Tag Archives: memoir

Lame Adventure 463: Way Back Machine Encounter with a Rock Legend

Like many hardcore New Yorkers, I was born someplace else. In my case, it was San Francisco, a lovely city where I did my earliest lame adventuring. Bruce Thiesen, a Bay Area native who writes the blog, Ram On, recently published a post featuring verse by Patti Smith that triggered memories of an up close and personal encounter I had with her in May 1978.

Patti was on tour promoting her latest album, Easter. It featured her biggest mainstream hit, a song she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen called Because the Night. It reached number 13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. She had also just published a book of poetry called Babel. I saw her on that tour when she played a fantastic concert at Winterland Arena. The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic, Joel Selvin, published a rave review of her performance. He compared her “to a young Mick Jagger”. Mick was 34. Patti was 31.

Patti was appearing at B. Dalton Booksellers on Sutter and Kearny Streets in San Francisco’s financial district where she was signing Babel. I had a copy that I wanted autographed. I also packed my camera, a 35 mm Minolta SRT201. That was my parents’ reward to me for both graduating high school and getting accepted into San Francisco State University. It was their way of encouraging their slacker to graduate college, a feat that took me seven years to achieve, just like Sarah Palin. I attended my class in some subject that made absolutely no lasting impression, and then jetted over to Dalton’s. I was such a sloth it never occurred to me to cut class. That was very Bozo, for there was a line of people streaming out of the store and down Kearny Street; what appeared to me to be far more people than those that attended the concert. The cynic in me, who coincidentally comprises most of me, sensed that these were people that were there only because they read Selvin’s review and very few were actual fans.

It was apparent that I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting in to have my book signed, much less to take her picture. But I knew that my camera looked professional enough. A young guy in front of me, who had attended the show, held my place in line so I could slip into the store to take a shot.

So near and yet so far.

So near and yet so far.

When a store worker came outside to confirm my fear that we would not gain entry, I spewed a bald faced lie. I claimed that I was supposed to photograph her for the Phoenix, State’s campus newspaper. Swallowing the bait whole, he instructed me to go to the freight entrance where she’d be exiting.

Freight elevator door opened. black speck between hoodie man's shoulder and guy inside is Patti's bowler hat.

Freight elevator door opened. Black speck between hoodie man’s shoulder and guy inside is Patti’s bowler hat.

So, there I was, 19-years-old but I could still easily pass for 12, with the real deal all-male press. When she exited that elevator, in a bowler hat and a ratty fake fur jacket, I jumped in front of all those guys, and started snapping shots.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

What I didn’t anticipate was Patti wrapping her arm around me and holding me close. I kept taking pictures. My adrenaline was pumping.

Patti Smith's profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Patti Smith’s profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Me (thinking): Patti Smith is holding me! This is so cool! I can see up her nose!

Looking up Patti Smith's nose.

Looking up Patti Smith’s nose.

When she saw the beat-up VW van her record label had waiting for her, she said in an incredulous tone:

Patti Smith: I came early and I stayed late and this is my limousine? This is the best that Arista* can do for me?

She turned to me:

Patti Smith: Wanna go to San Diego?

She held me closer and insisted:

Patti Smith: C’mon!

A security guard the size of a redwood approached.

Mr. Big: Let the kid go.

Just as he was going to grab me, she let me out of her grasp and entered the van.

Patti's hand as she entered the van.

Patti’s hand as she entered the van.

I can still see her gesturing at me to get in. But I didn’t pursue my groupie moment further. I had to head over to Petrini’s, a supermarket near my house, to pick up the fish for the family dinner that night. If we were the type of family where the parents were inclined to ask:

Parents: How was your day?

I would have answered:

Me: I almost went to San Diego with a rock star leaving you guys to eat canned tuna!

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I accepted her invitation and entered that van. Then I reason that that no-nonsense guard probably would have pulled me out with such force I might have ended up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But there is an epilogue to this lame adventure. Consider it another lame adventure that happened thirty years later here in New York. Patti and I met again. I was at a screening of a documentary about her that played the Film Forum.

