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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Shitting in the woods

I have a friend who likes to shit in the woods.

I don't know if she's told this to anyone else.

I'm reminded of her confession after contemplating what all the deer hunters are doing when compelled to relieve their bowels.

The hills and dales of rural Wisconsin have to be filled with hunter's shit right about now.

My friend is a walker and it seems to happen to her more often than not - the morning ritual walk gets everything moving and churning along in the old digestive system and she begins to search frantically for a tall oak, but often has to settle for the nearest scrub line or leaf pile.

I've been there to witness her suddenly turn and run pell-mell down a hill - toilet paper flying in hand. (She keeps her pocket stuffed just in case)

I wonder about runners, just pounding along in the wee hours before daylight. That has got to come up.

I'm not adverse to the idea and I admit I've done it on occasion. There is something very earthy about it - communing with nature - genetic memory of primitive ancestors - cool wind on the ass. I do get why she likes it.

Except for the time - and my kids just can't let this go - when I was deep into a five mile walk in the winter in my snow suit - and the zipper was stuck.

I feel like I'm channeling Andy Rooney today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why I will stick to real books

My books are dusty, piled in boxes just waiting to tell someone the story of my life.

I visit them from time to time - stroke the jacket covers and flip through pages, the smell of places I've lived lingering on the paper.

I know I should part with them - I have a boxful ready for Goodwill but I don't have the strength of heart to say goodbye. There have been too many painful partings already in my life.

The inside cover of a book of horse stories is dated 1969 and signed by my Aunt Ann. Inside are all the imaginations of a young girl: horses with flowing manes and fierce devotion, heroes and happy endings, the wonder of possibility. I lay in my twin bed -book propped on coltish legs - lost in the feel of wind as it whips through my hair.

My stolen books from junior high: "No Particular Place to Go - The Making of a Free High School," a book on weaving and the "Complete Works of Gilbert and Sullivan."

Dog-eared paperbacks, "Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger's "Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters," "Troutfishing in America" by the sad poet Richard Brautigan - I still live inside their yellowed pages. All these characters - Billy Pilgrim, Elliot Rosewater, Seymour Glass- once knew me better than I knew myself.

Did Carlos Casteneda's Don Juan really exit? Don't tell me any different, I know it's true, just as I know Middle Earth will someday herald my return, Frodo and Bilbo welcoming me home.

Spiritual books on Edgar Cayce, reincarnation, dreams, Atlantis and astrology, crystals and prophecies - how grateful I am to be unlocked from the chains of sin and hell, although I still have my Martin Luther book from confirmation with the cheat sheet pasted on the inside cover.

My college textbooks introduced to me to all the great photographers documenting moments through images: human suffering, the Battle at Wounded Knee, the Dust Bowl, bread lines, civil rights marches, John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket, the Vietnam War reflected in a young soldier's eyes.

I could show you all my collie books in hardcover from my foray into the world of dog shows, tell of Albert Payson-Terhune's dogs: the famous Lad and Buff and Gray Wolf and Bruce and what it feels like to bury your hands in a magnificent ruff of collie fur, to watch them run with wild abandon, all the while seeking your face.

There are so many more - the inherited books: My grandmother's English-Slovenian dictionary and all her notes, beginning at age 16 when she came to America. My other grandmother's tattered Bible with pages falling out. My mother's dictionary in large print and her book of birds both she and my father inscribed with the species they spotted at their backyard feeder: a blue jay, mourning dove, nuthatch, four guinea hens, a squirrel they named "Red Devil."

I see them sitting in their matching Lazyboy recliners, after dinner, watching the feeder fill with birds as evening falls.

My father's handwriting is like chicken scratching, my mother's round with full loops.

Our books are filled with memories that tell the story of who we are.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The best laid plans....

A downed power pole in Milwaukee has closed down the interstate for several hours, the news interrupting Dr. Phil and his intervention of four boys who tattooed slurs on another boy's ass.

