PlazaJen: The Blog

Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Category: 8-track flashback (page 1 of 2)

Disco, Part 2

I’m just going to say it: I am loving some of the new pop music today, if for one reason only, and that’s because it’s got the 70’s funk throwback in its underpinnings. We saw Bruno Mars in concert a month ago or so – he has the 9-piece funk band backing him up, choreographed moves and all. I recall a wonderful Doonesebury cartoon from my childhood, of a group of African-American men, the backup singers/dancers to an unseen singer. As they trade observations, the last words were, “Beats workin’ at the car wash.” My father seized on that line and it became interwoven to so many conversations and laughs over the years, somehow I’ve mashed that into a connector, the kind that tug unexpectedly at your heart. That happened that night at the concert, as Bruno sang “Treasure”, and his backup crew bounced and slid and bobbed in unison, the joy in the music and “Beats workin’ at the car wash” was in my ear and tears filled my eyes, tears of happiness for the connection and memory, tears for the loss of a great, great man.
Bruno’s not alone – Capital Cities is infused with 70’s beats and even nods at the era in their video for “Safe and Sound”, with tube-sock clad roller skaters grooving in unison. Justin Timberlake’s newest pop hits all have a blend of horns and funky bass lines. If you eschew “pop” because it’s too bubblegum, you’re missing out on some nicely retro-feeling tunes!

Bruno’s Treasure video – it doesn’t get more Jackson 5 than this!

Capital Cities – Safe and Sound

If It Weren’t For Handguns, We’d Still Be British Subjects

I always think of that line on the 4th of July. Our local nutjob in the small town in Iowa where I was raised had hand-lettered it (with electrical tape) onto the back of his very long trenchcoat.

A tall, imposing silhouette, children ran from him or taunted him from a safe distance. I knew of three classmates who waited until he left his house and then dared each other to go in. Apparently he was a hoarder long before they made TV shows about them; piles of newspapers and magazines created a path (and only a path) through the two rooms they dared to enter. Nowadays, I wonder what Marvin’s story really was – was he one of our lost veterans, abandoned to live in their own haunted minds? In any event, he still crosses my mind, thirty-plus years later.

Freedom is an interesting thing. A friend posted on Facebook that the First Amendment was her favorite and worthy of celebration. I couldn’t agree more, though the true definition of Freedom of Speech can be very subjective.  I ponder why I write on this blog, I ponder why I don’t write everything I want to say. I ponder what would be in a book, if I wrote one. I am always excruciatingly aware of how easily it is to fall into the trap of passive-aggressiveness when you want to scream out at people who’ve fucked up, insulted you, abandoned you, all that shit. Then I think, is it worth it? I already gave you fuckers some rent-free space in my head, now I’m giving you bandwidth, too? And is it really what you wanted in the end, to “make the blog”? LOL!

Anyway. I always ruminate as my birthday approaches. What will the next year hold, what triumphs may come, what heartaches, there’s no crystal ball, so we reflect on what has passed. People we said goodbye to, whether with sadness or in anger – the new opportunities that have come along, and the doors that closed.  I realize this is more typically done at New Year’s, and I suppose I do so then, but it’s always different, more intense with birthdays. Maybe more so now, as you realize the older you get, that there are only so many you get. And it’s important not to waste time on the things, people, projects, emotions that hold you back.

I realize it sounds darker than it feels; introspection is like that, I guess. I’m looking forward to the new chapter ahead, and even without the crystal ball, I know there are going to be some awesome things in store for me. As for anything else, well? I just have to trust in my own wisdom and experience to get me through it! I know I wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes, but much like Marvin and his trenchcoat, I guess I’d rather have people see me coming, know who I am and how I feel, than to pretend to be anything else at all.

 

 

Walking On Broken Glass

Wow, two days back into the work routine and it’s Hello Stress! Good thing I didn’t resolve to give that up….

