View John Zussman's profile

Mystery Guest by
50
(83 Stories)

Prompted By Fame

/ Stories

Toward the end of 2002, our first full year on Maui, we were approached by Irene, a local vacation rental agent. Would we be interested in renting our house out over the holidays? She had a client, a celebrity musician whom she couldn’t name, who was interested in booking it for a month. He wouldn’t be inviting all his friends or throwing wild parties, she promised. All he wanted to do was relax and kick back out of the public eye. She named a rental amount that, even after her 20% commission, seemed extravagant.

You turned down backstage passes, our friends asked? Are you CRAZY?

We looked at each other. We had been planning to go to California over the holidays anyway. And the amount was at the “offer we can’t refuse” level. Shit yeah. Why the hell not?

Maui house view

View from the lanai

Once we signed a nondisclosure agreement—which still did not name the mystery guest—the rental agent visited with Trevor, the guest’s head of security, in tow. The guest, he said, was especially interested in our piano, a glorious Bechstein grand. He toured the house and approved the setup, on a bluff overlooking the ocean. The only thing that worried him was the pool complex, with a spa stepping down to an infinity dipping pool, and the water cascading from there into the infinity lap pool. It was wide open to a spectacular view of the crashing surf below and the islands of Moloka’i and Lanai beyond, between which the sun set nightly. It’s too open, he said; it could be seen from the road below. Would it be okay if they brought in potted trees from a nursery and positioned them around the pool? They would pay the expense and remove them at the end of the rental. We looked at each other again. Block the view? Is he crazy? But we shrugged and said, sure.

The agent sent us the rental agreement, which again did not reveal the guest’s identity but listed an address in Minneapolis. By then rumors were swirling around the island via the “coconut wireless,” and they all seemed to center on Prince—or, at that time, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. We weren’t really fans—our shelves of CDs were full of classical music, not pop—but of course were aware of him. He was apparently very religious and not known for drugs or partying. We signed the agreement.

The next three weeks were a whirlwind of activity as we made the house habitable for rental. It seemed like we made the 2-hour drive to and from Kahului, where Lowe’s, Costco, and even the previously shunned Walmart were located, once or twice a day. We purchased new sets of bed linens and towels for guest use. We put a lock on one of the master closets to store our own personal belongings. We scoured the island for the last bits of furniture that we hadn’t had a chance to acquire. We even wrote an instruction manual for our sound system and projection TV.

Pool complex

The pool complex

A few days before the guest’s arrival, Trevor visited again with a more critical eye. This time he focused on the master bedroom, which also overlooked the pool and the ocean. Can we get rid of the bed? he asked, indicating our elegant four-poster. He likes to sleep on the floor. Really? Okay, if that’s what he wants. We painstakingly dismantled the bed, dragged the heavy posts and rails down to the garage, and placed the mattress and box spring on the floor like a college student.

Trevor also didn’t like the sheer curtains on the glass door to the bedroom lanai, through which the sun streamed each morning. He needs it dark, he said. We rushed into Kahului and bought darker curtains, but even those didn’t pass inspection. Finally, Trevor went into town and bought rolls of black tarp with which we all papered over the sliding doors. It seemed criminal, blocking not only the view but access to the lanai. But the guest is always right.

As we packed up to leave, we surveyed the house with Irene and Trevor. The artist, still unnamed but now tacitly acknowledged as Prince, would be performing in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve. Would we like to attend, Trevor asked? He could arrange backstage passes. Again, we looked at each other. Did we really want to arrange another set of flights, find suitable accommodations, and brave the New Year’s Eve crowds in a city we disdained, just to see an artist we weren’t really fans of? We thanked him and said no.

That’s the one decision we came to regret, after he died and we realized he wasn’t just a pop star, he was a cultural phenomenon.

