Tag Archives: siblings

The Monopoly® man is a strange fellow

Recently I’ve seen two different promotions featuring the Monopoly® man, the older mustachioed gentlemen with the top hat and cane. In the last month or so, his image has been everywhere and on top of that, I needed to come up with his formal, original name for a crossword answer. It turned out to be “Rich Uncle Penny Bags.” Rich Uncle Penny Bags? What kind of name is that?? I’ve heard of “Money Bags” but Penny Bags doesn’t make him sound all that rich.

Seeing his image takes me back to childhood memories and how much I loved playing the game with my brothers & sisters. There were times, when I was very young, we played as a whole family. In some instances, my slightly older sister and I were made to play as one person. We didn’t argue; it was basically a condition of getting to play with the older ones. I remember one time in particular, when my sister and I as our little tag team were losing and about to be eliminated from the game, so one of my older brothers was good enough to try to sneak money to us in his shoe under the table (he had long legs). As you might imagine, this was a clumsy affair that the others were quickly wise to, especially as my brother sunk lower and lower on his side of the table.

I’ve also been reminded that I found the Monopoly® Man a bit unsettling. He wasn’t exactly kid-friendly and he didn’t look like any of MY uncles. On closer examination today, I see that he’s an odd choice, especially as a mascot for what has long been largely a children’s game. It’s something in the eyes, at least in one characterization where he has these large, dead-fish eyes (there’s more than one version of him). If he’s not exactly sinister, he’s shifty-looking. I can see why I didn’t exactly warm to him. He looked like he was up to no good.

Interesting side note from Wikipedia: The character initially appeared on the first game produced in 1936 but the artist who rendered him remained anonymous until 2013 when his granddaughter came forward to identify him as Dan Fox. That’s a long time for a culturally iconic image to go uncredited.

I realize now also that Monopoly is a game of capitalism, which was entirely wasted on me as a child (I sure didn’t know the actual meaning of the word “monopoly” either). I didn’t know what capitalism was; it was just a fun game. Buying property and building houses was utter fiction to me (sadly still is). I really didn’t like ending up in “jail” but that too and the game’s white collar crimes that led to it meant nothing in my limited experience. My monetary knowledge was enough that I understood fine the accumulation of the fake money; I delighted in collecting rent when other players landed on my property. The railroads were especially desirable. I thought trains were terribly exciting (I still have a fondness for them) even if my experiences were largely limited to seeing trains or waiting at train crossings on the proverbial road trips to Grandma’s house in the country.

I had an idea a long time ago I never did which was to get a Monolopy® board and hang it on the wall as decoration. I wouldn’t go buy a new one; it’d have to be a yard sale or thrift store find. It’s funny to me. Basically, my favorite childhood game features a theme which is largely the antithesis of things I value as an adult – nobody ever accuses me of being money-hungry or any stripe of capitalist. I still like the little dog, though, and the hat. Those game pieces were a piece of brilliance.

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“Let me see that bear”

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I got my first teddy bear when I was 16. A guy friend – platonic – from school gave him to me. For some reason, I just never had a teddy bear. I owned other kinds of stuffed animals, though. I know I had two small stuffed rabbits. And a misshapen cat my older sister sewed – its head always flopped to the side like someone had wrung its neck. (While the floppy head bothered me, fortunately I never thought about any neck-wringing business at the time.)

The closest thing to a teddy bear was a pink stuffed fox who had the basic shape of a bear. It was definitely a fox though. I don’t want to turn this into a crappy story from childhood – because that’s not the point (not today, kids!) – but the back story of the fox should be told.

It was my seventh birthday. Tradition was that my mother bought the gift, although my father got involved sometimes, especially for my brothers’ gifts (definitely my younger brother’s). Anyway, nobody had got me a birthday present. At seven I was old enough to notice but naive enough to not think too badly of it. At the 11th hour, my mother sent one of my older sisters out to the store to get me something and she came back with a pink stuffed fox. I was perfectly pleased; what the hell did I know? It was cute and I did like it.

I have to say, while my mother had a reputation for not giving the best gifts, and sometimes giving them late on top of that, in all fairness, the missed-entirely event stood out because it was rare. And, if she could chime into this post, or somebody wanted to chime in on her behalf, it would probably be to point out that she had a lot of kids to buy for, so what can you expect. Okay, I’ve been fair and said it, yay fair me!

