Archives for category: 80’s

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This post is in response to If I Could Turn Back Time, where the question was asked, “If you could return to the past to relive a part of your life, either to experience the wonderful bits again, or to do something over, which part of you life would you return to? Why?”

After I graduated from college I landed what would be the best job I ever had.

Dressed in a white sailor shirt and a pair of navy clam diggers (that I bought at a Benneton store in Vienna, Austria) I headed out to my interview at Edrei Incorporated, publisher of Tiger Beat and Right On! magazines to name a few.

My mother was horrified at my outfit because it wasn’t professional enough. But something inside told me the corporate get up wasn’t going to land me this job. With no practical experience, and just out of college, I knew I had to appear funky rather than frumpy. To my relief, the Art Director met me in a pair of jeans and one of those hipster woven pullovers.

I got the job.

I worked there for three years, starting as a low-ranking designer that got all the shit jobs, and finishing as the Art Director for both Tiger Beat and Right On! But that job was so much more than the work.

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Typical me is in the stripped bikini top…front and center.

I made friends. Really good friends at the time. I had my first car, a Karmann Ghia convertible. Weekends were filled with parties and trips to the city with co-workers. There were perks too. Sometimes they would have us model merchandise for give-aways.

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I am the blonde bombshell on the right. What the hell happened to me?

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Big 80’s hair and hooped earrings. That’s me in the orange sweater with that ridiculous boombox.

 

Other times we got tickets to premiers in New York. I remember seeing “The Abyss” at Radio City Music Hall where I got run over by Eddie Murphy’s body guards. I got a freebie to Rambo III, which wasn’t exciting at all, and a bunch of us went to the 30th anniversary screening of “Gone with the Wind,” also at Radio City, where Butterfly McQueen spoke before the movie.

Sometimes we had famous people in the building. Kool Moe Dee, and Big Daddy Kane visited us once, and Tempest Bledsoe from the Cosby Show came for a photo shoot. That was pretty much it during my years there.

While the money wasn’t great, I was living at home and had few expenses. I gained tons of experience, but it wasn’t all art related. I learned that I could belong to a group…that I could be liked…dare I say “popular?” It was something totally new to me, and to be honest, something I never felt at any job again.

Eventually the magazines were bought by Sterling Publications, and I was offered to stay on as the Art Director to both magazines. I turned them down. I was afraid to go work in the City…see this job was a quick 10 minute drive from my home in New Jersey. Going to work in New York meant busses and extra taxes and long commutes. So I said no.

I’ve always regretted it. So I’d go back to that time…I’d be thin and have fun and drive my Karmann Ghia with the top down.

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take a Chance on Me.” – What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

This one is sort of a “no duh” for me.

My freshman year at the University of Delaware was less than stellar. As I entered into my sophomore year I realized I wasn’t very happy there. I had few friends and felt as if I really didn’t fit into this semi-Southern, über Preppy atmosphere. Remember, I’m a loud-mouth from New Jersey.

I was seriously looking into transfering when I saw a flyer in the student center for the study abroad program. You could travel to Costa Rica, London, or Vienna. That sounded wonderful to me, so I attended the interest meeting. After gathering all the financial/travel information, I called my parents and ran the idea past them.

Dad was willing to let me go, but only if I went to Vienna because it was a hop, skip & jump to his homeland of Czechoslovakia. If I got accepted into the program it was decided that I would spend 3 weeks after the semester at my cousin Stello’s house in what is now Slovakia. I was so excited at the prospect of travelling to Europe and attending school! Seeing art and culture outside of the Eastern US was a dream come true!

But I was also scared. And I got more and more scared as the spring semester drew near. There were times when I seriously doubted whether or not I should go. I was going to be totally alone for months…no trips home, no familiar faces, and let’s not forget the language barrier. I was required to take at least one German course before leaving.

There was also a problem with credits. It turns out that the courses I would be studying while in Vienna would largely not apply to my degree. So it would almost be like a waste of the entire semester, except for the fact that I would be having a life-changing cultural experience.

Lots of the other students attending the program were equally miffed about the credits not being applicable and complaints were lodged. The University was going to decide if an acception could be made, and that’s when I made the deal with myself.

If the University allowed the credits to be used, I would go. If not, I’d back out.

Eight weeks later, with a month of German under my belt, I flew out of JFK airport on my way to Vienna. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done, but to this day, the most rewarding.

Not only because of all the sights I saw, and the people I met, but because I really learned that I could stand on my own. I could manage my own money, I could make my own travel plans, and I could get along in a city where I didn’t really know the language all that well.

