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i want a man just like dick clark: a new year’s eve story 2

I’m eight months pregnant with my second child. The first child, almost three years old, has a raging fever and sinus infection. My then husband has chosen to take the overnight shift at his job, leaving me home to take care of the sick child on a holiday evening.

I make little snacks for myself and the daughter to eat while we wait for midnight. Of course, there is no way I’ll make it to midnight because I’m suffering from exhaustion, plus the only way to forget that I am so huge that I waddle instead of walk and it takes me about an hour to tie my shoes is to sleep. Forget the daughter. She’s on some mixture of antibiotics and cold medicine that knocks her out for hours at a time.

After an hour of coloring and making silly little crafts, I decide to turn the clock ahead, pretend it’s midnight, celebrate the new year with a toast of sparkling grape juice and go cry myself to sleep while thinking about the misery that is my life.

The daughter has other ideas. She decides that what she really wants to do is to vomit up a pile of medicine, snacks and chocolate milk all over the living room floor. I try not to cry as I attempt to clean up the floor, my very pregnant belly pressing against the rug as I’m on my hands and knees scraping puke from the carpet. The daughter passes out on the couch.

I pick her up while she’s sleeping - no small feat for a pregnant woman with sciatica - lay her on her bed and change her out of the vomit-covered pajamas. I wash her up and tuck her in and she never flinches, never wakes up even once and I wonder if maybe she’s gone into a coma and she’s suffering from some terrible strain of the flu or a virus that the doctor overlooked, so I stay in her room and make sure her breathing is even and that she responds - even in her sleep - to a pinch on her arm. She does. I feel bad, but love hurts sometimes, you know?

I go back to the living room and clean up the crafts. It’s only 8:00. I call my husband at his job to tell him how this night is going but he says he’s busy, can’t talk and as I go to hang up the phone I hear the sound of a merry party going on in the background and I yell into the receiver I hope you’re having fun! I slam the phone down and head to the couch to pout.

I flip through various rocking and rolling New Year’s specials. I’m bored. I’m lonely. I wonder what kind of husband Dick Clark would make. I wonder if his wife gets pissed that he’s out every New Year’s eve, but then I figure that she’s probably in the ABC green room munching on caviar and sipping champagne and saying, Yes I’m Dick Clark’s wife. I’m soooo lucky.

I fall into a light sleep, sitting up with the remote in my hand, and I start to dream about the ghost of New Year’s past, when midnight meant giant swigs of Boones Farm wine that someone stole from their father and a joint passed around with Pink Floyd playing in the background and maybe a stolen kiss, even an attempt to get under my shirt, which I respond to with a kick in the shin. If you’re not Dick Clark rockin’, don’t come knockin’. Yea, I always had a thing for Dick. Clark.

10:00 on this miserable New Year’s Eve. I decide to go to bed. I call my parents to wish them Happy New Year and I sneak in a few well-placed twinges of self-pity, hoping they’ll tell me to pack up the kid and come on over to celebrate with them. But my parents had a long-standing tradition - since all of their kids were old enough to be out without a curfew - that New Year’s Eve, being my father’s birthday, was their special night and no one was allowed to interfere with it. My father would make lobster and shrimp and he and my mother would sit in front of the fireplace and sip wine and enjoy the evening alone. We all complied with their wishes because it was our understanding that this was the only night of the year that my father was able to get some from mom. At least that’s what he told us.

So I get on the phone and whine and cry and tell them I’m going to bed because I just want this year to end and they wish me a Happy New Year and I hang up with my bottom lip trembling as I try to keep from exploding in the biggest fit of self-pity my family has ever seen.

I put on my pajamas. I settle into bed with Dick Clark and the remote. And then I hear the sound of little feet and they aren’t pitter pattering, they are running. Full steam. And they are accompanied by the sound of a three year old girl screaming Moommy! I can’t stop the poop! It won’t stop! Oh lord.

