Part 72: Sticky Fingers
I stopped posting today's date in these blogs a while ago, because the news has been so depressing, and you know what's going on. However, I'm posting today's date: Saturday, September 11th, 2021, twenty years since 9/11.
I was in Seattle when it happened, my husband woke me out of a deep sleep to the bad news that a plane had hit a building in New York. He handed me a cup of coffee, and left for a meeting. I plopped down on the couch in front of the TV, stunned. Our front window faces the street, and it's a pretty big window, the blinds were down--- I didn't realize it, but a group of men from ABC news gathered outside my house, my back was to them, the TV in clear view facing the street. They came onto my porch with all their cameras and other equipment, ABC logos on their badges and hats, and when I heard the footsteps, I got up and opened the door.
"Hello?" I said, slightly irritated.
"We're sorry to bother you, but we were here doing another story here and we need to see...we need access to a television, do you mind if we come in?"
God, it was so weird. But I kind of didn't want to be alone, you know? I let them in, and we all watched the horror unravel on the screen together, me and these three...or was it four? guys from ABC news.
"Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?" one of the men asked me.
"Uh...you mean on camera? God. No. I just woke up. I have a giant pimple here, see?" I said, pointing to my cheek.
"We can just shoot you from the other side, is that ok?"
So they did. They interviewed me, and I ended up on the news with Peter Jennings the next day, on September 12th. Some clients, trapped around in various hotels on business, saw me and called me up. "I just saw you on the news!" It was strange. It added something odd to that sad day, because they asked me if I thought we were going to war. They couldn't use my answer, because I said, "War? What? Why do you say that?" Still unclear about what was actually going on.
Anyway, today I found the actual clip I'm in. I'd never seen it before, so today I looked for it on YouTube. Twenty years later, here's the clip, I'm at 2:47 in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkfEkBfX4Mg
Ok back to the early 70s in Hollywood.
I have a hazy memory of looking down from the balcony on the parking spaces below in the new apartment building, but other times it seems as though we were on the bottom floor. There was a Mexican family a few doors down, a girl my age lived with her mother and I think her step-father. She and I were allowed to play in between our places, but once I coaxed her out to the sidewalk. I didn't know she wasn't allowed to free range like I was. The step-father yelled out, ran to us, and dragged her back by her pigtails, lifting her off the ground. She screamed out in pain.
Child abuse was all around us.
The walls in the apartment were thin enough to hear neighbors, and Jan realized a baby was being abused by the mother in the unit behind ours, she told Riley about it. “I’m calling the police.” They argued, because Riley said he wouldn’t allow her to get involved, didn't want the police called, but she reported the abuse when he wasn’t around.
I remember a boy, younger, maybe four or five, who ran around biting other kids, his little teeth marks on their arms. “Watch out for the biter,” Jan warned.
My first day in second grade, I immediately loved my teacher, Mrs. Henry (Viola Davis will play Mrs. Henry in the movie, just FYI). She wore a tailored skirts with low heels, her black hair perfectly styled.
Once, she pulled me aside during a square dancing lesson, leaned down, held my chin in her hand, looked at me with her intense brown eyes, and said, “I like the way you’re confident with the boys. Never stop being confident.” I didn’t even know I was doing anything worth noting. I wasn’t feeling confident at all. Perhaps I was channeling Jeanette. I felt like I was getting a gold star for something—I swelled with pride at being singled out. She was the reason I began to look forward to school, the reason I wanted to do well.
Even though I liked school and my new teacher, my parents let me stay home if I said I felt even the slightest bit unwell, and I took advantage of that, watching movies and cartoons, pestering Jan while she painted and Riley while he typed. I didn’t understand why it would matter, how it would change things for me. The feeling of not knowing, of having missed something, haunted me through college.
The following week, I showed up to class after being absent for a few days.
That day in class, the room buzzed with excitement, kids were focused on counting out their change, and they handed in forms to Mrs. Henry. I asked one of the kids what everyone was so worked up about, and he told me— the entire class had money to pay for special order lollipops, and it was delivery day.
A red haired girl that sat near me named Karen asked, “What flavor did you order?”
“I didn’t. I didn’t know about it,” I said.
Perhaps it was something that was in the works before I showed up to this school, or maybe an announcement was made on the days I skipped out. Even if I had known and asked Jan for candy money, she’d been reading bad things about sugar overload, so she probably would’ve said no. Out of nowhere it seemed to me, she was slowly introducing things like carob, molasses, fruit leather, and hippy health food stores, at least when we had any extra cash.
