Now and then news from Quarropas, once my New York home, wends its way West and gives me pause to consider the arc of our world. Is it by design? Are there patterns in its seeming randomness? One beyond the ken of us simple mortals?
Two years ago, the notable event among locals which received widespread coverage was Eddie having stabbed Mike to death then in, oh, let’s say, remorse, or recognition of his heinous act, Eddie blowing himself up. As much as nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, who the hell could’ve foreseen real-life ending Grand-Guignol playing out in sleepy Quarropas?
This latest incident is bloodless, though pleasantly mortifying.
It is thus because the main actress treading upon this particular stage visited the same sort of humiliation on who knows how many people. That it took as long for payback may incite complaints about justice delayed being justice denied. I prefer seeing this late-date resolution as one that inflicts maximum pain. The sort which had the denouement occurred earlier when the instigator younger, the invulnerability of youth ought’ve allowed through time for her pain to subside and fold into subsequent and accumulated experiences.
Since we’re contemporaries, and since the hammer fell now rather than before, I know the injury won’t dissipate. Rather, it will nag. Good.
Learning of the matter reminded me of Magnificent Ambersons, a Gilded Age novel by Booth Tarkington. Tarkington, like William Dean Howells and maybe Sinclair Lewis, among a host of American authors, wrote works a century ago which still inform us now as well as continue to reflect us.
In a nutshell, Magnificent Ambersons distills tensions engendered when the Industrial Age swamps agrarian American virtues. Some jump on the newfangled and speed off into the future; others grudgingly adapt and are gently borne along; while stragglers vainly attempt stopping progress and are crushed on the way to being left as roadkill.
A character forms the nexus where Quarropas and Magnificent Ambersons intersect. In Tarkington’s book, it’s an overentitled brat whose behavior has townsfolk winnowing the days until he “gets his comeuppance!”
A word seldom heard today but given the shenanigans of our unjustly privileged retains plenty of forceful currency. Anyway, in his young adulthood, the brat receives his “comeuppance.” However, those who’ve eagerly anticipated such just desserts are long gone from the mortal coil.
Fortunately for this post, those who’ve waited for its antagonist’s due are quite alive and kicking … and gleeful.
Thanks to Ritchie Valens, Donna is her name. Owing to Valens’ influential ode, Donna, and his subsequent tragic demise, I grew up with a lot of girls whose mothers had been pregnant during the single’s 1958 release, infatuated with the singer, swooned to his song, and named their daughters “Donna” after him in tribute. Ah, the power of well-crafted pop music.
The Quarropas Donna was no teenage dream. She was a mean, short, ginger-haired harpy who likely aged into a round, brassy, spiteful witch. She scowled easily. Across the decades, Donna’s mouth is the feature one most recalls. Never generous, maybe lemons kept her pie hole small and puckered. Emissions from this orifice were just as sour.
Squat, on a dogleg to stout, Donna terrorized. She intimidated other girls as well as less assertive boys. Give her this – she had presence. She projected. Not only verbally aggressive, but she menaced physically too. Donna thought nothing of swinging and smacking.
Should her targets ever have considered defending themselves too robustly, there were her goonish older brothers to contemplate. While events never escalated into their entering any fray on Donna’s behalf, knowing these hulks lurked must’ve dissuaded plenty of retaliation from those she put-upon.
Two instances stick out from our early teens, a careless time. In summer. Always in summer.
School recessed for vacation. Parents didn’t cram our downtime with activities. We were expected to busy and amuse ourselves while staying out of trouble.
When we weren’t attending movies, we spent idle July and August days and hours outdoors. Quarropas then offered a lot of recreation for what otherwise would’ve been indolent youths. These diversions aimed to discourage listlessness.
Obviously our youthful times occurred before technology.
After the pools closed, after the last out of the day’s pickup baseball or final hoop of 3-on-3 blacktop basketball, the various components comprising our neighborhood gang would assemble afternoons in the nearby park. Weren’t trees leafier then? Didn’t they throw down cooler shade?
For better or worse, we behaved in age-appropriate manners. Young teens, none of us feigned sophistication. We were generally rambunctious and occasionally misguided. From these incidents and what resulted most of us became sober stolid adults. Just the very responsible people our parents prayed we’d become.
As cliques are wont, we moved in different spheres which sometimes overlapped. From time to time these subsets chafed.
Certainly Donna rubbed plenty of us the wrong way. She and I rarely dealt with one another. And when our paths crossed, we treated the other warily lest she lashed out and I responded. Burgeoning impetuousness let me forget how others saw the deterrent threat of her brothers. Not the reaction sought if one hoped nurturing an aura of calm.
So we circled far more than we ever intersected.
Yet afternoons materialized when most, if not all, of the various neighborhood kid cadres converged. Never planned, never organized, just random “happenings.”
Two of these manifestations stand out even now. The “why” will reveal itself.
As usual, Donna shouldered her way into Queen Bee predominance. On both occasions some girl having done something she found untoward incited her. Perhaps for Kari and Fawn just “being” was enough to reap Donna’s ire.
