Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines

Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines
The Laughing Cherub

Saturday, April 29, 2017

MY JAW-DROPPINGLY GORGEOUS DAY



by MARY ELIZABETH LEACH RAINES
© 2011

It was the early 1980s, and I was driving to the East Coast to reconnect with a man whom I hadn’t seen for years. In my youth, what a crush I’d had on this sweet unsuspecting fellow! He, however, had never shown the slightest interest in me beyond that of a cordial friendship.
Now, more than 15 years later, I was going to visit him.
And his wife.
And his children.

Before I proceed any further, let me interject a disclaimer: I am not a shallow woman. I hold in disdain the kind of people who focus on superficialities and appearances. To me, a janitor has the same worth as a CEO; an 85-year-old grandma with a face full of wrinkles and hairs on her chin wearing K-Mart sweatpants is just as important to me as the latest hot Hollywood star boasting jewels and a designer gown.


Speaking of Hollywood… While working some years ago on the set of the TV show West Wing as a Professional Background Actor (translation: as an extra), I had the pleasure of meeting the show’s star, Martin Sheen. Sheen was an activist and a good guy. He’d even been jailed for his activism. He refused to discriminate against anyone; he treated his producers no differently from the way he treated me.

One night, when the cast was being transported some distance for a shoot at an airport, rather than use a limo, Sheen hopped into the van that was carrying all of us extras. 

 
He plopped down right in front of me, sitting next to an old wizened fellow.

“Where are you from?” Sheen asked the man amiably.
“I just got out of  prison,” the old guy answered. “I’m on parole.”
“No kidding!” exclaimed Sheen happily, clapping the man across his back. “Me too!”

His enthusiasm was not fake. He was simply the kind of person who refused to buy into status or appearances.
Like me. 

That being said, it was my intention to appear as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as I possibly could at my reunion with The Unrequited Crush. 


Why did I care so much how I looked for a man who had never even seemed to notice that I was a girl?

Well, if my host were to see me in all my splendor and appreciate the alluring vision I presented, and if he were, as a result, to experience even the slightest pang of regret at having never seized the opportunity of indulging in me when he’d had the chance…I certainly wouldn’t mind!

As for his wife, who was a talented and smart woman, my stunning appearance wouldn’t do any damage to her either. It could only serve to boost her confidence, since my former not-beau had chosen her when he could have had me, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous female! How could she not feel good about herself?

Talk about win-win-win!

The only problem—and it was a daunting one—was that of looking jaw-droppingly gorgeous. As soon as the date for our reunion drew near, I knew that I had work to do, for I am not a natural beauty. External devices would be required.


To this end, I deliberated for hours about exactly how I would style my hair.
I went on a crash diet.
I bought new underpants.

The rest of my wardrobe fell into place when a friend offered me a hand-me-down blouse. It was an expensive silky blouse that was quite flattering on me. I had no idea how she could part with such an exquisite garment. (I would, to my great dismay, find out later.)


The day of the meeting finally came. I dressed both with excitement and immense care before the long drive, wearing the new underpants, pulling on my sexiest open-toed high heels and, of course, putting on the flowing blouse.

It was a dreadfully humid day, so I decided that I wouldn’t attend to my makeup until I got close to my destination. Granted, I looked a little pasty-faced, but that was preferable to arriving on the doorstep of my youthful love interest with smeary lips, blotchy rouge, and raccoon eyes from melting eye-makeup.

I patted down the natural frizz of my hair, and then sprayed it mercilessly until it was as hard as the aluminum siding on a suburban tract house, hoping to close off all possible escape routes for even the smallest bit of fuzz. Just in case, though, I stuck a few bobby pins in my hardened hair at weird but key places. I would remove the bobby pins when I put on my makeup.


And I was off!

After several hours, my gas gauge began dipping down near the empty mark. I was driving on a crowded turnpike skirting New York City, so I exited into the designated gas station. Self-service had not yet become the norm, and this station was one of the kind where attendants still pumped the gas for their customers.

Do ever I miss those gas stations today! In most respects I am an ardent feminist, a woman’s libber from way back, but I’m sorry: pumping gas is just plain unfeminine.


I am not the only evolved woman who believes this. A childhood friend of mine named Joyce Jillson actually wrote a book once called Real Women Don’t Pump Gas. It was a clever response to another popular book that came out in the 80s called Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.

In her book, Joyce drew a chart that showed the highlights of a woman’s life. Almost at the top of the chart was losing your virginity. At the very top? Telling your friends you lost your virginity.

Here is something interesting about the author. She eventually became an astrologer, and she was one of the astrologers whom Nancy Reagan secretly consulted while hubby Ronald was president. She also chose the astrologically fortuitous date for the release of the movie Star Wars.