I watched the other kids waiting for their candy, faces shining with anticipation, money ready to go and order forms carefully filled out.
Mrs. Henry called out each of my classmate’s names to give them their candy. Square and wrapped in clear cellophane, Karen had a huge pile, and she was separating them out by flavor.
“These ones are cinnamon,” she said.
I began to feel sorry for myself. The year before, Jan took me out on the wrong night for Halloween, she’d lost track of what day it was. Dressed as a little witch, the first door we knocked on gave us the bad news. “Oh, that was last night! We don’t have anymore treats, sorry.” The look they gave us was a mix of shock and pity, but then they seemed in a hurry to shut the door.
Reminded of that earlier injustice, I looked around the room. Every kid in class had candy or was in line to collect theirs, all but me. Karen carefully placed her candy, a dozen or more, inside her desk drawer. I watched her as she got up and asked Mrs. Henry if she could go to the bathroom. I calculated the timing. The bathroom was at the end of the hall. The kids around me were chatting and distracted, Mrs. Henry still handing out candy and collecting order forms.
I snuck sideways glances at Karen’s desk drawer, took one last look around to make sure no one was watching me, then I leaned to the left, opened the drawer, swiped three lollipops and stuck them in my brown paper lunch bag. I figured she had so many, she wouldn’t notice three were gone.
I wasn’t thinking about the possibilities and how my plan might unravel, like how Karen went crying to Mrs. Henry about her missing candy, and how Mrs. Henry confronted the class, asking for whoever took the candy to fess up. She looked at each of us with a stern gaze. When her eyes landed on me, I tried to make my face relax, slow my breathing, and be cool.
I dropped my head down, and fiddled with my pencil.
Karen pointed at me and said, “It was her. She doesn’t have candy and she took mine!”
All the sparkle I felt by being singled out by Mrs. Henry during square dancing was buried in shame. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as she approached my desk.
“Open your bag, Stacy,” she said.
Everything was ruined.
My parents were called to pick me up from the principal’s office. Riley showed up alone, he’d walked over. We took a slow walk back home, the whole time he held my hand in his. The street was busy, but Riley’s voice projected over the buzz of traffic and the conversations of people rushing past us.
“Never do anything you wouldn’t want to read about yourself on the front page of a newspaper, you hear me?” Riley seemed to be acting the part of the stern father, but I knew I wasn’t really in trouble. He didn’t believe in spanking kids or any kind of punishment at all, but I picked up on his general concern and worry. He went on to talk about stealing and consequences.
“You can’t do things like that, understand? There’s big trouble when you get caught taking stuff that isn’t yours.” He took long pauses between his thoughts on the subject, as if he was crafting a lecture of sorts, and measuring the impact of what he said by looking down at me to see how it landed. I didn’t say much. Kept my head down, mostly. The newspaper bit didn’t really sink in. Instead I felt embarrassed that I’d been caught, and knew the other kids wouldn’t forget what I’d done. Worst of all, Mrs. Henry wouldn’t like me anymore.
Riley went on, telling me the story. “When I was a kid, I broke into my grandmother’s grocery store. I broke the windows. Took food out to give to the poor families in town.” He tossed his cigar butt in a garbage can and we paused while he lit a fresh one. “But I got caught.”
I imagined my father was like Errol Flynn in the Robin Hood movie, giving stuff to people who needed it more.
“My grandmother, your great-grandmother, she sent me to a boy’s home as punishment,” he said. We crossed the street. “There’s big consequences for stealing, you understand me?” He squeezed my hand, and I looked up at him and nodded, but I still mostly felt sorry for myself.
I imagined a “boy’s home” was a big house where you got sent for a night or two if you made a mistake, like in that Spencer Tracy movie, “Boy’s Town.”
We went inside. It was quiet. Jan wasn’t home.
“I got Bosco. Want Chocolate milk?” Riley popped on the TV and headed to the kitchen. He took out two big glasses, poured milk in each, and then whisked in the chocolate syrup. The lecture about stealing was over. Or was it about stealing? I sat in front of the TV while Riley clicked through the channels to see what was on. He landed on “Ball of Fire” with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, which had already started. I knew he’d give me the gist of the story.
“I love you, honey,” Riley said.
“I love you, too,” I said, glad to move on to other topics.