Welcome to another post inspired by The Plottery and their fun July writing prompts that they posted on their Instagram account, @the.plottery! This prompt reminded me of childhood games.
“Write a short story where the characters don’t come of the couch the whole time.”
Sounds like my mornings. I get up at 4, grab a cup of coffee, my book, and my journals, and plant myself on the west end of the couch until 9am.
That’s not technically true. I get up for more coffee, to use the bathroom, do my yoga, and close the curtain when the sun comes streaming in to blind me, but essentially, I am planted. This is my spot. The cushions have become formed to the curve of butt and the arm has an indent where my elbow rests.
But my short story…more of a creative memory. It happened. I have pictures. But maybe it didn’t go exactly this way. Where shall it begin? On the couch, the same place it will end up.
The floor is lava! The couch has always been a place of refuge and entertainment. There were four of us, my brother and I and two of our younger cousins, spread across the giant, L-shaped sectional in the living room of our grandparent’s house. We’d been swimming at the community pool all morning. Grandma made us sandwiches and we ate them with tropical punch Kool-Aid and potato ships at the kitchen dinette counter, where spills and crumbs were easy to clean up. Grandpa turned on the big console tv in the living room and instructed us all to relax a while.
As an adult, I can see exactly what this was now. Two older adults, four young and wild children. THEY needed to rest, not us. The hope (the same hope I have held on to with my own children) was that they had worn us out in the pool and fed us. Now, in the name of all things holy, maybe we’d settle into the couch and be quiet a while.
My grandma said that she needed to “rest her eyes” a bit. “Watch your shows. No horseplay. And stay on the couch.” And then she and grandpa headed off to their bedroom for a nap.
The peace lasted at least a few minutes, maybe even past the first commercial break, but then we got antsy.
My youngest cousin was the first to move towards the edge of the couch, but my brother stopped her. “Grandma said stay on the couch!” She shot a look, that look, right into his eyes and lowered her foot. “Don’t even!” Her brother grabbed her arm, and she began to tear up. The wail was coming. It would be loud…grandma would hear for sure…not acceptable.
My brother, ever ingenious, lifted the cushion next to him and threw it to the ground beneath her feet. Her brother released his grip and she landed on it. They all looked at me and grinned.
Being the oldest sucks. I’m supposed to be in charge, keep things as the adults want them to be. But how is that fair? I sat there silently with my arms crossed. This is not what she meant.
Another cushion flopped to the ground beside the first and in moments a lily pad arrangement took shape across the living room floor. They were hopping from one to the next, running across the bare couch, and back onto the floor again. Giggling quietly all the while.
At first, this only began while commercials were running. Once a cartoon came back on, everyone fell silent, like a game of red light/green light. At the next commercial break, they were at it again. Temptation to play along overwhelmed me and I joined in.
Every once in a while, someone would land a little too roughly. It was trick to silence our running and falling feet in a mobile home. The floor and foundation aren’t that solid like a foundation house would be and the walls are thin to save space and weight. Each mildly loud giggle or tumble would cause us all to freeze in place and wait for the “all-clear,” no sounds of movement from the other room.
I’m not sure how long we went on like this, but at one point, while we were all happily skipping around the room from one couch cushion to the next, one of my cousins froze mid-step and we all piled up behind him, pushing him forward and landing in pile…at our grandpa’s feet.
There he was looking down on us, hands clenched in fists at his hips, those few wisps of hair standing up on the top of his balding head. He didn’t say a word. My grandma came in the room seconds later. “Oh, heavens, you kids.”
That’s when my grandpa said, “You told them not to leave the couch and they didn’t.” and we all started laughing.
We spent the next hour piling up cushions and seeing if we could stand on them, spreading them out for leapfrog, or blocking them all together to make a large tumbling mat for living room gymnastics. Grandpa would stand beside the pile and hold out a steady hand, ready to stop us from falling over into the tv or cracking our heads open on the coffee table.
Exhausted from play, we settled down into watching cartoons and most of us took a long nap there before dinner. But we never left the couch!
You’ve heard that expression “get to the root” of things, right? Maybe I think too much, but a dead tree and a stubborn stump are still teaching me lessons four years later.
I’m still working my way through the last hundred pages of I. Asimov – A Memoir this morning but I decided to resurrect a post from my old blog again today. I’m thinking I might make that a regular Sunday thing. It’s nice (for me, anyway) to go back through those older posts and find things I thought were lost. Memories come up that I don’t remember writing about. It’s like finding treasure.
The following was posted on October 29, 2018, and I entitled it Get To The Roots. Titles, my dear reader, are complicated.
There was a big old half dead pine tree in our yard when we bought this house. It was about thirty feet tall and right across the driveway from the living room. It still had some green tips on its sad branches, and its half dead branches did provide a little shade to the house in the summer, so I decided to try to revive it. I dug a well around the base of the tree and filled it with water every day for more than a year. It struggled and grew a few more green tips, but when we took a three-week vacation, it lacked water and all the progress was gone.
Side note: I have empathy for plants and trees. I know this is strange, but I can’t sit back and watch them die. I water them and tend them, even if I don’t want them. I adopt plants when people are going to throw them out. Not watering this tree made me sad, even though I knew it was a waste of time.
It stood there dead for a few more years. The woodpeckers loved it and I enjoyed watching them from the west window. Whole families of them were constantly chattering away, poking holes in it looking for bugs. I hung some bird houses that I had in it, but no one wants to take up residence in a dead tree with no cover. It started to look like any day it might fall on the house and cause us more problems.
When we got a new travel trailer for our road trips, we found that the driveway was too narrow at that point to pull it all the way around. We’d need to widen the driveway and that old tree was in the way. It needed to go.
