Hey hey, out there…
Once again, JC sends out good tidings and big prayers in the hopes everyone is staying safe and keeping it together the best they can in these bewildering and anxious times.
Man. Does this shit suck, or what?
On a positive note, I’ll admit the self-isolation gig is motivating this author to tackle loads of stuff daily. Mostly, I’ve been honing the final sizzler in the Breakaleg Trilogy, Need It, Worse Than Bad. (Ooh, just wait ʼtil you meet my hunky Axel J!) When I get too hot and bothered with his sexy ass, I labor over social media strategies and the dreaded M-word: dum, dum dum dum… Marketing. So, despite the living-in-a-bubble thing, I’m grateful for the amped productivity.
Er… Let’s not talk about the amped wine consumption, okay?
Before I go any further, a huge shoutout to all the brave men and women who are risking their lives working in the midst of this pandemic, from ER docs to grocery clerks to truck drivers. Screw those overpaid sport figures and the like… These angels are the real heroes, and that’s the stone-cold truth.
Now, then. Time for a bit of levity, at yours truly’s expense. This week’s blog delves deep into my dark and murky (or should I say smirky) past. I’m calling it JC’s Most Embarrassing Childhood Memories. The subject sort of wrote itself; a no-brainer precipitated by an unearthed bushel basket of ancient photos who’ve been pleading for years to get their curled, faded images properly sorted and stuffed in appropriate albums.
Yes Virginia, photo albums. Remember those things? Call me sentimental, but I still enjoy a good trip down memory lane now and again. And if you want my two cents, looking at a bunch of static pix on a laptop can’t touch the same twinge of wistfulness you get by rifling through messy piles of talismans from the past.
Or, alternatively, allows one to examine in up-close detail under the nearest window just how hideous those at-home haircuts truly were.
Naturally, shuffling and sorting these long-ago glamour shots (Dutch-boy coif! Clogs! Zits! Wide wale corduroys! Crooked teeth! Sallow skin! Overalls!), JC could not help but wax nostalgic for the “good old days.”
This gooey emotion eventually gave way to squeamish and still clear-as-a-bell vignettes; mortifying moments from which this gal has never fully recovered. Before I knew what was what, twitchy, Technicolor mind-clips had burrowed into my brain and stuck there, impossible to dislodge until I exorcised these blush-inducing flashbacks by sharing them with you, dear reader.
Aren’t you the lucky ones!
Call it a form of cathartic cleansing during these trying times. And, come on… I can’t be the only one who’s squirmed through inglorious instances such as these.
Although gluttonously spoiled for choice (Lord, I really have had my share), for reasons of brevity I’ve whittled down what was a mighty list of cringeworthy case studies to the “Big Five.” So, without further ado…
Here, in sequential order, I give you JC’s worst of the worst.
*PS: Just to let you know, I’m not even including how when I was an infant, my mom’s best friend came to visit and thought I was a Hairy. Little. Dog. I’m leaving this ditty off the list only because I was way too young at the time to get the details straight. But trust me, it’s true. My family has never let me forget it.
- Karen and Laura
There my eight-year-old self was: strolling down our street one balmy summer morn, decked out in what I’m sure were my finest duds and sporting my usual salad-bowl haircut (thanks, Mom), when what do I hear but a hale greeting aimed my way from across the road?
“Hey, how are you dooooing? Jeez, I haven’t seen you in foreveeeer! You look greeeeat!”
Stopping dead in my clunky saddle shoes, I glowed with pride, spying opposite me my pal Michelle’s G’s big sister Karen, home on college break. Leaning against her front porch and looking like some rarified vision out of Vogue, she beamed and waved, appearing nothing short of thrilled.
My little heart raced.
Wow, what a coup! This sophisticated elder with the long flowing locks and funky maxi dress was addressing lil’ old me? Whoa. Wait until I unlock my cheapo plastic diary and write it all down!
Being as verbose then as I am now, I wasted no time in saluting back dorkily; gushing out a fawning reply from my need-braces-like-yesterday piehole.
“Hi! Thank you! So do you! I hope you have a really super sum—”
It was at this juncture my idiotic ears heard the real reply, from the porch on the opposite side.
