Where I Write

Where I Write
A room of My Own

August 11, 2014

The Girl's Locker Room

As part of my high school reunion last week, a tour was planned of my alma mater, James B. Conant. As one of the current science teachers, John Shoro, generously took his time to explain and show us the many changes at the high school, I began to feel as if I didn't recognize the place I'd spent four years. There were more windows, the latest technology and sky lights, for goodness sakes, in the cafeteria.

Until the tour stopped near the girl's locker room. Pushing open the girl's locker room door and stepping inside felt as if I had crossed a cosmic threshold and been sent back to 1974. No drugs needed. Only when looking into mirror, which I swear was the same mirror from the 1970s, all battered and foamy, was I reminded that I was not 16 anymore. Darn. The place smelled the same too, a combination of worn tennis shoes, sweaty gym socks and old flooring.

That green tiled room pictured above was the girl's showers. That room scared me more than Math class, or Vice Principal Butler.  It looks exactly the same, as if it had been preserved in time for us to visit, a shrine of sorts to the gym locker Gods. Or demons. Girls were required to take showers after gym. The only way you could get out of taking a shower, or so I thought, was if you had your menstrual period and then you would say M to one of the nasty gym teachers. (I won't name names, as they are probably dead now, but I can still see their scowling and pinched faces.) The gym teacher would write M in some official-looking book. I'd say M quietly, fearing I'd be challenged, but I always got away with not getting naked. May I say I think the female gym teachers of the 1970s would have been way nicer if they could have let their rainbow flags fly. No judgement. Just saying.

After talking with several other women on the tour last week, I learned that no one liked taking the showers. In fact, everyone said they avoided them. I swear I remember a bunch of naked girls in that green tiled room, but I guess we were all escaping the hot water.  I thought I was the only one horrified to get naked in front of everyone. Now I go to spas and get massages, yada yada, outdoor hot tubs where people soak naked, but when you're a teenager and insecure about all your body's changes...really? Scary. We laughed and took photos of ourselves dancing around with our clothes on in the shower because, though we might not be teenagers anymore, sometimes we still act as if we are.  And there were no gym teachers there to yell at us to stop. Nah nah.

This is what our gym uniform looked like. It had snaps and our name stenciled on the fabric. I always felt so ugly in my gym uniform, but then who would  feel attractive in a navy blue romper? No wonder women my age like to wear cute yoga pants and fun tight t-shirts to exercise. Remembering these ugly outfits makes one want to wear something pink and tight or at least without an elastic waist. No wonder I dreaded gym, and not just because I was crummy at field hockey and gymnastics.
This might just look like an average bulletin board to you, but this bulletin board held the fate of many aspiring pom pom girls. It is in the entry way of the girl's locker room. STILL. Forty years later. It was board were the list was posted for those who made the pom pom squad each year following try outs. It was the place were I cried when I did not make the squad. It is the place where I jumped with joy when I did make the pom pom squad.
Seeing the board made me want to write or post something there. I don't know what. I do know that I made sure to ask our teacher tour guide, John Shoro, many questions and learn because I realize now that my pom pom abilities of smiling and shaking shiny stuff in the air didn't always equate with career success.  Maybe I could write that on the bulletin board. Have fun girls, but listen to your teacher and don't get sent into the hall a lot for talking too much in class about pom pom try outs.

Even if the locker room still had the scary shower, and smelled stinky, I think if there had been cocktails served us girls would have stayed awhile and had a drink together and chatted. As long as we didn't have to take off our clothes I think we would have been just fine.

July 16, 2014

If I had a second chance....

I'm returning home for my high school reunion in August and a tour is planned of James B. Conant, where I spent four years of my oh so fleeting, or so I realize now, young teenage life. On the day of the tour I wish I could hop into a time machine, set it for 1974, and go back and do some things over again that I missed out on doing the first time.

Just for one day I would be one of those girls who smoke cigarettes in the bathroom. I want to know what it felt like to be puffing away in a stall,  knowing any minute a teacher might bust me. Oh the thrill.