We had a lovely holiday back in California and returned to Maui a few days before Prince was scheduled to leave. Irene called and told us Prince loved the house and wanted to extend his stay another week. No problem! We had a condo nearby where we could bunk for the duration. We arranged with Trevor to come over one day when Prince and his entourage were out and pick up some personal items.

But when we got there and opened the garage door to enter, we immediately realized a problem: trash bags of garbage that looked and smelled like they’d been there for weeks. Prince was so protective of his privacy that he refused to let the trash collectors in. We begged Trevor to let them do their jobs, but apparently he would tolerate no intrusions.

Prince ended up spending five weeks in our house. Trevor said he might have stayed longer but the roosters were starting to get to him. We were fully sympathetic.

When we finally moved back into the house, it was pristine and undamaged. He left behind only a few Christian tracts. And, in the garage, a mouse infestation that we resolved over time but turned out to be a problem for our next celebrity renter, Stevie Nicks. But that’s another story.

So that’s our brush with superstardom. We never met Prince, never attended one of his concerts. But we spent a lot of time and effort trying to satisfy his every desire. He ate at our table, swam in our pool, and slept in our bed (or at least on our mattress). And whenever we play our piano, we remember our mystery guest.

The Four Things I Told My Mother in Hospice by
50
(83 Stories)

Prompted By Forgiveness

/ Stories

The call from my brother came on a Sunday morning. “Mom’s in hospice in Bradenton,” he said. She and her body, after defeating cancer twice over the years, had finally given up fighting Parkinson’s, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, psoriasis, and recurring pneumonia. “It’s time.”

The last person to know me from moment one was reaching the end. What did she want to hear from me? What did I want to say to her?

I booked a red-eye across the country, laying over at ATL, bustling and garish even in the middle of the night. I had a long time to think.

Our relationship hadn’t been easy. The apple of her eye as a child, and she of mine, I had made different choices than she envisioned, than she wanted, and suffered the consequences. Now the last person to know me from moment one was reaching the end. What did she want to hear from me? What did I want to say to her? By the time I landed in Sarasota, I had settled on four things.

In the hospice room, homey and spacious, my mom dozed in a hospital bed, a canula in her nose but otherwise unencumbered. My dad, three siblings, and a few of their spouses and children were already seated around her, making light conversation, bringing each other up to date. Others were due to arrive over the next couple of days.

When she awoke, I approached the bed. “Hi, Mom,” I said. She was pale, her hair wispy. I bent over and kissed her on the cheek. She was woozy but looked back at me. There was still light in her eyes.

“I love you and I’m proud of you.” That was Thing #1.

“Why?” she said, her voice hoarse.

“Because you fought so hard and so long, and then you knew when to stop fighting.”

She looked pleased, but it was hard to tell. She was still a little out of it. “It’s great that you came down,” she croaked out.

“Thank you for being my mom,” I said, “and for everything you did.” Thing #2.

“Thank you for being my son,” she replied.

The other two things were harder and more personal. I wanted to wait until I could be alone with her, if that ever happened. If I could bring myself to speak them.

My chance came that night after we returned from dinner. My sibs and their kids had taken off and my father went for a walk. My mom was dozing again, no longer lucid. I pulled my chair up to the bed.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” I said in a quiet voice, “but I need to say this. I need to practice it.”

“I’m sorry for all the times I hurt you,” I said. That was Thing #3.

Her breathing was steady but shallow, like a ghost might breathe, over and over.

“And I forgive you for all the times you hurt me,” I said. Thing #4. The most difficult, because she had never apologized, never even acknowledged the hurts.

Her eyes were still closed. Had she heard me? The hospice nurses all said her hearing would be the last sense to go.

I’ll never know. But I said them. That would have to be enough.

*

Later, after I returned to California, after a snowy funeral in Michigan, I related all this to my friend Barr. He had been my therapist 35 years before, so he knew the history.

When I got to Thing #4, he raised an eyebrow. “Did you mean it?” he said.

I thought long and hard before I answered.

“I’m working on it,” I said.