This would be the residence of my brother’s little buddy Danny A, who happened to have himself a college-attending sister the same age as Michelle’s. Slowly, I turned my greasy noggin, heart sinking when I clocked Laura A grinning over my head, her willowy form adorned in a similar funkadelic maxi. She even had big hoop earrings on. Lime green, I can picture them still.
“Karen, hey! Great to see you, too… How’s school? Still seeing Ted? We have to get together, for sure!”
I held out hope for a couple of seconds, thinking mayhap this pair of mysterious beings from another planet would include me in their sassy, grown-up repartee. Alas, it soon became apparent not only was this not in the cards, neither model-like creature even saw me, gabbing over my salad-bowl invisibleness nineteen to the dozen.
Flushed to the roots, I continued on to the playground, insignificant as a gnat.
It’s not all terrible, though. When I was old enough and saved up, one of the first things I splurged on was a pair of eye-catching green hoops. Not nearly as sweet as Karen’s, you understand, since my pop was bigtime strict and would never go for jewelry that gaudy. But they were still pretty cool.
- “May I Help You, Boys?”
Bet you can wager where I’m going with this one.
A few awkward years following the K & L Incident, me and my Irish-twin brother PG (less than a year apart, and for all intents and purposes, we may as well be legit twins) were perusing our local skid department store for some hip threads; somehow wily enough to have escaped the parental leash. Not that we had any actual dough to purchase anything, mind you.
Probably just killing time before we had to get our butts home and finish our stupid chores. (Me: vacuuming, dishes, and peeling the damned potatoes.)
PG’s memory has always been stellar; he claims distinctly remembering I had the latest incarnation of Levi Strauss in my hot little hands when the middle-aged, bespectacled sales clerk WHOM I SHALL NEVER FORGET sashayed up to inquire with a lipsticked grin if “us boys” needed any assistance.
Okaaaay. And I thought the Karen and Laura thing had been ignominious?
The details are (thankfully) vague after this incorrect salutation, but I do remember big bro’s endless ribbing the long walk home, and the ensuing joshing from the rest of my cackling, unsympathetic family once the tale was regurgitated ʼround the pot roast and mushy canned peas. Over and over again.
There is no doubt in my mind, even all these years later, that this harsh misinterpretation of gender was based 90% or higher on my current “hairstyle.” Granted, the no-boobs and training bra didn’t help, nor did my habit of dressing akin to an unwashed medieval serf, but don’t tell me my latest and greatest coiffure wasn’t responsible for that jerky lady’s faux-pas.
Yes… Graduating from taped-off bangs and lank ear flaps, I now had (kudos to Mom and her magic scissors) appropriated a new and avant-garde look. This charming ʼdo consisted of a daring side swoop, my hair ruthlessly flattened to my skull every morning like black shoe polish, not a strand out of place or a wave in sight. And thus it remained, all the livelong day. Despising this “adorable cut,” I constantly petitioned for long tresses like the rest of my friends who actually looked like girls, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.
“Absolutely not. Too much trouble.”
So, there I was, a dead ringer for poor Anne Frank without even the shoulder-length bob; my pasty hue and the huge dark sacks under my eyes making me her asexual doppelgänger. Combine this with the aforementioned assets (or lack thereof), is it any wonder that horn-rimmed hag got it wrong?
Truly, it was a humiliation of the highest order.
And one Big Brother with his thick, Samson-like locks has still never let me forget.
- The Drain Pipe & Telephone Pole
I’m choosing to combine the following dual recollections of delight since they each feature a large, hard, and unyielding object, located on the street of my youth. And, preposterously, both suckers were out to get me, and me alone.
Seriously… If any of this crap ever happened to my siblings, I sure as heck don’t remember it. I was either out of it, or they paid someone bigtime hush money.
Part A: First came the drainpipe. It was a long, rusty, dangly protuberance hanging off the side of my pal Gregory W’s house. (Sidenote of worth: GW was the first boy JC ever kissed, albeit with closed, fifth-grade lips. Quite the disappointing initiation, if you want the truth. Not exactly a Tommy Branson Need It, Bad experience, that’s for sure!)
