Saturday, September 05, 2015

Some Family Reunions Just Aren't Meant to Be

One afternoon, back in the Early Jurassic Period, Mom took my four-year-old brother and went to the next door neighbor’s house for coffee and conversation. She left nine-year-old me and my seven-year-old brother at home. Although leaving us alone today would probably result in a visit from a CPS employee, it wasn’t a big deal then. And Mom was probably gone for only thirty minutes.

Long enough.

I was sitting on the couch in the breezeway, doing nothing, when I spotted a familiar yellow tabby cat slinking across the meadow in search of a snack. A year ago, Taffy and our cat had been litter mates, two cute little fuzz balls cuddling together in a cardboard box under the cellar stairs.

They must really miss each other, I thought. I went to the basement where my brother was playing with the model train set up. “We’re going to reunite Tippy with his brother,” I told him. “Taffy’s out back. Go get him.”

I snatched Tippy from his snooze on top of the washing machine. I managed to haul him up to the breezeway before he clawed my arm, wiggled free, and jumped on the couch. Several minutes later, my brother returned, dangling the equally reluctant Taffy. Brother dumped Taffy on the couch.

I guess I was waiting for the cats to rub noses in a friendly greeting, like I’d seen dogs do. Instead, the cats arched their backs, fluffed their fur, and hissed at each other. Tippy lunged at Taffy. Taffy clawed Tippy’s nose. Tippy leaped off the couch. Taffy made a break for the back door, bounced off the glass, and crash landed on top of Tippy. Uh, oh, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, I thought as Tippy backed his sibling into a corner.

At nine, I was too young to understand the nature of cats. All I understood was that the cats were siblings. And siblings were supposed to love and be nice to each other. They weren’t supposed to growl and hiss at each other. Or beat up each other.

My brother assessed the situation and disappeared.

I scrambled onto the couch as the snarling ball of fur careened from one end of the breezeway to the other. I knew I had to get those cats out of there before Mom came home. I hopped off the couch, grabbed a broom, and jabbed the nearest cat. Taffy clawed the broom. Tippy jumped onto the window sill. I inched around to the back door, yanked it open, and swept Taffy onto the patio. Before I could slam the door, Tippy raced after him.

I watched the two cats disappear into the tall grass and decided that, unlike people, cats had no family loyalty.

[The original version of this essay was published in the Great Barrington, MA, The Women's Times in December 1996. About 14 years ago, I posted that version on the Themestream site with permission from the publisher of The Women's Times.]

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I Torpedoed My Academic Career

During my senior year in high school, the first publically funded community college in the state was established in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. I was accepted into the first class of 150 students. In hindsight, that was a real achievement (and a real surprise) because I was competing with students from all over the state.

At the time, I was about as academically motivated as a chipmunk. I applied for admission only because my dad thought it was a great opportunity for me.

I had been taking business classes during my junior and senior years, so I assumed I would be placed in the two year business education program in college. I was doing well in the high school classes, and I actually enjoyed the one class I took in bookkeeping. However, I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through two more years of typing, shorthand, and business math. I thought those classes were beyond boring.

My acceptance letter came with a string attached. I had to take the SAT that summer. I didn’t think the SAT was required in order to enroll in what was essentially a secretarial training program. I wasn’t happy about having to take the test, but, of course, I took it. And, as I recall, I was a nervous wreck during the test. Way too many of the SAT questions seemed over my head. I took a chance and answered most of them, anyway—unless they involved advanced math.

I really thought I had done badly on the SAT. I never looked at my scores. To this day, I don’t know what they were.

During orientation, I learned that I had not been placed in the business education program. Instead, I had been placed in the liberal arts transfer program. My counselor advised me to take classes that would get me into the University of Massachusetts in two years.


Although I hadn’t been looking forward to two more years of typing and shorthand, I knew darn well that I belonged in the business education program. I couldn’t figure out what had happened to change someone’s mind about that, and my parents didn’t ask questions.

My first semester went well. After a short adjustment period, I settled down and ended the semester with decent grades. And, with the exception of the F in French, my second semester grades weren’t too bad either. Unfortunately, the F was reflected in my cumulative average. However, my other grades were high enough to keep me from being put on academic probation.

