Friday, December 23, 2011
This story was featured in More Magazine. Thanks for reading.
I’m 10, have 5 siblings, an absent mother that yanked us out of our predictable home and away from my father whom I adored. However, she did not. At 28, with 6 kids, all she could understand was how she was robbed of her youth. She did not want to go to church, hang out with the other mothers, sew clothes, cook dinner, shop or clean. She wanted to march in protest lines, stand up for civil rights, hang out in the “hippy” section of Detroit and blare the Rolling Stones.
I was the middle child, the one she confided in. “We are leaving that tyrant to go live like princesses, but don’t tell anyone.”
And so we did. While my father was at work, her hippy friends, the hippy guitar player from church and a few nuns came over, all jumping into action.
“Kids, throw everything you own into one bag. We are outta here!” All to the blasting sound of The Staple Sisters, “I’ll Take You There.
She clearly had been planning move for a while because we arrived at a beautiful “Adults Only” apartment complex that sat high on a grassy hill overlooking the river, embroidered in trees, flowers, and a built-in pool that wasn’t quite done. Basically it was a mud pit.
Everything was eggshell white, including the kitchen walls, also equipped with shiny new appliances.
We arrived in a non-descript white van driven by the guitar guy, followed by the nuns in a Chevy. They wore cut offs, had long hair and head wraps. Were these the same chalky nuns that carried rulers to scare everyone?.
“Okay. Now, you can’t be seen. Just casually walk up in a bit, one by one, and if anyone asks just say you are visiting your Great Aunt Maple.”
So it begins. After getting settled, and enrolled in another Catholic school, my mother basically disappeared. She is gone all day and all night. I should clarify the ages: 2-13. All girls, one boy, 9, who left 24 hours after we arrived, hoping his keen honing device would will him back to my father and it did.
That left five girls, unattended and squished into one room. We had no money, no food, and as time went on, birthdays and holidays were no longer acknowledged. I cried myself to sleep every night missing my old life, my father and my beloved dog that to this day I have no idea what my mother did to it.
I took care of the smaller children; my older sisters turned to heroin and loved the freedom.
The cloak of shame overtook me quite quickly, going to school every day saying I forgot my lunch, milk money, and tuition check. The nuns at this school were cold, and despite there often being hot lunch, we were ignored. But I persevered because of the younger siblings.
Many of the other occupants of this complex lived normal lives. They were single people, or couples and I envied them. I often would walk down the halls and listen to their conversations. Then watch them leave in pretty clothes off to some fabulous event.
We were the only children. After a couple months, we knew how to become invisible.
Also after a couple months we had all lost 10 pounds. I stole rice and soup from the grocery and fed everyone. Sometimes I would steal bread but that was tricky and it was all mangled by the time I got home.
Enter, Mrs. Lipsky. She was an African American maid; the label for housekeepers back then. She worked for a number of other occupants.
One afternoon, there was a knock on the door. I answered though I was warned against it by my mother many times.
(Not Mrs. Lipsky but a similar love in her eyes^^)
“Hi. I’m Mrs. Lipsky.”
“I worked for some folks in this place.”
“Yes, I’ve seen you.”
“Who minds you kids?”
I was afraid to answer but she had a kind face, loving eyes and wore a beautiful blue dress decorated with bright, yellow flowers.
“No one. My mom works all day. And all night.”
“Would you care if I came by sometimes and cleaned up, made you food?”
Our apartment was a mess, with chairs tipped over, broken TV’s, broken toys, clothes everywhere, boxes still unopened.”
“We don’t have any money.”
“You don’t worry about that. Can I come in?”
I let her in, at worst she was from social services, which might be a blessing, at best, she was a kind woman. My instincts were all I had and I trusted her.
“My, my. Look at this place. How many kids live here?”
“Well, five. But my older sisters are out a lot.”
“When’s the last time you’ve eaten?”
“I can’t remember.”
It had to be past five by now but Mrs. Lipsky came in and straightened up the house, organized our bedroom, then surveyed and cleaned the kitchen. She also threw together a meal out of rice, chicken broth, potatoes and bread crumbs.
“I have to go, do you mind if I come tomorrow? I made you lunches for school. They are in the frig.”
