Yesterday’s post about “The Red Scare” inspired me to watch a movie I haven’t seen in years. I grew up at a time when everyone talked about the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. That fear was referenced in a lot of pop culture in the 80s.
In early 1985, the Cold War was in full swing. I was twelve years old and acutely aware of the threat of nuclear war. There were many books, TV plots, and movies about the hostilities between the United States and the former Soviet Union. I was fascinated by it, though I lacked the ability to do a lot of reading about the Soviet Union. I didn’t have Internet, nor did I have a library card until I was about fourteen. What I did have in those days was HBO. When I was growing up, a lot of my world centered around what was on HBO.
Back in the 80s, there was no shortage of films depicting how nasty the Soviet people were. We had Red Dawn, which was about the United States being invaded by Russians and Cubans. I watched film that I don’t know how many times. It thrilled twelve year old me, even to the point at which I felt pretty strongly that I would join the military if the Russians ever invaded. I think that was also one of the very first movies to have a PG-13 rating. Since I was twelve, I thought it was “neato” that I got to see Red Dawn, even if I’d been watching R rated movies on HBO since I was about eight.
We had Born American, a strange film by Renny Harlin that came out in 1986. It was about three foolish guys on vacation in Finland who decide to cross into the Soviet Union just as some village girl is being raped and slaughtered by a local priest. The guys get blamed for her rape and murder and end up in a hellish prison where humans are playing a bizarre chess game.
There was 1985’s White Nights, a film notably starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Baryshnikov’s character was a famous ballet dancer who had defected to the United States and ended up back in Russia after a plane crash. There, he meets Hines’ character, an American who grew disenchanted with the United States after Vietnam and ended up marrying a Russian. They form an unlikely partnership, dance a lot, and escape to the West.
And there was also Gulag, a film that was made for Home Box Office. It starred David Keith (of An Officer and a Gentleman and The Lords of Discipline fame) and Malcom McDowell, a Brit who has been in a shitload of films. I remember seeing Gulag on HBO not long after it premiered. I was probably too young to be watching it. Having seen it on YouTube yesterday, I know I was too young. It was actually a pretty scary film.
Gulag is the fictional story of Mickey Almon, a track star and Olympian who has been hired by a television network to cover sports in Moscow. He and his wife are enjoying Soviet hospitality, although Mickey is a bit of an ugly American. He’s loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and has a false sense of superiority for being from the United States.
At the beginning of the film, Almon runs into a Russian man who claims to be a scientist and asks him to take his story back to the United States. The man promises that if Almon helps him, he’ll win the Nobel Peace Prize. Almon is perplexed. He’s not in the Soviet Union to help anyone. He’s there to do a job. But the guy’s request is compelling and as an American with a hero complex, Almon feels compelled to take action. Naturally, he soon finds himself in serious trouble with the police. Turns out the “scientist” is really a member of the KGB who has set Almon up to be a political pawn.
Next thing Mickey Almon knows, he’s locked in a filthy cell reeking of raw sewage. The Russians demand that he sign a confession to spying. Almon refuses for months and keeps going back to the rotten cell. He’s forced to wear the same uniform for months, not allowed to shower, and grows a heavy beard. One day, the guards tell him his wife has come. They let him shower and give him fresh clothes. Just when he thinks he’s going to see his wife, they bring back the putrid uniform and demand that he put it back on.
The prospect of wearing the filthy uniform and going back to the disgusting cell is too much for Mickey. He finally breaks. He’s been promised that if he confesses and makes a video for the Soviets, he’ll be deported back to the United States. Of course, the promise of going home turns out to be a lie. Pretty soon, Mickey is wrestled onto a crowded train with a bunch of other prisoners. That’s when Almon learns he’s not going to the airport. He’s destined for a ten year sentence at a gulag in Siberia. Almon puts on a brave show, swearing at the guards and refusing to cower. But eventually, Mickey Almon determines that he must take things into his own hands. No one is going to rescue him. He either has to stand the brutal, inhuman conditions, or find some way to escape.
As I was watching this film yesterday, I couldn’t help but realize that if Mickey Almon had actually been arrested in Moscow in the 80s, he would not have done ten years in a Soviet gulag. The Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. But in the 80s, we had no idea that it was going to fall apart. In those days, the Soviet Union was a massive superpower and it was perceived to be a huge threat to the United States. There was a lot of talk about who was going to “push the red button”.
Since I remember the 80s so clearly and they don’t seem like they were really that long ago, this film still gave me the willies. And yet, just ten years after Gulag was released, I went to the former Soviet Union to live for two years. I quickly found out that Soviets… Armenians, anyway… were just normal folks like everybody else. Yes, the lifestyle there was different than what I was used to, but at their core, people living in what used to be Soviet Armenia were just people who wanted the best for themselves and their loved ones. And I happened to be there at a time when their country was going through extreme turmoil due to the fall of the Soviet Union.
Another thing I noticed was that the film looked “old”. I mean, I remember watching movies from the 60s and 70s when I was a child and thinking they looked dated. I had that same experience yesterday. 1985 really was 36 years ago! To put that in perspective, it would be the same as me watching a film in 1985 that was made in 1949. 1949 in the 1980s sure did seem like it was ages ago. Hell, that was back before my parents were married. The upshot is that now I feel ancient.
