Archive for the ‘Tomboy Life’ Category

thurm

Thirty-five years ago today, I sat down, crying, and wrote this poem….

 

Beachball

 

Part of the soul
He hid in a catcher’s mitt,
Once very few stole
And none have more spirits lit.
Thin, navy lines were etched upon the skin
Of number fifteen,
The gallant
Whose talent
Went deeper than seen.

A mustache would smile
So seldom, but always real.
An overweight style
Was part of the true appeal
That drew wild roars to touch
Someone special in the clutch
Whose life had reason,
Who won our hearts every season.

Respect soaked through the Stadium
But he hardly heard the din,
Concentration at the plate
Would bring another in.
Nothing scared the Captain of the team
Not even a charging run.
When Beachball gave it all he had
We knew the game was won.

No one could replace
Or even attempt to fill
The Captain’s cleats
And so, no one ever will.
Somebody new will take the squat
And gain the esteem,
But we all
Will recall
When Beachball led the team.

ThurmanMunsonPlaque

68 Go-Go

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Tomboy Life
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I’m betting I was ten when this happened.  My official tomboy uniform at the time consisted of dungarees or bell-bottom corduroys, T-shirts or paisley button-downs, white, ribbed A-shirts, gym socks and girls’ underpants.  For school I was forced to wear a dress or skirt, since it was 1968 or thereabouts and no one at the time could figure out that most girls had two legs just like most boys did and that pants would not only fit us but make us more comfortable.  But as soon as I got home, every single day, I changed into the clothes that felt right for me.  My sneakers were PF Flyers.  My baseball cap was always navy blue and always sported the interlocking white NY of the New York Yankees.  When I was dressed in my uniform, I felt ready for anything.

One fine summer day, some neighborhood friends and I wandered off to the woods behind our houses.  We couldn’t access them from our yards.  We had to walk around the block and enter through a perfectly placed hole some older kids had cut into the fence so they could hide behind all the trees to smoke cigarettes and drink beer.  Our parents knew there were bullies hanging out in those woods and told us, emphatically, that they were dangerous, forbidden, out of bounds.  We all knew we’d be in huge trouble if we were found out but it was 1968 and we had played all the baseball, tag and army games we could stand and now ached for a new adventure.  I don’t remember whose idea it was but at least seven of us made like spies, peeled off and boldly headed down the sidewalk towards the glorious woods.  The hole in the fence beckoned us all to explore what lay beyond.  It was quiet at first and there was no sign at all of any big kids or their smoking and drinking detritus.  We walked around as if we were conquistadors and decided to build a lean-to with some of the broken branches we found, just in case it rained.  Our small group worked that wood like pioneers and as soon as we had weaved the final branch into place, we heard a booming, mocking voice.  It was the bully we all feared, the boy who was old enough for high school but who was still in 9th grade at the junior high because he kept getting left back.  He appeared out of nowhere with 2 or 3 of his henchmen by his side.  The first thing he did was snatch my Yankee hat off my head.

Well, we were all scared shitless of this nasty kid but my sister and friends knew what that hat meant to me so there was no way we were leaving those woods without it.  We chased after it as it was tossed from one big kid to another, as they joked about our puny efforts to retrieve it until suddenly, the head bully noticed our lean-to.  He pointed to it and laughed.  Then he picked up a huge fallen branch with the intention of tossing it onto our creation to crush it into a pile of twigs.  He said if the shelter could withstand the weight of the branch I could have my hat back. Then he heaved the fallen timber over his head and let it fly.  It landed with a crack, right on the top of our structure and came to a dead stop.  Not a stick fell out of place.  Not a single twig moved.  There was barely a shudder.  Because we might have been little kids but we were smart, adventurous, creative little kids, and we had built that shelter to last.  We all slowly turned our smirking faces towards the shocked and shamed ogre and cracked up.  He called us fucking losers and told his sidekick to toss me my hat.  I caught it, looked at my gang of buddies with a twisted, desperate face and no words were necessary.  We took off so fast for the hole in the fence that our lungs were bursting when we made it back to the safety of the street.  I don’t know how the parents ever found out that we had explored that forbidden place but we were all grounded for a week when we got home.