I was too stunned to speak or have a reaction. Finally, “Yes. Are you a fairy godmother?”
She laughed and hugged me.
This went on for a month or so and I loved her. We would talk in the morning; then talk again after school. She was interested in what I wanted to do with my life. She brought us food everyday. She eventually met my mother because I was holding her hand in the kitchen one day when my mom made a rare appearance.
“This is Mrs. Lipsky and she has been minding us.”
My mother, wearing a “housekeeping” outfit I had never seen, was dumbstruck; then she started to cry.
Two weeks later we were evicted, and shoved all of our belongings into my mother’s Pinto. What didn’t fit was left on the sculptured lawn. We slept in the park for a few nights, and cleaned up in various gas stations to get dressed for school.
My mother always dropped us off early, so she could go to work, this mystery day job. Mrs. Lipsky was waiting for me outside the school.
“You all come stay with us. We have a huge attic. Like a dollhouse.”
And we did. It was far away, down town Detroit. And the attic was like a doll house, with a huge bed, fluffy covers, a high ceiling and lots of color.
I loved living there. I loved her entire family. We sat at their dinner table and ate food that was so delicious I never wanted to leave. Mrs. Lipsky lived with her mom, and two sisters and they taught me to cook, sew, fix my hair properly.
By now the smaller siblings had been taken away, my mother farmed them out to various friends temporarily. The eldest took off to Florida with a Hells Angel. So it was me and my year old sister, the one dabbling in heroin. We took an hour city bus to school each day.
Two months later, my mom rented a house closer to our school and we were preparing to leave.
The last day with the Lipsky's, on the way home from school, as we got off the city bus, a boy, maybe 8, dashed in front it to beat the light and was crushed to death. I was frozen and crying, and then began to shake. Police and ambulances were everywhere. My sister dragged me to the Lipsky’s. I sat on Mrs. Lipsky’s lap and cried for hours. She held me until I fell asleep.
We left at dawn. These were undoubtedly the worst years of my life, but sometimes there is an angel, a friend that helps you just because they are good. As the years went by and I grew up, I tried to find her many times with no luck.
I have seen the movie The Help so often I lost count. And it brought all of it back. My life is a success story because I survived under the worst of circumstances; I won’t go into all of them here, then emancipated myself at 15, put myself through HS and college and have had a very successful career. But I owe a lot to Mrs. Lipsky. After we met I stopped crying myself to sleep for the first time in years, and saw a ray of light. Some people tell me I am giving to a fault, and I can never understand what they mean. And I hope I never do.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Though I had heard of him, I never saw any of the HS musicals and a lot of other work he has done. I actually thought he was Nora Efron’s son.
A few years ago, I was having a meltdown, mostly due to birthing twins, and what the doctors don’t tell you. Post Partum doubles, possible bi-polar, a laundry list of brain dysfunction, not to mention the stress alone could take you out. If you are an artist, it triples. The twins were a surprise…like SURPRIZE! You are having twins!! LUCKY YOU!
I secretly didn’t even want another child, and honestly didn’t think I would get pregnant. When I heard this news, I took to the bed. I knew what was coming. I had an adolescent boy, a great boy, a child I decided to have on my own at a very young age. We are very much alike. Creative, logical, and believers in science. Okay. Scattershot. Upon hearing this amazing news, I stayed in bed, well, for a while.
Me in the beginning....(well, not really me)
^^"Shit, where did I put the other one!"
CUT TO: as these beautiful girls grew, my big life drastically changed because I could no longer do what I did, travel the world, work for big companies, meet incredible people, spend lots of time in Europe and make a lot of money.
Having twins=two bombs landing on your house= CHAOS.
I started a twins club in my village. There happen to be 50 or so sets. In a very short time, many of the mothers were off to Betty Ford, nut houses, shooting heroin in dark alleys.
They had big lives too. It’s quite difficult to go from negotiating a 40M film deal, or being a show runner on a hit show, or producing films, or running a successful financial concern, then find yourself peeling play dough off your expensive sofa that you dumped out of anger at the Good Will. "Take this piece of shit!"
But I digress: Back to Zac. (How did I miss this guy??)
