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It Was In The Cards

I am not sure how many of us were freefalling it in the back of the station wagon.  At least four of us, maybe five.  Us cousins.  The children of my father and his identical twin brother, just hanging out – zipping along the highway doing 85, tumbling around in the back of the truckster with nary a seatbelt – or seat – in sight.  I am reasonably certain that the back hatch window was lifted and propped open also.

1977.  The year of living dangerously.

It was a nice, bright sunny day.  I was 9 years old, all the cousins younger than me, all of us without a care in the galaxy.

We had been prepped for this outing for a while by the twin fathers.  We were going to see a space movie.  Really, the twin fathers were in this for themselves and we were just tagging along for the ride in the accidental-death-and-dismembermentmobile.

The point is we were going and we were all excited.

This was not the first movie I had seen, but it is the first movie I truly remember seeing.

I remember the opening.  The blackness of space.  The gazillions of stars.  The introduction of the saga drifting off into infinity.  My father reading the words aloud and saying to himself “That is so cool…that it’s a long, long time ago”.  I remember saying “No, this is the future.”  And he whispered excitedly “No, it’s not.  It’s a long, long time ago”.  Huh?  And without the rest of the world even knowing it I experienced my very first mind-fuck at that very instant.

During the ride back afterward, crammed in the back of the wagon and hopped up on the speedball we had just seen, we were all already fighting over who would get to play each character when we got home.  The music kept playing in my head.  That music – one of the best movie overtures ever.

Later that night I would write in chicken scratch in my diary with a worn down pencil, “That was the best movie I have ever seen in my WHOLE life”.

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 Whenever one of my parents would go to the White Hen on 79th street, my sister and I would shout “Get me something, okay!”  Which of course meant, bring me some candy okay?  Or we would beg to go with them.

One night my Mom took me, and I went straight for the candy.  And maybe a Tiger Beat, depending on who was on the cover.  If it was Leif Garrett I was in.  Shaun Cassidy I was out.

Over by the candy, I saw them.   I got really excited and brought three packs over to my mother at the counter.  Please can I get one or all of them?  I got one.

I got in the car, opened it up immediately, shoved the chalky, steel-hard gum in my mouth and rifled through the cards.  They were shiny and stuck together from the newness.

And there were stickers too!  Oh that was so cool.

From that point on me and The Hen were BFFs.  More…needed more.

Over and over and over and over I would go through this same ritual.  Sometimes it was very disappointing because I would get duplicates.  Lots of duplicates.  I would give some of those away, or trade them with other nerds.

But once in a while, I’d get the mac-daddy I had been coveting.  And when I had them all, I started over.

I kept them all meticulously lined up in the left-hand corner of the bottom drawer of my dresser.  For years.  And years.  And more years…grade school, high school, college.  I loved them.  I would keep them forever.

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 After graduating from college in 1990 and going out on my own in 1991, my parents decided that after 18 years it was time to move out of my childhood home.  I went back to pack and it was a bittersweet day for all of us.  My sister and I went into the basement with my parents and started reminiscing about all the good, no…great, times we’d had in that house and how much we would miss it.  It then occurred to me that I would never live in the house my family was moving into.  It was emotional.

All of my stuff was packed.  And I had a LOT of stuff.  If something held even the slightest sentimental value to me, I kept it.  Boxes and boxes and tubs of memories were closed up.  One in particular held the contents of my bottom dresser drawer.  It was the most important box.  It was not going with me, though, because I was super poor and living with two roommates and storage was whaaat??

So off went my bottom drawer in the safe and loving and extremely responsible arms of my Mom and Dad.

Yessssssss.  Sure it did.

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Off I went to begin living my exhilaratingly spectacularly interesting life.  I was busy, man.  I would visit my parents of course, but never really thought much about where my junk was until probably a year later.

“Hey Dad where are the boxes from my room?”

“In the crawl space”.

Yeah, that damned crawl space.  Do not buy a house without a basement for chrissakes, I chided them.  But they didn’t care.  They did it anyway.  They did not want to have a basement that would just accumulate junk.  So instead they got a scary, dank 3-foot high hole in the ground in which to accumulate junk.  Come onnnnnn.