One time my friend Debbie Kraft and I went into the  bathroom to practice are pom pom routines and some of those tough girls were in there smoking. We scurried away, a cloud of smoke trailing behind us. The girls wore black and sneered at us. I think one might have even kicked the door behind me. Shudder. These  weren't the type of girls who would appreciate watching us dancing around, kicking our legs and smiling. Actually I can't blame them as we were a bit too rah rah at times. Those bad girls wore dark eyeliner and teased their hair. I'd like to get rid of my pig tails with the bows that matched my blue and white pom pom uniform, and be one of those tough girls just for one day. I want to be a girl who wore hickeys on their necks planted there by the kind of boy who I yearned to ask me out on a date.

A boy like this. A greaser.  One of those guys who slicked back their hair so it shined and had a cool motorcycle or a fast sport's car, a Camaro or a Trans Am. The greaser did everything fast. And these kind of guys drank beer and didn't care if they got bad grades cause they were so cool. They weren't even afraid of the Vice Principal Butler. Scary. I'd like to strut down the halls of James B. Conant, my greaser boyfriend's smoke-scented black leather jacket across my shoulders. He would be named Frankie.

And on that same day I'd like to have a boy kiss me by my locker. He doesn't even have to be a nasty, sexy greaser. Any kind of boy. I want him to stand at my locker and we would smooch secretly, but still have other people see us and know I kissed boys. Oh sure it was fun in high school to have my girlfriends decorate my locker on my birthday, and giggle when we met there between classes, but I want some lip action. And maybe I'd even get caught by Vice Principal Butler then sit in detention knowing it was worth the punishment because I made out by my locker.
Next I would go to the juke box in our cafeteria and play a song. I would actually be brave enough to walk right up, hit a button, and play Led Zeppelin or Grass Roots or even Linda Ronstadt. In high school a group of hippie kids sat by the jute box. They looked all shaggy, these people, and their clothes didn't match.They scared me. I don't know why.  I never even ventured near the jute box as if afraid they might...I don't know what, make me smoke pot. That might have been nice. 

The more I started thinking about it all, I realized I did all that stuff, but after I graduated from high school. It was if I was trying to make up for lost time.

I  picked up smoking, then had to struggle to quit, had a boyfriend with motorcycle, had to dump him because he was mean, worked as a waitress in bars and played the jute box music plenty of times. I even danced to jute box music now and then.  I brought myself a 1977 Camaro which I beat to the ground and went plenty fast myself with a a few speeding tickets to prove my recklessness. I moved to Colorado and became a hippie with plenty of pot to smoke.

 I never did kiss a boy by a locker.  No regrets, yet there is one thing I would like to do on the high school tour.

Sit in the high school library. Okay I'm not THAT old. This isn't my high school library. I confess. I don't even know what my high school library looked like. I have not one memory of ever being in there.  In high school, I was too busy waving my pom poms in the air, gossiping with my girlfriends and dreading math class. This I regret most of all, especially because I'm sure it would have helped me in later years in college when I realized I didn't know how to study or write research papers worth a darn. Oh my poor high school teachers.

After high school, there were many times when the library was my best friend. When I was broke and lonely, I could always find books and thanks to them I felt joy, companionship and knowledge. When I was happy, I loved the library just as much. I still do today.

Maybe on the high school tour I'll get to sit in the James B. Conant library awhile and pretend I'm 16 again. I'll even open a book. Then I might see if someone, preferably a man under 80 year's old, will kiss me by a locker, holding books I took out at the library. But no hickeys.

June 19, 2014

      This is the story of what happens when two middle-aged women take a tour bus ride which lasts longer than two hours. What ensues next involves  General Noriega, a preacher, a church bathroom, an inept tour guide and a plea with an armed guard at the entrance to the Panama Canal.
Let me start by saying that once you reach a certain age one begins to pay more attention to the location of the nearest bathroom. I noted immediately there was no restroom on the tour bus which my friend, Sandy, and I boarded one morning last month. The bus ride was part of the boat tour package we'd booked to take us on the Panama Canal. No big deal. We will be to the boat soon enough. Or so I thought. And yet, as we wound through the jungle, it occurred to me that the bus ride was taking way longer than I assumed. It also occurred to me that I should have drank one less cup of Earl Grey tea that morning.