Gustav and the Rugrats by
50
(83 Stories)

/ Stories

The Redwood Symphony is an ambitious community orchestra, based in Silicon Valley, that never shrank from a challenge. Under the baton of Maestro Eric Kujawsky, its repertoire extends into territory that most community orchestras fear to tread, such as the cycle of symphonies by Gustav Mahler. But the challenge they attempted in spring 1999 would prove daunting even for most professional orchestras: Mahler’s epic Eighth Symphony, nicknamed “Symphony of a Thousand” for the prodigious forces required: an augmented symphony orchestra, seven vocal soloists, a children’s choir, and not one but two four-part adult choruses, which sing almost nonstop over the hour and twenty minutes of the work’s two movements. For that reason it’s rarely performed, so when Patti and I were recruited to sing in the chorus, we (like most of the other singers) were learning it from scratch.

Virtual Seder like it's 1999.

The performance was in early April, and one required rehearsal conflicted with the first night of Passover. No big deal to Patti and me, but it mattered to our friends Peter and Janet, who played oboe and cello in the orchestra, respectively. They would otherwise have been celebrating Seder with their four-year-old son Michael, who instead was home with a sitter.

Michael was a big fan of the Rugrats cartoons, which gave Peter and Janet an idea. So at our rehearsal break, the four of us clustered together in the “band room” and called their sitter at home. (So those of you who celebrated virtual Seders in this year of COVID-19: we had you beat by 21 years.)

Our Haggadah for the evening was Let My Babies Go!, a children’s book in which the Rugrats imagine they are Moses, Miriam, Aaron, the Pharoah, and all the other Passover characters. Based on an episode of the cartoon show, it attempted to retell the Passover story within the attention and comprehension span of a preschooler.

Our break was only 20 minutes, so we had to move fast. The details are a little fuzzy at this point, but I remember we recited the blessings over wine, bread, and our gathering. We drank at least one cup of wine (or was it grape juice?) and ate a “Hillel sandwich” of matzo, haroset (fruit and nut paste), and bitter herbs. Michael asked the Four Questions (their daughter, with whom Janet was pregnant, being a tad too young). We sang Dayenu, with Patti and me trying our best to conserve our voices.

We raced through the Seder, struggling to hear and be heard through the tiny speaker of a ‘90s-era cell phone over the din of musicians practicing their parts. I marveled at how many of the highlights we could include, and how, with the book’s help, we actually captured the essence of the story in such a short time. (Too bad the Rugrats weren’t around when my grandfather was conducting his four-hour all-Hebrew Seders!) And by the time a bell rang and we made our way back to rehearsal, sated with matzo and grape juice (or was it wine?), we had all learned an important lesson (as Dave Barry did not say):

Gustav and the Rugrats would be a good name for a rock band.

Phantom of the Opera by
50
(83 Stories)

/ Stories

Waiting for the tram at the Universal Studios tour, we filed past a statue of Lon Chaney in the old silent classic, Phantom of the Opera. It was almost lifelike in its detail— sunken eyes, jagged teeth, black cape. We admired it and passed it by.

Our hearts all skipped a beat, so you can imagine the child’s terror, her scream piercing the waiting area.

A small crowd gradually arrived, waiting, chattering. A father and his small child stopped in front of the statue. The father was explaining who Lon Chaney was when, suddenly, the statue came alive, snarled, and swooped menacingly at the child. Everyone jumped back, startled; our hearts all skipped a beat, so you can imagine the child’s terror, her scream piercing the waiting area. The actor set down a tip jar, then turned to the girl, cajoled her, gave her a sweet, until, safe in her father’s arms, tears drying, she asked him how he could stand so still for so long. At that moment the tram arrived. We boarded and the actor reassumed his pose for the next round of victims.

Thirty years later, I have long forgotten what else we saw at Universal Studios. But after witnessing stone turn to flesh, I understand that anything, no matter how inert, might merely be awaiting its moment to awaken into life.

