The Puberty Detective

I was a tomboy growing up, as shown below by the ludicrous black high top sneakers that I’m sporting with those thoroughly 80s aquamarine-colored highwater trousers.  Those aren’t jeans, kids.  Those are straight-up trousers. And you can’t even blame this sartorial choice on the family, as you can see my sister Bonnie is pictured on the left in clothing that is not from the Pouting Dude section at Zayre.

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What’s the saying?  Little girls are made of sugar and spice and black high tops and trousers?  As you probably already know, I eventually grew out of it and became a bona fide painted-up hussy.  A real trollop.  A genuine slut-puppy supreme with tramp fries.

But enough about what I have in common with your MOM.  Ohhhhhhhh!!

Seriously, though, even today my “conservative” office pants are so tight that my dry cleaner returns them to me pre-tipped with dollar bills already sticking out of the waistband.

That being said, in the years between the tomboy and slut-puppy phases, the most disgusting thing happened to me.  The worst, most horrifying thing that had ever happened to anyone.  The most god awful, hideous, terrifying event:

Puberty.

I shuddered just thinking about it.

As a tomboy, the entire process of puberty felt like a personal affront to me.  I tried my best to escape it, but there it was, inescapable and right there in the mirror.  My widening hips no longer fit into my skate shorts, and my skin was as greasy as Danny Zuko’s hair.  I sometimes cried for no reason because I felt “emotional”, whatever the hell that meant.  It was no longer socially acceptable to spend all my time raising tadpoles in the old baby pool in the backyard.  Climbing trees became greatly frowned-upon.  Legs would have to be shaved.  Lips glossed, hair tossed.  Still waiting for the boobs to really come in, though.

Oh god.  I was turning into a teenage girl.  No, no, no, no, no.  What could be worse?  What could be worse than that?!

I’ll tell you exactly what was worse.  The Puberty Detective a/k/a My Grandmother.

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Let me start off by saying the disclosure that you always have to make when you start a story like this:  I love my grandmother.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the disclosures, I can tell you about the nightmare hellscape this woman attempted to inflict upon me between the ages of 10 and 16; the tenacious, torturous pit of Hades that became my existence every time I visited her.

Did she beat me?  No.  Did she withhold dessert when everyone else got some?  Never!  She did something way, way more heinous.

She had questions.  Oh god, the questions.  Not just any questions, either.

Puberty questions.

I had been given a heads-up on this by my older sisters, who’d told me that when they were my age, our grandmother would routinely bust out with gems like, “So have you gotten your period yet?” or “Are you wearing a bra yet?”

I was already in a constant state of panic due to my ever-increasing hormones and related identity crisis, and the mere thought that another human being might ask me these kinds of questions made me want to unzip my skin and run out of the room a skeleton.

I couldn’t very well pack up and leave the country, so I did the only thing I could do.  I formed a plan to thwart the Puberty Detective’s investigation at every turn.

The plan was that I would work diligently and tirelessly to avoid ever being along in a room with my grandmother until the coast was clear.  I figured the coast would be clear around age 16, when it would have been silly to ask those kinds of questions, so I had six years to play “Keep Away” with her.  I could do that.  Hell, I’d been hiding the fact that I actually liked boys from everyone for years already, despite the fact that I was one of the founding members of The Against Boys Club (ABC, y’all) in elementary school.

Laugh if you will, but after enduring years of physical torment and harassment from the boys in our neighborhood, The Against Boys Club successfully planned and executed a bus stop takeover one morning where we totally beat all the boys’ asses.  Don’t let anyone tell you that organized crime doesn’t pay.  Those little 9-year old bastards never even saw it coming.

Now that’s a brag – and I’m braggin’ it.

So for those six years between the ages of 10 and 16 years old, any time I found myself alone with my grandmother, I would find a reason to have to run out of the room.  We’d all be sitting on the patio and I’d see that the other people were getting up from their chairs to walk back into the house and I would go on red alert:  You better find a reason to leave this room and find it NOW.  Then I would say I had to go to the bathroom or something, and flee the room.

Sometimes I would misjudge the timing and The Puberty Detective would actually start to ask one of the dreaded questions, “So, Maggie, have you gotten your…” and I would jump up and disappear like Houdini before she could even get the word “period” out.  One time, I actually did the classic “What?  What?  Did I just hear someone call my name in the other room?” before sprinting out of the room.