I get up and catch her just as she’s about to slip in whatever she’s trailing behind her. Oh, yes. Diarrhea. Bad, bad diarrhea, most likely a result of the antibiotics that I assumed she lost with the vomiting episode. Her jammies are brown and drooping. It’s running down her legs. I scoop her up and run into the bathroom, throw her in the bathtub. It takes about an hour to clean up both of us, the kitchen floor and the bathroom. She falls asleep on the living floor, I just fall to the floor in tears. Dick Clark stares at me from the tv. Stop your crying, woman! Get up and make the most of what you have! Right.

I go back into the bathroom to wash my face and see that the daughter, who insisted on helping me clean the tub and the floor, threw some of the used baby wipes in the toilet. I flush without thinking. The toilet overflows. And overflows. I try to stop it. I use the plunger to no avail. I call my father. The…toilet…won’t…stop! He thinks I’ve been drinking. Or smoking. He has no idea what I’m talking about and I take his questions as a sign that he doesn’t care. I want my sisters to come take care of me so I call them. They both have plans. Sorry, you’ve got to deal with the toilet on your own, sis. There is no way I can convey the misery of my evening to them.

I call the husband while I’m cleaning up the toilet overflow (I finally got the water to stop pouring out) and he asks why I can’t take care of anything myself. I hang up. I cry again.

My mother calls to see how it’s going with the toilet. I break out into a long, wailing cry, the kind that Italian grandmothers invoke over the coffins of their husbands (whom they hated while they were alive). Nobody loves me! I’m now sobbing and my breath is coming in deep heaves. No…body….loves me! I’m all alone and the toilet won’t work and the daughter is losing her lunch from both ends and the baby is kicking me and I smell like poop and vomit and my husband is in New Jersey having the time of his life and I bet Dick Clark would never, ever do this to his wife!

When I’m finally done, my mother heaves a heavy sigh. Fine, come on over. I wrap the daughter in a heavy blanket and we walk across the street to my parent’s house. It’s 11:00. I fall asleep at 11:10. I miss Dick Clark ushering in the New Year and when I wake the house is dark and my parent’s bedroom is closed so I assume that my dad got his yearly present anyhow, which makes me want to throw up just thinking of it and thinking of throwing up makes me relive the whole sordid evening in my head. I curl up next to my daughter, in the room where I used to sleep back in the day and I wish a whispered new year greeting in her ear. I silently make some resolutions, some that take years to complete, but I do eventually complete them all.

Except for marrying Dick Clark. Who, it turns out, is really a robotron. So I hear.

28. december 8 1

December 8, 1980

When an event happens that shapes your life, or plays a significant role in it, you tend to remember every little detail of the moment it happens. Twenty-one years ago last night. December 8, 1980. I was in my bedroom, lying on the bed with the headphones on, listening to WNEW. It was Jim Morrison’s birthday, and the station was running a two hour special devoted to him. I was obsessed with Morrison at that time, and was taping the special I was listening. I know I was wearing an old Led Zeppelin t-shirt and sweat pants and I was writing a poem as I listened to the radio.

My room faced the front of the house, and the Christmas lights that hung from the roof glowed red and green and white over my bedroom window. There was a decoration hanging on the window; a big white star made out of plastic pieces melded together. The colors of the bulbs outside made the star look psychedlic. I had smoked enough pot that night to stare at the star for a length of time, imagining the colors blending into one another. My concentration would be broken every now and then by headlights beaming down the street, and I would run to the window and peer out. We were waiting for my cousin Michael, my favorite cousin, to arrive by car from Florida. I was anxious to see him and disappointed that each susbequent headlight did not belong to his car.

All the while, Jim Morrison’s life story played out in the background, and I stopped looking down the street for my cousin at some point and started paying attention to the radio. I remember it was late, probably close to 11:00. I may have drifted off at some point and I was jolted fully awake by a shaky voice announcing that someone tentatively identified as John Lennon had been shot outside the Dakota apartment building in New York City. I waited, nearly numb, hoping for more news. Soon after, it was confirmed. I went inside to tell my parents, but they already knew. I think they announced it on Monday Night Football.

