Category Archives: Bill Hardy

Grounded!

Pilot Mountain in North Carolina

Pilot Mountain in North Carolina

I have a hallux abducto valgus deformity – in laymen’s terms, a bunion, and, no, it’s not because I wore pointy-toed shoes when I was young and am now reaping the utterly predictable and deserved whirlwind of my overweening vanity.    Bad feet run in my family. My father gave me many wonderful gifts; his feet were not among them.  The deformation happened overnight. Literally. One night, my right big toe seized with a spasm registering around a 9.5 on the Richter scale of toe woes and the next morning I woke up with a bony protuberance reminiscent of Pilot Mountain hanging off the left side of my right foot.  We refer to it as ‘my knob.’

My father has a bunion on both feet set off by a matching pair of hammer toes.  His feet are square, as in ‘Bob Square Pants’ square.  When describing them to me, my brother Mike said, “They are like two boxes.”  Dad also has toenail fungus.  It happens; he’s 92. Once one of the girls dropped an earring back on the floor and it rolled under my father’s feet.  I had to retrieve it.  Not a task for the faint of heart.

My mother had foot woes too.  Towards the end of her life, she could only wear Birkenstocks, thereby proving those Republicans who characterize Democrats as latte-sipping, Birkenstock wearing, Volvo driving elitists right in two out of three respects.  She never cared much for lattes.

Ken and me at the 2003 CanAm DanceSport Competition -- Best Newcomer Couple

Ken and me at the 2003 CanAm DanceSport Competition — Best Newcomer Couple

My husband and I were ballroom dancers back in the day.  In fact, in 2003 we won Best Newcomer Couple at the CanAm DanceSport Competition in Toronto.  Then my knob reared its ugly head.  As it turns out, it’s hard to dance in orthopedic shoes.   Not to mention the fact that it wreaks havoc with your balance.  Someone once said of Fred Astaire, “Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels!”  But did she do it backwards, in high heels, with a bunion?  I think not.  We stopped dancing and, generally speaking, I’m fine with it, just so long as I don’t have to watch dance competitions or dance shows on TV.  Those leave me vaguely melancholy and embittered; I want to curse my knob and that is no good.  For better or worse, my hallux abducto valgus deformity is a part of me. You can only stay mad at your own feet for so long.

What my foot looked like

What my foot looked like

My toenails have issues too, though not of the fungal variety.  When I was at University, I ripped the entire nail off on my right big toe by pulling a door that read, “Push.”  I don’t take direction well.    I was exiting my doctor’s office at the time, so medical assistance was onsite.  I exited the diabolical door a second time with a very large bandage encompassing my entire foot.  The next day I tried out for a part in the chorus of the Music Department’s annual musical, Fiddler on the Roof, wearing a pair of hot pants and sporting my wholly swaddled foot.  As I have never been able to sing, I was relying entirely on my dancing chops.  This was perhaps an overreach. I didn’t get a call back.

Ever since my encounter with the doctor’s door and at intervals of every couple of years the toenail on my right big toe turns a ghastly bluish black and starts to lift from the nail bed.  It lingers there for upwards of a month, horrifying pedicurists and spa visitors alike.  Then it falls off, leaving a perfectly normal nail in its place.  I’m not sure why this happens.  Perhaps my right toe is where all the toxins in my body pool and my toenail bed is the portal through which they drain; perhaps it acts as  Hell Mouth for my personal demons.

Not to be outdone, my left big toe has recently taken to spontaneous bruising — like spontaneous combustion only with blood. It does this for no apparent reason.  I’m just standing there doing nothing whatsoever and suddenly I feel a twinge, look down and it’s  black and blue.  Now and then the stars align and I get both a black right toenail and a black left toe simultaneously.  This happened to coincide with my last physical.  I’m sitting there on the edge of an examination table, draped in something made out of paper towels, staring at my feet and thinking, “WTF?”

Our dancing career having foundered on the rock of my knob, my husband and I joined Tru Hot Yoga in St. Thomas, Ontario. It’s a good thing yoga is not competitive because, as matters stand, I can’t.  At least not on one foot.   The arthritis in my right toe has given rise to peripheral neuropathy, a fancy way of saying that my right foot feels like a bean bag filled with pins and needles. As for my mutinous left foot, while it has yet to sprout its own bunion, it’s clearly got one in the oven, and, by way of preparing me for that eventuality, refuses let me balance on it either.