Proof of my sister, Dovima's claim that we're a family of hoarders: Film Forum ticket stub circa 2008.

Proof of my sister, Dovima’s claim that we’re a family of hoarders: retained Film Forum ticket stub.

My friend, Albee, urged me to have her sign those photos I shot in 1978. He joked:

Albee: Maybe she’ll try to pick you up again?

That lightning didn’t strike twice, probably to the relief of both 61-year-old Patti and 49-year-old me, but she was still as cool as ever in person. Maybe even cooler. I finally got her autograph.

I got my satisfaction.

I got my satisfaction.

*Arista was her record label.

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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.

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 441: My First Public F-bomb

If dogs had life spans that equaled humans, my childhood canine companion, Mean Streak, would have turned forty-five this Friday. Meanie only made it to sixteen years and four months before he started leg lifting on the Pearly Gates.

Mean Streak was my brother Axel’s dog. We got him on December 26, 1969.  Axel wanted a dog for Christmas, but our parents were anti-dog. There was no puppy under our tree. Instead, they gave my brother $20 and extended anemic approval to him to find his pet.

With our sister, Dovima, driving our mother’s 1963 Chevy Bel Air, we spent December 26th combing San Francisco Bay Area pet shops in search of Axel’s four-legged friend. We discovered that the day after Christmas all that remained were the rejects. Axel felt that if we did not return home with a dog that day, we ran the risk of our parents changing their minds and telling us that we had to remain dog-less. We were determined to find a dog.

We met an adorable tan Cockapoo, but that dog was too small. We encountered a very exuberant Bluetick Coonhound mix that so desperately wanted to go home with us, her nails got caught in Dovima’s wooly sweater. Axel was concerned that she might be too big when fully grown. If he came home with the second coming of Marmaduke, he’d never hear the end of it. We kept looking.

As our hunt drew to a close, we went to Teddy’s Pet Shop in West Portal, not far from where we lived. A litter of just weaned puppies was playing in the window. The pet shopkeeper told us that these pups were exactly six weeks old. Off to the side, Mean Streak snoozed by himself. Axel selected the little sleeper, erroneously assuming that that pup was the most peaceful one of all. We later realized that Meanie was just being his usual anti-social self.

Meanie was a feisty, mighty mutt who was born to bark. He was very protective of our house and made it clear to all visitors — friends, neighbors and extended family members:

Mean Streak: I take no prisoners!

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers, or anyone.

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers or anyone.

Even though Meanie weighed only thirty-five pounds, no one ever called our dog’s bluff. He was equal opportunity and would gladly rip out the lungs of any perceived intruder i.e., every single visitor outside of my siblings, parents and grandmother, but he granted an exemption to my pet turtle.

Mean Streak: I cut the turtle a pass.

When my turtle died and I buried him in the back yard, Meanie, who was not a digger, dug him up. I could have lived quite nicely without ever having seen that sight. My dad reburied my turtle in another hole so deep in our yard Meanie would have had to dig all the way to middle earth to reach that corpse again.

Axel said I could own a five percent stake in  Mean Streak. I was allotted Meanie’s tail. A few years later, when my brother got a part time job, he paid me a dollar a week to walk Meanie when I got home from school. I  liked the job, but there were these two old guys with big dogs that were bad news. They walked their dogs unleashed, flouting the leash laws. They lumbered slowly and their dogs walked far ahead looking for trouble.

One day when I was walking Mean Streak, we encountered the two old guys exercising their pony-sized unleashed beasts. Both hounds from Hell came barreling at us. They pounced Mean Streak. The two old guys thought this was hilarious. I was a whippet thin twelve-year-old whose dog was under attack. I didn’t get the joke.

Me: Get your dogs off my dog you bastards!

They quickened their pace and pulled their dogs off of mine.

One Old Guy: You’ve got a mouth on you, little girl!

Me: Fuck you!