Anyway, last night, I was downstairs & had opened the pantry door where we have stored an interesting mix of sundry appliances, canned goods, annnnd the paint that came with the house. The  items are grouped by shelves, at least. Anyway, an empty mason jar fell, and instead of hitting the carpet, it hit the inside edge of the wood cabinet, and shattered. Lovely.

You know how sometimes your brain is just set to “Ricochet”? Well, mine was, as I was picking up shards of glass and thinking about how I really should bring the vacuum down and yet I knew I wasn’t going to, and the rest of the process went something like this:

So, this obviously isn’t tempered glass. Or whatever sort of glass they make that isn’t supposed to shatter into really sharp pieces.

I wonder who invented tempered glass. I wonder who invented GLASS?

Probably some pyromaniac motherfucker, since don’t you have to melt things to make glass in the first place?

So, hell. Is that all of it? I think so. Huh. Well, let’s see. Would I walk on this strip of carpet barefoot?

Yes.

That’s not a good answer, Jennifer. You grew up walking on glass shards.

Hell. I did.

Well, I’ve gotten nearly all of it, and the only way anyone’s going to step on it is if they shimmy alongside the cupboard here, clinging to it like those Indiana Jones Lego characters do on that Wii game. Which would actually be pretty funny.

/end brain ricochet

After that, I went off and did some laundry, and forgot completely to tell the Wo about the breakage. (In fact, he’s learning about it through the blog.  Now he’ll go and shimmy alongside the cupboard, just to prove I missed a piece.)  And yes, I did grow up picking glass out of the bottoms of my feet – my father’s glass studio was just off the kitchen/dining room, and I would often walk in there barefoot, and pieces of glass often made their way out into the house. I still recall being about ten, dancing wildly to a Beatles album and landing hard on a large piece of glass, way out in the living room. Oof.  That’s the only memorable gouging I recall, in fact, but the sudden sharpness cut me to the quick.  And I did learn how to walk into a room with broken glass on the floor. You step carefully, you disperse your weight consciously, and if a piece of glass pressed against your skin, you instantly recoiled, to minimize the depth it would penetrate.

Sure, I could’ve put on shoes. But I didn’t. Some things I just liked to experience the hard way, I guess. It was kind of a personal challenge, to be tough, to not bleed or cut myself. I guess I still do this brevity thing, just not always with broken glass….

Music of our Lives

We’re putting together a mix CD at work, and every employee needed to submit three songs for consideration; it’s something we’ll play during an upcoming event.

Three songs. It’s a lot of pressure. Kind of like those mythical genie wishes – you sure as shit don’t want to waste one, even though Justin Timberlake is kinda cute and he makes all those catchy tunes with Timbaland, because the next thing you know, your street cred is in the sewers.

Here are the three I picked:

Weezer – “Heart Songs”. What makes this one FABulous is that it references a jillion other songs IN it.

Cake – “No Phone”. One of my oldies-but-goodies, was my ring tone for a long time. I hate the phone. I love Cake.

Snow Patrol – “Set Fire to the Third Bar”. I am 99% positive this won’t make it onto the compilation. It was a tough decision, this #3, because I really, really, really wanted to use a Pete Yorn song, except all my favorites sort of convey the notion I’m going to put a plastic bag over my head & take a bath. Doesn’t really say “Party”. Unless you’re Jerzy Kosinski, of course.

Anyway. All this reminded me I hadn’t finished my playlist, over on -wait for it- playlist.com. You can make a 100-song playlist, using social networking. God I love the internets. Unfortunately, some of my songs aren’t the actual songs they purport to be, so I paste this player in here with a cautionary warning – some of the quality levels suck, and I need to wade back through it all and scrub it and buff it and maybe change the order a little bit. But I did, way-back-when, also start writing WHY I chose each song – I moved through my memories and what songs really resonated for different times in my life, and so, even if the tunes don’t naturally flow from one to the next, they all carry a thread for me. I’ll start sharing those descriptions below, to be continued….