Deception by
50
(83 Stories)

Prompted By Honesty

/ Stories

Not steak. Photo credit: SparkRecipes.

I lied to my mother about how long I’d practiced the piano, figuring I’d make up for it before my lesson on Saturday. Besides, it was a little white lie, like when she served us liver and told us it was steak. My father lied to us when he said the spankings hurt him more than they hurt us. When he got cancer, his doctors lied to him about his prognosis and asked my mother to collude. After my father died, my mother remarried. She lied to us about how happy she was, then went to the neighbors’ house to cry.

The lies we told each other—and ourselves.

My teachers lied about the conquest of the west and the causes of the Civil War, and the principal lied about how much the school district could afford to pay them.

In the evening, on TV, we saw Southern senators filibuster the civil rights bill in the name of states’ rights, and we heard tobacco executives deny that cigarettes cause cancer. We watched Huntley and Brinkley report the Pentagon’s lies about the body counts in Vietnam and how well the war was going. Then we watched the president lie about why we were there. And we all desperately, desperately wanted to be deceived.

Missing Out on Aruba by
50
(83 Stories)

Prompted By Spring Break

/ Stories

One of many beaches on Aruba that I’ve never seen. Photo credit: Vlad Man via Pixabay.

My senior year in high school, out of the blue, my parents planned a family trip to Aruba over spring break in April. This was unusual. We traditionally spent Christmas skiing in Colorado, but beach vacations were rare since Florida trips with my grandparents in early childhood. That was as close as I had ever been to the Caribbean. It sounded balmy and exotic and a welcome break from the Michigan winter.

Spring break on Aruba? Oh yeah! There was only one problem.

The only problem was, I couldn’t go.

I had signed up to be pianist for my high school musical, Bye Bye Birdie. It was the most ambitious production the drama department had ever attempted. To meet the challenge, the director scheduled rehearsals every day of spring break. As pianist, I was indispensible—and I had made a commitment. Regretfully, I had to stay behind.

My parents made arrangements for me to stay the week with my best friend Bud. There was nothing novel about this; I had slept over with him many times and felt like a member of the family. The only problem was, Bud’s family was hosting an exchange student that year, a boy named Kees from Holland, who occupied the spare bed in Bud’s room. No worries: I could bunk with Bud’s sister Ilene, two years younger.

If this sounds strange, it was. I’m not sure whether Bud’s parents trusted me to be a gentleman with their adolescent daughter, or they considered me a suitable mate and hoped we would perhaps become a bit more intimate. The fact was that I had grown up with Ilene and considered her more of a kid sister.

The week came, my parents and siblings took off for Aruba, and I moved down the street. Bud and Kees were also in the play, so we drove to rehearsals together. Far from being a burden, the week was actually fun. It felt like theater camp and, spending so much time together working on a passion project, the cast and crew became a close-knit community. With the intense rehearsals, the show was coming together nicely.

Besides, there was this girl.

Her name was Patti, she was a sophomore (Ilene’s classmate), and she was the choreographer. She was smart, confident, and pretty, with long straight hair parted down the middle. Her skirts were as short as the school allowed and she had the legs to match—a dancer’s body, lithe and graceful. She turned pages for me when she wasn’t working with the cast. Next to me on the piano bench, her presence was electric. During breaks, we talked and bantered.

Okay, we flirted. During one break, I came up behind her onstage and put my hands over her eyes. Instead of guessing who it was, or slipping out of my grasp, she fell back into my arms.

As intense and fun as the daylong rehearsals were, the evenings were dull. We had no homework and Bud and I had already been accepted to the colleges of our choice. I wanted to go out. I wanted to ask Patti out.

The only problem was, I already had a girlfriend. Wendy was a senior at a Detroit high school that wasn’t on break that week.