I knew Joyce before her astrology days. She lived next door to me when I was in the third grade. We didn’t have blogs back then, but we did the next best thing: Joyce and my sister and I put our heads together and created a neighborhood newspaper. We tried diligently to sell copies to people on our block; they only cost a nickel, but our readership never went beyond about five people. We put out two editions before we turned our attention to something else.


Back to pumping gas: Joyce was right. It is not something a woman should ever have to do, at least not this woman.
Why not?
First, whenever I  pump gasoline, some of it always seems to dribble on my shoes.
Second, my fingers wind up smelling like Exxon instead of Shalimar.
Third, I always feel icky when I have to grab onto a nasty gasoline pump handle that untold others have held. God knows where their hands have been!

So. It was a relief that someone else would be pumping my gas for me on this special occasion. I was especially glad because of the open-toed shoes I was wearing. It doesn’t feel good when gasoline drips through one’s nylons onto one’s toes. (Probably you have to be a woman to understand.)
 
The gas station attendant sauntered over to my car, and I rolled the window down. He was a scowling young black man wearing a grimy bandana across his forehead. His sweat-drenched tank top revealed muscular arms, and he spoke in a thick inner-city dialect which I couldn’t understand. He looked like he might be the member of a gang. A really mean gang.

“Yeah?” he muttered in a surly voice. At least that’s what I think he said. His attitude meter was set on high.
“Fill ‘er up,” I said with a perky smile, pretending to be oblivious to the fact that he was scowling at me.


Racial prejudice was rampant in the early 1980s. Integration was still a recent concept. Mainstream role models like Obama and Oprah were young and unknown, and The Cosby Show, which, aside from one's feelings about Bill Cosby's transgressions, would accomplish more to delete bigotry from people’s minds and hearts than any law could ever hope to do, wasn’t even on the air yet.

It was a really rough time to be black, young, and male.

I watched this gas-station attendant with growing compassion, thinking about how hard it must be for someone like him to find a job that paid a decent living; obviously pumping fuel in a dumpy gas station on a congested turnpike would be no one’s deliberate career choice. It was probably the only work this poor guy could find. His life must be lousy. It wasn’t fair.

I understood.

Unfortunately, I became smitten with the insane urge to make it clear to him that I understood.
We liberals do that sometimes.

When he had finished filling the tank and came to take my money, I launched an energetic barrage of sympathetic chatter at him.

“Wow, what a hot day,” I said, oozing empathy as I opened up my purse. “It’s got to be tough working in this kind of heat…”

I beamed my best “I’m-not-prejudiced” smile at him. He avoided making eye contact with me.

Determined to connect, I kept on chattering. Words spilled out of my mouth at a rapid pace.

“…Have you worked here long? It can’t be easy to find a job these days. Do you live in New York? Do you commute from there?...”

He didn’t answer. The more I chattered, the further he pulled away. The further he pulled away, the more desperately I tried to draw him in. I would prove to him that I was no bigot! I would make him see how much I cared, damn it!

“…because I don’t know what I would have done if I’d run out of gas on the turnpike in this heat. When it’s so hot outdoors, you must feel absolutely exhausted at the end of the day…”

As I blabbered, the observer part of me stood off to one side, utterly aghast.

 
“…Or maybe not. Maybe you don’t get tired. I mean, look at your muscles…”

Yikes. Now I not only had to let him know that I understood him and had compassion for him, but also that I wasn’t hitting on him!

“…Oh, it's not that I’m staring at your muscles!” I giggled, my voice artificially high. “I just said ‘look at your muscles’ because they show how strong you are, you know, so you probably don’t get tired as easily…”


I was floundering, unable to extricate myself, sucked so deeply into the whirlpool of my own fatuous jabbering that I had no choice but to persist.

“…and because of how much you’re sweating...but wait, now. I don't mean that you’re sweating too much! No way! It’s so hot! Hey, I’m sweating too. Everyone’s sweating. We’re all sweating…”

Avoiding the onslaught of the well-intended words pouring from my mouth, he held himself as far away from me as he possibly could, taking my money with a stiff arm. There was something peculiar in his facial expression; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. As he started to hand me my change, he made very sure not to touch me, or even to brush my hand by accident.

“…Why, thank you for the change. No, no, no, don’t be silly. You don’t have to count it out for me. I trust you…”

And that was a lie, because I didn’t trust him. I felt compassion for his circumstances, I’m sure his path had been difficult, I would’ve liked to have given him a break, but that did not belie the fact that he was a menacing-looking man and by no means did I trust him.

On and on I rambled as he gave me the last of my change. Despite the fact that my mission had failed, despite the fact that I knew how goofy I sounded, I couldn’t stop talking.