Anyhoo, I was minding my own beeswax, just horsing around his pitted asphalt driveway when, right smack in the middle of a large posse of neighborhood kids, the thing there and then decided to detach itself from its peeling siding and crash onto the crown of my slick, shoe-polished head.
I mean, what were the odds?
Bleeding profusely and fleeing from a cacophony of side-splitting howls and pointing fingers, I hightailed it home, flinging myself into my mother’s bosom. Back in those days, the Maternal One didn’t drive, so having no wheels, Mom thought it best to dispense with anything so “mundane” as emergency rooms or stitches.
Staunching my wound with every towel in the joint, she assured me I’d be fiiiine. I sort of believed her, until the bald spot never went away. Although mostly camouflaged, it’s still there to this day: tender and telling, roughly the size of a quarter. Yeah… So is the memory of that rag-tag rabble, beside themselves with laughter.
One of the older bullies even whaled the corrugated projectile after me, grazing the back of my shin, advising me “Not to forget my souvenir, crybaby.” I remember that happy highlight, too.
Maybe I would have snagged it, just for a momento, if Gregory’s ma hadn’t appeared on the scene in her ratty bathrobe, demanding her property back.
Ah well. What would I have done with a rusty old chunk of tin, anyway?
Part B: The telephone pole thing occurred just down the road, ironically not too far from Laura A’s abode. (See incident number one.) As if I needed another degradation there? Gee, thanks, God!
This unsavory scene occurred a number of years after Part A, during my high school, boy-crazy phase. In fact, the whole thing came about because I was so boy-crazy. Plutonium-grade crazy, as a matter of facto.
(Without false modesty, I can happily report by this time, that shit was kind of mutual. Hawks, the ugly duckling had blossomed! Those asexual hairstyles of yore had morphed into a center-parted, sleek, butt-brushing “Cher Look.” I don’t know about my mom, but I for one was over the moon I no longer resembled a brush-wielding sprite on a can of Dutch Boy paint.)
During these heady days of not-looking-like-a-boy, I became unhealthily infatuated with a ne’er-do-well dude who had (again, ironically) moved his scruffy, mid-twenties self into the recently vacated W Drainpipe Mansion, along with the rest of his seedy-looking kin.
Night and day, I spied on this mystery man’s comings and goings from my bedroom window; atrophied in place for hours just to drool at his hippie freak hotness saunter down the very driveway I was once beaned in.
It didn’t take long for this burgeoning seductress to memorize this intriguing newcomer’s schedule, down to the very nanosecond. I tell you, I was like a military strategist, I was!
When the time was right, and my Cher Hair was at its absolute best, I slithered into my tightest bellbottoms and eased out the front door, strolling oh-so-casually down the sidewalk. After weeks of high-intensity surveillance, I knew I was mere moments away from the long-awaited face-to-face with “Shifty.”
(This was the agreed-upon nickname, chosen by moi and my bestie, L. It was short, sweet, and accurate, based on the man’s oddly furtive demeanor.)
Self-conscious and needing something to do with my hands, I idiotically brought along a large book (Gone with the Wind!) as a handy-dandy prop. Flipping the hefty tome open, I proceeded to read blindly as my heart boomed in my still-flat chest.
Any minute. Don’t look up. Don’t look up. Any minute now…
My plan was to “bump” into the delicious Shifty and strike up a flirty, neighborly chat. This to determine if my crush looked as smokin’ fine close-up as he had for the last three months through the seam of my cheap-ass curtains.
And, of course, to possibly score a date behind my parents’ backs.
What I didn’t expect was to smash skull-first into a looming telephone pole the instant his scuzzy work boots drew near; practically fracturing my schnozz on hard brown wood with a bunch of metal sticking out of it.
Dropping Margaret Mitchell’s missive, I saw planets and stars ala Wile E Coyote, tears streaming from my eyes as I blearily considered the very real possibility of an impossible-to-recover-from concussion.
Again, the details beyond the moment of impact are sketchy, but I do know my frizzy-haired target ambled right on by, not even pausing to inquire if this wobbly pedestrian needed a hunk of ice, an ambulance, or her last rites. It was even worse than the Laura and Karen thing. I mean, hello… Show a little compassion, here!
