Friday, July 9, 2010


On December 22, 1966, we were celebrating my Grandma's birthday at my Aunt Frankie's house.  Aunt Margie, my Grandma's step-daughter, was around the same age as Aunt Frankie, and living in the same house.

The family joke was, that a guy from their church, named Jim, was dating both of them, so my two brothers and I were instructed to refer to him as 'Uncle Jim.'  He was bound to marry one of them, eventually.

I was twelve years old, and the oldest girl of the cousins, so it was assumed that I was in charge of babysitting all the other kids, the way it was in all family gatherings, no matter what the occasion.

We were always expected to play in the basement, which was fine with me.  I liked playing songs on the electric organ.  The only sheet music available was in a book of church hymns.  The song I played best was, "Near The Cross."  I knew that Grandma would be very pleased.

Uncle Jim appeared behind me, watching me play the organ.  My cousin, Donnie complained that I always play the same songs.  He said, "I'm tired of doing the same old things all the time.  Why don't we do something different?"  I was open to suggestion.  The next game became something that Uncle Jim decided.

He said, "Let's tickle Kathy," and proceeded to tickle my future breasts.  I thought that maybe he was aiming for my arm pits and just missed.  One should always give a person the benefit of a doubt.  In any case, it was annoying.

The next thing I knew, my feet left the floor.  He lifted me up and put me on his lap, while sitting in a big chair, piled with winter coats.  In the brief seconds of sitting on his lap, I felt this rather large lump.  Apparently, what was hidden underneath those cheap, tacky madras pants, was what I thought to be a wart, or a tumor.  It was some deformity that needed to be removed.  I jumped off his lap and stood up quickly.  He asked me what was wrong.  I said, "Oh, nothing," with the same politeness I practiced when Mrs. Taylor came over to gossip about the neighbors.  I pretended not to ever notice the long black hairs, dangling from the big black mole on her chin as she was talking.  Such was the same with Jim.  One musn't be impolite.  I excused myself and ran upstairs to the bathroom.

The door was locked, the water was running, and I was staring at myself in the mirror.  I asked myself, "What just happened?  I started washing my face and hands, combed my pigtails and bangs, and adjusted the white ribbons tied around each pigtail, that matched my white tailored blouse and socks.  My saddle oxfords were perfectly polished.  Still, there had to be a reason for what just happened, whatever that was.  I did something to cause it, and examined myself in the mirror, for any clues.

Voices from the outside were asking what I was doing in the bathroom for so long.  The kids were calling me to come back downstairs and play with them, and Uncle Jim.  My older brother, Chuck, yelled through the door, "Hey Kath!  If you're in there counting your pimples, don't worry!  I counted them on the way here.  You have about eighty-seven, so you can come out now!"  I could hear my mother's voice, as she was telling in the room how prissy and self-conscious I had become, and that I spend too much time in the mirror.  Other people were asking each other what I could possibly be doing in there.  I had to think fast, so I opened the door, and came out as if nothing was wrong.

Everyone in the living room was staring at me, except my father.  He was sitting alone on the couch, reading the paper that he brought with him.  I hurried over to the empty seat and sat next to him, not to move for the rest of the night.  The kids were begging me to come back downstairs and play with them.  They said that they were tired of waiting for me.  I told them to go ahead, and go downstairs.  I had to talk to my dad about something.

Jim was sitting in a chair directly across from us.  Without looking up from the 'Sports' section, my father said, "Bet you're tired of putting up with those brats, right?"  I said, "They're going to cut the cake, soon.  I just want to wait here, until they do."  He said, "Well, I'm going to have a talk with your mother about making her sisters leave you alone.  It's not fair how they always expect you to watch their brats.  It can't be any fun."

I looked over at Jim.  He stared at me, grinning, with a facial expression, saying that we shared a dirty little secret.  I looked away, ashamed for a moment.  Then, I decided that I did nothing wrong.  I had to do something to scare him away, and had my own secret to convey back to him.  I leaned over to my father, and began to whisper things in his ear, glancing at Jim, as if I were talking about him.