Maybe it was the heat.

The guy’s expression, meanwhile, had compressed into something so unreachable that I’d have had better success at getting on a flight to the moon than of establishing any sort of rapport with him.

With crude mercy, kind of like shooting a crippled horse, he finally put an end to our mutual misery by stalking away from me right in the middle of one of my long, rabidly rambling sentences. He shook his head as he walked away.

Defeated, humbled, but mostly relieved, I called out a final weak goodbye and reached for the key to turn on the ignition. As I did so, I glanced at my reflection in the rearview mirror—and I saw, to my horror, the vision I had presented to the young man at the pumps.

See, in those days I needed glasses to drive. I owned some fashionable aviator-style glasses, but they were so bottom-heavy that whenever I wore them, they left deep red creases in the middle of my cheeks. The indentations would remain on my face for hours, looking like fiery wrinkles.

Needless to say, in my guise of being a spectacular beauty, I wasn’t going to wear glasses while visiting the former desire of my heart, nor did I intend to appear at his front door with dark red gouges in my cheeks.

So on the last rest stop before this one, when I went to the bathroom, I’d grabbed two large handfuls of toilet paper before exiting the stall. In the car, I had shoved these wads of paper mindlessly under the bottom rims of my glasses to protect my cheeks. Then I promptly forgot about it. As I gazed in the rearview mirror, I saw that the toilet paper was still there on my cheeks, two big crumpled puffs of it, with tails of perforated squares streaming down both sides of my face.

Furthermore, my gorgeous new silky blouse, which I was wearing for the very first time, had somehow become unbuttoned. That, it turns out, is why my friend wanted to get rid of it. I’m not talking about one or two buttons here. All the buttons had come undone. The blouse had slipped back to the sides, fully exposing me in my bra.

There sat I, grinning too hard and chattering like a crazed blue jay at that poor guy, with toilet paper wafting over my cheeks, bobby pins stuck in my hair at weird angles, and my open blouse fluttering in the breeze...



I imagine he tells his friends about me to this day. Maybe I’m on a blog somewhere.

(c) M. E. Raines, 2011

(c) M. E. Raines, 2011

Thursday, February 2, 2017

PINDELL HAS DIED

 
AN OBITUARY BY MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES
© M. E. Raines, 2017

A while ago I got one of those phone calls you dread receiving. It started out, “I have some sad news…”
My caller told me that Pindell* was dead. He had died of a heart attack shortly before Christmas.
Here’s what Pindell’s obituary said: “Rick was a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music. He was a scholar, musician and a gentle soul.”
Rick? Who is that? We never called him Rick. We always called him by his last name: Pindell.
Pindell was the first genuinely crazy person I ever befriended. We were students at the New England Conservatory of Music together. I was a piano major, but I hung out with his crowd—the composers. This small knot of composition students at the conservatory were all guys, and they were all brilliant. Geniuses. While we did not have the words “nerd” and “geek” in our vocabularies back then, that’s what my friends were.
Pindell was the nerdiest and geekiest of them all. He was, as his obituary stated, a scholar, a musician, and a gentle man. He was also big, clumsy, funny looking, and weird, a guy with a complete lack of social graces who wore ill-fitting plaid shirts and thick glasses that were, just like the old cliché, taped together.
I have no problem with this. The reading glasses I am wearing right now as I type are duct-taped together.
Pindell and his friends, you see, were My People.

