Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Soundtrack to Your Life: Lesley Gore’s Birthday Wishes, by Marianne Lonsdale

JimandLesley

Lesley Gore with the author’s brother, Jim

The word dork may have been invented to describe my older brother Jim.  He often hated himself for being weird but at the same could not contain his quirky interests.  Like being the Northern California Vice President of the Lesley Gore Fan Club.  He drove our father nuts. “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows moved up five spaces on the Billboard charts this week,” my fourteen-year-old brother gushed. I didn’t raise my head but let my eyes sneak a look at my father.  Didn’t he care that Dad would start yelling any minute?  Jim’s inability to keep his mouth shut fascinated and horrified me. Jim reached for the mashed potatoes.  Dad didn’t look up from his newspaper.   He was clueless about to what to do with a son who preferred Lesley Gore to playing baseball. “Stop chattering about that stupid singer,” my father yelled.  “Nobody cares about her.”  He slammed his fork on the table.  “Could you at least read the first page of the sports section?  Then you’d have something to talk to guys about!” Dad stormed into the living room carrying his wineglass and jug of Red Mountain Wine.   He flopped down in his easy chair and turned on the TV.  Dad ridiculed anybody and anything he didn’t understand.  The relationship between my father and Jim remained cantankerous as we journeyed through adulthood.

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I could hear the stereo blasting “It’s My Party” from the street, before I stepped into my brother’s front yard.   I had to hand it to my brother – he was one loyal fan.  Who would have guessed that when he was forty-four he’d still be hot for Lesley Gore? The door to Jim’s cottage stood open.  He sat on the couch, hunched over a notebook, pencil in hand.  Cigarette smoke clouded the living room. “Hey, Sis,” he said.  “Glad you could make it.  Long time since we celebrated Lesley’s birthday together.” He raised a tumbler from the coffee table.  White cream floated above a dark liquid.  His favorite drink, a White Russian – kahlua with vodka and a splash of cream.  A slight slur to his words told me Jim had already toasted Lesley more than once today. “How about I make you a drink?”  Jim winked. “Sure.” I steered clear of Jim most of the time.  His drinking depressed me.  The only time he’d admit he needed anybody’s help was on the telephone at three in the morning.  After a fight with his boyfriend.  I’d stopped answering those middle of the night calls. “What song do you want to hear?” Jim asked, handing me my drink. “How about ‘You Don’t Own Me’?” “Great choice,” Jim said. “Just let me write the title on today’s list, and I’ll play it.” “Do you still keep your music charts?” I asked. Jim used to list in a notebook the songs that he played each day.  He calculated his weekly, monthly and annual top ten.  I had no idea he was still at it. “Yeah,” he said.  He rolled his blue green eyes upwards and smiled.  “Silly, but I enjoy it.” That’s Jim, honest about so much.  He didn’t try to hide who he was.  He’d be embarrassed but he wasn’t hiding.  I loved that about him.

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I don’t know the details of my brother getting clean and sober.  Odd, because I’d propped my brother up for so many years, but I’d backed away during his last years of speed and alcohol.  When he finally reached out for help, he was still pissed at me for abandoning him. Even odder is that he did reach out to our dad.  Dad, sober for twenty years when Jim called him, jumped right in with support. Going to AA meetings together became routine for Jim and Dad.  The change in their relationship was miraculous.

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My brother celebrated his second year of sobriety with a trip to Las Vegas to see Lesley Gore perform.  I spoke with Dad on the phone a few days after Jim’s return. “Have you talked to your brother since he got back from Vegas?” Dad asked. “No, did he have a good time?” “You gotta talk to him,” Dad said.  “He’s so wound up. He talked to Lesley Gore after the show.  She remembered him from the fan club days.  Jim is flying like a kite.” A happy Jim is irrepressible.  His enthusiasm used to drive Dad nuts. “I’m tickled for him,” Dad finished.  “But you gotta hear the story from Jim.” I hung up the phone, stunned to hear Dad excited about a Lesley Gore sighting.  I sure had underestimated his capacity for change.