I came back to school a junior, and a much different person. I had travelled. I was worldly. And the folks around me? They had spent their spring in Newark, Delaware. I’d been in Vienna, and Rome and Basel.

Oh, yeah, and Czechoslovakia. I really learned how to stand on my own there.

And here’s my parting advice…if your school offers this opportunity, TAKE IT.

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diplomat date

I’ve written in the past of my semester spent in Vienna, Austria – it was during the spring of my Sophomore year in college – 1984 to be exact. I was thin, and young, and single.

I had spent the afternoon at the Stadtpark enjoying the warmer weather and watching the ducks in the pond. I was heading back to the Graben, which was a large pedestrian mall off Stephansplatz, when a man approached me and asked in German for directions.

I began to answer him in German/English, when he smiled and said, “Hey, I’m American too.”

He was looking for the Graben, and since I was headed that way, I told him to follow me. We walked and talked, me explaining how I was a student studying abroad for the semester, he telling me how he was an American diplomat to Budapest visiting Vienna for the weekend.

Hmmm – a diplomat, eh? My somewhat sluttish roomates had had run ins with foreign diplomats in the past – big spending womanizers who got them drunk and tried to take advantage of them. In the case of my very loose roomies, they probably succeeded.

Once we reached the Graben he gestured to a cafe and asked if I would let him buy me a drink as thanks. I began to refuse, but he insisted, and I have to admit, I was enjoying his company. His name was Dave, and we sat outside and drank beer after beer, and got to know each other. I remember I was supposed to meet somebody to play volleyball that afternoon, and I totally blew it off.

It was getting late, and he asked if he could take me out to dinner. I have to admit, I was attracted to him. He was older…in his early thirties, and me? I was only 19. Not wanting our day to end, I agreed, and we set a time to meet a few hours later.

We dined at some outdoor restaurant in the city. I remember I didn’t eat much – I ordered a modest bowl of soup/stew. After dinner we went back to his car only to find it gone. He was furious because the car had diplomatic plates and shouldn’t have been towed.

We found out where the car had been towed to and took a cab there. He told me to not let on that he was fluent in German – we should just act like two Americans waiting for their car. It was a brilliant move.

We sat and watched while the two tow guys talked amongst themselves about how much to bilk us for in order to get the car back. Dave was listening, and understanding, every word exchanged between them. When they finally quoted him a rather large price, he began screaming at them in German. I don’t know what he said to them, but we were given our car back very quickly and without having to shell out as much as a single Groschen.

I was amazed by this man. The swarthiest men I’d seen at U of D wore plaid shorts with blazers and boat shoes at the football games. But this guy? He was as slicker than James Bond in my eyes.

It was very hard to say goodnight to him – he was headed back to Budapest the next day. As we stood outside the door to my Pension he asked me back to his hotel. It was very tempting, but I was a good girl.

I said no.

We exchanged addresses and wrote each other a few letters. I remember getting one on official US Diplomat stationery, which I thought was super cool at the time. I wonder if I still have that tucked away somewhere? I still have his photo in one of my old albums – it’s old and cracked. It’s hard to believe he sent it to me almost 30 years ago.

Diplomat

It’s one of those nights a girl just doesn’t forget…a whirlwind spring romance crammed into one magical, adventurous day. Do dudes remember days like that, or is that reserved for love-struck 19 year olds spending spring in Vienna?

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When I was growing up in northern New Jersey our town’s Rec Center used to hold ski trips. The kids would meet in front of the Rec Center, board a bus and head up to Vernon Valley for an afternoon of skiing. There were times where my mom and I, while running errands in town, would pass the Rec Center and I’d watch all the kids lined up with their bags and their skis waiting for the chartered bus to pick them up.

And I was so envious of them.

I grew up in a pretty wealthy town. We were not wealthy. We weren’t on skid row or anything, but there was no extra money to be spent on nonsense like lift tickets and ski rentals. So, Rec Center ski trips were out of the question for me. I acted like I didn’t care – like those kids were all assholes.

Some of them were. But a lot of them weren’t. They were kids I ate lunch with, or might walk part of the way home with. But they could afford to go on the Rec Center ski trips, and I couldn’t. So like any brooding teenager is apt to do, you viewed them with a cool loathing rather than blatant envy.

I did eventually ski though. While I might not have been able to go on the Rec Center trips, my Junior year in high school I became friends with this guy Paul whose parents had a house by Hunter Mountain. Ah Hunter… One of Upstate New York’s finest ski lodges.

For the next 6 years or so, Paul would call me on a random Thursday night and say, “We’re heading up to Hunter tomorrow…wanna come?” It wasn’t always winter either. Sometimes we went up in the summer and attended a festival at Hunter Mountain. Sometimes we just went up for some R & R. But if it was winter? We went skiing.