In 90-degree heat cars and trucks are piled pell-mell on I-94 downtown, near College Avenue. Truckers are trapped and bloating like beached whales as we speak.

I've vowed to not leave the house for three days this long holiday weekend to heal a bum knee, living in a tricot nylon nightgown, the only kind of sleepwear my mother would wear because "it moves with the body."

The kitchen table is piled high with cast-aside paperwork and there's no excuse to look away: review the car insurance, think about writing a will, find a new doctor, tackle the pile of bills.

I drop a pen and bend down to pick it up - then muffle a scream/gasp/partial upchuck.

The carpet is moving, and it isn't from LSD.

Gazillions of miniscule ants are marching, horror-movie stye, in a line from the cat food bowl to the patio door. Worker teams carry tiny bits of cat food, left on the floor by Dreamer, who stuffs food in her mouth like a chipmunk, then chucks it out onto the carpet like kids blowing spitballs.

This is all her fault.

I panic, spraying Windex all over the carpet. The interstate of ants scatter. I run for the vacuum, dragging my bum knee. They smell my fear.

I suck up, by accident, the fur covered toy weasel. It's stuck in the vacuum hose. I pull it out - piece by piece - with a pair of pliers.

By now I'm whimpering a little from the creepy-crawly feeling traveling up my spine to the base of my neck. Oprah has come on - it's the story of the girl who was locked in a dog cage, revisiting, as a grown woman, the dark basement she was kept in.

Cayenne pepper - I'm spilling it around the base of the patio door. I spy a tiny hole - a portal of hell - and douse it with some old rose spray I found under the kitchen sink. OMG - why is there no poison in this house, where is the chemical warfare when you need it?

The cats have been watching this ant debauchle for who knows how long. I've wondered about their distain, they are usually much better at hiding it, but lately it's been so blatent.

The hole in the wood is now temporarily filled with putty - it's smeared on the carpet and up the woodwork - a whitish-reddish peppery concoction, covered in several layers of duct tape.

I'm poised to rip up the carpeting. This could take me well into late-night reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond."

And Dreamer's cheeks are suspiciously puffed out...

Monday, June 27, 2011

According to the Urban on-line dictionary an ear worm refers to any song that is so catchy, and at the same time so extremely annoying, that it feels like a worm has crawled into your ear and eaten the intelligent parts of your brain so that you hum the song all day long, no matter how much you hate it.

Well I’ve had that problem lately with Todd Rundgren’s “Hello it’s Me.”

Not that that’s a bad thing, it could be worse, much worse. Once I had “Take a Chance on Me” by Abba stuffed in my head for one entire, sleepless night. Another time it was “Once Upon a Dream,” from Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

Lest I have to write about myself again, which is beginning to repulse me, I asked co-workers (some now former) to share their earworm horror stories.

I think Gary’s may be the worst. He is so terrified of “You’re Having My Baby” by Paul Anka getting stuck in his head again that we aren’t allowed to even say the name of the song. He had to write it down on a slip of paper and hand it to me.

So here it goes:

"Stuck in the Middle With You" by Steeler's Wheel

“One of the worst songs ever to be stuck in my head actually contains the word, stuck... So naturally, now that you mention it, there it is in my head again.... Thanks a lot”
April Showers (really)

The worst: “The Barney Song.”

“I managed to avoid this until I had kids, but even though neither of my kids ever got real attached to this show, they did sing the song from time to time, I even joined in once or twice, Yuk!”
The best: "Open Your Eyes" by Snow Patrol
Peggy Breister
City editor

“Da Da Da” by The Trio.

“That would have to be the worst one. There were others, but they don't reach the level of annoying that this song achieves.”