I look back on all of this now and wish we had been able to be closer, and that we hadn’t lost all those years to me running out of the room, but I was so freaked out by this Puberty Detective business, she became my number one persona non grata.  The same woman who quietly sang hymns while she vacuumed, who wore one of those flowery bathing caps in the community pool at her 55-plus community, became the person I feared most in the world.

She wasn’t menacing, she was just curious.  Her inquiring mind just wanted to know, but I mean, come on.  Puberty is bad enough without having to field questions from reporters.

Besides, had anyone known what they were in for, they would have never wanted to see THIS come to fruition.

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My Fake Exploding Heart

I was watching a TV show where one of the characters unknowingly smoked crack when she thought it was just weed, and it reminded of a special time in my own life, where I didn’t smoke crack-weed.

Gather ‘round the children!  Aunt Mags is going to tell you a heartwarming story about it, and maybe even sing you a little song or two when things feel too intimate, because she’s the worst.  The worst!

The year was 1993, and crack-weed was all the rage.  You couldn’t walk down the street without tripping over piles and piles of it, lined up like bags of toys to be loaded onto Santa’s sleigh.  In what can only be described as a real tour de force, crack-weed swept the Academy Awards that year in every category, including the highly coveted Oscar for Best Crack-weed.

(The above information regarding the abundance of crack-weed is not actually true.  The drug you couldn’t get away from in 1993 was Melrose Place.)

By the time I was 17, I had already dated enough druggies and tried just enough drugs to know that I wasn’t really into drugs.  They just weren’t my thing.  I was way too jacked up with anxiety and OCD to have taken anything that could have resulted in being arrested, overdosing, or making me feel weirder than I already did.

Also, my mother had told me and my sisters from an early age that we had a genetic heart condition where if we tried cocaine even one time, it would make our hearts literally explode and we would die immediately.

First, turns out she made up the heart thing, and second, I’d be really surprised if any of us were to die “immediately” of anything.  It’s much more my family’s style to be merely grazed by a falling satellite just enough to cause permanent nerve damage, and then have the falling satellite slam into an orphanage next door and explode, revealing a diamond mine just underneath the building on the very same day scientists discover that diamonds cause airborne Lupus.

We all have way too many grudges and need to linger for years and years in the death process in order to exact all the revenges we need to exact – even it means barely holding on for decades attached to machines in dank, hospital basements while wearing tissue boxes as slippers.  Clinging to life out of pure spite is in the family charter right next to a nanner-pudding recipe (that’s really just the Jell-O banana pudding recipe straight off the box).  Our family crest is an infinity symbol with that spiked wheelchair from Nightmare on Elm Street Part III in one loop and the words, “Why don’t you say that to my FACE?” in the other loop.

So! Crack-weed.

I was at my friend Sky’s house for her 16th birthday party.  Her house was like a hippie paradise, complete with two cartoonishly hippie parents, who seemed like they had been transported directly from Woodstock and had skipped over the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s entirely.  Sky’s 16th birthday party consisted of making our own tie-dye t-shirts in the backyard and learning how to wire-wrap crystals for necklace charms.  The music was all Grateful Dead, all the time.  Someone was weaving something.  There was a jar of wheat germ on the counter.  These people were hippies.  So much so, that when Anne and I ran into Sky’s mother hanging out at a nearby coffee house the month before and someone asked her if she knew what time it was, she answered, “We don’t do time, man.”

Once it got dark out, we all left the party at Sky’s parents’ house and made our way towards the beach about ten blocks away.  When we got there, we found an unoccupied lifeguard tower, climbed up the steps, and sat around with our teenage legs dangling over the front of it, Sky with her long, flowing hippie skirt, and me with my burgundy tights and combat boots.  She was a hippie, I was grunge, and we bonded over our common high school enemy:  The Preppies.  The rest of the hippie/grunge hybrid group lined up around the lifeguard tower and we all looked up at the stars and chatted.

Someone lit a joint, and it was passed around.  Someone had a bottle of gas station wine, and it was passed around.  I stuck with one of the bottles of Budweiser that one of the older guys had brought along.  Everyone was having a nice, fun night and the weather was pure April in Florida, which is just warm and breezy and beautiful.

Then Roach showed up.

A grown man.  Named Roach.

Don’t look surprised.  This is a story about crack-weed, for god’s sake.

Sky leaned over and told me that Roach was a friend of a friend of hers, and that they’d hung out before and he was cool.

Uh huh.  I knew Roach.  Boy, did I know Roach.