So I crawled like vermin into the pit of despair looking for something, I forget what.  Once down there I remembered.  I need to get those cards so that I could hold them close to my bosom whenever I wanted.

I looked.  And looked.  And bashed my head on a beam.  And seethed four letter words like (earmuffs) shit, damn, fuck and son-of-a-bitch.  Cuz guess what?  There was no bottom drawer.

There were no cards.  I really felt sick.

I felt like I had lost my best, inanimate, shiny-paper friends and I was PISSED.

I immediately hissed “Dad”.  I knew it was him.  He has a little more than OCD when it comes to clutter.  He does not like it.  And he did not like the boxes that pretended to be clutter-free.  He did not trust boxes.  And I just KNEW he threw them out while cackling through an evil, snarling, laugh….”Gone, Gonnneee, GONE!!!!”

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 At various points over the following 9 years, the topic of my most prized possessions would come up.  And it always went the same way:  I would either ask again where they could be or go back down and look for them again, then I would be mad to the point of tears when my Dad would say so cavalierly “Oh for God’s sake, I did NOT throw them out!  I’m sure they are somewhere.  You are so dramatic”.

Number One:  No shit.  I was an actor.

Number Two:  HOW COULD YOU THROW OUT MY SHIT!!!!!!!

For those of you wondering why a grown woman made her parents responsible for her most prized possession….I say “I do not know”, so just shhhhhhhh.

Oh, sure, my father and I managed to break bread together and continue a cordial relationship.  And to the untrained eye everything was super great!  My mom would try to back him up, but she knew as well as I did that he probably chucked them off the moving truck before you could say “Help me, Obi Wan…”

For 9 damn years these cards would come up in conversation, several times a year.  It became a joke of sorts.  TO EVERYONE ELSE.  When there was nothing else to do and everyone was bored someone would think “Hey, see that big, red Fisher-Price button over there on Laura’s head??  Push THAT!”

But life chugged along, and I pushed past the clearly first-world pain of it all.  And I gave up.

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Christmas Eve, 1999.

The Eve was always so much more fun and looked forward to than Christmas day itself.  My Grandma and Papa were both still alive then.  We all had fewer wrinkles and less Ben-Gay usage.  We ate my Mom’s famous fried smelt and my aunt’s famous pizzelels, we laughed with cousins.

And, we opened presents.

We were all pretty much done, and then I got one my sister did not get.  My mother throughout our entire lives treated me and my younger sister as if we were Bizarro World identical twins – getting the same number and mostly same actual gifts with only minor variations.  I understand this practice now that I have three sons, especially since the disastrous Present Counting of 2012.  My mother is a genius.

My sister did  not get this present though.  There was a note attached to this one for me – and my Mom said to read it out loud to everyone.

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Then this:

 

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My parents and sister knew what was in there of course.  It is my sister you hear busting a gut at my reaction.  My dearly departed Grandma can be heard laughing throughout.  Further in the video my cousin says “I’ve never seen anyone go so crazy over Star Wars cards”, and my brother-in-law said to my sister “That’s a little dramatic isn’t it?”.  And my sister, who usually rolled her eyes at my Thespianism, said “Nah, that’s for real”.

Back in 1999 my parents had gone down into the crawl space the same they did every year to get the Christmas tree.  While down there my Dad opened up some box that I had miraculously missed every single damn time, opened it up and called to my Mom…”Look what I found”.

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They are not really worth much.  Lots of kids kept those cards.  Lots of collectors had the forethought to keep those cards in pristine condition or in their original wrapping.  But that’s not really the point, is it?

It is the tangibleness of memories that made them so special to me.  I like time machines.  Plus, they are just badass.

They now sit in that same box on my dresser, in plain sight so I can keep my eye on them.  Sometimes I bolt awake in a cold sweat, panting hard…”Where are they, where ARE they???”  Ugh, I don’t.  But I really should.  Once in a while I take them down and show my boys, who now love Star Wars as much as I do.  When they ask “Mom, can we play with your Star Wars cards!”, I turn into Clark Griswold passing by and waxing poetic about the St. Louis Arch as Russ and Audrey excitedly ask to go into it….”No”.  Sure, of course when they are older and more responsible in their 30’s.  What, am I CRAZY??