Jim sprang up from his chair and went into the kitchen, where the women were.  I heard both Frankie and Margie asking him why he had to leave so soon, saying that, 'coffee was brewing, and we'd be having cake in just a few minutes.'  The back door swung open, and Jim left.

The family was called into the kitchen to sing 'Happy Birthday to Grandma,' in front of a flaming cake.  Frankie and Margie were still pouting because Jim left.  Grandma said, " I was talking to Jim the other day.  I don't think I've ever met anyone who loves the Lord as much as he does.  He's determined to marry a good Christian woman.  If anyone can make it to Heaven, it'll be Jim!  Whoever marries him will be sitting up there right next to him, so you girls better get with it!  One of you better marry him!"

Fast forward to June, 1973, Stuttgart, Germany.  I'm alone with my mother, telling her this story.  I commented that, 'I often wondered what would've happened that night, if I actually told anyone about it.  Would they have believed me?'  She said, "Oh, my Lord!  Could you just see your dad?  He would've wiped the floor with that man.  He would've embarrassed me to death in front of everybody!  What would Mother think?  Frankie cooked and cleaned for days getting everything ready for that party, and you would've just ruined it!  They would never forgive you for the rest of your life if you did that!  It's a good thing you kept your mouth shut!"     

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


In my family, 'put-down' humor was all the rage, and my older brother, Chuck, was the king.  I was usually the target and brunt end of his jokes.  Therefore, according to everyone else, he was hysterically funny.

This day was slightly different.  In the summer of 1968, Chuck was 16 years old, I was 14, and Jeff was 8.  The three of us were sitting in the living room watching television.  Chuck went off in one of his wise-cracking spells.  This time, instead of it being directed towards me, our younger brother, Jeff, was the one getting razzed.  I laughed for two reasons:  
1.)  I wasn't the one getting picked on, for once, and 
2.)  He was outrageous!

The boys had a dart board in the bedroom they shared.  Jeff went down the hall to their room.  He came back holding some darts, and saying that one of us were going to get it.  Standing at the edge of the hallway, next to the television, he had such a hateful, creepy look in his eyes.  I was sitting in the chair closest to the television, next to the front picture window.  Chuck was sitting on the couch back near the kitchen door.

Jeff's threat didn't even faze Chuck.  It only made him carry on more with his crazy nonsense.  At this point, what Chuck was doing wasn't funny.  It was beyond funny, and I couldn't stop laughing!

In a split-second, the dart was thrown in my direction.  I screamed and managed to scoot my body to the left of the chair in just enough time to dodge it.  Chuck let out a gasp of shock.  We were both shocked.  Jeff stood there, very still.  He was rather satisfied with what he'd just done ... a very powerful, sadistic little bastard.  No fear.  No apology.

Our mother ran from her bedroom at the other end of the hallway to where Jeff was standing.  We were staring at the dart that was stuck in the wooden part of the lower right side of the chair, where my knee was resting, just a few seconds before.  I studied Mom's face to see what her reaction would be to such a violent act, committed by her favorite child.

She started slapping and punching Jeff.  The words that came out of her mouth were, "You put a hole in my new chair!  We haven't even had this furniture for two weeks, and you had to ruin it!"  Jeff was flinching and holding his hands up to his face to protect himself from her punches.  He whimpered, "I didn't mean to hurt the chair!"

I looked over my right shoulder to Chuck, sitting on the couch with his mouth hanging open in disbelief.  He said, "Hey!  What about Kath?"  It sounded like Chuck was laughing because what was going on seemed like one of his sick jokes.  He wasn't laughing because he thought it was funny.  It was a laugh of disgust.  Hearing that strange sound validated what I was feeling, but I stayed quiet.  I didn't know how to react.