My husband started by cutting it down. I was impressed that he felled it so easily for an office man, proceeding to cut the old limbs off and stack them. The smaller branches were super brittle and easy to smash up and put in the trash. The thicker branches he cut into fireplace pieces along with most of the trunk. A large piece of the trunk went to the man that came to grade our driveway. He’s a woodcarver and put it in his truck for a project he had in mind.
All that was left was the stump. Naïvely, we had asked if he could knock it over with the tractor and he emphatically said he couldn’t. He was sure it wouldn’t budge. We’d have to get it out some other way before he could finish the job.
Look up “stump removal” on the internet and you’ll find all kinds of creative ways to get rid of them. There are videos galore of people doing it, from explosives and burning, to chemicals and water.
I suggested calling a specialist, but my husband is an industrious man. He insisted on doing it himself. Early on Saturday morning, he got out all the “shovels and rakes and implements of destruction” and started to dig. He cut roots and shoveled all morning long, took a break while our teenage son took a crack at it, and went back to work on it on Sunday morning.
At one point, he hooked up our VW bus to it and tried pushing and pulling to loosen it up. I took video, of course. I was not going to miss this opportunity to go viral on the internet. But, do dice. That stump was not going to budge.
“How can a big dead tree, with all its multitude of dead and breaking limbs, have such a strong and hearty root?!” I told my friend as we stood looking at it the next morning.
We all have big dead trees like that in our lives. A failed relationship, a dependence on a substance, bad habits and bad people are something everyone has at least a little of. When we lay them out on paper or in conversation with a close friend, we can see it’s not serving us, it’s actively hurting us, holding us back. We should cut them down and get rid of them.
We start by knocking it down. We ditch that relationship and move out, get another job, or leave town. We clean up the house and sell all our extra stuff to live more frugally. We go through drug rehab or get some professional help for our mental struggles. It feels great because we’re moving towards getting better, but then we hit a wall.
Suddenly, the project or recovery seems so damn complicated. There’s so much work to do! So, we stop. We got rid of it, that should be enough. And there we are with a dead stump right where the new driveway should be. It’s still a royal pain in the ass to pull the trailer around. We need to finish the job to be well. We have more work to do.
The power tools come out, the pick, the shovels, the sweat, and the aching back. We may have to resort to dynamite as a last resort. But it will be worth it.
Once the long labor is over, life will go more smoothly. The limbs of the big dead tree in your life may be easy to break off. The trunk of it may need a power tool to get down. But the root will still be there and it’s going to be a long painful process to get it out. It will be worth it though. Get to work!
That work was done nearly five years ago now. This past weekend, I felt the fruit of it once again when my stepdad was able to pull even his 30-foot trailer around that corner and down the driveway. If we hadn’t removed it, that wouldn’t have been possible.
That’s what we do when we “do the work” and get well. We can take the tree down and leave the root, maybe re-purpose it right where it is or decorate it, incorporating it into our lives, but it’s still a burden to work around. Getting rid of it, stump, root, and all, is what we need to do to move on and grow into something greater than we were.
Another side note about memory: I could have sworn I had a picture of them attempting the epic stump-pull with the VW bus, but I can’t find it. I keep fairly organized picture files and searched well but alas…no picture.
The stump is still in yard, but out of the way. You probably recognize it if you read here often. I frequently use it to showcase the book I’m reading when I post about them.
Have you ever been to a cart race? A shopping cart race, that is!
Costco was a madhouse. Don’t go on a Sunday afternoon. But really, is there ever a perfect time to go to Costco in the city?
We drove by, couldn’t find a parking space. No, not a “good” parking space, NO parking space. I’m not going in there. Decided to go to Target instead. And it was a good thing we did because I found the perfect Fall sweater. I don’t want to hear it. I can be a little extra if I want to.
Then I was too hungry to go anywhere else, so we stopped for a sandwich.
“What are you looking for?”
“Something different. I always get the same thing.”
He sighs and loudly proclaims, “Finally. I’m so tired of watching you eat that! Sheesh!”
“Ok. What are you getting?”
Clicks on the same sandwich he’s gotten twenty-two times in a row. “My favorite!”
We laugh hysterically.
“Let’s try Costco again. I’m dangerously low on my favorite tequila and I don’t want to pay more somewhere else. I’ll brave the masses for a $5 discount!”
Plenty of parking at the end of the lot this time, but the driveway into the discount gas station is a madhouse and the front of the store…geez… I don’t see the sense in waiting forty-five minutes to get gas. Where do all these people come from? And why are they so frantic to get inside Costco?
We start to go inside but then realize we’re going to need a shopping cart, circle back out immediately and return to the Greeter to show my membership card again. Exclusive club, you know.
I attempt to climb in the cart, but he says I can’t.
“Who says?! This is my emotional support cart. I need safety! Stat!”
I hear someone behind me giggle.
I shop Costco in a completely different way with my friend than with my husband. When my husband and I go, we travel all the isles systematically, looking at everything even though we have no intention of buying it. It’s a date we look forward to each month and we extend the mission as long as possible.
With my friend, it’s a totally different thing. It’s a casual mission, one with no set outcome in mind. We’re just there to see what’s there, enjoy the coolness, or wander around and laugh, possibly make others laugh or jealous of our adolescent antics. We see one thing and head towards it, get distracted, head to the other side, and argue about who gets to push the cart because they’re more responsible.
“Do these underwear make me look sexy?”
“Look! Wrinkle cream! You need this!”
We did find the tequila I wanted, and the peanut butter pretzels my family adores, and headed to the checkout. The cashier picked the bottle up off the belt and looked at me, “You’re not old enough to drink this!” I laugh back, “Yes I am!” I tap my friend on the shoulder, “Dad, tell her that I’m old enough.” He narrowed his eyes at me, and we all laughed.
