Aphrodite on Sale

When I was a girl, my housing development had this very nice pool. I was young enough that I spent the majority of my time with my friends in the pool, splashing around, timing how long we could hold our breath, that kind of thing. Around about 6th grade, we noticed that girls just a year or two older than we, spent their time lolling in the sun, slathered in coconut oil, in barely there bikinis. AInd, oh, were they beautiful.

One of these girls was Tina Manfredi.

That’s not her real name. I changed it because this story is about how this girl’s life was so much about how other people perceived her, and I figure she doesn’t need more of that.

At any rate, Tina was gorgeous. She bloomed early and magnificently. She and her brother, Tony, were of blond, blue-eyed Italian heritage. With golden skin. They were like the human version of palominos. Everyone wanted them.

We heard stories about Tina all the time and never thought twice about repeating them. How she wrapped herself naked in Saran Wrap to get an all-over tan for her boyfriend. Who she’d been out with and what she’d done. We spoke about her with envy, fascination and not a little obsessiveness of our own. She moved through the hallways of the school in a cloud of glory. I often thought about what it would be like to be her.

Many years later, like maybe 15 years after high school, I went to a party with my parents. They still lived in the old neighborhood, we’d been out to dinner and we stopped by a house-warming. A daughter of their friends, who’d also gone to school with me, had bought a house in our old neighborhood and a whole bunch of people were there, most of whom I didn’t know.

I got to talking to this one guy who was kind of a computer nerd. Interesting guy and I don’t recall the exact form of his nerdiness, but he was kind of skinny and geeky. At any rate, in the course of tracing why we were both at this party, he mentions that he married Tina Manfredi.

And I was really surprised.

I mean, I hadn’t given her a thought all those years. I don’t think we ever had a conversation – I never rose to those ranks – but I supposed she’d gone on to do exotic things. Like sail off into the sky in a convertible. I didn’t think about it, my adolescent brain kicked in and I blurted out how Tina had been Miss Thing in school and somehow conveyed my shock at her choice of husband.

Instead of being offended, his eyes danced with unholy glee. He starts telling me how much he loves when people react this way. (See? It wasn’t just me.) He went to a school in another state and met Tina years after high school, when they were in their late 20s. He didn’t know until after they married, moved back to the neighborhood and ran into her old classmates, just who she’d been. And he clearly loved this. He was so far under the radar in high school, he confided, that he would never have been able to touch a girl like that.

As he waxed on, I felt worse and worse. Tina wasn’t at the party because they had a new baby, but they lived just a few houses down. I wondered how many of these conversations she’d sat through, where her cohorts recalled her legendary glory and her new husband chortled at having snagged Aphrodite on sale.

I found myself wishing she hadn’t moved back, that she’d gone on to be the new person, who married a guy presumably because he saw her for herself.

I even toyed with stopping by to visit her and her fussy baby. But she wouldn’t have known who I was. And I never ran into either one of them again.

I think about this story sometimes, though. If you’d asked me at twelve if I’d ever feel bad for Tina Manfredi, I would have laughed in your face.

Now I wish I’d tried to be her friend.

Babysiting Disasters

I posted this photo to Facebook back in August, but a high school friend just commented on it and reminded me. This is Lisa and Denise, two of my best friends in high school. We were on a geology field trip in the mountains on a drizzly day. And, no, I have no idea why they look so dramatic and pensive.

Makes for a cool picture, though.

This has kind of been high school nostalgia week, anyway, what with celebrating Kev’s birthday and some odd 30 years of knowing each other. I know it’s old news to lots of people, but I think my cohort is just now realizing that we’re hitting our middle years. We don’t feel old, but it’s hard to deny those mid-40s numbers.

Interestingly, I don’t see a lot of us racing out to buy sports cars or cougar on nubile young people. I like to think it’s because we are so much wiser than our parents.

Also, those nubile young people? They don’t know Mikhail Barishnykov was a ballet dancer before he was on Sex and the City. And they don’t understand when you try to explain that he claimed political asylum. I’m sorry: you can’t base even meaningless sex on that.

Anyway, I mentioned yesterday that my high school years were largely spent babysitting. This was partly on my mind due to teen nostalgia, but also because of a blog post a friend put up last week about leaving her kid with a babysitter for the first time. She asked people how much they checked in, etc.

And it reminded me of this one babysitting disaster.

As, I mentioned yesterday, I babysat A LOT. I had a great reputation and new people often called me who’d been referred by other people. Well, this mom called me. She lived in the next subdivision over, had *just* moved in and had been invited to a neighborhood party. I’d been recommended by a neighbor and could I sit their three kids?