Actually, I’ve been going through a bit of a mid life crisis lately, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to watch this film. It really does seem like yesterday that I was a teenager. Now I’m about to turn 49 and I feel like there’s a lot I haven’t yet done. I have never had a “real” career. I don’t have children. I have a great marriage and I’m grateful for that, but I think it’s mainly because I found an unusually patient guy who has already survived the wife from hell. Anything I do seems to be very small potatoes to him.
I still have a few Armenian friends. I wonder what they would think of Gulag and the other American made propaganda films. I am sure they’ve seen their share of anti-American propaganda, too. I kind of wish I’d had the chance to talk to some of them in person about it back when I saw them on a daily basis.
Anyway, if you’re curious, here’s a link to Gulag, which also has helpful Polish subtitles. Enjoy!
Yesterday’s post about public TV caused me to fall down a very interesting rabbit hole on YouTube. Anyone who follows this blog for any length of time is likely to come to the conclusion that I have way too much time on my hands, most days. And when I get bored, I go hunting for things to alleviate my boredom. I had wanted to add a certain video showing a Soviet children’s show on yesterday’s post. I couldn’t find it, but I did find this video, which I also shared in yesterday’s post…
I didn’t really write about what’s in this video when I posted it yesterday. That’s because I discovered it at the end of my post and had already written a lot… and the former Soviet Union wasn’t really the point of yesterday’s writings, anyway. In this video, an elderly teacher, obviously stricken and terrified, tells her class that all current teachers will be forced to give up their classes. A little boy named Johnny tells the teacher not to panic as she explains why she’s so scared.
At 9:00am, right on the dot, a tall, attractive woman with reddish brown hair, blue eyes, and a vague British accent appears at the door. She wears what looks like a Soviet inspired uniform, enters the room, and tells the children that she’s their new teacher as she firmly kicks out the old lady who had originally been teaching the kids. She knows all of the students’ names, shocking them. Then she shocks me by poorly trying to sing “Children of the World”, a positively cringeworthy song by the Bee Gees. Talk about a Red Scare!
The young teacher has a kind and friendly demeanor, but it’s clear that beneath that calm, gentle facade lurks a woman who could probably kill the children if provoked. Or, at least have them sent to a gulag or something. They are impressed by her, but also a bit scared. The teacher very carefully leads the children to her lessons, gradually and insidiously teaching them not to blindly honor American values. But little Johnny, the same one who told the old teacher not to panic, is going to be a troublemaker. The teacher takes down the American flag, then tells everyone they’re going to cut the flag, so everyone can have a piece of it. Johnny looks like he’s going to wet his pants.
A little girl named Leslie (who played Nadia Comaneci in the movie, Nadia), cuts the first piece of the flag because it’s her birthday. More pieces are cut so that everyone can have a piece, just like it was a birthday cake. The kids all disrespect the flag, all very innocently, as the sound effects get more ominous. When a child asks why their first teacher was crying, the new Soviet model says she was just “tired” and needs a long rest. And she says teachers should be young… like she is– only 23 years old. The old bat will be sent away where she will be nice and “safe”.
Then Johnny, the truth teller, demands to know where his dad is. The teacher says Johnny’s dad is “going to school”, becomes sometimes grown ups have to go to school, too. The teacher explains that Johnny’s dad had “wrong thoughts” and needs to be re-educated. And Johnny can visit him, once he has a vacation. Dads who are in school get vacation just like kids in school, do. Oh dear. The teacher tells Johnny that his dad had some thoughts that were “old fashioned” and needed to be corrected. I see where this is going. Leftists are BAD, and not to be trusted. Then the other kids start wondering if their parents should go back to school, too.
Then the teacher tells the kids that they’ll all be staying together, from now on, in a nice state supported home where they will be taught the right things. They can stay up and have a good time, eat candy, and tell stories, like a slumber party that never ends as the state slowly reforms their thinking to the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way. Then someone brings up prayer, and the teacher implies that God isn’t real because He doesn’t answer their prayers for candy. So the teacher tells the kids to pray to “our leader”. While their eyes are squeezed shut, the teacher dumps out a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.
But that pesky troublemaker, Johnny sees what the teacher did, as his duped classmates say they’re going to pray to “our leader” every time. Johnny busts the teacher for her trickery. So the teacher says that it doesn’t matter who the children pray to… only humans can give you what you want, but praying is a waste of time… By the end of the film, Johnny is starting to see things the “right” way… which again, of course, is the “left” way. Wow. I had forgotten how different things were in the early 80s. Then, at the end, a narrator explains how easy it is to fall into the trap of giving up freedom.
I was a bit fascinated by the video, so I went looking for more. And since I was somehow under the impression that April Lerman was in the above video, I searched for her on YouTube. I thought maybe I’d finally find that godawful After School Special, “Little Miss Perfect”. No such luck. But I did find this weird Disney film about a boy growing up in Leningrad. I suppose the Disney movie was intended to make us less afraid of a “red scare”.
