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Talent Show, Summer of ’64

by Fredrica Duke
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barsI wish I could tell you exactly how many yards it was for me to get to Roxbury Park to give you the visual.    A hop.   Not even a skip and a jump.  I walked two houses up, crossed Olympic and I was there.

That is where I spent my summers.  Basically, doing absolutely nothing.  Kind of like a Seinfeld episode.  No sunblock.  No checking in with my mother.  I didn’t excel at anything in Roxbury Park.  Not at caroms.  Not the monkey bars.  And certainly not the rings.

At the rings, I watched other kids adept at swinging quickly back and forth from one to the next.  I stood high up one day, grabbed ahold and leapt off, but unable to catch the next ring, which seemed to move further and further away, I landed back where I started.  I spent long days trying to push myself further until I did finally grab onto that second one, which was such a victory.   Then I kept swinging back and forth, trying to gain the momentum I would need to get to the next, but failed and dropped to the ground.  Again I tried, over and over, all summer until I was finally able to go back and forth, leaving the other kids waiting in line, drumming their fingers.  And like a monkey, I would copy what the other ring junkies would do just before taking over the set for their performance.  They would dig their hands into the sand and rub some of it between their palms for better friction.  Or use chalk.   It never seemed to work for me, but I did it to look cool, like them.  Inevitably all us monkeys ended up with blisters.

For some reason, I was always alone, just moving from one side of the park to the other.  Never stopping to eat or even get a sip of water.   Wealthy friends like Susie Lohn were probably on some fabulous family vacation or at summer camp.  But I was fine because of my rich fantasy life.  One day, I spotted a flyer for a talent show.  I signed up.  But I forgot about it, space cadet that I was.   Weeks felt like years, so why would I remember an event that wouldn’t happen until August when it was still only July?

erik-gibson-265x300One day in August, getting ready to leave for the park, I remembered as I walked out the door that today was the talent show.  I had nothing prepared.  So, I ran upstairs to my room and grabbed this sexy dress in a purple paisley pattern that my mother had sewn — one for her and one for me.  FYI (I never use FYI),  my mother was WAY ahead of her time in fashion; people would not be wearing paisley for a few more years.  It was empire style with a slit from just under the bust all the way to the ground. 

I was now running late, so I went to the hi-fi and grabbed the first 45-rpm record I could find.  Off I went.  I figured once the music was playing I would wing it.  Just dance on stage.

There was only a smattering of kids in the audience.  Other lonely, lost children with nothing to do.  The tall, popular handsome blonde boy, my age, Erik Gibson sat front row and center.  It was my turn.  I ran upstage. This is the music that I accidently-on-purpose brought.      

me-maybe-4th-gradeIt started.  I was eleven.  No budding breasts.  Just a flat-chested, extra-small, underweight child.  At best, I looked eight years old.  I stared down at Erik and started to move around the stage. I had that fuck-me-in-the-future-when-my-boobs-grow look in my eyes.   Then I was lost in the music, basically, bumping & grinding my way through it.  I would kick my naked leg out that long slit to the beat in an enticing Tiaras & Toddlers-sans-makeup way.

When I stepped offstage, Erik walked up to me and said, “Fredde, I did not know you had THAT in you!!!!”  And, he would never look at me the same way again.  Incidentally, I deserved higher than the crappy third place they gave me.  I’m thinking of asking for a recount.

Let’s talk about tuna sandwiches, which I ate pretty much every day of my childhood.  My mother would drench the sandwich in mayonnaise.  Literally the bowl would be one part tuna to three parts mayo.  Probably just grossed out a lot of you.  A staple in my diet my entire life, until mercury poisoning got in the way of that love affair.  I used to make it like my mom did and kept on eating them until my brain nearly exploded.  Now, I partake only once a month at the Beverly Hills Hotel coffee shop.  I turned my stepson onto the counter there, and my friend and waitress Denise calls him “tuna-man”.   Being tuna-man’s stepmom — I kind of like it.


Fredrica Duke shares how she discovered her love of food while growing up in Los Angeles on her blog Channeling the Food Critic in Me.


0 #10 Alan 2013-07-08 20:57
So sad that the teen center where you did your famous Edie Adams impression is being torn down.
0 #9 JHR 2013-07-08 17:49
OMG, I love your writing...
0 #8 Marika 2013-07-08 17:44
We must have crossed paths at Roxbury Park! I lived across the alley from the picnic benches from 1968 to 1978. I spent every summer there! Were you there the summer when Mr. Fisher was the director along with the football player from UCLA who taught us to play blackjack? Do you remember the director that came every summer for years and had us all doing calisthenics and running around the park? Summer softball? The rocket ship? So many memories...
0 #7 Augie Duke 2012-07-19 23:04
Fredde Duke , My lovely eccentric mother, oh how i love you so. No one can beat your stories.. Sorry guys but they truly are one of a kind, at the same time everyone can relate, it's perfection... This story is another great one to top off all the other great ones and more to comeeeeee
0 #6 Mumy 2012-07-19 12:07
Ms. Duke,

Oh how I dig you so.

thank you again.

your mumy
0 #5 debi fries 2012-07-17 22:35
Not sure about the BHH tuna sandwich but this story is pure gold. I love and remember so many of these moments and actually think I may have been there at that talent show tryout or at least wishing I was!
0 #4 Hoov 2012-07-17 21:50
A pushy so now we have too redo over and over because you are what?? Oh how could I forget ; PUSHY!!! Way cool fredde and just giving Mrs. Pushy her heart felt warm Koodoo Aloha pushy Hoov out
0 #3 Kimberly Clark 2012-07-17 21:27
Love this one Fredde. Sweet, sweet memories that resonate with me. I still long for an endless summer day with no plans, just the moment to moment wonders of childhood.
+1 #2 jonah Wilson 2012-07-17 13:01
Another great story by my old friend Fredde Duke! The best tuna sandwich in town is definitely at the Beverly Hills Hotel coffee shop served by Denise or Ruth :-)
0 #1 Jennifer Dudley Arbs 2012-07-16 15:39
Ithink this is close to my favorite. You HIT each note on tune. Subject of richy's on holiday... my kids were soloing it at home too. They, as you, are rockin as adults. As far as tuna, step mom and the BHILLS Counter. Mine was Ash, Chappaqua and Mario's greasy Pizza. xxxxx Jenn still in Charlevoix

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