Easy peasy job. Older boy, younger girl and a toddler. Boxes everywhere. But mom was organized. She had the list of emergency numbers, including the party. (For you nubile young people, this was before cell phones. Yes, indeed. Sit wide-eyed at my knee and listen.) She gave me a list of allergies and rules and bed times. The kids were charming. Everything seemed just fine.

All went smoothly. We ate some dinner. We played games. Bedtime went with stories and without protest.

Until the middle girl started puking.

Lots of puking. And diarrhea.

She was sick all over her bed, so we had to clean her up, change her sheets and put on fresh jammies. Then the toddler got sick. Big bro was helping me and I’d had sick kids before, but this wasn’t looking good.

Now, I pretty much never called parents. I figured they’d were out for a fun evening and, really, very little ever occurred that couldn’t wait for them to deal with. I’d called a couple of times to ask questions or verify something, but never had I called parents to come home.

But I couldn’t find more fresh sheets, so I called the parents.

At the party.

A very LOUD party.

As with most parties, the person nearest the phone was, of course, not the person who lives in the house. But the guy was genial (happy drunk) and I explained that I was babysitting, my kids were sick and the parents should probably come home.

He says, okay, who are they?

I realized I had absolutely NO IDEA.

I’m sure when she called me, she’d said “This is Mrs. Such and So” or “Judy Such and So,” but it hadn’t stuck in my head. I looked around on the counters. They hadn’t started getting mail yet, so there were no clues. I couldn’t find a name anywhere.

I explain this to genial drunk guy, tell him the house address, and he offers to go around the party asking people. He’ll call me back. Um, no, because the phone number to the house isn’t on the phone. I don’t know what it is, either.

At this point, I felt like a complete bimbo. Not my usual competent self.

So, he sets the phone down and heads off. I listen to the party banter while my three miserable charges huddle in blankets on the couch. Eventually someone, probably wondering why the phone is off the hook, hangs it up.

By then it was getting late, so I hoped the parents would be home soon, anyway.

Then – Hallelujah! – the front door lock clicks and in they come!

“Oh!” I exclaim, “I’m so glad you got the message.”

They look puzzled. “What message? Our neighbor’s sitter called and said the kids were sick, so we decided we’d just come home, too.”

No, I say, that was me. I wonder if I got the address wrong, too. And I confess that I didn’t remember what their names were.

They were so nice to me and, yes, I babysat for them many times after that. I also asked new families to write down names for me and put them by the phone, just in case.

It turns out, bizarrely enough, that the neighbors’ kids *were* sick also and that sitter had called, just around the same time I did. It was a mini-flu epidemic and a bunch of kids got sick. My poor little girl ended up in the hospital for a few days, to replenish her fluids.

Elizabeth’s question reminded me of this story and I wanted to tell it to her. But, 1) it’s too long for comments and 2) I didn’t want to freak her out.

Of course, the advent of cell phones and texting has really changed this.

As long as the genial drunken parents pull their phone out of their pockets once in a while, just in case.

From the Nerd Journal

Some of my writing friends refer to them as the “fur family.”

I love how the two cats and the dog seem to enjoy each other’s company, as unnatural as the relationship may be. It’s warming to see them be affectionate with each other.

One of the small things that make daily life a joy.

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s true that life is all about high school. My mom once told me that a counselor-type said that we spend our whole lives living down or living up to what we were in high school.

This has been on my mind lately, because I’ve been back in touch with people from high school. On Facebook mainly. It’s interesting to see how the social positions have blurred and changed — or remained exactly the same — over the years.

One of my old friends started an online literary magazine. She doesn’t exactly count as a high school friend, because our friendship blew up just before 7th grade. And it was about popularity. She wanted it and was determined to have it. I wanted it, but was sure it couldn’t be mine. In her indominitable way, she seized our new school by the throat and became the cool girl. I kept my nose in a book.

We’ve since repaired those fences. I wrote about our adolescent angst in Wyo Trucks without her permission. She since read it and gave me her blessing, which meant a great deal. And she asked me to submit to her magazine. Which I did. And she’s holding onto a couple of pieces for future issues. She asked another friend of ours from school to contribute her photos.

When the first issue came out, there was much excitement in our little group. Photographer gal wrote a nice thing about it on her blog.

I felt left out of the party.