On the way out, carts and shoppers bottle-necked at the door, employee checking receipts, we’re giggling about being patient and telling each other not to run into people. Leaving this store is like trying to get to the entrance of carpool lane on the freeway in time. Come on people! Let’s go!
Once we’re relatively free, crossing the parking lot, I realize how sloped toward the street it is.
“I bet if I get on, I could coast all the way to the truck!”
I grab the handle and jump on the shopping cart, coasting. He runs to the front and adds his weight to the front. Immediately we start to drift toward the cars.
“You’re ruining my trajectory!” I holler as I jump off laughing.
Unloading the shopping cart into the backseat, still snickering about how funny we are, he takes the cart to return it. I shut the door and start in his direction, watching him try to get it going fast enough to ride into the corral. Another woman turns to return her cart and does the same thing right behind him.
“Race! Race! She’s right behind you!”
We all end up at the corral at the same time, cracking up!
“You gotta be loaded and going downhill to get good speed.”
“I know! I saw you guys try it and gave it whirl myself. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to stop!”
We all laugh as we walk back to our cars.
Getting in, start the truck, put my seatbelt on, I sigh.
“We just met a cool person.”
Many times in my life, almost every day that I go out, I find people that are fun. They respond when you say funny things. They make jokes about the items at the grocery store. Say things that inadvertently make everyone around them laugh.
I want to stay connected with those people, hand them a business card and tell them to follow me on Instagram or read my blog because I’m definitely writing a story about this, but it seems so awkward. Like I’d ruin the moment, make it weird.
Maybe the fleetingness of it is what makes it awesome. One quick encounter with the hilarious. An immature joke shared between complete strangers.
But still…I dream of being able to pull these people together into a team. We’d be an unstoppable force of joy and spontaneity.
When I was a kid, the movie magic and the theater were the domain of my dad. He’d frequently pick us up, go to Thrifty’s for two candies each, and head to the theater for the latest movie. There’s an anecdote about my active imagination that my dad loves to tell. I’ll try to recreate it but remember that it’s far better when he tells the story.
There was a day we were at the movies and, as was our custom, before the movie started, my brother and I would run down the front of the house to explore that big space in front of the screen but before the seats. “Back in my day” you had to show up to the theater early to get a good seat, so we had plenty of time to kill before the previews started.
This time I came running back with my serious face and sat beside my dad leaving my little brother to explore on his own. My dad asked me what was wrong, and I replied that I was afraid of the monsters. My dad scoffed and reminded me that monsters were only in the movies. I turned my six-year-old face to my dad, wide-eyed and dismayed, “Dad! This IS the movies!”
You can’t argue with that. Movie magic comes with movie monsters!
As I grew up, movies with my dad became more and more rare. Teenagers don’t go to movies with their old parents! But I did keep going with my friends until well into my 20’s. As an adult, they fell out of favor. I’m not sure why. It may have simply been the expense of taking the whole family.
Over the past five years, I began to rediscover movie going and was reminded of how much I love the experience…only to have it whisked away by the “pandemic” but theaters are open again and this past weekend a friend asked if I wanted to go.
At first, I jumped at the chance, then I looked at the offerings and wasn’t impressed. There weren’t many movies to choose from and they all seemed lame. But it has been blazing hot this summer and sitting inside a cool, dark theater sounded so nice. We picked a comedy and decided to go on Saturday.
Then I started thinking. Would it be crowded early on a Saturday afternoon? I don’t want to be surrounded by people during normal times, and even more so now. Would there we weird ass restrictions that make me uncomfortable? I’d rather just stay home than jump through hoops so that everyone FEELS safe and really isn’t. Human behavior can make me crazy sometimes.
I decided I was being ridiculous, and it would be better to go out and experience the world, take notes, and make observations in person, than to stay at home and speculate.
I’m glad I did, because people are so damn weird and movie magic is real.
We purchased our tickets online about an hour before the movie started. It’s the kind of theater where you pick your specific seats when you purchase the ticket. I thought that was pretty cool BCB but now it’s even cooler. They can separate people before they get in the theater, put empty seats between groups, because we’re all too collectively dumb to do so for ourselves (insert eyeroll).
When we bought the tickets, we were the first to do so. That was weird. I assumed more people would be buying tickets just before the movie and the theater would be fairly full. I mean, it’s Saturday and over 100 degrees outside…again. I messed up my timing (again) and got to the theater five minutes before showtime to find the theater empty but for one other family, who had bought tickets for seats directly in front of us.
Think about that for a moment. Those people looked at the seat chart, saw that only two other seats in the whole theater were already taken, and selected the seats directly in front of those. Really?!
With the way they build theaters now, sightlines are not a problem. And maybe you’re not that worried about strangers breathing and eating and talking less than three feet above and behind you because you’re vaccinated. But what about personal space and privacy? I get it if the theater is full and those are the only seats available, but the whole theater was empty. Why would you CHOOSE to be that close to other people?
Humans are so strange. I sat down in those seats because I those are the assigned seats I bought, but within a couple minutes the previews started, no one else was coming, so we moved up a couple rows. I laughed in my head the whole time thinking about my Dad and how he always complains that people choose the seat directly in front of you no matter how empty the theater is. I couldn’t wait to tell him.
As a side note, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is hilarious. I chose that movie purely by the title and the genre. I assumed it would be as stupid as the title, but it was inside and air-conditioned, so what the hell! I was pleasantly surprised, laughed the whole time, and loved every minute of it.
There was something else interesting that was thinking about while I was at the movies and for several hours after. Things are changing…duh…but not necessarily in a bad way.
I had stopped going to the movies mostly because the hassle of going, the cost, being among a large group of people that (from the story above) seem to have no sense of manners when it comes to movie etiquette. Screaming kids watching clearly inappropriate movies, sick people over my shoulder, talking people, etc. Why spend that much on a movie when I can sit a home and watch them on my big screen with a beer and chips? The ability to pause when I have to go to the bathroom? Yes, please!
