At Last

Del Amo Fashion Center (Torrance, California) is one of the largest shopping malls in the United States. It was actually the largest one from 1981 to 1992. In the late 1980s, my paternal grandmother offered to go here with her grandchildren and buy us one toy each. I was around 10 or 12. My two sisters and two cousins were almost as excited as I was. Toys were sacred to me as a child. I used to wait to open them and stare at their unopened packages just to savor the moments. As huge as this mall was, there were only two toy stores. They were at opposite ends of the mall. My parents decided to drop all of us off at one end and pick us up at the other end. This way we could hit both toy stores and get some good exercise. When we got to the first toy store, I found the toy I wanted. It was a Freddy Krueger figurine from the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise. I brought it to my grandmother. She refused to buy it because she felt that it would probably be cheaper at the other toy store. We soon left the first toy store and walked all the way to the second one. Of course, this second toy store did not carry the item. When I told her that the Freddy Krueger figurine was the only toy I wanted, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “You certainly don’t expect me to walk all the way back there, do you?” I was furious. I was the only grandchild who did not go home with a toy. I am ashamed to admit that I still get angry whenever the memory pops up. My parents purchased the figurine for me about two weeks later and my grandmother reimbursed them. She reached 86 and passed away in 2004. One of her favorite songs was At Last (1960) by Etta James. It is also one of mine.

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Can You Read My Mind

I was in the fourth grade during the 1986-1987 school year. A “booty bop” transpired whenever a boy ran, jumped, and used his backside to propel an unsuspecting boy forward. Fourth grade boys had to constantly be on guard outside of the classroom. My friend, Brian, approached me one day after school and suggested that we booty bop each other at the same time. It would be like a joust and the loser would be the one who was propelled farther from the midpoint. It sounded like fun so I agreed. We both took our starting positions. All of a sudden, I thought of how funny it would be if I crouched down right before the planned collision and Brian flew over me and landed on his butt. We both began to run. I decided to do it.

My timing was perfect and Brian’s back landed on the pavement. I started to laugh hysterically and got up. Brian was silent for a few seconds. He stated, “You could have hurt me!” He slowly got up. I kept laughing and distanced myself out of fear. He ended up punching me in my left shoulder a few times. I would refer back to this incident whenever I needed a good laugh for years later. I would picture him dressed like Superman and in slow motion as he ran, jumped, flew, and hit the ground. It took me a long time to realize that what I had done could have paralyzed or killed Brian. I thank God that Brian was alright. I was just reminded of this ordeal after listening to Maureen McGovern’s beautiful Can You Read My Mind (the love theme from the 1978 movie Superman). Laughter is not the best medicine when it is toxic.

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My Love

I went to a Catholic elementary school where my mother was the first grade teacher. My teachers did not hesitate to inform my mother whenever I stepped out of line. I lived in fear of this until graduation. I was crazy about my classmate, Sarah, from second through eighth grade. Scott was nuts about her too. He and I used to write notes to each other in class. Puberty hit both of us hard in the seventh grade. I once wrote an inappropriate note about Sarah and passed it to him when the teacher had her back to the class. Scott unfolded it and read my words. He smiled. He folded the note back up and placed it on the front of his desk for our teacher to see. I was terrified. She saw the note and confiscated it. She read it but did not smile. She gave it to the principal. The principal questioned Scott about the note. He was more than happy to tell her that I had written it. She was furious. She made me sit in her office while she kept repeating, word for word, what I had written. I was mortified. The principal showed the note to my mother. She beat me black and blue when we got home. Months later, I asked Sarah about the matter without mentioning details. Scott never told her what I had written. It would have broken my heart if he had. Sarah liked love songs. They seemed to be the only songs that appealed to her. My Love (1973), by Paul McCartney & Wings, reminds me of how much she meant to me. I recently found out that she is a happily married attorney with several kids. I wish her well.

