Tuesday, September 15, 2009
When I was growing up our neighborhood had some really interesting characters. Mary Felix lived next door to us and was the only divorced lady on the block and in the 1960's a divorced lady was scandalous. To me, she looked just like Tina Turner and was my first exposure to a "sexy" lady. She never, EVER, took off her false eye lashes and she loved leopard print. Leopard pants, leopard blouses, leopard shoes. She had one pair in particular that were strapless (which we kids referred to as "sexy lady" shoes) ... and whenever she came over to have coffee with my mother she would jump the back fence in her robe instead of just coming to the front door.
Mary pierced my ears when I was 8 years old. Back in the "olden days" there was no such thing as going to the mall and having your ears pierced with that gun thing. You had your ears pierced "old skool" people, with a freaking needle and thread. So ... one summer afternoon, under the big tree in our front yard, Mary came over with all her equipment: a big bowl of ice, a big bottle of alcohol, red thread and the biggest fucken needle I had ever seen! I was soooooo excited! My plan was that after I got my ears pierced I wanted to get braces and then …. Glasses! Get this ... I used to put foil on my teeth and pretend they were braces. I have no idea what motivated me to want to look like this but I did. So, Mary begins numbing my earlobes. I remember freaking out a little bit and worrying that she would stick the needle in my ear before I was completely numb, but not to worry, when she finally pierced my ears with that big old needle I didn't feel a thing.
Mary had a son named Randy who was my age. I liked him but he could also be a little bastard sometimes. He hit me with a t.v. cord once and it left a scar on my cheek for years and years. Every so often, Mary's father would come to live with her for a while. He was an alcoholic and he grew loquats in the backyard. He was a crooked, little man and he scared me because his name was Geronimo and I thought he was a real, live Indian. Geronimo once burned Mary's garage down. It was the most exciting thing that ever happened on Manzanar Avenue. The fire engines came roaring down the block and everyone who lived on Manazanar was in our backyard watching as my dad hosed down our garage so it wouldn't catch fire as well. That garage burnt to a crisp. Thankfully, no one was home at the time but everyone blamed Geronimo for setting the fire. Yeas later, when Randy and I were grown up, he told me the truth. Mary had a couch in her garage and Randy was playing with a sparkler and he was burning holes in the couch. Then they all left for a party ... and the garage burned down. Poor Geronimo. Randy let the whole world think that his little, crooked grandfather set the garage on fire. See … little bastard.
The last time I saw Mary was a few years ago at the Olive Garden. It had been at least 30 years since I'd last seen her and she had to be in her 70's. There she was looking sexy as ever, with her big false eyelashes and sitting right next to her was her man. Mary always had a man. When I learned that she passed away I was so sad ... Mary was loud and fun and outrageous and I will always have really fond memories of "sexy lady, sexy lady" Mary Felix.
Another neighbor, Jackie Copeland, lived across the street from us. Jackie was married to Bob and they were the only old, white people on the block. Jackie was a raging alcoholic but the sweetest person ever. She was tall and had ruddy skin and flaming red hair and was forever wandering up and down the block barefoot with a shower cap on her head calling after her dog Copey when he would escape from the back yard. Jackie adored Copey. He was a cute little Beagle with big floppy ears. When Copey died Jackie was devastated. She later got another dog ... a little weiner dog that she named Captain Jack and she would dress him in little jackets and capes … like a ship's Captain.
Bob, Jackie’s husband, was a crotchety old man. He was tall with white, somewhat balding hair and he always wore a cardigan with nice slacks. He was forever yelling for his wife ... “JACQUELINE!!!!” He was a retired real estate salesman and was the old man on the block that would scream and yell at the all the kids for walking through his ivy. Bob grew tomatoes in his backyard and we kids were forever messing with his tomato plants. They used to get these really big, lime green worms. My cousins and I would throw dirt balls over the fence and then we'd hear Bob yelling: "WHO IN THE HELL DID THIS TO MY TOMATAHS??!!!"
My ballet teacher Virginia, was not a neighbor but she was a character. She was an extremely buxom blonde who LOVED ballet and LOVED cats. I didn't like her because she was mean and when you're 11 years old you can't really tell an old lady to go eff herself. She once picked me up for ballet class and then took me to her house because she'd forgotten something. She let me come inside and I swear, there in the middle of the room, sat her weird husband (who I was convinced was a serial killer), reading the newspaper, surrounded by at least 30 cats! They were everywhere! On the furniture, on the tables, on the drapes. And the smell! It was the creepiest thing I'd ever seen! All these cats meowing and crawling all over everything. Very Twilight Zone. She was such a mean lady but she LOVED those cats. I remember when one them died. She was in-fucking-consolable and didn't teach class for two weeks which was great for me because she was always yelling at me "DEBBIE! YOU'RE NOT SWEATING ENOUGH!!!!" Ugh. It was mind-boggling to me that this heartless B could be so devastated by the death of one her gazillion cats! ... I mean WTF! SHE HAD 29 OTHER CATS!!!