There are a few snippets about Pindell that stand out above all the rest. One memory is of a party at my sister’s apartment. At a time when most of us were still living in dorms, my older sister came to Boston and moved into an actual apartment. My friends and I thought that this was quite glamorous.
For some reason or another, she invited my friends to this party. I need to interject here that our parties were not anything like the college parties today. First of all, we rarely had alcohol. Secondly, while we did listen to a lot of music, the speakers weren’t very loud. Back then a person could always have a conversation in a normal tone of voice when music was playing, even at a prom. Our music was on vinyl, and what we ordinarily played were things like symphonies and operas. We didn’t smoke pot, either. We knew very little about it. The first time I ever heard someone say that she had smoked marijuana was at the end of my sophomore year (1967). I scarcely knew what the word meant; I had a vague idea that it was something illegal that the beatniks did.
Ours were the last of the days of innocence. The huge demonstrations and riots that welled up against the Vietnam War were still a couple of years away. The nearest we got to a riot was when a downtown Boston theater scheduled a 2:00 a.m. showing of the exciting new James Bond film, “Casino Royale.” As a publicity stunt, they announced that anyone wearing a trench coat could get in for free. Pindell, along with several of my other nerdy friends, donned their trench coats—because everyone had a trench coat back then—and walked to the theater. I had to get up early to open the school’s switchboard the next morning, and I remember how depressed I was that I could not accompany them.
Unfortunately, the theater had miscalculated, never guessing how many people would show up. Boston was a college town, the showing took place during a semester break, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do back then. Fifteen thousand kids, all wearing trench coats, showed up! Although I doubt that it was more than a little scuffle between a few of them, the newspapers reported that a riot broke out. My friends later told me that they were unaware of any riot. They were just standing in a massive crowd outside the theater, hoping against hope that they could get in to see the movie. They really liked James Bond. I still have the newspaper from the following day. On the front page of the Boston Globe is a picture of a police officer, his legs braced, holding back a snarling police dog who was on his hind feet, trying to lunge at a few of my terrified composer friends. The rioters. Including Pindell.
Back to my sister’s party. Her apartment had a bed in it and not much else. We all stood around the bed being jolly and party-ish. Pindell asked someone for a match, lit something that was not a cigarette, and began shaking it around. To my horror, I saw that it was a sparkler. (A sparkler is a hand-held firework that emits flames and sparks.) One imagines that Pindell, the party guy and former rioter, believed playing with sparklers would be a festive thing to do. I can still see him standing at attention, expressionless, dully waving his sparkler back and forth over my sister’s bed with the flames reflected in the thick lenses of his glasses, completely oblivious to the fact that several people were screaming at him to stop. The sparks from Pindell’s sizzling party toy burned several large holes in my sister’s bedspread, and the sulphurous smoke filling the room made us cough, but luckily the building did not catch on fire.

Another outstanding Pindell snippet occurred when a few of us went to a tawdry cafeteria across the street from the conservatory called Hayes Bickford’s. We went there often to hang out and chat. It was our version of a coffeehouse, a couple of years before hippie coffee houses came into their own. Hayes Bickford’s was the one place in Boston where street people, addicts, bums, the most wretched of the wretched, and, of course, students could go to get a cheap meal.
All of my friends were poor, and even at Haye’s Bickford’s low prices, we rarely ordered food; usually all we could afford would be a cup of coffee. We would stretch our cups of coffee out for hours on end as we sat at the cheap little tables and discussed music. The composer crowd always discussed music.
On this evening, our group sat down at a table that had not yet been cleared. In front of  Pindell sat a sloppy plate of leftover spaghetti and meatballs. Pindell picked up the used fork and began eating.
“Pindell,” I gasped. “What are you doing?”
He looked at me quizzically. He did not understand. “Eating,” he replied seriously. Then he turned his attention back to the plate in front of him, shoveling in forkfuls of the contaminated spaghetti with great gusto.
When he had cleaned the plate, he put his fork down and sniffed his armpits. Sniffing his armpits was something he was known to do. He didn’t try to hide the fact or to be sneaky about it. Pindell would raise one arm high in the air, duck his head, take a good strong whiff of his armpit, and then move to the other arm. Once again, it would have bewildered him had someone pointed out to him that this was just not done, so we didn’t bother. I will say this: his attentiveness paid off. He looked strange, but he never smelled bad.

I believe that, perhaps in compensation for some of his social difficulties, Pindell had a touch of the savant in him. Here’s an example. Like most of the rest of us at the conservatory,—especially the composers,—he had an enormous record collection. Once he and another friend named Herman were scheduled to give a talk in an advanced music theory class. Their presentation involved references to excerpts from a large number of compositions. In planning the talk, Pindell said that he would bring along his record player and records so that they could play the excerpts they would be discussing. Herman protested. He told Pindell that finding the exact spot to play on the record would chew up way too much time. One of the numerous short excerpts of music that they were going to reference in their talk, for instance, was from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung,” a five-and-a-half-hour-long opera!
Nevertheless, Pindell showed up on the day of the talk carrying a huge stack of records under his arm. Herman began to speak to the class, and when he mentioned the first musical excerpt, Pindell, who already had the record in question spinning on the turntable, lifted the needle and miraculously placed it on the precise spot where the measures being referenced began. Herman was astonished.
After Pindell repeated this with five or six different records, the teacher exploded. “What is going on? A magic show?” the teacher demanded.
Pindell did not understand the instructor’s excitement. Afterwards, Herman said to Pindell, “That was amazing! You must have spent a long time practicing where to place the needle for all those different pieces.”
Pindell was bewildered. “Why would I need to rehearse something like that?” he said. Locating exact segments of music on a record was something he had always been able to do. He was quite surprised to learn from Herman that not everyone possessed this ability!

