lessons learned, memories

Partial repost: My own experience with a “Cootie Kid”…

One last partial repost– partial, because I left off the last part, which is time sensitive and no longer relevant. I wrote this February 24, 2015. I also changed the title of the post, because the original title is no longer relevant.

Last night, I looked up a woman I haven’t seen or heard of since fifth grade.  I was surprised by how easy it was to find her.  I just typed her maiden name and the name of the town where we grew up.  I was surprised to find her living in a town not far from our old hometown.  I also found out that she attended the same high school my former boyfriend did.  He may even know her because they probably graduated in the same class.

This woman’s name was very common in the year of our birth.  Indeed, I share her first name, but here I’ll just call her “Joni”.  Like me, Joni was socially awkward and considered weird.  Actually, she made me look like a social genius because she was even louder and odder than I ever was.  Joni was outgoing and smart enough, but she was strangely dressed and kind of homely.  She had very crooked teeth that didn’t appear to be very well cared for and an unfortunate habit of picking her nose in class and eating her boogers in front of everyone.  When we were kids, she was very skinny, had stringy blonde hair, and a face that could be best described as interesting.   

When we were in the fourth grade, I remember playing kickball with Joni.  Our teacher at the time, Mr. A , was big on taking us out for recess if time allowed.  These were the glorious days before the No Child Left Behind Act.  One day, we were playing kickball and Joni, being kind of gangly and uncoordinated, stepped up to the plate.  The ball rolled toward her.  She kicked at it, missed entirely, and fell to the ground with a solid thud.  On impact with the dirt, Joni’s leg made a sickening cracking sound, and she started howling in agony.  At the time back in 1981, there was a McDonald’s commercial that used the voice talents of Frank Nelson, a guy who would say “Yeeeeeees….” all the time.  That’s what Joni sounded like when she hit the ground and started screaming.

You can hear Frank Nelson say “Yeeees” in this commercial. Joni sounded a little like him when she screamed.

Poor thing.  I actually remember people laughing and saying that Joni sounded like the McDonald’s guy at the scene of her injury.  She was not well-regarded by our classmates.  I don’t remember being especially unkind to her, though I also don’t remember being her buddy.  People were mean to me too, though, and I think I might have had a smidge of empathy… though I probably also felt relief that someone other than me was being picked on. 

Anyway, Mr. A got help for her and, after about a week, she came back to school with a canvas cast that covered her whole leg.  She used crutches for months and I remember her wearing what she called a “rocking shoe”.  I even remember her spiritedly telling someone about the rocking shoe when he was teasing her about it.  She was a girl with a surprising amount of pluck and resilience, especially for her age.

I might have felt snarky toward Joni the way our classmates did, but I too suffered an accident while in Mr. A’s class.  In my case, it just involved being knocked unconscious by a soccer ball kicked by Mr. A.  That was a very embarrassing incident, but at least I recovered from it quickly. 

The following year, Joni was in my fifth grade class.  That year, I witnessed another classmate getting hurt, though this time, it wasn’t Joni.  It was another person who, at the time, was a friend of mine.  We were in PE class and she was climbing the bleachers when her leg slipped between the seat and the foot board.  She tore a huge gash in her leg, right by her knee.  I remember all the blood and our gym teacher (not Mr. A, though he did become a gym teacher at that school that year) picking her up in his arms and rushing her to the office where someone called an ambulance.  This girl’s bleacher accident also happened right in front of me and it reminded of me of when Joni broke her leg.  My other injured classmate screamed, but she didn’t sound like Frank Nelson.  She, too, used crutches for weeks afterwards.

One of my last clear memories of Joni was at Christmas time.  We had a gift exchange and Joni drew my name.  On the day of the gift exchange, the teacher asked me to come speak with her out in the hall.  While we were out there, she handed me a present, which turned out to be a little Smurf pin.  I think it depicted Papa Smurf grinning and holding a flower.  She said she had bought it for me because Joni had drawn my name and she knew the present Joni was going to give me would suck.  She didn’t phrase it that way, of course, but that was the basic gist of what she was saying.  I think I remember her telling me that Joni’s family didn’t have any money or something to that effect.  I believed it, having been in school with Joni for a couple of years.