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Jim’s fiftieth birthday was his first that he looked forward to sharing with our father.  My parents planned a birthday dinner at their home. They hit on an idea to write to Lesley Gore, to tell her of the upcoming birthday.  Lesley replied with a lovely handwritten letter to Jim, care of my parents. Her note arrived four days before Jim’s birthday.  Dad could not wait that long.  He called Jim and asked to meet at the Starbucks in downtown Oakland.  Mom and Dad rode BART for the several miles from Daly City to San Francisco, then through the underwater tube that goes under the bay, and emerged in Oakland. The three of them had just sat down at an outdoor table when my father took the letter from his coat pocket.  He handed it to Jim.  Dad’s lower lip quivered. “Oh, my god,” my brother said, spotting the return address label that read L. Gore. Jim slid the letter from the envelope, read Lesley’s birthday wishes and her thank-you for all his years of support. “I don’t believe it,” Jim shouted.  He rose to his feet.  “I got a letter from Lesley Gore.” Jim called me as soon as he returned home, shouting out every word in the letter. My seventy-two year old father had made the leap from refusing to accept a son who didn’t fit any mold he recognized to being happy that his son was happy.   He’d moved to a place of unconditional love and taken Jim with him. Mission accomplished, letter delivered, my parents finished their coffee and headed back to the BART station.   Who would have guessed that my father would end up using Lesley Gore to celebrate the life of his son?  Jim and my father hugged good-bye.  They both cried, having traveled much further than a round trip from Daly City to Oakland.   Marianne Lonsdale writes personal essays and short stories, and is developing a novel. Her work has been published in the San Francisco ChronicleLiterary MamaFiction365The Sun, and Pulse. She is a founding member of Write On Mamas, a San Francisco Bay Area writers group.

How I Lost My Best Friend, by Lynn Lauber

get-attachment copy 2My best friend P and I are standing on the corner of Rice Avenue and Allentown Road on this day in 1967, discussing despair and possible suicide—two of our common topics.  A car careens around the corner, filled with the blonde heads of high-school boys who are the cause of our malaise in the first place – thick necked, feckless, their pink and white mouths always open with jeers, catcalls, and absolute power.  We ignore their taunts and deftly sidestep their car’s path as we continue our conversation.  For all our talk, dying isn’t really in our plans. It’s part of our song and dance routine; it’s a feature of our being best friends.

If I’d signaled otherwise, P might have followed me out into the road and to our doom.  I’m the dominant one, not that we speak of such things.  But I definitely run the show, this dance between us–so unlike the real ones we’d never be caught dead attending—the proms and homecomings and other sanctioned events.

Instead, that night we’re at the Rodeway Motor Lodge off Route 61, in bed with young men who my grandmother would call “dusky” after she got  up from her faint on the floor.

I’ve talked P into coming here because my current boyfriend, the tyrannical Miles, said his friend was in town and needed a girl.

So P is with a long lanky youth named Langdon who she’s never met before and will surely never see again.  We both have worn our maxi skirts, knee high boots and vinyl coats for this outing – we could be walk-ons in a budget version of Superfly if someone nearby were filming, if 1972 still weren’t still in the future.  We think we look grand.

As I lie there staring at the ceiling, I hear a faint thump on the other side of the plywood wall, which must be P’s head against the bedframe –a kind of desperate communication.

What is she trying to convey with this rhythmic pounding?  I close my eyes at the thought and slip back into the shallow center of myself.   

I use P; we both know this–especially for her Pontiac Tempest, commodious as a sofa, which I need for illicit visits with Miles.  I need her for fake slumber party locations, counterfeit mother’s signatures, to make calls for me in the middle of the night.

In turn, she is my apprentice in deception, pancake makeup, crash diets.

She is pink and petite with owl -like glasses that frequently fog.   Each winter we drive to Florida long enough to burn our skins a deep maroon, then speed back in order to glean attention for our remarkable, temporary bronzeness. (This is my idea, as are all others.)

We are 16, 17, then 18; finally we can escape our hometown.  P follows me to Columbus where I attend college, though she can’t afford classes herself.

We live together in a brick turn-of –the- century apartment, where roaches dance around the gas ring and fall from the ceiling into our hair.

I read Sartre, while P works in a Fotomat—a bathroomless booth in the middle of a parking lot.  She brings home photos of other people’s vacations that we laugh over at night.

We visit Planned Parenthood and carry pink disks of birth control pills in our macramé bags.  We can officially sleep with anyone now.  After so many years, we are free.

A student who lives in an apartment above us finally snags my heart; he’s unlike any type we’ve known before. He skis and drives a sports car; there are country clubs in his background.  He likes P, too, and we all go out together for fried pork tenderloin sandwiches and Marx Brothers’ double features.  We are a threesome, though they each are separately mine

The wind shifts; we are 19.  I learn about continental plates and how to spell Moliere; P works at Budget Meats and brings home half-priced liver.

One holiday weekend, I have to go home alone; leaving P and the boyfriend to their own devices.

When I walk into the apartment after my return, I know what happened; P runs water in the sink and won’t meet my eye.

I expect the boyfriend to deny it, but that P does is the clincher.

“You can’t lie to me,” I scream at her.  “I’m the one who taught you how!”

This is how I lose my best friend.

I could say it was because of a man, but I can’t make myself believe it.

It was me, it was me. It was me, all along.

 

Lynn Lauber’s most recent book is Listen to Me, Writing Life into Meaning (WW Norton); her essay, “When One of Me Became Three,” was published in the NYT’s Modern Love.