Later that same summer my mom’s eccentric sister came for a visit after a day of shopping in New York City.  She had no kids of her own and spent a lot of her husband’s ill-gotten riches on herself and her sisters and nieces and nephews.  The first thing we noticed was that she was wearing two different shoes.  And we were pretty sure she had no idea, which, of course, turned out to be right.  My sister gently brought it to her attention and she had to squint down to see, clearly, that we were not pulling her leg.  Mortified that she had spent an entire day in the big city with shoes that didn’t match on her aching, swollen feet, she finally just had to laugh and take a seat.  The shoes were very similar, I’ll give her that much.  But one had a buckle and one had a ribbon.  This aunt was always good for a chuckle.

Her shopping that day had taken her into Greenwich Village.  Hippies were in season then.  Peace and love and flower power.  She reached into a big paper bag and pulled out a pair of boots each for my sisters and me.  Go-go boots.  White go-go boots.  Girly go-go boots.  Back then this was true and still to this day, if I go ice skating I ask for brown or black hockey skates.  I don’t wear white shoes, unless they are softball cleats or basketball sneakers or some kind of athletic footwear that looks just as good dirty as clean.

My sisters were thrilled with their gifts and pulled the boots on immediately, right there at the kitchen table and they ran off to look at themselves in the full-length mirror in the bathroom.  I was not pleased.  Another well-meaning aunt had given me a purse the previous Christmas.  A cousin had contributed some hand-me-down blouses with Peter Pan collars.  These girly things were all stuffed into the very back of my closet so I not only wouldn’t have to wear them but I also wouldn’t have to look at them, be reminded constantly that no one seemed to understand how badly I didn’t feel like or care to dress like a typical girl of the mid-20th century.  I was having a boyhood, not a girlhood and it pissed me off that no one seemed to get this fundamental aspect of who I was inside.

Those go-go boots were cool, though.  I really wanted to like them.  I wanted to be seen wearing them.  I just didn’t want them to be white.  So I did what any smart, creative, adventurous tomboy would do.  I thanked my aunt, put them aside and waited a few days until I had the house, briefly, all to myself.  And then I used a mess of boot polish to transform my cool, white go-go boots, that I wouldn’t have been seen dead wearing, into my new, super-cool, black, mod boots.  Which, by the way, if she had found them in my closet, my mother would have killed me for ruining.  So I hid them in the leaf and lawn clipping pile out back.  And then, whenever I wanted to wear them, to be seen wearing them, I would leave the house with my PF Flyers on but hit the sidewalk with my cool black boots.  And unlike that ill-fated trip to the woods, no one ever told my mom about what I had done to the boots my aunt brought home from the city just a few days before school started again.  Those boots.  They weren’t made for walking.  They were made for cross-dressing.

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Tradition means a lot to me.  I come from a large Italian-American family and my generation of that family has always been proud to learn about and continue the holiday traditions passed on to us by our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.  We haphazardly formed a chorus of cousins and sang Christmas carols after dinner on many Thanksgiving nights.  We joyfully sat down to a meal of seven fishes every December 24th.  We played with the big spinning tops Aunt Ida placed under her Christmas tree every holiday season.  There were ancient ornaments and decorations displayed each year and then carefully passed on so they could be enjoyed and appreciated by future generations.  There were foods and desserts that simply had to grace the table, to make any special occasion complete.  We were taught, my siblings, cousins and I, to keep certain routines in our hearts, because, as we now know,  pulling them out every year inspires memories, stories we share with the new generation we have brought forth.  Tradition brings back to life the family members who have gone before us.  We honor them by remembering them, by continuing their ways, by invoking them at our celebrations and thrilling our children with tales of their exploits, their heroics, their laughter and love.

They were the Greatest Generation.  Born in the teens, 20s and 30s of the 20th century, they endured the Great Depression with dignity and faith.  They fought and won World War II with a sense of purpose and determination no subsequent generation would ever dare to claim.  They did whatever they thought they needed to do to make life better for their children and grandchildren, without complaining.  And then they encouraged us to start traditions of our own.