Sure enough, when it came time for gift exchanges, I got Joni’s gift wrapped in rumpled notebook paper.  It was a Christmas ornament that we’d all made in class and hers was painted several different non-complementary colors.  Since the teacher had prepared me, I managed to accept the gift gracefully.  And though I was never a fan of the Smurfs, it took many years before I could bring myself to get rid of that little Smurf pin that my teacher had bought for me.  To this day, I still have the same luck when it comes to secret gift exchanges.  I always get the person who buys me booze and then drinks it all before they present it to me (yes, this did actually happen to me once when I worked at a country club).

After fifth grade, Joni moved away.  I didn’t know where she went and, in time, even forgot all about her.  But then someone on Facebook posted one of those class pictures and I saw her in it, again reminding me that she was part of my childhood.  I looked up Joni because I was curious about where she is and how she’s doing.  It looks like she’s doing fine.  I was a little dismayed to find out that she’s already a grandmother.  Since we are the same age, I hate the idea that I’m old enough to have grandchildren… but hell, I guess I am.  I see that she’s still awkward looking, but apparently has a lot of friends, a loving family, and a good sense of humor. 

I even saw that she was brave enough to post photos from her early childhood.  I actually remembered some of the photos because they were of a scholastic nature and I was around for them.  She even had one that had the full on face shot with the heavenly profile side shot above it, ever popular in the early 80s.  She had on a very frumpy looking dress that looked like it might have belonged to her mother.  One friend asked if she was Amish and her reply was a light-hearted, matter-of-fact response that that was how her parents dressed her.  I was glad to see that she looks happy enough as an adult despite our miserable elementary school days. 

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memories, musings, psychology, true crime

Repost: “Cootie Kids”

And here’s another repost from January 26, 2018, shared today because I just wrote fresh content about the Turpin case.

Every once in awhile, I read something that really makes me stop and think.  Jennifer Turpin is one of the thirteen “kids” who were discovered living in a “house of horrors” in Perris, California a couple of weeks ago.  Authorities found her and her siblings living in filth.  Some of them were shackled to their beds, completely removed from the outside world.  I have been following the horrifying story of the Turpin family.  The more that comes out about them, the more bizarre and insane their story is.

This morning, I ran across a very poignant Facebook post written by Taha Muntajibuddin, a man who knew Jennifer Turpin when they were both kids. At one time, Jennifer Turpin had been allowed to attend school, and she and Muntajibuddin were third grade classmates at Meadowcreek Elementary School. Evidently, in those days, Jennifer Turpin was thought of as one of the “cootie kids”. No one wanted to be friends with her because she was dirty and smelled bad.

Muntajibuddin remembers that after that year, Jennifer moved away and he lost track of her.  There had been times when he’d tried to track her down through Facebook.  He wondered how she’d turned out and hoped she’d turned into someone totally different than who she was when they were eight years old.  But he never was able to find her and imagined that maybe she was one of the few people in the world who hadn’t succumbed to the lure of social media.  Naturally, like so many people who recently discovered the Turpin family, he was horrified when her real story came to light.     

In his very reflective Facebook post, Muntajibuddin reminds people how important it is to be kind.  Better yet, they should teach their children to be kind.  Every elementary school has a “cootie kid” who gets picked on.  Sometimes those kids are able to rise above that moniker.  Sometimes being harassed and bullied leads them down a dark road in which they turn to violence or substance abuse.  Sometimes, it turns out the “cootie kid” is a survivor of a hell that no one else knows about or understands.

My own class had a “cootie kid”.  I have written about her on this blog (ETA: Maybe I’ll repost about her, too).  Like Muntajibuddin, I went Googling to see how she turned out.  Unlike Muntajibuddin, I actually found our old “cootie kid”.  I was gratified to see that it looks like she turned out alright.  She’s one of the ostracized kids who had enough resilience to rise above being picked on and bullied in school.  Just as Muntajibuddin describes Jennifer Turpin as “pleasant” and having a “whimsical optimism”, the “cootie kid” girl I knew was very plucky and friendly, despite her challenges.  She had some really good qualities, in spite of being made the odd girl out.  She was worth the effort of kindness and consideration, as most people ultimately are.