By the beginning of the third semester, my mind was on my social life and the new guy I had started dating. I also started slacking off on studying, and sometimes I skipped a class just because I didn’t feel like going to it that day. When grades came out in December, I had squeaked by, but just barely. I don’t remember what my cumulative average was, but I do remember that I was put on academic probation.

If, by some miracle, I eventually completed the liberal arts transfer program, I knew I was not going to get into the state university or any other four year college. My overall cumulative average was too low.

At that point, I figured my academic career was heading south fast. And, to tell the truth, I didn’t particularly care.

But I did care enough to want to quit while I was ahead. I had no idea as to what I would do if I left school. I knew I would have to get a job, but what kind of job? None of my classes in the liberal arts program had prepared me for a job in the real world. During the past eighteen months, my typing skills had regressed, and my shorthand skills had disappeared.

I figured I was going to end up stocking socks and underwear at Woolworth’s or assembling widgets in some factory. But that was okay because the scary prospect of having to find work was better than the scary prospect of flunking out of school.

I tried to convince my parents to let me quit, but they were having none of it. Finally, we compromised. They agreed to let me reduce my course load from five to three classes and then do a fifth semester in order to “catch up” and graduate.

I chose to register for three classes that seemed interesting, yet fairly easy. I decided to take a second literature class because I had gotten a B in the first one. I also registered for an economics class and a sociology class called Marriage and the Family.

By the end of the semester, I had quit going to the economics class unless I felt the need for a nap. I attended the sociology class on a semi-regular basis. I sat in the back of the room and concentrated on doodling and making notes that had nothing to do with the class. I didn’t think I’d need to know much about marriage and the family any time soon. A high school boyfriend, whom I still liked, had dumped me, and my current on-and-off boyfriend wasn't what one would describe as marriage material.

The literature class was the only class I really liked and went to faithfully. On the last day of finals, I torpedoed my B average in World Literature 102 by arriving five minutes late for the exam.

I should have gone to the teacher and begged for mercy. Instead, I went to Friendly’s restaurant—at 8:10 a.m.—and ordered an ice cream sundae with extra hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. I ended up with indigestion, an F in English literature, and a 1.8 (D-plus) cumulative average.

And that’s how I got kicked out of college for academic reasons.

However, a few years later, I resurrected my academic career by taking an evening class at a four year college. After a few semesters of liberal arts classes, I decided I needed to study something that would make me more employable.

I reapplied for admission to the community college. I did really well in my accounting classes and other business classes. With the exception of the French class, I successfully repeated all the previous classes that had ended in bad grades. I graduated with an Associates Degree in Liberal Studies (aka my Associates Degree in Whatever) in the early 1970s.

[Postscript: In the late 1990s, when I was finishing the requirements for my B.A. in English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, I had a tutee who was on academic probation. She had a 1.8 cumulative average. The same cumulative average that had gotten me dropped from college in the Mid-Jurassic Period allowed her to remain in school in 1996. How times had changed.]

Sunday, August 02, 2015

I Committed a Federal Offense at the Age of Twelve

According to an online article from the MassLive news site, Amtrak has pressed charges against a Massachusetts couple who were “allegedly” caught having sex between several sets of railroad tracks one evening last month. Both members of the amorous duo were charged with trespassing and lewd, wanton, and lascivious behavior.

Well, I guess I could have been charged with one of those offenses when I was twelve. Guess which one?

Too old for dolls, too young for dates, I was bored during summer vacation. There was nothing for tweenagers to do in our small, rural town. I could spend only so much time reading every day. And I wasn’t interested in the insipid soap operas that dominated the afternoon programming on our one and only television channel.

I walked a lot, just to have something to do. Two of my friends lived at the edge of town, which was over a mile away. I sometimes walked to their house. More often, I walked along the railroad tracks that were located in a somewhat isolated area near the river.

Last year, a transit district officer in Vista, California, told me that trespassing on railroad property is a federal offense. Oops. I guess if anything was railroad property then, those tracks were.