So not only no dancer, no dancer’s pose.    I’m well and truly grounded.  By my feet. My father’s feet.

My parents: Captain Star and Vampirina

Mom and Peter and me.  Our matching dresses are red.

Mom and Peter and me. Our matching dresses are red.

I am the child of celebrities. Going back to the fifties, when my father played Captain Star on a local children’s television show and my mother, a.k.a., Vampirina, rose out of a coffin to host late night horror movies.  To get to the gig, off she would scuttle off in the dead of night just as Dad was coming home from rehearsals; they would pass like ships in the night. He was teaching Drama at Texas Western at the time and she was gnawing on her knuckles as a largely stay-at-home Mom in a new subdivision of tract housing separated on one side from El Paso by ten miles of cactus strewn, rattlesnake riddled dessert and, on the other, from Mexico by the same.

One day she heard  breaking news from the local radio station that a mysterious space ship had landed on the highway separating El Paso from our subdivision and that the army had been sent out to investigate.  Mother, being Mother, kicked into survival mode. She filled a thermos with water, stuffed a bag with sandwiches and  tied Peter, me and Ughy to her waist with ropes; she was ready to set out across the dessert towards Mexico with two toddlers and a cocker spaniel in tow.   Then she tuned back in to get an update and found . . . nada.  Back to regular programming.  Never a mention.  Never an explanation.   A complete news blackout.   Fort Bliss, a major Cold War military center, was close by; possibly the alleged “space ship” had been a top secret test gone awry.  The weird thing was . . . Mom was apparently the only person who ever heard this story.  No one else has ever corroborated it. Yet she swore all her life that it was true and I believe her.  Mom didn’t lie; she did, however, exaggerate for effect.

Demographics ensured that my brother Peter and I, being somewhere between two and five years old at the time, were far more impressed by Dad as Spaceman, than by Mom as Living Dead.  Captain Star was typical of the kind of locally produced kids’ programming of the time –  hosted by a colorful host with an exotic persona such as cowboy, jungle explorer or, in Dad’s case, spaceman, whose job it was to DJ cartoons and, in the breaks, engage with a live studio audience of adorable kids, who, as Art Linkletter was fond of pointing, “say the darnedest things!” Case in point, my brother, who, when allowed to participate in the studio audience, blew Dad’s cover by replying to the question, “And who are you, Little Boy?” with, “You know who I am!  You’re my Daddy!”  Apparently, Spacemen, like monks, were not supposed to have children.  Peter was banned from the set.

I, being older, and a far more accomplished liar, adroitly handled the subterfuge, as a result of which I was allowed to come on the show a number of times.  Honesty might well have been the best policy, but the stakes were high. The show was sponsored by a local bakery.  There was cake and I was willing to do anything to get some. In later years, my family would continue to be impressed by the sheer brio with which I could and frequently did prevaricate.  “Lightning is going to strike you dead!” my mother would cry reproachfully, but it was reproach tinged with admiration.  I would like to point out here that I only lie to weasel out of things I don’t want to do — white lies, intended to avoid hurt feelings. “Now you’re going to have to figure out some other excuse for why you have to leave early,” my friend Linda Nicholas told me when my dog Buddy died.  Dammit, I realized.  She’s onto me.

Another thing Captain Star did was to call apparently random  numbers and ask whoever picked up the phone a question like, “Who discovered America?”  Then, if that person couldn’t answer, he’d ask the studio audience the same question.  What he actually did was call his hung-over friends, who, it being nine o’clock on a Saturday morning, would roundly curse him.  At which he would smile and nod and  say, “I’m  sorry, Bobby, but ‘oak’ is not the right answer.  I guess I’ll just have to ask the Boys and Girls what kind of tree George Washington chopped down.”