After a few years, I couldn’t do it anymore, going from high stimulation to playing Apples to Apples. Mothers rarely tell the truth, but kids are boring and tedious. In fact, one day at Starbucks where many mothers go to spit venom onto the screenwriters, a girl in front of me said: "I hate my kids. Fuckers. They ruined everything I was trying to do! But I love them. Thanks for being there."
So I had a mini nervous breakdown. It may have been a major nervous breakdown, but I still don’t know what the clinical definition is beyond my inability to function except staring out the window and daydreaming about all the stories I wanted to write, having an entirely different life or driving my car off a cliff.
To break up the day, doing mind-numbing child chores, I would talk to myself and laugh hysterically when no one was there. It was not uncommon for people to come home and say “Who’s here?”
So, off I went to this hospital (another story because these people were seriously insane. I mean they were bleeding from their ears, and talked about how they burnt their houses down.)
I called home and ask to get the hell out of there, as it was voluntary. They had me on some scary medications that make you stupid and drool.
Once home, I got into bed and channel flipped. Then this movie 17 Again comes on. But every time I miss the first ten minutes. I think it’s a brilliant film. Of course I had heard of it (I work in the business) but why had I not been told it should have won an Academy Award? And who is this Zac Efron!
I simply could not stop watching the film. It watched it 17 times.
By now my family thinks I really am insane. I knew every scene and could recite all of the dialogue. I break out into crying fits in certain scenes.
When Zac defends his son from that asshole school bully. I am bawling.
When Zac comes to the house and is alarmed his soon to be ex-wife is going on a date, I'm weeping. The Pretender's Kid plays, "All of my sorrow, all of my blues." Seriously guts me, so when they're falling back in love, I'm crying and laughing. A total mess.
When he follows his daughter and reprimands her for not going to college so she can stay with the bully, I am inconsolable.
This goes on and on for 17 viewings. I by now lost track of time. My family has gotten used to it. In fact on a number of the airings, they are all in bed with me, trying to understand why I am so affected by this film, but they actually love it too. However, after a couple times, they move on.
When they hear laughing or crying from my bedroom cave, “Oh, she’s watching 17 Again, again.”
My son adds: “He really is a good actor.”
By the 17th time, I FINALLY catch it from the very beginning. It's like I just won a marathon! Now of course I could have taped, etc, but there was some weird healing going on with my needing to keep watching Zac as I had started out. Okay, a little OCD. Tons of tears later, I'm ready for life.
I now own the DVD. I keep it with my enviable book collection; many of them signed first editions. Here is why. I love to read, it is a monstrous addiction. Certain books define me and I need them in my bedroom in case I forget who I am.
So Zac has found a place in the tapestry of my life. I have since seen him in many other films. He makes me laugh, he makes me cry. He puts me at ease.
I did not need a mental institution where people scream in the night for graham crackers or ask you things like “Are you a white witch?”
I needed to watch 17 Again, and have Zac breath life back into me. I am a believer great healing takes place through tears and laughter. Not so much therapy, shock treatment or drugs.
I am also an artist and the mental health community hasn’t a clue how to tap into that wiring.
I grew up on Einstein, Franklin and Keith Richards, among others. These are the people that would understand me. I am not comparing Zac Efron to anyone, but he provided the same kind of validation and healing that they had in my life. I know tons of girls think he is “hot and sexy” and he is, and he is a huge celebrity, but there is so much more. But what I see is what’s behind his eyes and the man that pulled me out of a serious clinical depression.
Rhonda Talbot's Zac Efron Appreciation
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
There really is nothing like a weekend getaway to the mountains. After an early morning of coffee and coffee, I decided to go on one of the many hikes this community boasted. Because I am an overachiever and think I’m a triathlete, despite never having attempted one, I headed to the most difficult trail.
It read on the complex map “MOST DIFFICULT.” Well, that was for me. I set out after a little stretching.
I walked to the hike entrance, not far from the cabin, wearing a tank top, shorts, slider shoes, covered in sunscreen.
It was completely empty.I just assumed everyone was still sleeping, it was just 10:00am. After a couple miles or so of steep inclines, rocky footing and no sunlight, as it had been blotted out by the 87,000 acres of various pine and fir trees, I started to get a little concerned. I picked up a tree branch.