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That was the best, most awesome Christmas present I have ever received.  If someone had asked me what the odds were that I would ever see those cards again I would have said, really super not good.  But as any good Star Wars geek would have reminded me, “Never tell me the odds”.

Sometimes what is lost can be found.  Sometimes your parents and family truly know what is important to you and don’t chuck your memories off a moving truck.

I should have kept the faith.   I am so fortunate.  So lucky.  My family is pretty great.  A powerfully good force in my life.

“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”.

(No.  Wait…)

“You talkin’ to ME?”

(Nope.  Hold on…)

“I see dead people”.

(Arghhhh, that’s not IT…)

(Ah, here it comes…) 

HEAVY-HANDEDNESS FAIR WARNING EARMUFFS ALERT:

May the force be with you.

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Dear Diary.

Posted on

When I was 9 years old my mother took me to Woolworth’s.  Oh how I loved that store.  Being surrounded by all the neat stuff there (otherwise known to us adults as crapola) was like being in Heaven for me.  I’m sure my mother did everything she could to avoid taking me and my sister to Woolworth’s mainly because she’d end up spending hard-earned money on well, crapola.

My life in some pages...

I tended to gravitate toward the paper aisle.  Scads and heaps and troves of paper as far as the eye could see.  Notebooks made heart race.  I wanted to buy all of them; one big shopping cart full of empty pages to be filled with drawings or doodles, but mostly writing.

It was there in that aisle my mother let me pick out a little spiral bound notebook.  It was green.  It cost .33 according to its top, right-hand corner, and it would be my very first diary.  I wrote this warning on the cover:  “DO NOT OPEN – Notebook for Notes!”   Above that I had scratched out the word “Diary”, which you can still clearly read.  I think it really threw people off the scent of its true function.

I kept one diary every year for 12 years, starting from the age of 9 – 4th grade, through the age of 21 – Junior/Senior year in college.  I’ve kept all of them, although I seem to have temporarily misplaced 1979 and a few others.  They’ll turn up.

There is no better way I could travel back in time than reading these things.  Not even with a DeLorean.

I will now give you some random excerpts from just a few of these diaries because, well, it’s scintillating stuff.  The depth and worldliness of my observations is kind of astonishing.  There’s really no other word for it.   Please take a moment and enter my pre and emerging pubescent mind, with some 43-year-old commentary.  If you dare.

Has held up well for 33 cents. 1978.

March 19, 1978 – Age 9:  My boyfriend Mike moved because his father had to move closer to his work.  I loved him. And he loved me.  It was true love. 

Mike once asked me to say “robin red-breast”, so I did.  He laughed and said “you said breast”.  I fell hook, line and sinker.  How could I not?  Our love was deep, and it was binding.

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March 28, 1978 – Age 9:  I’m sorry that I’m so late in writing but I got tied up.  I haven’t seen Mike since he moved.  I’m sure he’s forgotten all about me.  I like Jeff.

I must have been tied up in meetings.  I think 9 days was an appropriate mourning period.

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March 29, 1978 – Age 9: My friend Jan stayed overnight last night.  We had a super busy day.  We went to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It was about UFO’s (flying saucers).  Then we went home and ate and then we went into the basement and skated.  Boy what a busy day.

1984. This one is fairly sparse. Shame, it was a good year.

I’m not sure how I survived that day, yeesh.  Whew.  Just reading about it makes me super exhausted.  Those skates had metal wheels, not the fancy rubbery plastic kind.  No stoppers/breaks on the toes.  Those were some old-school skates.  The metal wheels were dented in places so it was kind of like skating on squares.  The laminate flooring in our basement bore the scars from our skate parties, and so did the walls and doors due to our roller derby, high-octane collisions.  Every few minutes from upstairs we’d hear “**%$^%$#….KNOCK IT OFF!”  But we were pretty bad-ass, so we didn’t.