I was never a great skier, but I learned how to hold my own on the intermediate slopes. I only rode an actual ski lift a few times and dreaded/planned my departure from the chair the entire way up. My trip down would take my about 25 minutes as I would slowly shoosh my way down making a very wide, very horizontal path.

Susie Chapstick I was not.

I remember one weekend a whole bunch of us went up to Paul’s house. It had snowed gangbusters the night before so conditions were going to be phenomenal. The day turned out being a real keeper – temps hit the mid 50s; folks were skiing without coats. We went back to the house, put beach chairs in the snow and drank a case of beer.

It was AWESOME. I left Hunter in February with a sunburn.

My best ski trip ever though, was when I was in Austria. When I took my semester abroad, our school sent us on a ski trip to Semmering. Having not skied in a while, I decided to use the free ski instruction the lodge provided. Our teacher’s name was Norbert, which I found humorous…were his parents undecided between Norman and Burton?

Nobert? He turned out to be a real perv. While doing snowplow turns down the bunny slope, he would shoosh up behind me, wedge his skis between mine and push his pelvis against my ass in very firm, very suggestive manner. It wasn’t just me… he did it to all the girls. He got very drunk at the lodge party later that night and tried very hard to grind us a wee bit more on the dance floor.

But during that day, as I made my way down the slopes an hour south of Vienna, I thought about those kids that used to go on the Rec Center’s ski trips. I could never go, but here I was in Austria. AUSTRIA. On skis. Me.

Beats the hell out of Vernon Valley.

Skater

I used to be addicted to figure skating. It was my absolute favorite sport, and each year from fall to spring I would scan the TV Guide for any televised competition. I’d watch them breathlessly (except for Ice Dancing…zzzzzzzz) and size up each competitor, and pick my favorites each year.

But these days I know very little about who laces their skates or who sits in the kiss and cry. Do you know I barely watched skating in the Olympics last year? I have to tell you skating got dull for me once they changed the scoring system back in 2004.

Isn’t that dopey? I mean, why should that make a difference?

Well dammit, because old scoring system was fun! Judges from different countries would post their score, 6.0 being the highest. With this system, a viewer felt more involved. You could cheer the 5.9’s and the 6.0’s and jeer at the crusty judge who gave your favorite a 5.2. With the new system they just post a total – and it’s a number that I just can’t comprehend…Ok, his score is 65.35….well is that good or bad? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

I lost interest real fast.

I tried to soldier on, but once the skaters were in the kiss and cry, there was nothing to look forward to. Waiting for those scores, which would flash up one at a time, sometimes, was part of the drama that was figure skating – as much of a nail biter as watching and wondering if they will land that triple axel.

I realized how much the scoring had played a part in my enjoyment of the sport. And suddenly a lifetime of love for figure skating just melted away.

Skating 1I’d been watching since I was a kid. I had a Dorothy Hamill cut when I was in the 6th grade. I remember watching Scott Hamilton in the days where he had hair…and a rather lousy cut, I might add. I remember watching Denise Biellmann and that wonderful spin, and Elaine Zayak, who was from Paramus, NJ – only a few towns away from my hometown.

skating 2I hated Katarina Witt when she came on the scene. She was too buxom and she was from West Germany…she was like an evil prison guard in my mind. I rooted for Debi Thomas in the Battle of the Carmens (where I lost) and rooted for Brian Boytano in the Battle of the Brians (where I won) during the ’88 Olympics. I mean, who wanted Brian Orser?

4f58f61de276b.preview-620But it wasn’t solely American skaters who piqued my fancy. In the late 80’s/early 90’s I fell in love with the Russian Pairs team of Gordeeva and Grinkov. They were so good, so elegant, and that little Ekaterina was just so cute! They could land jumps that other pairs teams couldn’t – and they made it look easy.

They wound up getting married, those two. But then, in 1995 Sergei died suddenly of a heart attack right on the ice while they were practicing in Lake Placid. I was heart broken – how in the world could someone so young and so fit just die like that? I went to see Ekaterina skate in a Champions on Ice show at Madison Square Garden the next winter, and I balled my eyes out.

CryingNow, we can’t have a serious skating discussion without bringing up the whole Tanya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan saga. Personally, I hated both of them. Tonya Harding looked like a thug, and Nancy Kerrigan, with her giant Mr. Ed horse teeth, irked me as well. I didn’t like anyone that year – not even Oksana the orphan – but I’ll tell you, the Olympics that year was riveting television!