I was never much of a Beatles fan. But sometime in high school I went through a hippie phase and took a liking to John Lennon and his ideas. The fact that he spoke out for peace and died so violently was one of the first things that struck me when I heard the news.

The event didn’t change my life the way it did the lives of Beatles fans. It didn’t impact me in quite the same way as someone who was mourning Lennon the man, or the music he created. I mourned something else. I think up until that point, I still had a sense of innocence about me. I was still naive about the ways of the world. I was still all about peace and love and tranquility. I assumed the rest of the world was too. I thought we could all live in harmony and love one another and make the world a better place for future generations.

Something happened to me the night John Lennon died. I lost a lot of that idealism. I couldn’t get past the fact that someone who was so fervent about living peacefully could have his life taken from him in such a way. I couldn’t fathom that something like this could happen. How did we let our world get to this point, that people could just walk around murdering one another?

It was then, that very night, that my eyes opened to a new vision of the world. When Lennon died, whatever was left of the peace movement died, too. I dropped my peace sign mentality some time after that night. I gave up and gave in and became cynical like every grown-up I knew. It wasn’t all because of Lennon; there were other things that lead up to it also. But the death of John Lennon - the murder of John Lennon sure as hell played a very significant role in shaping my psyche for the rest of my life.

That, more than anything, is why I remember every little detail of that night. Somehow I knew, I felt it in my gut the moment I heard the news. I knew that I would never be the same again. I ingrained that moment in my brain somewhere, marking it down as a “this day in history” of my meager little life.

28 years now that I’m a cranky bastard.

27. and you would even say it glows 6

We always intended our forays into Christmas caroling to be idyllic, in an innocent, 1950’s kind of way. We had good intentions. We had the parkas and the rubber boots and the off key voices. We just didn’t have the right amount of Wally and the Beaver in us to pull it off correctly.

Our trudging through the neighborhood was not quiet at all. We were like a pack of rabid dogs who turned on each other. Lori wanted to stand in front all the time because she thought - mistakenly - that she had a beautiful singing voice. She was the only one who couldn’t hear that her whispery vocal stylings sounded more like helium escaping from a balloon than Roberta Flack (Lori’s rendition of Killing Me Softly was to die for. Literally). So Lori would run up ahead of us, trying to gain the coveted spot of bell-ringer and first soprano. The boys would pelt her with snowballs as she ran ahead and more often than not, Lori would end up face down in a foot of snow, crying that we were just jealous of her.

Our intentions were to hit at least five houses a night. We knew our neighbors weren’t that keen on carolers and instead of making us hot chocolate, they would just hand each of us a quarter - usually mid song - and give us a faint smile as they closed the door on our efforts. Which was all we wanted. A few quarters a night, pooled together, meant a trip to Murray’s and candy for everyone.

Murray was an old man who ran a small candy/cigarette/expired milk store on the corner. We would have much preferred to go to 7-11, but none of us were allowed to cross the big, bad street to get there. So we settled for Murray’s, where the Bazooka gum often had teeth marks courtesy of Murray’s snarling, vicious, child hating dog.

We once hit upon the idea of singing Christmas carols to Murray. We thought it would soften his heart, as if life were nothing but a sappy tv movie and we were writing the script. When we burst into his store singing Silent Night, Murray shrank back in horror. I had a vision of Murray as the wicked witch, melting under Dorothy’s thrown water.