The most poignant memory I have of Pindell occurred at that same party with the sparklers. When it was a little later in the evening and the smell of sulpher had dissipated, Pindell took me aside and told me that he had something to say. He then professed that he had feelings for me. His words sounded rehearsed. Stunned, I told him the truth as sweetly as I could: I was not attracted to him, and my feelings for him were more like the feelings one has for a brother. He took it well and it did not interfere with our friendship. While I was a little disturbed by his revelation—Pindell was crazy, after all—I was also moved and flattered. It took immense courage for him to share his feelings with me.

We lost touch after our conservatory days. Several years passed. The world began to change. Almost overnight taking drugs became commonplace, there were massive protests against the war in Vietnam, boys let their hair grow long, profanity became commonplace, kids largely stopped bathing, and a new group of people my age sprang up called hippies. It was then that I bumped into Pindell. It would be the last time that I ever saw him.
I was walking down a street in Boston. He was going the opposite direction from me. He looked wildly different. He looked, well…normal. He had lost weight, he was dressed neatly in professional clothing, his hair was expertly groomed, he had on a nice pair of glasses, and his eyes no longer darted here and there in the glazed, crazy way I was used to. No, he made pleasant eye contact and there was expression on his formerly wooden face. Even his voice and posture had shifted. This was not a man who would interrupt a conversation to sniff at his armpits.
“Pindell,” I exclaimed. “What’s happened to you?!”
He smiled in a benign, knowing way. “Two things,” he said. “Both of them have completely changed my life.”
“What two things?” I asked eagerly.
“I began taking LSD regularly, and then I discovered that I am actually a transvestite,” he confided. “I’m a different person now.”
Pindell is the only human male on the planet who has ever became normal and sane by taking LSD and wearing women’s panties.
Rest in peace, Pindell. I’m glad I knew you.

------

Please enjoy Mary Elizabeth Leach’s newest collection of short stories, now available in paperback and for Kindle, “The Man in the GPS and OtherStories”

*Pindell's name has been changed out of respect for the family that survives him. All the incidents and places related, however, including our friendship, are true.


Monday, January 30, 2017

VIRGINITY, ALCOHOL, MURDER.....AND ME


I suppose I could have had a wild party the weekend that my parents went away and left me home alone. Most teenagers who have an empty house to themselves would do that. Wild parties, however, weren’t my style. My idea of the most outrageously fun thing to do? I decided to cook a gourmet dinner for a couple of friends. Little did I suspect that alcohol and murder were afoot.
As for the virginity part of this title, let’s clear that up right now. Yes, I was, and so were my guests, but our dearth of sexual experience had absolutely nothing to do with the ensuing story. The virgin in question was not even a person. It was an appliance. A brand-new stove had been delivered to our house shortly after my parents’ departure. Nobody had ever cooked on it before. 
The stove was a virgin.
(Keep reading. I promise that this isn’t a cooking blog, and eventually you will get to the alcohol and murder bits.)
My father was a minister, my upbringing was strict, and my girlhood had been sheltered and naïve—well, up until the weekend in question, anyway. The year was 1965. I was a senior in high school, and I loved to cook! I couldn’t wait to break in the untouched stove; thus my decision to create an elegant feast.
The two friends I invited to join me for this splendid dinner were juniors in high school who were a year younger than me: clean-cut Janet, and even cleaner-cut Fred (not their real names). (Since those are not their real names, you know that trouble lurks ahead!) Fred, an excellent musician, was one of my piano students, for I was an accomplished pianist even in high school. This will be important later on in the story.

We planned to feast by candlelight. I felt incredibly sophisticated. The April night air hinted at romance, a perfect setting for our elegant dinner. Roast beef was the main course, for I was not a vegetarian in those days. It was the first roast I had ever baked.
As I removed the baking pan from the new oven, Janet lit the candles, and I carved the meat in the flickering candlelight. The meal was a superb, if cholesterol-laden, experience, and the three of us agreed that it was the best roast beef any of us had ever eaten.
Much later, when I turned on the lights in the kitchen, I saw to my astonishment that the roast was nearly raw. To say that I had cooked it would be a gross misstatement. We hadn’t known the meat was raw when we ate it in the dim light of the candles, however, and it had tasted fantastic.
Who knows? Perhaps our wicked scheme was provoked by the pagan stimulus of the bloody meat…or maybe it came about simply because we were three high school kids enjoying a rare evening without adult supervision.
We decided (hold onto your hats) to hike down the road so that I could buy some beer for us to drink.

I’d never had even a taste of beer in my life. My mother and father (the minister, remember?) were vehement teetotalers who believed that drinking alcohol was sinful. A lot of their prejudices are still imprinted on my hard drive. To this day, walking into a bar or a liquor store makes me feel slightly squalid and icky, the way most people feel about strolling into a porno movie or a so-called “adult” store.
I had just turned 18, and we lived in New York state where, in those days, it was legal for an 18-year-old to purchase and drink alcohol. Fred and Janet encouraged this scheme joyously, as they both had some experience with beer and were eager to imbibe.
The nearest place I could buy the beer was a little country store about two miles down the road. Fred, Janet and I would have to walk there. The store was located right next door to my father’s church office. After I purchased the beer, we planned to drink it along the side of the highway as we walked back home. The thought of doing this made me feel deliciously dangerous and wild.