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The Graduate

I remember buying my first Playboy. It was the December 1991 issue. I was in the ninth grade. I was in Century City, California at a rehearsal for my older sister’s cotillion. I was wearing a black zip-up hoodie with pockets for both hands. My 16-year-old cousin was my sister’s escort. We had wandered into the hotel’s gift shop during a rehearsal break. I went over to the magazines and spotted Dian Parkinson’s face under the letters P-L-A-Y-B-O-Y. I had to buy it. I grabbed it and went to the lady cashier. She rang me up even though I was underage. I thought, God bless her. My cousin had witnessed the purchase and began to laugh when I turned in his direction. I told him not to tell. As soon as we left the gift shop, I placed the bag against my torso and zipped it up in my hoodie. I walked around the rest of the night with both hands holding up the magazine from my hoodie’s pockets. When I got home, I looked at every last one of its pages. Of course, I spent more time on the pictures than the print. It blew my mind. That was the first of many girlie magazines that I accumulated over the course of about a year. One day, my mother found the stash in my room. She told my father and he lectured me. She approached me about it later and began to cry. I felt like the lowest of the low. It would be another two years before I truly saw the error of my ways. Watching The Graduate (1967) taught me that I should not be wasting time with pictures of Mrs. Robinson while I was waiting for Elaine. It blew my mind.

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On Your Face

I grew up in a family of five. Chrysler was aiming for families like mine when it first released the Dodge Caravan. I wish we had dodged. This car was nothing but trouble. Surprisingly, it got us from California to Arkansas and back without a mechanical breakdown. We took this trip with my Aunt Jackie (my father’s sister), her husband, and their daughter. Aunt Jackie wasn’t too crazy about my mother or father. Both families interacted because of societal values. All eight of us were able to fit into our minivan. This road trip enabled us to meet family on my aunt and father’s side in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It was summertime. I had just finished the fourth grade. Before school let out, I had learned a new way to do a noogie. The conventional technique involves grinding the knuckles (where the fingers bend) against the top of somebody’s head. A classmate had told me that it was more fun to scrape the knuckles in succession against somebody’s forehead. I had an overwhelming urge to do this. I couldn’t do it to my big sister because she would fight back. I couldn’t do it to my little sister because she would tell on me. Courteney, Aunt Jackie’s seven-year-old daughter, had “sucker” written all over her. I planned to give her a noogie when there were no adults around. I decided to get her permission first in case she did tell on me. Courteney’s consent would be a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

My opportunity materialized on the way back from Arkansas. We stopped for gas and all the adults went inside the station’s minimart. I got next to Courteney and asked her if she’d ever had a noogie. She shook her head no. I told her that a noogie was something she would really like. I asked her if she wanted me to give her one. She nodded her head. I gripped the back of Courteney’s head with my left hand and applied a noogie to her forehead with my right hand. I gave her a good one. She never even winced. I immediately noticed a small bump on her forehead. Her skin was too delicate for noogies. Courteney did not tell on me when the adults came back to the car. We were on the road for about a three minutes before Aunt Jackie noticed the bump. She asked her daughter about it. Courteney pointed right at me. I said, “I gave her a noogie.” I will never forget the look on Aunt Jackie’s face. I saw rage. My mother asked me why I had done it. I stated, “She said I could give her one.” I was the only one who considered this to be a Get Out Of Jail Free card. My mother pulled the car over to the side of the road. She told me to get out. She whipped me with my father’s belt while everyone else waited in the car. I never gave anyone a noogie again.

There was a lot behind the rage I had seen on Aunt Jackie’s face. I would see traces of it when our eyes met in the times to come. My grandmother once said that my father had hit Aunt Jackie in the head with a brick when they were growing up. She recounted a few stories about them with the same theme. Aunt Jackie had associated me with my father. I was her brother’s son. I would see the anger on her face even when she smiled at me. It was there before she hugged and kissed me. I think about this when I listen to Earth, Wind & Fire’s On Your Face (1976). Societal values were not strong enough to keep both families in contact. I haven’t seen Aunt Jackie in over twenty years. I do not know what I would see on her face if our eyes met today.