My family had actually known Roach’s family since before I was born.  We grew up a few streets away from each other, but he was about five years older than me, around 22 or so at that point, and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years.  He and I looked at each other and exchanged secret looks of recognition, I imagine like when two politicians pass each other in a whorehouse.  I pretended like I didn’t know who he was, and he did the same with me.  If he had admitted that he knew who I was, I could have told a million humiliating stories about his fucked up poverty household, and likewise, he could have told a million about mine.

Growing up in our neighborhood, everything you did could be used as a sort of social blackmail down the road, so once you made your way into a different social set, you had to burn that bridge behind you.  That’s because poor kids tend to do really weird shit when left to their own devices, and it’s hard to scrub the images from your memory.

I assume rich kids do weird things, too, but strictly within the confines of their golden castles where only servants and teacup-sized pets can witness their childhood atrocities and humiliations.  They probably play games like “Mock Futures Trading” where they make their Ken dolls plummet off the roof of the Barbie mansion when the market takes a turn, or role-playing games like “Let’s Under-Pay The Working Class” where they dress up in their parents’ clothes and say things like, “Listen here, I may not know how they say Chi-poll-tee in Los Salvador or where ever you’re from, but here in America we talk American, and when I say I want a Diet Coke, I want a Diet Coke, com-pren-day?”

You know, stuff to prepare them to be the kind of Barry Goldwater Republicans they’ll surely grow up to become.  Related, we’re all going to die.

I imagine that unlike the poor kids, the rich kids rarely poured gasoline all over their crotches just to see what it felt like and then had to get hosed down in the yard by their 12-year old babysitter’s mom.  It’s hard to forget the visual of a young man crying and clutching at his junk while being hosed down in public by somebody else’s mother yelling, “Why did you do this?!  Tell me why you did this!”  That stuff sticks with you.

Likewise with that time we were all walking home from the bus stop and that kid said, “Do you dare me to poop in the road right now?  Because I’ll do it.  You dare me?  You dare me?!”

Nobody had dared him.

After his weird rant, he dropped his pants and squatted in the road, a small crowd gathering around him, but then after much consternation and straining he couldn’t do it.  He got poop-shy.  Nobody could think of anything to say, so they just started making fun of him for having little bits of toilet paper in his butt crack.  He looked embarrassed not by the fact that his hygiene was being called into question, but by the fact that his butthole wasn’t nearly the extrovert that he thought it was.  I think what we all witnessed that day was a butthole identity crisis.  Nobody ever spoke of it again.

The same way we never spoke again about that time you were hiding out at my house and your dad showed up drunk, screaming that you were a little whore, and tried to break down my front door while I hid under the bed and called the police.

🎵 Two – of – cracks, two cracks that beat as weed. Two – of – cracks, I need you, I need you. 🎵

Or that time you caught a fish and then stomped it to death, wide-eyed and grinning at me the whole time while I screamed, and then you kicked it back into the canal and put your line back into the water to catch another one.  Even though nobody ever spoke of it again, I made a mental note to never, ever forget your full name because I was certain you would grow up to be a serial killer.  You probably did.  How would I even know until you get caught?  I saw you years and years later working as a security guard and the idea that you wield power of any kind over anyone terrifies me to the depths of my soul.

🎵 Wake me up before you crack-weed, don’t leave me hangin’ on like a crack-weed. 🎵

And everyone remembers when your dad killed that old woman on his third DUI and your mother said it wasn’t fair that he had to go to prison for it because the woman was so old, anyway.

🎵 Crack-weed singing in the dead of niiiiiight.  Take these crack-weed wings and learn to flyyyyyyy.  All your life, you were only waiting for this crack-weed to ariiiiise. 🎵

You can see why it was easier for all of us from the old neighborhood to just pretend we were strangers and invent our own pasts.  Besides Roach, I hadn’t known any of these people on the lifeguard tower prior to the age of 16, and they didn’t know anything about my past – or his.  I intended to keep it that way.

Roach got right down to business as he sat on the other side of Sky, pulled a plastic bag out of his camouflage jacket and said, “Hey hey!  I got you a little something for your birthday!” as he shook the bag around, jangling it around like a cat toy.

Sky snatched the bag from his hand and said, “Awesome!  I can always use more weed!  Hell yeah!”

Roach’s spiked pewter skull rings caught the moonlight as he folded his arms across his chest, smug as the bug he was named after, and said, “Look closer.  See those little white pebbles mixed in?”

Sky put the bag closer to her face so she could inspect it.

Roach beamed, “That’s crack!  This ain’t just weed, honey.   It’s crack-weed!  Happy Birthday!”