I wasn’t the only one committing a federal offense back in the Early Jurassic Period. Fishermen and neighborhood kids trekked the tracks from the first warm day in spring until late autumn. The river, though shallow in most places, was our swimming hole during summer vacation.

Way before I was born, the area where I walked had been dubbed the Jungle. For years I thought that epithet had been inspired by the trees and bushes that bordered one side of the tracks. It wasn’t until I was twenty-something that I learned the Jungle was rumored to have been the site of a hobo camp during the depression.

I can’t recall hearing gossip about any strange goings-on in the Jungle during the depression—or at any other time. As far as I know, no one was ever maimed or murdered in the alleged hobo camp or anywhere else along the tracks. But whenever I reached a certain area in the Jungle, I got a creepy feeling that stopped me from continuing beyond that point.

In 1993, a coworker at SmartMart told me the Jungle was haunted.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fun Times on the Party Line

Thanks to the invention of the cell phone, almost everyone, from young children to senior citizens, now has a private phone line. It wasn’t always like that. Too bad cell phones weren’t around when I was in high school. Cell phones would have made my friends and me very happy and kept people from getting annoyed with us.

Until the early 1960s, we had to share a line with four other telephone customers. One of them was the elementary school; another was a family who lived near the school. I think the third customer might have been an organization that didn’t have anyone working there on a daily basis. I have no idea as to who the fourth party was. Apparently, those people didn’t use the phone much.

When I was a junior in high school, I would come home from school, drag the phone into the hall closet, and call my best friend who went to a different school. Yeah, I confess that sometimes we tied up the line for well over an hour. Or more.

The grandmother of the family living near the school frequently interrupted our conversations, asking us to get off the line because she had to “make an important phone call.” Grandma was polite about it, and so were we. We always hung up so she could use the line.

Her grandson, whom I’ll call “Jack,” was a different story.

One afternoon, Kate and I must have been discussing some really interesting teen gossip. I never heard the click that indicated someone was checking the line. Then again, maybe Jack liked eavesdropping, just in case we mentioned someone he knew.

After putting up with us for what probably seemed like hours to him (but really wasn’t) he broke into our conversation, yelling, “Get off the phone. You two are on the phone twenty-four hours a day. Why don’t you move in with each other?”
I was stunned by his outburst, so I had no words. Kate started arguing with him. I don’t remember what she told him, but I’m sure it was something I wouldn’t repeat here. Anyway, we did get off the phone. And I think I stayed off the party line for a while—maybe even for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Would Have Been More Scared Than Bored

A few days ago at the neighborhood cafĂ©, I heard a woman mention the name of a small town in New Mexico. I so wanted to butt in on the conversation, but I didn’t. Doing that would have been rude, and I was brought up to be nice.

Why, yes, I do have a story to tell about that place.

Way back in the Late Jurassic Period, Ken and I lived on a ranch in Arizona. Ken worked there, but the bookkeeping job I was supposed to get fell through. I could tolerate watching the soaps with the foreman’s wife for only so long. I spent most of my days moping about my present circumstances and wondering if I would ever get off the ranch and back to civilization and a job.

After a few months, Ken became discouraged with the rather chaotic management of the ranch. He thought we probably should move on. I wanted to move to Tucson, but Ken vetoed that idea. He wanted to move to a small town in New Mexico. He told me there were a lot of ranches in that area. He was sure he could get a job at one of them.

I had never heard of that town before, or if I had, I didn’t remember. Most of the small towns we previously traveled through in New Mexico were in shabby shape, with little to offer someone like me who bored easily and thus preferred city life. I thought we would be trading one ho-hum place for another.

I did not want to move to Roswell, New Mexico. And, as it turned out, we didn’t.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Yikes! Two Guys Thought I Was a What?

A recent Facebook comment about a questionable area in a Certain City reminded me of the times I was mistaken for a hooker.

Yes, it happened twice, and in different cities, the first time in 1983, and the second in 1992.

One Saturday, after breakfast at Ken’s favorite greasy spoon, I asked him to drop me off at the Tucson Mall. He said he would do that after he got a haircut. I didn’t want to wait for him, so I decided to take the bus.