* Hey Nineteen — Steely Dan – first song I ever heard on pop radio. I wasn’t supposed to listen to THOSE stations. I snuck into my parents’ bedroom and knelt by my dad’s clock radio, carefully noting the NPR station’s dial position so I could return it. I soaked up all the words and sounds, and then, out of fear, re-set the radio and crept back to my room. My rebellious years of subterfuge and disobedience had begun.

* The Pretender — Jackson Browne – I remember my father bringing home “Running on Empty”, on vinyl, after a trip to Madison, WI. He bought every album Jackson Browne made, and we memorized the lyrics. This was one of the songs that blew my dad away, and I remember his face, listening to it.
* You Can’t Always Get What You Want — The Rolling Stones – I also grew up with the Stones, and pored over their album covers, because they were so cool. My father also reminded me of the message in this song repeatedly, something I can’t claim to have fully accepted yet in life.
* Love Is Alright Tonight — Rick Springfield – What can I say? My first heartthrob. Once I was finally allowed to listen to Devil Radio (not out of any religious concerns, Dad just found most pop music to be “junk”), I became enamored with Rick Springfield. Loved the movie “Hard to Hold.” That soundtrack was one of the first cassette tapes I bought.
* Romeo And Juliet — Dire Straits — Another staple in our household, Dad loved Dire Straits, and I loved the lyrics to their songs. I thought this was such a romantic song when I was a tween.
* Little Red Corvette — Prince — First time I heard this, I remember being in my room, alone, waiting for my parents to come home from a wine tasting. As I listened to the words, I realized, “This is DIRTY!” and I loved it.
* Caught Up In You — .38 Special — Reminds me of High School. At the advent of music videos, we made our own to this song. I still remember my outfit for the video.
* Photograph — Def Leppard — High School again. We did a lip-sync performance to “Pyromania” and I went nuts on my wooden painted guitar. I still remember the shock on the teacher judges’ faces.
* Idiot Wind — Bob Dylan — Probably one of my father’s favorite artists, and a large chunk of mental real estate in my brain is devoted to Dylan.
* China Girl — David Bowie — I didn’t even know what David Bowie looked like or who he was, but I loved this song.
* WANNA GO BACK — Eddie Money — Another HS crush.
* Turn Me Loose — Loverboy — Oh god, pass the red leather pants. And keep on workin’ for the weekend.
* Billie Jean — Michael Jackson — Back when Michael was himself, utterly fascinating, talented and the biggest thing to hit the universe.
* True Colors — Cyndi Lauper — This song would one day define how I would feel about my husband, and she would be one of the best concerts I’d ever see. At the time, I loved the ballad and all of her fun music.
* Private Eyes — Hall & Oates – Which one from this duo could you spend the rest of your life with? I loved them both, with a slight edge to Oates. Must’ve been the clapping.
* The Reflex — Duran Duran – Which one WASN’T I going to marry? I don’t think I had a lot of discernment at this point in my life. While Simon was the obvious choice, there was nothing wrong with swapping eyeliner pencils with Nick, either.
* The Glamorous Life — Sheila E — My theme song for graduation. I so wanted out, out, out. And to live…the glamorous life.

Tu quoque, my friends…

I posted a response to a fellow Raveler about the soap we watch – yes, I still enjoy my frothy taffy goodness of ATWT….. and while I was snarking, I heard a voice in my head saying, “Tu quoque, motherfucker.”