Moving my watching time to earlier in the day, before 2pm, helped a tremendous amount. Why is it that no one goes to the movies at 11am or 1pm? We had been going on Christmas day for the latest release of Star Wars and walking into an empty theater for years. Walking out, we’d see a long line of people waiting for the late afternoon showings. Crazy.
I was bored with the selection of movies at one point. It seemed there were only action movies and coarse and crude comedies. I was so completely disappointed with first Hobbit movie, that I never went back to see the next one. There’s no dialog, no depth of meaning or character, just chase, chase, explode, and kill. It’s exhausting. And loud.
We chose to stay home to watch movies instead and I love the new streaming movies. There are so many new limited series shows based on books, history, etc. It’s awesome. Traditional movies have to be made to fit a niche: a time frame people can sit through in one stint and that a large swath of people will watch. A two-to-three-hour movie has to leave a lot of details out to get the story told. And it has to be made so that as many people as possible will watch to be profitable, so it’s catered the lowest common denominator.
It’s expensive for a theater to show a movie, so they need as many people there as possible. Streaming movies are cheaper to distribute, so they can be made for a smaller market. Limited series shows based on books or history, can be as long as they want. And now we have movies that cater to a very specific audience. It’s awesome.
But something is missing for me. Where’s the movie magic?
When The Force Awakens came out, something strange happened to me. This was the first movie I’d seen in a theater in years. When those yellow words started scrolling up the screen and the music began, I got a chill. I could feel the energy around me. And when the whole theater gasped in excitement to relive old memories and see the continuation of a story that we had all grown up with…it was movie magic. A collective memory, we were all connected emotionally. It felt…primal. I’m tearing up just writing about it.
The best part of that movie was the fact that we were all sitting there watching it together. Like watching your favorite band perform live or a live performance of a play, we are experiencing something together and for a moment we had a bond with our fellow humans. It was weird.
Right now, I’m reading “The Righteous Mind” and he’s talking about humans and how their evolved edge over all the other animals is their ability to work together, to trust each other (as in The Rational Optimist), and to bond into large groups of non-family. This is what has made us thrive and spread out over the world, to master our environment, and create technology that makes us fatter and happier than any other species. Call me crazy, but I think the movie magic is an extension of that.
I remember huge movie houses when I was a kid, packed full, shoulder to shoulder with little leg room, to watch a giant screen. The last movie I saw like that was Jurassic Park at the Cinedome in Anaheim. This movie was HUGE and was touted as having huge sound that had to be “experienced,” so we went there. It was amazing. You could feel those dinosaurs walking and hear them coming up behind you.
Those huge movie theaters are gone, I know, and that’s ok because their replacement is so much more intimate and comfortable. Smaller theaters, with comfortable recliners, tiered up so no one’s view is obstructed. Seats far enough apart that you don’t get kicked in the back by the long-legged dude or coughed on by the squirmy kids behind you. It’s fantastic.
But ticket sales had started to fall BCB, and I hope after being closed for over a year, they don’t continue that trend and theaters close forever.
There’s just something about the collective experience that I had forgotten was so special. The arrival, the popcorn, the finding of your seat. The lights dimming, the previews we watch and then look at each other for a thumbs up or down. The movie itself with the collective laughs, gasps, and painful silences. And then the end: the applause, the standing and stretching, walking from the theater laughing or crying, the looking to other patrons with the “Did you feel that?” look. It’s movie magic.
Confession: Ever since high school I have been hoping that someone would tell me what to do next.
I was a good student in high school. I got decent grades in most classes. I kept on top of my work. For the most part, I did so by simply showing up and writing things down. It wasn’t that I was an exceptional scholar or was particularly interested in the subjects. I had simply discovered that if showed up every day, on time, wrote down when things were due, and made an attempt to finish the assignment, I passed my classes.
At one point in a history class, I realized that I didn’t have to read the whole chapter or really understand what was happening to pass the tests. I only had to have a general idea of the dates we were talking about and scan the chapter titles and headlines because that’s what would be on the test. As soon as the test was over, I forgot all about the material. Science was about the same.
English was the same class I’d been taking since the sixth grade. Once we learned to read, which I don’t remember, I feel like I always knew how to read, we just went over more and more grammar rules and sometimes read a book and did a book report. All through high school I waited for the change to literature and creative writing, but it never came. Well into my senior year, I was amazed that we were still talking about nouns, verbs, and paragraphs.
Spanish was rough. I was required to take two years of a foreign language to graduate, and Spanish seemed logical. Growing up in Southern California, most people speak some Spanish. I hear it all day, every day. You’d think it would have been easier for me to pick it up, but I never did. I understand some and have a few words and phrases, but never did well in the classes at all. Honestly, I think it was because serious study doesn’t come naturally to me. I never learned how because I rarely needed to.
All my “electives” were theater related and those were simple. Memorizing scripts and blocking, designing, and building sets, were fun for me and I spent all my waking hours in the theater until my senior year when I started working at Disneyland at night.
Four years of high schooled marched by. Every year I had limited choices as to what I could take and when. I had to be there five days a week and I had to take 6 classes a semester. Most of those were required classes, some were chosen electives. All of them were strictly guided and had little self-direction, critical thinking, or logic. I showed up. I turned in my assigned work. I did my time. And graduation loomed ahead. The final threshold into the “real world.”
The REAL world, people! From my work at the mall and then at Disneyland, being around college kids and working adults all through the summer before and during my senior year of high school, I was starting to get the feeling that the REAL world was nothing like my school world and that the skills I was using here were not going to translate out there.
I had no real urge to go to college but ended up enrolling anyway because everyone else was. School counselors didn’t give you any options other than which college to go to. The school I chose wasn’t a local community college, it was a private university in the next county, far enough away from home to have to find a place to live away from my parents. It never occurred to me, and no one in financial aid brought it up, how I was going to pay for my education or whether I should.