And sure enough, this morning I found that video I had been looking for yesterday that made me fall down the rabbit hole in the first place. One thing I loved about living in the former Soviet Union was how many very musically and artistically talented people are there. I meant to include the below video yesterday, but never managed to find it.
My search for April Lerman’s turn in “Little Miss Perfect” led to yet another weird find. As I mentioned yesterday, Toni Ann Gisondi, who was in the video about “brainwashing children”, was in the 1982 movie, Annie. April Lerman was also in that film. She played Kate. April Lerman was also in another special film… one about puberty. Annie is about an orphan who has red hair and wears a red dress… and so it’s only fitting that she should be teaching us about the true red scare of every girl’s adolescence– the dreaded first period, otherwise known as menarche!
I’ve written about this topic a few times, but because I enjoy shocking people and being gross, I’m going to write about it again. Back in 1981, I was in the fourth grade. That was the year we all learned about puberty. I went to Botetourt Elementary School in Gloucester, Virginia for third and fourth grades, so things were pretty redneck. Strangely enough, neither my mom nor my sisters ever talked to me about menstruation. I used to see my mom’s feminine hygiene supplies in her little special wooden chest kept next to the toilet. I would steal them to make blankets for my model horses or Barbie dolls. Back in those days, the pads were super thick, like miniature mattresses. I didn’t know what they were for, but they made for good Barbie doll pillows and such.
Then, that fateful day in the early 80s, all us girls were ushered into “The Pit” (which no longer exists) and we all watched a film from the 1970s about periods. And it was literally a film, as in it was shown on a projector, not a VCR or DVD player… or even a Laser Disc. I don’t remember much more about the film, other than a scene where they showed a woman in a bathing cap diving into a pool. That was about the time in the movie where they discussed whether or not a woman can go swimming when she’s ragging. After the movie, a teacher, who later became a principal, talked to us about what it was to be a woman… or maybe she didn’t do it that year (fourth grade), but I do remember her doing it another year. Maybe it was when I was in the seventh grade. I do clearly remember her talking to us about womanhood, with her deep southern accent.
After the movie, we were all given the Personal Products pitch– that was the company who made the film, the accompanying booklet, and, if you sent in for it, a box of assorted maxi pads and tampons. I didn’t need any of that stuff until New Year’s Eve 1985, when I was 13.5 years old, almost to the dot. And I didn’t have my second period until July of 1986, when I was 14. I skipped six whole months. After that, I was like clockwork until very recently. Now that I’m pushing 49, my periods are becoming weird and irregular. I suspect I’ll be done with the whole nasty business very soon, and thank God for that.
I suppose the next incarnation of “Growing Up and Liking It” came about in 1984. The musical, Annie, was still running on Broadway, probably thanks to the 1982 film. So, some bright person at Personal Products decided to get a bunch of actresses who had starred in different productions of Annie to do a video about puberty for girls of the 80s. I found that video yesterday, because April Lerman was in it. But now it occurs to me how odd it is to do a menstruation video starring kids from Annie— red hair, red dress, no mom to teach her (just like in that brainwashing video), and blood gushing from between one’s legs. Growing up is a delight!
The video begins with seventeen year old Shelley Bruce, who had played Annie on Broadway, introducing everyone to the motley cast of girls who had been in other Annie productions. The girls were of varying ages and statuses of development. Some were new menstruators, while others were still waiting… and they all sat around a chatted about their menses as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Interspersed within their chat sessions is the soothing voice of a matronly looking woman who looks like Anne Murray. She explains everything in calm, motherly tones, assuring us that all girls eventually turn into women and get to endure the monthly mess.
Someone in the comment section wrote the brilliant line… “The blood’ll come out… tomorrow…” which caused me to cackle uproariously. I sang it to Bill this morning, and he added, “bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be blood.” And then it occurred to me that my own period hasn’t yet shown up this month and was really light and late last month. My… how quickly 40 years goes by!
Well… I suppose these young ladies all got paid for this. And I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed watching them dance. One of the girls, Sarah Navin, apparently died in 2005. I’m not sure why, but her obituary mentions donating to Susan G. Komen, so maybe she had breast cancer at a very young age. How sad!
It’s funny listening to Shelley, who comes off as a real “pal”, except it’s obvious they aren’t friends and barely know each other. And now they’re going to sit around and talk about their monthlies– girls who starred in a musical about a girl with red hair who has no mom with whom to discuss these things– at least not until she gets adopted by Daddy Warbucks and his secretary, Grace Farrell. The girls all have New York accents, and some look a little more comfortable on camera than others. Poor Shelley, though. To go from being Annie on Broadway to teaching girls about their periods! A buck’s a buck, I guess.
And just because I’m still in the rabbit hole, here’s another gem about people who’ve played Annie. But most of them haven’t talked to young girls about menstruation… It now seems odd that a bunch of kids in a show about orphans, again, meaning they don’t have moms to talk to them about this stuff, would be tasked with making this video. But I guess they were at the right age. Besides, having a mom around doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to tell you about puberty. My mom was at home all the time when I was growing up and I don’t remember her ever talking to me about periods, except to tell me when I leaked and remind me to make sure I wrapped up my pads properly so my dad wouldn’t be offended.