Moving along. So, I’m 16 and my friend gives me this beautiful, soft, cute as can be, teddy bear. What a great gift! He didn’t know I’d never had one so it was all the better.

I had a mess of older siblings, and in a big raucous family like ours, it was par for the course to have a lot of in-jokes, usually at someone’s expense, although not always. We kids were quick on our feet, tossing out one-liners and punch lines, the more so as we aged as a group and the years between us became less pronounced. Certain lines became part of family lore, to be repeated for years to come. This was one such time.

We’d gathered at the house as we often did, both the kids who still lived at home, and those who’d moved out, but stayed in the area (tellingly – one way or another – none of us ever went far). Hanging out in the living room with my siblings, I had my new teddy bear, dubbed Taddy, with me. I was holding on tight, as this wasn’t a crew to be trusted, especially one of my older brothers, whose comedic exploits – when he wasn’t in a foul mood – were legend.

My brother spied the teddy bear.

“Let me see that bear.”

“No,” I said, “You’ll hurt him!”

“I won’t hurt him,” my brother said in conciliatory tones.

I handed my bear over. My brother, standing, immediately took the bear in one hand and pretended to smack him about the head with the other, complete with added vocal sound effects: “Smackety, smackety, smackety.

“Taddy!” I cried, jumping up from my seat on the couch to rescue my bear.

Never was I to be so tricked again. For years to come, any time somebody seemed to be up to no good, someone else might slyly insert these code words into the conversation, “Let me see that bear.”

Halloween

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When I was a kid, while there was talk of razor blades in apples and poisoned unwrapped candy, it was still the norm to go trick or treating on Halloween. Or should I say trickortreating because we said it as if it was all one word, and frankly, I didn’t understand either “trick” or “treat” in this context; I knew only that candy was going to be extracted. We played no tricks.

I loved it all. The costume. The unusual privilege of a night trek – supervised by an older sibling when we were little – on a cool October evening. The excitement. Examining the haul at night’s end. Sadly, examining was pretty much the extent of the fun with the candy. After selecting one piece each, my siblings and I had our loot confiscated by our mother (the kill-joy who was forever going on about “rotting your teeth” and who “pays the dental bills”) and never directly accessed by us again. Had I any sense, I’d have been sure to have hidden a stache of candy or minimally EATEN a bunch of it whilst on our outdoor excursion. Nope, not me.

Many other kids roamed the town at will with their oversized pillow cases crammed full of candy, but we were permitted only a short range. Not only did we never tote pillow cases, there’d have been no point, given the modest amount of goods we could expect to accumulate. Mecca was apparently the apartment complex down the road because all the savviest, greediest kids bee-lined to them since they could hit a dozen doors in a matter of minutes. These kids knew their time management. I doubt I need to say apartments with strangers were definitely NOT in our permitted zone.

There was one particular house in the neighborhood that was also verboten. It was never explained why it was off-limits, but every year our mother made a point to tell us not to go there. Till the one year she didn’t. I’m sure it was an oversight, she simply forgot to include it in the list of rules & regulations for our jaunt. My sister and I were considered old enough to take our little brother and go without older-sibling supervision and were for once, opportunistic enough to take advantage of our mother’s omission. There were much creepier houses and people we visited on Halloween who were considered acceptable (for instance, anyone who belonged to or attended our church, no matter how otherwise weird, demented, scary, or otherwise troubling, was always okay).

On approaching the usually-forbidden house, we saw the lady sitting just outside the door with her candy. She was delighted to see us and knew who we were. I remember the candy as being good stuff, not cheap and scanty. Maybe she noticed we never came by other years, or maybe not. All I know is to this day, given her pleasure in our visit, I’m glad we went there. Come to find out years later, the woman was an alcoholic and that was why our mother told us not to go to her house for trick or treating. The whopping irony of this is that prohibition wasn’t exactly practiced in our own house. Okay then!

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One summer, on a trip back from the neighboring state my parents hailed from and where many of our relatives still lived, our family stopped at a roadside market to buy apples. In addition to a bushel of apples, there were free apple masks for us kids. Apple masks you inquire? Oh yes, seriously. They were simple illustrated cardboard creations, with eye and mouth holes cut out and an elastic band attached to go around the back of the head. Not high-tech but we kids were excited to get this unexpected gift on a boring apple quest.