To make it worse, another boy from high school had several pieces in there. And yes, he was way more cool than me (part of the “Best Couple”) and, in all truth, still is. He’s got a new book out and is in a cool band. My book is five years old and no one has read my novel yet, which is (gasp!) genre anyway.

And it’s stupid, but I’m feeling all those things I felt in the hallowed halls of our school. All the ways in which I was not A-list. I was not the “Most” or “Best” anything.

In some ways, everything does continue to be about popularity. Marketing your work as an artist is about drawing attention and having people like you. Some try to pretend that it doesn’t matter, that your work stands for itself, but does it really? If you want to make any money on it, people have to pay money to have it — and that’s all about them wanting it, which in a very direct way is about wanting you.

What’s funny is, the other half of the “Best Couple” wrote in my yearbook that she admired the way I’d stayed true to myself all through school, that I hadn’t changed to be popular. And here, I just thought I was stubborn. Perhaps something of a coward.

So, am I living up to what I was, or living it down? Would I go back and change my choices?

And all I come up with is, I wouldn’t change who or where I am today. I might feel my nose is pressed to the glass while the party goes on inside, but I think we all do, depending on what party we feel left out of.

Really, I never liked parties that much. I’d rather be reading a book.

The Company We Keep

David tells people I went to a “big high school.”

This is a matter of perspective, of course. His high school class had just under 100 people and mine had just over 400. Multiply that by four grades and you get an idea of our schools. His school was in a small town in Wyoming and served students bused in from neighboring towns and communities; some of his classmates traveled more than an hour to school. Mine was one of three in the school district, in a metropolitan area with a slew of school districts. All of my classmates lived within a few miles of the school.

I went to college with kids who came from graduating classes of over 1,000, so I know my school was not big, in the grand scheme.

To David’s family and hometown acquaintances, though, I grew up in the big city and went to a large school, with all of the attendant vice, crime and trouble that implies to certain small town folk. Yet, when we compare stories, it was David’s classmates that got into all the trouble. Granted, I was a goody two-shoes and hit high school in the early 80s compared to David’s mid-70s. Still, I think the small town life drove them to more shenanigans than I ever heard about in my cohort.

My mom bought our house for the school district. It was supposed to be one of the best in the country and all three of my schools, elementary, middle and high, were brand new. David’s education was what the town offered. The school was hardly any kind of magnet.

We went to David’s 30th class reunion not long ago and he vows never to go to another. Many of his friends had become their parents, living the same lives, moving from one blue collar job to another. He was depressed for days afterward. I was the big-city girlfriend — only a couple of people wanted to talk to me.

I’ve been reconnecting with my classmates on Facebook. And they’re all doing such interesting things. Here’s the latest, a lovely music video by Kathryn Mostow. She’s really good.

It makes me wonder — was the school really that much better? Was it the city and all the stimulation that it has to offer? Perhaps we were in a rarified environment, so that our school drew kids from the kinds of parents able to buy houses in those neighborhoods where David’s school pulled in everyone from that section of a sparsely populated and rural state.

I’m not supposed to talk about these things, I know. I’m supposed to value the beauty of the simple life David’s cohorts have chosen. We all choose what is valuable about our own lives. And yet, one friend is paying the equivalent of college tuition to give her son and daughter a private school education, to give them every advantage. Private schools wouldn’t exist if people didn’t believe the quality of education makes a difference.

You don’t have to have it, a great education, to raise yourself up. David has done a great deal with his life and will do more. Of course, he also reads all the time. Studying to improve himself. Like my grandfather, the farm boy who got his education at the public library.

I suppose some people are handed things that others have to fight for.

Worse Than a…

Root canal?

This came up yesterday on Facebook — my friend, the cool girl from way back, Kathryn Greenwood Andrews (who is also the author of the very cool blogs Prickly Girl and Punk Rock Garden) mentioned that she is being asked to choose volunteering for Field Day over preschool parent-teacher conferences and a root canal. “Amazingly, I’m sticking with the latter,” she remarks.

This reminded me of a conversation we’d had at work. I’m an auditor of sorts — I review drinking water programs. One of the programs we reviewed for the first time in their history told us later (after telling everyone else what they were in for) that it was like getting a root canal: intensely painful, but overall a healthy exercise.

My ever-wise boss (yes, she reads this blog) raised the question of whether a root canal still represented a truly horrible experience. This, of course, led to one of those conversations where everyone tried to one-up each other with pain and horror. The gal with the anal polyp/duct tape episode came close to winning, but we won’t go there.

I posed the question to Kathy and she came back with alternatives such as childbirth and amniocentesis. Her root canal is next week, so she can report back with her comparison next week.

