Gram gave me solid values that emphasized the importance of hard work and education. Unfortunately, she also picked out my clothes. So while my sixth grade comrades sported bell bottoms with cool smiley face patches, I showed up in a red and white checked dress with a blue smock and a bow on the butt, looking like me and Half Pint were about to go pick wildflowers for Ma.
For years, Gram was the one who took me for haircuts, steering me toward a short, manageable pixie. I tried to cover it with cool accessories, like my Girl Scout beanie and a denim hat that flipped up to say “Dyn-O-Mite!” I so wanted to be one of the happening few. But I was fighting a losing battle. I was a chubby kid who came from a family that encouraged me to wear my orthodontic headgear outside to play.
I remember getting it in my head that if I could just be allowed to wear dungarees to school and score a “Keep on Streakin’” T-shirt, my popularity would snowball from there. But dad thought jeans were improper and the streaking tee was pornographic. So, in my lace-trimmed anklets and Mary Janes, I skipped into school each day in a baby doll dress and a cardigan buttoned to the top. All I was missing was a pair of eyeglasses on a chain.
Seventh grade: I still couldn’t wear jeans to junior high. But Gram did buy me a wardrobe of pantsuits that made me look like I was ready to hit the mahjong tables at Century Village – mint green and cantaloupe-colored leisure suits that secured my spot as the gym dodgeball target. Needless to say, I never received an invitation to any of the cool boy-girl parties popular among the prepubescent crowd. No one wanted to go seven minutes in heaven with the fat kid with Peter Pan hair in a fruit-colored polyester suit.
As a break from school humiliation, I spent my summers at a Jewish sleepaway camp in the Catskills. Camp posed an even bigger problem than school, because your bunkmates got to see you naked. Back in the 70s, sleepaway meant group showers. There was one tiled room with shower heads on every wall, and we had to soap up under the judgmental stares of our peers.
My boobs, I discovered, were way behind my bunkmates’. While some of them had already grown luscious tomatoes, mine were just starting to sprout. Shari Berger took one look at my poofed out nipples, pointed and laughed, “They look like suction cup darts.” And for the rest of the summer, that was my name.
“Suction Cups likes you,” Shari told Robbie Agiloff on Sadie Hawkins Day. That was the day the girls had to chase the boys and catch a partner for the camp carnival. I wanted to snare Robbie … dreamboat of the Upper Boy Division … like a Tiger Beat pin up with his feathered blonde hair and dimples. But when the horn sounded and the boys got a head start down the hill, he bolted from me like a warthog running from a cheetah.
The next year, I decided to reinvent myself. I lost 30 pounds on Tab and lettuce, and dad — in the wake of Gram’s move to Miami Beach — let my mom’s best friend take me shopping for clothes. I was finally happening in my belted gauchos and powder blue corduroys.
That summer I returned to camp, determined to be one of the popular kids. On the night before I boarded the bus, I decided to up my game and tweeze my eyebrows. I wasn’t going to win a spot among the cool kids looking like Frida. So I perched myself in front of the bathroom mirror and started plucking.
That’s when I thought, “I’m half Jewish and half Iranian. I’m going to be standing here ‘til the messiah comes. Why can’t I just shave these?” Moments later, I was seated on my green shag carpeting with a mirror in one hand and a razor in the other. I carefully positioned my Bic disposable and touched down, ready to roll.
And then the phone rang.
I turned to answer it and shaved off half my eyebrow. And just like that, I’d secured my spot as the bunk loser. It was MY carefully labeled underwear they’d be stringing up the flagpole for the next eight weeks.
Fortunately, my eyebrow grew back before high school, and I got another shot at reinventing myself. I tried to up my game with banana-peel pants, red lipstick and John Travolta’s hottest moves. But every boy I liked asked out my best friend, who had dimples and a Captain and Tennille haircut … including the tall, dark and handsome CG, whose name I wrote on the dreamboat card of my Mystery Date game.
Well I had dimples, too, darn it. The only problem was, they were cockeyed – one perfectly positioned next to my smile, the other sitting on the apple of the opposite cheek, right under my eye. Let me just say that a cheekbone dimple is like an ass dimple. It’s basically facial cellulite. And for it to show, I have to wink like Popeye.
Still, I remember trying to entice CG every chance I got by forcing my one good dimple in his direction. This was no easy task. I had to curve my lips into a toothless half smile, while skillfully flexing my right cheek. I sat to his left in econ and thrust that dimple toward him with the fervor of a caveman spearing a chicken. “Look how cute I am,” I silently shouted. “Look this way. Notice my adorably alluring dimple.”
In the evenings, I practiced my suck-in-the-cheeks supermodel look in the mirror, tipping my head slightly, while contorting my eyes into dark, mysterious pools of seduction. Years later, my husband told me that expression made me look like a serial killer.
For all three years of high school, I tried to get CG’s attention, to no avail. We travelled in the same circles, got invited to the same parties and passed notes in class. His nickname for me was “Freckles.” When I wore lipstick, he’d tease me and call me “Sensuous.” But he never saw me for the smoldering woman I could be … until after graduation.
A group of us were out to dinner, and my stepmother told me when you’re out with a guy you like, you should move the candle closer to you, so your eyes twinkle. So I tried it, hoping CG would notice my sparkle as he laughed at my jokes and admired my new “do” — one of those fashionable side ponytails that had my finally long hair seductively cascading down one shoulder.
As the candle flickered close to my face, I was engrossed in clever conversation with the man of my dreams, silently admiring the adorable cleft in his chin. I hardly noticed when the appetizers arrived or that, in making room for the potato skins, the waitress had moved the candle even closer to my twinkling eyes … eyes that were admiring CG as I imagined how our children would inherit his olive complexion, both of our brown eyes and my one good dimple.
And then, in a moment right out of my dreams, CG reached for me … and I swear I could hear Roberta Flack crooning, “The first time ever I saw your face” as his manly fingers approached my face and his soft lips uttered my name:
“Parri! Oh my God! YOUR HAIR’S ON FIRE!” he shrieked, smacking my ponytail with his napkin.
And just like that, my dreams of CG and our babies went up in smoke. My most intimate encounter ever, and I didn’t even get a stop, drop and roll. When it was over, you could barely smell my carefully applied Chloe perfume over the stench of my singed hair – hair I had to cut off after years of growing out that stinking pixie.
To this day, I remain the poster child for the awkward moment.
I try, I do.
But I’m the woman who gets all gussied up, only to walk out of the ladies’ room with toilet paper trailing from her shoe. High heels make me clomp like a Clydesdale. And at least once, I just may have walked through a restaurant with my designer dress tucked into my pantyhose.
I never stopped loving CG. My daughter and husband have heard the stories a million times. In fact, even today, when I brag about him being a successful dentist, they roll their eyes.
“We know, we know,” they say, mocking me. “He used to call you Freckles.”
But that’s okay. Because when I think of CG, I remember my life post headgear, post leisure suits, post pixie cuts, when for a brief flicker in time, I was smokin’!