That year, my sister and younger brother came up with our own idea – our older sisters & mother usually had a hand or more in our costumes – to use the masks and go as a matching trio of apples. Who else would be going as apples? We dressed all in red, donned our masks, and off we went. Those apple masks…they were a problem. Being a flat piece of cardboard, they didn’t stay in place well and slid around. Worse, saliva and breathing dampened the inside area around the mouth opening, so that over the course of the evening, the cardboard became moist and started to shred. This was not a pleasant sensation. Finally, we were most insulted when a neighbor exclaimed over the “little tomatoes!” Tomatoes?! We were apples dammit. Sheesh.

I’m not sure how old I was when I stopped going trick or treating. I hadn’t gone in some years, when I talked my best friend into going out when we were 16. See, I had these masks… No, not the surely long-gone apple masks, but plastic green Frankenstein masks I bought for fun. We dressed in big, black overcoats and clunky boots to accompany the masks. (We weren’t going to be the sullen, unimaginative teens who show up sans costumes on Halloween demanding candy.)

It was a great time and the evening went off mostly without a hitch. If asked by a homeowner how old we were, I pleasantly said “ten,” offering that we were big for our age. People good-naturedly went along with it. Except one house. We were surprised when a boy we knew – a popular, “cool” kid one year older – answered the door. He wasn’t having this “ten” business and demanded to know who we were. He wanted the masks off. We giggled but got uncomfortable. We were both out of our league with this boy, someone too popular to even speak to either of us under normal circumstances (so deep ran this feeling that once, years later, I about fell over when this young man said hello to me in passing on the sidewalk).

We didn’t want to be outed from our Frankenstein disguises. In fact, we wanted the hell out and literally ran away across the lawn into the night – I don’t remember if we got any candy first or not. I hadn’t counted, however, on my telltale hair, noticeably blonde and recognizable, paired with my Irish best friend’s thick dark hair, showing from behind, and most certainly giving us away. Because with a superior, somewhat triumphant tone Mr. Popular called after us, “Oh, I know who you are…” Busted.

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Now for your viewing pleasure: My MAD© Magazine cover rejection

In a recent post I shared an old cartoon I’d done years ago as part of a submission to MAD© magazine which ultimately went nowhere. This got me to thinking about MAD© which I haven’t even looked at in ages. I never subscribed but the library used to have it. (Maybe 10 years ago I asked a librarian about the possibility of the branch carrying it again and was more or less blown off, so I dropped it.)

My former brother-in-law introduced me and my closest-in-age siblings to the magazine when we were in grade school. A bright, observant man, he must have noticed that his wife’s youngest siblings were kind of sheltered and was good enough to hand us a small supply of MAD© back issues and another similar (knock-off?) magazine. We were thrilled! They were just our kind of humor. We had no idea such a wondrous magazine existed.

One of the submissions I sent to MAD© was a cover idea. I didn’t think I could share it here because of potential copyright infringement, but it occurred to me it’ll be okay if I don’t show their mascot or logo. As was true of cartoons, they weren’t interested in the art so much as seeing the concept.

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The First Good Man I Knew

My former brother-in-law was the first good man I knew. He was also the first person to marry into our large brood, which he did when I was still a child. He left when I was a young adult. There were boyfriends and girlfriends coming and going from the family, but he was the first and only in-law for a ten year stretch, a unique, possibly not enviable position.

I wasn’t too sure of him at first. He was unknown, not from our community and not someone who glad-handed or courted his wife’s many siblings. It wasn’t clear how he’d fit into the family dynamic or what role he’d play. Unlike my loud, animated family, he was more reserved, less given to emoting and — most crucially — he was logical, a rational, thinking person. This was new. Structured, calm, reasonable approaches to thinking and relating? I hadn’t known it could be done.

I was an observant child, sensitive, and quieter-spoken than much of my family. My brother-in-law’s sensibility appealed to me. I liked listening to what he had to say. He did, it turned out, have a strong sense of humor but unlike the slapstick and bravado that was central to the typical family wit, his was dry and understated. He’d crack a rare chuckle, not laugh uproariously or physically act out a joke or story. He looked a person in the eyes when he spoke and kept his mouth shut when the other person talked. The reward of that chuckle or focus became worth having because my brother-in-law wasn’t an easy audience. This was a man whose attention and respect had to be earned.

