Last month when I was visiting my family in the San Francisco Bay Area, my 17-year-old niece, Sweet Pea, wanted to go mall shopping, specifically to Urban Outfitters. This is one of those stores where I half-expect to find myself carded and then denied entry because I am so beyond their target teen to 20-something age demographic. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. There I was, aimlessly wandering the aisles while Sweet Pea was trying on a mere 693 outfits. Several times clerks invaded my reverie and asked:
UO Clerk: Can I help you?
Me: No, not really, and never.
Approximately three hours into this sentence, I noticed a table full of books. One called Awkward Family Photos caught my eye.
I pointed this tome out to my sister, Dovima. We each grabbed a copy. We laughed. We devoured it whole. We belched.
During a subsequent Father’s Day visit to my dad’s house in San Francisco, I thought of one of my own loathed family photos. Although it was not particularly awkward, this portrait my parents had taken back in the day of their three offspring, my siblings, Dovima and Axel, and me, was one this trio despised equally. It was taken so far back in the day I think Lincoln was president.
I have known Dovima my entire life. I have never known her to look like that. Ever. Axel looked a lot like that. Briefly. As for me, who is that? Someone out of a Brontë novel?
I don’t recall much about the photo shoot, but I vividly remember the photographer trying to force me to cradle a baby doll. I objected with hurricane force fury. His issue was what I should do with my hands. I improvised.
From the earliest age, even the immature me was showing prominent signs of the finely honed wicked personality I have now. That cherub in the pink poofy party dress enjoyed peeking up store mannequin’s skirts, not sure what I was looking for, but I recall considering using a flashlight for a better view. When taking breaks from playing with Mr. Potato Head, this little horn dog liked masturbating under the mirrored glass coffee table, positioning my pint-sized self in such a way my rotund four foot ten 200 pound caretaker granny could not possibly get hold of me. As I’d rub myself into a frenzy she’d scream in Italian:
I loved to joke around. I was fascinated with actresses, especially Sophia Loren, Julie Christie and the singer Dusty Springfield. I could not get enough of Barbra Streisand, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. By age ten, Woody Allen and Andy Warhol were added to that list. Axel was my #1 playmate. He invented brilliant games. One of my favorites was Crash, Bang, Boom where we’d slam our bikes into each other.
I only played with boy’s toys – cars, guns and the Marine G.I. Joe. I loved comic books, but graduated to Mad magazine and by adolescence, The National Lampoon. I was obsessed with gags including plastic vomit, rubber dog-doo, whoopee cushions, and in a sure sign of my budding sophistication, positioning a dollop of fake blood out of a nostril.
I also made my own gags. One of my crowd pleasers was when I carved a finger-sized hole into a little cotton-lined box, I’d coat my finger with chalk (stolen from where else? — my Catholic grade school), insert it into the hole and then open the box. The sight of my dead-looking finger always guaranteed a gasp and then when I’d wriggle it, the freak-outs would come.
I loved that.
When asked if I wanted to be a wife and mother, I’d say:
Me: No. I want to be a cartoonist.
When I was told I’d change my mind when I’d meet my future husband who’d give me a litter I’d say:
Me: No, that’s never gonna happen.
This troubled my mother who thought if she tried hard enough to make this tiny terror into a girly girl in ringlets and pale pink taffeta, she could stop my snarky soft butch nature. I’d suddenly transform into someone else instead of me.