What a year...
My first purse.
I bought it at Saks Fifth Avenue. Or I should say, my mother bought it for me. I was to be starting school, and having skipped pre-school and kindergarten, she figured that I should arrive in style. With the help of the cute salesgirl, we picked out a classic white leather clutch with a removable gold strap. “What a pretty daughter you have”, said the girl handing my mother back her Amex card. “Thank You!” responded my mom with a wink aimed at me. I slung my new purse over my shoulder and we took the escalator up to the boys department where my mother bought me a new pair of corduroys and a couple of turtlenecks. Our tummies were grumbling so we scurried off to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for a little blood sugar raising. After our BLT’s and Cokes over chipped ice, we set out to our final destination.
The hair salon.
My mother was plagued by a list of phobias that would baffle the world’s best psychoanalysts, one of which was a mortal fear of haircuts. She was barber to both my father and me, but on this day she left my white goldilocks in the hands of Jose Eber, stylist to the stars. The moment I saw him, I knew why she had chosen him and not Christophe or Umberto or Vidal or some other such wizard of the scissors. Jose’s hair was down to his ass. He wore a white cowboy hat and black leather pants as tight as a Vienna sausage casing. He had a lit pink cigarette that hung from his mouth like a lollipop and bounced up and down like a pogo stick as he went to work on my new doo. As he clipped and shaped and mussed and fussed, my mother stood right behind him, saying over and over, “Not too short!” When he had finished, it looked like I hadn’t had a haircut at all. My mother approved. I got a red gumball and mom forked over three crisp fifties. “Keep the change!” Jose kissed her on the lips and mother and son went home in the big yellow taxi that had been our limo of the day.
Next to crew cuts, dogs over five pounds and chunky peanut butter, my mother most feared driving. She took taxis everywhere and on the rare occasions that she would let my father drive her, she sat in the back so that she would be “further away from accident”.
Even if they were the only two in the car.
“I’m not getting in the death seat”, she would say, climbing into the rear and buckling up for impact. Then she would force my father to avoid left turns, gas stations and all major freeways. Ditto for buses, alleys, garbage trucks, bikes and motorcycles. Unless we were driving through a bad neighborhood, she would always say, “Keep the doors UN-locked! It’ll be easier for the rescue crews to pull us out when the car catches on fire”
My mother was a professional pre-supposer, always expecting the worst possible case scenario in any given situation. True, my mother could turn every head in the room with her graceful elegance, but she could also turn calm to crisis faster than a tornado could spin a windmill.
But I digress.
Back to my hair.
When we got home, we put on a fashion show for my father. With my new handbag and virtually unnoticeable haircut and forest green cords with plenty of pockets for my Asper-Gum, I was ready for the biggest step yet in my life.
“We don’t want you to go, but the government is forcing us. They’ll throw us in jail and hand you over to the truant officer if we don’t send you. Then you’ll have to live in Juvee Hall”, said my dad ominously.
Call me crazy, but this didn’t sound too good.
And I was right.
The next morning, I awoke at the crack of dawn.
My father said, “For God’s sake, look at the time!”
“It’s OK, lets not rush him”, said my mother. “This is going to be hard on him, we should ease him into it”.
“But his first period started over an hour ago”, said my father, looking nervously at his Rolex.
“Actually, his first period started two weeks ago. Besides, they’re lucky he’s coming at all, the bastards”.
“I’ll get the car started”, said my dad.
“Are you kidding? I’M taking him, I’ve already called for the Taxi”.
My father gave me a hug and handed me the smooth peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich that he had made for me. He was still in his signature red, white and black. White cotton PJ’s, red silk bathrobe and black velvet slippers with bitsy gold crowns on the top. My mother was dressed like she was going to the Academy Awards. She had two looks…Soup Kitchen and Vogue magazine. It was tattered slippers or spotless high heels all the way. Bread line or Barneys. Sneakers and jeans were simply not in my mother’s vocabulary.
Today was of course, a red carpet day.