I don’t have kids of my own, of course, so I have never had the responsibility of trying to teach anyone right from wrong.  I’d like to think that if I’d had children, I’d try to teach them to be nice to others.  I’d like to hope I’d encourage them to befriend kids who need friends.  On the other hand, I’m also a realist and a human.  The reality is, as lofty as those goals are, they often fall flat.  Humans are horribly flawed and fallible.  You can have the best of intentions and still be a total failure in some areas.  You can try to be an excellent example and still not manage to sway anyone to follow your lead.

If there’s anything to be learned from kids like Jennifer Turpin, it’s that everyone is fighting battles that aren’t readily apparent to the naked eye.  Kids make fun of other kids when they are different somehow.  I was made fun of when I was in school.  So were a lot of my friends.  We didn’t have the misfortune of being total outcasts, but we took our share of licks.  I remember how that felt and how it still feels today.  Life is hard for most people, but it costs nothing to be kind.

And yet, as I write that, I know there are times that I’ll fail to be kind because I’m human and fallible.  Perhaps if I can take anything from Muntajibuddin’s Facebook post, it’s the reminder that sometimes the reality of another person’s situation is much more horrible than you can ever know.  If it weren’t for Jennifer Turpin’s sister’s bravery, there’s no telling how much longer she and her siblings would be living the miserable life they were living. 

You never know how you will affect other people.  Jennifer Turpin surely doesn’t know how she affected her classmate and how her classmate is, in turn, affecting everyone who reads his poignant thoughts about her.  Just by existing, she’s already changed the world.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m sure those who had contact with the Turpin kids now regret not speaking up and calling the authorities.  There’s a fine line in knowing when it’s right to call for help for someone else’s kids.  Some people do it at the drop of a hat.  I think most people would rather not get involved when they see someone like Jennifer Turpin.  I can admit to feeling that way myself, even though I have a degree in social work and would likely have been one of the people who got called when a situation like this is discovered.  It’s hard to stand up for other people.  It’s even harder to know when a situation warrants making a call to the authorities.

The Turpin kids needed a lot more than friends.  In fact, it sounds to me like they weren’t really allowed to have any friends.  But the ones who went to school no doubt interacted with others.  We should teach kids– really each other– to simply be kind… and Muntajibuddin’s post is an excellent reminder to do so.

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memories, mental health, music, psychology, sex, videos, YouTube

“Magazine pages”, and drinking and downloading…

Today’s post may be triggering for some readers. At the end of the post, I discuss Josh Duggar, which could trigger anyone decent. Proceed at your own risk.

I have a huge collection of music on iTunes, and I usually set my HomePod to stream whatever’s in my collection of many thousands of songs. Consequently, there’s no telling what we’ll hear on a given evening. Sometimes, we hear classical music. Sometimes we hear country or bluegrass or rock… or really shitty songs from the 70s and 80s. I also have a pretty good collection of indie artists, or even just people I’ve heard on YouTube and liked. I have a habit of drinking and downloading music, but I sometimes also hear something on TV and get so impressed that I’ll seek out the song online and download the whole album it came from, never previously heard. I have found some great stuff using that method. Oftentimes, it leads to me buying a whole catalog from an artist. Then I share my finds with my other music geek friends, like Andrew.

A couple of nights ago, Bill and I were sitting in the living room, listening to music. A song came on the HomePod that made me stop in my tracks. Those of you who hang out on Facebook might be familiar with this artist, whose video went viral a couple of years ago. Check this out.

A most entertaining song. I liked it enough to buy the album.

The song above is called “I’ve No More… to Give”. It’s by Thomas Benjamin Wild, Esq. and features Damian Clark. Naturally, I related to the song and enjoyed the lyrics. I thought the melody was catchy and well played. I enjoyed the performance enough that off I went to iTunes and downloaded Mr. Wild’s album. Since then, a few other songs have played, including the one below…

I can relate to this song… although my dogs don’t attract weirdos. Maybe it’s because I’m a weirdo myself.