MenIn the early 2000’s I fell in love with Men’s skating….well, Johnny Weir to be exact. Oh, he was so wonderful to watch, and so cute with his hair and his smile! How about when Rudy Galindo won the Nationals in 1996 – that performance was goose-bump raising. And then Evan Lycacek came on the scene – he was super easy on the eyes and a super skater to boot. What had I been missing all these years?

But my greatest skating triumph came when Champions on Ice started off their 2007 (and for a while, last) tour in Richmond. Hubby was the zamboni driver/ice tech at the time, and I got to hang out backstage more than once during the week they were rehearsing.

Johnny Weir called me one night to tell me my husband  had grease on his pants.

I held Evan Lycacek’s skate guards.

Rudy Galindo was jealous that I had a photo of Johnny Weir on my office bulletin board. he made me promise to add his photo as well. And I did.

evgeni-plushenkoEvgeni Plushenko? He smoked non-stop and avoided me like the plague.

I got to stand rink-side during the entire show, and was allowed to attend the meet & greet where my camera ran out of batteries. Typical. Thankfully a co-worker of my husbands had a camera and snapped photos of me with Weir, Lycacek & Galindo.

I was thankful until I saw them, that is. She had zoomed in so close that I was all face. Ugh. I was not Norma Desmond and I was not ready for my closeup. Here I had my photo taken with 3 of figure skating’s golden boys, and I had a gigantic moon-face that no amount of photoshopping could fix.

That was more than 7 years ago and nobody outside my immediate family has seen those photos. My Facebook bragging rights? Shot to freakin’ hell.

I was watching the US Figure Skating championships a few weeks back, and a young skater named Adam Rippon caught my eye. His free skate gave me chills, much like Johnny and Rudy had back in the day when I rarely missed a men’s skating event.

And then they flashed his score, and it meant nothing to me.

I turned the channel and watched an episode of Chopped instead.

Track

My freshman year in high school I decided to join winter track. I’d always been a decent runner, and I was eager to get involved in a school sport now that volleyball season had ended.

During tryouts, the coach had the freshman run various race lengths to see where our strengths lied. I was at the starting line getting ready to run the 220 next to a proven sophomore – she had legs like a colt and was rumored to be the best female runner on the team.

She knew it too. She looked at me with snort and a smirk, clearly displaying her superiority over a mere freshman. It pissed me off, and I wanted to beat her really, really badly. The coach, before firing the starter pistol, warned us to take it easy and not push ourselves to the max. These were just warm up races.

Yeah, coach. Sure thing. You betcha.

When the pistol shot rang out I was off, as was the smirking sophomore. We quickly left the pack behind, and it was just me and her out in front. We were neck and neck for the longest time, when I heard her say, “Ugh, I can’t!” as I passed her.

Ha! Having crossed the finish line first, I toyed with the idea of smirking back at her, but Tracy don’t play that way. Instead, I walked it off, heading across the field back to the starting line. As I approached the team clustered around the stands, a few girls ran up to me and said, “You broke the school record!”

WHAT? ME? On my first DAY?!?

Turns out I had. I was so intent on beating that show-off sophomore that I had run faster than even I knew I could. The coach confirmed it, but said it could not be counted officially because it had not happened during an actual race, just during practice. A friend of mine said that during the race the coach had said something to effect of, “Look at her go…”

I always liked that.

I spent the next month or so running and re-running the 220 in practice, sometimes breaking the record, sometimes not. Our only meet that season was a huge Tri-State event in which runners from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania would compete. It was held on a college campus with a large, indoor track facility; where I could not tell you. I just know we had to leave really early and the bus ride was loooong.

I had one event, a relay in which each of 4 team members ran 220 yards and passed the baton to the next runner. While I cared if my team won our heat, I was more interested in my portion of the race, because this was my shot at beating our school record.

The event arena was crowded, and It was difficult to make my way to the starting line when the call time for our race came. groups of students from God knows how many schools were camped in any open spot they could find

I had the outside lane. I remember being confident rather than nervous at the starting line. All I had to do was run, right?

As I heard the bang of the starting pistol, I was off running and was soon neck and neck with girls from the tri-state area, but I wasn’t interested in them. I could come in dead last, as long as I beat our school’s record.

As I came into the first turn, there were legs across the track. How odd.

See, the arena was really too small for all the people that were there. A set of bleachers came within 2 feet or so of the outside lane of the track until you got to the turns, where it opened up a bit. A group of students had decided this little spot by the turn would be the perfect place to hang out and relax before their next event. Apparently said group of students had not heard the race begin.

