Friday, April 10, 1992
I got my report card yesterday: 95, 95, 96, 90, A, 94, 96, 98. My parents were happy. I was thrilled! My average: 94.5. Wow! I just hope there isn’t some computer error or something.
Speaking of computers, there’s a new show on television. It’s called “Mann and Machine.” I haven’t seen a whole episode yet but it’s something like a futuristic cop has a robot-ish partner. She’s a computer (perfect) but can feel emotions on a very low level. It wouldn’t be that awful being something like that. I would be gorgeous, have a perfect body, be a genius, and other good stuff. I wouldn’t disappoint anyone and live up to people’s expectations. My mom especially would probably love it because the dishes would always be done, my room would always be spotless, the house immaculate and she knows I would treat her and dad with utter respect. I would probably have more guys liking me (since I wouldn’t be fat anymore) as well as my mother off my back to lose weight. My dad would never have to lecture me seeing as I would be the perfect student. I’d never let my temper control me and when I would open my mouth, just the right words would come out. I would be like a blank sheet of paper without a line, spot or crease in it to ruin it.
When I grow up and have children of my own, I hope I don’t wish them to be perfect. That’s what makes people individuals. The fact that they have imperfections.
I’ll start my diet Monday.
Ever have one of those days when you wished you were a robot?
Yeah, life at home was tense even when I got good grades. The high marks, while a source of pride for my mother, still left something to be desired from my father, who wanted me to be the overachiever he never was. I was generally an A- student but he wanted me to be an A+ student. And if I applied myself more, it might have been possible, but I was tired of feeling like I never measured up, and threats and lectures were not a motivator for me. My father even resorted to bribing me for good grades, but that only went so far. Studying extra hours to earn ten or twenty bucks just wasn’t worth it after a while and felt kind of demeaning.
And then there were body issues. I still had some extra weight that I couldn’t shed, because I only had two modes: Diet Mode and Eat What I Want Mode. Nothing in between, no sense of moderation, no understanding that any weight I lost through a fad diet would be put back on if I didn’t learn new eating habits. My parents warned me that being overweight would have a negative impact on my adolescence, and they weren’t wrong. But I was too clumsy for sports and found too much comfort in food when things were tense at home, which they were a fair amount.
While all of this family drama was going on, there were all these ads being broadcast for a new TV show, Mann & Machine, about a male human and female android (albeit one capable of learning emotions) who fight crime together. It seemed every time I turned on the television, there was the beautiful Yancy Butler flaunting her robotic perfection at me. At the time, being an automaton would have solved all my problems.
Saturday, July 6, 1991
As it turns out, I’m not going to Israel. First of all, it’s expensive, and I’m not even going to see the sights. There’s not too much point.
My parents are doing stuff for me to make up for me, not that they need to or have to. Like they ARE TAKING ME TO SEE LES MISERABLES on July 13. I can’t wait! I am going to try to lose as much weight as I can before then, so that I can look good in this outfit that I got.
This doesn’t sound like me. Either I was censoring myself to be far more cool-headed out of paranoia that one of my parents would read my journal, or they did really good spin on that Israel trip and actually convinced me that it wouldn’t be fun. Either way, something about the way I calmly reacted and turned my excitement to the Broadway show makes me suspicious.
To be fair, I was dying to see Les Miserables (or “Les Miz” as it was more commonly called) ever since I saw a spine-tingling talent show performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” in the sixth grade. It was one of the biggest Broadway musicals of the late ’80s/early ’90s, with a heavy duty advertising campaign including posters, bus ads and billboards, and television commercials featuring grimy, earnest singers in rags that made the French Revolution seem so darn tuneful and romantic. While tickets to this show were not a substitute for tickets to Israel, at the time they were pretty good as far as consolation prizes go.
I don’t recall the outfit that prompted yet another diet, but it didn’t take much to fuel the desire to lose weight. This was the summer I tried the cabbage soup diet. The soup, which I sprinkled with copious amounts of Mrs Dash for “flavor,” was pretty vile, and nothing that a human being with taste buds could subsist on for more than a few days unless truly masochistic. It wasn’t the first fad diet or the last that I tried, but, hey, I had a date with some musical French ragamuffins and I wanted to look my best!