The bump on my forehead lasted for weeks, and wasn’t exactly easy to explain. (More guffaws around the ol’ dinner table, you betcha.) I’ve never walked with a book in my hands since. Book? Ha. Heck, I’m scared to check a text unless I’m stationary, or at least not around any utility poles or mature trees.
Additionally, I never did get to converse with the mysterious Shift. He moved away shortly afterwards, him and that commune-type family of his. Weird… No one ever seemed to stay in that falling-apart house for long.
Must be the drainpipe.
- The Senior Portrait
Me and my troops were a wicked bunch in high school, always trying to outdo one another with the pranks and the gags. And I was the queen, dreaming up the best and the most brilliant. But the joke was on JC at the close of my senior year, in the most mortifying of ways…
I was a top-notch art student; drawing and sketching were my passion. In our just- under-1000-count graduating class (yes, you heard right), I consistently garnered the highest marks for my work, quite the feather in the cap for a student body so massive.
Our final assignment in Mr. F’s class was to create a detailed self-portrait in the medium of choice. Being a stickler for technique, I painstakingly fashioned my eighteen-year-young image onto a gossamer-thin sheet of tracing paper in bold number two pencil. This would be step one, before applying it over canvas to subsequentially flesh out in oils.
May I indulge myself in describing this laborious masterpiece to you?
Close your eyes and picture a 24” x 30” full-frontal rendering, dark and dour as the Mona Lisa. Cher-hair flowing down my shoulders like a tar-black waterfall, eyes ringed in heavy liner, not a hint of a smile. (This was my perfected “Don’t mess with me, I’m so cool” phase, which lasted many a moon.)
Although lacking in humor or lightness, the visage that stared back so sternly was “JC” all the way—impossible to mistake for anyone else, instantly recognizable, well-executed enough to earn me another coveted A+.
Meanwhile, while I was smugly basking in the glory of these artistic accolades, my so-called “best friends” (ha) B and L were busy lifting the sizeable sketch from my portfolio during lunch break; intent on pulling off one of their most inspired capers ever.
I still can’t believe I didn’t recognize those snorts and titters for the doom that was coming. Well, that’s what you get for letting your guard down for half a minute in a crowded cafeteria to go grab an extra bag of Funyuns.
As mentioned, our senior class alone nudged one thousand. So, you can imagine the population of the entire school. Plus, all those eagle-eyed teachers!
The evil bitches hung my face over the main water fountain with long strips of stolen Scotch Tape. It held pride of place there all the ding-dang day, from the start of the first period to the very last bell. For seven hours, my racoon-ringed eyeballs gazed mournfully down at every student, teacher, and janitor stopping to gulp back a little H2O.
The count, without exaggeration, had to be hundreds, if not thousands.
I recall vaguely wondering why everybody I passed in the hall was looking at me so strangely that day. Some laughing (the insiders who knew I’d been set up), some puzzled (the unknowns who didn’t get it), some scornful (the scoffers who imagined I was on some huge ego trip).
It wasn’t until we were gathered in front of my locker grabbing our end-of-the-day crap that the Diabolical Duo inquired with muffled chortles where my smudgy likeness was at.
“We’d love to see it again. It was soooo good…”
Searching their sneaky faces and the contents of every binder I possessed with mounting angst, it didn’t take long before the jig was up.
Led down the terrazzo hall by my merry escorts to the big front doors, we arrived at ground zero. I’ll never forget catching sight of my surly puss hanging high over that damned fountain: a meticulously rendered sentry looming large and unmissable. Just before I strangled the giggling perpetrators, I remembered staring up and thinking I reminded myself of the charlatan’s face projected to Dorothy and Crew in The Wizard of Oz.
You know the scene, right? When Frank Morgan’s floating up on his wall, all huge and scary over that cauldron of shooting flames? The only difference was I wasn’t bilious green, I was over a water spigot, and I rocked way more eyeliner.
In my haste, I tore the thing a little around the edges when I yanked it down, which I later regretted. I still have my A+ masterpiece somewhere, folded up and buried in a box of memorabilia.
Hmm. I wonder if I look as fricking spooky as I remember.