🎵 You come on like a dream, crack-weed and cream, lips like strawberry wine, you’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and here’s some crack-weed. 🎵

Sidebar:  That Ringo Starr really was ahead of his time to record that song about a 16 year old girl when he was THIRTY-THREE.  Edgy, even.

Now, had I had a car, the introduction of crack-weed would have been my cue to say, “Whew!  Well, it’s getting pretty late so I better head on home!” but nooooo.  I was still Captain Beg-4-Rides at this point, so when something like crack-weed makes an appearance at a sweet sixteen birthday party, you just have to find a way to deal with it.  There was zero chance I was going to actually smoke it, what with the genetic heart condition that I thought I had and whatnot.  Plus, you know, it was crack.

I inched away from the spot where I was sitting, and got up and walked down the catwalk to the sand.  I looked up and saw Roach was packing a pipe for Sky and two other girls.  They each took turns lighting the pipe to smoke the crack-weed, while Roach shielded their teenage girl faces from the ocean winds.

I have to tell you, for being a Grade-A dirtbag growing up in my old neighborhood, as an adult, Roach was surprisingly a gentleman when passing around crack to teenage girls.

I sat in the sand below the lifeguard tower and observed the way the girls reacted to the crack-weed.  Sky became sort of “Sky on 10”, jumped down to the sand, and started twirling her skirt in the moonlight, dancing and twirling and dancing and twirling while singing Violent Femmes lyrics, until she threw up gas station wine all down the front of her freshly tie-dyed t-shirt.  Then she took off to go swimming in the ocean to rinse off her crack-vomit and ran back up, now topless, looking for more crack-weed.

🎵 I take one, one, one ’cause you left me, and two, two, two for my family, and three, three, three for my heartache, and four, four, four for my crack-weed-ache. 🎵

One of the other girls came down, dropped to her knees and fell face-down in the sand, her body shuddering and twitching like she was electric, and I thought she was dying until she rolled over to her back, laughing and spitting sand up like a fountain.  She laughed and laughed and said, “I’m rubbing my face in the sand!  I’m rubbing my face in the sand and I can’t even feel it!  I can’t feel it!”

The third girl climbed onto Roach’s lap, tugging on the collar of his camouflage jacket and asked if he had more crack-weed, and the two of them went off into the sand dunes together.

I had never, ever, been so thankful that I was born with a fake exploding heart.

Wait for it.

🎵 Don’t tell my heart, my fake exploding heart, I just don’t think he’d understand.  ‘Cause if you tell my heart, my fake exploding heart, he might blow up and kill this man.  Wooooooooo! 🎵

Bing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-a-bomp—bomp—–bomp——-twang…

(I can assure you.  I know how annoying ^^ that ^^ whole business is in this post.  You don’t have to tell me.  A team of specialists is on it, so go take a pill, Mary Sue.  This is how I cope.)

THE END

…twang–twaang.

80s Parents and The Saga of BoyCrush 

When I was 7 years old, my favorite song was “Maniac” by Michael Sembello, from the Flashdance soundtrack.  Yes, I was allowed to watch Flashdance when I was 7 years old because “80s parents”.  Anything short of a snuff film would have passed muster with 80s parents.  Now I’m going to make you repeat the words “snuff muster” over and over in your head, because I’m doing it myself and I feel it’s only fair that I spread the wealth.  Snuff muster.  Snuff muster.  Snuff muster.

We discussed this earlier.  Never do anything just because I told you do it.  I will become drunk with power and the next thing you know, you’ll open a bag of Fritos and I’ll appear from thin air, take the bag from your hands and say, “You weren’t eating these, were you?” and then walk away with it.

“You wouldn’t do that!”

It’s like the Maya Angelou quote everybody loves to throw around:  “When someone tells you they will steal your corn chips, believe them the first time.”

We had a local rollerskating rink we used to go in the early 80s, where parents would typically drop you off around 10am with $3 in your pocket, speed away while blasting a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song, and then pick you up 7-10 hours later.  It’s what they now call “free-range parenting”, and except for everyone getting molested and stabbed, it worked out pretty great.

Generally speaking, back then if you were savvy enough when you were 7 to turn down a pixy-stick of cocaine from a 30 year old guy named “Scary Gary” and skate away like your parachute pants were on fire, your parents felt they had done their job instilling a solid fear base in you, as well as the athletic prowess required to escape such stealthy, googly-eyed, predators-on-wheels.  You could basically just self-parent from that point forward.

