Tag Archives: Growing Up

Psst! Need a Christmas Tree?

Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.

But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom.  That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?

I looked around the room in wonder.  It was, of course, huge.  I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.

I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, so I had to use Google Images. Tthanks, Google!

This isn’t the actual room, although there are similarities.   You see, I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, and couldn’t snap a picture.  I had to use Google Images. Thanks, Google!

A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.

As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.

You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes.  Heroes always use the front door.

Wanna know what happened?

Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard.  It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting.  “A Christmas tree farm.”

Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.

But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere.  I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)

Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”

Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.

So back to the Ballroom.

Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!

“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields.  You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both.  And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*

 

Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember.  But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees.  Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field.  We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.

But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.

You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all.  Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.

And there was another issue.

If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years.  We’re way past that.  The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?

* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White.  So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them.  Then again, it was the 60s.  Everybody didn’t get a trophy.

67 Comments

Filed under Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy family members, Criminal Activity, Dad, Mom would die of embarrassment, Not stealing, Reluctant thief, Stealing

You Can Shake On It!

It was a month ago, and I can still feel Tracy’s hand against mine. Actually I can still feel her limp fingers brushing up against the tips of mine in the creepiest handshake ever. Ewwwww.

*     *     *

I didn’t do it to be a jerk, although I absolutely was. I just thought it was funny.

You see, I had a neighbor when I was growing up who gave me the secret to success.  Repeatedly.  Captain Leavitt would explain to me, again and again, the proper way to shake hands.

“Leasie!” he’d say. “You gotta understand this!  It’s the key to success. You’ve got to know how to shake hands properly if you want to make something of yourself.”

Captain Levitt * actually knew what he was talking about. Because he had gone from being a poor kid in Brooklyn – a high school dropout – into the owner of a posh string of shops (Custom Shop Shirtmakers) that sold, well, custom made shirts. By the time I knew him in the 1960s and early 70s, he was a millionaire several times over. He lived in New York City, but he had a weekend house down the road from mine.

He never failed to stop when he saw me to teach me the secret of success.

And I never failed to do it wrong, each and every time.

“Leasie!” he’d say, in his thick Brooklyn accent. “No, no, no!  You’re not doing it right!”

Google Image. What a smile he had!

Google Image.
What a smile he had!

He must have thought I was a moron. I’m sure he recalled the 4,396 times he’d already taught me just how to shake hands.

“You need to pay attention, Leasie!” he’d say, reaching his hand out to shake mine.

Of course I’d do it wrong.  Just so he could show me again.

“Now reach your whole hand towards mine – put the webbed part between your thumb and pointer right up against the webbed bit of mine. Wrap your fingers around mine and grasp it firmly – firmly but not too hard. Then shake it twice — three times is OK. Four times? That’s too many.”

Each time, I was a good student. By the time he walked or drove away, I was shaking his hand properly.

The next time? I’d screw it up again, just so he’d teach me again. I’m pretty sure that he thought I would likely need a lot more than a firm handshake to become successful. But Captain Levitt did what he could for me.

*     *     *

Now back to Tracy.

John and I are looking to replace my car, so I went into a car dealer one Sunday afternoon, sans husband. It’ll be my car, so I want to figure out what car I like before John insists I buy something else. So there I was, by myself in the car dealer. s

As I sat in a car that was conveniently $10K over budget, a voice came from nowhere.

“hello” it whispered.

A woman’s voice. It seemed to have no body attached to it. When I eventually saw the body that went with the disembodied voice, I quickly figured out the problem. She was hiding in my blind spot.

“I’m Elyse,” I said, reaching out to shake her hand.

“I’m Tracy,” she said in a whiny, barely audible voice.  And she grabbed the very bottoms of my fingers in her cold hand and massaged them.  Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Tracy tapped into my inner Captain Levitt. I forgot about the car, and could think of nothing except how to pass on Captain Levitt’s lesson to Tracy.  After a good handwashing, that is.

But that’s harder to give words of wisdom than you’d think, you know. Tracy is an adult! And you can’t just go around teaching adults things, you know. They don’t appreciate it.

Besides, I didn’t like Tracy. At all. The fact that she had previously been a disembodied voice AND that she shook hands like a limp lobster was only part of it. She was really creepy, like that person in the horror movie who nobody notices until she picks up the axe.

More importantly, she wasn’t helpful at all.

What on earth was she doing selling cars? It was like the car dealership version of a reality show where the contestants are assessed for the job they would be worst at. And somehow, I was written into the pilot.

Tracy couldn’t answer any of my questions about the car. She didn’t care about cars, in fact. I’m not even sure if she had driven one ever before. She explained to me that she was really a fashion designer.

“Well, you’ll look great when you get on Top Gear!” I said to her, the only nice fashion/car thing I could think to say.

“What’s Top Gear?” she asked.

Sigh.

So Tracy came with me on the test drive of one car she didn’t know the first thing about.

While she went to get the keys to a second car I wanted to drive, I decided. I had to do it.  Yes, I steeled myself to teach Tracy how to shake hands properly. I was pretty sure that some day, her next meal might just depend on it.  The entire future of this pathetic woman might actually depend on ME.  I couldn’t stand the pressure.

Because as Captain Levitt told me many, many times, “The key to success is in a good, firm handshake.”

I waited for Tracy to come back, trying to figure out just how to break the news to her. That her wimpy handshake was a problem in sales. In other jobs.  Hell, a shitty handshake was a problem in life itself.

So I decided to tell her about Captain Levitt, the rags to riches story of a very successful man.  And to teach her what he had taught me so many times before.

In fact, in the 30 minutes I waited for her to bring the keys to the second car I wanted to drive, I had it all figured out.

At least I did until Tracy blew me off in favor of another customer.  Yup.  The bitch walked by me with a young couple who wanted to test drive the car I was looking at. She looked up at me and waved as she got into the back of the car. WITH THEM.

So Tracy will never learn that the key to success is in a good firm handshake.

Oh, and not being an asshole. That’s on the top ten keys to success, too.

88 Comments

Filed under Adult Traumas, Bat-shit crazy, Being an asshole, Childhood Traumas, Growing up, keys to success, Shake, Wimpy handshakes