Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Boner and the Bully

When we moved from Colorado-with its Rocky Mountains and miles of Aspen trees-to Santa Barbara-with its smooth oceans, miles of beaches and palm trees-it was a bit of a shock. It never snowed, and everyone was tan. I had remained as pale as the driven snow but for a smattering of freckles on my face and arms, so it was like being a visitor from another planet. The natives were as sunkissed a bunch as I had ever seen and expected everyone else to be that way, too. I had heard stories about beaches further south where the tan people actually harassed the ghostly white people who dared show their melatonin challenged sun-screened faces in public.
The weekend before school started, I was invited by a future classmate of mine to an all girl sleep over. My mother dropped me off in Summerland at an enormous beach house perched on the cliff overlooking the Pacific. It had its own private beach, a yard and more bathrooms than I could count. The garage had been converted into a rec room. For hours, six of us soon to be sixth graders danced around in hot pink wigs and stretch pants to the sounds of Devo, Queen and Olivia Newton John. We gorged on frozen Snicker's bars and drank Dr. Pepper with reckless abandon. We were then herded outside to watch the neighbor boy put on a spontaneous show. It was dark and,as I peered over the fence with the other girls, I could make out the shape of a small boy standing in the window next door. He was a skinny, four foot tall surfer dude with a white blonde mullet whose idea of a "show" was to stand on his bed airguitaring to Supertramp in a pair of Raybans for ten minutes while someone trained a flashlight on him. His finale was to rip off his pants and flash his finger size dick at us. It was erect, which caused the girls to let out a horror/delight combo shreik. We all ran back in the garage and fell breathlessly on the couch. I wasn't sure what all the squealing was about until someone said "oh, my GOD, he popped a BONER!". I remember cataloging the phrase, though I've honestly never felt the need to use it, and realizing that his was the first "active member" of the opposite sex I'd ever seen. It was thrilling but also kind of gross. Welcome to California, I guess.

The following Monday, when school started, I realized during first period that I would be needing some new clothes. Although I had been given a back to school shopping spree over the summer, three essential items had been overlooked-Sperry Topsiders, Izod collared shirt and a pair of Dolphin shorts. My mother obliged, understanding from her own experiences in school that this would serve as my armour. I went to school a few days later wearing all three items- my new uniform- and was greeted suspiciously by the head meanie, Paige Putz. I have written about her in other posts, so forgive me if I loop, but she was a piece of work. She circled me outside homeroom and demanded that I show her the sole of my shoe. Evidently there was such a thing as a fake Topsider, and she needed to verify the authenticity of my recent purchase. I lifted up my leg, clearly wanting to keep things copasetic and yet ignoring the small voice telling me to kick her in the face. She peered at the embossed seal on the bottom of my shoe. Satisfied, she went for my shirt next, picking at the alligator on my left breast with her manicured forefinger to make sure I hadn't glued it on. The bell rang. I never got her take on the Dolphin shorts. I had bought the solid purple pair, which was the newest color to come out. I knew deep down that they were just clothes but somehow having the "right stuff" made sixth grade somewhat less horrific. I will say that I was a little like Marge Simpson in the Chanel dress- I wore my new uniform almost every day, pairing the shorts and the shirt with different sweaters tied jauntily around my shoulders in an effort to make it look fresh. Mercifully Miss Putz wasn't clever enough with the catty remarks or she was simply too busy preying on the kids who wore Le Tigre shirts to notice my recycled repertoire. Everyone suffered the fashion bully except the three African American kids at our school. All of them wore Le Tigre and, to my knowledge, none of them were teased. I attribute this to Putz' innate sense of political correctness coupled with her fear of having her ass kicked by the black kids.

This is floating around my brain because I know that one day soon, my darling confident girls will eschew everything Mossimo($) for anything Moschino ($$$$). They will learn that an eighty dollar sweatshirt the size of a washcloth can be purchased at Kitson Kids in every color of the rainbow. They will want it all, and I will be faced with a terrible decision: do I give them the armour they request, knowing from personal experience how it can keep the Putz' at bay, or do I teach them that, despite what every media image they encounter says, the clothes do not make the girl? At this point, I do not censor the outlandish rainbow polka dotted red and pink outfits that go to school, nor do I question the pink and black zebra striped headband that makes Big look like the lead singer of Little Loverboy. Right now, the world is her fashion oyster. Besides, her peers will crush her free spirited way of dressing soon enough. The question is when.