Because my father planted these seeds of Latin in my head growing up, they rattle around and surface at various times in my life. Not to mention he was hell-bent on teaching me every element of Philosophy and Logic before I hit middle school. (Long-time readers will recall how effectively that worked in fifth grade, what with the Ex Post Facto Bubblicious Incident of 1978)

It was a nice break in my day, hearing a little smart thing in my head, and then, because I can sometimes be wrong (don’t gasp or clutch your heart, it has been known to happen once in a while), I went and looked it up just to be sure I was using the phrase correctly. Indeed I was, and I smiled, because Dad had done a good job. The phrase he intoned with that was always, “If I am one, then you’re another”, and it aptly summarizes the fallacy of the argument. (Too bad they didn’t  have “nanner, nanner boo-boo” back in Ye Olde Roman Times, it would have made it so much sassier. Or “motherfucker” for that matter. Wait. They did. Oedipus!)

In other updates, it’s been a pretty stressful week, and I’m going to be working part of the weekend, with a business trip Monday/Tuesday. It’s half exciting, half stressful, and if there would be room to squeeze in something extra, I’d complain about the weather. But, we do have our li’l pool, so I am going to do as much chilling in it as I can in-between all this other stuff. For it all does pass, it works itself out, and some of the things I’m worried about may be only imagined shadows.

A=Apprehensive

I Can’t Believe I Never Blogged This.

I swear, I blogged about this a while back. But I’ve searched my archives (even using an external search tool), and nothing shows up. (If you remember reading it, tell me! I’d hate to turn this into the Alzheimer Files.) So, here goes, another 8-Track Flashback!

Back in the day – 1976 – when the family moved onto the farm, and we built our dome home, my dad was extremely eco-friendly. We were getting Back to Nature. We had running water, and electricity, and a two-party-line phone (of course I listened in, once, and got totally busted by my mother). That phone, as I recall, could kill a fellow. Back then, phones were made of lead, or something equally weighty, and our phone was mounted on the wall, complete with the 20-foot tangled cord and the finger-button dialers, that whirred and clicked as you rotated it over to the stopping mechanism and it returned to its original position. Anyway, where I was going with this is that we were pretty rustic. In that we had no indoor toilet. We had an outhouse. Allow me to educate you a bit in the construction of outhouses, as I assume most of you were raised with flushing toilets. Outhouses are best when they’re a bit of a distance from the house. Ours had a path that led to it, lined with wood (slippery as shit when wet), and no rail – so if you slipped to the right on your voyage out, you could ostensibly end up 30 feet down in a ravine. Things you consider in the dark of night, in the winter. You truly become skilled at determining how badly you actually have to go.

Anyway, as a kid, I went everywhere with my dad. I remember long, boring trips to the hardware store, where I would gaze around and stare at all the uninteresting things, waiting, waiting, waiting. I was too young to be left to my own devices in the VW bus, or in the store, really, so I trailed along behind him, and I didn’t interrupt or ask many questions, because he was always really focused on the job at hand. So all of these trips are one giant blur of DULL in my memory, except for one.

We turned down the aisle that held all of the bathroom accoutrements, stopping in front of an expansive display of toilet seats. My father looked down at me, and said, “You pick it out.” I was transfixed. And a little disbelieving. I looked up at him, my face clearly saying, “Really?” He nodded. “You pick out our toilet seat!” Finally, a decision, an option, a choice, and not just any choice, but one that we would live with for the foreseeable future. Keep in mind, I was 8? So my taste was not yet formed into the refined, persnickety influence that tries to govern me today.

I gazed up at the three rows of seats. Mostly white, some wooden, nothing really stood out until my eyes landed upon It. I pointed at The One. It was fabulous. Absolutely tremendous. And exactly what you’d get if you asked an eight-year-old to design your outhouse. I remember he looked at me sideways, the way he did when he was still figuring out what to say, what to do. “Really?” he said. “Yes!” I exclaimed. Transfixed. Hypnotized. By what was the most fabulous toilet seat in the entire line-up.

It was completely drenched in Cherry Red paint.

On the lid, in black, there was a tree in the lower right. With a branch extending out, and a hole in the tree, with two yellow eyes looking out. Foreshadowing! Simply a portent of things to come. Because, then, you lifted the lid, and you were greeted by an enormous 1970’s owl, in thick black lines, covering the entire inside of the lid, WINKING AT YOU.