We don’t actually have a photo of Captain Star.  I can’t think why not.  I can tell you, however, that he wore black tights, a black turtleneck, a Papier Mâché space helmet and a cape.  The cape, which Mom had fashioned, was black and featured appliqued sequins and stars of silver lamé.   It hung in our hall closet when not in use, next to the raincoats and the windbreakers.   Captain Star was a tad portly.  Dad had been skinny all his life, but living in close proximity to cheap Mexican rum for an extended period had resulted in him acquiring a notable pot belly. His fans didn’t seem to mind.  A four year old boy once appeared on our doorstep with a toy car to bestow upon his hero and Dad was regularly mobbed at the local swimming pool with cries of, “It’s him!  Captain Star!” while he sat, slouched and distended,  nursing a hangover in the shallow end, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

Vampirina

Vampirina

Vampirina had her fans too, although not among the toddler set.  The apogee of her fame came when she was featured on the cover of the local TV Guide, together with a story about this nice, pretty Mom who, amusingly enough,  moonlighted as a horror show host.  What they didn’t write about . . . what they couldn’t have known was the woman who was ready to strike out across the desert to avoid alien abduction.  That woman’s day was to come.

Crocapuppy

My brother Peter and Frances

My brother Peter and Frances

My family had a rule: the time between dogs should be as short as humanly possible.  No sooner had Ughy, our beloved seventeen year old cocker spaniel, shuffled off this mortal coil than his replacement was locked down. And by “no sooner” I mean that same day.  I’m not sure whether the new puppy was on Mom and Dad’s radar or whether, immediately upon  Ughy’s demise, they rushed out into the street, crying, “A puppy!  Dear God!  Let there be a puppy!” I rather suspect the latter, given how ill advised the choice of Fancy, a.k.a, Frances, a.k.a. Crocapuppy, turned out to be.

To say that Frances was overbred would be an understatement. Frances was the product of incest. A lot of incest.   She was a parti-colored cocker spaniel, meaning that her coat was two colors, buff and white.  The breeders were aiming for a completely white cocker spaniel, so kept mating the lightest male in a litter to the lightest female, which, as often as not, turned out to be his mother.  And this had been going on for generations before Frances wobbled balefully onto the scene.

Whenever you bent down to pet Frances, she was so overcome with excitement that she promptly fell to the ground, rolled onto her back and  proceeded to pee all over her stomach, resulting in chronic and piteous eczema of her nether regions.  This unfortunate propensity, however, was the only evidence of submissive behavior that Frances served up over the course of her life.  The rest of the time, she was just an ornery old mess.

Frances was a hoarder. Her specialty was socks.  She would filch them from our respective dirty clothes hampers and add them to an ever-growing heap in the little hall that separated the dining room from Dad’s study.  There she would guard them until, as my mother used to say,   dark circles would start to form under her eyes and someone would have to go in and save her from herself, not to mention the socks.

Pinkies

Pinkies

This was all made more complicated by the fact that Mom and I used to give Frances our hand-me-down pinkies. Pinkies were those fuzzy pink slippers popular in the sixties and Mother and I both wore them.  Frances would sashay around the house, exuding innocence, the pinkie of the moment clamped between her jaws.  No sooner had she had lulled us into complacency, however, than she would raid the dirty clothes hampers of the house, cramming the purloined socks down in the depths of the pinkie, and make a beeline for the Hall of Socks.  For years after her death, my brother Peter and I would catch ourselves hesitating on the threshold of that narrow passageway, the image of an obsessed and furious  Crocapuppy  lodged in our memory like a tooth. Eventually all of Frances’s pinkies went to the dark side and we would have to wrest the offending slipper from her and bury it in the back yard.   Which was OK.  There were always more pinkies where that came from.

Like any respectable dog, Frances was voracious. She was also bold.  One night my parents were hosting a cast party for a production of The Boys in the Band, which centers around a birthday party. In keeping with the birthday theme, someone had contributed to the feast a large sheet cake complete with many small candles.  Since this was a drinking party, however, the cake had few takers . . . until Frances jumped up on a dining room chair, then onto the table itself, and proceeded to hoover the entire cake down, candles and all, before anyone could rouse him or herself to action.  Then she proceeded to throw up the entire cake, complete with intact candles, while madly sprinting around the entire house.

Frances had many enemies, most of whom were dogs eerily resembling herself who hid out in mirrors and in the panes of glass in French doors. These she would attack with vigor on a regular basis, hurling herself repeatedly against them.   Our house had two double sets of French doors and two single French doors.  They kept her pretty busy.