Bye Bye Birdie program 1968Wednesday afternoon, after rehearsals ended, I called Wendy. “Want to go to a movie tonight?” I asked casually. “I have to study,” she replied, as I knew she would. “That’s okay,” I said. “I might go anyway.”

I called Patti and invited her out. “I thought we might go see Bonnie & Clyde,” I said. She accepted without mentioning that she had already seen it.

I picked her up and drove into town to the theater. The date was so last-minute that we slipped into our seats a few minutes after the movie started. That was actually a relief to Patti because we missed Faye Dunaway’s brief nude scene.

Afterwards, I took her to HoJo’s for fried clams and a soda. Even in the harsh restaurant light, she glowed. We talked and talked. Finally I drove her home and kissed her goodnight on the front stoop.

I drove back to Bud’s in a daze, undressed in the dark and slipped into bed. “How was your date?” Ilene asked. “Good,” I said. “There might be more.” “I’ll have to get to know her better,” Ilene said.

A few days later, I called Wendy and broke up with her.

On Sunday my family returned from Aruba, tanned and rested, telling tales of beaches and snorkeling and exotic Caribbean food.

I didn’t care. I had the girl.

One day, we might even get to Aruba together.

The Gumdrop Tree, by Myron Unger by
50
(83 Stories)

Prompted By New Beginnings

/ Stories

The gumdrop tree came to our house unheralded,
And unpretentious.
It stood six inches tall.
Its silver-foil branches were covered with gumdrops.

But little hands lifted the top of the garbage pail, and discovered the resting place of the gumdrop tree.

We put it in a corner of the kitchen,
And its tiny, colored candies began looking more and more like blossoms.
Until one day, we decided to eat them….
The gumdrops on the gumdrop tree.

It was after dinner that night,
We placed the gumdrop tree in the center of the floor,
And sat in a circle around it.
And we told each other what had happened to us that day,
And we laughed.
Then we each had one gumdrop.

And each night,
Thereafter….
We would put the gumdrop tree in the center of the floor,
And sit around it….

We would sing songs, or tell stories, or just visit…
And it was warm,
And we were warm….
And one night we even danced around it,
Then we each ate one gumdrop.

The tree began losing its blossoms,
And some of the limbs were almost bare….
And silver.
Then, it seemed like we found more importance in each gumdrop.
We took more time to savor the chewy sweetness.

And then the night passed when we ate the last gumdrop off
the gumdrop tree.
And we clapped our hands for all the joy it had brought us.

And the gumdrop tree was discarded for we said we could
never replace the sweets we had taken from it….

But little hands lifted the top of the garbage pail,
and discovered the resting place of the gumdrop tree.
Gentle hands repaired the gumdrop tree….
With soothing fingers…
And scotch tape.

And it was then that the gumdrop tree was again placed in
the center of the hard linoleum floor,
And flat on their tummies,
Chins resting on hands and elbows,
The little faces stared at the gumdrop tree,
And remembered the colored drops…
And smiled….
About many things.

Now the simple wisdom of children often remind us of God’s Way,
It is always an unbelievable quality,
Yet quite proper, and in order.
For children are close to heaven.

And so it was with the gumdrop tree…..

For the silver branches of fleeting life are not shorn of the
pleasures that once grew there.
There is always the precious memory….
Of Youth,
Of Courage,
Of Love,
Of Deeds……
On each barren branch.

And for some of us,
There may still be the promise of the remaining gumdrops.
And the knowledge that we must taste each one succinctly,
As a bee sucks honey.

The gumdrop tree will stand in the center of our room when
we take the time to place it there……


Myron Unger, my father, died of cancer in 1960, when I was ten. Thirty years later I inherited a thick folio of his manuscripts, from which I’ve previously posted his poignant reflection on fatherhood, Upon Reaching the Age of Three. This poem seemed especially appropriate for the relaunch of Retrospect because of the way it celebrates savored memories. But the image of gentle, wise hands saving the discarded tree from oblivion also seemed relevant! With gratitude for stories old and new.