My sisters and I had been dropped off at the skating rink one Saturday, and it turned out my super duper, #1, oh my god, crush was there.

BoyCrush was, by far, without question, the cutest boy in the first grade.  He had sandy light brown hair, big dark doe eyes, and a smile like someone in a toothpaste ad.  He was always dressed so clean and neat, and unlike every other boy in class, his hands weren’t covered in dirt and warts.

My feelings about BoyCrush were not unique by any means.  Everyone had a crush on BoyCrush.  Aside from being cute, he was the only boy who was ever nice to us girls.  Instead of throwing rocks at us on the playground, he was usually found delicately pushing us girls on the swings or playing Chinese jump-rope with me and my friend Tricia on the basketball court.  BoyCrush was the total package.

My sisters knew about my crush on BoyCrush, and even if they didn’t, anyone could have put two and two together.  This kid was universally adorable.  Any girl could have walked by and someone could yell, “You think this kid is cute, DON’T YOU?” and they’d eventually cave in and say, “YES.  IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR?  YES!  HE’S SO FREAKING CUTE!  I’M NOT MADE OF STONE.  I HAVE TWO EYES, YOU KNOW.”

In an effort to match-make us at the skating rink, my sisters cornered BoyCrush near the restroom and told him that I liked him, and then he immediately ran into the boys’ restroom and hid.  Upon hearing that they ACTUALLY TOLD HIM that I liked him, I ran into the girls’ restroom and hid.

Unbeknownst to me, my sisters then went to the DJ and requested my favorite song, “Maniac”.  They came back to the girls’ restroom with a plan to coax me out.

My sister Julie knelt down beside me on the restroom floor, the feather roach-clip in her hair danging over me and said, “You know, BoyCrush just went to the DJ and asked him to play “Maniac” because it’s your favorite song and he wants to skate with you.”

My sister Bonnie chimed in, “It’s true.  I saw him go up to the DJ booth and ask.  He totally wants to skate with you.”

I said, “Really?  BoyCrush said he wants to skate with ME?”

They nodded their heads in unison, “Yep.”

I couldn’t believe it.  BoyCrush wanted to skate with me.  Of all the girls in the world, he picked me.  I’d never felt so special.  At least not since Chef Boyardi started selling Beef-a-roni in the family-size can.

I eventually came out from the girls’ restroom and passed by the boys’ restroom.  BoyCrush was sitting on the tile floor, up against the wall, looking extremely distressed while a couple of my sisters’ guy friends (including his own older brother) appeared to be trying to talk him into something.  He had a desperate look on his face, like he was being interrogated by the police.

Just then, “Maniac” came on over the sound system.  I guess my sisters weren’t lying after all!  I waited for BoyCrush, but he was still in the boys’ room, so I skated out on the rink alone.  About halfway through the song, I saw BoyCrush emerge from the boys’ room and come out onto the rink.  I slowed down so he could catch up with me, then he took off like a rocket and zoomed right past me.

When Monday morning rolled around at school, he and I pretended like the whole thing had never happened.

I ran into BoyCrush at a bar many years later, when he had returned home from college for winter break.  We had a couple drinks together and reminisced about our old school days.  After my second drink, I worked up some nerve and said, “What was the deal that day at the skating rink when we were in first grade?  My sisters said you requested “Maniac” so you could skate with me, and then you just blew me off!”

I playfully knocked him in the shoulder and laughed, “How could you break my little 7 year old heart?!”

He laughed, and laughed and laughed and laughed, and then said, “Oh, my sweet.  Your sisters were soooo fucking with you.  I never asked the DJ to play that song.  Did you seriously not know I was gay?  For god’s sake – I used to play Chinese jump-rope with you and Tricia – in public!”

(I imagine you probably came to that conclusion yourself when I mentioned Chinese jump-rope a few paragraphs ago.)

I said, “How the hell was I supposed to know?  I was 7!”

BoyCrush said, “Fine.  How about when we were in middle school and I went to the New Kids on The Block concert with a pack of 13 year old girls?”

I said, “Plenty of people liked New Kids on The Block besides teenage girls!”

BoyCrush gave me his best “Bitch, please” look and said, “Name ONE boy or man.”

I started to answer and he put up his index finger and said, “One that’s NOT gay. And before you continue, may I also remind you about the time in high school when I did a spot-on lip-synch performance of Madonna’s “Hanky Panky” in front of everyone outside the art room?”

He probably had me on that one.

He clinked his glass against mine and said, “And I NAILED IT, chica.”