Tag Archives: childhood

Lame Adventure 462: Puppy Love

I was sitting at my desk at The Grind masochistically eating my organic kale lunch, when I received a call from my building’s management announcing:

Building Management: Your lock is locked but your lock’s not locked.

Me: Huh?

They repeat that same statement.

Me: What are you saying? Have I been burglarized?

They pause.

Me: Was my door opened?

Building Management: No, it’s locked.

Me: So how was my door not locked if it was locked?

Building Management: We locked it.

Me: So you locked my door because it was unlocked?

Building Management: Yes. You didn’t lock it when you left.

They then give me a convoluted explanation about how to lock the door that I’ve been locking almost every day of my life since September 1983.

Me: I know how to lock my door. I know I locked it when I left this morning. How do you know my apartment wasn’t broken into?

They have no response to that idea. Elspeth, my boss, has heard my side of this frustrating conversation.

Elspeth: You better go home and see what’s going on. You might need to file a police report.

I doubt that anyone took my eight-year-old MacBook, spin bike or platform bed. At least I hope that. But I heed The Boss’s advice, catch a 1 local and head home to the Upper West Side. I’m calm. I don’t have a sick feeling. A light rain is falling when I exit the train at West 72nd Street and hot foot the rest of the way to my hovel. I enter my building and encounter a member of Building Management.

Building Management: Did you get the phone call? Your door was locked but it wasn’t locked. We locked it for you.

I still don’t know what that means. I walk up three flights to my sanctum sanctorum. It is locked. I enter. If anyone broke in, they were not compelled to take anything. Possibly they thought:

Would-be robber: What a dump!

I once knew someone whose place was broken into. Their stuff was so shabby the robber left two tens on the kitchen counter. Apparently, my would-be robber left with his or her disgust. As I exit my building I encounter my first bright spot of the day: an adorable Bernese Mountain Dog puppy on a red leash. She and her young guy owner are running short sprints back and forth on the sidewalk. But I’m a new distraction. She wants to check me out. She sniffs my hand and licks a knuckle. Her fluffy coat is dotted with mist from the light rain. In the idiot voice I use for delightful small animals and cute small fry I ask:

Me: And what’s your name?

Young guy (speaking in puppy voice): Bleecker!

Me: You’re in the wrong neighborhood for that name!

For non-New Yorkers, Bleecker is the name of a popular street downtown in Greenwich Village.

Young guy (speaking in puppy voice): I like it up here!

I ask her age and he tells me that she’s ten weeks old.

Me: Welcome to the Upper West Side, Bleecker.

I’m impressed that this fellow has not named his dog, Linda, and his daughter, Bleecker. Maybe the trend to call dogs people names and people dog names is reversing? My encounter with Bleecker makes me think about my beloved childhood dog, Mean Streak. When we bought him at a pet store in San Francisco the day after Christmas in 1969, the shopkeeper told us that he was part poodle, part spaniel and his coloring was similar to a Berner. Meanie shared much of the temperament of a Berner. He was loyal, faithful, intelligent, but where he diverged was that he was more inclined to snarl than be very affectionate. Wound tight by nature he was a constantly aggravated barking machine who viewed every visitor as an unwelcome intruder. Gluttons for punishment, we loved him. Meanie weighed about thirty-five pounds.

Mean Streak circa 1971: he loved having his picture taken.

Stupid Pet Trick photo. Mean Streak circa 1971: he loved having his picture taken.

I am seeing Bleecker more and more. Proving that I’m fast approaching 392 in dog years, I’ve been suffering brain freezes and I’ve almost twice called her Berkeley. She is very playful and sweet. Her fur is incredibly soft. Right now, she weighs about fifteen pounds. When I was talking to Randi, her woman co-owner, she told me that Bleecker would gain two pounds every week until she reaches her adult weight of ninety pounds. The pooch that is a little bundle of energy that eagerly stands on her hind legs with her paws pressing on my thighs might soon be placing those same paws on my shoulders. That might be more disturbing than charming, but for now, Bleecker’s stealing hearts, thieving I condone.

Bleecker sitting still for a nanosecond.

Bleecker sitting still for a nanosecond.

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Lame Adventure 452: Hello, Old Friend!

As usual at quitting time, I bolted The Grind seemingly jet propelled. I was meeting a friend for dinner at a restaurant near my workplace in Tribeca. To get there, I had to trudge through the biting winter cold coming in off the Hudson River. Biting winter cold is a reliable motivator to pick up the pace, but when I eyed several Sixties-era sedans parked down Franklin Street, my feet slowed to a crawl so I could ogle like it was spring. Tribeca is a very picturesque Manhattan neighborhood with quaint, cobblestone streets and buildings constructed in the 19th Century resplendent with old world charm and costing stratospheric 21st Century ransom. It’s a popular location for film and television shoots — the reason why so many vintage American cars from my youth were parked curbside. As I passed a black Chevy Impala circa 1964, I recalled my mother’s four door 1963 Chevy Belair, the one we called “the blue Chevy” that looked exactly like:

This one!