So we did.  We, two of us, would walk on the beach and sing California Dreaming every year on vacation in Florida.  When we were able, we’d play a wild game of charades after dinner on Christmas Eve, a tradition we will try to revive this year when some out-of-town cousins will be near to us, once more.  Three of the cousins found the seven fishes for Christmas Eve tradition a bit too daunting and changed it to a simple meal of linguine with clam sauce.  Some cousins still go every year to midnight mass.

And we invented the Christmas Bowl.  Four of us.  Crazy cousins.  We would eat our amazing Christmas dinner; antipasto, lasagne, meatballs and sausages, wine, braciole, stuffed artichokes, glazed ham and mushrooms, pies and cookies, struffoli and chestnuts, fennel.  Uncle Frankie had served as a cook in the Navy.  Aunt Ida had learned secrets from our grandma.  Their Brooklyn home was filled every Christmas with relatives, music and food and candy canes and silver lanes aglow.  We’d eat and laugh and celebrate the day and then clear the table, digest and rest.  And then my sister, two cousins and I would head outside.

The weather never mattered.  One year it was 45 degrees and foggy.  One year the temperature was a frigid 7, with a wind chill that made it feel much worse.  Some years, East 8th Street was covered in ice.  Some years, it was downright balmy.  We didn’t care.  We dressed accordingly.  And we made up the rules as we went along.  There had to be a new football every year.  The first year, it was an old tennis ball.  Another year, it was a yellow Nerf ball.  We were all on the same team, so we had no real opponent.  We pretended we were the lowliest team in the NFL at the time.  I can remember being the New Orleans Saints or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quite often.  We “played against” the winner of the previous year’s Super Bowl, which meant Pittsburgh, Oakland, Dallas, San Francisco or Washington, since this happened in the late 70s and early 80s.  We could never run with the ball, we could only pass.  We gave ourselves four downs to make it from one manhole cover to the next, a distance of about 100 feet.  If we didn’t score a touchdown, our opponent scored.  Each possession was a quarter of the game.  After two quarters, we’d march back down the street humming a John Philip Sousa tune, to mark halftime.  My cousin John was almost always the quarterback.  My sister Gloria, cousin Judy and I were the receivers.  One year the fog made it almost impossible to see the ball.  We actually “lost” that year and when we went inside, our family members, some of whom had watched, squinting, from the living room window, wondered how we could have lost when there was no opposing team.

The best game happened in the bitter cold, on a Christmas night when the nearest streetlight was out.  Our “field” was very dark.  We joked about how, if one fan in the stands stood up to cheer us on, they all had to stand up because they were all stuck together, like icicles, that’s how cold it was.  At the end of four quarters, the game was tied, 14-14.  We were using a small brown dog-toy football that year which, given the lack of light, was incredibly hard to see, so we had only managed to score two touchdowns.  We decided, despite the cold, to play overtime, since no one was satisfied with a tie as the final score.  We started at the north manhole, as usual, the one closer to Foster Avenue.  Someone caught the first pass for a gain of about 20 feet.  The next pass was dropped, either because of stiff, frozen fingers or impossible darkness.  The next pass gained us another 25 feet or so.  That left us with one more chance, one more pass to win the game.  But the end zone was at least 18 yards away, at the darkest end of the street.  John told us all to just bolt for the far manhole and turn around.  I ran the fastest, buzzed up the left side and crossed to the right once I was in what we considered to be the end zone.  I saw John launch the little brown ball.  It disappeared into the blackness for a second but I could tell it was headed my way.  I turned a pinch to my left to try to see it and suddenly, there it was, headed directly for my right ear.  I caught it, basically, with my head and then quickly covered it up with my hand so it wouldn’t bounce away.  It was the luckiest, craziest, most amazing football catch I had ever made and it saved us the embarrassment of having to tell our warm, relaxing family members that we had lost the Christmas Bowl once again.  A true Christmas miracle.  The final score was 21-14 (OT) in our favor and I don’t think a more fun football game has ever been played.