How did I find this school? My high school theater class took a tour there when the university had a theater competition for high school students. I entered a set design I had done and won first place. I had been acting in competitions like this for the last four years and had never gotten past the first round. This was the first time set design and playwriting were offered as divisions. Stage design and painting had been my real love of the theater the whole time but there were no strictly stagecraft classes. You had to take acting or general theater, which meant some acting, to be able to work on the lights, sound, and sets, so I did. I was ecstatic when I found out I could enter as a designer. And then I won! First place…of three entries, but still. I got a thousand dollar “scholarship” too if I went to that university.
I fell in love with that school the moment we drove up in the school bus. It looked like a small version of an ivy league type school right out of the movies to me. And it wasn’t that far from home. I was never a very adventurous kid. Even though I hadn’t really considered going to college before, the moment I saw it and then went around their tiny theater department, I started having visions of me attending and becoming a famous designer on Broadway. When I won the award, I was sure this was the path for me.
I spent the next few months catching up. It was already early spring and everyone else had been working on college prep since the tenth grade. I hadn’t even taken the SAT’s. I remember signing up and taking the test, doing ok, but I can’t remember what my scores were. I applied at the school and was accepted and sent to financial aid to work out the details. I had to have my mom apply for a parent loan, which I was sure she couldn’t afford. Then I applied for the student loan. That’s when I realized how much the school was going to cost me.
Seventeen thousand dollars. Per year. And I had been so excited to get that $1000 scholarship. Financial aid assured me there would be other grants and scholarships available. I only needed to apply and wait. Meanwhile, I signed up for the classes and got my student loan for the first year. The other grants and scholarships never came, and I was on the hook for that $17K when I graduated or quit school, which was what ended up happening a year and a half later.
Overloaded trying to work and go to university full time in two different counties, I looked at the costs of continuing and what I would get from it and decided it would be irresponsible to keep spending money on an education that wasn’t going to get me a better stagehand job than the one I already had. Besides, I wasn’t doing very well academically anyway. It turns out that university classes take a bit more thought and time than high school classes and I couldn’t keep up while working for my living and at the school’s theater. I dropped my remaining classes, got an apartment close to work, and hoped to start working fulltime. Six months later, I started paying on those student loans. I started adult life at 20 years old, $24K in debt with a part time job as a seasonal stagehand at an amusement park.
That’s the moment I stopped looking for someone to tell me what to do in life and started making my own choices based on my own needs and my own thinking. It was terrifying but liberating. At first, I felt like I was failing at life completely. I couldn’t hack university life, dropped out, and now here I was.
Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made. The work I wanted to do didn’t really require a degree. It required knowhow and contacts. I already had my foot in the door where I wanted to be, and I was gaining the knowhow every day I worked with new people that knew more than I did. It didn’t make any sense to keep racking up debt the way I was.
If I could change one thing about the end of high school, it would be to find someone that would actually help me make better decisions and plans for myself instead of steering me into what they believed was my best course of action. I needed more support getting to know myself and what I wanted from life those four years, not following someone else’s curriculum. I spent those years bored and waiting for life to begin and it really sucked.
In stark contrast to my own children’s early lives, when I was growing up, curse words were not allowed. It didn’t matter how old you were, if your parent or grandparent was around, you’d get smacked for it. If your parent wasn’t around, it was open season. My grandma would smack my mom for bad words as quick as my mom would smack me, but it didn’t stop any of us from using them. The truth is, colorful expletives are useful, right? They express passion. Life just isn’t the same without either. Like I used to my tell my sons, you just have to know your audience to avoid being smacked.
I was probably about ten years old the first time I used a curse word in front of my mother, and I’ll never forget it.
My mom and I loved to make chocolate chip cookies, and I can still see that kitchen in my mind. The windows, crisscrossed with wooden trim painted white, yellow kitchen curtains over the sink. And that lovely yellow and brown linoleum floor, the avocado green fridge and oven. What year is it? I know you know.
That oven was something special to me. There were two of them stacked one on top of the other in the corner of the kitchen. Next to it was an island with an electric stovetop to match. All in avocado green and chrome. I don’t think I’ve ever had two ovens like that again. Although sometimes I could have really used it!
Making cookies with my mom on a Saturday afternoon sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? It’s like a scene right out of a Hallmark Channel movie. Young, pretty mom with her long brown hair and big glasses, polyester slacks, and blue eye shadow. Honestly, I always thought my mom was the prettiest mom around. She was funny and boisterous, always had lots of friends. I watched her closely and envied a personality that could so easily greet people and make friends.
Most weekends my mom and stepdad had parties with their friends, playing cards and talking well into the night. You’d think I’d look back on it as a bad time, my parents were distracted partying with their friends and not taking care of us, but it didn’t feel like that to me. I was always enamored with them. I wondered what they were talking and laughing so loud about and would sneak out of my room, long after I was supposed to be asleep, creep down the hall toward the living room and listen. It sounded like fun, grown up fun that I wanted to be a part of.
Sometimes my mom would let me help mix and serve drinks before I went to bed. I felt so grown up. But after bedtime, I wasn’t supposed to come out of my room. I was too old to need my mom in the middle of the night. If got caught in the hall, I just said I was going to the bathroom or feign sleepwalking and my mom would just turn me toward my room and tell me to go back to bed.
I’d reluctantly return, feeling left out of all the fun. I climbed back in my twin bed, dressed in my long, little girl nightgown and lay there wondering what could possibly be so funny. I hear my stepdad singing silly songs, my mom groaning about putting down the wrong card, her friends picking teams for the next round of spades. It seemed like a grown-up mystery.
