Entries in Light the Corners of My Mind (32)


Prom Night 1983

Though this story is not terribly soapy, I am nonetheless officially calling it part of Soap Opera Sunday, that weekly blogventure concocted by Brillig and Kate, guaranteed to make you laugh, gasp, and maybe even mist up a bit.

If you read the post just below this one, you'll remember that I spent most of my spare time Senior year with a certain Paul: swimmer, water polo player, co-AP-class-taker. Despite the fact that we had tons in common, our relationship really was like two worlds colliding. Picture a Venn diagram where the two circles barely touch: that was us.

Paul was a jock from the side of town that had trees (in California's Central Valley, that means you are from a well-established neighborhood). His mother was the golf pro at the local country club. He grew up in our cowtown, and so knew 'everybody.' It didn't hurt that his grandfather had founded a world-famous non-profit corporation that was based in our town and employed a ton of folks.

I, on the other hand, lived on downtrodden Main Street right next door to a mortuary. My mom worked long, hard hours trying to support my siblings and me. We'd moved to town right before my Junior year, so I was an interloper on long-established circles of friends. I had very short, multi-colored hair; Paul's friends preferred hanging out with people who had that chlorine-platinum thing going on.

My few friends liked Paul, but they were way too busy to pay much attention to him. Adele, Traci, Janice, and I were the entire yearbook staff that year; our advisor had quit, and in the vacuum, we four co-editors ran the show. In the days before computer layouts, we spent tons of unsupervised time with those big, blue-lined sheets putting together a yearbook for a high school of 2,000 students. We took almost all of the candid shots (many we staged), developed them ourselves in the darkroom, and wrote every bit of the copy. I don't know how we had keys to that yearbook room, or how the school let us do all this on our own, but we did, and we pulled many an all-nighter making those publication deadlines all by our teenaged selves.

So I was either working on the yearbook or hanging out with Paul all year long. Paul and I talked about books, Carl Sagan, and music. I'd sit next to him while he played Bach's Two-Part Inventions on his mother's little spinet piano. He taught me how to drive, first in a golf cart, and then in his ancient station wagon. We golfed straight through the winter (he could play for free). We watched the entire eight hours of the BBC's production of Nicholas Nickleby with Roger Rees on PBS, completely riveted. Paul was the best.

Prom time came around; though outwardly a rebel, I was enough of a romantic to know that I had to get to Prom at least once in my life. I searched high and low for an atypical dress that I could afford, not wanting any pastel taffeta or satin touching my person. I finally found a Grecian-style white dress with a cool beaded clasp at the shoulder--very different, and very flattering. I put it on layaway. A few housecleanings and babysitting jobs later, it was mine.

Paul had no money to rent evening clothes. He was too busy with sports to have a job, and his parents weren't the type to hand out cash to him, like, ever. So he ended up wearing his only suit: a horrible denim-colored polyester number with Western detailing. But he was handsome and hilarious; I didn't mind.

Limo? Oh, no. But we didn't have to go in Paul's station wagon, with the vinyl seats so weathered they had petrified and cracked, exposing yellowed, crumbling foam. No, for Prom, Paul's mom graciously loaned him her K-Car--a nice, Reliant automobile, with burgundy velour interior. We were stylin,' folks.

Paul did scrounge up money for a gorgeous corsage: gardenias, my favorite flower in all the world. They looked perfect with my long, white dress.

May in the San Joaquin valley is about the worst time and place for someone with allergy-triggered asthma. I woke up Prom morning barely able to breathe. The jasmine was blooming enthusiastically, as if Spring had conspired to murder me. My mother took me to the doctor and to the chiropractor, but neither helped much. I fainted while Mom was curling my hair, but there was no way I was missing out on my big night.

I don't remember whether we went out to dinner. I do know we weren't planning on doing anything with groups; Traci went to Prom with this hot, long-haired guy we barely knew from the stoner crowd; Janice and Adele were boycotting Prom (probably becaused no one had asked them out). The swim crowd barely tolerated me, and truthfully? I was happy to have Paul all to myself.

We got to the dance, stood in line for photos, and danced a few slow dances. At that point, I'd had enough. I was exhausted from trying to breathe; I asked Paul to take me home. On the K-Car's radio on the way, we heard the new single by our favorite band for the very first time: "Every Breath You Take," by The Police. High irony, people.

I must have fainted again; the next thing I knew, I was in the ER. Apparently Paul had run into my house and right into my mom's room, scared her awake, and then sped to the hospital with me unconscious all the way.