Well… I suppose it’s time to come out of the YouTube rabbit hole and walk the dogs. May your day be without any visits from Aunt Flow or young Red Scare teachers who kick out your kindly instructors and want to get you to think the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way… As for me, perhaps the blood’ll come out, tomorrow.
Edited to add… you must listen to Andrea McArdle do an impression of Carol Channing! Hysterical!
Growing up in the 70s and 80s was an interesting experience. It seemed like back in those days, things were evolving somewhat. Computers were becoming more popular, as were synthesizers, and we had all these cool movies about outer space, like Star Wars and Flash Gordon. I don’t think I’ve ever watched Star Wars in its entirety, but I have seen Flash Gordon many times. I used to watch it on HBO all the time, even though I wouldn’t call myself a science fiction buff. I actually love Flash Gordon for its campiness and funny British humor moments.
One thing I remember a lot from being a kid in the late 70s was how much public television I watched. In those days, we’d watch educational TV in school, especially when I lived in Fairfax County. I remember being in first grade and exposed to The Electric Company for the first time. Of all of the public education shows I used to watch at school, that one was definitely my favorite. A couple of days ago, I had “Silent E” running through my head…
Tom Lehrer is a genius. He just turned 93 years old on the 9th and his witty, entertaining songs have helped so many children, particularly of my generation, become better people through education. Lehrer is probably best known for his witty songs for children’s shows on PBS, but he was also a brilliant mathematician and satirist. After the 1970s, he got out of public performances to focus on his love of teaching math and musical theater history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. When I listen to Tom Lehrer’s entertaining songs and realize that he had so many other, diverse interests, it kind of makes me feel humble. How can just one person be that gifted?
What brings on this topic today? Well… for one thing, it’s Monday, and I don’t feel like writing about the depressing state of current events right now. I figure we don’t need another article about social justice, my (many) pet peeves, my personal problems, or the pandemic. For another thing, I woke up with a song stuck in my head. It’s been stuck for years and I’ll probably never figure it out. Technically speaking, it’s not even a song, since I don’t think it has any words. In the late 70s, it was played all the time on PBS… basically funky “groove” music that serve to prevent dead air caused by a pause in programming.
During that time, my family lived in Northern Virginia, where over the air television was easier to watch, because we were near Washington, DC. There was a lot of money in Fairfax County, too, so the public television stations as well as the local independent stations, WDCA (channel 20) and WTTG (channel 5) got a lot of support. There was some good TV on in those days… probably better than what I saw on British TV when we lived in England. Although we did live in base housing at Mildenhall Air Force Base, I distinctly remember getting British TV instead of AFRTS (or AFN, if you prefer), which is a conglomeration of American TV shows condensed into a channel and made available for government and military Americans living abroad.
I always liked watching TV, but I really got into it in Fairfax, and I specifically remember loving PBS… along with this psychedelic identification flourish…
According to the comments on this particular video, this particular identification flourish was composed by Paul Alan Levi. He wrote a comprehensive and technical explanation of the musical components of this creation:
4 years agoI am the composer of the PBS logo. I created it using a Putney VCS3 Synthesizer, not a Moog, as is claimed on various websites. The final chord is a G major 9th (major triad, major 7th, major 9th). I was working in a music/sound effects editing studio; all the equipment was in mono. No multi-track recorders. The descending scale was probably a sine wave (can’t remember exactly 46 years later) frequency modulated by a square wave to create the trill effect, then that sound frequency modulated by the descending part of a sawtooth wave from a low frequency oscillator. In order to synchronize the 6 final notes with the video, I had to record each note separately, then use a Moviola to synchronize each one with one of the popons. The result was 7 analog tracks all running at once, which multiplied the hiss that Glen Tindal remarked on earlier. It was odd for many years to be a composer whose music was heard by millions of people, none of whom knew I had composed it. There has always been a small subset of people who were terrified by the logo, which mystifies me. My two-year old daughter would hear it before or after Sesame Street and say happily, “Daddy’s tune.” My theory about this is that the sounds of the pure sound waves produced by the Putney were quite aggressive, and some people reacted to the intensity of those sounds.
Based on his explanation, I can only assume that Paul Alan Levi is some kind of a genius, too, who not only knows music, but is also a technology wiz. Or, at least he was a wiz in the late 70s and early 80s! I got a kick out of the comments from people who wrote that this thing “scared” them. I can kind of understand why. It has kind of an aggressive tone to it… harsh, loud, and unmistakable. When that thing came on before a program, you knew it was time to shut up and sit still… and maybe eat a Hostess Ho Ho or something. We were allowed snacks at Oak View Elementary School, and in those days, no one cared if they were full of chemicals. To this day, when I hear the PBS psychedelic chimes, I think of the processed snack cakes kids ate back then. No wonder so many of us are fat!
I remember watching 3-2-1- Contact at school, but I never enjoyed it as much as I did The Electric Company. I liked science, so I don’t know why I didn’t love this show more beyond the awesome theme song. I still remember the video montage shown during the credits, as well as the musical intro for the Children’s Television Workshop– again with the synths! We loved synths in the early 80s!