Saturday, May 19, 1991
My grades are improving and so is my relationship with my parents. Especially my father. I know I haven’t been writing for a while, but I don’t know what’s stopping me. Laziness, I guess.
[It took some time to make my father realize that the string of perfect grades I got in elementary school would not be easily replicated at Hunter. Mom was more understanding, but Dad was the kind of disciplinarian who would look at a grade of 95 I proudly held before him and ask, "What happened to the other five points?" He decided to see if bribing me would produced better grades and offered a certain amount of money A's or grades of 95 or better. Eventually, my more frequent A-minuses and B-plusses were recognized for the good grades that they were, but I could still sense my father's undercurrent of disappointment at anything less than perfection.]
Let’s start with my love life. What love life? The guys that I like don’t know me, and there is no chance they will like me. I’m not sore, though (well, not really) because I know the right guy will come along some day. I just hope “someday” comes soon! On to other things.
[Wow, other things beyond boys and my non-existent romantic life?? What sort of eclectic topics could I possibly devote to the rest of this diary entry?]
That’s the way I am. I go through lots of mood swings. It’s really amazing how fast my feelings can change. I’m not a flake, I just go through mood swings.
[I wasn't a flake, I was a teenager.]
Today my parents and I went to Manhattan, because I had to go to the American Museum of Natural History for school, and anyway, when I’m in Manhattan, I get this feeling of how cool it would be to be indepandent and living in Manhattan on my own.
[That's one thing I can say in favor of Hunter College High School. Part of the rigorous academic curriculum included assignments that required us to go to museums, which I always loved doing. Not only did these trips provide overall cultural enrichment, but they helped me develop a passion for art and science. This particular exhibit I had to see and report on was about the rainforest. The museum replicated the sights and sounds of the habitat which, paired with the multitude of of specimen and sobering facts on deforestation, had me utterly captivated. As did the sights beyond the museum walls: the street vendors, boutiques, and outdoor cafes of Manhattan's affluent Upper West Side.]
Well, I think that next weekend will be lots of fun because it is Memorial Day, and my parents, their friends, my cousin Anna and her parents, and me are all going upstate. It should be fun, chaotic, or both! See ya!
I still remember parts of that weekend. My parents’ friends had a young daughter, around nine years old. Anna and I spent much of that weekend dodging her. She followed us incessantly and at one point even ended up in tears because of our less-than-subtle avoidance (there are only so many times you can use the excuse of having “private things” to discuss before it gets taken personally). It was a tough situation. On one hand, she was bratty and immature and Anna and I did have older girl things we wanted to talk about. On the other hand, I was no stranger to being excluded and left on my own, so I could empathize with this little girl all too well. It felt only marginally less terrible to be the one doing the ostracizing.
April 2, 1991
Nobody understands me! At least my parents don’t. They don’t understand that some things I want might seem minor to them but are important to me.
I really hate being so restricted! I know my parents love me, want the best for me, etc., etc., but they just don’t understand! (I know I’m being repetitive, but it’s for emphasis.)
It’s really strange, but by restricting me, they just force me to rebel. I don’t even feel guilty when I rebel, because I feel this is what my parents brought me to, so I feel justified.
Let the teenage clichés begin! The post above undoubtedly had to do with my parents infringing on my freedom in some way. At one point, when my grades started slipping, they forbade any social activity during the week. What they didn’t realize is that my grades started slipping because I was unhappy and lonely and thoroughly unmotivated to excel at school. They didn’t know that I was being teased by my classmates and getting into fights on the bus. They just knew what the report cards told them. Luckily I had my journal to vent my frustrations. Which I did with posts like these:
April 12, 1991
MY FUCKING PARENTS ARE MAKING MY F$%*ING LIFE A F#^&ING PRISON AND I DON’T EVEN F@*$ING DESERVE IT!