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Be Thankful For What You Got

I remember going to the laundromat with my mother when I was around ten. Our washing machine at home was on the blink. We didn’t have to wait for washers as there were only a few people in the establishment. I spotted two arcade games in the back and asked my mother for some quarters. Each game required 50 cents for a turn. I chose one and put in two quarters. It took the money but did not give me a turn. I pushed on the coin return button and nothing happened. I told my mother what had transpired. There was no laundromat attendant around. We approached the game and my mother pushed the coin return button a few times. Nothing happened. She began kicking the area where the coins go in. Her sturdy left tennis shoe made a thunk with each impact. I had never seen my mother kick anything before. I tried not to laugh but the sight of my mother doing kung fu was too much for me to accept. I burst out laughing. My mother stopped for a moment and said, “You wait and see the next time I give you money for a game!” She went back to her kung fu. Quarters began to fly out of the game’s coin door. By the time she was done, we got enough quarters to dry all of our loads. I love my mother very much and will always be grateful to her for this memory. William DeVaughn’s Be Thankful For What You Got (1974) is one of her favorite songs. It’s also one of mine.

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Princes Of The Universe

I almost took steroids in college. I was a victim of child abuse. I was bullied throughout my entire academic career with the exception of preschool. The people who hurt me were always bigger than me. I wanted to have 400 pounds of muscle mass. People would not mess with me if I was big enough. At the time, Bill Phillips owned Muscle Media magazine and the top-rated nutritional supplement company, EAS. I subscribed to his magazine and purchased EAS supplements even though I did not work out. One day, I came across an ad for Dan Duchaine’s Dirty Dieting Newsletter in the magazine. Dan Duchaine was a bodybuilder, author, entrepreneur, and foremost authority on steroid use. He was also a convicted felon. He served time in prison twice for performance-enhancing drug related charges. I did not lift weights because I knew my gains would be minimal without performance-enhancing drugs. Dan Duchaine’s newsletter instructed subscribers on how to use them and even make a few. I subscribed. I found out how to make testosterone from androstenedione (an over-the-counter supplement at the time). I also found out how to make GHB (gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid). This controlled drug was a popular alternative to steroids. I planned to start using both substances as part of a weight training regimen. I was all set to go. Right before I embarked on the path that could have ruined my health, I came to realize what a big mistake I was about to make. No matter how big I got, there would always be someone bigger. Moreover, I was no longer suffering from child abuse or bullying. I had done my sentence. I would have to do another one if I abused my body. I decided to enjoy my freedom. If I had gone through with my plan, Queen’s Princes Of The Universe (1986) would have been my favorite workout song. It’s a great song to pump iron to. This is one of the few songs that gives me the urge to lift weights. I never have lifted weights. I have no regrets.

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Falling Down

Any cup has a limit to the amount of liquid it can hold. We all have a cup. Some of us have paper cups fit for a water cooler. Others have tall glasses (sturdy but capable of shattering). Mine happens to be a coffee mug (it’s suitable for hot water but fills up quickly). Life is the liquid for our cups. Some people like to chug. I prefer to sip. When life gives us more than we are capable of drinking at one time, we depend on our cups to hold the balance. Sometimes, life keeps filling our cups until the liquid spills over. Breakdowns occur. I am a survivor of child abuse. I suffer from severe mental illness on a daily basis. I know what it’s like to stare at a full cup of life and wonder whether another drop is about to drip. I have done it many times. Falling Down (1993) came out when I was in high school. I loved it then and it’s remained one of my favorite films. It makes me really grateful that those drops never dripped.

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We Will Rock You

I don’t like baseball. I never cared much for watching or playing it. Nevertheless, I did both as a child. Going to a baseball game was a social outing for me. I enjoyed the camaraderie with family and friends. The actual baseball bored me. I played little league baseball for a number of years. I despised it. I played because I thought that I was supposed to. I was terrible. There was one coach who refused to play me at all. After my father had a talk with him, I would get to play in right field during the last inning of each game. When it was my turn at bat, the coach would yell at me from the dugout. He would keep telling me to get closer and closer to the plate. More than one umpire had to tell him that I was actually standing on the plate. I would be so close to the plate that getting a decent hit was near impossible. All of this further soured me on the sport. I do have one fond baseball memory. I first heard We Will Rock You (1977) by Queen at a Los Angeles Dodgers game. This song invigorated me from head to toe. It seemed to unite all Dodgers fans for its duration. It’s short but packs a powerful punch. It made me root for the Dodgers. They won. This was one of the few baseball games that I actually enjoyed. Much thanks to Brian May.

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Parenthood

Parents are students who teach.

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