And I think I liked Sesame Street’s funky horn infused end credits even more than the official “Sesame Street” theme song. They hold up well even in 2021!
Today’s youngsters have so many things to occupy their attention. I wonder what they’re going to be like when they’re in their 40s? One of the things I like about my generation is that so many of us had very similar experiences, simply because the Internet didn’t exist. We were all allowed to run wild in our neighborhoods and people weren’t calling CPS at the drop of a hat, every time some kid dared to venture beyond the front or back yard. I can remember doing things as a young child that I would never dream of allowing a child of today to do, like walk to a mall by themselves. When I lived on Portsmouth Road in Fairfax, I used to walk to University Mall by myself all the time. I was six or seven years old! I’d collect old glass bottles and turn them in for money, then hit the High’s Convenience Store and buy a candy bar for 26 cents. Nowadays, a child wandering the mall that young would be picked up by the police.
When I wrote a post about The Electric Company on my original blog, I was inspired to do so because the sink in the kitchen of our rental house was not putting out hot water. The property management company sent someone over to check into it. He was in the middle of a spiel about how cheap the plumbing fixtures were when finally, after about five minutes, we got somewhat warm water. The property managers billed us $80 because they said it was our “responsibility” to check the water before complaining. I remember calling them up and chewing them out, since we were in Texas and there was a pretty severe drought going on. I asked them how long I was expected to let the water run, waiting for it to get hot, when the city was telling us to conserve. Then I bitched at them for not fixing the garage door, which was dented when we moved in.
The original property managers who set up the rental had said it was going to be fixed, but two weeks into our lease, another company– one that I had tried really hard to avoid– took over. They lived up to every one of their bad reviews, and tried (and failed) to screw us out of money at the end of the lease. I was so glad to get out of that house a year later. Of course, I didn’t know that when we moved to Germany, we’d be running into the first landlady we’d have to sue. She is now officially the worst landlord we’ve ever had, but prior to our experiences with her, the rental company in San Antonio was. If we ever do move back to the States, I hope to God we buy our own home. It may suck just as much to own a house, but at least it will be ours!
I never did get into Mister Rogers Neighborhood. For one thing, I was probably too old for it. For another, I found Mister Rogers annoying. He was probably too nice, and the way he spoke got on my nerves. Of course, in these troubled times, a lot of people probably would love to still have him around. He was gentle and calming, and he promoted being good to others. Same as Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo, although I never watched much of that show. It always came on during early school hours. And The Great Space Coaster did, too, although that show wasn’t on PBS. It just had a groovy theme song and a cool animated intro.
I see one of the kids in the show above was Leslie Weiner, who played a young Nadia Comaneci in the 1984 movie, Nadia. And the little girl in the still is Toni Ann Gisondi, who played Molly in the 1982 film version of Annie. April Lerman is also in this (ETA: I don’t see April listed anywhere, but on IMDB)! She was also in Annie, as well as a guest on Growing Pains, and a terrible Schoolbreak Special about bulimia called Little Miss Perfect. I remember that in the early 80s, everybody was afraid the Soviets were going to invade and turn us all into communists. Fourteen years later, I lived in Armenia, which was once a Soviet country. It’s now an independent country, and putting out some very fresh ideas. Having had that experience, I can say that our fears were probably a bit overblown.
Well… I have probably journeyed along the nostalgia path long enough. Guess I’ll get dressed and take the dogs for a stroll. I could watch these videos all day, though. I miss being young.
A few days ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with one of my relatives, who quipped in passing that she thinks that she and I are both empaths. I didn’t contradict her at the time because I had a feeling that if I did, we might end up fighting. So I let the comment pass, but I was definitely shaking my head about it. I guess I had decided to “go with the flow” and “sweep it under the rug”, which sometimes is a good idea. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s not.
Last night, we were chatting again. This relative has been interested in my musical pursuits, which includes my attempts to learn guitar. After I wrote yesterday’s post about “musical flu”, which was inspired by watching an online concert by the jazz ensemble at my alma mater, Longwood University, I actually sat down and learned a new song. I not only learned it; I played it– shakily– on the guitar. No, I don’t play particularly well, but I did manage to play a song yesterday as well as sing the vocals. Fair disclosure, I did the vocals before the guitar part. I’m not quite ready to do them both at the same time. Still working on that pesky F chord, too.
I don’t actually relate to the lyrics of “I Never Will Marry”. I just think the harmonies are pretty. I wanted to see if I could replicate them. And, with the help of Chordify and a capo, I was able to play it somewhat. I literally learned the song and the guitar part and recorded it in a few hours. And, because I was feeling tired and bitchy after that effort, I used a clip of my dog, Noyzi, as the video part. The video doesn’t really matter that much to me, anyway. I’m about the music.
A year ago, I could not have done what I did yesterday, even if my efforts from yesterday are imperfect. This was a pretty big achievement for me. I have a long way to go before I’m ready for busking on the street corner, but I felt pretty accomplished.