The best: “‘Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts’ (sung together with her family???????????????????)
Heather Stanek

“Turkey Song” By Adam Sandler
Ruth Schoenbeck

“Dead skunk in the middle of the road, Dead skunk in the middle of the road and it’s stinking to high heaven.”
Jeff Reader

Worst: “Believe” by Cher

“'Do you believe in love after love,’ ughhh....”
Best: “Sweetness,” by Jimmy Eat World
Amie Jo Schaenzer

Worst : “I was driving to work late one night and the ABBA song ‘Take a Chance on Me’ came on the radio. For my entire 10-hour shift I kept hearing 'take a chance, take a chance, take a chance on me' until I felt like running out of the building screaming.”

Best: “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger

“The chorus ‘I'm not sick but I'm not well, and I'm so hot cause I'm in hell’ just goes around and around in your head until you finally adopt it as your credo, especially on a bad day.”
Colleen Kottke

Worst: “You’re Having My Baby,” “Rocky,” “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” and “Indiana Wants Me.”

Best: “Too Many People” by Paul and Linda McCartney.
Gary Clausius

Worst: “Wheels on the Bus.”
Katie Hullin

Worst: “There was a stupid song on Barney that went…’If all the rain were lemon drops and gum drops, Oh what a rain that would be. Standing outside with my mouth open wide (now comes the really bad part…you tip your head back, open your mouth and sing) augh, augh, augh, augh, augh, augh, augh, augh, augh, augh’. It’ll be stuck in my head the rest of the day…thanks a lot!”
Joan Brezinsky

"The Final Countdown" by Europe. (The theme to which G.O.B. from "Arrested Development" performs his magic acts. (Heavy on the synthesizer...) The worst part is, I know only three words to this '80s rock anthem ... you guessed it: "the final countdown."
David Williams

Worst: “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone
Best: AC/DC's “Thunderstruck”
Avi Stern

Worst: “I'm Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred
Best: "It's Raining Men" by The Weather Girls
Doug Whitely

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The following columns ran in The Reporter.

New writings should be forthcoming, when I get my head out of my ass.
My earliest memory of the horrors of homemade crafts happened at my late Aunt Helen’s house in Franklin, a rural setting with weathered-barn board outbuildings, a large raspberry patch and a root cellar with jars and jars of put up preserves.

It’s the same place where my sister said I scarred her for life by locking the door when the neighborhood St. Bernard was running loose.

Those were the days when women still wore aprons they made and embroidered dish towels and pillowcases, but that’s not the hideous part.

It was the crocheted doll-head toilet roll cover that sat atop the toilet lid, covering, you guessed it, a roll of toilet paper.

There was a matching toilet seat cover so thick it was hard to put the seat down, so it stayed open a crack.

I couldn’t understand who would do such a thing and why. I felt somehow my childhood might possibly be impaired if this was the norm, and we didn’t have anything like it at our house that even came close.

The only craft in our minimalist house was the burned matchstick cross on the wall made by my brother as some Scout project, so to this day I have this aversion to crafty clutter, including lawn ornaments and knitted dish towels you button to the oven handle.

My friend insists that as a public confession, I tell the story of the day in high school when I opened all my presents before Christmas and then rewrapped them. We were maybe 16 years old at the time, suffering from some kind of defiant syndrome, or maybe that was just me. It was the year my family decided to make all our gifts for Christmas, and we were sure we’d get a kick out of looking at some corny stuff.

I myself had taken empty Chianti wine bottles and dripped multi-colored candle wax all over them — Italian-restaurant-style — and stuck a candle at the top. When my mother discovered the mess, I spent days on my knees, scraping wax off the basement floor.

In a dress box marked with a Gimbels-Schusters label was the worst homemade item I’ve ever seen.

It was a knitted or crocheted mustard-colored skirt and top, with a vest included. The entire ensemble had been lined with satiny material, in the same mustard color.
Nothing was right, the arms were off and the skirt was crooked and lumpy, with half the lining showing around the hem.

This was my gift from my older sister, a recent college graduate, just married and poor.
I thought of all the hours she put into it and cringed.