He looked at me, and saw my excitement. My abject love of the bright red toilet seat with the communicative owl. “OK,” he said. We bought it and took it home.

I think my mother was a little taken aback, and I remember overhearing something to the effect of “What? This? Really?” (Yes, I got a lot of my style tutelage at her hands, and for all her faults, I’ll give her that – she has got style, and she probably realized that day she needed to Start Earlier.) I puffed out a little when I heard my father say, “I told Jennifer she could pick it out.” Why yes he did. Jennifer did pick it. Picked out a WINNER. And out to the outhouse it went. Many a cold night, I visited my owl buddy. I remember when a grade-school boyfriend gave me a gold ring, with a tree on it, and then a few days later, asked for it back. I lied, and told him I’d lost it, angered that he no longer wanted to be my boyfriend. I looked at that owl as I tossed the ring through the hole that night. Winking, knowingly. Agreeing that he was a schmuck.

We eventually tore down the dome home, and put in toilets and marble floors and vaulted ceilings and the house became something of a palace, a far cry from its dome home footings, poured over the original concrete. The outhouse, too, was torn down, the path fell away, and the people who bought the farm, who own this chunk of my past, have no idea of the comedy and drama, the style (and lack thereof) that was rooted and grown, interwoven and cemented, in my mind, in my life, in my memories. In addition to the toilet seat itself, my most cherished part of that memory is that my father told my mother we were keeping it. Because I had chosen it. It’s why I weep every time I watch Little Miss Sunshine. We all have a little Olive in us, and we all want to be loved for exactly who we are. Questionable taste and all.

P.S. I’ve looked everywhere for a photo of this toilet seat. I saw one on eBay a while back (wrong color, but same visual), and had no luck today finding it. As they say, they just don’t make ’em like they used to….

8-Track Flashback

James just mentioned in an email that he’d finished teaching his class to diagram sentences, and had informed his students Just! How! Much! his wife loved doing that in school.

It made me laugh, but I also felt a crazy surge inside me. There was probably a strange gleam in my eye, to boot. Because, seriously, I L-O-V-E-D to diagram sentences. I can still remember my English teacher dividing us into teams and sending us up in pairs, to different sides of the room (chalkboards on both sides) to speed-duel the process of diagramming sentences. Seriously, I smoked at the task, probably because I was such a reader, and English was my favorite subject. Add my competitive spirit to the mix, and diagramming sentences was my ultimate competition. My dream would have been to just diagram sentences for the entire hour, illustrating my speed & accuracy. This might account for why I didn’t really have that many friends in high school… hm. SuperNerd! I can dissect sentences with a single swipe of chalk!

Now, could I do it with the same speed and accuracy today? Probably not. But just the notion of drawing that straight line with the intersecting short line elicits such a rush.

There’s just no telling what triggers a person has, I tell ya. Mine have long since been replaced with yarn, but the memory of what once was still makes my senses stir….. I can almost smell the chalk. The worst was when you’d get going so fast the chalk would snap under your fingers and you’d be scritching the last bits of the sentence out while trying not to drag your fingernails on the board…. shudder.

Ooo, look at this quote! I keep good company! Unless she’s being ironic and depressing. But I choose not to go with that one.

“I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.”

— Gertrude Stein

Swimming Lessons

There are very few childhood memories that I have that aren’t somehow linked, inextricably, to either of my parents. I think the reason is that most of the memories are split between the fact they were actually there & involved, or because I was fearful/excited/triumphant, awaiting their reaction to what I had done. We were enmeshed, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

This one has nothing to do with them whatsoever. Well, in a roundabout way, but so much less than the usual dosing.