My relative listened to the song, praised it, but then said she didn’t like the song itself. She said she thought the lyrics were self-pitying. I don’t disagree, but I still think the harmonies are lovely. My relative went on to explain that she doesn’t like “whiney” songs, and that reminded me of a funny story from my past. I proceeded to relate a short version of the story to my relative, but she completely missed the point in a non-empathic way. Since I’m not drunk on wine right now, have nothing better to do, and I’m writing with a clear head, here’s a longer version of the story for all of you dear readers.
When I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University), I was forced to move out of my dorm after the first week of school. I ended up in what was considered the “worst” hall on campus. Well… it wasn’t really the “worst”. It was just a single-sex dorm with hall bathrooms. And, unlike the dorm I had moved from, it didn’t have air conditioning, which really sucked during the late August Virginia summer heat. I imagine the heat lasts longer these days than it did in 1990.
Anyway, the hall below us was an all men’s floor for freshmen. At the time, it was the only all men’s hall that wasn’t used by a fraternity. The women on the second floor and the men on the first floor all hung out together, and most of them attended a mandatory class called Longwood Seminar. It was a special class for incoming freshmen, designed to teach them about how to survive in college. The sections were divided by dorms, which back in the 90s, were still where most Longwood students were living. There wasn’t a lot of off campus housing then, nor did people tend to commute a lot.
I was not in the same Seminar class as my new hallmates were, since I was still in the group I was put in with my original dorm. Because I was not in the same Seminar group, I missed the incident that led up to the invention of the word “brently”, coined by my old friend, Chris.
Back in 1990, Longwood instituted a new rule that freshman dorms were to be “dry”. That meant that alcohol was forbidden on the halls dedicated to freshmen students. Of course, even though there was a rule against booze in freshmen areas, that doesn’t mean people obeyed. One day, early in the semester of our first year, the Longwood Seminar professor talked about avoiding alcohol. And a guy named Brent stood up and said, “If Longwood is so serious about preventing underage drinking, how come half my hall was drunk last weekend?”
Naturally, that confrontation did not put Brent in good stead with his peers. Brent also had an unfortunate habit of being a bit “whiney” and “self-pitying”, much like the song my relative said she didn’t like. Brent would go around saying things like, “Basically, I’m just fucked up the rectum…” as he cringed and complained that he’d just shit his pants because he had amoebic dysentery. I swear… I am not making this shit up. 🙂
Brent also got a lot of people upset because he was involved in an interracial relationship. I’m sorry to say that despite its many progressions lately, Virginia is still a southern state, and even in 1990, some people had issues with the races mixing. Personally, I didn’t really know Brent or his girlfriend that well, and I didn’t care who he was dating. But people supposedly said something to him about his girlfriend and Brent’s response was, “I can have any white woman I want,” which I think we all know is patently untrue. No one can have “any person they want”, no matter who they are. Anyway, the general consensus was that Brent was an arrogant asshole who was very uncool. And he also bore a slight resemblance to Ronald McDonald, except he used to bike shirtless around campus.
Well, people were upset with Brent for busting them in Longwood Seminar class, so my friend Chris decided to play a prank on Brent. He knew Brent had an illegal sword collection in his dorm room. Chris was an English major, so he knew how to draft professional letters. At Longwood, we had a student run Honor Board and a Judicial Board. So Chris wrote a letter to Brent, ostensibly from the Honor Board, inviting him to a “hearing” about his illegal sword collection. Brent, lacking situational awareness, quickly panicked and started searching frantically for the R.A., a guy named Jack.
Chris felt sorry for Brent, so he said, “Brent, man, it was just a joke. Calm down.”
Brent then seized Chris, threw him up against the wall, and snarled, “Oh… so you think it’s funny, huh?” And then he kneed Chris right in the balls.
Chris said, “No Brently… I just feel… SICK.” as he crumpled to the ground. I still laugh when I think about this part of the story.
From that day on, whenever someone said or did anything victim-esque, my friend Chris would say, “Brently!” And we all knew it meant the person was being a martyr or acting like a victim. To this day, I still think of the made up word “brently” when someone is self-pitying or pathetic. Bill’s ex wife is a prime example of someone who is “brently”.
I thought I was just sharing a funny story from my college days. But my relative, the non-empath, immediately calls me (and my friends) out for “bullying” Brent, just because of his looks. She said Chris deserved to be kneed in the nuts, because “karma is a bitch”.
I said, “Wait a minute. People weren’t bullying Brent because of his looks. It was his behavior that did it, although his looks didn’t help. Aside from that, this was thirty years ago. I haven’t seen or talked to Brent since the early 90s. And when I did know him, I wasn’t involved in these incidents at all. I was not mean to Brent, nor am I routinely mean to anyone, unless they ask for it.”
My relative continued on about how she felt sorry for Brent, being “bullied” by us… and she basically lectured me as if I was still a child, even though I’m almost menopausal.
So I said, “I don’t have any pity for Brent. He brought that treatment on himself. Moreover, all Chris did was play a harmless prank and scare him for a minute. Brent committed assault and battery and could have been arrested for his retaliation.”
Again, I really don’t think people picked on Brent solely because of his appearance. I don’t think most people cared who he was dating, either. Some people did, because it was Virginia and some people are backwards and racist. But I don’t think that was the overall attitude toward Brent. It was his arrogant behavior and confrontational attitude that got him picked on… calling out freshmen for drinking when he was, himself, breaking the rules by keeping knives and swords in his dorm room.
