Post march last week, I smacked into a wall. The fast and furious issuing of Executive Orders set my head spinning like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. And while that was pretty bad, with enough meditation, denial, and wine, I can manage to block out most of it and hone in on the essential things I am able to take action on. The harder thing was having my infusion of hope from the march get diluted when a gentle, respectful comment from a dear friend reminded me I could be doing more to connect with and support women of color right now. It was that realization that smacked me into the wall — the Cheeto Satan nonsense had moved the wall pretty close to my head, but that I had let down a dear friend finished the job. I tried to write about it for this week’s blog, but that is going to take some time for me to process, so stay tuned.
So I kind of just mentally wandered around this week, staring into the distance. The emails pouring into my inbox to sign this and make these calls and announcing every minute detail of the Cheeto immobilized me, like a rabbit in the face of an oncoming car. Not even my ciggie-smoking, whiskey-shot-downing alter-ego Blanche could rouse me, though goodness knows she tried. By chance I had picked up a copy of Watership Down from the library. My sister and I both read it in high school and loved it. We even have nicknames for each other from the book. We were reminiscing about it at Christmas. If you haven’t read it, it’s a story about a small band of rabbits who leave their safe warren because one of them has a vision that something terrible is about to happen. They escape only to encounter many other difficult and dangerous situations, from crossing a river to encountering unfriendly rabbits, snarling cats, and wire traps. They manage to survive by using all the skills, cleverness, and strengths of the group. Not a bad reminder right about now.
I was curious to see if the book still holds up some 30 years later, and it totally does. In addition to giving me some respite from political and social onslaught, it also reminded me of the power of storytelling. Not just me reading the book, but in the story, there are a number of times when the rabbits, who are naturally nervous creatures, need help winding down from some dangerous situation or gathering their courage to face a difficulty. The leader rabbit calls for a story to settle the troops.
And so, to help ease myself away from the glaring, paralyzing headlights, I’m going to tell a story. It’s a funny story that doesn’t really have a moral, but it did take place in that hallowed time of the early 1980s, when we were slam dancing in clubs, trying to look like Madonna, and fighting for abortion rights thanks to Ronald Reagan. It reminds me that difficult things, good things, and funny things are always happening.
It was 1985, and by some miracle, my group of college friends in Boston found out there was going to be a 10th anniversary Halloween showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in New York. By miracle I mean this was pre-internet days, and so we probably learned about it in some crazy way like in a flyer, newspaper, or a magazine. Or maybe even a stone tablet. It was on a weeknight, and with the energy only a group of college kids can muster to find inventive ways to entertain themselves, we decided to go. We persuaded the only friend we knew who had a car to drive us. Andrea was from Columbia and asked for our help to buy a car, but all we’d really done was watch her with our mouths open while she paid cash for a brand new car, with nary a haggle. As I recall it was a red sporty thing that clearly needed a trip to NYC. So 6 of us piled into the car: Sonia, the cool black girl from the West Side; Michele, the super girly-girl Spanish chick from Brooklyn; Rosemary, the fashion punk from Buffalo; and Gloria and I who came from CT. Gloria was holding down the preppy fort, while I was a punk wannabe. In fact for this trip I dressed up like Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the show — black lace camisole, leather mini skirt, fishnet stockings, high heels, and lots of black eyeliner and dark lipstick.
We left in the late afternoon and headed south. At one point on the highway, a guy started honking at us and making rude gestures. We rolled our eyes and sucked our teeth at him, until one of us realized he was pointing down as if to have us look at something. When we finally did, we realized that Rosemary’s leather bag was half in the car and half out. A quick open and shut door while speeding along the highway retrieved her bag. It had a big hole worn through on the corner and a fair amount of the contents had spilled out. We resolved to not diss honking guys anymore. The next 4 hours passed mostly in the way you would expect from 6 college women, including that at one point several had to pee. We were trying to make it to the city in time for the show, so we hadn’t really planned on stopping. But Rosemary, Gloria, and Michelle couldn’t hold it anymore. The problem was we were kind of lost. GPS not even being a twinkle in anyone’s eye at that point, we could have used a map. But what losers bring a map on a fun road trip? We were off the highway on a deserted road that felt safe enough to pull off for peeing au natural. The rest of us waited what seemed like a short time when suddenly, Rosemary, Gloria, and Michelle tore open the door, jumped in an yelled, “Go, go, go!”
At this, poor Andrea was confused and started asking questions, and then worse, started trying to obey the red traffic light, even though there was no one on the road. We’d neglected to explain to her that when someone is chasing you, you hit the gas and worry about traffic rules later. When she finally understood what she was supposed to do and we were safely away, we found out that our friends had been rushed by a mean, barking dog, followed by a guy yelling to get out and carrying a gun. If that’s what you get for peeing, I don’t want to know what you’d get if you were actually going to steal something.
But being clueless and 20 years old has its benefits, including staying focused on the very important goal of getting to The Rocky Horror Picture Show in NYC by midnight. Once we knew he was safely in our rear view mirror, we laughed at the crazy gun man and fretted over the traffic. We were cutting it close. We drove around NYC, got lost, yelled at the natives in the car for getting us lost, until finally, we found a place to park. We ran the multiple blocks to the show — we were only a little late. Panting and sweating, we arrived to discover…the showing was the following night. After a short discussion about blowing off school and staying until the next night, we did the next best 80s thing. Desperately Seeking Susan had recently come out, and we were obsessed with getting into the groove. One of the scenes was shot at a NYC club called Danceteria, so off we went. Because it was Halloween, the streets were filled with people in costume, and I fit right in. We had a blast at Danceteria, despite the fact that my friends wouldn’t let me make out with a guy who was dressed like a priest — I was a rebelling Catholic, what can I say? I finally took a break from dancing to go to the bathroom, and while I was in line, I looked down and noticed one of my boobs had fallen out of my camisole — this was waaaaay before any “wardrobe malfunction.” I’d like to credit New Yorkers with having seen everything and that was why no one batted an eye. That sounds much better than what may have been the real truth — my boobs were really too small to be noticeable in or out of a camisole.
So we danced until dawn and found a breakfast place to inhale the time-honored food of people who stay up all night–bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. Tireless Andrea drove us home and we got back to Boston in time for my 8 am class; the only thing was that in the unforgiving, harsh light of early morning, with bleary eyes and smeared makeup, I looked like a vampire call girl. No way was I going to class like that. So like a good vampire, I hid from the light, splashed water on my face, peeled off my clothes, and passed out in my bed. I’d do the Time Warp again some other day.
And so that’s my story. I’m still a little twitchy like a nervous rabbit, but I also made myself laugh and smile over the flash of boobs past and road trip shenanigans. I can hop cautiously out of my hole, sniff the air, and move forward.