Root canals are a good example because:

1) they’re more universal than childbirth and the more unusual afflictions like anal polyps
2) nearly everyone has to have one, at some point in their lives. Unless you live in the UK.
3) not only is it physically painful, there’s a certain terror in being trapped in that chair. For a really long time.
4) stuff around your face hurts more because the innervation is so fine
5) two words: oral dam

So, I don’t usually solicit comments here, but: are root canals the worst? if yes, why? if not, what is? (please be gentle with details…)

Cool Girls

This girl I knew in high school sent out a Facebook message asking for inspiration. I don’t know why. I’m not sure I need to. We’ve added each other as “friends,” but haven’t taken the time to really reconnect. I gather from her posts and open conversations that she has two young children who take up a lot of her time. She’s out in DC now, far from our Colorado home. I thought about what kind of inspiration to offer, which of my favorite quotes to send her, but all that came to mind were memories of her, back in the day.

Kathy was a friend of a friend, really. Much more Kristy’s friend than mine. But Kathy was so funky and cool that I glommed on, tagging along with them like a third wheel little sister. I was content that they let me. Kathy had this way of being unconsciously artsy. She danced this kind of modified Charleston I’m sure she made up, that involved kicking up her legs and swinging her arms to meet them. Doing this, she would spin in a wild wheel around the dance floor to the tail end of British punk we still milked in the early 80s. It was a dance of full-on joy in the music, a dance I ruthlessly ripped off when I went to college, where no one would know I had stolen it. It served me well for years. And I always remembered Kathy, her flame-red hair, her full immersion in life, when I danced.

Kathy lived in a funky house, too, off Parker Road in the Denver suburbs. The city was still spreading out to our area back then. The highway leading out to the town of Parker was becoming a road, with stoplights and intersections linking to housing developments. But Kathy lived in a house that had been built according to no five-model plan, but sat among fields in a curve of the road where it passed the Highline Canal. I went to a Halloween party at her house and went walking in the frosty stubbled fields with my first love. In my mind, I always gave Kathy credit for that, too, that she held the party that let me be with him, that let me dress up in a romantic costume, all the better to catch his eye.

I remember another of Kathy’s parties. Maybe I went on a trip back from college and her family had moved. All I really recall is Kathy’s certainty that a hot band that was playing locally would come to the party at some point. We hung out for hours, Kathy so certain that they would arrive, as they’d promised. Kristy was her emotional counterpoint, sure that the evening would end in disappointment. I remember Kathy crying, the way the heart-broken do. The way that only those who completely give their hearts and hopes can.

Her picture tells me she hasn’t changed. This is probably illusion. Just because she has the same wild red hair, and the funky cat’s eye glasses that proclaim her a suicide-girl under the skin, doesn’t mean that she has the same joy in life that she did at 17. But she holds a camera in her hands, and the sly smile is the same. She’s also posted some amazing art on the ‘net. Perhaps with a darker edge than I might have seen in high school. It’s an edge I like. I’m really not supposed to be buying art right now, but I might have to.

Then I’d get to tell people the artist is my friend and I can still be a little cool, by association.

Swiftly Flow the Days

Nineteen years ago yesterday, my high school sweetheart got married. No, not to me, though I was there. It seems like all of us were there – a million years ago and just yesterday. We came together from our post-high school mini-diaspora, convening on a cruise ship leaving Miami. Three of us delayed by snow in Denver — a blizzard much like today’s — barely made it. We were so relieved that we beelined for the bar on the top deck and hit the frou-frou drinks, wondering where everyone else was. Turns out everyone else was getting the safety demonstration. We three were forever after designated the unicorns, destined for extinction, should the boat go down.

Kevin and Linda were the first among our group to marry. The first to have a baby — who’s now a senior in high school herself, planning to launch out to the east coast come fall, ivy league schools willing.

Nothing about this is new. The world turns, times change. Turn around and you’re four, turn around and you’re grown. Sunrise, sunset, seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers. So many songs about it. The last from Fiddler on the Roof, which we staged in high school, Kev playing Tevye. Now Gwen Stefani sings “If I Were a Rich Girl,” in a ragga remix.

There are rumors of a reunion tour for us: a cruise next January to celebrate 20 years. Unless the ivy league schools come through with acceptances only and no scholarships. And who knows who would make it? Our diaspora is entrenched now, our lives have traveled so far down the diverging pathways that we haven’t communicated in years.

But, hey, the unicorns made it.

(Happy anniversary, Kev & Linda)