I continued on, now with scratches on my limbs. To my delight, I came upon a huge opening through the trees, a magnificent view, so I whipped out my iPhone. I wanted to text to friends but realized I had no signal. Hmmm. I picked up a bigger twig.
I pushed forward, sidestepping what I can only assume was lion poop. Enormous piles. Were they watching me? Just as fear was setting in, I heard someone coming up behind. The lion. I’m doomed.
But alas it was three backpackers, and I felt some relief. Clearly, I am not the only dumb ass on the most difficult hike. I really should have brought water.
But these guys were descending the hike, having spent the night at the very top. They had hiking poles, backpacks, camping gear; not to mention they were in their 20’s and smelled like pot.
(They all looked like him^^)
“Hey guys, how much further until I get to the top. I really want to see the view.”
They looked at me, then each other and stifled giggles.
“It’s so awesome! You can see, like, all the way to the ocean. “
“It’s totally sick. Our tent had flaps.”
“ Yeah, you have another 2 miles or so.”
“How far do you think I have come?”
“About a mile.”
“Lady, you really need hiking boots and like, water. You won’t find an actual lake up there and you can only see the ocean.”
One of the boys handed me a water jug, but I have a fear of being drugged.
“No… I’m good.”
“Well, good luck. It’s the shit up there.”
Just as I was about to turn back, I came face to face with a park ranger.
“Roger that. Heading up to Skunk Meadow now.”
He approaches me.
“Can I see your permit?”
“You need a permit to be on this trail.” He talked with a drawl, a skinny guy with a glass eye wearing a park ranger outfit, carrying a 5-foot tree saw. So this would be it. Not a lion or a rattlesnake. My end would come in the form of bits and pieces, chopped up and tossed about the pines by an unattractive Dexter.
“Miss, you need a permit. Where’s your walky-talky? These parts can be very dangerous.”
The build-up. He moved closer.
“Ain’t you seen the sign when you entered? Kind of hard for folks to miss.”
“What does it say?”
“It’s an awfully darn big sign before you enter telling folks not to proceed without a permit and to enter at your own risk. These parts have bears, lions, rattlesnakes, skeevers, you could fall. It’s happened. We had a gal last week that tripped and fell to her death. When you get the needed permit, they equip you with polls, a walky-talky, all kinds of important stuff.” I was stuck on what the hell a skeever was.
His walky-talky went off:
“Read that. Suspicious substance activity at Skunk Meadow.”
“Do they call it Skunk Meadow because it smells like pot?”
“Huh? The meadow areas are where them hikers sleep the night. Sounds like one group’s tent is parked under an unstable tree.”
He held up his saw.
“If you plan to sleep up there you’re gonna have to head back down and get yourself over to the station and get whatchya need.”
As if I would ever sleep in a tent. The 3 bedroom cabin overlooking a babbling brook is pretty much what I consider camping. For some reason this cabin also had an old white horse, a hag, that just stood around.
(Okay, Kate Moss was not on the horse.)
“You take care now ya hear little lady?”
I started my descent down, I was starving.
“Hey, ranger, what’s this all this lion dung? Do they actually come down from the mountains to relieve themselves?”
“Oh, that’s from the horses we bring up here time to time.”
“How can a horse fit on this little trail?”
But he was gone. I didn’t believe him anyway. Perhaps it was from bears. I was glad I hadn’t brought any food.
The way down was much harder than going up and the trail was suddenly forking all over the place. I was crawling over rocks, stepping over creek water and slipping on all the shit which caused me to bang my head. My hands and legs were torn up by now, I felt faint from hunger.
I get a little crazy when I’m hungry. Bring on the damn bear. I’d have it out with the beast, tear his fur off and eat him.
Somehow I made my way down. I recognized a marker, another warning sign I did not bother to read…
I finally made it to the entrance… quite a few people, all with permits, polls, gear, dressed like they were going skiing, all smiles, pulling tents and coolers out of their SUV’s.
I looked for the sign I had apparently missed. The ranger was right. It was enormous. I must have been looking at the splendor around me. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. MUST HAVE PERMIT. RATTLESNAKES. MOUNTAIN LIONS. BEARS. FALLING ROCKS. SKEEVERS. DANGEROUS DROPS OFFS.