Feb. 15, 1991
Sigh! I’m really happy (I know it doesn’t sound that way but I am.) because my parents are going to Atlantic city on business and I am going to spend three days (we have a long weekend) with Rose! Yay! The reason I’m sighing is because my mom is mad at me. Same old thing: I’m never satisfied and I’m unappreciative.
The reason my mom considers me unappreciative is this: Tomorrow Rose and her friends were planning to go shopping at Ceasar’s bay. Rose invited me to come along, and I really want to, but my parents say that if they leave later, they will just drop me off at Rose’s house while I’m left with her parents waiting for Rose to show up. The only good thing is that my parents don’t exactly know what time they are leaving, so there is a chance that I might go. Yeah, like a one percent chance! My mother said that she doesn’t want me to go shopping with Rose and her friends because there wouldn’t be any adults with us and my mom is afraid that something would happen to us.
Sh#t! What a gyp! It’s like hardly anything goes exactly the way I want it to. F#ck! Oh well, at least I’ll spend a few days with Rose.
Yay! I just found out that I am going shopping tomorrow after all. YES!
If you’re happy-frustrated-angry-pouty-and-then-happy-again-because-you-got-your-way and you know it clap your hands…
Yes, I realize this entry does not paint me in a spoiled and bratty light. I could try to make excuses, about how the long commute to Hunter and heavy academic workload left very little time for socializing. I could mention that at thirteen years old, it was a big deal to be able to spend time with friends without adults hovering nearby. That it was a big deal to go shopping. That I was having so little fun in 7th grade I didn’t want to miss out on what little chances for it came my way blah blah blah. But let’s call it what it is: I was being kind of awful. The terrible teens were setting in, and it would get worse before it got better.
Also? Ceasar’s Bay Bazar is where I got those New Kids on the Block jeans, so not allowing me to shop there might have prevented further fashion disasters. Kind of like the wardrobe equivalent of not allowing me to get that perm. But either fortune favored me in that moment or my adolescent moping wore my folks down and I got my way. Go me?
April 21, 1990
I have LOTS to tell you!
[This is the beauty and also the danger of keeping a typed journal: it's easy to write quickly and to produce a greater volume of words...which is maybe not always the best thing for a twelve year old.]
Let’s start with Thursday. Well Chen-chi said that she didn’t want to do it because she didn’t want to hurt Mitch and Rose, so I told her that it was O.K. and not to tell ANYONE.
So we told Rose and I guess that she believed it and she said that she just wanted to date him for fun. (SLUT!!!)
[A. I should have had misgivings the second Chen-chi backed out. Half of a revenge scheme is no scheme at all. B. Yeah, I don't know why I considered Rose a slut when Mitch was the one asking every girl in Brooklyn with a pair of acid washed jeans out on dates. And heaven forbid a pre-teen girl want to go out with a boy for fun. Not like I was still bitter or anything.]
Anyway, we didn’t tell Mitch about Rose yet because we couldn’t really think of a way to tell him so that he would believe us.
Well anyway, in the afternoon a lot of us had to go to the gym for “Jump Rope for Heart*” and afterwards I found out that Chen-chi told sleaze EVERYTHING!!!
I was (and still am) FURIOUS! That Bitch has such a big mouth!!! I hate her!!!!!!!!!!!
[Hm, karma much? Somehow I had conveniently forgotten ratting Chen-chi out for that egg on Halloween. Not that she knew it, but I absolutely had it coming.]
Well on to Sam’s surprise party. He was SO RED when we all yelled “Surprise!”!
It was SO much FUN! His parents even ordered a five foot hero! And later we played “Spin the Bottle”! (Sean’s mother even offered it!) I couldn’t believe it but I even had to kiss Mitch 3 times! 2 times on the cheek and once on the LIPS! And Elaine even had to go with him (as in French, tongue to tongue!)! If Rose found out about it she would be SO mad!
Sam was really nice to everyone (as usual) but I think that he was being especially nice to me. I really hope that he likes me because I’m beginning to like him more than I ever did before!