But Saturday mornings were for fun and I looked forward to it every week. We’d bake sweet bread and cookies mostly. Chocolate chip cookies were my personal favorite, not only because I loved them, but everyone else did too and we’d race to see who could eat the most. With four people living in the house and friends coming for cards in the evening, we had to make a lot of cookies to keep up with demand.
My job was to read the recipe and get out all the things we would need. I’d get the recipe card out of the metal paisley covered recipe box and lay it down on the counter. My grandma wrote this one out (off of a Nestle chocolate chip package I later learned). Her perfectly feminine cursive always impressed me. The delicate, evenly formed, precise loops. The gentle pressure of the pen. The clear lettering with no flourishes. It was serious and concise writing. Getting work done writing. Just like my grandma. Gentle yet serious. Hard but very loving. She didn’t need to get angry about anything. She didn’t need to scold, much. We all just felt compelled by her strength of character to behave.
I can recognize her handwriting the moment I see it and still have a few of those cards tucked away in that same metal box.
Setting the plastic wrapped card on the counter, I started to read it aloud: eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, flour. I’d get everything out and place it on the counter next to the recipe. I’d get the bowls, the big one and small one. The measuring spoons and cups. And place them on the counter too. Then I’d watch my mom go into action.
While she got the mixer out and plugged it in, she’d ask me to help by measuring the flour, salt, and baking powder into the small bowl. She’d put the butter and vanilla in the big bowl and start whipping it with the mixer. As she softened the butter, I would ask questions like, “Can I taste it now?” and hear, “Not yet.” At least a dozen times.
I’d pour in the sugars as she kept whipping the butter, and then the eggs, one at a time. When it was soft and fluffy, the beaters stopped, I got a chance to stick my finger in the mixture and taste it as she cleaned off the beaters. She would turn to see me licking my finger and scowl at me. “Not yet silly!” and I’d laugh.
My Mom would take the big bowl into her arms and I would slowly add the flour mixture to it as she stirred, one scoop at a time until the cookie dough was good and thick. Setting the bowl down to get the chocolate chips, I’d reach in a grab a pinch of dough. “There won’t be any left to bake if you keep doing that.” She’d admonish me, laughing at my antics. “Tastes like cookies!” I’d squeal.
Two scoops of chocolate chips went in next, minus the ones I stole when my mom wasn’t looking. I’d beg to be let to help stir them in only to give up seconds later and let her finish.
The big cookie sheet came out next, discolored and warped with age. Set out on the counter, it was my job to fill them with cookie dough balls! After having my own children “help” me in the kitchen, I have a better picture of what my work looked like to my Mom. Irregular shaped ball of dough in various sizes, scattered across the cookie sheet!
And she’d open the oven, slide the sheet of deliciousness in and set the timer. Then we’d clean up a bit, putting away the ingredients and washing off the utensils.
It felt like forever had passed and I was a least a year older when the timer bell rang from the kitchen windowsill. Yes! Cookie time!
My mom had her hands in the sink, up to her elbows in soapy water. “Can you use the hot pad and get those out yourself?”
She couldn’t be talking to me. I looked at her incredulously. “You’re big enough. Be careful though. Don’t burn yourself.”
To a kid, being entrusted with any responsibility, any task usually relegated to adults, was a huge step up in life. The moment an adult talked to you as if you were their helper and not someone in the way, you felt taller and more noble. Someone had opened the door and said “Welcome!”
I tentatively picked up the hot pad glove and put it on. “Hurry up, sweetheart. They’ll burn. Careful. The edge is hot too.”
I opened the oven, reached toward the pan of deliciously brown cookies, caught hold of the edge and began to pull them out oh so carefully. As I did, my arm brushed against the side of the oven and I instinctively jerked my arm back, dropping the cookie sheet onto to the open oven door, yelping, “Shit!”
I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at my Mom. I had startled her, and she came running over to help.
“Are you ok?” pulling my arm out to see the damage.
“Yes.” I said, with tears and not a little bit of fear.
She pulled my face up to look at her, “Don’t worry. Shit is exactly right. I would have said a lot worse.” Kissing me on my forehead, “Go put some cold water on it.”
The relationship between my Mom and I changed that day, all because of the use of curse words. She was no longer just my Mom, the dinner maker, keeper of the rules, and laundry washer. She was my friend. My mom was a person, just like me.
We finished baking several sheets of cookies without further burns. Many pinches of dough were stolen between sets. And once they were all done baking, we got a big glass of milk and set to making ourselves sick eating what was left with the help of my little brother and stepdad.
Everyone that knows me will tell you that I’ll jump on any opportunity to share my stories from the years I worked at Disneyland when I was in high school and college. This scene The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson made me smile and start to reminisce. Strange to think this story is from a park very much like mine, Elias Disney did work there, and 100 years before I was donning a costume and facing the crowds. Some things never change!
“The fair was so big, so beyond grasp, that the Columbian Guards found themselves hammered with questions. It was a disease, rhetorical smallpox, and every visitor exhibited it in some degree. The Guards answered the same questions over and over, and the questions came fast, often with an accusatory edge. Some questions were just odd.
‘In which building is the pope?’ one woman asked. She was overheard by writer Teresa Dean, who wrote a daily column from the fair.
‘The pope is not here, madame,’ the guard said.
‘Where is he?’
‘In Italy, Europe, madame.’
The woman frowned. ‘Which way is that?’
Convinced now that the woman was joking, the guard cheerfully quipped, ‘Three blocks under the lagoon.’
She said, ‘How do I get there?’”
The devil in the white city by Erik larson
And now I present to you, brought up from the deep well of my teenage memory banks, a few of my favorite interactions with guests during my time at Disneyland: Tomorrowland in the early 90s.