I have to say I took some pride in my adventure, given I went a mile, dressed in beachwear carrying a twig. But one day I will make it up to Skunk Meadow. I hear the view is the shit.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I dashed into Starbucks for tea, and noticed two girls were staring intensely out the window looking across the small boulevard.
“O.M.G, it’s him. Should we casually walk over and say hi. He’s totally receptive to fans”
“How do we do it casually? We have to cross against traffic, then, what walk up to him?”
“Good point. Hey, maybe we should run against traffic, and like, almost get killed, that will get his attention”
“We get to the other side panting and scared, like our lives were at total risk. Knowing everything we know, he would have to come to us.”
“I might even faint. OMG CPR!! I would die.”
Of course by now I know they are talking about Ryan Gosling and rubber necking myself to see if it’s really him. There was a man wearing a grey hoodie, petting a dog. But it was hard to make out his face. It could have been any youngish man, out for a walk with his dog. The boulevard was littered with charming shops, a few people, strollers and dogs. But no one was gawking or staring at this guy.
After getting my order, I joined the two girls. One was a late 20's brunette, cute, natural looking, the other looked like she could be her sister, but with blondish hair. Little make up, no surgery (read botox, lip injections) both wearing high-wasted jeans, frilly tops and teased hair, the brunette with bangs that stopped just above her thinly plucked eye-brows. So clearly they were not from L.A.
They reminded me of Romy and Michelle.
“How do you guys know that’s Gosling?”
“Oh, we know. We have a shrine in our apartment.”
“We study him like, an archeologist studies fossils.”
“I mean since, the Mickey Mouse club days.” The brunette said.
“Are you two sisters?”
“Oh, no, roommates and bff’s. We moved out here a few months ago to pursue acting,” said the blonde. She was wearing caked blue eye shadow.
The man across the street took a sip of his drink and started texting.
“What if it’s not him? It’s so hard to tell. I can barely see his face.”
“Oh, I can, and his body is like no other. I bet he is texting Eva Mendes!”
“Why is he even dating her? Emma Stone is so adorable.”
“We should tell him that. Would it be weird?”
“No. It’s our duty. Look, he’s going to leave soon, we have to make our move.”
“Shouldn’t you wait to see if he helps a blind person cross the street, or picks up litter, or breaks up an argument, and starts in on a pirouette? The real Ryan would do those things. Plus he is wearing an outdated track suit.”
“Do you think we just fell off an onion truck!”
“It’s turnip. Where are you girls from?”
“He’s getting off the phone. We have to bounce.”
The girls ran out the door, across the street, drivers honking and swerving as Romy and Michelle screamed, obscenities at them.
They got to the other side, waiting for some sort of magic to take place. The guy in question pats his dog on the head and starts to walk away, after giving the girls a cursory glance due to all the fuss in the street. Clearly not Ryan Gosling. In fact, what kind of asshole would? They were nearly killed. The girls were in tears, I could hear them. People in other states could hear them.
“O.M.G. I was almost killed. Drivers in L.A. are horrible! I thought pedestrians had the right of way.”
One of them started to limp.
The guy further pulls up his hood and walks in the opposite direction.
“Ryan! Ryan! Wait up.”
I am now joined by four or five other Starbuckers, completely entertained by the Ohioan stalkers.
“O.M.G. you are such an asshole, all those stories aren’t true. I broke up with my fiance for nothing. You’re a dick.”
The guy stopped and turned around.
“Are you girls talking to me?”
He pulled off his hood; fair, light hair, random guy.
“No! We are not. But you are still a dick. How dare you walk around pretending to be Ryan Gosling! He’s a god! You're fake. Is this your way of picking up chicks?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh! Like you didn’t know… the hoodie, the dog, the abs. I’m calling the fuzz! Up close you don't even look like him and that is not GEORGE!"
"What is the fuzz? Who is George? Who are you people?”
“George George douche!"
"And for you pea brain the fuzz is the cops! The black and whites! Like you didn’t know. Nice try loser. And don’t forget to pick up your dog shit."
They limped away, furious, talking in circles.