Somehow, opening all my gifts was no longer funny.

I got back at her one year by making family portraits out of stuffed pantyhose. You’d have to see it to believe it.

It’s right up there with handmade purses made of pipe cleaners and an empty milk jug.
That we disagreed about Kathy Lee Gifford is telling, perhaps says it all.

“She’s so fake, so self-righteous and could she please shut up about Cody?” I yelled to my sister, who was in the kitchen basting a turkey.

“She’s a good Christian who defends family values!” she fired back.

That cracks me up, the memory of two sisters born a decade apart, bickering back and forth about the co-host of the then “Regis and Kathy Lee” TV show, my sister’s new daughter-in-law looking on in first holiday-with-family horror.

My older sister and I had nothing in common back then but the Slovenian genes that made for thick calves and cravings for ethnic bakery, like potica, with butter.

She was born in 1947, a year so prosperous the demand for consumer goods outstripped U.S. supplies. She was the first in the family to graduate from college, as a scientist no less, in an age when women still wore aprons and girdles. She was geeky and never dated in high school, preferring to stay in her room, studying the periodic tables and theses by Martin Luther. She was most passionate about her science and her God.

I, on the other hand, skipped classes, shunned organized religion, and lived just this side of the fringe. I played iconoclast to her sacraments.

For years, maybe 20, our sisterhood was marked by little more than special occasions, bar-be-ques and birthdays and babies being born.

Then came the devastating news that her ongoing flu-like symptoms was really stage 3 ovarian cancer.

“Why shouldn’t it be me,” was her science-based answer to the standard cancer question.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. It was autumn and within six months my mother would be dead. My sister would have to leave her own hospital bed to attend the funeral, wearing a god-awful wig, and bright red lipstick against her pale skin.

“I was talking about me,” I wanted to tell her. “Why should I be left in a world without the sister I never took the time to get to know?”

For the next six years our sisterhood, once based on petty differences, found common-ground. By then, of course, Kathy Lee was brought down off her perfect pedestal when her husband had a sordid affair. I didn’t even say “I told you so.”

When it came time to plan her funeral, she told me not to make a scene if her hair wasn’t done just right, making sure to include a photo of herself in the pre-arranged funeral planner. That was our last good laugh, remembering how, gathered around my mother’s coffin, I exclaimed loud enough for everyone to hear, “MY GOD, SHE HAS NO BANGS.”

“So Sharon doesn’t freak out again,” read the little post-it note stuck to the photo of her hair.

Our last meal together was grilled cheese. By then her calves had grown thin, and she told me that now I had to be the one in the family who makes the potica for Christmas. But I would never make it again, not without her.

I’m proud to say I knew her as my sister, and figure she probably spends her time now grilling Archimedes and Albert Einstein instead.

I just hope when the time comes, someone loves me enough, like a sister, to make sure my hair is poofy, with the right amount of frizz.
I am a believer in Dr. Darold Treffert’s theory of genetic memory because somewhere way back in the Neandrathal branch of the Roznik family a gene mutated…for good.

This dent in the DNA chain could be among several, knowing my family, but for conversation’s sake let’s isolate and identify it as the one that allows for the “fortitude and patience it takes to see a project through.”

Growing up, I don’t recall people investing much time in do-it-yourself projects, so there wasn’t a lot of role-modeling going on.

Things were built to last forever. The turquoise tile in the bathroom was there to stay. Same with the thick, checkered linoleum kitchen floor, the plaster walls, and the heavy oak doors. All indestructible.

Neighbors living on Bobolink Drive resided in houses where nothing much changed in 30 years. Maybe a sandbox was added, a little aluminum shed, a horseshoe pit.

Gravel driveways sufficed, porches were concrete, and a room was considered “remodeled” if it got a fresh coat of lead paint.

