Friday, December 23, 2011

Why I Can't Stop Watching THE HELP-Mrs. Lipsky

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.

“Thank you.”

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

How Zac Efron Saved My Life

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