I too am a huge Gosling fan, in fact, I am about to head back to the set where I am producing a film he is starring in called “Men Fear Not The Ballet Shoe.”
I love his work, well, what is not to love about this guy, and for the moment, we live in a kind of Gosling dream swell.
Here we are, notice the leg in the monitor. Ryan waxed for the role; he is that committed and amazing.
For so many girls, he has simply set the bar too high. But the young ladies in search of movie stars, and in the Starbucks case, the ultimate star and man of their dreams, they needed to have this crushing disappointment. Now. Why wait? It will happen anyway…in more ways than one. Welcome to L.A.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Every now and again, I have a look at peoples comments on a book I wrote a few years ago, as I hammer away at my next one. I was pleasantly surprised...all the reviews have been good, but hadn't seen a few, so thought I would share here.. Then there are non review reviews. Like: 'NO STARS FOR THIS POS!" Or "BAD LANGUAGE> GARBAGE" These types never have a profile and I wonder if they just go page to page and find books to trash. Or maybe they read and hated. Nonetheless it's genuinely a great surprise to see something this lovely. Below:
BooK: A Halfway Decent Girl
Jean has a problem. Her mother wants to leave precisely at midnight to take off for the fabled riches of California, and Jean wants to lose her virginity first. She does, with Bill the hood, who makes her weak and points out the star Polaris and tells her she's his girl. That's about all Jean has to hold on to as Daisy drives across country in a white Cadillac she's supposed to deliver in San Francisco.
Jean knows nothing much will change: her mother will pass hot checks, pick up men, and mean every word of the promises Jean knows won't come true. En route Jean encounters a lecherous truck driver who sings along to Barbra Streisand and an equally lecherous judge in a motel room at Lake Tahoe. Before this engaging and sometimes heart-breaking novel comes to an end, Jean will live with her mother in a Sausalito apartment redolent of sewer fumes, find an unlikely friend in a married man, go back to Michigan for Christmas (her present is an abortion paid for by her still brutal, newly devout remarried father), and return again to Sausalito. Of course, Daisy isn't waiting for her at the airport, but with the help of an almost albino taxi driver Jean finds her mother in a bar, as usual. More important, she is able to see that she's a halfway decent girl after all and that maybe, just maybe, the sensible luck that has kept her alive will offer her a chance at life.
This was one of reviews I had not seen, I'm sure there are others... but this pretty much nailed it, so thanks, anonymous.... 5-star person.
Halfway Decent Girl
Jammed with wildly appropriate language hungry readers can chew in gratitude. A page-turner, filled to the brim with the challenges faced by today's young adults. Anger, dissolution, and vulnerability place Talbot's heroine, Jeannie on a tight-rope, balanced intellectually somewhere between childhood remnants of compromised saints, her mother's narcissism, and her father's bitter misogyny. The divorce of her parents and remarriage by her father have only achieved a duplicate step-family of terrorized children, one of whom is her real sister, Clara, drug-addicted and doomed, but whom Jeannie imagines she may save. Jeannie stashes the brief mementos of her ten-minute childhood in a battered, blue suitcase and travels with her barely sane mother across the country to California, lured by her promises and airy dreams of sophisticated and better men, only to find herself pulled out of Detroit's crime-ridden gutters into the more subtle dangers of Marin County. Jeannie is plagued with guilt, having abandoned her sister, and living in serious disappointment at the edges of drug-infested Sausalito. Talbot has complete control of her characters, describing them in whipping dialogue, rushing intensity, stopping only for an occasional touching act of extreme poignancy, while we grasp, crying and laughing, for another box of tissues. 'A Halfway Decent Girl' gives voice to the endemic millions of young adults suffering low-esteem, made vulnerable to every conceivable life-threatening mistake, by the irresponsible and cruel behavior of the adults whose job it is to protect them. Jeannie is brave and witty and honest. Falling out of grace temps-se-temps, to test the results, to invent the wheel, only to discover the wheel is cast in stone, and it is Jeannie herself, if she is to survive, who must be re-invented.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
It’s impossible not to notice all the signs, billboards and ads for the upcoming show, "The Playboy Club." This has caused me a great deal of stress -- not least because all the publicity dredges up memories I would really rather forget.