In my hotel room at night, I had been reading about Panama's history which included General Manuel Noriega who did enough bad stuff to earn him residences in several prisons including one in America. Right now he's in a Panama prison which, by golly gosh, just happened to be near Gamoba, the place where our bus was taking us and where our boat would depart.  At one point during our drive through dense jungle, I saw an ugly looking building with a high fence and barb wire. I wondered if that could be where Noriega called home now.  Then I thought about where the nearest bathroom might be located.  Priorities.
Eventually, not long after passing the scary looking building, we crossed a wooden bridge which led to the town of Gamboa. To my dismay, the buses stopped. There were two buses as part of our group, and the tour guide, a robust man who sweat a lot, and who had been riding on the other bus, came onto our bus and said we would need to wait at least a half hour, maybe longer,  due to the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal. The current construction schedule involved blasting out something or other each hour, and it was dangerous for the public, and now us, to proceed.

I turned to Sandy and said, "Let's find a bathroom." Being middle-aged herself, she agreed. The tour guide said, "When you hear a loud explosion, that will mean return to the bus." He spoke English, not Spanish, and we understood him as we both speak English fairly well. Plus, we can both hear.

Gamboa looked deserted because it is. American personnel departed when we gave ownership of the canal to Panama. Now it is just mostly industrial-looking and empty grey buildings circa 1940s. Not a bathroom possibility in sight.  We had just left the bus when a battered white car stopped, and out came a man balancing a stack of books. Being a writer, of course I was interested in what he was selling. "This is the book I wrote," said the man.  "I'm the preacher, and the book is all about the nearby prison." Here's what the book's cover looked like.

The man who wrote the book is named Bill Wilbur. He's the man with the monkey on his shoulder.
I asked Bill if Noriega was locked up at the prison we passed on our way here. He said he was. "Have you met him?" I asked.  Bill said he had and that he is a sick old man.  Heart problems. Then, as any good writer who is marketing his self-published book would say Bill said, "Buy my book and you can read all about him. Ten dollars." First things come first, though, and I said we needed to find a bathroom.

Bill motioned toward a white building about a block away. "That's my church. Doors open. You can go there." I should have just bought his book then and there in thanks for his generosity, but I needed to go.
 Sandy and I went to the church which was plain and sweet and had, and this the most important part of the story, a very clean bathroom.
Feeling much better, and thinking we had plenty of time, we snooped around the church a bit, and I noticed a small stack of Bill's book about Panama prisons. I said to Sandy, "I'm gonna buy one of his books. I'm going to see if he'll take five dollars." (I know I'm cheap.)  I took five dollars from my pocket, stuck the book in my purse, and grabbed one of his books. As we walked  back toward the buses, both still parked and idling, I noticed Bill's white car there behind our bus. I thought, good, I'll see if he'll take five dollars for his book. Important point here...neither of us had heard any explosion.
We took a small detour to look at a swimming pool that was full of stagnant water. On the side of the defunct pool  it said in big black lettering:  NO NECKING. As we were laughing at this, we heard a noise.

Not an explosion, or the honking of a horn, but the buses moving away from us. It had been less than 15 minutes since we had the left the bus. I swear.

With a yelp I said, "They're leaving." With Sandy behind me we ran toward the buses which made a left turn through a fenced area. The buses were at least a half mile ahead of us. Shouting for them to stop, Sandy and I ran as fast as we could. I was cursing the tour guide while my heart and feet raced. We had no idea where the docking area was,or  how far the buses still needed to take us. It could have been a few more blocks or a few more miles.  We just knew we needed to run.