It took awhile to learn these things about my new brother-in-law and for the two of us to forge a connection. There were just too many of us in the family plus many relatives and an assortment of friends who were adjuncts; a shy-with-strangers little girl many years younger wasn’t going to be on the radar. He was a big guy, tall and stocky, somewhat physically imposing, favoring jeans, heavy belt buckles and boots. He liked his beer and cigarettes. He drove a foreign car and had a fondness for gadgets. I, on the other hand, liked playing with dolls, reading, arts and crafts, and being with my close-in-age siblings. I’m not sure exactly when we started to be closer. I can’t recall a specific moment, or our first meaningful conversation, only that there would be many.

He and my sister came to the house often. For dinner, for holidays, for cook-outs, for movie nights (he loved James Bond films, even though in the middle of the film he’d point out mistakes or why things couldn’t have gone down as they did). Sometimes the family en masse would go in the early years of their marriage to my sister and brother-in-law‘s apartment, and later, their house. We were a possessive, interdependent lot; I didn’t like it a bit the occasions my sister and brother-in-law instead went to his parents’ home for a holiday. They should be with us. (I was a child and thereby entitled to think that way; not so sure the rest of the family was but they did.) Once, maybe twice, his parents joined our family at our house for a gathering. That was a mix made in hell. His father was an accomplished, traveled man. He looked like Walt Disney, sophisticated. His mother was pretty tightly wrapped from what I saw, reserved, and not someone who was going to crack a beer, enjoy ribald humor, or get down for basement pool table or shuffleboard tournaments. Their family had even lived overseas. Class differences? Yeah, you might say that, although I didn’t know it then.

As I moved into my teens, my brother-in-law and I had more to say to one another, finding we both enjoyed challenging, in-depth conversations that wouldn’t long hold the attention of other family members. Oh, my family liked to argue – lord did they – but theirs wasn’t the stuff of rigorous, analytical discussion; it was often nonsensical and usually loud. In my brother-in-law I found someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to intellectually challenge me. He didn’t have to, but I think I can safely say he came to love me and the rest of his wife’s family (well, most of them I’d venture).

He treated me with respect and valued what I had to say, even if, I can well imagine, he couldn’t fathom some of my teenage girl pastimes (he did have an adopted sister of his own, but all these years later I remember clearly there was NO love lost there). Nobody had ever singled me out from the rest of the family that way and appreciated my mind before he did (my family thought all my question-asking and deep pondering was just weird).

Lest you think by now I have an idealized, child’s view of the man, I’ll assure you I don’t. My brother-in-law did not suffer fools gladly. One of his oft-used phrases when driving, said within the confines of the car about another driver’s poor technique was,

“You bought that piece of shit, now drive it.”

To breezily insult someone, even one of his sisters-in-law, he’d say, “Cute but not too bright.” He’d refer to anyone he took a dim view of as a “clown.” Once, on a long car trip to a family reunion in a neighboring state, one of my sisters was in a snit about fixing her hair with curlers in the backseat of the car. She was dissatisfied and complaining a lot, working everyone’s nerves. I guess my brother-in-law, at the wheel, had enough, because he said words to the effect of how my sister was going to look dropped off on the side of the highway with a bag of curlers shoved up her ass. Um, no, he would never really do that or harm us, but by then he knew us well. He was family.

When the marriage between my sister and brother-in-law ended, my family reacted poorly. How quick they were to turn on my brother-in-law and bad mouth him behind his back! I didn’t know the details beyond what my sister told us – and they weren’t exactly clarifying with statements like, “He’s gone crazy” – and knew there was more to the story. I had enough respect for my brother-in-law and his history as a member of our family to want to hear his side. I never did, not up to and including now.

My married sister and I weren’t especially close – there was a big age gap – and each of us was closer to other sisters. Yet, maybe because I’d reserved judgment, or maybe because she knew the connection I shared with her husband, it was me she asked to join her the day the divorce was final. Not as a celebration, more to commemorate the moment, I think. I was surprised she wanted to spend the evening with me, but pleased. We went to dinner in a nearby waterside community and afterward hired a bicycle-drawn carriage, powered by the hugely muscled legs of a buff young guy. (He must not have been too taken with us because I remember the ride as not being very long.)

