in swirly swirls and I would get caught daydreaming in biology 101 and given the evil eye by Mr. Snister whose entire life was centered around copper and helium. Three Tuesdays later I would loathe the guy from the mall because I’d find out that he wasn’t that into me after all and had only one thing in mind and there I was stuck with his full name all over my notebook. Meanwhile he didn’t even know my last name. Flared nostrils.

I had gobs of friends. I rode big yellow school buses. I had big dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a star, having my name on the Walk of Fame. PMS hadn’t yet entered my body and the words “sodium ” and “cholesterol” were foreign terms I could care less about. This was before anyone could look my way and label me a barren spinster. Jokingly, of course. This was when shows like St. Elsewhere were on television. And Family Ties and The Wonder Years. Shows with real opening theme music.

This was before the snake pit that Vh-1 is becoming. Or the sewage hole of most cable television. Long live the sitcom!

I wonder, could there even be a modern day Mr. Belvedere? Has anyone even seen Wesley?

Just a slight ode. My soul can’t take further reminiscing. I told you this would veer off from the topic of music.

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Ah, Delta Dawn

29 Jul

When I was a kid I loved this song. LOVED IT. I would wake up in my sleep singing it. I had no idea precisely what the song was about–something about a flower that this Delta Dawn girl was wearing. A rose from long ago.  (Come to think of it, most of the “adult” songs I sang growing up I had no idea what they even meant, that they were about love and cheating men and bar fights and scorn and torn up hearts. I just sang along to the ones that cornered me.)

There were the standouts:

Billy Don’t Be a Hero by Paper Lace

Anything on Helen Reddy’s I AM WOMAN album.

The Jackson 5 of course.

John Denver (Oh, how I loved that man’s voice and soul bits!)

James Taylor

See, now I’m hurting over here. My seven year old soul has returned and I feel a tear forming. I cannot continue with this list right now. I’m going to go sit alone in my room until I feel like 2010 again.

The Great Gilly Hopkins

13 Jul

This book. Oh This Book. It meant so very much to me in 1978 when I was just a young child in foster care in Maryland. This book. Oh, this book. The parallels were beyond similar yet Gilly Hopkins and I were so incredibly different.

I was mean. I was angry. I was weary at such a young age. I was a fighter. I was bad. A twisted rebel rouser. Brewing. Ticking.

So Gilly Hopkins and I–though I loathed parts of her–were twins in print.

In the same year this book was released and I discovered it, I was sent to my very first foster home and my first group home after my kind gentle social worker removed me with police escort from the evil biological mother’s place. When I look back on this book and read the summary I realize that it was not just written in the very same year I went through similar turmoil, but that just like in my life the story took place in Maryland, of all places. Wow-ah.

All I know is this book was a light in a tunnel. It was a hand being reached out to me as I thrashed in a ditch. To be a kid and come upon a book that speaks to you in such a profound way. Oh! One day as an adult this book just popped into my mind, the details were murky except I remember the girl was just like me yet unlike me and that she was in foster care and she was troubled and that the cover of the book showed a girl blowing a huge bubble gum bubble and that she was a bully and that she didn’t like her foster care surroundings. That’s all I could remember in detail; it was the deep resonation of the book that I couldn’t shake.

Children book writers have the sheer power to save a life. Or two. Or thousands.

It’s like having18 toes and hobbling around in a world of 10 toes, feeling all lonely and different and abandoned, and then strolling into the school library one day and discovering a book about a person with 19 toes and how they survive while presenting their 19 toes to the world. As art.

Remembering Michael Jackson: Circa 1977

25 Jun

In the summer of 1977 I was sent to live with the Birth Conduit a.k.a. my biological “mother” (and I use the quotes generously) by my maternal grandmother who was getting sicker by the year. I was just too much for her to bear. I arrived at the Birth Conduit’s (B.C.) ugly near empty apartment in Maryland and sat there on the couch staring at the walls. Literally. I had a few things I had brought with me from my grandparents’ home. Just a few things. The B.C. made me throw out most of my precious belongings out of sheer cruelty. I wasn’t allowed to play outside. There was no TV watching allowed. No arts and crafts. Definitely no conversation. No affection. No food variety. Same ole crap every day. It was quite a hideous existence, suddenly.