“I’m a Jew, you idiots! A Jew!” Gloria stepped forward, staring down Murray. “Yea, well, Ricki and Larry and Jews and they’re singing!” She pointed to the siblings who were now staring at the floor. “Well, they should be ashamed of themselves. Get out of my store, now!” Gloria stared at Murray defiantly. She was the oldest of all of us and moved to the suburbs straight from some crime-ridden pocket in Queens. Leader of the Pack, complete with black leather jacket. She sneered at Murray. “Face it, Murray. You just don’t like us singing because we’re happy and you’re not.” The old man stared silently at us. I immediately began forming this scenario in mind in which Murray would say that Gloria was right, he was lonely and unhappy and maybe the beautiful children of the neighborhood who had voices like golden angels and hearts filled with love and charity would look kindly upon this old man and forgive him all his transgressions, including rancid milk and dog-chewed gum. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, everyone! And we’d all hug and do a rousing rendition of Dreidel, Dreidel for Murray while the neighbors poured out of their houses to join us.

Murray spat at Gloria. Spat! The wad missed her by a few inches and landed on the counter. The dog came over and licked it up. We marched out of the store in single file and everyone laughed at Murray’s lame attempt at spitting except for me. I was dejected. I wanted Murray’s heart to grow three times its size! I think that was a subtle beginning to my career as a cynic.

So we trudged on, making our way through the gray, slush snow which no longer crunched under our feet, thanks to a light drizzle and heavy local traffic. Our rubber boots went squish on the way down and sounded something like a plunger being removed from a toilet bowl on the way up. Squish. Pop. Squish. Pop. Almost in unison, a marching band of wet, freezing kids who just wanted to spread some holiday cheer and maybe make a buck or two in the process.

Lori was the one who insisted on going to Scott’s house. Scott was the grade school equivalent of the high school quarterback. King of the playground, center of the lunchroom, best looking kid in any K-6 school for miles around. Lori, who fancied herself the female version of Scott, had been trying to convince Scott that they would make a lovely couple. Scott, all of eleven years old at the time, still hadn’t made the transition from swapping baseball cards to swapping spit. Lori, meanwhile, had been queen of Spin the Bottle since third grade. It was her contention that she would make Scott her boyfriend and teach him a thing or two about what it means to be a man. Lori was a girl ahead of her time, mature in ways that were dangerous. She had grown tits before any of the girls in school. Even the sixth grade girls were jealous of Lori’s bulging shirt. Lori had a habit of wearing her coat open wide even when it was freezing out. She wore shirts that accentuated her womanhood and whispers around the fourth grade were that Lori had even gotten her period already. She was a woman. A woman! And it was only right that a woman had a man and Scott, who had the faintest hint of facial hair and whose voice was already changing, was the prime candidate.

So we headed over toward’s Scott’s house. On the way there, Lori lectured us about the caroling protocol. She would ring the bell. She would stand in front. She would sing all the key verses to Rudolph, while we did the background vocals. We were about to fight her on all issues, but Gloria silenced us with a glare. Whatever. We’d just let Lori have her way, collect a few quarters and make the mad dash across the forbidden street to 7-11, now that we were no longer welcome at Murray’s.

What happened next was really Lori’s fault. She would not shut up. She kept going on about how she deserves to be Scott’s girlfriend, that she was the prettiest and most mature girl in the school, that her voice was so much better than all of ours and we were just kids, after all (Lori had been left back in first grade, so she was a whole. year. older. than all of us, except Gloria).

We had tired of Lori. We had tired of trudging in slush that had now formed into some sort of icy glue that wouldn’t let go of our boots. We were cold and hungry and I could swear I heard my mother calling me. But I walked on.

We got to Scott’s house and, according to plan, Lori - her coat unbuttoned to reveal a tight, pale green, fake cashmere sweater - rang the bell. Scott’s mother answered the door and we immediately burst into the first chorus of Rudolph. Lori whirled around and threw a look of burning rage our way. She whispered through clenched teeth, “I told you not to sing except for the background. And we are supposed to be singing for Scott. Not his stupid mother.” We backed off and Lori turned on her sweet voice and asked Scott’s mom to fetch her son. I heard the boys behind me giggling and whispering and when I turned to see what they were up to, Steve just held a finger to his lips. Something was up. Judging from the laughter coming from the back of our group, it was going to be good.