Back in the early 70s a crazy twist of luck landed me a 1969 Camero SS convertible with a 350 engine. I am not a car person, but it was pretty, white with orange stripes, checkered upholstery, and a spoiler.

Car stereos were the latest rage, replacing the a.m. car radios that came standard in the muscle cars. My greaser friends, the gear heads, were pulling out the 8-tracks and installing cassette players with speakers set into the ledge between the back seat and the rear window (is there a name for that?).

Sheesh. If guys can do it, piece of cake. I purchased a Pioneer a.m./f.m./cassette car stereo system, put the hood down on a gorgeous summer day, and tried to find one of my dad’s screwdrivers. His work bench was like a foreign land.

I probably had on the paisley halter top made out of a kerchief, some Sun-in sprayed in my hair, sandals made by the hippie guy who ran the Leather Shop down on Brady Street.

What a relief when, endless hours and lots of tears (crybaby) later my dad came to the rescue, and I admitted to myself that the male species had talents that I couldn’t touch.

I still see it clearly, I come walking out of the house and see my dad with a crowbar and sledgehammer, pounding, pounding, two huge, jagged holes into that back window ledge.

“No one will notice. We’ll just put duct tape around the speakers to hold them in,” he said.
I throw up a little in my mouth when people tell me they don’t own a television.

Or only watch public television stations, maybe the MacNeil/Lehrer hour if they are feeling particularly slovenly.

I am of the first generation of humans plopped down in front of a television set to be entertained.

Whenever our mothers weren’t looking, we sat too close, heedless of the radiation that was slowly melting our brains and making us go blind at the same time.

We believed with all our hearts that Miss Diane from Romper Room could see us through the television set, our first fix of what we thought was reality TV.

Etched somewhere in my unconscious brain, where the brain cells have been destroyed so there is lots of room, are TV test patterns, the NBC Peacock, the “Star Spangled Banner” that signed off the last station at night, and all the characters with X’d-out eyes — the endless stream of violent cartoon victims.

Weaned on black and white shows my mom watched during the day — “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” “Queen for a Day,” “General Hospital” — and later, graduating to evenings with the family in pajama sets watching “Bonanza” (my brother wearing his cowboy hat and holster), there wasn’t such a thing as “bad television.”

Or if there was, you just sat there and watched it anyway, in ignorant bliss.

It is in this state of mindlessness that I escape from my Type-A job through reality television shows.

In 2000, “Survivor” had me hooked when the evil Richard Hatch played everyone to take home $1 million.

This wasn’t a villainous actor, it was a real-life lech.

How utterly decadent!

I don’t know if it is evolution, or maybe de-evolution of television through reality shows, but this is my partial list of sins:

“I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”
“Greatest American Dog.”
“Here Come the Newlyweds.”
“High School Reunion.”
“The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.”
“Beauty and Geek.”
“Pussycat Dolls: Search for Girlicious” (I know…).
“Farmer Takes a Wife.”
"America’s Next Top Model.”
“So You Think You Can Dance.”
“The Surreal Life.”
“Big Brother.”

Sadly, it goes on.

This is what happens when you only get basic cable.
In 1975, Wisconsin’s only tattoo parlor was in Lake Geneva, and that’s where I was headed on my 18th birthday.
I can’t recall where the force behind this wild desire came from, but I remember its strength.
Decades later it took someone shaking me awake to finally understand why my adolescent son would always answer “I don’t know!” to my endless “What were you thinking?”
“They don’t know why they do things, they just do them,” some expert told me, explaining the latest disorder, it must have been reactive-compulsive neurosis.
As if some blow to my brain had blocked out what it’s like to be young and utterly unconcerned, oblivious to consequence.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were like that too. I always thought there was something wrong with me,” my son said to me the other day.
I just knew I had to get a tattoo.
The trip took a friend and I down country roads to what seemed like a sleepy town, except for maybe the Playboy Club. We were liberated women then, so even the famous den of feminine playthings for male egos was of no consequence to us. We had boyfriends, what did we care what horny old people did?
I remember a guy with a pony tail, walls full of designs, and pain that felt like someone was dragging a lit cigarette across my skin.
I picked out a butterfly, to be placed at the nape of my neck. I’ve always worn my hair long, so for most of its 34-year existence this tiny tattoo has been hidden from view.
My mom wasn’t happy when she found out, especially when she discovered on my wedding day, that my younger sister also had one - a small bird with a vine in its mouth, and a heart at the end. That freaked me out because she is what I call a “Jockaholic.”
According to Diane my mother said: “If God intended you to have a tattoo you would have been born with one.”
Neither of us regret it, and to the tattoo naysayers who believe someday there will be an epidemic of nursing home residents, with sagging, distorted tattoos, I have to say if we are sagging that badly all over, would it really even matter?
I wasn’t born yesterday.