The school organized swimming lessons each summer, and we would board a big yellow bus in the morning, to be transported the 11 miles or so to the next, larger, town that had an actual swimming pool. I love water, I love to swim, say what you will about horoscope signs (Cancer!), I’ve always adored a pool. Wanted one my whole life, and of course it took being much older to even comprehend that pools aren’t “magic”, they don’t clean themselves, adjust their chemicals automatically, BLAH BLAH BLAH. The beauty of swimming lessons, when I was 8, was a morning of instruction, followed by an afternoon of exhilarating play, with TIMED BREAKS FOR SNACKS. God, the concession stand at the pool was the greatest. Push-ups, Fun Dip and those tubes of frozen syrup (that you tore the corner off with your teeth) are the ones that float to the top of my memory pile. Then the whistle would blow and those of us who had to ride the bus back to be collected by our parents would heed the yell of the chaperone, and off to the locker room we’d go, changing out of our suits if we felt like it – other times, just going with the towel-wrap, or throwing on shorts, for the bus ride.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

I would rather stay in a wet suit than put dry clothes on a wet body. And so I threw on my shorts, probably my t-shirt as well, and then tucked my flowered underpants into my towel and marched off to the bus. Where I sat down, in my middle-of-the-bus seat, and looked out the window. Suddenly, from the other side of the bus, through the windows, a commotion unfurled. Like a pair of underpants becoming unfolded. Suddenly, there was a pair of blue floral underwear being thrown about amongst the boys, still filing out from the pool and towards the bus. Underpants that looked extremely familiar. A quick check of my towel confirmed they were, indeed, my underpants. Icy horror filled my torso, starting at my stomach, and seeping out to my limbs, causing utter paralysis.

The shouts of “Jennifer’s Underwear!” broke me loose from my frozen state. Some fellow girl swimmer had apparently identified them from seeing them on me that morning. Traitor! What to do? They were my underpants! We didn’t have much money, it wasn’t like they were disposable. A brief flash of my mother’s disapproval vanished. I had the course of action within a fraction of a second: Utter Denial. Absolutely not my underpants. Never seen ’em. The boys wanted to play keep-away from me with them, which quickly lost its charm when I showed absolutely no interest in trying to get them. I recall one of them wore them on his head, which in retrospect (and 31 years of distance from THAT particular moment of horror) is hilarious – and made him look utterly stupid, but I had no choice but to stick with my plan. I stoically sat down, faced forward and composed my poker face of steel. Which I’m pretty sure was complemented by a beet-red face. Everyone knew they were mine, including me, but I refused to own them.

I didn’t care if my mother would be mad – one of the few times in my childhood where my fear of her was eclipsed by my own decision. I didn’t really care what I had to tell her, that they were lost, purloined by gnomes, whatever, I was simply not going to endure the mockery of my floral pantaloons. Ultimately, a “big kid” (someone in junior high) stepped in and took them from the kid wearing them like a flowery Rasta hat, and handed them back to me. I said nothing, (still on some level denying they were mine!) but eventually shoved them into the folds of my towel, my face showing, I’m sure, my pain and awkwardness with the situation. My drama with my mother avoided; my drama with my peers forever branded on my memory.

I look back and am not surprised the boys threw my underwear around, having a heyday and reveling in the chance to tease and torture. They’d have done the same thing if I was their sister – but of course with no siblings of my own, I had no frame of reference, except to feel horribly tortured. That said, I also remember the sense of kindness and lack of judgment the big kid (a girl) had when she retrieved my undies, how she had had enough of their antics and stepped in firmly to end it and restore some dignity (or at least my underpants) to me. I was always grateful, even though I couldn’t express it at the time – probably because I was trying too hard not to cry!

It’s funny how things that happened over 30 years ago can feel as live and real and palpable as if they happened yesterday. Our brain’s filing system is extraordinary! And obviously better than hiding yer underpants in a towel.

The Spirit of ’76

I could have sworn I’d written this little gem up back when I was rolling through the hilarity of small-town gradeschool. I’ve searched Blogger repeatedly to no avail. So here goes, and my apologies if I repeat myself.