Imagine, if you will, a turnstile and podium, a young girl smilingly holding a pair of pale purple 3D glasses toward a park guest, filled with enthusiasm as they approach. He looks at her, looks past her, looks to both sides of her, and then asks:
“What time is the next show?”
This may have been nearly the thousandth time she has heard this question today. Her youth and experience have caused her to become impatient with this guest. Without missing a beat or a ghost of a frown, she looks up at the tv screen above her head, reads the countdown clock, and returns, “Twelve Minutes.”
The guest, more aware than most, laughs at himself. “Duh! I missed it!” Sheepishly takes the proffered glasses and enters with three young children in tow.
I walk the slow-moving circular path that continually rolls beneath me. The cars, connecting with the turntable on their return, open their doors and the peaceful guests, disgorged, move toward the exit stairs and disappear below.
The same cars continue around the turntable to pick up more guests for the next trip around Tomorrowland’s attractions. The guests climbing the stairs, step onto the moving floor, walk towards the open doors and climb inside…usually.
Sometimes they wait. They wait at the step-off for the floor to stop for them. Some stand on one foot and carefully step forward with the other, and when they step down forget to lift the foot they were standing on and are slowly, very slowly, pulled into a split. Still others have no problem leaving the platform for the moving floor. They walk to the car waiting with the open doors and then wait for the car to stop so they can get in.
Throughout the day, I hear quippy things like, “I bet you get your exercise every day!” And my very favorite, “How fast does this ride go?” As if they haven’t watched it trundle by all over Tomorrowland, or for the past ten minutes as they waited in line to board. Occasionally, I can’t help but smile and respond, “I keep telling them to add seatbelts. We lose people every day” as I point to the empty cars returning from the track.
Space Mountain. Winter 1991. I’m standing at the bottom of the ramp that takes the guests up to the concourse area to continue their wait until launch time. This is my favorite position, to be totally honest. It’s the most relaxed and I get the chance to talk to more people. We chat about their day, answer questions, and make jokes. Most questions are about the wait and what kind of a ride it is. Since I’m in an easily accessed space, surrounded by guests either entering the cue or walking toward another, I get other questions like, “Where is?” and “What time?” Those are understandable.
Sometimes guests ask if I like my job, and if I have fun while I work. The answer is yes, always. I loved that job. I’d waited impatiently until the day I turned 16, so I could get a driver’s license. The moment I was able, I drove my little ’79 Datsun 210 down Ball Road, turned left at Harbor Blvd., and right into the employee parking lot. I marched straight into the (then) Admin building, picked up an application and filled it out on the umbrella covered picnic tables out front, and returning it immediately.
I still remember my first interview. I remember the cast member dismissing the other two candidates, and, once we were alone, asking me where I wanted to work. I know…it sounds corny, and I took a lot of crap for it over the years about how much I loved that job and Disneyland. I cannot lie. It was all I ever wanted as a kid and, as far as I was concerned, the day I put the parking lot sticker on my car, I was home. Nothing else mattered. I had arrived!
I cannot remember a bad day at work in Disneyland, ever. If circumstances had not changed things, I would have continued working right there for the rest of my life, completely happy. Things happened, life changed, and it was still good, probably even better than I could ever have planned, but I still get nostalgic and wonder what that life would have been like. Time machine, please! Or at least the ability to explore other timelines! But I digress!
Where were we before I became transported?
Oh, yes! BOTR (bottom of the ramp) Space Mountain!
Bundled up in a coat, scarf, and two pairs of gloves in the plummeting temperatures, nearly 60 degrees, like only a California native can, the evening wears on. The crowds aren’t so crazy as they are in summer, but something about a Saturday evening draws more people out and the queue up the ramp to the concourse is a steady stream of happy guests.
A co-hostess has come to send me on to the next position in the rotation, indoor time! I was just about getting a chill! I’m chatting away for a moment before I go when a gentleman taps me on the shoulder to get my attention. I turn and smile as he asks, “When to the fireworks start?”
Without hesitation I reply, “Around Memorial Day weekend!”
His face drops into a frown as he throws back, “Oh, very funny smart ass.” And walks away.
Some of you reading this won’t understand for a couple of reasons. Depending on your age, or if you’ve never been to the park, you don’t remember a time when Disneyland did not run a nightly fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle every night of the year. Here’s where I come in with the cliché, “When I was a kid…!” remark, but it’s true. I swear.
When I was kid the fireworks at Disneyland only ran during the summer months, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It was a special event, reserved for that high point of any park’s year, the summer tourist months when the park was open late every night and was packed full of families on the biggest vacation of their lives.
When the guest asked “When?”, I assumed he meant what time of year, honestly! I felt terrible that I had misunderstood, to make things worse he walked away so quickly that I couldn’t explain. But therein lies the trouble with the English language, right? To be more precise he should have asked, “What time do the fireworks start?” But “when” would have worked just as well, if it had been the time of year when there are fireworks.
What’s funny to me is that I’ve spent thirty years holding on to that story. It was funny to me, the misunderstanding, but that poor man thought I was being rude and trying to make him look stupid. I felt bad. That’s a testament to how much I value people’s (even complete strangers) opinions of me and my behavior, but that’s blog post of another color.
I have a lot more stories about Disneyland, just ask my friends and family. They’ve heard them all, probably a multitude of times. I love telling my Disneyland stories. I’m not ashamed. I wait eagerly for when I have new people to tell, maybe I get to see my future grandchildren roll their eyes and make excuses to escape as I re-tell of the glory days. But for now, this blog and you, my dear readers, will have to be my outlet.
Thanks for reading, watch your step as you exit the open doors on your right, and enjoy the rest of your day at the Tragic, I mean, Magic Kingdom!
I love developing new habits, especially good ones that make me feel like I’m getting somewhere. I have found that I’m a naturally habitual person, so if I can make one little change in my routine stick for a few weeks, I have a very hard time letting it go. I have to be careful though, I can easily make myself crazy with habits. Ok, crazier!