The doctor gave me a shot of adrenaline, and almost immediately, I had blessed relief. Anyone who has never had asthma has no idea what it feels like to suffocate slowly no matter how hard you try to get air into your lungs. Gorgeous, perfect air: there's nothing better.

An extremely kind, huge male nurse took the very best care of me. My mom and I still call him 'The Gentle Giant.' He pinned my gardenia corsage to my hospital gown and got me fresh hot blankets straight out of the autoclave: bliss. I spent the rest of the night in a curtained-off area, Mom on one side of the hospital bed, Paul holding my hand on the other.

I haven't had an asthma attack since; I have no idea why. My asthma pretty much disappeared after that night.

Paul and I dated the whole summer after graduation, but then we broke up when he went off to UC Berkeley. It broke my heart, but he was excited to explore college life to the fullest extent allowed by law, and we both knew a long-distance relationship wouldn't work. We stayed in contact for a year or two, but after I moved to Utah to go to BYU, we lost touch entirely.

Patrick and I saw Paul a few years ago at my 20-year high school reunion. The three of us went to breakfast together. The two men were like Ps in a pod (pun very much intended); they got along great.

Paul has never been married; he's never even dated someone for as long as we went out (almost exactly a year). I asked him why over breakfast; he's handsome, in great shape, smart, employed, etc. It seemed to me he'd have women crawling all over him. He laughed and said he always ends up correcting his dates' grammar, something that's always a romance killer. Patrick said wryly, "Clearly that was never a problem with Luisa." Poor Paul: I hope he finds his own Grammar Fascista someday.


Tapering Down

I had this great boyfriend named Paul my entire senior year of high school. He played on the water polo team and was a fantastic swimmer; at one time he ranked ninth in the entire nation in the butterfly stroke for his age group. I'm reasonably confident that you'll be reading more about Paul on Soap Opera Sunday, when I give you the highly entertaining and dramatic details of Prom Night 1983.

I had never been particularly athletic myself (outside of dance), so I learned much from Paul about training for competitive sports. One concept he introduced to me was that of tapering down.

When preparing for a big competition, athletes will train intensively for a period of time, then follow a very light regime in the days or weeks immediately preceding the event. This allows the body to recover fully from the hard training it has done, ensuring that it will be capable of peak performance during the competition.

"Why the nostalgic lecture?" I hear you ask in a gentle yet quizzical tone. I answer: merely to explain my recent bloggy reticence. I'm training for both NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, demanding events that occur simultaneously during the month of November. I have to gather my strength and summon my creative (eagle) powers; Heaven knows, I need to conserve what little I have in both respects.

It is because I am tapering down that I have lately chosen not to inflict upon you posts on such scintillating topics as:

1) The fact that the three black hairs growing from my chin have become my own personal hydra;
2) How amazingly neat and clean our basement is after my tornadic frenzy last weekend;
3) What a better yarn Malabrigo is than Manos del Uruguay;
4) Hilarious things Daniel has said in days past (one tidbit "Red Zeppelin");
5) The success of our story basket in the den;
6) The manner in which my novel-in-eternal-progress, ZF-360, is morphing yet again;

7) My consternation over the as-yet-unripe African jelly melons in a large basket in our kitchen;
8) The current dearth of appealing movies at our local theaters;
9) How excited I am that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize; and
10) My rant about the evil ninja deer and the havoc they are wreaking in our yard.

See? Don't you feel better about how quiet it's been around here? Brace yourselves; November is right around the corner.

And to answer the question of a cre8buzzer who asked whether we'll be celebrating Novembrance (i.e. me) all month long once Halloween is over:

Yes. Absolutely. Bring on the party, my friends.

Until then, I must focus on my training. Yeah, yeah; that's the ticket.


Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

My mother was recently doing some sorting and purging of old boxes at her house and came across a box of my mementos. She promptly sent it off to me along with these:And these:Very welcome treats; thanks, Mom! I can get neither Mother's Circus Animal Cookies (the Keebler rip-off version is a cruel travesty) nor See's Candy here in the otherwise perfect Hudson Highlands.