Nothing says “fun party” like a sandwich you need two people to carry and impromptu smooching games. I don’t know what kind of liberal mother Sam had that she would actually suggest a game of Spin the Bottle to a bunch of kids. I’m no parenting expert, but isn’t that, you know, the exact opposite of what you hope happens at your child’s party? Don’t you want your little boy to stay one for that much longer instead of throwing him into a circle of prepubescent girls with a bottle? I remember Mrs. P even went into the other room when we started playing, to give us privacy. I can only imagine what she organized for his thirteenth birthday (strip poker?).
Also, the irony wasn’t lost on me that Mitch and I did more kissing after our break-up than during the entire time we went out. Maybe Mrs. P should have tagged along at one of our dates.
* For those who never participated in a Jump Rope For Heart fundraiser, it is just like a race or walkathon or whatever way folks physically exert themselves for a cause nowadays. This fundraiser involved spending an afternoon jumping rope in shifts after going around the neighborhood pestering everyone we knew to sponsor us. Our meager proceeds went to The Heart Foundation and the entire thing was a nice way to get a yellow t-shirt and make us feel like we were making a significant contribution to society. One jump rope at a time.
I was supposed to get a perm today but I’m not! Because some of the Beauty Salonists said I was to young and it was to dangerous and my dad didn’t want me to so I’m not getting it.
He was even willing to pay me but I don’t need his stupid money!
Now my mom is going to the salon (for a trim) and then we will stop by Kings Highway for me to get some tapes. (my Idea.)
Maybe that will cheer me up. I DOUBT IT.
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: the 1980′s were all about big hair. Being burdened with pin straight hair as a young girl, I did everything I could to get extra volume: crimping, curling, abusing mousse and hairspray, you name it.
My mother got regular perms and I was quite envious of the way her hair puffed out at the sides. When I look at photos from back then, I can now laugh at the pyramid-like shape the chin-length curls gave her head. But at the time I was desperate for a permanent solution to my flat hair dilemma (sorry, bad puns are one of my guilty pleasures).
Obtaining permission from Mom and Dad to get a perm took hours of pleading and coercing. When they finally said yes and I made it to the salon it was utterly heartbreaking to be told that the strong chemicals in the curling agents might hurt my young head of hair. I was furious and beyond disappointed. Stupid beauty salonists!
Over the course of the last ten years, my hair has mysteriously developed a natural wave. This is something that would have thrilled me as a little girl, but instead of embracing my hair’s new texture, these days I prefer to wear it straight and frequently use a flat iron to get it that way. Maybe it’s human nature to fight against what you were born with. Or maybe it’s just me.
School’s great and me and Elaine are starting the cool group.
Also, Mitchell is cute.
Also, Mrs. Angelo (our music teacher) is doing this play thingie that I’m auditioning for. I’m dying to get a solo.
Also Friday I went to a Debbie Gibson concert and it was fabulous!
Well I guess that wraps it up. —Bye—
What more does an 11-year-old in 1989 need to be happy? Cool group in progress? Check. Cute boy in class? Check. Audition for a musical (or “play thingie”) in which I might get a solo? Check. Debbie Gibson concert? Double check!
I didn’t write about the concert at length (probably to save blank pages for mooning over crushes and ranting about friends who done me wrong), but I loved the show. My parents took me to see her in Madison Square Garden, and I couldn’t believe how many thousands (!) of people came to the show. Our seats were pretty far back, but as soon as the music started I forgot the distance between the three of us and the stage. Debbie’s silhouette appeared behind a white screen and the crowd went wild (seven years later, when seeing Nine Inch Nails live, I would be reminded of this concert when Trent Reznor did the same thing, only tore through the screen).
Considering that Debbie Gibson released only two albums at that point, I’m pretty sure she played all my favorite songs. When she finished the last song, my parents and I got up to leave and were surprised when the music started up again a few minutes later. Both my parents had been professional musicians, but it took Debbie Gibson to teach us how to do a proper encore.