This song cracks me up because I relate on many levels. I’m a wino… and I’m a weirdo… and I’ve had some awkward encounters while walking the dogs. What’s really awkward is when I have a dog who either wants to hump another dog or another dog tries to hump him. I used to have a very tiny but alpha beagle who would hump anything. I couldn’t take him to events involving other dogs, because I’d invariably get dirty looks from other dog owners as Flea tried to have his way… Likewise, now I have Arran, who isn’t a humper, but other dogs have tried to hump him. On occasion, humping dogs come away from their encounter nursing a bite. No means no. But as far as awkward human encounters, I would say we don’t have that many. I try to maintain a resting bitch face when I’m walking the dogs, so I don’t have to show off my poor German skills or listen to someone yell at me.

But neither of these songs are what has inspired today’s windy Thursday morning post. Today’s post is inspired by Thomas Benjamin Wild’s song, “Magazine Pages.” Here’s the video…

As Bill and I were listening to this song the other night, we both realized that we had this experience in common…

This song is about how, as young lads, Mr. Wild and his friends found “magazine pages” discarded in the woods. As I listened to this song, I was suddenly reminded that I had a similar experience when I was about twelve. The year was 1984, and I was riding home from the barn on my ten speed bike. As I sped past an area I traveled back and forth on many times as a pre-teen, I noticed a stack of magazines. Being a curious sort, I picked them up and brought them home to look at them. They were… “men’s magazines”.

Now, this was not the first time I’d seen such material, thanks to the neighborhood pervert, who lived across the dirt road from us. From the ages of nine or ten, this man was sharing his treasure trove of Playboys, Hustlers, and Penthouses with me as I hung out with him in his apartment. You might wonder what I was doing hanging out with this guy. As an adult, I wonder, too. All I can come up with is that he paid attention to me and was nice. He was a friend of my parents’, went to our church, and let me help him in his garden, which always put out tons of produce. He taught me about golf and softball and took me to games, the movies, and even the beach once. He never did anything forbidden to me or showed me anything private on his own body, but he did share his magazines and books with me and he made lewd comments.

I didn’t realize until I was much older, and in therapy, that what he did was abusive. In fact, my therapist said he thought our neighbor probably should have been in prison. I don’t know about that… I never told anyone at the time. I do know that he also used to hang out with my neighbor, who was a year older than me, blonde, and lacking a father figure, since her dad had Huntington’s Disease and was hospitalized. He paid a lot of attention to her, but it would not surprise me if he also exposed her to the same things he exposed me to. In her case, it might have been even worse. But I can’t ask her about that now, because she went on to develop Huntington’s Disease herself, and died about ten years ago.

Anyway, because of that experience, and because I had free license to watch anything I wanted to on cable TV, I wasn’t completely shocked when I found the pile of magazines. But when I heard the above song, I wondered if this was something a lot of kids go through. Or, at least, I wondered if people my age had this experience. So I asked Bill. He laughed and said that yes, he had , in fact, had a similar experience. It involved an uncle of his who had lent his car to Bill’s mom. The car got a flat tire, so they had to get the spare out of the trunk. That’s where Bill found his uncle’s stash of magazines. It made an immediate… uh… impression on him.

I probably shouldn’t say that I had “free license” to watch what I wanted on TV. I know my dad, for instance, would occasionally catch me watching George Carlin or Richard Pryor, and he’d lecture me. One time, he caught me watching what would probably be considered a soft porn film on The Movie Channel. Should I have been watching it? Probably not, although it was on cable and my parents didn’t monitor what I viewed on cable TV. I was their fourth kid and I think they were just really tired of raising kids by the time I came along.

I got away with all kinds of stuff I probably shouldn’t have, and I was exposed to a lot of things that would probably get CPS called on the parents of today. My mom was a lot more lenient about what I was allowed to watch and read, but the truth is, neither of my parents paid much attention to what I was doing. And so, as a young girl, I was exposed to “magazine pages” in the woods, just as Thomas Benjamin Wild, Esq. was… and just as Bill was. The 1970s and 80s were a weird time to be a kid, although I think I would prefer that time to this time. I do not envy the children of today at all.

So I went and looked at the comments on the above YouTube video and noticed that, apparently, finding random porn in the woods is a common experience, especially for boys. I notice that many of the commenters say that this was common, twenty or thirty years ago. Clearly, it happened to Bill and me… and I seem to remember my sister telling me that one time, she found a porn stash kept by one of our male relatives. My sister said finding that stash forever changed her image of him. I didn’t care about it so much when she told me, but then years later, I learned that he cheated on his wife… and then I realized that his son, who was two years older than I was, engaged in some inappropriate stuff that might have been influenced by his dad’s stash. Also… he and the neighborhood pervert both had very respectable jobs. My relative, for instance, was so well-regarded that he has a stadium named after him.