But even better was the box of stuff: old letters, diaries, and photos; programs and awards; every essay I wrote for Senior A/P English; and much, much more. Here are a few choice items:

*Updated* A lurker who prefers to remain anonymous asked for a detailed caption of the above photo. Clockwise (sort of) from noon: Madness concert program; The Police concert program; U2 concert sticker; first and second place ribbons for speech tournaments; visitor pass to NASA's Ames Research Center; essay from Honors History (grade: A); Merrie Miss achievement bracelet; Stanislaus County Essay Contest Scholarship certificate; Sam Gamgee journal; cover from Computer Programming class manual (loved that TRS-80); photos of Charles and Diana's wedding cut out of People magazine; mimeographed and hand colored worksheets on Elizabeth I of England; The Best of Omni, issue #6; a page from the 1980 Tolkien wall calendar, illustrated by the Hildebrandt brothers; and a rugby tournament program. There: I think that's everything.

One of the best (read: most embarrassing) items in the lot is that Sam Gamgee journal. I used that notebook to record what I considered to be my very best excerpts of creative writing between 1980 and 1981. Here are two snippets:

*Updated* Annette couldn't read the journal entries and was good enough to speak up about it, so here are the transcripts:

"Her golden hair sparkled and glistened in the last rays of the sunset, billowed and streamed in the slight breeze which fled through the meadow. It made a halo, transfiguring her into a fire queen, or a goddess of love. Her face took on a joyous expression, as if she were drinking in the last drops of warmth on her face. She spread out her arms in love and gratitude. Then the glorious moment passed, leaving the poor peasant girl to trudge home, sad and alone.

--March 1981"

"The wizard's mind was cold and twisted. Dark columns of evil hung from the caverns of his intellect, ruthlessly sharp and deadly. The expansive knowledge he had eagerly accumulated in his younger, fuller, years, when he was still "white," had gradually darkened and decayed until it was rotten. But in a way, as if it were being fed somehow, the knowledge grew, encompassing all manner of malignant studies and malevolent experiments.

As the years passed, these studies became increasingly cruel, often with people as their victims. Often, when one of those preyed-upon was screaming and writhing in agony unimaginable, he too would scream; but with laughter that chilled bones and curdled blood. He would become hysteric [sic], waves of hate washing over him. His insanity was horrific, and his name became hated passionately; and just as passionately feared. Mothers had only to whisper his name, and children were terrified into obedience. And so the legend was begun.

--April 1981"

Yikes. Talk about agony unimaginable; I was even more addicted to semicolons and adverbs at 14 than I am now. But progress is good, right?

We are talking Good Times, my friends. There is so much blog fodder in this box that I will be set for many a Flashback Friday and Soap Opera Sunday to come. Stay tuned.


Rejoice with me...

...for I have found that which I had lost.

On a search of the basement for our splitting wedges, I found the photo that I wanted to put with this post.

I also found a hashed recording of the song that my pal D. Fletcher and I wrote years ago for the Divine Miss N's arrival; you can listen to it here, if you like (sorry in advance about the ads).

Here are the words (D. wrote the gorgeous music, and Jeff Hardy, Jonathan Austin, and Patrick sang it at N's blessing):

"New Birth"
(For N.)

In the snow, a Lily blooms,
Its warmth belies the frost;
It waits for one to shelter it
Regardless of the cost.
Through the mist, its fragrance swells
And softens winter's air;
Breathe it in, and learn the way
To Heaven's gardens fair.

In the gloom, a candle burns,
Though brightly, all unseen;
It lights the way to happiness
For those with eyes more keen.
Through the storm, that beacon shines
With beams of radiant gold;
Follow it, not looking back,
And haven safe behold.

In the waste, a fountain springs
Though bracken thorns conceal;
The rocky path is worth the pain
The parchèd soul to heal.
Through the drought, this river flows
Its water, living grace;
Come, drink of it, and find anew
Home's compassing embrace.

(Chorus) Hope...Light...Love...
The seeds, yet deep, will bear.
And soon the hour when forth will flow'r
Their gifts, so fine and rare.

(Bridge) Every heart's a broken circle that longs to be complete.

Unfortunately, I haven't yet found the splitting wedges. The search goes on....


Odd's Fish, M'Dear!

When I was in college, some people I knew were publishing an off-campus newspaper called The Student Review. One of my favorite columns in this excellent paper was called "Brushes with Fame," in which people would list 10 celebrity encounters. Some were entertainingly remote; others were what some of us would term "of the third kind."

Once I moved to Manhattan, I had pretty frequent Brushes with Fame of my own, but it wasn't until Patrick's career took off that our Celebrity Sightings kicked into high gear. Patrick specializes in intellectual property; specifically, he works to protect people's copyrights and trademarks. He does quite a bit of work for several Broadway types, which means we are often invited to the openings of shows and the cast parties that follow. Once we even went to the Tony Awards, but that's a subject for another post.