The most surprising thing about that night was how much my brooding and difficult-to-please father enjoyed the concert. Despite being critical of much of the music I listened to (especially from the teen years onward), he found Gibson to be a talented singer and was impressed with her live performance. He spoke of that Debbie Gibson show well into his later life and every time he did, a look of surprised wonder always came over him.
Friday May 2nd 1986
we will go to Beefstake charlies. I had such a good time. We ate such good food. It was so much fun then.
One thing I learned (and learned well) in America is how to eat. And there were few places my parents and I liked to eat more than Beefsteak Charlie’s.
The restaurant was part of a chain and boasted an All You Can Eat salad bar, which included enormous ice-filled bowls of jumbo shrimp.
We gorged ourselves on these shrimp, dipping them into pools of cocktail sauce, creating mountains of peelings on a spare plate. Often we were full before our entrees arrived.
I went from being a picky eater in the former USSR to discovering the delights of American food like hamburgers and fries (my usual order at Beefsteak Charlie’s).
While our former countrymen waited on bread lines, my parents and I waited on buffet lines, sitting down to heaping plates of pasta salad, olives, fresh tomatoes and lettuce and, of course, lots and lots of shrimp.
Sun. June 15 1986
today I am going to a wedding and I am so excited. there is going to be a cake and good things to eat. when I came there I fell in love with a waiter.
In later years, I moved on to bartenders and starving artists.
March 15, 1986
long time No see. Today I got a story for you! Tomorrow on Sunday I mite get holes in my ears. I am so excited. I do not think it is going to hurt.
Sun. Mar. 16 1986
the day before today I wrote a storey about that I will have holes in my ears. but I did not. I feel so sad. but I’m glad I have you then I can shere my feelings with you.
Can I get a collective awwww? I read this and felt pity for my eight-year-old self, imagining my high hopes and how they must have been crushed come Sunday, when I was left with virgin earlobes.
I was sure this was a childhood disappointment due to flawed parenting and called my mother to verify (and maybe pout about it a little bit all these years later). She told me what really happened.
Apparently, a friend of mine decided to do some DIY body modification and pierced her own ear with a sewing needle. Not being the brightest bulb, she did not know about the importance of sterilization and ended up with an infection. Her puss-filled, swollen earlobe spooked me; it was, to borrow a word I used back then, “grody.” That crimson lobe served as a visual aid of the pain that surely awaited me if and when I pierced my own ears.
Repulsion and fear built up in me until I knew I couldn’t go through with it.
I chickened out and told my parents I no longer wanted my ears pierced. To their credit, they never gave me a hard time about it. So all that remorse in that second entry is not aimed at my mom and dad and any false promises they may have made. It’s regret at my own cowardice, which prevented me from getting something I really wanted.
April 1, 1985
I met such a bad boy. He is so sick bad. he’s fat. and his name is ivan trunuf.
Not the last time I would cross paths with a bad boy. The difference is that as an eight-year-old I had the good sense to recognize one and keep my distance. Ivan was bad, fat, and possibly sick. I knew well enough to stay away.
December 28, 1985
I am so happy. Soon it is new years eve. I will have gests. and I will have two kids named Anna and Ralph. There good friends but I hate it wen they say a carse.
Anna and Ralph were fraternal twins who I loved to play with, despite their salty language. They lived in a complex of apartment buildings that I was amazed by, because there were numerous playgrounds throughout. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized these buildings were part of a housing project. Anna, Ralph, and I loved playing a game called Ghost, which was similar to Marco Polo, except it involved one person wearing a sheet over their head and turning off all the lights. Lamps were knocked over, shins were bruised, fun was had.
My parents stopped socializing with their parents when they discovered Anna and Ralph’s folks were avid drug users. One night, the twin’s parents offered my mom and dad some cocaine while us kids played in the other room. My parents were shocked and said no, and that was the last time I saw the twins. Years later, we heard that Anna’s father got really high one night and threw Anna out the window. I don’t know if that’s true but to this day the family’s wherabouts are a mystery to us.