We keep threatening, the four of us, to get together some Christmas night and go back to East 8th Street in Midwood to play the Christmas Bowl one more time, even though a new family occupies that house we used to visit with such joy and anticipation.  The front door is the same, the nine living room windows are the same, the stoop is still separated into two sections.  Maybe we really will do it someday.  For now, we revel in the memories and photos and we share embellished, exaggerated tales of the glory with the newest members of the clan.

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There is, in my life, a certain relative who means the world to me.  She’s young and very emotional, very protective of those she loves and incredibly loyal and strong.  But like most Americans her age, she thinks she has something to prove.  I have told her repeatedly, since she was about 10 years old, that there is NOTHING to prove.  To anyone.  Ever.  But, also like most Americans her age, she doesn’t take the advice of her elders very seriously.

Today, I tried something new.  This is what I told her:  “Living your life so as to never give haters any satisfaction makes your whole life about them, not you. When you can get them off of your shoulder and not give them a single thought or an ounce of your energy, you begin to lead a more authentic life.  Therein lies true joy.”

It’s a lot longer than, “There’s nothing to prove.”  Maybe that will help it stick.

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When I was in college I wrote a book of poetry and photography.  The title I gave it was Influence of Absence.  I gave it that title because I believed then, as I still do now, that so much of who I am, what I am, HOW I am has been greatly influenced by the absence, almost my entire life, of my father.  My mom used to tell me that I walked like him and had his dry, northwestern sense of humor.  This revelation has perplexed me for decades and the only explanation I have been able to muster is that my gait resembles his because I inherited his bone structure.  My right foot angles outward with every step because of how my legs and hips are constructed.  It’s a working theory.  As far as sharing his sense of humor is concerned, I am open to suggestions to explain this phenomenon.  It makes no sense.  He died before I had any serious verbal abilities and I find it hard to believe that something as abstract as a sense of humor is genetically transferable.  I tend to attribute it to lucky coincidence.  Because of the stories I have been told by family elders, I am perfectly willing to accept that I do indeed share my dad’s dry wit and I consider it a gift.  I embrace it.  Still, he never had the chance to influence me by his actions, by being a role model or actively sitting down to teach me things.  It was his absence that influenced me more than anything.

My oldest sister tried to take his place and she has been another significant influence in my life.  She taught me a lot about playing the guitar, appreciating all kinds of music, doing the right thing and not being afraid to be myself.  She even let me know that, although it was the 1960s and Title IX did not yet exist, it was okay, good even, for girls to be athletic.  I am a ballplayer, a lifelong Yankees fan and a New York Giants fan thanks to her.  Our favorite teams have not done so well lately, but it’s okay.  I learned team loyalty from my sister, also, and I am happy to say that I will never be a fair-weather fan.

My “stepfather” was another big influence in my life.  For pretty much the entire nine years we lived together, he was a fantastic example of how not to be.  He showed me that being cruel hurts everybody involved, that there’s nothing joyous about life as a bully, that meanness is a happiness thief.  Thanks, asshole!  I have not forgotten you, but I have pretty much forgiven you.

The best, most influential professor I had in college, Ignacio, is 80 years old now and still an active part of my life thanks to social networking.  He re-taught me how to think, as a poet and a philosopher, in my freshman year.  If not for Ignacio I would still be that dopey kid who meant well but just didn’t get it.  There’s still a whole universe of things that I just don’t understand, but now I can recognize and accept my vast ignorance.  And speaking of a vast ignorance, is it the opposite of a split infinitive?  Ignacio?

In the very early days of my professional career there was Laurel, who basically, flat-out asked me, “Are you gay?” way past the time that I should have accepted, embraced and explored this myself.  Whew!  Thanks, Laurel, for being brave and coming right out, pun intended, to plainly illustrate the obvious.  Who knows how much longer I would have gone on denying my true identity if you hadn’t come along to positively influence my life.  Where are you now, anyway?

The Merriam-Webster definition of influence, as a noun is

: the power to change or affect someone or something : the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen
: a person or thing that affects someone or something in an important way
and as a transitive verb is
: to affect or change (someone or something) in an indirect but usually important way : to have an influence on (someone or something)
The key words in these definitions, I think, are power, change and important.  I am trying to be a powerful influence in the lives of my daughters, an agent of positive change.  Someday I’ll be dust, hopefully sweet memories for them to share, fodder, possibly, for their own blogs or memoirs or screenplays.  This afternoon, at a middle school meeting about the progress of child number two, I was told, by some of the teachers, many wonderful things and that I must be doing a lot right.  It felt great to hear all this, but I can’t take all the credit.  It’s a trickle-down effect.  So be good, be kind, be helpful and forgiving toward the people around you.  The effects can linger for generations.
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Two hikers yesterday found a badly decomposed body believed to be that of Nobel Prize-winning hermit author Kimberly Miller, near a cabin she was believed to have purchased 25 years ago, in 2014.  The body was tentatively identified because of the hearing aids still inserted in its crumbling ears and because the shredded clothing seemed to resemble the outdoorsy and comfortable sportswear preferred by the 81-year-old writer.  An initial report by the county coroner states the probable cause of death as simply falling peacefully asleep in a cedar Adirondack chair in the woods and then lacking the will to ever wake up.

 


 

If the body does indeed prove to be that of Kimberly Miller she will be sorely missed.  Although she lead a primarily reclusive life she was known to come out of hiding twice a year, in the spring to direct the elementary school play and also in the fall to run the middle school book fair, where she always read from her favorite books, some which she had written but mostly those she hadn’t.  She usually gave out Scholastic gift cards to unsuspecting parents who seemed to be unable to purchase all the actual books in which their children showed a true interest.  At last year’s book fair, Ms Miller threatened to start a bonfire with electronic reading devices if one more student came in and asked if there were any for sale there in the school library.

 

 

Kimberly Miller published only three books in her short writing career, which started in her 50s after she could no longer find work as a TV stage manager and her friends told her to give that up and do what she loved best.  The first was a faux-memoir entitled Joke’s On Me about her feeble attempts to live a wholesome and genuine life in a world polluted by greed and posers.  The second was a novel called Searching For Sea Glass, about a nightclub DJ who goes completely deaf at the age of 32 and moves to Cape Cod to find herself.  Her final book was published without her consent, when someone found a stash of her poetry in her paper recycling bin and decided to sneak it to her editor, whom Kimberly promptly fired.

 

 

She leaves behind three amazing daughters; Beatrice, the rock star who gave up fame and fortune in 2025 to form a non-profit group that provides food, clean water and education to children, mostly girls, worldwide; Georgia, the award-winning biochemist who discovered the all-natural combination of herbs and spices that can completely cure any form of cancer, who hid out for a year in her mom’s cabin when she brought about the fall of the USDA and the CDC and the entire pharmaceutical industry and there was a price on her head until the public became aware of the sinister plot and promised to protect her wherever she went; and Esther, the Olympic gold medalist in synchronized swimming and the founder of Tom.Boy.Sport, a clothing line exclusively for young girls who want to dress like young boys.  Miller is also survived by the two perfect husbands and one perfect partner of her children, her 5 grandchildren, three of whom were adopted from Vietnam and by her niece, Mariel, the EMT famous for saving the life of President Tao’s daughter in 2019 and her nephew, Michael, who invented a way for fantasy football computer clicks to pay for athletic shoes for needy children.  The entire family would gather at Kimberly’s cabin every year for Christmas and July 4th celebrations.

 

 

Once the final determination has been made about the identity of the body, almost certainly that of the writer Kimberly Miller, arrangements will be made.  It’s a well known fact that Ms Miller desired to be cremated and have a pinch of her ashes secreted away somewhere in Yankee Stadium and another pinch rubbed into the dirt between first and second base of Softball Field 1 in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  Her dog and her cat are being fostered until her children arrive.  In lieu of flowers, the family will probably ask for a food or tequila donation to be made to Kim’s New Orleans Jazz-style funeral/remembrance party, but only if you attend and have a great time.