So then, I said to my relative, “Anyway– the POINT of the story is not about Brent being bullied. I was trying to tell you about a funny word made up by my friend, which could describe the song, ‘I Never Will Marry’. It’s a ‘brently’ song.”
Now… how does this relate to my relative falsely referring to herself as an “empath”? Besides the fact that she completely missed the point of the funny story and went straight to shaming me, as if I were 12 years old, it’s also because I have many memories of her bullying me. I remember her telling me she thought I was “stupid, fat, and ugly” when I was a kid. I also remember her physically abusing me when I was a small child and couldn’t fight back. I remember many, many meltdowns from her over the years, and a lot of entitled behavior, even after I had reached adulthood. For instance, here’s another rerun story from the past.
Christmas 2003– Bill and I lived in northern Virginia, not far from my relative’s home. My family was having Christmas at their house. My relative, then in her 40s, asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her down there with us. I said it would be okay, but she needed to realize that if things got shitty, we would be leaving. I didn’t want to hang around if there was any fighting.
My relative agreed, so on the day we were leaving, Bill went to pick her up. Naturally, she wasn’t dressed when he got there at the pre-appointed time, so he had to wait for her to take a shower, dry her hair, get dressed, and have coffee. This put us on the road later than we needed to be.
We got down to my parents’ house. All the other relatives were there, and most were sleeping at the house. Bill and I were relegated to the office, where there was a very uncomfortable fold out couch with a metal bar that would hit right in the middle of the back. I had also started my period, so I wasn’t feeling very well.
There was a lot of tension in the air and we were all walking on eggshells… Sure enough, hours after our arrival, I got into a fight with one of my sisters, who decided to get all self-righteous and holier-than-thou with me. My feelings were hurt and, whether or not the fight was my fault, I didn’t feel like staying in that environment, which had become pretty toxic. I just wanted to go home and be in my own house, with a comfortable bed and a toilet where I could tend to Aunt Flow in peace.
Remembering that I had vowed to leave if there was a fight, I told Bill I wanted to go home the next morning. So we told the relative who had bummed a ride with us that we would be leaving early. She had said, before accepting a ride with us, that she was okay with us leaving early if the need arose. But then, when the situation actually came up, her response was to try to manipulate Bill into talking me into staying. Why? Because she was hoping we’d drive her to nearby Williamsburg to go shopping. She wanted us to drive her around, even though at that time, we didn’t have much money, and I sure as hell don’t get my kicks watching her buy stuff. She really can be a terror to clerks and wait staff.
When Bill didn’t talk me into changing my mind, my relative tried. I said I wanted to leave and nothing was going to change my mind. So she flew into an EPIC rage. She was still in bed when we packed the car, but she got up, took a shower, and came storming into the kitchen with wet hair. She screamed at me that she needed to dry her hair and have coffee, so she wouldn’t catch cold. I was just flabbergasted that a woman in her 40s was acting like this. I turned to Bill and said, “Let’s just go.” Because I knew that having her in the car would be hours of hell, and I had had enough hell.
So, while my relative was still angrily orbiting around the house, Bill and I got in the car and fucking left! And my relative ended up taking a bus home. She gave me the silent treatment for a year after that, not that I minded. Somehow, our decision to enforce a boundary also became a reason for shaming. I remember my dad telling me I was “mean” to leave my relative stranded like that. He had no idea what had transpired, but just assumed, after hearing her side, that the whole thing was my fault.
Leaving my relative at my parents’ house was the right thing to do, but it was also a hard thing to do. Because I have been trained since childhood to overlook other people’s bad behavior and be “nice” at all costs. And when something goes south, I get blamed for it, even if the other person was the one acting like a jerk. I was expected to just “go with the flow” and sweep it under the rug.
My mom was always a big fan of “going with the flow”, and she always tried to tell me that’s what I should do, even when someone was outrageously abusive to me. Like, for instance, the time my father humiliated me in public, treating me like a six year old when I was a married woman in my 30s. That incident occurred, again, when I was doing a favor for my “empath” relative, who had asked us to drive my elderly parents around northern Virginia.
Bill and I were sitting with my relative’s boyfriend in a noisy stadium on the occasion of my relative’s master’s degree graduation. My parents were not sitting next to us, but they must have seemed like they were with us, because some strange woman who sat near us apparently felt we were being too rowdy. Instead of speaking to us directly (we weren’t being any louder than anyone else in the stadium was, and we were all adults), she complained to my parents. And my dad turned around and yelled at me, “Shut up! You’re DISTURBING PEOPLE!” It was really loud, and I’m sure everyone heard it. Including that cunty woman who complained to my parents instead of directly to us. I still don’t know how she knew we were together.
Anyway, after my dad screamed at me, Bill says the look on my face was one of unbridled rage. I wanted to kill my father right then and there. I was absolutely LIVID. Instead, I got up and left. Bill found me, and I told him I just wanted to go home. But because we had driven my parents’ car, that would have meant arranging for alternative transportation. At the time, we had very little disposable income to waste on rental cars or even train fare. Once he had me calmed down somewhat, we found my mom. I went to the bathroom, and my mom was telling Bill that I should just “go with the flow” and not let that incident ruin our “lovely day.”
