April 23, 2009

Lennie looks happily toward the river as George shoots him in the back of the head.

When I was 21 I moved to New York with a guy I met in a bar. I really just like saying that out loud to people and watching their expressions. In reality, yes, I did meet Dan in a bar, but it was 8 months later that I moved to New York with him. And 11 months after that, I called my parents and asked them to come get me.


My late teens and early twenties started out normal enough – part-time job at a clothing store, enrolled in college, steady boyfriend, but over the course of a couple of months, things went radically wrong. I kind of started to break apart. I quit my job, I dropped out of college and I broke up with the boyfriend. My three older sisters were all out of the house, so my parents decided to sell our house and move into a smaller place. For several months, my only job was painting their kitchen cabinets. I cannot begin to tell you how long it took me to do it, but I think I averaged 1 cabinet door a week. I would take it off the hinges, bring it into the garage, sand it and paint it. The whole operation took forever because I would smoke a bunch of cigarettes and drink beer the whole time. Eventually, I would have enough beer that I would not care about the cabinet and would just go inside and watch TV.


Can you imagine how disappointed my parents must have been? Actually, looking back on it, I’m not even sure they even noticed what was going on. They both worked full-time, they had 3 out of 4 kids married off and out of the house and were just so relieved my “big news” was that I dropped out of college and not that I was pregnant, that I could have been canning human beings in the garage and they would not have cared.


It was around this time in my life that I met Dan. I was hanging out in this bar called Le Bon Temps Roules on a nightly basis. My sister Emily went with me most nights, but some nights I went alone. Mostly, I went with people because I liked having a ride home. Generally I drank until I passed out, so driving drunk wasn’t really an option for me. I met him playing pool. This is what Em and I did most nights, went to Bon Temps and plated pool. She was the pretty, funny one and I was the brooding mean drunk in the corner using the pool cue to steady myself. So, it was surprising when Dan started talking to me and not her. Everyone talked to her, people just tolerated me.


He told jokes, he may have bought me a beer, maybe I won the pool game…who knows, it is all a long ago blur. He was nice to me and that was something most people weren’t as I generally did not attract a good caliber of people. We stayed out all night, ending up at a breakfast joint where I knew for sure he would leave me when I went to the bathroom. But, he was still at the table when I came back. This only confirmed by suspicion that he would kill me before the night was over, but he didn’t do that either. Instead, he asked me for my number and said he would call, which I was certain he would not, but he did.


He was a senior at Tulane and we dated until he graduated and moved back home to Long Island. I was crushed when he left and I returned to drinking every day, something I had managed to avoid while dating him. We talked on the phone and I held back my tears so he wouldn’t know how desperately I needed to be with him. Drinking every day wears on a body, even a young one.

When he asked me to move up to New York with him I said yes without a moment’s hesitation. With him, I felt smarter and prettier than I was. I knew I was a fraud, like I had fooled him into thinking I was something, when, deep inside, I knew that was a dirty lie.


And so, I moved to New York, with the guy I had met in a bar.


And looking back, it was one of the bravest things I have ever done. I left home, for the first time ever, with $800, 2 years of college under my belt, and a 1984 Toyota Tercel. I had no job lined up and knew no one except Dan, who had a job that required him to work somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 hours per week. I wanted him to fall to his knees and profess his undying love for me. I wanted him to love me more than I did myself and I wanted him to validate my very existence. It’s a tall order for a 24 year old recent college grad from a background as dysfunctional as my own.


Still, I assumed his silences were him thinking how repulsive I was and that his time away from me was his reaction to my very existence. In the years that have passed, I now realize none of these things is true. We were young. We didn’t know how to tell each other the things we felt inside. I didn’t know how to tell him he made my knees week and he was as capable of telling me he loved me and he was of spontaneously taking flight.


The point is, we did it any way. We went out on a limb and gave it an honest try. We played house and discovered both the joys and exhaustion of a constant partner, and then we called it quits. Well, it was a lot more dramatic than that and involved one last fling (no really, this is the last time…,) a stalking and a set of slashed tires, but the end result was the dissolution of a relationship that had been dear to me.