There are so many things to write about such an evil person but bandwidth slash time slash not-the-place-here prohibits me from doing so. Not to mention this is a blog about my predominant right sideness, not my monstrous unstable childhood. But the point is, I sat in that solemn apartment in totally unfamiliar surroundings with awful punishments like being forced to stand in a corner of the living room–nose to the crevice where two walls met–for hours with not much but a couple of Jackson 5 records.  I also had Judy Blume’s book Blubber and Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy but those Jackson 5 records were my absolute lifeline. 

Though he was several years older than I, Michael especially was a kid (though on vinyl) that I could somehow relate to.

I had always been obsessed with M.J. and his brothers, but particularly him. His perfectly high pitched voice and his flawless dancing and his gargantuan soulfulness carried me through that new hell. It was already a doozy of a summer. Elvis died. Freddie “Chico & the Man” Prinze died. My childhood had its first real death. Child abuse began– instead of on an occasional visit the B.C. made to my grandparents, now it was on a daily basis.

So I listened to those two or three records on a tiny record player over and over and over careful not to scratch the precious vinyl.

“2, 4, 6, 8 who do we appreciate?’

“Got to be there”

“I’ll bet you”

I learned every single beat, chord, breath, sigh in each and every song. I could imitate Michael’s singing voice so well that it sounded like him singing over his own voice. On Christmas day I actually wondered what he was doing, if he was opening presents or eating cranberry sauce like I used to at my grandmother’s. I was obsessed with him, even before Maryland. In my grandmother’s living room. I acted out one-girl skits to each Jackson 5 song. (Sure, there were other albums on hand like Chicago and Helen Reddy and even Spike Jones but I’m talking about J5 here, the most prominent and exciting music for kids under our roof.)

I probably would’ve jumped out of that top floor apartment window and splattered on the pavement below had it not been for Michael (& his brothers). So even a year later his death feels like a stabbing, a robbery, a twister, a gaping hole-like devastation. Some people will only remember his latter weirdness and peculiarity; I can’t forget my childhood with Michael. I don’t want to forget.

First Day of Summer

21 Jun

You could’ve fooled me. I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t summer yet and I’ve lived through many, many summers. Why, it’s been so hot some days before today. Sticky hot. T-shirt stuck to the backside hot. “Where are my shorts?!” hot. “I need a Slurpee right now!” hot. Sweat behind the ears hot. “Is there enough freon in my car’s air conditioning system??” hot. “Gosh, it’s just MAY?” hot.  Two-toned arms from the sun hot. Angry hot. “Oh, I love the fall, especially October” hot.

I actually love the summertime. It reminds me of childhood summers frolicking in the yard, running up and down the street until sunset. Fourth of July. My birthday. The Ice Cream Man and his jingling bells. Loud rickety fans blowing all night and day at my grandparents’ house. Summer fruits and their sticky juiciness. Going to the drive-in movies and eating anything with mustard on it. (I truly love mustard.) Mosquito bites. Dark rings around the white tub after taking a bath at the end of the day. Having to scrub aforementioned dark rings with Comet after taking a bath and letting all of the water out of the tub. Frogs. Gnats. Bees. Plum trees. Going to the beach and not wanting to return home. Flip flops. Tank tops. Disrupting ant colonies. Boy crushes. Neighborhood fights. Playing kickball until the ball itself got tired. Monkey bars.

It’s funny how things change, evolve, upheave.

Instead of running to the Ice Cream Man, I mosey into 7-11 and get ice cream on a stick.  Instead of playing outside until dusk I sit in rush hour traffic until dusk. Instead of going to the drive-in movie I have to stand in line at the AMC and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with people who loudly crunch popcorn in the dark.  Would it be odd for me to just show up in someone’s yard and swing around on their monkey bars? What if I got stuck?