So what's a mother to do? Do I explain what a boner is now, so she doesn't have to find out the, um, hard way? Do I reassure her that plain yogurt is not actually filled with cum, as I was told emphatically by another sixth grader, and that being a virgin when you are eleven is totally normal? Do I take her to Roberston Boulevard for back to school shopping, despite the ridiculous cost and the ubiquitous presence of shallow, fallow reality television stars? Do I take her to Goodwill, where I buy most of my clothes, because I am cheap and know it will all end up with grease stains and washable marker embellishments? Or do I stay with Target-the Republican supporting, anti-gay funding, ridiculously inexpensive, adorably cute for what it is option for now and see how things go?
Luckily, the girls attend a school with a healthy spectrum of fashion role models-there are the Birkin bag carrying, polished, waxed, beautifully dressed moms mixed in with the perpetually in sweats, fanny pack wearing, un-pedicured, au naturel moms with visible gray hair. I'd put myself in that last group-though I'm not gray just yet- since I haven't bought a purse of note in fifteen years and actually do wear a fanny pack and sweats almost every day.
I think I will have to wait and see to answer any of these burning questions about what their future will hold, but I am inclined to do what my mom did and give them the essentials. It will give them a healthy respect for both sides of the issue and keep their heads clear so they can navigate the inevitable onslaught of surprise boners, which are much more dangerous and unpredictable than the Putz'.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Psychokiller, Qu'est Que C'est?

I have been running regularly for nearly six weeks, most often three to five miles per day, with a few breaks here and there. I have lost some weight and feel stronger, but all that pounding the pavement must be jarring my brain. I feel the need to carry ID with me because lately I have behaved like someone with early onset dementia. This became apparent when I decided that I needed new running shoes. The grey and pink pair I bought a few months ago felt less cushiony than it should, so I went to the discount shoe barn and bought a similar pair in black. I came home and put them in the closet with the other pair, noticing that there was a third pair of black running shoes just sitting there. I'd had completely forgotten about them. They got sucked into the closet vortex, and their existence was miraculously erased from my consciousness. I now have three pairs, which borders on excessive, only to discover a fourth pair later that day, also in black, that had been mistakenly put in my husband's closet. I now have four pairs of relatively new running shoes-which is ridiculous. "Out of sight out of mind" aside, this begs the question-am I delusional? I mean, I am fairly coherent in general and somewhat in control of my life, so the shoe surplus is mildly disturbing. It can't be attributed to compulsive shopping or hoarding, and I'm not prone to blackouts, so I guess I must be getting older. It's not a huge deal-they are just sneakers, not mysteriously acquired weapons or body parts. I will run them all into the ground eventually. Nobody died, so no harm no foul, right?

Well, this embarrassment of shoes was discovered the same week that I had another synapse misfire: I locked the house, leaving the key in the front door in the middle of the day. I had decided to go for a quick run before picking up the kids at school. It was already noon when I left: the cat was biting my leg; the ipod was skipping; it was raining. I grappled with the three obstacles and finally got on the road, covered with cat hair and listening to music that sounded as if it was being piped in via spotty cell phone. I returned about thirty five minutes later and, as I approached our house, I fished in my sports bra for the key. Strangely, I came up empty handed. I looked everywhere. I haven't been felt up like that since high school, but the key was nowhere to be found. I had the fleeting surge of adrenaline at the thought of having lost it, since I have no spare hidden under a faux rock or neighbor who holds a copy. I walked up the steps wondering if I could break in, and there it was, still in the door. I live in Los Angeles. The potential for disaster that leaving one's key in the front door creates is gargantuan. Any stranger delivering menus could have been taking a shower in my bathroom or making himself some tuna fish, interpreting the key as some sort of open-door policy. Worse yet, it could be the opportunity that some covert psychopath has been waiting for, having silently stalked the house for weeks from his non-descript brown van with night vision goggles and surveillance equipment. He might be hiding in the downstairs shower or be lying quietly in my bed at the very moment of my return, waiting for me to climb in so he can casually roll over and throttle me. Yes, I have watched too many scary movies, but it is too late- the imagery is already imprinted in my psyche. All I can do is try and navigate through it without panicking.