I wrote about Kari nearly four years ago.
She and her stepbrother Alibi maintained one kinda hinky relationship. Perhaps a fatal car accident on California Highway 99 gave Kari’s tortured life peace. Alibi, her tormentor, her main tormentor, wound up humbled in the end.
Could Kari and Fawn have been more dissimilar? Coltish Fawn sparkled, seemingly immune any shadows crossing her path. Sullenness hitched itself to Kari. And she dragged that weight with a sulk which effortlessly captivated boys anywhere near her orbit.
The few sparks flaring from Kari’s already womanly presence died quickly. She’d been whipped early. How unlike her twin sister Kelly. Identical as each started, one grew up as the punching bag, the other a wary counterpuncher. Kelly kept Alibi at bay.
Of course who among us then in our teens knew that family’s dynamic? It took deep entry into adulthood to comprehend them.
Kari’s promiscuity let others believe her a doorknob. At best, Fawn should’ve remained on the periphery of memory if not for one clash.
What the two girls shared was a growth spurt. Relatively early into maturation bountiful breasts cantilevered from their girlish carriages. Overnight each had seemingly gone from starter bras to “Wowza!” A male, I can’t imagine how that affected other girls their ages. Is there anything comparable for boys into men?
A contemporary, Donna wasn’t flat-chested. Or at our shared ages not even small-breasted. She still grew. However, better aware of female insecurities and the sense of self Donna pushed in our faces, Kari and Fawn’s sweater meat must’ve come across as the most impudent of intrusions. Two pair she could do nothing about. Or could she?
One hopes Donna stewed and plotted with her fellow mean girls. I’d hate to think what occurred resulted from spur-of-the-moment spite. Such evil couldn’t erupt from simple instant anger, could it?
Summer. Light dress ruled for girls damned intent to blossom into women as quickly as possible. Hot pants. Culottes shorts. Halters. Tube tops. By dressing to beat the heat they stirred boys.
Provocative as the attire ought have been, it required proper filling to produce the desired effect. Most of the girls during our early teen summers lacked the necessary dimensions and contours. They needed patience in order to grow into the fashions and attitudes those garments enflamed.
Uh, all but two girls.
Fawn and Kari were women among girls. The first had the “four L’s” going – long-legged, lively, and lithe; while the second came across as that sensual creature “made,” as blurbs on the reissued pulps I devoured promised, “for lovin’!”
Donna was not “made for lovin’.” Nor much in the way of affection. Doubtlessly her envy must’ve boiled over into jealousy anytime Kari or Fawn appeared. Surely more so than other girls feeling similarly deficient in their proximity.
The Queen Bee’s anger needed sating. It found outlet in the baldest manner possible.
Modesty and shame are two of the most powerful forces our society imposes on females. From early ages we admonish them to behave demurely, to be inconspicuous. Which is why after a performer like Madonna, or now Rhianna and Miley Cyrus, splashes herself upon our awareness astonishment is the initial greeting. Their brashness flouts everything we’ve been taught correct.
Natural as human sexuality is large segments of us have demonized that attribute. Somehow we tolerate violence but discourage acknowledgement of bodily or intimate pleasures. Getting off with guns is fine, something to be admired perhaps. Getting off through carnal or corporeal delight may compel disgust.
We maintain strange connections with physical beauty and its appreciation. What excites us, what pleases us, what fascinates us, may also simultaneously repulse.
It’s easy imagining how a conflicted Donna gazed on Kari and Fawn. Particularly on those features which vaulted them far ahead of her. She saw the attraction, doubtlessly desiring the same. She recognized nothing within her power to either acquire either or offer distraction. She could only resort to exposure.
Female breasts confound and reveal us. Intended to suckle the young, we imbue them with conflicting qualities. Some gaze upon such pairs amorously, others distastefully. Bared, they can be regarded as manipulative, insulting, or declarative. Bared, both can also be seen as shameful and offensive.
Donna emerged from that good girl school. The one crowded with daughters whose classes prescribed decency and proscribed anything outside that narrow parameter. Amazing how all those moral issuances never referenced kindness, tolerance, and discretion.
Just stridency and humiliation.
Donna contrived the incidents. She must’ve. Both Kari and Fawn together wouldn’t have formed enough backbone to dare jump in the Queen Bee’s face.
Having witnessed her set-to with Fawn, I’ve no doubt the same script extended to Kari.
Donna visited some pretense on her target. Some kind of dopey chick foolishness. Fawn or Kari weren’t playing dumb when they questioned Donna’s bearbaiting. In fact each could’ve been fully aware of Donna’s gambit, attempted mollifying her to the precipice of their own abnegation. That only would’ve egged her further.
At any point during these escalations I wonder whether either girl ever realized that the quicksand had jumped from its pool, grabbed and sucked in both. There they were. One moment each rightly denied a fabricated provocation; the next Donna assailing them.