Scene: Third grade. New school. Child of hippies, no television set, livin’ a dome home on 121 acres that were home to two other hippie families. Giant communal garden. I wore a lot of corduroy. I think you can understand that even though it was only third grade? I was not destined to be embraced by the small conservative burg of northern Iowa, and indeed, I would embark on the path of class president (bossy), class treasurer (who loves money? Me!), Yearbook and Drama (I carry those skills with me to this day.) The prom queen queue was already full. Anyway, back to third grade. I had spent the previous summer eating Cheerios for breakfast. Every day. Because Cheerios, at the time, was doing a promotion. I’m sure a lot of other companies had jumped on the patriotic bandwagon, since it was 1976, however, I lived in the boonies and didn’t have a tv, and was too busy reading The Classics. All I knew was that my mainstay cereal was suddenly putting decals in the box, and I got the brilliant idea to start affixing them to my kelly green lunchbox. I probably had ten long skinny stickers proclaiming “Spirit of 76!” “Bicentennial!” with flag colors all over my lunch box. (My father surely had to see it as some form of jingoism, but thankfully he must have also seen my enraptured excitement at the decoration process, and he let me continue.)
Many a lunch traveled to school, and each day I walked home from the bus down our 1/2 mile lane, swinging my bright green lunch box, admiring my handiwork and embellishment.
Then. One day came, when alarms sounded, and we looked at our teacher’s face. Immediately, we knew something was wrong. Our principal came running door-to-door and had a hurried conversation with each teacher. Our classroom was on the third floor, so he was a little out of breath, but all of us saw the stricken look on his face. And our teacher’s. He then turned to the class and said, “There’s a bomb in the school. I want everyone OUT.” Well,hi. We all went into a flippin’ panic, and jumped out of our desks, and people (big people, adults) were shouting at us to get in line and evacuate, and I remember my little legs just shaking like they were about to collapse. We grabbed whatever bookbag we had in our desk, exited the building, they moved us all way away from the school, just in case it exploded and the rubble blast took out the normal bus lane, and we were trucked home, about two hours earlier than normal.

Everyone was scared, I remember a couple of boys hoping the school would, indeed, blow up because then we wouldn’t have to go to school tomorrow. I was numb, not understanding why someone would want to do this, and then as I got off the bus, it hit me: my lunchbox was still in the classroom. My prized, prized lunchbox. And I bawled the whole way down my gravel lane, and surprised the hell out of my father, who was working in his woodworking studio. “Jennifer! Why are you home so early? What’s the matter? What’s going on?” And I told him, while snuffling and alternately wiping my nose and my tears…. there was a bomb in the school, and I LEFT MY LUNCHBOX and it’s going to BLOW UP. I saw my little lunchbox in pieces in my imagination, burn marks around my decals.

God love my father, but he always approached emotional situations with me like I was 32 and could be completely reasoned with. “Jennifer. It’s a lunchbox. It’s not that big of a deal.” Being an adult, he focused on perhaps the bigger issue: a bomb blowing up our school.

Not me! HI! WHAT PART OF THE WAILING right now tells you it’s not a big deal? However his words were usually my cue to suck it up and get it together, and do what I normally did, which was retire to my room and sob into a pillow until I got it all out. My lunchbox. Poor poor lunchbox that had spent its entire summer getting decorated, waiting patiently for another box of cheerios to give up its prize.
Of course the mystery was solved by early evening, as parents all around town received phonecalls informing them that it had been a prank, by a high schooler, who was trying to get out of a test he hadn’t studied for, and thought that a bomb scare at the gradeschool would create enough of an uproar and everyone would go home early. He was correct, but he – like so many of us that age – neglected to think through the back end, in which he was caught and in a heapload of trouble.

We returned to school the next day, and there sat my lunchbox on the shelf, exactly where I left it. Intact, every glossy sticker unharmed and in place. I was so relieved!