Grace by
50
(83 Stories)

/ Stories

Written in response to How We Like Our Eggs

A woman with an attitude.

When my grandmother died, the family dutifully assembled in Chicago for her funeral, but we were none too happy about paying our respects. Sure, we loved her, but as the rabbi rose to deliver the eulogy, we did not relish listening to half an hour of praise and platitudes about a woman who was, to put it charitably, hard to get along with.

We did not relish listening to praise and platitudes about a woman who was, to put it charitably, hard to get along with.

The rabbi, it turned out, did not intend to mince words. The stories he told did not sugar-coat Grandma’s critical and domineering nature, her tendency to complain, her parsimony, her constant battles with my grandfather into which she never hesitated to drag the rest of us. Remember, when their apartment went condo, how she nagged at him incessantly until he finally gave in and bought it just to gain a little peace? (It turned out to be a wise financial move, but still.) Or how they threatened to divorce—after 49 years of marriage? When we’d call her, her first words were invariably to complain about how rarely we called. And remember how, in her seventies, she walked four extra blocks in a snowstorm to the Jewel T Market to save a few pennies on toilet paper?

Irv & Peggy Klein

With my grandfather in earlier, happier years. Wish I knew the story behind this one!

But all the stories had a twist. Every criticism, said the rabbi, showed her love for us by encouraging us to do better. If she was bossy, it was because she only wanted what was best for us. Grandma’s stinginess was her way of making sure we never had to struggle for lack of money as she had, raising a family during the Great Depression. By eulogy’s end, the rabbi had us laughing at Grandma’s foibles, crying because now we truly missed her, and guiltily wondering how we had failed to see the love and devotion at the core of her difficult nature.

When the service was over, the grandchildren converged to thank the rabbi for evoking Grandma’s memory so vividly and to ask how long he’d known her. “Oh, I never met your grandmother,” he replied. “Your mother and your uncle told me all I needed to know.”

He may not have known Grandma personally, but he knew her pretty well.

Klearance Sale by
50
(83 Stories)

/ Stories

One fall afternoon in the mid-‘60s, my best friend’s mom, Babs Kaufman, was sorting through the mail. There were, I imagine, a couple of bills, a personal letter or two, a bank statement, a Saks catalog, a newsletter from the temple sisterhood, a charity luncheon announcement, the pennysaver, a postcard from the local Jewish funeral home advertising a casket sale—

The flyer—featuring a jolly Santa and offering floor models, repossessions, and a choice of linings—was in spectacularly bad taste.

Wait, what?

The local Jewish funeral home was owned by her husband, Herb, and her father-in law. And this advertising postcard—featuring a jolly Santa and offering floor models, demos, repossessions (repossessions!), and a choice of linings—was in spectacularly bad taste.

She called the funeral home and asked for her husband. “What the hell is this postcard?” I imagine she demanded. “Is this supposed to be funny?”

“What postcard? What are you talking about?” Herb quickly convinced her he knew nothing about it.

Well then, where had it come from? Herb suspected one of the unions, with which the funeral home was currently in a dispute. Whoever sent it, it was a PR disaster. Had it gone out to the whole neighborhood? The whole Detroit area?

Babs hung up and called my mother down the block. “Did you get an advertising flyer from the Chapel?” My mom checked the mail. Yes, it was there. She called another friend, Ruth. She’d gotten it too.

What a catastrophe. The next few hours were spent in consternation as Herb tried simultaneously to limit the damage and track down the source. Until—

—until my father confessed that, working with a client who owned a print shop, he was the source. The flyer had not gone out to the whole Detroit area or even the neighborhood. It was sent only to a handful of friends and relatives—exactly the people Babs and Herb would be most likely to call to see if they had received it. He hadn’t even told my mother for fear she would spill the beans. The Kaufmans had been pranked.