I saw my former brother-in-law one more time when our family was dealing with an enormous crisis. It was awkward. I think he wanted to chat and catch up, but the timing was wrong. He disappointed me in that time period in that I felt he didn’t come through for our family. I could not tell you what he thought. Did he no longer have any reserves of love for us? Not feel any obligation? Too involved in his new life? Again, don’t know.

I can tell you this. I loved him mightily. With every passing year of my life, I’ve appreciated more and more what he did for me. He gave me a template for many relationships to come. He saw and valued what I had to offer. He loved me. He was first good man I knew.

The bizarre soundtrack to my childhood

P_20140429_090738My childhood was strange. One of the reasons, in a way which made things interesting at least, was having a mess-o-older-siblings. This meant I had access to pop culture and other artifacts of their time I might not have otherwise had, or not quite so soon or as young. It was a trickle-down thing.

Music came to me early because of them. My parents listened to music and owned records, but from what I saw, I wouldn’t say that they loved it or that it was the “soundtrack to their lives.” I can think of no piece of music my mother loved, but I do remember my father going nuts for Linda Rondstadt’s “Blue Bayou” (which frankly threw me, and seemed to be a one-time thing).

My brothers & sisters, though, listened to music a lot and a variety at that. And one of the things that happened as they moved out of the house, was that they tended to leave things behind (they later came and took things back but that’s another story). The leavings included a bunch of cast-off 45rpms (they’d moved on to albums and lost interest in the 45s I guess). I am now the happy owner of a couple Beatles 45s, a Simon and Garfunkel, a Turtles, and one of my favorites, which actually was abandoned by an older cousin, Tommy James’ “Dragging the Line” (did you know REM redid it? It does not disappoint. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qpD75bN-n4) I don’t get to hear them often, unless I happen upon a holdout clinging to his record player (it’s usually a guy).

But that’s not all. I hold in my little paw a 45 of Spike Jones and the City Slickers “Rhapsody from Hungary”. This was the soundtrack to my childhood. And let me tell you, it is freaky stuff. We – my sister closest in age, and my little brother – loved it. It’s not a song. Not by any normal measuring standard. A man and a woman are talking, in a peculiarly seductive way to one another, clinking their wine glasses, when suddenly that gives way to a lot of noise. Glass breaking, a cowbell clanking, banjo playing, a chicken bawking, gunshots, horn sections, and traffic sounds. [Lookee what I found! I’m so excited I can share it with you! www.youtube.com/watch?v=45zZbn_3deU]

We had a ritual. We listened to the record in our basement, on a monstrous old combination b&w TV/radio/record player housed in a wood console (now there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore), the kind that has doors on the front. The record player unit squeakily and sometimes reluctantly, pulled forward out of the unit so the little record could be popped on and needle set. As soon as the noisiest part of the “song” kicked in, that was our cue to run wildly around the basement in circles (or ovals really). We could make a complete circuit around the basement stairs. Sometimes we just ran, other times we tricycled madly in succession for the duration. We had no idea what the song meant (still can’t say I do) but thought it, and our routine, were hysterically funny.

Was this strange? If I could go back in time and watch 2 or 3 three kids running or biking around and around in wide circles, laughing maniacally as they did so to the rather twisted “Rhapsody from Hungary”, till they collapsed out of breath, I’d be thinking this is very ODD.

Odder still, the flip side of the 45 is Peter Cottontail. You know: “Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail, hippity-hopping on my merry way….” C’mon, everybody, jump in anywhere! Well, maybe you don’t know that one. Perhaps sadly, I just wrote that line from memory. There’s another line in it that I imagine at least one or two of my siblings could also still sing, in the appropriate rabbit falsetto (I’m sorry there’s no audio to WordPress, or not that I’ve discovered how to do, or I would sing it for you): “Whooped weeeeeee. Whooped weeeeeee. Di-ditty-di-di, dum-dum!

What’s a merry children’s song like Peter Cottontail doing on the flip side of Rhapsody from Hungary? Maybe that’s the strangest part of all. Or maybe that the YouTube link shows a record cover (that I never saw before) referring to these songs as “kids the classics”. If you want or have warped kids, I guess they are…

Ah, Petrouschka… Whooped weeeeeee. Whooped weeeeeee.