So there they were. A set of legs, clad in athletic socks and white sneakers, in my path. Not to be deterred, I leapt over them without breaking stride, which was fine & dandy.

Except for when I landed, my ankle twisted and I stumbled right into the girl running next to me, who fell. It was enough of a blunder to demolish my time and annihilate any chance I had at the school record. I remember passing the baton to my team mate with the sage advice of “Run your ass off!”

Our team not only lost, but didn’t qualify for the next heat. And like that my winter track season was over. I would never gaze proudly at my name on the record board in the cafeteria. No mention of my name would be made in the morning annoucements in home room. No accolades, no nods of approval from fellow classmates.

zip.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the chick I stumbled into? She was pissed. And tough. She looked like a Bronx gang lord. I’d not only messed up my chances, I’d messed hers up as well. With wounded pride and a sore ankle I spent the remainder of the meet skulking around in the shadows desperately trying to avoid getting my ass kicked.

I don’t rememer if my coach ever lodged a complaint about the human obstacle in my path. Who knows what might have happened if that girl had sat cross-legged, or had used a Q-tip that morning and had thus heard the starter pistol, or maybe just decided that baton twirling would be way more fun that winter track. Who knows?

But she was there, and in my path, and changed my fate.

Typical.

Wishbook

When I was a kid there would come a time each fall when my mother would bring home the Sears Christmas Wish Book—600+ pages long and as thick as a phone book. The arrival of this book would trigger a month-long “it’s my turn!” between us four kids, because this book had a killer toy section.

I had all of these, by the way. Sigh…I wish I still did.

Page after page of Barbies, Fisher Price Little People playsets, doll houses, slot car sets, play kitchens, record players, puppets, and tons and tons of games. As a child you practically drooled as you turned each page, eager to see what “it” toy was going assault your “I want that!” senses next.

I think we had this too. If not I know we wanted it badly

I think we had this too. If not I know we wanted it badly

But you didn’t get to dawdle when you had the wishbook, not at first anyway. Once a sibling saw you with the book in your hot little hands, you were asked to hurry up, and sometimes not so politely. Of course, every so often when you took too long, the coveted book was simply ripped out of your hands, leaving you staring at the linoleum counter top as opposed to Malibu Barbie.

One of the creepier pages in the book - I don't think I'd be happy opening the Seance game on Christmas morning.

One of the creepier pages in the book – I don’t think I’d be happy opening the Seance game on Christmas morning.

But eventually there would come a time when the book was all yours. My brother and sisters had had their fill of rod hockey and Jerry Mahoney dummies, and I could take the Wishbook in my hands and do what I did best…pretend.

I would stare at each page that held a toy I wanted and imagine playing with it. I’d just look at the toy and actually pretend that I was opening little Barbie kitchen doors or bringing a plane in for a landing at the Fisher Price airport. I could spend hours in a pre-Christmas fantasy land. What a dork I must have looked like…sitting in a corner talking to a catalog.

bad fashionsAs time marched on and we got older the Wishbook was less alluring. We spent more time glancing at the front of the book which displayed “today’s hip fashions.” However, let it be known that I did not spend much time imagining myself wearing any of the clothes.

With the exception of a bathing suit when I was around 13. I loved that suit. It was my first maillot.

I highly recommend visiting the site wishbookweb.com. Pick a book and flip through the pages—you just might lose yourself remembering all those great toys you got one Christmas.

Mom

Today is my mom’s birthday. She’s not with us anymore – this marks the 20th year I’ve lived on this earth without her, but I always remember her birthday. Well, not always as this repost will reveal. Yeah, I pretty much put this out there once a year to remember my mom and to remind myself of the one time I forgot…


My mom was great. Always willing to hug you and give you a big dose of mommy lovin’ even when you weren’t exactly in the mood for it. She kept us fed with kick-ass food, and I only wish I had half of her recipes, especially her spaghetti sauce.

Although she wasn’t big on letting us climb trees or go exploring where good little girls ought not to be venturing (that’s what dad was for), she was always ready to take us shopping for new school clothes or those jeans you just had to have even though dad griped that there was no money for them.

She made lots of stuff too. Not only did she sew a ton of our clothes when we were kids (another skill I wish I had picked up from her), she did all sorts of crafty things like embroidery and crocheting. If she could make it rather than buy it, she did. I have a little of that in me. Thank God for the internet or I’d never know how to crochet. But I gave up on embroidery when I stitched my Holly Hobby sampler to my pants leg. Twice.