The only other notable thing that happened that school year (beyond the Snow Queen thing)(oh, and Jeff running away & being chased by the principal in his truck) was that someone brought in a chrysalis, and we watched it daily to see the pale milky green thin and the bright orange monarch wings start to appear, and our teacher told us to make sure to let everyone know when it was opening, so we could all watch this transformation (and learn! it’s science!)….and some doofus named Scott noticed the first break in the chrysalis, and watched as the butterfly extricated itself completely, and THEN raised his hand and told the teacher that the butterfly was out and he’d watched the whole thing. I was SO MAD, because I so desperately wanted to see the unfurling, the process, the damp wings being waved for the first time.

I think it’s fair to say that I can pretty much trace my desire to punch another person in the face straight back to that moment. What the hell, I should’ve clocked him upside the head with my Excellent Lunchbox.

Valentines of Yester Year

The lunch conversation today swirled towards fashion and how much things have changed over the years – back in OUR day, wearing jelly bracelets meant you were cool like Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, not indicating what you would or wouldn’t do with a guy. Friendship pins. Those ribbon-braided metal barrettes, with the long ribbons hanging down from one end. Satin jackets. (Oh, I was the only one at the table with that fad. But what a fad it was, and how we all had to get a different color, but the only one I found was a pale gold, and it had to suffice. I so longed for a bright pink or blue one…) One person would go to garage sales & buy items with the logo (e.g., the “Guess” tag) and her mom would sew them on her jeans. Basically, growing up when I did, we didn’t have excessive fashion tastes or needs until 6th grade. We didn’t have much money, and I recalled my first real Valentine’s Day of grade school (Third grade. Also the year of the Lunchbox Debacle (I’ll bring you that tomorrow!), and the year preceding the Snow Queen Drama.) We spent time decorating our boxes/receptacles, and the night before our big party day, there was a realization that nobody had bought any valentines for me to hand out. My mother looked at me and told me I could MAKE them. Well, I’ve been crafty my entire life, and so I got out a yellow legal pad, and started cutting out hearts. I had my list of schoolmates, and I printed their names on them and said “Happy Valentine’s Day” and then signed my name. Eventually, I ran out of paper. So I had to start using the scraps, and I had some valentines that were probably no larger than a matchbook. (I did, however, write on EVERY SINGLE ONE.) I remember staying up past my bedtime to get this done (see? the groundwork for last-minute scrambling was set in the formative years!) and it was only after everyone started putting their store-bought, glossy, colorful valentines into everyone’s boxes that I began to second-guess myself. And I felt less-than. Surprisingly, all the shame and dread came from within. Nobody teased me, and in fact, I remember my classmate Steven saying, “Jennifer? Did I get a valentine from you?” And I told him to look again….with a sick feeling in my stomach, because his name began with “W”,and I had done my yellow hearts-with-green-lines greetings in alphabetical order. So as time had progressed, and my paper supply dwindled, those folks towards the end of the alphabet got smaller and smaller and smaller pieces of paper. He found his heart, so tiny, with the words curling up around the angled side of it, so it could all fit, and my name on the back, and he held it up and read it and seemed to like it – if only because it was different from all the others.

I remember walking home from the bus, with all my store-bought valentines in my aluminum-foil-covered box, and felt the feeling that would become so familiar in my lifetime: You don’t fit in. You’re not like us. You don’t do things our way. And even in my shame, and the negative things that have happened to me because no, I didn’t fit in, or I tried to find a different way to do something, I never stopped being that person. I worked hard on those little hearts, and put my heart into making sure everyone had one from me. Sometimes people want us to be just like them, or do things their way, the storebought valentines and the sameness, because it’s comforting, familiar – or because it’s all they themselves can do. We are all bound by our own limitations and resources, and even circumstances. How we accept each other – and ultimately, ourselves, is what’s really important.

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