Most of the premieres we attend are in Manhattan, but we've been lucky enough to go to London three times. The first was for the 1994 revival of Oliver!, the second was for The Witches of Eastwick in 2000, and the third was for Mary Poppins in 2004. It is the last with which this edition of Light the Corners of My Mind is concerned.

Mary Poppins was a fun musical, much truer to the book than was the Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke movie. The music was fabulous (Patrick's client did the orchestrations), the sets were incredible, and the dark edge to the script made the lightheartedness stand out in lovely relief. As enjoyable as the show was, though, I couldn't help but be distracted by three things: a) we walked into the theater on the red carpet with Sir Richard Attenborough (total coincidence); b) we had better seats than Roger Rees (who, sadly, has not aged well); and c) Anthony Andrews was in attendance.

Still my beating heart. I obsessively watched Brideshead Revisited when I was 15. My friend and fellow anglophile Joanie and I came to an amicable arrangement: she would marry Jeremy Irons and I would marry Anthony Andrews. I snickered secretly whenever I contemplated how much better I'd done in the fantasy wedding department than she. Alas, I did not then know that Anthony had been happily married since 1971 (and still is). Then again, Jeremy Irons has been married almost as long.

When the teleplay The Scarlet Pimpernel came out in 1982, my love for Anthony grew exponentially. Sink me, but that rich voice; those hooded eyes; that valor disguised with masterful foppishness. My mother, sisters, and I watched a bad VHS tape recorded from the television over and over again until the graininess of the picture became unbearable. We have whole scenes memorized.
The movie became a litmus test of sorts for us. Any new boyfriend had to watch it, his every reaction carefully gauged out of the corners of our eyes. Many failed and were discarded as unworthy. No matter; an evening with Sir Percival Blakeney and a pint of Haagen-Dazs was better than most dates anyway.
I read the book after we saw the movie for the first time. This is one of those rare cases in which the movie is light years better than the book. But bless Baroness Orczy's heart for creating the character in the first place. I've also seen the old movie with Leslie Howard. I'm sorry; Leslie makes a perfect Ashley Wilkes, but he is no match for Anthony Andrews in the "demmed elusive" category. The Broadway version of the Pimpernel was horrible. Horrible. Trust me.
So there I sat in the darkened Prince Edward Theater, knowing that Sir Percy's most perfect incarnation was nearby. Would he go to the cast party? It was too much to hope for; I put him firmly out of my mind, held Patrick's hand tightly, and watched Mary and Bert's magical adventures.
The cast party was horrendously crowded; worse, the guests were segregated by floors. As we squeezed past people packed around the buffet tables, Patrick promised me that we'd get a quick plate of food, hook up with his client Bill for a round of hearty congratulations, then head back to our friend Carmen's flat and crash. We found Bill a moment later, who, gracious as always, made introductions to the people seated at his table. We smiled and nodded, shook hands when we could reach.
Bill got to the last couple; I hadn't seen who was sitting there in the half-dark of the night club until that moment. I stopped breathing. I really did, for at least a minute. His name is pronounced "Antony," by the way.
He stood up, bent slightly over my hand, introduced us to his wife Georgina, then offered me his chair. I demurred, but he insisted. I sank down on the blue cushions and made what little small talk I could with my brain having exited the building. Anthony and his kind wife left not long afterward, which was a good thing. I couldn't have taken the proximity of gorgeousness much longer.
Anthony has aged beautifully. He's taller and broader in the shoulder than he looks on screen; his evening clothes were exquisitely tailored. But there are many attractive men who wear a tuxedo well. What set him apart for me was that he really was a gentleman; he didn't just play one on TV. Solicitous, deferential, completely unpretentious...swoon, sigh.
You all know how madly in love I am with Patrick. I loved him all the more when he snuggled contentedly with me in the taxi on the way back to Carmen's, not the slightest bit jealous throughout my latest and greatest Brush with Fame. And when I called my mom and sisters, their screams as I told them the whole story were immensely gratifying.
There wasn't really anyone else to tell about meeting Anthony at that point in my life; I've met few people acquainted with the delicious pleasure that is my Scarlet Pimpernel. But one of the many joys of blogging is discovering far-flung folk with similar interests; Annette and Josi, had I known you back in 2004, I know I could have counted on you for a few more squeals of delight and envy as I regaled you with my tale.