I put my brown paper bag into my white leather purse and mother and I hit the road.
Twenty right hand turns and fifteen cigarettes later, we pulled up at the school, which was roughly a mile and a half from our house.
My mother handed the driver a freshly minted Ben Franklin.
“For how long?” he asked, in a heavy Pakistani accent.
“As long as it takes”, she said. “Could be half and hour, could be all day, I don’t know yet. When I get back, I’ll give you some more money”
He turned off the motor and got out his copy of the Bhagavad Gita.
We walked up to the entrance, and as we did I could see a window to a room full of other small beings just like me.
Before this point, I had spent no time whatsoever with other children.
My playmates were mom, dad, the various maids and house servants, my teenage sister and a handful of her celebrity friends. Oh, and some politicians, internationally famous science fiction authors, academy award winning directors, legendary musicians, supermodels, the recording engineer that mixed the Beatles White Album. Plus a handful of doctors and pharmacists.
You know, the typical friends a little kid might have.
Oh yeah, I had lots of pals. Just no one under five feet tall, save for the time that I had met Billy Barty in the Twentieth Century Fox commissary.
We arrived at the school gate. Mom stubbed out her Kent King size, muttering under her breath.
“God Damn It All To Hell, Sons Of Bitches. Government Red Tape Crap!”
We walked through the hallway, my mothers heels clicking like morse code on the shiny linoleum.
There was a foreign odor, a dizzying combination of sweat, disinfectant and old books. I wanted to go home immediately, and felt a rising combination of thrilled fear and irritable bowels.
My mother knocked on the green door marked ‘first grade’, and a sweet looking older woman with blonde hair came to the door. She was wearing a powder blue pantsuit and had big gold earrings in the shape of butterflies.
“You must be Mrs. Freberg, we were expecting you. And we were expecting you too”, she said, looking at me with kind eyes. “I’m Mrs. Wheelis”. I shook her liver spotted hand, noticing her chalk-kissed fingers.
I wondered what she meant by “we”, and looked past her to see a gaggle of first graders sitting at small wooden desks. Some of them seemed to be drawing, but most were staring at the two space aliens in the hallway.
“Where is the bathroom”, I asked, as the beginnings of a long relationship with a spastic colon were having a field day in my lower tummy.
“Right behind you, dear”.
I turned to see the source of the disinfectant smell.
“Hold my purse”, I said to my mom.
Mrs. Wheelis raised her painted on eyebrows.
I left my mother to chat with my new teacher and walked into the toilets.
As I creaked open the heavy black door, the Clorox curtain lifted and quickly gave way to odors I hadn’t smelled since my one trip to the lavatory at the LA train station.
The first thing that I noticed was that there wasn’t any doors on the stalls.
And I had to do a number two and a half.
Oh, joy of joys!
I took down my bell bottomed green cords and sat on the butt chilling black and white toilet.
Just as I did, a couple of horrible looking creatures came in and started throwing wet paper towels at each other.
“Eeeww! Somebodys making a stinky”, said the kid with the Chicklet front teeth.
“Yeah. Pee-Ewwww!”, said the other corpulent freckle, holding his nose.
Fear gripped me in a way that I hadn’t felt since booster shots.
It reached its death hand into me and gripped my guts like fresh playdough.
I felt like I was going to throw up my Eggo’s.
As the boys continued to hee and haw at me, my mother slowly entered the bathroom and stealthily crept up behind them like an alley cat in the shadows.
The tall boys guttural laughing gave way to a high pitched scream as my mother grabbed him by the back of the neck with her long red nails and swung him around like a wet noodle.
“Knock it off!” she said, in a voice that commanded instant terror.
They ran out of the bathroom faster than my heart was beating.
“Finish up and meet me outside”, she said.
I wiped with the ass destroying sandpaper toilet tissue and washed with the dry pink soap that could exfoliate an elephant. Then I splashed the icy tap water onto my volcanic face and went to take my wooden seat amongst my peers.
Oh, the tears.
Oh, the fears.
Oh, only twelve more years.