It was not an uncommon sight in the 60s to see certain teenaged types walking along the roadside, swilling down alcohol. Very few of us had cars back then, so we walked on foot a lot more than kids today. The teens who drank on the sides of highways were not the nice kids. They were not part of my crowd. They were the tough kids. We called the tough kids hoods.
This is a "hood."
There were clear demarcations dividing the “nice” kids from the hoods. You could easily tell who belonged to which group by their appearance.
Take the guys. While nice guys had regular haircuts, hood boys wore their hair in a highly-greased and distinct style: on the tops of their heads they either hosted stiff flattops, like little spiky patches of newly mown grass, or exaggerated pompadours, while the sides of their hair were longer and were slicked back to form what we called a DA. The initials DA stood for duck’s ass, which in more polite circles was called a ducktail
The uniform of the hood guys consisted of very tight black pants, button-down dress shirts, and white socks with loafers.
Actually, okay, that was the uniform of the nice guys, too. Except nice guys tended to wear more plaid and V-neck sweaters and mock turtlenecks, along with pocket protectors so that their ballpoint pens wouldn’t leak ink through their shirt pockets. Also, their pants weren’t as tight.
Jeans were against the school dress code. Nobody wore them unless they were washing a car. And since practically nobody had a car, jeans were hardly ever seen.
Here’s what the hood girls wore: tight blouses or sweaters, and tight straight skirts that were so short they almost revealed the girls’ knees! Showing one’s knees was a pretty racy thing to do, but the hood girls were always shoving up against the boundaries of good taste. It would be another year or two before the mini-skirt burst onto the fashion scene, and even longer before girls were allowed to wear slacks to school.
Most teenaged girls of my generation, including nice girls, liked to line their eyes with black eyeliner, a-la Elizabeth Taylor in the movie Cleopatra. Even I did that! Hood girls did, too, but of course they overdid it and applied their eyeliner far too heavily. Their faces were plastered with globs of pancake makeup in pinkish-orange tones that rarely matched their skin tone (or anyone’s skin tone), topped off with smears of nearly white, ghoulish lipstick.

We liked our eyeliner in the 1960s!

While many of us sported some variation of a hairdo called the beehive, hood girls once again overdid it. They spent hours in the girls’ bathroom at school ratting their hair obsessively into massive, ludicrous beehives reminiscent of the wigs worn in the court of Louis XVI (but without the social status, of course); they possessed special long-tailed plastic combs for the task.

Now, that's a beehive!
School bathrooms were the domain of the hoods. All hoods, male and female, smoked in the school bathrooms. And, of course, they walked down the sides of the highways at night drinking beer, as Fred and Janet and I were planning to do on our exhilarating spree.
        