That was the first time I dropped the f-bomb on anyone in public. I reported back to Axel what had happened, including my use of profanity. Axel approved. He hated those guys and had his own share of run ins with them. One of the bullying big dogs died prematurely. We attributed it to the owner’s bad karma.

Looking back, those “old” guys were younger then than I am now. If there is an afterlife, I hope that Mean Streak is nipping them in the ankles for eternity.

 

Lame Adventure 400: Signs of the Season

The signs of the holiday season are everywhere these days.

Looking forward to January.

Or bracing for SantaCon.

Big Bird multitasking as holiday eyesore.

Big Bird multitasking as holiday eyesore.

The other night I was walking east on Houston Street with my pal, Coco. We paused to observe the elaborate manger scene inside the gates of St. Anthony’s church when I nearly suffered a coronary.

Me: Coco, look! Jesus is missing! Is nothing sacred? Who steals Jesus?

Where's the life of the party?

Where’s the life of the party?

Coco: LBJ isn’t there because he doesn’t come out until Christmas Eve! We don’t have to get all CSI or re-enact the Lindbergh baby kidnapping!

To emphasize her point, to make me feel like the consummate stupido, Coco stabbed her studded, black leather-gloved finger at potential suspects.

"Did you take LBJ?"

“Did you take LBJ?”

Or you? Did you take LBJ?

Or you? Did you take LBJ?

I could not get my mind off Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Me: What has the 36th president got to do with this?

Coco: LBJ is Little Baby Jesus you dumb bell!

It was enlightening to learn that my friend leads a double life as the female Jay-Z. After Coco and I parted ways, I went home to the Upper West Side, where I saw another holiday display, this one in the window of the Citarella market on Broadway. It’s an edible replica of the Flat Iron building, their contribution to the Gingerbread Extravaganza.

This might not taste as good as it looks.

This might not taste as good as it looks.

This extravaganza is for a charitable cause, City Harvest, an institution that helps fight hunger in New York. To see all of the gingerbread structures in competition click here.

When I was growing up in San Francisco, a sure sign that Christmas was coming was when my mother would drag me with her to the Emporium, our go-to department store. Every year, a section of the store would be devoted to their made-to-order holiday cards. The cards were displayed under cellophane in thick oversized books that my mother would scrutinize for hours. If in reality we were only there twenty minutes, I was so bored it seemed to last an eternity. My mother, a perfectionist who was always more high strung than usual during the holiday season, would make mincemeat out of me if I dared touch one of those books. Those books were for adult scrutiny only and about as thrilling as math class. All of those cards were capital d Dull. The card my mother would select was always a variation of the same theme: a somber nativity scene. Snore.

When the cards arrived, Mom would spend hours at the kitchen table working on them, addressing each envelope in her perfect, flowery script. She would write thoughtful notes inside. Eventually, she cut herself a break in this masochism and stopped licking each stamp personally and began utilizing a sponge. It amazed me that she would send out hundreds of cards. My parents seldom ever had friends over. Who was she sending all of these cards to? Pages of random people in the phone book? I never asked. I knew that when she was in Christmas card mode to stay far away. If I could have moved to Mars I would have done so.

My salesman father would send cards to his customers. He’d be on the road filling his car with gas, notice cards on sale next to the motor oil and pick up whatever the grease monkeys were selling. This probably took him a total of six minutes and he even got his windshield washed. When my dad did his cards, at warp speed at his desk in the room he shared with my mom, I was allowed entry. I could light myself on fire, run in circles and scream at the top of my lungs.

In 1970, he came home with a card with a picture of a moose that had a red and white candy cane protruding from its mouth. Inside it announced, “Merry Christmoose!” I thought that was the greatest holiday card ever. Granted, I was only eleven, but I had never known there could be a funny Christmas card. When we received a card from someone that did not make my mother’s list, she had a meltdown. She had given out all of her made-to-order cards. My father had some extra Merry Christmoose cards. He offered his to her. The expression on my mother’s face was as if he suggested she write “Merry Christmas” on a dead seagull. She went out and bought a card.