I walked into my local village yesterday, and there it was: the shiny bus ad with scantily clad girls wearing onesies, bunny ears and poofy rear-end tails, smiling like it was fun to be pawed by sinister, alcohol-fueled men. I don't think that's how my mother remembers it.
I grew up in a splintered home. My mother was young and pretty, and since she had to make ends meet for her six kids, she took a job as a Playboy bunny. At the time, Playboy clubs were all over the high-end areas of cities. We lived on the fringes of such wealth.
When she landed the job, she was excited. She'd toiled as a secretary, housekeeper, babysitter, factory worker, and possibly a prostitute (that was never confirmed). We kids looked after ourselves, and I raised the younger ones.
Mom saw the Playboy opportunity as her ticket out, and was desperate to make the right impression. She already had the youth (she was 27), beauty, perfect white teeth, long, golden tresses, sexy figure (despite the kids), and an incredibly outgoing personality I can only now chalk up to bipolar disorder. One essential thing was missing: balance.
Unfortunately, balance was number one on the Playboy Bunny 26-page instruction or rule pamphlet. Night after night, after I finished my homework, we trained. Mom would walk on sofa pillows, carrying a laundry basket filled with water glasses over her shoulder, wearing impossibly high heels, the 5 pound manual sitting atop her head. We broke all the glassware -- but we had stolen it anyway, so it didn’t really count. (My mother lifted glasses all the time from her housekeeping jobs at nearby motels, hotels and houses. Because we had very little of our own, she'd bring home everything from plates and spoons to oil paintings of ballet dancers.)
We would practice the balancing routine for two hours a night until finally she could negotiate the pillows without breaking more than one glass. Then she felt ready. Next up: a trip to the local drugstore to steal eye make-up, false lashes, push-up bras, fake tanning cremes and four pairs of high heels. I was tasked with the actual stealing. "They will never suspect a ten-year old. I will cause a distraction," she'd say -- and that she did.
“HELP! SOMEONE! I’m having a stroke!” she would cry. People would rush to gather around, and I'd quietly slip out. On cue, my mother would rise, saying, “Oh, never mind. I think it was gas.”
Mom was incredibly proud when she aced her audition and was invited to begin -- but I could never quite relax. On nights when she was working at the club, I would stay up into the early hours waiting for her to come home; it was often well past 2 a.m. before I could finally get to sleep. Though Mom didn't give me too many details, I had read the “Bunny Manual” for myself, and knew how hard the job must be for her. So many rules -- hell for a woman who loathed regulation in general.
One night, I peeked into her bedroom after she arrived home. Because bunnies had to leave their satin corsets and medical panty hose at the club, I never actually saw my mother entombed in her painfully tight uniform. What I did see was the outfit's devastating physical impact: deep gashes that ran down along the sides of my mother's waist, rope burns outlining the tops of her thighs, and bloody blisters on every toe. She walked like a cripple before falling into bed. Sometimes she had to peel dollar bills and coins off her naked body. She later explained that the Bunny Mother would take each girl, stuff her entire upper body in the corset, and yank out her breasts, all the while instructing, “Suck it in! More! Stand up straighter!” The whole process was a miserable experience known as "suck, stuff and hook." The girls referred to the Bunny Mother as Haggis the Meat Grinder.
“I lasted three months," she tells me now. (It seemed longer to me at the time.) "I broke four toes, probably have a hernia, possibly broke a rib, and never met an available man" -- dating customers was technically off-limits anyway. "Because I was 'older,' I was never invited to the private parties. One married man did take a liking to me, and gave me a diamond bracelet, which I later pawned to get my car fixed. Funny thing is, there was nothing nefarious about the place -- no sex, no inappropriate behavior. We were just glorified waitresses in straitjackets. Hefner had an image to maintain."
Why did my mother -- who had taught me never to let myself be put in a cage my a man -- stick with the job, even for only a few months? For one thing, she suffered from this delusion that she would meet Hugh Hefner himself. We lived in Detroit. Not likely, but there was a chance she would meet a rich man who would finally marry her and get us all squared away in some Californian paradise -- preferably in a house overlooking the ocean. Forget that she had six kids all under the age of 13, ranging from teenage heroin addicts to toddlers in diapers -- not to mention a Canadian goose she had dragged home; a litter of Siamese cats; and a couple warrants out for her arrest.