Only a few scattered houses sat along the stretch of highway we traversed, and there were no streetlights or sidewalks, so we had to fend our way through the scrabbly weeds on the side of the dark road. We were exhausted and cranky by the time we arrived at the store, for it had become a depressingly damp and chilly night, the way spring nights can sometimes get, and our destination turned out to be a lot further away than we had thought. The store was housed in a run-down, dismal wooden building, the closest thing to a convenience store that we had in the 1960s.
My spirits, however, were slightly boosted by the scenario to follow. Janet and Fred, being younger, decided that it would be best if they waited for me outside the store, lurking in the shadows, while I sauntered in ever so casually to buy a six-pack of beer. A six-pack! Wow, did that ever sound tough to me! I was excited. This was a big deal.
“Just go and buy the beer, please,” said Fred. “Hurry. I’m cold.”
I entered the store as nonchalantly as I could, but the moment I stepped over the threshold, I was seized with a self-conscious panic. Maybe you have to grow up in a strict, religious family that prides itself on its abstention from alcohol to understand the extent of my panic. It was one of those panics that builds on itself: the more panicked I realized I was, the more panicked I became. The grumpy owner, sitting behind a counter, shifted his attention from his newspaper and squinted at me with what was clearly a disgusted look as I trod, footstep by noisy footstep, over the wooden-plank floors.
Where did they keep the beer? Could he see how nervous I was? Would my hands shake when I paid for the evil brew?
My mind began to spin more anxiously. When it came time to purchase the beer, the guy would undoubtedly ask to see my driver’s license. Naturally, he would notice that my last name was the same as my father’s. The minister. Whose office was next door! Oh dear, why hadn’t I thought of this before! The next time he saw my father, the surly shopkeeper would doubtlessly say, “Hello there, Reverend. I saw your daughter this weekend. She bought a six-pack of beer.”
What would I say to my father when he confronted me with this information? How could I explain? Why hadn’t this thought occurred to me before we set out on our quest? Like many other people of my generation, I was more terrified of my father’s wrath than just about anything. Fathers could be more wrathful in the 60s than they are allowed to be today.
My heart began to pound in horror at this imagined confrontation, as though it were banging frantically on the inside of my chest, begging to be let out. Trapped in a mounting state of self-consciousness, I found it curiously difficult to move, not unlike a cornered rabbit. My legs felt as though they were partially paralyzed.
‘C'mon. Get a hold of yourself,’ I thought. ‘Act like you’re just looking around.’
Breathing deeply, I shuffled stiffly over to the shampoo section, where I stood pretending to survey the various products as I composed myself. The store owner continued to watch me with a taut frown.
What was wrong with that man? Hadn’t he ever had anybody else in his store who was intensely interested in hair products?
And where, oh where, did they keep the beer? As I fingered the bottles of Breck and Prell shampoo, I glanced covertly around at the shelves and aisles. I didn’t spot any beer. Meanwhile, the store owner’s x-ray eyes were peering critically at me, watching every move I made.
Finally I snatched a bottle of cream rinse from the shelf. (Cream rinse was the name we used for what is now called conditioner.) Like a criminal hoping to appear normal, I felt that I would appear more innocent if I bought something unrelated to booze. I strolled toward the counter.
“Is that it?” the man demanded loudly. His voice made me jump. He sounded like he was yelling at me.
“No,” I gulped, flushing. “Do you have…um…any…um…”
Looking around frantically, I suddenly spotted something miraculous. I was saved! Right next to me, within arm’s reach even, stood a gleaming bottle of daiquiris! The sight made me giddier than a nun spotting a portrait of Jesus in her scrambled eggs!
I’d heard of daiquiris. They had alcohol in them. They drank daiquiris in the movies. There was a frosty picture on the label of the bottle showing an elegant cocktail glass brimming with the heady, tempting, frothy drink! How elegant it looked!



I made a fast decision. I would buy the daiquiris instead of beer. Surely Janet and Fred would rather sip on daiquiris than cans of beer! I knew that I would. Daiquiris were much more romantic. What a lucky find!
Rejoicing, I snatched up the bottle, steeled my nerves and turned back to the counter. To my delighted surprise, the guy never even asked to see my license. As soon as he had taken my money and put the cream rinse and daiquiri bottle into a brown paper sack, he returned to reading his newspaper. My luck was changing, and fast!
I emerged from the store triumphantly. As the screen door banged shut behind me, Fred stepped out of the shadows.
“My god, it took you long enough,” he exclaimed, his voice curdling with annoyance. Janet just huddled against the cold.
Triumphantly, I thrust the bag at her and watched as she uncrossed her arms and took it from me. First she pulled out the bottle of cream rinse. She held it up, staring at it blankly. It was pink.
“Cream rinse?” she said finally, her voice expressionless. “You got us cream rinse?”
“No, no, no,” I giggled, “that was just a decoy.”
Janet and Fred looked at me, not understanding. Both of them came from families who drank.
“So where’s the six-pack?” asked Fred.
“I got us something much better!” I crowed. “It’s in the bag. See for yourself.”
As Janet pulled out the bottle of daiquiris, I chortled with satisfaction.
Fred gazed at the bottle, dumbfounded. “I thought you were going to buy beer,” he said.
“But wouldn’t you rather have a daiquiri?” I replied gleefully. Sticking out my pinky, I pantomimed sipping from an imaginary cocktail glass.
Fred looked at me with astonishment, and then stepped closer. My piano student wasn’t smiling, and he was not making me feel comfortable. Carefully enunciating each word as though I were a very young child, he said, “You bought a bottle of daiquiri mix.”
“Yes,” I grinned, jiggling my feet around in a little happy dance. “Cocktails!” I pantomimed sipping again.
“No. Cocktail mix,” he repeated. “You got cocktail mix. Didn’t you know there’s no alcohol in cocktail mix? It’s just juice! You bought us juice.”
It took a minute for this to register. My happy dance stopped. All that effort had been for nothing. I couldn’t even mumble an apology.
With a disgusted tsk, Fred turned on his heel and stomped towards the store.
“Hey, where’re you going?” I called meekly.
He didn’t answer, and disappeared behind the screen door. Janet handed me back the cream rinse and stood there miserably, banging her arms across her body in an effort to get warm. She avoided eye contact with me.
Moments later Fred returned. He was holding a six-pack of Schlitz beer.
“Can we please go now?” sighed Janet. “It’s a long way back. I’m tired.”
“You’re only 17. How did you buy beer?” I asked Fred as we began heading back down the highway.
“They don’t care,” he said. “Don’t make such a big production out of it. It’s just beer, for god’s sake.”
        