I’ll tell you what else brings up this topic today… I’m listening to Katie Joy’s latest live stream, and she mentioned that Josh Duggar was exposed to “magazine pages” when he was about eight years old. At about the 9 minute mark of the below video, Katie Joy explains that when he was eight, Josh was helping his dad clean out a car. Jim Bob was, at the time, selling used cars (figures). In the car they were cleaning out, there was a box of “adult magazines”. Naturally, Josh saw it, and it was stuff he definitely shouldn’t have seen as an eight year old. And according to Katie Joy’s “source”, this exposure to “adult material” really left an impression on him.

At the nine minute mark, we learn that Josh Duggar might have been exposed to “magazine pages” as an 8 year old.

If the story Katie Joy is telling is true, then it makes sense that Josh grew up with some warped ideas about sex and women. Because I highly doubt his parents took the time to talk to Josh about those “magazine pages”. I’m sure if he was caught with them, he got a good ass tanning in the prayer closet and hard labor, rather than a calm and rational discussion about looking at “magazine pages”. Couple that with Josh Duggar growing up in a very restrictive and punitive religious cult, and the constant shaming, emphasis on avoiding sin and temptation, and warnings about Hell that he no doubt heard, and it kind of makes sense that Josh would be pretty fucked up. Also couple that with the idea that Josh, as the oldest child in a huge family, was probably expected to do a lot of things that weren’t appropriate for his age.

NONE OF THAT, IN ANY WAY, EXCUSES HIM FOR BEING A PERVERT, nor does it mean that he’s not a danger to other people– especially children– today. Especially since it’s clear that a lot of us also saw that kind of stuff when we were children and most of us didn’t turn into abusive perverts. But if what Katie Joy says is true, it could offer an explanation of sorts. I think in Josh’s case, there was a perfect storm of fuckery that may have led him to where he is in 2021… and where he’s very likely to be in 2022, and for years beyond.

I do think Josh Duggar is going to go to prison, and I think he will probably be there for a long time. And I don’t think that would be a bad thing, since Josh has repeatedly shown the world that he has some pretty serious problems that he’s never dealt with. He definitely puts vulnerable people at risk. But… at the same time, I do think that the adults in his life failed him when he was growing up. He obviously needed competent help from a mental health professional when he was a boy, and he never got that. And that’s on his parents, even though I don’t usually think that parents necessarily should be blamed for everything bad their children do. I think there were many red flags and signs that Josh needed some help. His parents, evidently, either ignored the signs or addressed them in inappropriate ways.

Of course, I am speculating, and I could be totally wrong about this. Josh might have simply been a bad seed who would have turned out this way regardless. There’s no way to know. But I do think that finding a box of “magazine pages” as an eight year old, looking at that stuff, and then having to keep it totally secret, or risk serious reprisals involving threats of spending eternity in a lake of fire, could have done some severe damage to Josh’s psyche.

It will be interesting to see what happens when this trial starts at the end of next month. I don’t think Josh was smart to reject the plea deal. I suspect he will really regret taking this chance. But he probably believes it’s in God’s hands… and he’s always gotten away with his perversions with no real consequences up until now. He may even think he’s one of God’s chosen and all he has to do is pray a lot. Who the hell knows?

I feel sad for Josh’s children. No matter what happens, they have to live with the fact that their father is a well-known “sex pest”. And despite the shiny image that was put out by the Duggar Family for many years, the truth is, the family is pretty fucked up… and it’s all on a worldwide stage for everyone to see and judge. I think Josh’s kids, especially the boys, are going to face a difficult future. Much of this is because of Jim Bob Duggar’s need to be in the spotlight, lust for power and money, and lack of responsibility for taking care of his children and seeing to their mental health. And, of course, Michelle Duggar bears responsibility for not doing her part to take care of Josh… or her other children, for that matter.