Lovey

Lovey

Her arch enemy, however, her very nemesis arrived on the scene the day my mother and father unexpectedly brought home a Great Dane puppy named Lovey.   Mom had a notion that, because Frances was a female and Lovey was a puppy, she might feel motherly towards the interloper.  In this she was sadly mistaken. Frances loathed Lovey from the moment she laid eyes upon him.  And it didn’t matter that she was a lowly and rather overweight cocker spaniel and he grew up to stand 6’5” on his hind legs.   First impressions count, especially with dogs; Lovey was terrified of Frances her entire life.      Whenever he wanted to go upstairs, Frances would lie on the lower landing and look baleful.  (There was no dog that could do baleful like Frances.)  Lovey would hesitate, dancing on the spot, his claws clicking against the floor, then tentatively take a step or two towards the stairs.  Frances’s lips would quiver and then slowly draw back to reveal her teeth.  She would growl. Lovey would retreat in confusion.  This would go on until Mom would cry out, “Frances!  For Heaven’s sake! Let Lovey go upstairs!” At which point Frances would grudgingly rise and insolently trundle downstairs, giving Lovey a look in passing that clearly meant, “I’ll deal with you later.”

My brother and I felt sorry for Frances.  She had not been enough dog for my parents and so they had supplanted her with Lovey.  When I went looking for photos of Frances for this post, there were precious few.  Of course, once Peter and I were teenagers, there were precious few of us either.  There were, however, dozens and dozens of photos of Lovey – Lovey with his ears taped, Lovey lying on his back in inadvertently lewd  postures, Lovey sprawled upon my parents bed, which he shared with them,  Lovey standing with his front paws on Dad’s shoulders.  If strangers were to look at my parents’ photo albums, they might be forgiven for thinking that this couple had two adorable children who, just before puberty, were tragically killed in a car accident along with their cocker spaniel, after which point the couple got a Great Dane puppy upon whom, going forward, they focused all their attention and affection.  Peter and I agreed that, if Mom and Dad were going to neglect Frances, we ought to try and brush her more and take her out for walks.

But, of course, we were teenagers so that never happened.

Frances died when I was away in graduate school. Dad woke one morning to find that she had gone in her sleep.   I don’t know where she was in the house when she died.  In my mind, it was not in my parents’ bedroom, but in some more remote part of the house, alone, perhaps in the Hall of Socks.  She did not live nearly as long as the venerable Ughy had – eleven to his seventeen years — but neither was she as loved as he was.

RIP, Crocapuppy.

Just me flying solo in my head

Orangutan_thinking_(var_2)I am introspective, undoubtedly to a fault.  It’s hard not to be where there are so very many interesting things to think about.  For example (some of my favorites):

  • Life and Death;
  • How much things have changed just within my lifetime, especially in the South;
  • The specifics of whatever new leaf I’m planning to turn over next;
  • How I would renovate my ex’s house, beginning with gutting it;
  • This blog;
  • Whether writing a blog is just an excuse not to write fiction, with which I have become disillusioned;
  • Whatever piece fiction I happen to be writing at the moment;
  • Retorts that I never delivered but, in a perfect world, would have to the utter devastation of my interlocutor.

I think a lot about my mother, who passed away eight years ago and is a stronger and stronger presence in my life with each passing day, insinuating herself into my very fabric.  I think about my father, who sits peaceably in Death’s vestibule, quietly contemplating eternity.   He will go gentle into that good night, I think, and, at his great age, that seems right and proper.  Sometimes I interview myself as though I were famous.   And, of course, I never say no to a really good revenge fantasy.  Why would you when revenge is so sweet and we none of us ever get quite enough?

All of this going on between my own two ears,   served up to me by my own little brain!  The truth is I find myself endlessly entertaining.   No wonder I tend to resent it when unsuspecting manicurists, massage therapists, cab drivers and chatty people who sit down next to me on a bus, train or plane decide they would be doing me a favor by engaging me in conversation.

I frequent Vietnamese nail salons because they are cheap, fast and just fine.    What I don’t want, uncharitable recluse that I am, is to help the manicurist practice her English. I know this is harsh, but I don’t want to tell her how many children I have and how old they are and where they live, even if she has kicked off the session by telling me that I have “beautiful skin.” I don’t; they just say that to lure you in.

I also don’t want to talk to my masseuse. I don’t want to talk about the London Knights or the weather or her recent trip to Cancun or her cat. Also, let’s face it, she’s rubbing me more or less all over and, underneath that blanket, I’m a naked sixty-one year old woman.  It’s kind of the elephant in the room.  Can’t we both pretend we’re not there?