Bill, being the prince he is, told my mom that actually, my dad’s outburst was embarrassing, uncalled for, and totally wrong, and that I had every right to be as angry as I was. Moreover, we were at the graduation as a favor to my parents and my relative. I hadn’t even WANTED to be there. I had just let her talk me into doing her a favor, yet again. As we rode in the car to the very nice restaurant where Bill and I had gotten engaged the year before, Bill was making small talk while I squeezed the blood out of his hand. I was so PISSED.
It happened to be Mother’s Day that day, and the restaurant was giving out pretty potted Impatiens flowers. They gave one to me and my dad said, “Why do you get one? You’re not a mother.” To which I said, “I am a stepmother.” This was before Ex’s parental alienation campaign had ramped up to the toxic levels it eventually got to. And then, when we sat down to brunch, which my father would be paying for, I proceeded to order steak and eggs, several whiskey sours, and dessert. Bill smirked at me, knowing full well that I was passively aggressively taking my rage at my father out of his wallet.
The following week, Bill finished his first master’s degree. We went back to that same restaurant and had a less expensive, but still very enjoyable, do over of that brunch. And ever since those incidents in 2003, as well as Ex’s sick Christmas stunt of 2004, in which she tried to compel me to spend Christmas with her in my father-in-law’s house, I have become a lot more assertive and less likely to just “go with the flow”. Especially, when it comes to dealing with my relative who, I repeat with emphasis, is NOT AN EMPATH by any stretch of the imagination. However, she is sometimes pretty “brently”.
This post was originally written on December 5, 2017. I am reposting a slightly edited version of it because it’s about a fun subject that has nothing to do with current events.
Back in the 1980s, when cable television was still fairly new, we had some very interesting programs to watch. The mid 80s saw the birth of the now female friendly network called Lifetime. Many people recognize Lifetime as a channel for women with lots of women centric television shows and movies about bad men. But if you were around in the mid 80s, you might remember that Lifetime used to be a health channel.
February 1, 1984 marked the first day of Lifetime TV. Prior to that, it was known first as Daytime, which was a channel dedicated to “alternative” women’s programming. Then, for about nine months, it was called Cable Health Network. Then, in November 1983, it was Lifetime Medical Television. I remember the programming aired on that network was mostly medical stuff… I mean, stuff doctors would be watching. I remember the channel’s logo featured an apple… an apple a day keeps the viewers away, I guess.
Something had to be done… the new network was losing a lot of money. Some people even thought it was a religious channel. That’s when Lifetime started its incarnation of what it is today. It was around 1985 that it started featuring Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the tiny German sex therapist who hosted a call in sex advice show on Lifetime. Her show was called Good Sex! With Dr. Ruth Westheimer. In the 80s, it was cutting edge stuff… scandalous, even. The tiny woman soon became a huge star.
I don’t know why, but for some reason, I thought of Dr. Ruth last night. It was right before I read a nauseating story about Kirk Cameron, also an 80s icon who underwent a massive makeover (and in his case, not for the better). Kirk made a statement about how wives are to honor their husbands…
“Wives are to honor and respect and follow their husband’s lead, not to tell their husband how he ought to be a better husband. When each person gets their part right, regardless of how their spouse is treating them, there is hope for real change in their marriage.” I made the mistake of sharing the story and immediately got a comment from someone wanting me to know about the Bible verse from which this directive comes. For the record, yes I know that the Bible says women should follow their husbands the way their husbands follow the church. However, I think many “Christian” men misunderstand or misuse this passage and end up abusing their wives.
I’m not so sure Cameron or others like him do a good job of explaining it. Moreover, my initial comment was more about how Kirk Cameron changed from a goofy, boyish, funny, likable guy to a religious zealot. He probably could use some advice from Dr. Ruth.
I didn’t watch Dr. Ruth’s show because it aired at 10:00pm and I was about 12 or 13 years old. Although my parents probably would neither have noticed nor cared that I was watching her program, at that age I found it boring viewing. Most talk shows that would probably fascinate me today were dull when I was much younger. I couldn’t be bothered to sit and listen to anyone who wasn’t a musician. However, she did become very famous when her show was on Lifetime. I think she and Regis Philbin helped put the then fledgeling cable channel on the map.
For some reason, I used to love to imitate Dr. Ruth’s voice. It’s so distinctive.
Dr. Ruth was born in 1928, which makes her quite elderly. She still has a channel on YouTube and, if she’s the one who is actually running it, appears to have a pretty good sense of humor. I notice she favorited one of Robin Williams’ routines about her.
Anyway, I can’t help but miss the good old days sometimes. Sure, the Internet is great and television has even become somewhat obsolete. But I do miss some of the stuff that made it on the airwaves back in the day. Lifetime and other cable channels like Nickelodeon used to be fun to watch. Then they kind of evolved into crap… but then, that’s kind of the way of the world. Radio used to be cool, too.