Wednesday, January 22, 2014

You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

I love the scene in the movie Jaws where Chief Brody finds himself on that tiny fishing vessel, shoveling chum into the ocean. As he turns toward his bucket, the shark appears at the side of the boat, its fantastic face almost close enough to touch.  Then almost as quickly as it reveals itself, it is gone.  In that solitary moment, everything is different.


I should have seen it coming as soon as I laid eyes on that stupid orange.  I hated this game.  It was competitive and anxiety provoking like Musical Chairs, only much more physically intrusive.  Gripping a piece of fruit with my neck and passing it successfully to another person was one of the most disgusting things I could imagine doing as part of a mortifying punishment, let alone a celebratory exercise.  All that rubbing and nudging.  And you had to get in real close.  Too close, if you ask me.

I was thirteen years old and a guest at Patricia LaBruzzo's birthday party.  What a coup to have been invited!  Patty was cute, friendly and extremely popular.  She had a Toni Tennille hairstyle and what seemed like unlimited access to Bonne Bell lip gloss.  Hardly any of my intimate pals were there, but lots of girls I knew from school, as well as a handful of boys.

I'd spent days deciding on my outfit.  I chose a pink short-sleeve mock turtleneck sweater that my mom had bought me for Christmas, paired with a matching pink cardigan.  I also wore black polyester slacks and patent leather loafers.  If this had been an interview at the library, I'd probably have gotten the job.

As a freshly minted teen, I was devoid of any significant identity.  At my mother's strong suggestion, I was dressed much like the women of her generation.  Plus I was chubby, so I really did enjoy those stretchy pants.  If Marlo Thomas and Mary Tyler Moore had a baby and fed her nothing but American cheese for a dozen years, that child would be me.

Until the Pass The Orange fiasco, the party was actually quite reasonable. Cavernous bowls of Cheese Doodles and an ice cream cake from Carvel.  Us girls danced together to Tavares, Elton John and the Bay City Rollers.  But that ridiculous game blindsided me, and it got the group good and worked up too.  I recall overwhelming self-consciousness.  The next thing you know, we're playing Spin the Bottle, and I'm smooching some guy with a moustache in a dark basement closet.

The first boy I kissed was John Milanese, and the second, Nicholas Perugini. Ultimately, they meant nothing to me, and I'm pretty certain the feeling was mutual.  Over the years, we haven't kept in touch, and I don't think that makes me a slut.

I got home after the party, and Big Mare asked me how it went.  I said it was fine. I'm sure there was a part of me that wanted to tell her more, but I knew better.  If my mother had any idea what went down that afternoon, she'd have marched up to Buck Street and thrown a brick through Mrs. LaBruzzo's living room window.  I kept my mouth shut.

That night, I waited until everyone was asleep.  I snuck into the kitchen and made myself two baloney sandwiches.  I wrapped them in paper towels and put one in each pocket of my robe.  I palmed some cookies, too.  I went up to my room and ate everything under the blankets.  I brushed the crumbs onto the rug.  I tucked my hands into my underwear and cried myself to sleep.

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