And what about cab drivers?  It might be boring, driving a cab year in year out.  Is that my fault?  Why am I supposed to entertain them?  Recently I took a cab from a Vancouver hotel to the airport. It was six in the morning — pitch black. I faced a long day of travel ahead, and had just the night before had dinner with a friend whom I had not seen for thirty six years, which thoroughly discombobulated me.  Nothing like rounding a corner and confronting yourself at the age of 23 when you are, in fact, somehow suddenly four decades older. Where had all those years gone?  How much we had changed and how much we hadn’t!   What different paths our lives had taken!   Lots to chew over, you’ll agree, but my cab driver, having pried out of me the fact that I work for Organized Real Estate, wanted to discuss rising house prices.   To make matters worse, the roads were in poor repair, making the trip a particularly noisy one as we bounced and clattered from pothole to pothole and I struggled to respond appropriately when I really had no clue . . . and zero interest in what he had just said.  When I could have been processing!

Once I took a lengthy bus trip beside a man who was visiting all the battlefields of the Civil War.  Open on his lap was a coffee-table book on the same subject.  I soon discerned that the only way he would stop telling me about Gettysburg and Antietam was if I pretended to be asleep.  So I did. For eight hours.

A far more successful trip was the one I took as a graduate student across Canada on the train.   Despite weighing a waifish 110 pounds and looking a whole lot like the girl next door who used to babysit your kids,   I managed to radiate such a powerful animus that, in three whole days and nights, nobody, absolutely nobody tried to sit down beside me.      I knit an entire sweater on that trip and read the whole of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, start to finish. And when I wasn’t knitting or reading, I leaned my cheek against the vibrating window of the train, closed my eyes, drooled a little and thought.  Bliss.  Pure bliss. Just me flying solo in my head.

The night Kennedy was elected

ImageOn the evening of November 8, 1960, when the Presidential election was called for John F. Kennedy, my father, Bill Hardy, woke me up, took me outside, pointed to the starry sky above and told me, “This is the dawn of a new era!”

Now that I come to think of it, maybe the reason he woke me up that historic night had less to do with ushering in Camelot and more with getting me to pee in an actual toilet.  I was a chronic bed wetter; for years my parents woke me before going to bed themselves in the off chance that my bed would be dry come morning.  They were dreamers in so many ways.

I trace my interest in politics to that 1960 campaign.    My Dad was teaching at Purdue at the time and Indiana was a very Republican state.   Its long-serving Senator, a Republican, was up for re-election against a Democratic upstart – Birch Bayh.  The name Birch Bayh might sound funny, but, trust me, to an eight year old, the Republican’s name — Homer E. Capehart – was hi-larious.

My understanding of politics was pretty basic back then:  Democrats were good and Republicans were ridiculous at best and evil at worst.  Come to think of it, that’s still pretty much what I l think.  One of the first, indeed, one of the only two songs I have ever written, was about the 1960 senatorial election.    Sung to the tune of “Hey, look me over!” it went like this:

Hey, look me over! I’m your kind of guy!

Vote for Indiana’s own Birch Bayh.

He’s Indiana’s own family man.

With a little of this and a little of that,

He’ll beat that old Republican rat.

My brother Peter and I used to sing this to the general amusement of our parents, although he claims to have no memory of this.   I suppose he thinks he could have done better and perhaps he’s right.  Over the years he has proven himself an accomplished lyricist, while my only other stab at song writing was   in eighth grade —   set to the tune of Beautiful Dreamer and entitled Beautiful Strata,  it featured such rhymes as  ‘strata’ with ‘data’, ‘quartz’ with’ two or three sorts’ and ‘delve’ with ‘Continental Shelf’.  I know.  Don’t quit my day job.

When Kennedy was shot three years later, I was devastated, even once I was disabused of the idea that he was all that was standing between America and Nuclear Winter.  When the Kennedy silver dollar came out a few years later, I had one made into a pendant to wear about my neck – a talisman, an amulet.  So many Kennedys gone now, including the little boy saluting his father’s casket as the funeral procession rolled by – but JFK was my first and his loss, the hardest to bear.

I eventually stopped wetting the bed, but I never outgrew my belief in the possibility of Camelot.  Feet of clay notwithstanding, I have my heroes: FDR, JFK, RFK, MLK and now Obama. They are my father’s heroes as well and we cling to them as we would the wreckage of a foundering ship on a high sea.  For, you see, hope floats and  it’s one of the only things that does.