I hear the collective sigh whenever I mention the perpetual plastic tub full of cemetery flowers that I haul around in my car, the motif changing with the seasons.

“She’s not going to mention all her dead relatives AGAIN, is she?” the plaintive glances indicate, my boss’s eyes wild and lolling backward in his head.

I didn’t raise my hand and volunteer for the job, but it’s been passed down to me through three generations of female grave-tenders, and I’m the last one left.

A connoisseur or plastic flowers and Styrofoam crosses, I can admit without hesitation that the cemetery culture and its freshly-lawned landscape have a way of sucking you into the vortex of past guilt. You know what I mean, like the time you snapped back at your sick mother and then before you could make amends she was dead, found at the kitchen table with a half-finished cup of morning coffee.

It was that kind of penitent flame, burning brightly atop some tiny altar near my psyche, that lead me to John, his widow’s directions to the gravestone written on the back of my hand.

I’d been taken aback during a Christmas past, when after John died she sent me a bundle of letters he and I had written each other back in the days when he called me “Babs” and I called him “Babs” for no apparent reason. At the time it seemed the more nonsensical we made life, the better.

Among the “Meet me at the Hayloft Bar on Greenfield” notes that were rescued from car windshields was a long diatribe I’d typed on single-spaced pages that ended with the line: “Do me one last favor – when you see me pretend you don’t know me.” Maybe it was that letter that lead John’s wife to think he and I had been romantically involved.

“Are you kidding me?” I blurted out, and refrained from telling her about the time we decided to kiss once, a long passionate kiss that ended with us swiping our mouths with the back of our hands while agreeing that we could only be together, if in the end, no one else wanted us.

John was a former boyfriend’s older brother and my best friend during a period in my life when all my friends were married and he lived, post-divorce, with his elderly parents. Perhaps our common bond was both of us wondering what I ever saw in his brother, who drove a broken down Chevy Nova, lived on Campbell’s cream of shrimp soup, and lacked social skills.

I can still see John clearly in his threadbare 34-inch inseam bellbottoms and Eric Clapton shag, tiny wire-rims perched on his nose. “Listen to this,” he’d say as his lead-in to the latest import album played at ear-shattering decibels. I can still hear how his voice sounded during all those late-night phone calls during which we watched television, he in his room, me in mine, laughing together at “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

On my desk at home is a black and white Poloroid of John doing dishes at a party in 1973, him looking over his shoulder at me into the camera. This was an hour or two before he called the fire department because he though the stove wouldn’t turn off. Somehow he failed to tell the other partygoers, who fled out windows and over the rooftop as flashing red lights pulled into the driveway.

I walked out of John’s life one night when I saw him shooting up heroin, and never spoke to him again until years later, on his wedding day, when he married a woman he’d met in recovery.

“I know you’re sad I’m not available anymore, just in case,” he whispered to me, holding me tight in his arms.

I wanted to tell him I was sorry that I wasn’t available to him all those years he struggled with addiction. As with all guilt, one can only wonder at the omnipotent “what if” and try not to let it be too “all powerful.”