Once they realized that no real harm had been done, Babs and Herb were able to laugh at the whole thing. No harm, no foul. The prank was actually pretty funny and perfectly executed. It burnished my father’s reputation as a wit. Herb even had the flyer reproduced and enlarged so he could mount it on the wall (as pictured in the featured photo, which his son sent me after Herb sadly passed away this year).

*

Several months later, we returned from a family vacation. We were sitting at the kitchen table finishing dinner when the phone rang.

One of us reached over to the kitchen counter and picked up the phone. Dial tone. But the phone was still ringing. Wait, what?

Finally we realized that the ringing was coming from one of the drawers underneath the counter. Someone opened it to find … another phone! They picked it up. “Hello?”

“Welcome home!” said Herb brightly. “How was your trip?”

It turned out that, while we were gone, Herb had used his emergency key to install another phone line. “We were tired of calling and getting a busy signal,” he explained. “With this phone, we can get through anytime we want.”

Good one! We’d been pranked.

For about a week, Herb refused to give us the number of our new line. Finally he relented—and for the rest of our time in that house, we made good use of both lines.

*

But if turnabout was fair play, for my father it was a declaration of war. He didn’t say much, just sat back and plotted his revenge.

It came, again, several months later when Babs and Herb went on a European vacation. A few days before their scheduled return, my father had an outhouse delivered to their front yard. This was not a Port-a-Potty or high-tech outhouse that construction workers might use. No, this was a ramshackle wooden half-moon-on-the-door outhouse like we’d seen on The Beverly Hillbillies, front and center next to their suburban driveway.

Outhouse

Not the outhouse, but very much like it.

We kids, predictably, couldn’t leave well enough alone. My siblings and I teamed with our three Kaufman counterparts to furnish the inside with framed pictures, a toilet paper stand, and a magazine rack. Since Babs and Herb would be coming home at night, we ran an extension cord out from the house and trained a floodlight on the structure. We put up a festive sign that read “Kaufman’s Kozy Komfort Kabana.” And we waited breathlessly for the Kaufmans to return.

On the night of, we all waited inside. Every time we heard a car approach, we’d run to the window to see if it was Babs and Herb. When they finally arrived, it was almost anticlimactic. Exhausted after traveling all day, they gave it a glance and a chuckle on their way to bed. I don’t think they even saw our furnishings until the next day.

As far as I know, that was the last battle in the prank war between our fathers. Herb retired gracefully from the battlefield and my father enjoyed the fruits of victory. I still remember it as a model of pranks that were truly creative, hurt or humiliated no one, and that all could laugh at in the moment—and years later.

Aftermath by
50
(83 Stories)

Prompted By Parties

/ Stories

Photo credit: 1950sunlimited on Tumblr.

 

I walk out in a daze, music ringing in my ears, the girls in their party dresses still twirling across my eyes.

Sixth grade. Pressured by my turncoat best friend, I go from girl-haters’ club to boy-girl parties overnight. But for me, the party doesn’t end when our host’s parents turn up the lights in the basement rec room. I walk out in a daze, music ringing in my ears, the girls in their party dresses still twirling across my eyes, so even as my mother kisses me goodnight, it’s not her words I hear but Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Lesley Gore, the Beach Boys. I toss and turn, replaying every conversation, every dance, reviewing the progression of each snowball, kicking myself for muddling the steps I’d practiced, for making my stepfather’s conversation-starters seem so wooden. When the girls aren’t dancing with boys they dance with each other, but boys have no such luxury, so we must either screw up our courage and do the asking or stand in groups tapping our feet, mouthing the words along with Elvis, Frankie Valli, the Everly Brothers, afraid to sing in our cracking adolescent voices, trying to divine from the lyrics what it will take for a girl to not just dance with us if we find the will to ask, but actually like us. Hours pass before the rock beat softens in my head, before the buzz recedes and the images fade and I drift into fitful sleep. Why is this so difficult? Why am I tormented? And why does no one tell me that the others are lying in bed doing the exact same thing?

<< Older posts