I had dressed appropriately for a cold February morning on the desert. I was wearing a pair of old, comfy jeans and a turtle neck top worn under a bulky sweater. The heavy wool car coat I wore over everything else made me look like I weighed about 300 pounds.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of NOT standing next to the bus stop sign. I was standing about ten or twelve feet away when a man in a late model white car pulled up to the curb and parked in front of me.

At first, I thought he might be someone I knew from work or school, but when I made eye contact with him (which I probably shouldn’t have), I realized he wasn’t. I wondered what the heck the guy was waiting for. About two minutes later, it dawned on me.

Yikes! I was standing on the Miracle Mile, a road that people often referred to as Hooker Highway.

I forgot about going to the mall and fled to the barber shop. Ken walked out the door just as I got there. “Ken,” I shrieked, pointing back in the direction of the bus stop, “Some guy thinks I’m a hooker.”

Ken was not amused. I didn’t get to the mall that day, but I did get a lot of mileage out of that story. I often joked that I was going to have a T-shirt custom printed with the words: I am not a hooker.

I probably should have followed through on the T-Shirt idea. I could have worn it in January 1992, on the Sunday morning I walked Pacific Avenue in Tacoma. Hey, I was just doing a little amateur detective work.

I was minding my own business—well, more or less—when a man driving a beat-up blue car came along, slowed down, and stopped a couple of yards past me.

After my Tucson experience, I guess I should have expected that. I was a woman walking alone on Pacific Avenue, which, at that time, was Tacoma’s version of Tucson’s Miracle Mile.

But it was Sunday.

Oh, for gosh sakes, give it a rest.

This time, I didn’t hang around wondering what the man had in mind. I fled across the street to Denny’s restaurant, squeezed into the last available seat at the counter, and pulled a bus schedule out of my backpack. I sat there sipping really bad coffee for almost an hour until I could catch a bus that took me far away from that area.

In hindsight, perhaps I should consider staying out of cities with names that begin with the letter T.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Getting the Kahlua (aka Yet Another Weird Title)

My recent weekend in Mexico made me think of something that happened when late Other Half and I lived in Tucson. Sometime in the 1980s, I forgot exactly when, my non-drinker aunt went on a Caribbean cruise and discovered Kahlua.

Ken and I traveled to New England every year, in late August or early September. My aunt asked me to bring her a bottle of Kahlua. The liqueur is made in Mexico, so she thought we could get it cheaper in Arizona.

I knew we could get it even cheaper In Mexico, and I knew who could help us do that. We had a friend who lived in the city, but her family lived in a small town in the U.S., across from the international border. So one Saturday, Ken and I and our friend, whom I’ll call “Maria,” made a trip to Agua Prieta, Sonora, to buy a bottle of Kahlua.

First, we stopped at a shop on the U.S. side of the border and changed about twelve dollars into pesos. Then we borrowed a car belonging to Maria’s family, crossed the border, and went to a shop where Maria was acquainted with the owner.

Maria did her best to persuade the owner to give us a lower price, but he was having none of it. I really wanted the Kahlua, so I reluctantly paid full price. I don’t remember what that was, but I do know that it was less than I would have paid in the States.

When we crossed back into Arizona, Maria took a shortcut down a dirt road. A pack of four or five stray dogs appeared out of nowhere and ran in front of the car. Sadly, one of them didn’t make it to the other side of the road. I freaked, but there was nothing we could do.

On the way home, we ran into a thunderstorm near St David. I wanted to pull over to the side of the road and wait it out, but Ken vetoed that suggestion. As we approached Benson, the storm worsened. Sheets of rain and high winds pummeled the truck, making it difficult to see any vehicles in front of us.

That’s when Ken decided to get off the road. He pulled into a truck stop on the outskirts of Benson. We sat at the counter because a lot of people apparently had the same idea Ken did. And there was a private party going on in the dining room.

Shortly after we arrived, the power failed. The lights blinked twice and went out. About a minute later, a woman in the dining room screamed. Her scream was followed by a very loud crash. I figured someone had dropped a tray loaded with glasses and dinnerware.

I turned to Maria and said, “I think somebody goosed the waitress.”