I tried to pull the dart out of the wood, but it was stuck in the wood too deep to be pulled out easily.  I gently wiggled it to loosen it enough to get it out of the chair.  Mom said, "Stop doing that!  Don't make the hole any worse than it already is!"

Chuck pointed out that the dart could have gone through my leg.  He said, "If the dart went into the wood that deep, just think what would've happened to her!"  I was the only person in the room listening to him, but I didn't respond.

Mom carefully removed the dart, and ran her finger over the hole to assess the damage of the wood.  She said, "I'll put a little wood filler in the hole, and sand it.  I can stain it to match the wood enough so that it wouldn't be so noticeable, I guess.  But I shouldn't have to!  My new things should stay new!  You kids are old enough to know how to behave!"

My focus was on Chuck.  His disgust made me realize that he cared about me.  From then on, his jokes toward me didn't seem so cruel.  I knew that whatever silly stuff he said or did whenever he joked around with me was just that -- silly jokes!

We never told our father about it when he came home from work that night.  It was one of those things we never spoke of again ... until April 2002.  Chuck and his wife, Cathy were staying in a hotel in Times Square on a business trip, and I went there to spend the day with them.

We were talking about things we had to live through when we were kids.  One of us started out with, "I was just thinking about this the other day.  Do you remember the time when ... and started telling Cathy the story of how Jeff threw a dart at me and how our mother slapped him for putting a hole in the chair.  Yes, it was real.  It was not just my imagination.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Summertime, 1962, my Dad was sitting on the living room floor, in front of the TV, with the usual bottle of Miller High Life, big ashtray, and pack of Winston cigarettes.  He was committing the sacred act of routing for the Cincinnati Reds.

I asked him if I could call Marilyn Monroe and talk to her.  He told me to get the phone book, and he'd show me how to find her number.  I came back from the kitchen with it, and sat down on the floor next to him, knowing not to speak until the next commercial, as to not interrupt the game.

During the commercial, he opened the phone book and demonstrated how to go about it, by finding himself.  He said, "When you look up a person, you start with the last name."  He showed me how to leaf through the pages until we found the letter 'S,' and then we found the listing column with all the people named 'Spencer.'  His right index finger guided us to his name.  "See here?  'Spencer.'  Now, you look for the first name.  Start at the letter 'A,' and keep looking until you find my name.  Here it is, 'Charles.'  Now go accross.  See our address?  '7787 Dubois Road, Carlisle.'  Now follow the dots all the way to the right of the page, and there's our number.  '746-6680.'  See?  Do you understand?"  I nodded my head with excitement, because I knew at that moment that I had the power to find anyone!

He said, "Now -- show me how you'd find Marilyn Monroe.  I turned the pages until I found the letter 'M,' looked for the listings for 'Monroe,' and guided my left index finger down the column, looking for 'Marilyn.'  It wasn't there, but there were several 'Monroes' listed.

"Well, I guess you're going to have to call all of these numbers until you find her," he said.  We went to the kitchen and began to set up my project for the afternoon.  I climbed into my brother's high-chair, so that I could reach the rotary dial on the wall phone by the table.  With the phone book spread open, he handed me a pencil.  I was to start with the first person on the page named 'Monroe,' and if it was the wrong number, I was to cross off the name, and go to the next one.

He reminded me to be very polite and always say 'please, and thank you.'  That way, if I called the wrong number, they wouldn't mind that I'd disturbed them.

I dialed the first person named Monroe.  The thought of actually speaking to Marilyn, made my fingers shake nervously, and I could hardly dial the number!  Listening to the ringing signal, I inhaled and held my breath, getting ready to speak.  From that split second between the person picking up the phone and saying, "Hello," I thought that I was going to faint!  The voice was of an older woman.  I began my search by saying, "Hello, is this the Monroe residence?"  "Yes it is," she said.  With my most proper voice, I asked, "May I speak to Marilyn, please?"  She laughed and said, "No, little girl.  Marilyn doesn't live here.  You've got the wrong number."  I thanked her, said 'good-bye,' hung up the phone.  After crossing off the number in the phone book,  I would dial the next number, and get the same results.

