I 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?
One 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.
It 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.