I remember one birthday of my mother’s specifically. It was when I was around 22. I was out of college, living at home, and totally involved with my job, my friends, and my boyfriend. Her birthday came and went without a word from me. The following morning, I said, “oh, by the way happy birthday!” and went to hug her, and she shrugged me off, clearly upset that I had pretty much blown her special day off.

Talk about feeling bummed out. And ashamed. My mom was the type who could put you on a serious shit-list and boy oh, boy did you feel it. After work that day I went out and bought her a gift. I took my time and chose a fancy black sweater/sweatshirt with a funky geometric pattern on it.

Hey don’t judge too harshly… it was the 80s after all.

I presented it to her that evening with my sincerest apologies. She opened it, threw it aside and exclaimed, “I have nothing that goes with that.”

I was a little crushed, but I had a feeling she was still trying to punish me for being such a douchey daughter. It was a month or so later that she wore it to go spend a night out with friends. 2 weeks later she wore it again. And again. And again.

Turns out she loved it – just like she loved me. She just didn’t want to admit it because I’d really hurt her feelings. I never broke her chops about claiming she didn’t like it either, but I felt a real sense of pride and satisfaction every time she wore it.

I really miss her. I dream about her every once in a while, and it’s nice to see her again. And as I revisit her on her birthday I hope she’s watching me – and I bet she’s wearing that bad 80’s sweater.

slide022_0003In the summer of 1980 my father took me and my sisters on a 3 week trip to Czechoslovakia. I had just finished my sophomore year in high school, and had only been on a commercial plane once before when my friend John and his family took me on a vacation to Jamaica. That’s a blog post in itself…

We were excited to embark on this adventure. My father was going to show us the town he was born in as well as the sights of his homeland. Plus we were going to be introduced to members of our family that we had never met before. And the fact that we were traveling behind the iron curtain added a sense of danger and intrigue.

There was lots of prep work to be done…passports, visas, converters for electricity…oh, and mixed tapes. Lots and lots of mixed tapes. We didn’t know what we would find on the radio over there – we envisioned pop music polkas or accordion themed disco flooding the Slovak airwaves. We had a small boombox to take along, and agreed to take turns listening to music.

Our night time flight on OK! Airlines was uneventful as far as flights go, but my father was fun to watch. He was excited…no, damn near giddy to be heading back to his homeland. When the stewardess brought us our morning meal, he leaned over to us and said in a sing-song voice, “Look, girls! A continental brrrrrreakfast!”

My dad actually rolled his r. We were landing in Prague soon and he was in a glorious mood. It was a side of him I rarely saw, but immediately decided I liked. That mood? It dissipated quickly when we went through customs.

Customs in a block country is no picnic. The guards checking our suitcases went through everything. Our underwear was rifled through, our boxes of maxi pads were opened and inspected (much to my embarrassment and horror) and my father, a health nut, had a much ‘splainin’ to do about the throngs of vitamins he had packed. With nervous sweat soaking through the back of his sport coat, he was frantically yelling “VEETAMINY! VEETAMINY!!!!! as the guards angrily shook the bottles in his face.

Once through customs we were met by a man with a van who had made the long trip to Prague to pick us up and bring us to Gajary, my dad’s home town. We could not make the trip in one day, and we stopped to spend the night in some small town along the way. I remember the quaint cobblestone streets, and getting dinner in an upstairs restaurant. We spoke or read no Slovak, so my dad ordered for us. I remember eating a wedge salad dressed with a simple lemon dressing and thinking that it was the most wonderful salad I’d ever had. The main course was some form of meat and potatoes – simple fare that was marvelously good. My sister, after finishing her meal stated, “I could go for another plate of that!”

THE FOOD

That would be a sentiment we echoed often on our three week adventure. The food we sampled on our trip was simply wonderful, and not just the food we ate at restaurants. The food served to us at our cousin’s homes, and at the homes of the dozens of other relatives we met, was all homey, comforting, and very satisfying.

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Lunch with Stello in Bratislava

I recall one day that we devoted to visiting friends and relatives who lived in the area. Each home we entered had a full spread of meats, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, salads and pastries. Not realizing we’d be offered this fare at every single house, my sisters and I loaded up at house #1. By house #6 we were stuffed, yet still forced to sample something so as not to offend our distant relative who had gone to the trouble of laying out meats, cheeses, salads and pastries.

My cousin Gitka made a kick ass potato salad that I simply could not get enough of. Cousin Anna kept us well stocked with cookies, and we drank pitcher after pitcher of my cousin Stello’s home made wine. But we were not without some American favorites – my dad and Stello were able to procure us bottles of Coke and Snicker’s bars.