As I entered the house, I got a little chill thinking that Mr. Psychokiller may have done the same just moments before, carefully locking the door behind him and leaving the key in the lock so as not to arouse my suspicion. He could be hiding in the pantry or behind the TV or under the stairs. Worse yet, he could have made his way upstairs and found the pull-down ladder to the attic.

Ah, yes, the attic. If you google "man living in attic", there are way too many stories about people living in attics that do not belong to them. I am talking about entire families of immigrants discovered eating sandwiches in a man's attic one Sunday afternoon. I am talking about someone's house guest deciding that the neighbor's attic was preferable to their own and simply kicking in the partition between properties and taking up residence there, undetected for weeks. Then there is the most horrific attic story I have ever come across, which occurred over a decade ago. It happened to a happy family of five-two adults and three kids, 16,8, 5 or thereabouts- living in a pleasant Southland neighborhood. The Mother notices, over a period of time, that her kids are eating more than usual- cereal boxes always seem empty, the milk seems low etc. She chalks it up to growing bodies and goes about her daily routine of rousting everyone by six, feeding and clothing etc. Everyone is in the car by seven fifteen and off to school. She then goes to work and returns with all three kids around five. The Husband comes home for dinner. Everyone eats, bathes, sleeps etc. This goes on for several months until her eldest, a daughter, is found brutally murdered in the kitchen on the day of her prom. At first, the police believe her boyfriend did it because they could find no signs of forced entry or anything that indicated an intruder. They ask if anything that day might have been different from her normal routine and determine that, on the day of her death, the girl had come home early to get ready for the prom. Upon further inspection of the house, specifically the attic with the pull down ladder, they learn that someone has been living up there and has apparently been coming out during the day when the family was gone. They found empty boxes of cereal and random items that had gone missing months ago- all of which had been chalked up to a busy household. They surmised that the daughter probably surprised him in the kitchen while he was having lunch, and he killed her with a kitchen knife and fled.

Every time I go into my closet, which is between my children's rooms, I contemplate the the attic door. It hangs slightly ajar from the ceiling, creating a two inch gap of darkness. The string always sways a bit as I enter, and I become a middle aged Marg Helgenberger in the hopelessly cheesy yet thoroughly frightening TV movie from 1992,"Through the Eyes of a Killer". I imagine Richard Dean Anderson is up in some tricked out corner of the attic watching me via hidden camera. I try not to look up, but I feel the presence of someone, knowing full well that it is my own paranoia peering down from the crack in the ceiling. I figure that, if I have to run, at least I have six weeks worth of training on him. He may have been MacGyver, but I don't care who you are, sitting up in the attic watching my every move is not great exercise.

Rationally, I know that humans make a lot of noise, so unless Marcel Marceau has risen from the dead and decided to squat in our attic, we probably would have heard something by now. I often wonder about the decibel level at the Southland home where the girl was killed. They either had the TV blaring 24/7 or the insulation company they used was top notch. I mean, didn't the guy living in their attic drop his cereal spoon at least once? Stub his toe on a beam? Fart, cough or sneeze ever?

So, regardless of my mistake with the key, until I have the courage to climb up there and look, I will have to remind myself to remain calm when I hear strange noises coming from the attic (like I did while I finished writing this), or unexplainable sounds on the baby monitor. I will simply have to take deep breaths when things go missing and not revisit my well honed image of him lying on the pink sleeping bag that I simply cannot find. He is wearing my favorite dissappeared brown cashmere sweater with the leopard print hood. He is comfortably propped up by my favorite bolster pillow that vanished in its soft flannel pillowcase. He is playing the Leapster that went missing in June while wearing my expensive sunglasses that evaporated into thin air, and my missing wedding ring is on his toe. He is snacking on a box of phantom Gorilla Munch cereal that I swore I bought yesterday and patiently waiting for us to leave for school the next day so he can come down and eat an entire box of frozen gluten free waffles.

My only solace is knowing that the forgotten shoes were found after floating in the closet vortex for awhile. Perhaps the other items I cannot find are in a different vortex elsewhere in the house and not in the hands of a psycho squatter who has a thing for kids single socks and lime flavored popsicles.
Here's hoping that all missing items will eventually be liberated and welcomed back to the present. Here's really hoping they won't be inhabiting LAPD evidence bags any time soon.