I eventually left my mother -- who had moved out to Marin County -- at age 15, determined to make something out of my life. I had grown tired of being mom's drinking buddy, bailing her out of jail, being late for class.
After I emancipated myself, she changed. Maybe she merely got too old for her insane Marin County lifestyle -- falling off of bar stools, going home with complete strangers, jumping naked out of sailboats, getting arrested for drunk walking. After I left for college, she started a number of successful businesses, even got two poetry PhD's; all of her kids somehow escaped Detroit intact and found lives of their own.
My mother had her delusions -- meeting Hugh Hefner among them -- and I do too. for the past 15 years, I've dreamt of living in a lovely beach side Cape Cod home with a white, minimalistic, pristine interior, the grand piano overlooking the sea -- complete with assistant, personal chef, a few nannies and an on-call masseuse. Instead, my life takes place in a crowded, unkempt home, filled to the brim with my three kids, two dogs, 25 fish, and half a dozen reptiles. Add to that a challenging job, low funds and no help, and you get one woman's recipe for discontent. It's nothing like the hand-to-mouth existence I knew growing up, but somehow, it's still not enough.
On this particular day, walking through our local village, burdened with Rite-Aid plastic shame-bags (I never bring my own), I look up and see that Playboy ad, and am hit with my own tsunami wave of memory, dissatisfaction, and grief. Naturally, my immediate impulse is to call my mom.
After our usual back-and-forth -- my litany of complaint, her rant about the struggles of her own, troubled years of parenthood -- I change the subject.
“Did you know they are making a series out of the Playboy Club?”
“Oh, I saw. They play ads on TV all day. It’s the 'Mad Men' syndrome. Anything from that period surely has to be interesting. I think there is one about Pan Am stewardesses too. I applied there as well, but they didn’t think I was tall enough.”
Abruptly, my thoughts adjust. I look around the village, taking in the "Playboy Club" ad and more, and see that I am blessed, even though it's hard to remember that sometimes. I'll never have to jiggle my boobs and wear a bunny tail to make money -- or work in a factory, or clean toilets -- even though my mother accepted these jobs as a matter of course. Despite her unique style of child-rearing, I realize, my mother paved the way for me as best she could.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Okay...so I have these kids Thing One and Two and they want to start blogging. I had no idea between the two of them they have already filled up 18 diaries. Random thoughts...some so interesting I actually cribbed them... gave them credit....I'm not a monster.
So this page will be of some of their work.... by now they must have 1000 pieces, probably more. They started drawing, painting, using oils, acrylics, pastels, since they were 3. I never really took much notice, until one day a teacher pulled me aside.
"Your daughter is very gifted artistically."
"Aren't they all?"
Then I started to put them with actual teachers and take myself out of the mix. They laugh at me, despite my showing them some of the work I did as a child (okay I was 14) but they still laugh. I have no idea how they know they accomplish what they do. I honestly can't.
If I had time, I would actually copy them and frame the originals.
The have also sold their work and commissioned a few pieces... but the sticky part is they do not like the attention. So I can't say, wow, that's really good.. or it goes in the trash. Now I say, "looks like you put some good effort into that." And walk away. They always say thank you. They don't think they are special and frankly don't want to be... which is a good thing. I learned the hard way about "praising" your child, it backfires, because everything in their mind has exactly the same value. And ultimately meaningless.
Well, you know, that starter boy taught me a lot. We've talked about this, as he is an adult now and I was a kid when I had him. The truth is, he's very smart, and never studied, never prepared, went to difficult schools and blitzed the tests. So he told me he liked that I told him these things. Like, wow, you're so smart, and so on. He's the guy that can take apart my computer but also write a great story.
"It all worked out mom, in fact it helped me cause most of the kids at school were assholes."
But girls are different, or at least mine, and don't like to have attention drawn to them. So it's all pretty much, "Well done, darling." In fact, maybe they are British. Kids come with their own worlds. All I do is guide them along and keep them safe.
So here are a few of there works: