On a bit lighter note...reposted from one of my other, shorter-lived blogs...
I grew up with no awareness of how much money my parents made (or didn’t make, to be more accurate). To this day I’m genuinely unsure whether my dad is a millionaire many times over or whether he’s treading water, barely keeping his head above a roiling sea of debt. The impression he gives concerning his financial situation depends on his mood. To talk to him one day is to hear him brag about the solid oak trim in the doorways of his home, the marble windowsills, the ceramic tile, and all of it paid for. The next day he seems beaten down, worried over the rising costs of gasoline and insurance and the towering overhead demands of his small business. He claims he’ll have to divide everything up and sell it piecemeal, sadly dismantling his little self-made empire just to buy food. Or, he’ll offer a ride on his new Harley-Davidson bike, grinning a bit sheepishly under his helmet as he revs the motor.
When I was a kid, Dad shared none of his worries with his children, financial or otherwise. He seemed invincible, a man whom strife dared not touch. One of his favorite games to play was to pretend confusion while driving the family on car trips of any length. He’d scratch his head and say, “Hmmm…I think I’m lost…” This was certain to inspire a round of nervous giggling from the backseat followed by protests from us girls, “Daaaddd. You are NOT. We KNOW you know where we are!” He would ask us for directions, and when we’d reply that we didn’t know, he’d shake his head, “Uh oh, I was counting on you girls! Now what are we gonna do?!” But amazingly, we’d find Grandma’s house after all. That was what made the game fun—the very idea that Dad, of all people, could get lost, was preposterous, outlandish, comical. Dad knew everything. It went without saying.
The excitement was in knowing in our bones that we were safe. Armed with that knowledge, we could allow ourselves all manner of make-believe peril. Dangers lurking around the corner were exciting, never truly frightening, because Dad was always right there to steer the car back home.
Like our father, we girls became creatures of imagination. When we looked around ourselves, at the world our parents had created for us, we didn’t see an environment of lack; we saw one of potential. Removeable couch cushions became horses for us to harness and ride; sheets of plain lined writing paper, when folded in just the right intricate manner, became a town populated with houses, a bank, a post office, a library. Of all our shared exploits and made-up games, my favorite nearly always took place in the basement, where a wide-open carpeted space became our dance floor. We’d unwind the cord from my orange and brown Fischer Price record player (my most coveted possession), and plug it into the wall. I loved the delicious scratching of the needle as I dropped it onto the black grooved surface of a record. And then, it was on. Dance Party USA!
Dance Party USA was a competitive game in which each of us would take a turn showing off our best moves in time to the music. Very officially, usually in order from youngest to oldest, or oldest to youngest (I was always in the middle), we would step out onto the makeshift dance floor, oftentimes for an audience not only of each other, but also of a menagerie of enthusiastic stuffed animals and dolls. The winner was decided through judges’ deliberation (the judges being us)—and scores were given for technique, innovative choreographing, and general wow factor.
My oldest sister, Amy, was nearly always the undisputed winner. She had a killer move in which she held her arms alluringly over her head and rotated her behind in such a way as to lead the rest of her body along in a sweeping, sexy circle. At age six, I was far from any real knowledge of the definition of the word “sexy,” but I knew for sure that it had something to do with those hips of hers, the line of her shoulders, and the way she turned her head just so. Amy, at fourteen, was the very definition of cool, and she rocked the basement dance floor like nobody’s business. She would begin her dance innocently enough, and lead us along until we thought maybe, this time, she’s not going to…and then boom! She’d pull out the patented move, the Move that clinched her win every time. My and my younger sister’s efforts generally consisted of running around in circles with no regard to the beat of the music and turning random cartwheels, with a somersault or two thrown in for good measure, routines which paled in comparison to Amy’s practiced sensual gyrations.
Most of the time we played 45’s; with their one song per side, they allowed just enough time for one of us to strut our stuff, but not so much time that my Chubbles got bored watching. Also, we had many more 45’s than full length LP’s. We had Rush, Olivia Newton John (“Physical” was one of my favorite routines—I generally threw a bunch of jumping jacks in the mix during that song, to complement its theme, which was obviously exercise.), and a whole mix of Sesame Street records, the best of which included a song about Snoopy and the Red Baron. We only owned three full length albums that I remember: Shaun Cassidy (not to be confused with brother David), the soundtrack to Grease II, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. These three 33’s were in pretty heavy rotation—part of the undeniable beauty of My First Fisher-Price Record Player was that the speed could easily be switched from 45 to 33 and back again, the chubby little brown adapter disc pushed down and then pulled back up.
Amy could rock it to any song you gave her. Adriane’s favorite was, without a doubt, Shaun Cassidy. The album cover was peeling into bits over his face from her many attempts at French kissing him. Me—I liked Thriller the best. Michael Jackson slouched, stylishly low-key on the cover, in his white suit jacket and pants, his thin black belt. He looked serious, but not in a threatening way. The album title and his name were scrawled above him in an almost familiar manner, as though he’d dedicated this album to me personally. And the song “Thriller”: perfect in every way. I always wanted “Thriller” for my Dance Party number. One: It was super long and gave me more time to turn extra cartwheels. Two: I knew it scared my younger sister Elecia, even though she tried to hide it. I knew it because it scared me too, but in a good way. And three: that song was just so fucking bad-ass. Victor Price rumbling his way through the intro in that deep, ultra-creepy voice, the creaking of the door, the awesome beats, Michael’s high-pitched groans. And then, the lyrics: “It’s close to miiiiiidnight…” I maintained a slow build-up of motion throughout the intro, but when Jackson’s voice started crooning those words, I went into spastic power mode, jumping up and down and shaking until I gave myself a stitch in my side.
“You try to screeeeeam. But terror takes the sound before you make it.”
I would shudder deliciously, incorporating my own semi-fear into the improvised routine.
Oh, I was sure Chubbles and all the Cabbage Patch Kids were in total awe of me now! Me with my dancing prowess! At the end of the song I’d collapse into a panting heap on the brown shag carpet, my tongue lolling to the side like an overheated dog.
It was a giddiness and a self-satisfaction that money couldn’t buy.
At this point in my young life, there were a few things I knew for sure: Even when he claimed to be, Dad was never really lost. Like him, I possessed an imagination that I could use to fake my way through anything. And, inevitably, my oldest sister Amy would kick my ass at Dance Party USA as soon as the needle dropped on the next record.