Each time I hung up the phone, I'd yell, "She wasn't there, Daddy!"  He would yell back, "Well try the next one, honey."

From the high-chair at the kitchen table, I could see my dad sitting on the couch, through the doorway that separated the kitchen from the living room.  Although he was watching the game, he would giggle every time I asked for Marilyn.  The person on the other end of the phone would laugh, too.  I failed to see the humor in it.

During the commercials, he came into the kitchen to throw away an empty beer bottle and get another cold one out of the refrigerator.  He would say, "Did you find her, yet?"  Then he would look at the column in the phone book to see how many names were marked off, and tell me what a good job I was doing.

Monday, July 5, 2010


1969 was the best year of my life.  I was fifteen years old.  It's when I first became aware that I was well liked.  I knew how to make friends, and lot's of them.  It's when I knew that I would always have friends.

The skills I had developed by then, are the best skills I have even now.  Everyone went to school with a girl like me.  You didn't observe me at the desk, raising my hand with the answers when the questions were asked.  There was hardly a sighting of me in class at all.  I had better things to do with my time.  Much more important things.

When entering the girls' room, right off the gymnasium, I was the girl at the sink.  I was the 'meet and greet person' with all the hot gossip about everyone in school.  I was the girl you'd confide in, and go to for advice...the original Ann Landers.  Ann Landers with dirty jokes and card tricks.

I would teach you what really mattered, like, how to smoke, and how to look sexy lighting a cigarette.  I did everyone's hair and make-up, and maybe their nails.  I'd have you go inside the stall, stuff your bra with toilet paper, and roll up your skirt.  "Make it a mini-skirt.  Take off those stupid knee socks.  Never stuff your bra with knee socks.  It looks fake."

I thought of myself as a mentor.  I looked after everyone.  I cared about them, and they knew it.  When the girls got talked about, I'd tell them what was said, and who said it.  We'd hold court in that girls' room, and decide how to carry out our revenge accordingly, and always with an audience.  We made examples out of them.

In time, lots of girls followed my rules.  Rule #1:  "Never date the boys from here.  They all have big mouths.  And whether you've done anything with them or not, they always tell everyone that you did, so don't go out with them.  Don't even talk to them if you can avoid it, but be nice about it.  Buy yourself a guy's ring, and say that you have a boyfriend in the next town.  Tell those 'big mouthed' boys, "He'll beat you up if you talk about me!"  It always worked.

I also knew all the kids with the cars.  You'd think we ran a taxi service, the way we'd transport all those pretty girls to the next town to meet the exciting, mysterious boys in Franklin, Ohio, a town with a zip code!  A place where anything could happen!

Forty years later, we still keep in touch.  We often write and call each other, referring to 1969, and how nothing has ever topped it since then.  They''re all still in Ohio, and I'm here in New York, still giving them marvellous advice!

Sunday, July 4, 2010


One of the most profound moments in my life, the kind of profoundness that takes your breath away, was the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in 1997.

We were having a big office party in a building that overlooks the skating rink.  It wasn't exactly a party for me.   The guests were a few hundred obnoxious, self-important people that I answered to, 40 hours a week.  It was only natural that they would forget that during this party, I was a guest as much as they were.  It was bad enough that they expected me to answer the front door, and the phones.  Some of the caterers couldn't make it, so I was also expected to wait on them hand and foot.

I was busy pouring champagne in trays, and trays of glasses, and passing them out to the guests.  Right before the time came for the tree to light up, I took a bottle of champagne, and a glass, and ran down the hall to an empty office.  I locked the door, and opened the window.  It was one of the most intelligent things I've ever done in my life!

I sat in the cold, dark room, drinking my champagne, and stared down at the thousands of freezing people, below.  They had been standing out there in the cold for several hours.  Yet, they were certainly having much more fun than I was!  It was an ocean of energy that I'll never forget!  I could see them, but they couldn't see me.