- The Vaseline Jar
We are moving on to freshman semester of college for my final installment. Not precisely “childhood” I know, but I couldn’t resist. Here’s one that reeeally cranks up the ol’ cringearoonie factor, even years and years later.
A cocky eighteen and still sticking to my “too cool for school” vibe, I made it my modus operandi to sprawl in the very back of whatever university class I was attending, particularly those huge auditorium-like rooms with their angled, elevated seats stretching all the way to infinity.
(Oh. Except for Philosophy 101 and Mr. H, on whom I had the hugest crush ever. For his class I sat dead center in the very first row, right in front of his faded, bejeaned crotch. But that is neither here nor there.)
It was during one of these large auditorium yawn fests in which Humiliation Number Five occurred. Don’t ask me which class… I recall neither the professor, nor the subject matter.
All I do remember, in glaring detail, was the jampacked room and my standard position, way up high in the nose bleeds. Very last row. On the left aisle. There I lounged, barely listening as I likely nursed a Long Island Iced Tea Hangover, my drink of choice in those carefree, saccharine-drenched days.
Back then, I had an odd (okay, a very odd) habit of lugging around a huge tub of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. For my poor Northeast-ravaged chapped lips, you understand. I’m talking the biggest mother the company made: a loaf-sized jar with a shiny metal lid. (In those days it was metal, not plastic. Trust me, this is absolute fact.)
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking… What’s wrong with a freaking tube of Chapstick, weirdie?
All these years later, I still don’t have the answer to such a basic, fundamental question.
Laziness? No spare change? Afraid I’d run out?
No clue. I just nicked that big ol’ honking tub from the family bath and shoved it in my school sack; confident I’d always be prepared when dry lips beckoned.
Insane, I know.
It was halfway through class when, bored and restless, I figured it was time to soften up the old kisser. (I’d likely already touched up those dark kohl rings around my eyes, doodled as much as anyone can doodle, and checked out any tasty prospects in the rows below.) Fumbling around in my sack-o-crap, I pulled out the blue-labeled monster, getting set to apply with dainty pinkie.
Maybe my fingers were greasy from the college pub’s famous fries. Maybe I was a tad more hungover than I thought. Probably, I just wasn’t paying attention. Whatever. Next thing I knew, “Big Vas” was rolling away from me, thudding down step after carpeted step in that cavernous chamber of learning.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
I froze, countless heads turning to gawk up at me.
First the lid flew off, jangly and harsh as it ricocheted off a wall. The rest of the tub kept going and going, finally coming to rest at the brogues of Professor Whatisname. Slowly he bent and plucked it up, holding it aloft for all to see like some kind of gelatinous trophy. Squinting, he waggled the thing in my distant direction, a creepy look settling on his face.
Well, to be fair, in light of those “1001 Uses,” who knew what the guy was thinking?
Naturally, I had no choice but to rise and plod down the Staircase of Shame to retrieve my runaway buddy. Every single eye in that hushed classroom was on my stiffly-held form, gaggles of masculine snickers ringing in my ears as I headed south, cheeks ablaze.
(Wait. Wasn’t Vaseline suggested for skin rashes as well?)
Halfway down my never-ending journey, a shy Asian student stuck out his hand, helpfully proffering the metal lid he’d been so kind to rescue. I grabbed the sticky, fiber-studded disc from him, loathe to make eye contact.
The rest is a petroleum-hazed blur. I must have gained possession and headed back on up to my perch. Or maybe I grabbed my shit and fled… I really can’t recall, which if you ask me is a godsend. I’m pretty positive I dropped out of that class soon afterwards. If not, I definitely moved my seat, in the slim hopes I wouldn’t be recognized as the infamous Vaseline Queen.
Immediately after this life lesson, I splashed out for a few tubes of Chapstick, fruit-flavored and pocket-discreet. My jelly tub days were over, that was for dang sure. And jeez, was my bag lighter now!
By the by, something hideously similar happened a few years on, featuring a box of jumbo-sized Tampax and a blind date. But that’s for another day.
Right now, I have to go uncork a bottle. Because, between you and me? I’m thinking this little jaunt down Red Face Lane wasn’t quite as cathartic as I’d hoped it would be.
But you can’t say I didn’t try.
Thanks for reading, Jaye Hawks.
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