Finally, Scott came to the door. Lori’s eyes met his and she gave him a sultry (at least a twelve year old version of sultry) smile. She launched right into her solo effort.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer…

Each word, each syllable was sung in a throaty whisper and I just know that Lori was imagining herself in a slinky white dress, singing birthday wishes to the president. It was Christmas carol porn.

We were meant to sing the backing vocals; words that had been made up and inserted over the ages to give the song a funny (to a kid, anyhow) edge.

Lori: Had a very shiny nose
Us: Like a lightbulb!
Lori: And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows
Us: Like Pepsodent!

I had no idea what that meant. Does Pepsodent glow? No matter, the lore of the added verses had been passed down from grade to grade and we had to do our part to carry on the tradition, even if it made no sense to us.

And on the song went, Lori doing her best Marilyn Monroe, the rest of us shouting the added lyrics in unison in a terrible cacophony of missed notes and Lori turning to glare at us every time. Finally, the last verse. Lori puffed her chest out a bit more, making sure that Scott noticed the fine, shapely lumps emerging from her sweater. She had her right hand on her hip and she used her left hand to keep flipping her hair. Her hips swayed as she sang. The combination of the tits, the hair, the hips and the swaying were, I suppose, supposed to be sexy in a twelve year old way, but made her look like more like a spazz who had to pee really bad.

Rudolph the red nose reindeer, you’ll. Go. Down. In. Hist-or-y. All breathy and teasing. That’s where we were supposed to chime in with LIKE COLUMBUS! and get a nice round of applause. But during the “reindeer games” verse, the instructions came from the back to the front. No one was supposed to say the Columbus line. Everyone just stay silent. I shrugged and went along with the game.

Lori: Rudolph the red nose reindeer, you’ll. Go. Down. In. Hist-or-y…..

Silence, save for a few stifled giggles from the rear of the chorus. Lori pulled the flaps of her jacket tight, turned on her heels and went running down the steps. Scott looked rather amused, while his mother looked a bit horrified. The rest of us just stood there, feeling rather awkward. As Lori maneuvered her way around us trying to high tail it out of Scott’s yard, she tripped over a cord that was haphazardly strung around a hedge at the end of Scott’s walk. She fell to the ground, pulling some of the lights from the bush down with her. And there she lay until Gloria helped her to feet, face down in the snow and silhouetted by a dozen or so big, colored lights.

I knew right then that this was the end of many things - our caroling for candy scheme; our otherwise tight knit group of misfits; Lori’s plans for to be queen to Scott’s playground king. It also meant the end of the lumps under Lori’s sweater, as everyone within five miles of our school would find out in no less than 24 hours that Lori’s tits were no more than artistically folded socks.

We didn’t see Lori for many days after that, as she chose to sequester herself in her bedroom, with only visits from a revenge-plotting Gloria to cheer her up. I heard from Lori’s brother - who was part of the “Lori stuffs” chorus, that his sister burst into tears when their grandmother gave her socks for Christmas.

Perhaps now you can see why I hold dear the tradition of oversized, colored lights. Nostalgia for the good old days, when we brought a queen-sized ego down to jester size. Every time I see a house all lit up with the colors of 60’s suburbia Christmas, I can’t help but think of Lori, laying on the ground like a forlorn toy from Misfit Island.

Good times, good times.

26. giving thanks 2

ode to joy

I give thanks for the little things.

a good book, a pillow and a couch on a rainy saturday
my dog greeting me at the door after work
unsolicited hugs from teenage children
the first cup of coffee in the morning
watching the sunset by the ocean
a photograph that turns out right
a kiss on the back of my neck
when words come together
grass under my bare feet
the beauty of autumn
comfortable silence
the purr of a kitten
a warm spring day
fresh fallen snow
birthday cakes
weekend naps
hand holding
cloud gazing
inner peace
star gazing

[photo: "ode to joy" taken june, 2008]

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