I ignored their churlishness. It had been an awkward quest, but at last we were finally there! We were walking down the highway, being tough. Acting like hoods! I wished I had thought to put on a little more eyeliner.
The Schlitz beer had a brand-new device on it called a pull tab so that you could drink from the can without using a can opener. I had never used a pull tab before and didn’t know how. Fred had to open mine for me. Taking my newly opened can of beer from him eagerly, I took a quick swallow…and immediately winced. It tasted horrible! It was sour and bitter and sharp, like carbonated old dishwater with a tin-can pungency thrown in for good measure. This was what beer tasted like?
Maybe I was wrong. I took another sip. It was even worse than the first.
I couldn’t drink any more, and handed my can over to Fred. We continued our walk, shivering and kicking at weeds. Janet and Fred swigged on their beers in silence. There was nothing even remotely romantic about this.
“Damn,” I said, hoping that maybe swearing would help make me feel tough. It didn’t work.
Janet finished her beer only a short distance from my home, and handed me the empty can. Rather than carry it back, I tossed it onto the edge of the road. Like something a hood would do.

Aside: At that exact moment we were walking past the house of a high-school friend of mine from band who had a younger brother. 

Me in H.S. band with, yes, my bassoon, not looking especially cheerful.
This younger brother of hers was cute, but he was just a kid, so I never bothered to get to know him.
I think my friend became a psychiatrist. I’m not sure. I am sure about what happened to her brother, though. He became the head of a major film studio and for years was considered to be one of The Most Important People in the movie industry. As the author of several unproduced screenplays, I have more than once regretted the fact that I did not cultivate a relationship with this little brother person when I had the opportunity…but hey, who ever pays attention to their friends’ kid brothers, cute or not? Sigh.

So I tossed away the beer can. In those days littering was not illegal. It would be half a year before Ladybird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act. There were not yet any national campaigns to clean up litter, and few people saw much of anything wrong with throwing an empty can onto the side of the road—few, that is, except for my parents, who were outspoken opponents of the sad stretches of garbage which used to line our nation’s highways and parks and campgrounds. Our family took pride in cleaning up litter. They even had a motto! “Always leave a place better than you found it,” they would say as they cheerfully went about cleaning up debris from picnic sites, and national monuments, and…well, you get it.
Throwing that beer can into the bushes was a supreme act of rebellion. I expected to get a little buzz from it. I didn’t. As soon as I threw the beer can away, I felt lousy about it. I feel lousy about it to this day…that, and not getting to know the little brother occupying the house behind the bushes where I threw it.

Our party was deflated, and as soon as we got back to the parsonage, Fred and Janet left. Wearily, I brought the leftovers of my elegant dinner back into the kitchen and turned on the overhead fluorescent light. It was then that I saw that that the roast which we had eaten so rapaciously was bright red, with trickles of scarlet blood still oozing out of its sides.
As a vegetarian, I am shy about admitting this sordid aspect of my past, but thanks to that night, I developed a taste for very rare beef that stayed with me for the remainder of my meat-eating years. Sometimes I would even consume raw beef in the form of beef tartar...and I liked it.
I have, however, never acquired a taste for beer.

A year after our failed attempt to be hoods, when I was a college freshman, feeling much older and wiser (and no longer a virgin), I returned to my home town and visited Fred. Fred borrowed his father’s car and drove me to the beach, where we parked and talked and watched the ocean until it was past-due time for him to get the car back home.
Just before turning the key in the ignition, for some odd reason he kissed me. It took me by surprise. He looked at his watch, then at me, and kissed me again. And again. And again. We both liked it very much.
“Wow,” he exclaimed with regret as we drove back. “I never realized you were like this!
That was the last time I saw him. We said goodbye in a lusty daze, and I returned to college.
The next time I heard from Fred, I was in my 20s. He wrote me a letter. In it, he said that because of the musical coaching and encouragement I had given him, he was now traveling across the country on a nation-wide concert tour. He enclosed a program together with the glowing, ecstatic letter, in which he stated,  “Everything I am today I owe to you.”
Not long afterwards, so I am told, he got married. And murdered his wife. He shot her during an argument, and ended up in prison. I always hoped it wasn’t our spree of drinking beer on the highway that night that corrupted him.

© 2010 by M. E. Raines
Copying or reproducing in any form prohibited by law
Please feel free to link to this story