This year is the first time in thirty years that I have not sent holiday cards. Milton wanted me to design my own, but I didn’t get around to it. When I visited a card shop in my neighborhood, I immediately noticed one I would have sent.

Inside caption: "Merry Christmoose!"

Inside caption: “Merry Christmoose!”

Unfortunately, this card was not available in a multi-pack. But I did send one to my dad.

Happy holidays Lame Adventurers.

Lame Adventure 399: Snow Pricks

Norman Rockwell was not here.

It’s beginning to look a lot like porn Christmas.

When I woke Tuesday morning I looked out the window and witnessed the first softly falling snow of the season. Ultimately, less than two inches fell in the city and most of it had melted by day’s end, but apparently it still set a record for a December 10th snowfall. Over the course of the months ahead I imagine that there will be plenty more of it to come. Unlike rain, snow does not make a racket, aside from the familiar sound of shovels scraping it off the sidewalk and maybe the occasional thud of some unlucky sap keeling over from a heart attack. Snow falls gracefully even in New York City. Then, it hardens and gets covered in soot and dog pee. The process of Big Apple snow losing its virginity generally happens at warp speed.

This particular Tuesday morning I realized that this month is the 31st anniversary between snow and me. Back in December 1982, I experienced my first snowfall in New York City. Coming from San Francisco, where the weather is usually moderate, I was thrilled to savor my first taste of East Coast-style winter. Maybe it was even a little magical. 31 years later I can honestly say the magic of snow for me is dead, buried and thoroughly decomposed. In fact, my relationship with snow instantly shed its luster on February 11, 1983 when New York got smacked with the Megalopolitan Snowstorm and was buried under 17.6” of it. Even though snow can be very pretty to look at it, it can be a hassle getting around in it.

My first winter out here I was such a cold weather novice. I did not have an adequate coat or boots. So I froze my ass off. The next winter I wised up, and invested in appropriate footwear. I also purchased an enormous down coat that could have served double duty as a sleeping bag or a shelter in the Arctic.

About twenty years ago, on a frigid winter’s day, I was trudging up the slushy Upper Broadway sidewalk in the midst of a crowd. Shoveled mounds of frozen snow were piled three feet high at the curb. An Irritating Hotdog riding a low rider bike, that type of bike with the big handlebars and banana seat, was behind the pedestrians impatiently barking:

Irritating Hotdog: Beep, beep! C’mon, people, get outta the way! Comin’ through!

The throng was thick and the going was slow. It was pure idiocy trying to ride a bike on the sidewalk, especially in those conditions. Fed up with being trapped behind the wall of foot traffic, Irritating Hotdog had a light bulb. He accessed his inner Evel Knievel and decided to jump his bike over the hills of ice looming large at the curb. Unfortunately for him he failed to clear the hurdle. He went flying off his bike. Its once round front wheel was unnaturally twisted at about a 45-degree angle rendering it impossible to ride. The frame might have been banged up, too. Possibly, he totaled his bike. Back to the star attraction, I can still see him airborne. I had stopped, as did others, allowing him space to smack down hard on the pavement in front of us. A fountain of compassion, I gushed:

Me: Good one, asshole.

Even though his clock was cleaned, he got back up on his feet looking looking a tad sheepish. It seemed that his biggest bruise was to his ego and if his bike was indeed a goner, his wallet. An elderly woman walking next to me chuckled.

Elderly Woman: You’ve made my day, Buttercup.

Lame Adventure 392: Feeling Foolish While Silently Screaming

No argument from me.

No argument from me.

Halloween has never been my thing, but I gave it a shot back in the day when I stood armpit high to an upright meerkat, or if you prefer, when I was short and six. My mother suffered the migraine headache of a lifetime, more specifically one that spanned eleven minutes, deciding how to dress me. My first grade class peers in San Francisco circa 1965, were girls eager to be Cinderella, Snow White, Suzy Homemaker or a ballerina; the more demented ones, all four combined. Mom knew if she forced girly-girl garb on me, my reaction would be on par with starting a holy war. I wanted to be Superman, Zorro or a Beatle, even Ringo. None of these guys rated Mom’s seal of approval.