Anyway… this was supposed to be a lighter post than it turned out to be. I was going to keep it funny… but I started to listening to Katie Joy’s live stream, and it occurred to me that Josh’s issues are relevant. Maybe I should feel fortunate that those “magazine pages” didn’t do more harm to me. I’ll be very surprised if Josh isn’t behind bars very soon.

For those who also like Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq.’s music… As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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funny stories, memories, nostalgia

Repost: “You want a bun with that?”

Here’s a repost from August 2018 as I wait for my stomach to settle.

Today, I think I’ll write something silly as opposed to something depressing or controversial.  It may not seem like it in most of my posts, but I actually have a pretty great sense of humor.  When I was younger, I had a male friend in college with whom I used to spend a lot of time.  His name is Chris.

I’m still friends with this guy, by the way.  I just don’t get to see him anymore because he’s in Virginia and I’m in Germany.  When we were in college, though, we were kind of inseparable.  We spent hours hanging out and, when he was a drinker, we often got drunk together.  He quit drinking when we were juniors in college.

Anyway…  located right next to our campus was a McDonald’s.  I didn’t eat there very often because I never had any money.  But one night, my friend went there with some of his buddies.  I believe they were all inebriated and likely pretty obnoxious, too.

This wasn’t Chris and his crew… but the idea is kind of the same.

Chris went up to the counter and ordered a cheeseburger.  The guy who took his order apparently got an attitude and said, “You want a bun with that?”

Chris, who was likely feeling no pain, said, “What kind of a question is THAT?  Of course I want a BUN with that!  Who the hell orders a burger without a bun?”

The guys who were with Chris were gently trying to extricate him from the situation, but he was still cussing as the dude handed him his order.

Actually, I can think of a few funny situations involving Chris and fast food.  One of his favorite things to do when we were in college was act like he was going to throw up.  He’d make a fist and sort of hesitantly place it to his mouth, then start fake hurling.  He said he’d always wanted to try that at a fast food restaurant.  He wanted to go up to the counter and act like he was going to puke, then sort of settle down and say, “Can I have another burger, please?”

The funny part of this scenario is that he’d then revert to acting like the no nonsense female worker behind the counter.  Her eyebrows would be raised, unbelieving, and her eyes would be downcast.  And she’d say, her voice laced with attitude, “Do you know how to work a mop?”

Then Chris would revert back to his fake puking self and say, “I just want another burger, please.”

Chris, acting as the female worker, would say, “Do you see anyone else standing back here?  Who you think gonna clean up the mess if you toss your cookies all over my clean floor?”  With a wag of her head, she’d continue, “Now, you know how to work a mop, I’ll give you another burger.”

The little scenario would usually kind of end at that point.  Sometimes, I’d join in and play the fast food worker.

Chris also told me once about how he and his mom went to a McDonald’s once and saw some woman cleaning with a toothbrush.  Chris’s mom, who died in 2009, said, “Chris, I think that woman is a halfwit.  Why is she cleaning like that?”

This isn’t to say, by the way, that I think people who work in fast food are halfwits.  I don’t think that at all.  There is no such thing as truly unskilled labor.  I just laugh when I remember the way my old friend would do these imitations and act out these scenarios, especially in places like McDonald’s, where you’re liable to run into anyone…

This topic comes up thanks to the hamburger meat in our refrigerator that needs to be consumed.  I probably ought to go vegan, but I don’t see it happening at this point in my life.

LOL… that woman says what my mom used to say to me all the time when I was growing up.

Yes, kids, this is what we did in the 1990s, when Internet for everyone was still just a pipe dream.  I kind of miss those days.

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book reviews, celebrities, love, marriage, memories

Repost: My review of Carly Simon’s book, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir…

I originally published this book review on my old blog on December 14, 2016. It appears here as/is.

I have long admired singer-songwriter Carly Simon.  Having been born in the early 1970s, her music, and that of her ex husband’s, James Taylor, has been a part of my personal soundtrack for many years.  I also enjoy reading life stories, especially by people I admire.  I downloaded Carly Simon’s 2015 memoir on the day it was released, but I’ve only just read it.  I tend to download a lot of stuff that interests me and it sits in the queue until the mood strikes for me to read it.  There was a time when I would have greedily devoured this book days after its release, but I guess I’m slowing down in my old age.