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Junior/Senior year in High School. 1985-86.

March 30, 1978 – Age 9:  I spent the night at Jan’s house last night.  Her Mom made us clean the house and vacuum the living room and I knocked over a plant.  Her mom was out somewhere and came home that very minute but I ran so she didn’t have time to yell at me.

There are so many things wrong here.  Why did my friend’s mom make a 9-year-old guest clean her house and vacuum her carpet, while she was out getting a mani/pedi?  I do not note whether or not I was paid, but I suspect not.  Why did I scamper away due to the toppled plant?  Where was I going…I lived five miles away?  Why didn’t I man-up and say “Bitch, clean your own house!” while throwing the vacuum cleaner handle down and stomping out with pride? I’ll never know the answers to these burning questions.

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???? 12, 1978 – Age 10:  I got my report card today.  Last time I got a U, a big fat U, in “talking”.  But this time I got an S -.  So not too bad.  Man, if I got another U my dad would probably beat me. 

I wrote on this one with a peppermint scented pen. 1980-81.

Let me be clear, my father never beat me.  Back then you could make reference to even just the threat of “getting beat” by your parents without FOX News doing a sixty minute expose on it.  Those were the days.  I did talk a damn lot.  And most of my “U”s were in bright red ink, I think to emphasize the fact that if I could have gotten a “Z” in “talking” I would have.  It was the beginning of my disdain for the tail end of the alphabet.

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December 27, 1978 – Age 10:  This year’s Christmas was pretty good excepting I got the chicken pox.  I was loaded with them on my head, in my ear, in my mouth and everywhere else you could name.  I got the pox the last day of school before Christmas vacation and I missed the party and I was in charge of it!  And then my Dad got tickets to the Nutcracker Suite but I couldn’t go because I had a lot of the pox all over me. 

The Pox.  The dreaded Pox.  I had it bad, but not as bad as one boy I knew who was rumored to have scratched his wiener completely off during his stint with The Pox.  I’m pretty sure it was true.  I’ve seen that boy a few times over the years and my eyes always…travel…down….

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October 24, 1980 – Age 12:  Tonight at 7:00 I am going to my very first boy-girl dance!  Since I’m on student council I’ll get out of a whole day of school to decorate the gym.

This one is flannel. So comfy. 1986-87.

Really?  A WHOLE day??  To hang up some construction paper and sweep the floors?   No wonder I got a 7 in Math on my ACT.  I remember that day, and all we did was listen to the music us girls brought in so we could make the playlist..the playlist consisting of a 7 foot high stack of vinyl 45’s.

– Right now it’s 6:30 and me and Julie are getting ready for the dance.  I am wearing light blue pants and a blue turtle neck with a white vest.  I set my hair in curlers of course, but the curl didn’t stay in.  I put eye shadow and lip gloss on.

Several things:  1. Blue pants and turtle neck, with a white vest…I…I…don’t know what to say.  It’s not right.  2.  Curlers.  I remember those curlers of my mom’s.  They were steam curlers.  When you’d open the lid of the casing to pull one out scalding hot water would launch out of the top, along with enough scorching steam to melt your face.  You could have powered all of Vegas with my mom’s 12-curler set, the Hoover be damned.  3. I remember the eye shadow was green, which was the perfect choice to compliment my “Hee-Haw!” outfit.  I don’t know why someone didn’t help me.

– Now it’s 8 o’clock and the girls are on one side of the gym and the boys on another side.  All the girls took off their shoes because the boys were too short. 

It’s not like we were wearing stilettos.  Those boys were damn short.  Freakishly short.  Like Lilliputians, and I was only about 5’2″ at the time.  Um.  Yes. I took my diary with me lots of places.  Apparently I took it to this dance.  Geeeeeeeek.  What did I do, stick it in the back pocket of my electric blue pants next to my comb while I was swaying back and forth relentlessly…sorry, dancing…. with a boy?  I also wrote down who danced with who and how many times.  I made a chart.  What the….?

'Cuz nothing says "SECRET!" like huge black letters on a shiny, silver background screaming "SECRET!" 1981-82.