There are times I wish I had a time machine, that I could revert back to childhood–whatever the  best day was–just for an afternoon.

Ah, but I do still have mustard and loud fans.

Ain’t No Father’s Day

20 Jun

I didn’t exactly have a father growing up. I didn’t exactly have a father after I was all grown up. I lived with (was officially adopted by) my maternal grandparents for a part of my childhood so my step-grandfather was my only father. He was a force of nature. He made his own hooch. Nevermind the gnats that congregated in the house and dinged us in the head as we watched “Welcome Back Kotter.” He always drove old beaters that pooped and sighed for several minutes after he’d turned the engine off. He had so much junk in the yard that we suffered teasing throughout our entire childhood. (“Our” being my grandparents’ two youngest kids, my aunt & uncle who were more like my brother and sister). He (still talking about my grandfather) would eat right through moldy foods while we cringed and gagged. He rarely wore new shoes, preferring hand-downs that were “just as good as new.” He worked hard and loved the “women-folk.” When my grandmother got ill, he took care of her like a nurse. He bought us watermelon and cherries and sparklers in the summer. He drove us to school when we missed the bus. In fact, he would drive my sister-aunt and I to McDonalds for what we specifically wanted and then he would drive my brother-uncle to Burger King to get his Whopper, etc.  He never said, “Just eat from the same place.” No, he got it and he accomodated us. He was gentle and kind and fun and precious.

Our daschund loved him more than all of us put together. She would climb into his lap the moment he got home and would not move until he moved. After his kitchen chair nap that he took while still wearing his government jumpsuit with his name patch.

He outlived so many people. He had obituaries piled in boxes. Some of the people he succeeded were half his age. He rented rooms to random people, gave them a place to stay when they were hard up. He loved plants and tools and gardening and the wonder of fruit growing from trees and springing up from soil. He loved the History Channel in later years, sometimes leaving the channel on for days at a time. We would tell him, “Pop, there are other channels.” He would hear none of it. He fought in Pearl Harbor. He was stationed in Guam. He worked on the railroad. He built things.  As an adult, he let me live with him many times either rent-free or dirt rent cheap so that I could “get on my feet.” He was the King of Hospitality offering his home, his sheets, his food, his bathroom, his bread, even his car at times.

He saw so many things come and go, come and go. He lived through assasinations and civil rights and was actually able to see a brown man become President of the United States. With a cane supporting him, he voted for the first time in his life for his “man”, Obama.

His eyes have seen the glory. He loved the Redskins by default. He loved to dance. He loved to tell tall tales.

He was an institution.

He died earlier this year at 92 years of age. He said he planned to make it to 100 but cancer made other plans.

I was driving today and thought of him. Again. I thought, “Gosh, I wish I could just call up Daddy and hear his voice, hear him tell a tale. Go visit him…”

92 years was too short for such a man. Such a man.

The Catcher in the Rye

22 May

This was one of the few most influential books of my very life (and I’ve read many books).

This cover was found through a Google search.  It’s like the cover I have from 12th grade actually. When I first read the book I was floored. It was like before I read The Catcher in the Rye and after I read The Catcher in the Rye. I wanted to know everything about the author Jerome David Salinger. Then I found Franny and Zoey and Raise High the Roof Beam,  Carpenters. To discover that the author was a recluse made me want to find a way to stalk him gently.

I mean, I was Holden Caulfield.  And for a while I even started writing in his voice–a lot of “Oh, it was just awful”s and plenty of heavy sighing as if the entire world (except me) was just plain dumb and clueless. On top of that I had terrible sarcasm at everything under the sun.

See, Holden and I, we were searchers. We chased our tails. We packed our bags. We left places we deemed boring, stagnant, lackluster. We arrived disgruntled and ornery. We were twisted and tangled and leery of others. We headed north. And south. And east. And west. We never arrived at our destinations, really.

We had duffle bags.