I placed some plastic poinsettias on his grave this week, along with the "Guru Guru" album he bought for me one Christmas when our youth seemed immortal. His favorite song by the German rock band was "Immer Lustig," which means "Always Happy."

“Be ‘immer lustig’ Babs, and wherever you are, save a space for me."
It was a “click” heard around the world.

Actually the real distance was a suburban block in the mid-’60s, when neighborhood kids bolted pell-mell out the back door at the exact same time every morning, after a bowl of Malt-o-Meal, and mothers closed the doors in unison.

Some locked them, like my mother, during certain days of the week when she claimed to be “washing the floor,” but I think she was watching “All My Children” or maybe lying down in a dark room to get a couple hours of peace, not bothering to remove her apron or girdle or nylon stockings.

“Get outside and stay outside!” was the mother’s rule, and that meant not coming back before dinner, unless you were bleeding profusely or there was a major accident, like the time my friend Jane fell head first off the monkey bars on the school playground, cracked her head open, and kept seeing “wiener dogs” everywhere.

Growing up in the sprawl of new suburbs that continued to multiply after World War II, the neighborhood kids were a melting pot of ethnic and economic diversity. We formed a random pecking order based on meaningless details like who had a dog, who did or didn’t brush their hair in the morning, who knew all the Beatles, their girlfriend’s names and the B side of their latest single, who had a basket on their bicycle and fringes on the handlebars, and whose mother actually brought out Kool-Aid and Popsicles when it was 105 degrees in the shade.

We were essentially good kids because we lived such sheltered lives in these suburbs away from the city, and because the hoods and the greasers were all living on the other side of the highway we weren’t allowed to cross, near the railroad tracks where they say a young girl was murdered by a crazed hobo. Our mothers told us the drifter was most likely looking to kill children who disobeyed and crossed the street.

Because the boys on our block were all older and had their own agendas — baseball and bike riding — we girls were free to stretch out in our own feminine imaginations. We pretended to be horses and drank pond water, shaking our hair like manes. We made stews out of leaves and dirt and made our younger sisters eat them. We sometimes lived all day in tree tops, hidden by great waterfalls of weeping willow, our limbs strewn over branches, languid from heat.

We hardened our feet by going barefoot all summer, the mark of a real pioneer woman, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, or of wild independence, like the moppet Pippi Longstocking, who lived alone with a monkey and a horse.

Most often my sister and I hung out with the Laabs kids who lived across the street. They all had flaming red hair, freckles and names that started with an L.

Mrs. Laabs was an enigma in the neighborhood, someone who drank diet Pepsi, chain-smoked, gardened in a bikini, and was most remembered among homemakers for wearing a mini skirt and matching white go-go boots to the grade school’s spring concert. (I’m sure the husbands remembered, too.)

It was the one house we could sneak back into during the day because Mrs. Laabs liked to watch television in her bedroom, with the door closed. We’d tiptoe up the stairs and stare in wonder at the oldest girl’s bedroom with its walls painted black and the hanging “love beads,” fake fur rugs, fishnet stockings and tubes of eyeliner and mascara. It was rumored she was a hippie, who was once sent home from high school for sitting crossed-legged on the library floor in protest against the dress code, which forbid women from wearing pants.

On the last Sunday night before the start of school after a lazy, but too-short summer vacation, my parents would invite all the neighborhood kids over — wearing their pajamas — and haul the old console television out onto the front porch.

Our now browned bodies laid out on blankets dotting the front lawn, we watched “Bonanza” and “The Wonderful World of Disney” underneath the stars, like we were at a drive-in movie show. My dad passed around pink Tupperware bowls filled with popcorn, then just stood among us like a sentinel, smoking his pipe and breathing in the night air.

We were on top of the world, and thought nothing in life could ever get better than this.
I'm reviving a blog that was started in 2007.
It's nice not to have to start from the beginning.
Join me.