THE TRAVEL

We didn’t just hang out and eat the whole trip. We took a couple of days and travelled to the Tatra Mountains. We rode a gondola to the top of the Tatras which I would have enjoyed more if I weren’t so cold. I was not prepared for how cold it was at the top of the mountains, and all I had on was a thin terry cloth shirt. I went to get a cup of hot tea at the little restaurant they had, but the water was only luke warm at best, so it did little to ward off the stages of hypothermia I was soon going to succumb to.

We also visited a cave that wound up getting my cousin Stello very sick. You had to climb up a series of fairly steep hills to get to the cave. Once at the top you were pretty much a sweaty mess, then you entered the cool, dark cave for the tour. Do the math. I’m surprised we didn’t all get sick.

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After the cave expedition we had lunch at a restaurant at the bottom of the hill. My sister thought it would be fun to steal a beer mug from the restaurant. So while dad & Stello were paying the bill, we jammed the mug into her handbag. A waiter must have witnessed us doing this dastardly deed, because our walk to our car turned into a run for our lives as we were chased down by the angry waiter. Dad and Stello didn’t ask questions – they just hauled ass and got us out of there.

We giggled over this caper for years.

We also visited a spa town where one of Stello’s daughters was spending a part of her summer vacation. The only part of this excursion I remember was being assaulted by some drunk Slovak on the street. While we were walking along the sidewalk he lumbered up to me, said something in Slovak to me and grabbed my boob. Hard.

I was mortified, (my sisters were hysterical) and Stello came close to beating him to a pulp. I spent the next hour brooding in the back seat of the car beside smirking sisters with a throbbing titty.

THE BOOM BOX

I can’t talk about the travel without talking about the boom box. We passed the long hours in the car listening to the mixed tapes we brought along. The deal was to take turns, but man, when one of my sisters picked a tape that I didn’t care for, it was 90 minutes of hell.

My sister Judy had a Joanie Mitchell tape. While I can take a song of hers here and there, an hour of listening to her folksy, too-high voice while crammed in the back seat of Stello’s small blue car was close to maddening. I was thankful when the tape broke halfway through our trip. My sister insisted it was sabotage…

I can’t remember one song that I brought along. Isn’t that funny? Not one. But I do remember hearing “Psycho Killer” and “Sultans of Swing,” courtesy of my sister’s tapes, over and over again. I can’t hear “Sultans of Swing” without thinking of that trip and Stello’s car.

Even is there was no music playing (dad would demand radio silence during intervals so he and Stello could talk), it was wonderful to watch the scenery. Each little town we’d drive through held my interest – the buildings and the people; who were they? What did they do for a living? Sometimes we’d spot a small castle nestled into a picturesque mountain side. Other times, we’d drive through a small cluster of homes – not even a town – and I’d wonder what life inside those walls was like.

JOE, JOSHKO, STUK & THE HOTEL MALACKY

When we weren’t combing the Slovak countryside, we were getting to know our cousins. They were fairly far removed – 3rd or 4th cousins – I’m not even sure what the genealogical connection is. My sisters and I were introduced to my cousin Gitka’s children, Joe, Lubka & Peter. While Peter was a bit young, Joe and Lubka were around our same ages.

Joe was urged by our parents to take us American girls out on the town. This was somewhat of a difficulty for him; we spoke no Slovak – he, no English. What was a fellow to do with three girls he could barely communicate with? So, he rounded up a few of the local fellows to act as escorts for us, and to give him someone to talk to.

Joe was mine…we sort of hit it off right off the bat. My sister Judy got paired up with Joshko (pronounced Yoshkoh) who was tall and fairly attractive. Wendy got stuck with Stuk (pronounced Shtook) who was short and not so attractive. We headed out of town to party down at the disco in the basement of the Hotel Malacky.

My first warning bell was the fact that they locked you in. Yes – once the quota for the night was reached…maximum capacity…they locked the doors and forced you to dance the night away to stale disco intermingled with the occasional polka. And the drinks? Red wine mixed with Pepsi. I think you could order other stuff, but that’s what most people drank.

It was an interesting experience to be sure. We were Americans in a block country – we may as well have been celebrities. People stared at us and came up to our table to ask the fellas who we were. I remember I wore a white ribbon around my neck during that trip – for no good reason – and girls would ask if that was the American fashion.

But I felt bad for my sisters that night. While my Joe was a perfect gentleman, Joshko and Stuk got pretty drunk and kept making the moves on my sisters. They tried to coax them with wine and loaves of bread they got from the kitchen – it made me wonder what it took to get one of the local girls. While they were fending them off, I was starting a little Slovakian romance.