Say this about Donna – the kid could haul off. None of that girl-slap stuff. Properly balled fists at ends of stinging jabs, legs opposite the punches bore her weight. As the cliché goes, Fawn, and later Kari, never knew what hit her.
Donna’s punches didn’t raise welts, though they quickly reddened Fawn’s cute face. Naturally Fawn tried defending herself. She retreated and tried covering up. Unfortunately, she lacked defensive skills. Instead of blocking with arms raised before or alongside her face, Fawn crossed her arms in front of her head.
Sufficiently softening up her opponent, Donna delivered a figurative knockout.
Fawn wore an orange tube top. Twin ready for plucking fruits swelled beneath the knitted band encircling her lean upper torso.
Although the obvious maneuver, what Donna did still surprised us. Pulling as violently as she swung, Donna yanked Fawn’s tube top until it became a bright cummerbund around her waist.
Today one imagines there were gasps. I don’t know. I was too busy gawking.
Now the phrase “milky white, perfectly formed, gravity defying globes whose impertinent pink crowns stared unabashedly straight,” oh, simply slithers across my reptile mind. Then, having already seen and begun fumbling with age-appropriate real ones, the sight of actual major league yabbos (thanks, Otter) enlarged this boy’s worldview.
Sure, I like every other boy bee-lining into straight manhood had my libido engorged by the artful artifice presented in our era’s men’s magazines. Miss [U-name-the-month] was an aspirational goal. Neighborhood girls, those lusted after in school, who didn’t see them as soft stepping stones?
Yet there on a mild, sunny suburban afternoon stood Fawn, the realization and glory of our later expectations. Uncovered, as she was, she’d become a boy’s own stroke mag fantasy come to succulent life. Supple, too, because Fawn’s upper carriage quivered under every crack Donna delivered.
Other than seeming brief, I don’t recall how long Donna abused her.
Their commotion attracted an adult woman’s attention. Aghast at the scene, more so our complicity, she intervened. The rescuer restored Fawn’s modesty. Afterwards she protectively shielded the bawling girl.
Scorn Donna as she did, the woman berated us bystanders for our utter refusal to intercede; our cowardice before the spectacle. She even asked when any of us would finally have gotten involved? Could any of our parents have chastised us any plainer?
A few weeks later, I heard Donna repeated her pretense/escalate/thrash and strip routine on Kari. Except this time someone came forward to curtail the embarrassment. Kari’s sister, Kelly. Trying to repair Kari’s dignity kept Kelly from immediately squaring off with Donna. While it wouldn’t have fully fulfilled comeuppance demands, hearing the Queen Bee receive a dose of hers in a similar manner ought have proven somewhat satisfactory.
What eventually happened seemed proper and, all things considered, more just.
In the nearly four decades since, Donna has become a mother several times over. One imagines the children’s sire has a unibrow, constant five o’clock shadow, a hairy back … and cloven hooves for feet.
Anyway, the youngest child now pursues an advanced degree in women’s studies. Oh, she is a daughter of female grievances, real and exaggerated. Likely a hectoring doctrinaire who finds all sorts of faults with male hegemony.
The young woman is known to take up any cause promoting women at the drop of an innuendo. Immaterial whether the grounds solid or specious Donna’s daughter will manifest herself among that event’s torpid throng, balled fist lifted and voice raised.
Her most recent show of support offered no visible means.
Are we not fortunate to reside in a time where the old prohibitions are gradually being rescinded? A time where our old hypocrisies are being supplanted through new sensitivities. What we once scoffed at becomes increasingly acceptable, while fresh cycles in social development earn our old ridicule.
Among a certain class of women there is a movement intending to desexualize theirs and their sisters’ breasts. Decriminalizing boobs came fairly easily. As long as she isn’t baring her cans lewdly or lasciviously, a woman may publicly comport herself in topless fashion. Like males. At least in New York. With more women entering the construction trades, hardhats on city sites may start hearing catcalls and howling from pedestrians.
Talk about a turn of events! How about that?
I’m sure several other states permit New York’s latitude, but until Donna’s daughter entered leering range I hadn’t bothered myself with the notion. I have now.
Although nowhere amid the prominent who’ve put their tits where their mouths are, Donna’s daughter has shown the courage of her pert and perky convictions. More than one old neighborhood crony has alerted me. Ah, some memories are indelible, some hurts linger.
A social media site displays the daughter. Nothing brazen regarding her exhibition. Just a professional, pleasant-looking, younger woman ambling around performing ordinary tasks bereft of blouse or bra. Though I must say her visit to a produce department increased my appreciation of the hand skills required to gauge melons.
Hopefully her meticulous fruit handling was a big knowing wink to conscious viewers. I wonder if Donna was among them. Did she ask herself how the hell this came to pass? That is after recovering from having gone apoplectic.
Hard as Donna once struck, her daughter cavorting as bare-breasted as those the mother in her teens demeaned ought have pierced much sharper, much deeper. Excellent.
For the rest of us remaining from those formative years, this thought predominated: “Goes around, comes around.”