I am not that brave anymore. I won’t sign up for heartbreak of any kind and not just because I am now married and not “out there.” A friend of mine once said making friends as an adult is a lot like dating. You swap numbers, wonder when is an appropriate time or reason to call, make a “date,” and then wonder if you talked too much about yourself or chewed with your mouth open or divulged too many of your secrets. And then, you wonder if the potential friend will feel the same way. Will he or she reciprocate with a call or an offer of another get together? And then, even after you invest all the time, sometimes, people end up not being who you thought they were or wished they were.


I am scared to make the investment. I don’t want to be hurt or left behind. So, I keep you at arms length, but all the while, all I want is to grab you and put you in my pocket and take you with me wherever I go. I am, at my core, Lennie Small. But I spend most of my day pretending to be aloof and confident.


I keep looking for the clever way to end this post, but really, there isn’t one. I just likened myself to an overly strong and affectionate mental retard. I can hear the crickets from here.

April 7, 2009

She's Got L'eggs

I was driving home from Target this weekend and Max was in the back seat playing with the Easter eggs I had gotten him to bribe him into the cart so he would stop running around like an escaped monkey from the primate center. They were those multi-colored plastic eggs that snap a part. You know, the ones you fill with stuff to hide for an Easter egg hunt or to put in a basket. He loves these eggs. Even empty, they bring him a great amount of joy. I started questioning this, almost judging my three year old for his fascination with empty plastic eggs, when all of a sudden, I was hit with a sharp and distinct memory – L’eggs panty hose eggs.

Anyone who was alive in the 70’s remembers L’eggs. In fact, I venture to say the pantyhose are still around. I am loathe to wear panty hose under any circumstances, so I am no expert on best brands or even still produced brands. Anyway, I guess my mom would get these hose and they came in a white plastic egg like this –


She would take out the crumpled up nude hose and give me the white plastic shell to play with. The eggs were bigger than the Easter variety, but the same concept – you could snap them apart, put things in it, like change or Barbie shoes, snap then 2 sides back together, and, voila, you had a super-secret hiding place! That is, of course, if you consider a giant white plastic egg super-secret and inconspicuous.

Thinking about the eggs also elicited a couple of other really strong memories of the house I grew up in. When I was 4, we moved from Asher Street all they way to 6504 Blanke Street. It was 7 blocks away, but it was a two story house, thus it might as well have been like moving to Mars. I kid you not, I think we moved from a 400 square foot house into what felt like a 3,000 square foot house. But, I was a lot smaller, so I think my numbers might be a little off.

What the Blanke Street had besides a SECOND FLOOR! was ample closet space. If I had this much closet space in my current adult home, I could die a happy woman with many, many coats and linens. These closets, when I was a child, made me happy for other reasons.


When I see Max playing with plastic eggs or having a conversation with a TV character…when the TV is off, I am brought back to my own childhood. I was shy, almost pathologically shy and I found great solace in small spaces. So, I spent a fair amount of my childhood hanging out in the closets of 6504 Blanke Street. To better illustrate the closets of my childhood, I have used my intensive architecture training to construct detailed and scaled blueprints of my childhood home.


Floor 1



Floor 2



The house was shaped like an inverted L so that the 2nd floor was not across the whole length of the house. Let’s start on the ground floor. As you enter the house via the front door and into the foyer, you take your first left into the hall where immediately to your right is the under the stairs closet. This closet had a sloped roof and was chock full of coats. In fact, for a family of 6 that lived in the South, I think we had enough coats to outfit a small tribe of Native Americans in Alaska. I do not know why we had so many coats because really, I don’t ever remember wearing one as a kid.


This closet also served as our tornado shelter. We never used it for that purpose except for the one time my mom swore she saw a twister over Lake Ponchartain on the way home from the grocery and ran in screaming at us to get into the hall closet. She then proceeded to make my very skinny sister Alice hold a 5 pound bag of sugar on her lap so she would not blow away. I think maybe one of us should have sat in Alice as I doubt 5 pounds would have made a difference when she only weighed about 85 pounds.