They counted, from 10 to 1, and the tree lit up.  The cheering of the crowd filled the air with the most amazingly happy sounds, that bounced off the buildings and traveled up to my window.  I was so taken by the beauty of the moment.  I inhaled, as if to embrace it all, and become part of their joy!  I've never felt such an amazing emotion.

It made me understand why all those people would be willing to stand there in the cold, just to live for that moment.  It was one of those moments that I actually liked humans.  And, I did it alone, without anyone there to ruin it for me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


My Grandma's farm house had a 'sun porch' or 'mud room' at the back entrance, that you would have to walk through, before getting to the kitchen door.  There were always dead animals of some sort, bleeding in the slop sink.  The sight and smell of it horrified me, and I had a habit of turning my head and holding my nose when passing through that room.

I was staying there for a few weeks, with my Grandma, and her then, third husband, Brownie.  Dinner was cooking on the stove, and my grandma told us to come to the table.  It was time to eat.  Grandma told me that I was going to eat something new, and it was going to be a surprise.  As I finished eating what I thought was deep fried chicken, Brownie asked me if I liked what I ate.  I did.  It was different, but tasted good.  As Grandma laughed, Brownie told me to guess what it was that I just ate.

He went into the sun porch and came back with a white fuzzy bunny tail.  With a big laugh, he announced, "You just ate the Easter Bunny!"  I screamed, "Nooooooooo!  Oh, Nooooooooo!"

The more I freaked out, the louder he laughed.  He took the bunny tail, and rubbed my face with it, yelling, "Oh, yes, you did!  Yes, you did!  You ate the Easter Bunny!  I have to call the news reporters and tell them to get over here and take your picture!  You're going to be on television, all over the world!  Your picture's gonna be on the front page of every news paper there is!  The headline's gonna say, you ate the Easter Bunny!  Millions of little kids all over the world are gonna just be cryin' their eyes out!  They'll all be getting up on Easter morning, and there won't be any more Easter baskets, or candy, and no more Easter eggs, ever again!  They're gonna just be cryin' and cryin'!  Now, get in there, to your room, and put a pretty dress on!  Fix your hair real nice, and get ready!  You're gonna be world famous, because you just ate the Easter Bunny!"

He went to the phone and started dialing it.  After a few seconds, he yelled, "Hello?  Is this the news station?  You better get over here right now!  Bring your television cameras!  We got a six year old little girl in here, and she just now ate the Easter Bunny!  Yep!  She sat right here and ate him!"

As he was giving out the address,  I started crying, and told my Grandma that I had to find a place to hide.  She laughed and said, "Brownie, stop bothering that child!  She believes everything you say to her.  Now, leave her alone."

He put his hands on his eyes, rubbing them as he mimicked me, crying.  "Waaaaaaaaah!  No more Easter Bunny! Waaaaaaaaah!"  Grandma kept laughing, and telling him to leave me alone.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Looking through my brother's Batman comic book, it occurred to me that our Aunt Margaret, my father's sister, looked exactly like the Joker.  I pointed this out to my family, and they agreed.  The resemblance was uncanny.  She had the same crazy hair, and put her lipstick on the same way.  She was referred to, from then on, as -- 'The Joker.'

I was vacuuming the living room rug, when my mother needed to have a 'sit-down' talk with me.  It was one of those talks that I knew I was about to learn a new family secret.  I knew that whatever I was told was to never be repeated among the family, which was a promise that I guarded well.

I was informed that my Aunt Margaret lived in Chicago, with my Uncle Red, before they were married.  If that wasn't scandalous enough, they met when she was at the height of her vast career of 'taking her clothes off and dancing naked in the circus.'

Before I had the chance to paint these pictures in my head, she said, "You know, when your father was eleven years old, exactly the same age you are now, he woke up in a hotel room, in the middle of the night, with his sister being arrested by the police for having sex with some man.  Having sex in a hotel room without being married was against the law back then, and they'd put you in jail if you got caught.  One time, she was arrested for having sex with some old man by the railroad tracks."  I asked her why Margaret would want to be with some old man in the first place?  She said, "For money.  She did it for money."