Anyway, Carly’s book is entitled Boys in the Trees: A Memoir.  I like the book’s title, since it references the title song from her 1978 album, which I remember almost wearing out during Christmas break 1991.  I had a month at home with my parents and had always loved the song “You Belong To Me”.  I bought the CD and played it non-stop.  It was a comfort during those bleak winter days when I was 19 years old and hating the semester break at home from college.

Simon’s book starts with her story of growing up in New York, the daughter of Richard Simon, one of the founders of the Simon & Schuster publishing company.  She had a privileged upbringing, surrounded by family and friends.  Her two older sisters were beautiful and talented.  Her brother, Peter, was younger and the son her father had wanted.  Carly writes that she was supposed to have been a boy named Carl, but when she came out female, her father simply added a “y” to the name.  Carly Simon’s father evidently didn’t mesh that well with his third child.  He was the first of many men to disappoint her.

As Simon grew older, her father grew frail.  Sidelined by strokes, he was eventually convinced to sell his interest in Simon & Schuster.  Carly’s mother, Andrea, fell out of love with her husband and had an affair with a much younger man named Ronny.  Starting at age 7, Carly also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a visiting teenager who had seen porn and wanted to replicate it.

As a teenager, Carly Simon lived in Martha’s Vineyard. James Taylor’s family also had a home there and that was where the two of them met, when they were adolescents. In November 1972, they would marry at City Hall, wearing wedding bands they purchased for $17.95 each, at a Middle Eastern kiosk. The rings weren’t even the ones that had been on sale. Simon had been involved with other men, notably Mick Jagger and Warren Beatty. Taylor had been seeing Joni Mitchell before he hooked up with Carly. But they were destined to be together and make two children, Sally and Ben.

When James and Carly were still married.

Boys in the Trees is divided into three books.  I think Simon was wise to divide the book that way, since her story is not one that necessarily lends itself to seamlessness.  The last book is about her marriage to James Taylor, a man she clearly deeply admires and probably still even loves.  Sadly, James Taylor was apparently not a very good husband in the 1970s.  He had a pretty serious drug and alcohol problem, which Simon references, as well as a penchant for affairs with other women.  They were together when their careers were both smoking hot and, though they were able to make beautiful music together, it wasn’t enough to forge a commitment.  

Simon writes that things really went to hell in her marriage to James Taylor after she’d become a mother.  Suddenly, the children were more important and she could no longer turn a blind eye to Taylor’s dalliances.  I got the sense that perhaps James Taylor resented that.  In any case, she basically makes James Taylor of the 1970s out to be a selfish ass.  Whether or not he still is, I don’t know.

Wow… 40 years ago.

Naturally, whenever I read about another person’s relationship, I wonder a bit about the other sides of the story. And there always are other sides to include the truth. I don’t think Carly Simon is lying about what happened, and she admits to being difficult herself. But naturally, this book skews toward her perspective… not that I think cheating and drug abuse is necessarily acceptable behavior. Simon writes that she still lives in the house they lived in and much of it still bears Taylor’s design marks, some of which were not as inspired as his songwriting.

I think Carly Simon would have made a fine author had she not been a musician.  Her writing is elegant and interesting and I enjoyed reading about the many inspirations behind songs I’ve loved for years.  When she was married to Taylor, the two collaborated a lot on their albums.  It was cool to read about how Carly Simon came up with the ending coda for “Terra Nova”, a gorgeous collaboration on Taylor’s 1977 JT.  I well remember the hit song “Jesse” from the early 80s, which she reveals was actually inspired by her son, Ben.

As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, I appreciated Carly’s revelations about her own issues with panic attacks.  She writes about one serious attack she suffered in Pittsburgh back in 1981, when she had to call upon the audience to help her.  She writes that she still gets letters from people who were at that concert, many of whom express a great deal of empathy for the situation she was in at the time.  Panic and anxiety kept Carly Simon off the public stage for several years.

Curiously, Simon’s book ends basically with her split from Taylor.  She doesn’t write about her second marriage to and divorce from poet Jim Hart, although she does mention him in her acknowledgments.  She doesn’t write much about her breast cancer battle, nor does she write about how it felt to become a grandmother.  But perhaps those stories will come later.

In any case, I really enjoyed Carly Simon’s memoir, Boys in the Trees.  I recommend it.

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