This new habit is writing related! Yay!
I’ve been wanting to write more fiction, but I find it difficult to get started, and then more difficult to stick with a story longer than a day or two. My current writing practice is to use quotes from the books I read as writing prompts, write for thirty minutes, edit the thirty minutes I did the day previous, and then post them. It reflects my attention span, for sure.
A couple of times last year, I was able to get my brain to move in one direction for nearly a week and was very happy with the stories I was able to cobble together. I want more of that! Come on brain! Work with me!
I went looking for prompts and found Reedsy! I haven’t submitted any stories yet, since today was my first day of this new habit, but I’m totally going to. This might be just the sort of spontaneous publicity this girl needs!
As a teaser…I know you’re going to love this…this is what I came up with this morning.
On my side, long pillow tucked under my arm and a knee up, fetal position. Feather blanket and heavy quilt in disarray, one foot partially out from underneath. The perfect temperature.
The cat, perched up on my shoulder, purring away.
I lay there, still, awake but not moving. It’s dark, very dark.
What was I dreaming about? Something disturbing. That recurring one where I’m trying to explain something, and no one understands. No, they aren’t listening, and I get louder and more insistent until I’m screaming insults and epithets in a desperate attempt to get their attention. Blank stares, as if I’m not there at all and then suddenly, comprehension, and anguish in every face. They’re destroyed by my words, pushing away from me in pain. I wake from this dream often, several times a month, not with a start or tears, just quiet and helpless resignation, a deep and still sadness, wishing I could take my words back, wanting the ability to be quiet.
I lay there another minute. I’m warm. I’m safe. It was just a dream.
Then that feeling comes as I lay there waking up…I should get up. I have things to do. Places to be. I can’t be late. What time is it? I carefully crane my neck to see the red numerals of my clock at the foot of my bed. Without my glasses, my sleepy eyes can’t quite make out what it reads. The cat complains of my movement. I’m disturbing his sleeping place. I lay my head back down.
That’s all I have time for this morning. I have a breakfast date with a hot babe! But I’m looking forward to working on this and adding more. Will I actually submit something? I hope so!
I have written some stories in the past. I keep them collected on my Short Stories Page. If you like any of them, please share!
I’m not a fan of Vonnegut. I know! Everyone likes him! But I find him funny in a negative way, not an uplifting one. Like…we’re all going to die, everyone is horrible, ha ha…kind of way. It makes me sad. And, according to my astrological sign, that’s intolerable to me.
And it is, really! That’s what’s so strange to me. I know not why, but I looked it up yesterday. My squirrel brain was overly active, so I decided to let it run free and follow it, much like I’m doing right now.
I’ve always been fascinated by horoscopes but a little skeptical, but then something comes up that is so right, and I think, “The stars know me!” Yesterday was one of those days. I swung all the way from “This is ALL SO much bullshit!” to “I’m basing every decision from here on out on what my stars tell me!” in a matter of minutes.
Where was I?
Kurt Vonnegut makes me sad, so I make him go away. But his stories are good, I’ll admit that. This book, specifically, is another one I picked out of the redistribution library back in December, “What Did My Blog Accomplish in 2020?” Why did I pick up a book by an author I’ve already read but don’t enjoy? Because I’ve heard of it and if I’ve heard of it and haven’t read it, it goes in the TBR pile!
So here I am reading it, laughing, and then then thinking, “Geez, Kurt. Way to be a downer.” I don’t always agree with him. Our politics are different and so are our personalities and outlooks. I’m giving it a chance because even if we have NOTHING in common, I can still find something to enjoy about a book by another human that lived on this earth.
Do you like Kurt Vonnegut? Have you read his books? Watched the movies? You can find his books at Thriftbooks.com! Leave me a comment and tell me what you think! Hell, leave me a comment and tell me what your sign is. I’m a Sagittarius, but you probably already know that.
Ahh…the cat and dog post! I know. It’s not about books, but is about life and I was reading a book when I took the picture. So…RELATED! Besides, who doesn’t love a cat and dog post?!
These two heathens wake me up every morning at 4:30 AM. The dog sleeps under my bed all night. The cat sleeps on my shoulder or at my feet. They hear my husband get up for work and within an hour they begin to insist that I get up as well.
The cat follows me to the bathroom, refuses to leave and then meows to get out as soon as I shut the door. The dog waits by my bedroom door.
I come into the kitchen led by the cat just out of foots reach in front of me. The dog is waiting by her food dish, impatiently whining and stepping in the bowl as if I might forget where her food goes. As I put some food in he bowl, the cat waits by his on top of the freezer. It may have food in it already, but you know cats. That’s yesterdays food that he demanded be put in the bowl. I sprinkle a few bits on top to “freshen” it and he digs in.
A grab my book, a drink of water, and then a big cup of coffee and plop myself on the couch. Within a few minutes, the beasts are beside me, snuggling down and then…fast asleep.
What the heck?! Why did I need to be up so you could eat and go back to sleep? What kind of a life do these animals have? Why are they so tired?
I do find a little joy in disturbing THEIR peace throughout the morning by getting up to get another cup of coffee or to use the bathroom. Then I need my other book. I dropped my pencil and move the blanket to find it. It’s the evil side of me coming out. You beastly things disturbed my sleep. Turnabout is fair play!
It turns out that I’ve written about my furry friends before. Click over to “Why I Get Up -Episode 5” to read more about this cat!
Pet lovers! I just found Chewy (late to the game, sorry) and because they’re so awesome, I want to share it with you. I used to get pet food on Amazon but we live rural and they don’t deliver to the house. I did some poking around the interwebs to explore other options and found that Chewy is generally cheaper AND they deliver to the house. Win! And, no, I’m not paid to advertise. I just like them!