The beauty of this closet was that if you wiggled your way past the coats, you had a lovely space that was perfect for small people. The maximum ceiling height was maybe 3.5 feet and sloped all the way down. It was the perfect place to put a Barbie make-up head. You might remember this. It was a giant Barbie head that you could put make-up on and you could style her hair.


Her hair felt like fishing wire, but it was blonde and I had pooh-brown hair, so she was beautiful to me. I think I may have attempted to bring an Easy Bake Oven into the closet and was thwarted by the lack of a power outlet, thank god. I was the youngest of 4 girls, so mom was pretty tired by the time I was growing up.


The other closet on the first floor where I spent a good chunk of my formative years was my parents' closet in their bedroom. They had a massive walk-in closet with, seriously, enough clothing to open their own Goodwill store and not need donations for years. I do not know why they had so many clothes. In fact, in writing this, I am now beginning to think that maybe my parents were pathological hoarders of some sort, but that is a topic for another day.


The phone cord on the phone in my parents’ room would reach into their closet, so that is where all high school discussions took place. I planned dates, talked about boys, dreamed up new lies to tell my parents and generally wasted time and space all while staring at my father’s extensive collection of clip on ties and white shoes. More than once, he booted me from his closet so he could get dressed.


The second floor had two hall closets. One was basically a linen closet. It was maybe 18 inches deep and had shelves. We kept our linens I suppose in one of the other 500 closets we had because this closet contained only books. Actually, I am not even sure we had additional linens. Changing the bed sheets was more of an annual thing for our family. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I realized that this was something that should be done more frequently. So, from floor to ceiling of the linen closet,  it was books. Years and years worth of Scholastic book club orders were stored here. We had multiple copies of many books because our poor frazzled mother could not keep up with who ordered what or maybe she was just tired of arguing with our demands to have our “own” copy and willingly ponied up the extra .75 cents to have peace and quiet.


Across from the book/linen closet was another hall closet that was a walk in closet with, you guessed it, more coats! And hats and an assorted array of other junk. One of my favorite things to do was to pick a few books from the library (linen/book closet) and retire to my own private study (hall closet) and enjoy a quiet read. There was light and always a plethora of coats to lounge on. The main problem was the heat. There was no air conditioning vent in the closet and since it was an upstairs closet, it would get stifling in there. I often emerged well-read, but looking as if I had just run a marathon. I can vividly remember sitting in there reading Ramona the Pest and droplets of sweat falling onto the pages.


For some reason, I never spent time in the closets of my rooms, and at one time or another, I inhabited just about every bedroom in that house. When we first moved in, Emily was forced to share the downstairs bedroom with me. I was afraid of the dark and she was the closest in age, so she got stuck with me and a bright night light. It didn’t matter what room I was in, I always ended up in bed with Mom. Everyone knows only the closeness of your mother can ward off ghosts and all evil associated with the night.


Our two older sisters theoretically had their own rooms upstairs, but my oldest sister Angelle did like to sleep alone, so her stuff and a bed lived in her room, but she actually slept in Alice’s room at night. Once Angelle got older, she moved to the downstairs room and Emily and I moved to the room that used to be hers. Again, Emily had to suffer with my phobic dislike of darkness. Finally, when I was nearly 18, I got my own room. And one year later, my parents sold the damn house.


I lived in that house from the age of 4 until I was 19. To this day, all of my dreams take place in that house. In my subconscious mind, I still live there. I still hide out in the closets and wish I could convert the attic into my own room like Greg Brady. I remember that the house had a whole house intercom system. I think it broke 20 minutes after we moved in, but we had some fun with it. The house also had an electric range in the kitchen that, if you held the handle of the frying pan and touched any of the controls at the same time, it would give you an electric shock.


One summer, we got our hands on a Little Fryer and ate french fries for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The summer my oldest sister got her learner’s permit, she took all of us on rides up and down the driveway all day. The result was she could fly into the driveway at 30 mph and never hit the back of the garage. She also could back out of that tricky driveway without turning around.


Of all my childhood memories, it is always the small, weird ones that stick with me. We had a huge backyard and tons of kids on the block, and I remember the closets. So who am I to judge my son’s love of empty Easter eggs?