So hand in hand, Mom and I entered Woolworth’s where we reached a compromise solution: an urban caveman in a dress, Fred Flintstone.
My Fred costume was the cheap Ben Cooper brand made from flame retardant vinyl. It was comprised of a screen printed Fred tie and a smattering of black spots signifying either a pre-historic animal pelt or some scary melanoma. But the pièce de résistance was an allegedly ventilated plastic mask shaped like Fred’s smiling mug. The mask was held in place with a narrow elastic band that hugged the back of the head. Holes were cut in Fred’s eyes and in the vicinity of the nostrils guaranteeing that at precisely thirty-eight seconds of wear alleged ventilation would give way to minor asphyxiation and a face soaked in sweat.

At this juncture I should mention that not only was I short but I was slight in build. Or as my reliably image deflating mother was quick to say to anyone from my father to the butcher:

Mom: She’s forty-two pounds soaking wet!

Mom alternated this observation about my slender physical presence with another dose of confidence implosion.

Mom: She turns sideways and she disappears.

It never occurred to Mom to pad me to look more Fred-like. We just accepted the fact that I resembled Hunger Strike Fred. After completing her role in costuming me, Mom passed the baton to my father. It was Dad’s job to take me out trick or treating. Since most nights it was chilly in the City by the Bay and a damp foggy mist often hung in the air, Mom bundled me in my dark red corduroy coat, a coat that completely hid my costume prompting candy givers to ask:

Candy Giver: And who are you supposed to be?

Even at that tender age, I found it astounding how many people failed to recognize Fred from my mask. I wondered how culturally vapid were these folks? Looking back, this initial glimpse of cluelessness was good preparation for insights about the human race, offering hints that we descended from rocks.

Together, Dad and I trolled our neighborhood. I appeared on doorsteps in exchange for candy that would be inhaled back home by my two salivating older siblings, Dovima and Axel. They had stopped trick or treating years earlier so it was my job to take one for the team. I was grateful that they ate the candy. Born sweet tooth deficient, my snacks of choice were fistfuls of dry Cheerios, lightly buttered rye toast or if I was really lucky, a dish of boiled spinach drizzled with olive oil. My sister, Dovima, who to this day could still easily eat herself sick on milk chocolate if she did not keep both hands in restraints, often said to me:

Dovima: God, you’re weird.

If my mother had issues with my slight stature, Dad, in Mama Rose-style, was quick to stage direct my projection of the phrase, “Trick or treat.”  This was a phrase I tended to mumble in a near inaudible whisper. To this day, I remain soft spoken. My Ethel Merman-esque father is a guy who was born to shout from the rafters, “Sing out Louise!” On that brisk Halloween night, he groused at me.

Dad: What’s the matter with you? Why won’t you shout out ‘trick or treat’ so people can hear you?

As we bickered on an elderly widow’s doorstep, I insisted that was exactly what I was doing, but he disagreed. I knocked feebly on the lady’s door and said the go-to phrase in an anemic whisper. Dad resisted the urge to smash his head against a wall. We stood for a three count outside the lady’s closed door, waiting. Another three count passed. The response was the same, continued silence. Exasperated, Dad bellowed in a demanding 38-year-old male bass baritone that resonated throughout the entire neighborhood and possibly crossed the California state line deep into Nevada:

Dad: Trick or treat goddamn it!

The elderly widow’s porch light shut off. Dad and I were left standing in the dark.

Dad (with renewed calm): Let’s go to another house.

Back on the sidewalk he urged:

Dad: Don’t mention this to your mother.

Me: Deal.

Note: I wrote this post as a contribution to the series Remember the Time, a dumping ground for old school stories co-hosted by Emily at The Waiting, who has been very supportive of Lame Adventures, and Kelly of Are You Finished Yet?

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