I thought to myself, "Wow!  You can make money doing that?"  I decided that if Aunt Margaret could make money dancing naked and having sex, then anyone could, and there's no excuse for poverty in this world!

In the lunch room at school, I delivered this information to my best friend, Sandy.  She said, "Of course you can make money doing that.  It's called 'the world's oldest profession.  They talk about it in church all the time.  Maybe if you paid attention, you might learn something!  The word for it is 'prostitution.'  Haven't you ever heard of that word before?"  I said, "Yeah, but I thought it meant something like being in an institution."

I was always fascinated with 'The Joker' from then on.  Every time she sat in our house, going from drunk, to stinking drunk, I would imagine her making a fortune!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


In therapy, I've been asked how far back I can remember.  The first image is of me, holding onto the edge of a coffee table, trying to stand up on my own.  There were a few old people sitting on the couch, leaning forward, and talking to me in annoying 'baby talk.'  I wanted nothing to do with them.  I knew that I didn't like old people.  They were ugly, and they tried to control me.  They smelled like a combination of moth balls and raw ass.  I was picked up and carried around against my will.  I cried, because I couldn't get away from them.

My Grand Dad, who was my father's father, played this neat little game with me, when I sat on his lap.  He would have me touch his nose, and when I did, he would pop his dentures out of his mouth like a machine, and make me laugh.  Sometimes, he would just take out his dentures and let me play with them.

On Sundays, we all got dressed up, and went to this awful place called, 'church,' with my mother's family.  The wooden pews were hard and uncomfortable.  When sitting there, my feet barely touched the edge of the seat, making me very aware of how little I was, compared to everyone else around me.  Sometimes, I stood up and hung onto the back of the pew to have a good look around, at what was going on.  I stared at all the ugly, unhappy people, as they sang ugly songs.  There were blank stares and frowns on their faces, as the angry man at the front yelled and screamed at us.  He told us all that we were bad.  We were all born in this world as bad people.

I wanted to get out of there.  I wanted to go home and play, or watch cartoons.  This was expressed to my mother quite often.  She stared ahead, like the rest of them.  I thought maybe she couldn't hear me.  She would pick me up, and we would go to the nursery.  If we were going there, I knew I was about to get a spanking, and would cry all the way there.  The nursery had a strong smell of urine, from the mattresses in the cribs.  I was placed in a crib as I was being spanked.

There were always certain songs that were sung as they passed around the offering plate.  The concept of putting money in it was particularly curious to me.  Somehow, I knew that these people didn't have any money.  The act of putting money in that plate was difficult for them to do, yet they were obligated to do it.  It's assumed that children don't understand certain things, but I knew what poor was, and they were poor.

Once, when the music was over, the preacher scolded everyone in the congregation, because he felt that they, as a group, didn't tithe enough money.  He demanded that there had to be people in the room that could be more generous, and he passed the plate around, again.  He called one man out by name.  His face became very red.  He was wearing a white dress shirt, that needed to be ironed.  His hair needed a trim, but it was combed in an attempt to look properly dressed.  The preacher instructed two deacons to stand next to him.  He was ordered to get his wallet out of his pocket, and put more money in the plate.  Everyone was watching him.  Reluctantly, he opened his wallet, and what few dollars he had, were put in the plate.  He looked angry, and ashamed, as he sat there quietly.  This made me angry at the preacher.

There's a vague memory of looking out the window from the back seat of a car, and seeing that we were passing over an old worn-out concrete bridge.  Whenever I saw this bridge, I knew that we were on our way to the dairy to get icecream.

Somewhere in all of this, was a weekly visit to a graveyard, to stand at the grave of Clarence, the brother of my Grandma Mary.  I thought that all of this had to be done every week in order to qualify to go to Heaven!