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November 18, 1980 – Age 12:  Today I’m working on my book.  I watched some TV too.  Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days.  I need a new bra and some long sleeve shirts.  And I want a piano. 

“…the attention span of a gnat” takes on a whole new meaning here.

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November 20, 1980 – Age 12:  Today we played dodge ball in gym class.  I ended up being the only one left on my side so naturally everyone on the other side was aiming for my head and neck.  I was lucky to only get hit hard in the side. 

Naturally the head and neck is where the four guys on the other side simultaneously aimed for me.  It makes perfect sense.  And I believe the gym teacher who sat off to the side, arms-folded on top of his beer belly literally pointing and laughing at me, yelled to me the phrase which Rip Torn inevitably pilfered:  “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”

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November 21, 1980 – Age 12:  We finally found out who shot J.R.!  I thought it was Cliff Barnes.  Grandma thought it was Kristin.  Mom thought it was Dr. Elby (he’s a sicko) and my sister thought it was Pam.  But Grandma was right!  But now Kristin is pregnant with J.R.’s baby so he can’t call the cops on her or his baby will be born in jail. 

My Grandmother was a prophet.  Who else could have ever guessed it was Kristin when you had that sicko Dr. Elby running loose?  Grandma should have played the lottery that day. 

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My Grandma phase?? 1989-90.

December 1, 1980 – Age 12:  Today I feel like my life has ended.  John broke up with me in Art class.  He said we fight too much.  We went out for 1 month and 8 days.  He likes Jane.  She is such a slut. 

Ohhh, Johnny.  I really liked Johnny.  We did fight a lot though; about current events and who would be more rich and famous when we grew up.  I’m pretty sure I lost.  Also around that time I learned the difference between a “slut” and a “whore”.  Jane clearly deserved every bit of my appropriate assault on her chastity.  She DESERVED it.

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December 25, 1980 – Age 12:  Merry Christmas!  I got some stationary, books, lots of earrings, the new Styx album, an alarm clock and ATARI!  I also got a new diary, with a lock on it.  Atari is the best though. 

It was the best.  But most of my friends had Intelevision.  I hated Intelevision and worked hard to eradicate it from existence.  I did pretty well.  Styx “Cornerstone”.  I still have it.  You know it’s you, Babe.

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December 26, 1980 – Age 12:  I went to Mary’s slumber party tonight.  We watched The Amityville Horror.

The scene with Rod Steiger and the flies made me gag but I remember thinking it would have been scarier if they had been bats. And the bleeding walls made quite an impression.  I decided right then and there that I never wanted to live in a house with bleeding walls.  I’ve yet to cave on that decision.

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December 27, 1980 – Age 12:  Today we went by my aunt and uncle’s house and spent the night.  We all went to the roller rink.  Later on when we were watching TV me and my cousin Joe got into a fight and he hit me and gave me a fat lip.  But then I kicked him in the head.

Uh huh, but that kick in the head came about a half-hour AFTER our parents made us apologize to each other. 

This one survived a flood. Barely. 1987-88.

Only I didn’t really think I – needed – to apologize.  So while all the cousins were on the floor quietly watching TV as the parents played Pinochle,  I seethed, waited for my opening…stood up, and kicked him in the head.  He ran crying upstairs like a little girl because, shit, I kicked him in the head.  Yeah, go on…RUN.  He started it.

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December 28, 1980 – Age 12:  Played some Space Invaders today and then watched The Amityville Horror again and went to bed. 

Why was I always watching that movie???  Ahhh, right.  I forgot.  I was in love with James Brolin, going all the way back to Marcus Welby.  Mystery solved.

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December 31, 1980 – Age 12:  We went to Grandma’s tonight because my parents went out.  Me and Grandma stayed up until 2:30 am.  It was a blast. 

I wasn’t being sarcastic here.  I loved my Grandma.  I miss her.

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I hope you were able to absorb the profundity of these entries.  If so, check in some time in the future for the High School years.  It gets pretty steamy.  I won’t give it away but there is talk of (deep breaths)………………corduroys.

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