We saw ahead the buses passed through a gate. We raced to catch them, and I reached the gate first, with Sandy close behind me. A guard stood at the gate with a gun. The little house on the right had a turnstile. I waved that five dollar bill I meant to give to the preacher in my hand shouting, "Wait. Wait for us. Let us in." The guard did look somewhat surprised to see a middle aged woman, hair mussed, face red and panicked, shaking money at him, shouting for entrance into the Panama canal.
Thankfully he didn't shoot me. He let both Sandy and myself into the guarded area. The buses were parked a few blocks away and people were heading toward the boat docked nearby. Sandy and I were sweating and angry when we found  our tour guide. He shrugged and said, "I told the bus driver to honk for you." Honk! We expected an explosion. Besides, there was no honk, either. Oh well, said the tour guide. All the people on the buses had seen what happened and there were more than a few smiles our direction. Grrrrr......The good thing was the boat had a very nice bathroom, though not as clean as the church bathroom.

Sandy read Bill's book and I read some, mostly the parts about the prisons. Let's just say you don't ever want to do anything bad that will land you in a Panama prison though I would have liked to leave our tour guide there, or the bus driver who left us, and let them bunk with Noriega for a day or two.

I left Bill's book at the hotel's business center in Panama City and who knows maybe an agent will come through town and read it and want to help him market his book. Hoping this makes me feel less guilty. That way he won't have tourists like me use his bathroom and then not even pay for his book.  Did I mention it was a very clean bathroom?

May 24, 2014

Life is Like a Trip Down the Panama Canal

While traveling in a boat down the  Panama Canal one sunny and humid afternoon last week I began to compare the passageway between two oceans to the journey we all take between life and death.

It takes hours to travel through the canal, years to complete a life. Both rides go way too fast. Poof. It is over before you know it. The important thing is to enjoy the ride even if it gets hot, or slow, or crowded, or has yucky food, because there are also moments of beauty, laughter and awe. A trip down the Panama Canal is a once in a lifetime experience, just as each of us are a once in a lifetime experience. We are like snowflakes, but good luck finding any snowflakes in Panama, land of rain, jungles and mosquitoes.

 There were other people on the cruise down the canal. A solo journey would have been downright lonesome. Of course, not everyone I met was my cup of tea, but then, as much as it pains me to admit it, I'm not everyones cup of tea, either.  Some people were friendly but others were annoying, like the grumpy old man who took my seat when I stood  to get water. But there was also a young woman who told me about her small Panamanian village. Sweet. Each person made the trip more enriching.

 Next time you meet a, shall we say, complicated person, you might say "He or she sure enriched my experience of life." This might work better than saying I wish I could sink him or her to the bottom of the sea. Or at least try this. I'm not sure it works. Next time I meet a grumpy old man, I'll try it out.

There are many other boats of all shapes and sizes on the canal.  Some may call it simple scheduling, others may say divine order, fate, whatever the case, we were all in the water together at that particular time and space. It would have been quicker, less hassle, without other boats,  but not as rich or interesting. Life isn't suppose to be just smooth sailing though there are times I really wish someone would change those rules.

Besides, the boats decorated the landscape. We admired the size and width of the cargo ship, the sleekness of a sail boat. Challenges and experiences come and go in life, but without them wouldn't it all be so much less colorful? I know there are some experiences we wish hadn't had, but oh well, another ship will be coming soon and you might enjoy that one better.

We are born into one specific family. We had no choice in our younger years to sail through life side by side. Sometimes the boat can seem mighty small. We might wish we could just toss them overboard, but we don't cause we love them and there are crocodiles in the canal that could gobble them with one big bite. When you are all grown up, you can always jump on another boat and sail through life with a different group of people, but your family is still your first ship mates.

There are times when we love where we are in life. We are content.  Closed doors make us feel secure. Other times, we feel trapped. We just want to be set free. Whatever your perception, one thing is certain, life changes, and it's time to move on.


The doors swing open and we enter new worlds. We leave old experiences behind and face new challenges.

Eventually you make it to the other side. The passage way is complete and now it's open seas. Did you enjoy the ride?
In Panama City there is a park which has these giant and imposing plaques written in Spanish that tell of the building of the canal. Most of us don't have giant plaques that detail the stories of our lives, but that doesn't make your story any less important or special.
 Finally, I just have to put one more photo from Panama City. I visited old churches, shiny new buildings, a jungle park in the middle of the city, but this really grabbed my attention. 

A phone booth in  a public park. Now how often do you see that? Life is just full of surprises.