 

Car, Car, C-A-R

Posted: October 14, 2013 in Tomboy Life
Tags: , , , ,

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The first time I can remember feeling truly ashamed was when I was about 9 years old and I was caught stealing a Matchbox Car from the toy department at Gimbel’s in the Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall.  I stole it because I was not frequently presented with what would have been considered “boy toys” and so for a while I made it my mission to procure some for myself.  I can remember walking away with Matchbox Cars, GI Joe clothes, even a brown plastic cowboy hat for my Ken doll.  Eventually my mom gave up trying to mold me into a girly-girl but there were a few years there when it was pretty tough to be a tomboy.

As I was stuffing that red Matchbox Car deep into the front pocket of my dungarees I knew right then that it was wrong.  And once I got caught I felt horrible and got into a ton of trouble.  I spent the whole ride home in silence, wondering how my violent, supposed “step-father” would punish me once he found out.  And now I can’t even remember what my punishment was, but I do remember two of my sisters sitting next to me in the car, certain that they were glad they weren’t me right then.  I know I let my mom down that day.  She tried, despite our stressful environment while living with that monster, to teach us right from wrong.

A few years later I started teaching myself about Eastern religions and decided to try to be a person of virtue, a person of honor.  I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Siddhartha, this all started resonating for me by the time I was twelve.  I still, to this day, try to follow a peaceful path, but it’s a pretty difficult thing to do in this crazy, messed up world.

One way I try to stay as calm and peaceful inside as I possibly can is breathing exercises.  I learned some good ones when I was pregnant and preparing for my due date.  Another is visualization.  I close my eyes and imagine pure, bright, white light entering the top of my head from far out in the center of the universe and filling me with serenity and goodness.  I imagine the good light visiting every part of me and cleansing me from the inside as it travels through me.

And then there’s humor.  I have always had a pretty decent sense of it and I love to laugh and make other people laugh.  This trend started pretty early in my life and I can remember being called an imp and a trickster.  I tried to play pranks that were funny but not annoying, as my sense of empathy was also strong and I didn’t want to make people angry, I just wanted to make them laugh.

I recall being about seven years old and attending a big, family-filled dinner party in the middle of winter, snow on the ground when we arrived and accumulating steadily as the party wore on.  Some older kids started stealing everyone’s shoes and hiding them and as people got ready to leave they were pissed because so many of the shoes were missing.  It occurred to me right then that making people mad was not funny at all.  So I tried to stick to getting smiles, not sighs of exasperation.

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In 1969, one big hairstyle for moms was the bouffant look.  My mom had such a high version it made me wonder how she managed to sleep comfortably inside that lacquer helmet.  A lot of my aunts wore their hair this way also.  They would go once a week to the salon and, I swear, walk out toting half a can of hairspray on their teased up, swirling locks.  That first day, their hair was downright springy.  You could press it all the way down to the scalp and it would pop right back up into place once you took your hand away.  This annoyed my mom so we didn’t do it too often.  The bouffant hairstyle also came with empty spaces here and there, where the swirls of hair didn’t necessarily cover completely.  Cracks in the armor, these spaces were to me.  And very inviting.  Too much to resist.  So while my step-sister distracted my mom, I gently placed a tiny, yellow, metal toy car, about a quarter of the size of a Matchbox and weighing almost nothing, into one of those inviting spaces between the swirls in her puffed up hair.  She didn’t feel a thing.  And then she walked around with it there for two whole days.  I eventually had to point it out to her because I knew she was due to go back to the hairdresser and I thought it would be carrying the prank too far to let him discover it there.  She had been to the city the first day and running errands around town the second day.  And she was such a good sport, my mom.  I can still hear the laughter that filled our dysfunctional kitchen that morning when I brought it to her attention.  She was all for anything that caused a break in the tense and violent atmosphere we all called home.  And I bet she’s laughing again now, wherever her soul may be.

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