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mladá láska

Ah Joe. We never did anything but kiss…I was only a sophomore in high school at the time, but it made what could have been a boring trip very romantic and fun. We would spend the days drinking wine huddled over a Slovak/English dictionary trying our best to communicate with one another. Back in the states I wasn’t known for my luck with the fellas – I never got asked to school dances, and never got asked out on dates. Me? I had to come to a block country to find love…typical.

Joe and I wrote to each other over the years; I still have a stack of his letters in a box somewhere. I’ll tell you, Google translate would’ve come in handy back then! We saw each other again during the summer of 1984 when I studied in Vienna for a semester. Then, a few years later, I got news that he had gotten married and I have to admit it made me a tiny bit sad – he was my first real romance. We are Facebook friends now, and exchange greetings a few times a year.

When our 3 weeks came to an end, I was sad to go. I’d grown to love my new found Czechoslovakian family. We had to drive back to Prague, and cousin Stello decided to bring his two sons along. It was a thrilling trip for them to make, and we were glad for a few more days spent with our cousins.

Pissed off in Prague...

Walking in Prague

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Is this the only shirt I brought with me?

After a day or two in Prague we flew home. A funny thing happened when we landed at JFK – our high school guidance counselor was working as a customs agent over the summer and just happened to be assigned to our flight. He brought us to the front of the line and waved us through without opening a single bag. And you know what? He was there when I got back from Vienna four years later. Isn’t that bizarre?

I’ll always have fond memories of that trip to Czechoslovakia. Not only was it fun to bond with my sisters in a strange new land, but I saw a side of my father that was so entirely different than how he was at home. Come to think of it, he was almost always that guy when he was on vacation. I totally get that.

vintage-teacherMy oldest daughter is in the home stretch of her freshman year. She will be home in her own room for the entire summer in 7 days – 7 short days. But first she needs to survive finals.

I found spring finals to be harder than the ones right before Christmas. Perhaps it’s because it’s not only the end of the semester, but the end of the entire school year. In addition to taking your tests and handing in final papers, you leave your room and your friends and come back to an entirely new scenario the following fall.

When I was a freshman my spring semester was a toughie. I had two classes that took up most of my time – American Art History and a basic dunce math class. By the time finals came around I was ready to throw both books into on-coming traffic on I-95.

The art history class was tough because the teacher spoke so fast. You wrote in a frenzied panic as she flipped through slide after slide. By the time the 90 minutes was over you were exhausted – and your writing hand felt like a club. Then you had to go home and make sense of the 23 pages of cat scratch you took down. Add to that the memorizing of names, dates and periods of at least 100 paintings, sculptures and architectural masterpieces.

I got a 99 on that final. The teacher actually wrote me a postcard saying she took the point off just because she hates giving 100s.

But Math? That was a totally different story. It was an idiotic freshman math class that everyone who didn’t place out had to take. And it wasn’t so much that the math was hard, it was the way they had the class set up that really messed with your brain.

The course was set up like a game of Russian roulette. There were 3 tests and a final. If you failed any one test, you failed the course. Even if you got 100s on every single test but you failed the final, you failed the course. And failure wasn’t your typical below 60 score. Anything below a 75 was considered an F. Most of the tests were 20 questions, so if my remedial math skills are correct, if you missed more than 5, you failed.

I saw kids drop like flies over the course of the semester, having been handed their “F” on one exam or another – I somehow managed to pass them all. The math final was the very last test I had to take that semester. As I solved each problem, I wrote my answers down on a sheet of scratch paper. After all the exams were handed in the professor revealed the answers on the overhead projector. This way you could know your fate without having to spend a few agonizing weeks waiting to get your results via the US postal.

As I worked my way down the sheet, I was putting an “X” next to my answers at an alarming frequency. By the time I’d gotten through checking half my test answers I’d already reached the dreaded five wrong. My stomach churned as I imagined my father’s wrath at me failing a course – a course that he’d shelled out good money for – and that I’d have to repeat.

Could I possibly have gotten the last 10 answers on my test right? There was no way…no way…wait, wait…WAIT!  As I checked my answer to question 20 and realized it, and the 9 before it, were all correct, I knew I’d passed the exam – and by the skin of my teeth. I whooped a gleeful cheer of victory, ran out of the building and drop-kicked my math book across the lawn. I stomped it and ripped pages out and made confetti and threw little tiny bits of x + y = (who gives) (a fuck) in the air over my head.

I was so incredibly relieved I almost cried. I walked back to my soon-to-be empty dorm room with the sun on my back and a smile on my face. My dad came to pick me up later that day and the ride home to Jersey was one sweet trip.

For ahead of me was a three month chill-pill. Ah, childhood summers…