Today, in looking for one thing from my past, I found another. A very early short story. Do all writers hoard? It’s my secret wish that this is true. What stories the hoarded invite! Is it the narcissism in us that leads us to keep things? I don’t glory in the past images of myself the way Narcissus gloried rapt in his own. [Although let’s face it, I’ve been accused of being plenty narcissistic.]
Most of the time, my memories are a discomfiting reminder of the lies I’ve told myself, of the life narratives I’ve constructed to keep moving forward, of how little I’ve changed. I am reminded of that scene in Defending Your Life when Albert Brooks is in the Past Lives Booth and he sees his past self running as prey, running in fear.
This story I set out below is, of course, ridiculous; I was 11. But the writer’s voice is clear. I still see the essence of me in that young girl. I see the largesse and banality of my imagination, my literal and linear take on life that took years(!) to alter, my tendency toward alliteration (an inclination I still hammer out of rough drafts), my attention to spelling, and my trouble with commas.
I see the influence of my parents’ gourmet interests—Shell steak? Eggplant? What kid names them as her favorite foods? Notice they are the only details in an otherwise childish list of ice cream and candy. Yet those particular foods capture my family during that era: shell steak medium rare—it was trendy at the time. My mother and father would take turns; my father would broil it with his secret mustard dabbings; my mother would pan fry it on really hot stovetop. The “eggplant parmigiana” my grandmother made pushed beyond our Italian American roots and into the future of Italian American cuisine. She sliced the eggplant see-through thin and fried it lightly without breadcrumbs; she baked it in a deep dish layered with marina and Parmesan, and without the insult of mozzarella. I loved it cold on white bread. She loomed large in my life. They all did. Even though they aren’t characters in the story, I see them there in the house where I lived in the Ohio of my imagination.
I was a girl from the New Jersey suburbs just outside New York City who dreamed of traveling to far away places, and who saw herself as an urbanite explorer who liked mysteries. I see the writer in me.
The Lost City
One dark night, I was lying on my bed watching a new program called “Hour Mysteries.” It was a pretty good show. Just then the phone rang. I picked up the receiver and said, “Hello?” It was a creepy voice. It said “Meet me outside of Polgo Diner.”
I was curious so I said, “OK.” I got my coat on and walked to Polgo Diner. It was two blocks away from my house and I lived in Ohio at that time. When I got to Polgo Diner, there was a strange looking thing with shaggy purple hair and looked like an oversized waffle toaster.
The thing said “I talked to your friends, they would love to go with you.” I asked, “to go where?”
“To go to the lost city, where only people like me are there.”
“I would like to go,” I said.
“We leave tomorrow at 6 am.”
I ran home. The next morning at 6 am, I got dressed. I opened the door and my friends and the oversized waffle toaster were standing in front of me. “Get into the plane,” said the waffle toaster. We took off. 48 hours later, We arrived in a rocky land that looked like a desert only cooler.
I said “This place looks empty.”
The waffle toaster said “see those caves around the island, those are where they are. People like you haven’t been here for 3,007,557 years so they hide in a cave. Then suddenly the place became full of shaggy black, red, blond, yellow, blue, green and purple hairy oversized waffle toasters. I said “lets go see them.” So we went and said “hi.”
We ate dinner.
Then I said to the waffle toaster, “You never told me your name.”
“My name is Mr. 1 and this is my wife Mrs. 1 and my boy 1a and my girl 1b.” The other waffle toasters introduced themselves as Mr. 2, Mrs. 2, 2a, 2b, Mr. 3, Mrs. 3, 3a, 3b, Mr. 4, Ms. 5, Mr and Mrs. 6 and so on.
I liked all of them. The next day we went exploring, swimming, and played games.
We had a wonderful dinner of waffles, soup, sandwiches, shell steak, eggplant and for dessert we had cake, cupcakes, cookies, candy, ice cream and cheese doodles. It was the best dinner I had.
Mr 1 said “we leave tomorrow at 6 am.”
(The next day we left at 6 am.)
48 hours later, I was home and my friends were too. Mr 1 was on his way back to the Lost city.
I was lying on my bed watching Hour Mysteries and the phone rang. I picked up the receiver and a creepy voice said “Meet me at Polgo Diner.”
I said “here we go again.”
January 11, 1978 [I had just turned 11.]
The latest installment of When the Roundtable is a Rhombus.