This one!

There it was, parked mere paces away from The Grind, a monster of a car from my childhood that was solid as a tank. It had a two speed automatic transmission, weighed 3,424 pounds, measured 210.4 inches long, 79.4 inches wide and stood 55.5 inches tall. The trunk capacity was 19 cubic feet, perfect for stuffing a body. Mom preferred to use it for groceries.

A family of four could almost fit in this trunk.

A family of four could fit inside this trunk.

It had a 20.1 gallon fuel tank when gas cost 30 cents a gallon. The engine was a 230 cubic-inch six-cylinder with 140 hp. Mileage on this gas-guzzler was 10.9 – 13.9 mph in the city and 12.4 – 15.8 mph on the highway. It went from 0-60 in 14.1 seconds. It had two seatbelts: one for the driver and the other for the front seat passenger. Whenever I’d sit up front with my brother, Axel, we made that passenger seatbelt communal. We shared it and buckled up together.  Gas cost 53 cents in 1974, the year my parents traded it in for a Chevy Vega.

52 year old fender.

52-year-old fender still looking good.

My dad drove the Belair for two years before upgrading to “the brown Chevy” a snazzy gold 1965 Impala four door sedan with white sidewall tires.

No flashy white sidewalls here.

No flashy white sidewalls here.

He handed down the Belair to Mom who chauffeured me to and from grade school in it. Both of my siblings, Dovima and Axel, learned how to drive off of it. It was the car I rode in when Dovima drove Axel and me all over the San Francisco Bay Area to puppy shop on the day after Christmas in 1969. Dad only allowed our dog, Mean Streak, to ride in Mom’s car. Meanie loved to hang his head out the Belair’s rear window where he’d slobber with gusto.

When an air bag was Granny yammering about the old days.

From the era when an air bag was Granny yammering about the old days.

My most memorable ride in that Belair occurred in summer 1968 when I was nine-years-old. Dad decided that we should go on a family picnic to Curry Creek, a campground near Clayton, about 33 miles and 33 hundred light years outside San Francisco. There were towering oak trees with tire swings, a swimming pool, a dusty ball field, swarms of bugs and because it was the outdoors, dirt simply everywhere. I was a scrawny, city slicker kid who was only into this affair for the car ride and the food: my grandmother’s fried chicken and potato salad.

It seemed that all the kids at this retreat moved in packs and were natural athletes glowing with golden tans. I was albino white and so painfully uncoordinated I could barely climb out of the car without falling down. There’s a home movie of me running spastically in a circle and wiping out. Furthermore, I could not swim and I despised the sweltering heat. What I excelled at most in this hellhole was reading comic books in the shade and hiking dirt paths where I’d fantasize about returning home and taking a bath.

On this family outing, my father shunned long established protocol, and we headed there in the Belair. Typically, when we went anyplace incurring any distance, we took his car, because his was the better car. But, for some inexplicable reason he decided to drive Mom’s Belair.

Distinctive twin tail lights. the Impala had triple on either side.

Distinctive twin tail lights. the Impala had triple on either side.

About two thirds of the way there, with Donovan’s hit single, Hurdy Gurdy Man, playing on the radio station, 1260 KYA, the Belair began to overheat. Our car was smoking as Donovan was singing the trance-like chorus:

“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang

My mother, coincidentally, was smoking mad at my father. He pulled the Belair to the side of the road. He got us into this jam and it was clear that he was under a mountain of pressure to get us out. He opened the car’s hood. A massive cloud of white smoke billowed out. He used a beach towel to undo the steaming hot radiator cap. I stood near him, at the ready to do nothing, watching this family fiasco in fascination. Mom, who was always wound tight, was seething harder than our car’s engine. Dad had to think fast and improvise a miracle. He opened the trunk, took out the lemonade dispenser and poured a long drink into the radiator. Quenched, our engine cooled. We returned home where we ate the fried chicken and potato salad in the dirt-free comfort of our own kitchen.

Any mention of the song, Hurdy Gurdy Man, always guaranteed groans from my parents. But, whenever I hear that song, I recall the best picnic ever thanks to that Belair.

Ready for its closeup.

Ready for its closeup.

Lame Adventure 320: Me in Drag

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.

Crappy cell phone photo.

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.

Les Miserables.

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:

Granny: Maiale!

Translation: pig.

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.

Fat chance.