Thank God It’s Friday

culottesIn the chill air at 7:30 in the morning, I would head out. Heavy books that I never opened were piled high in my arms. They weighed me down, but I was used to it. These were pre-backpack years. Teachers required you to cover books then, and mine wore clumsy jackets of recycled brown Safeway grocery store bags. The covers barely hung on, despite the many pieces of Scotch tape randomly applied in all directions.

I was twelve. My bare, skinny legs descended from short, orange and yellow culottes as I crisscrossed the sidewalk, crunching hard on those fall leaves. Never stepping on cracks for two blocks -- from Roxbury to pick up my best friend Susie on Peck Drive. She was freckled like me, but taller and more mature. Now I could be distracted, not having to concentrate on my steps. Instead, we’d talk about our plan for the weekend. Compromising and strategizing. Your best friend in school is really your first important relationship, almost a rehearsal for a someday marriage.

The weekend plan was to sleep at Susie’s. To wake up at five in the morning, walk in the dark to meet Mr. Shaver by six, and go to the stables for horseback riding. Which, to be frank, wasn’t even a passion of mine. But horses were Susie and Bettsie’s hobby and they were my friends. Happily, I went along. Ben Shaver, the 8th grade history teacher, offered this weekend field trip, opened to all grades. This was before everyone was so litigious. With no thought of legal or insurance problems, he piled a bunch of us in his van, no one wearing seat belts and drove to Newhall for a long morning horseback ride.

slice-choc-layer-cakeLong before molestation accusations were ubiquitous, he would grab me right between the legs, his hand under my crotch, and in a quick, swift motion, toss me high up on that horse. No one thought anything of it. Scott Copeland got special treatment because he was such an expert rider and he alone got the pony. Scott would show off his skills, galloping back and forth, riding bareback, as we all got situated in our saddles. I had jealous thoughts about him riding the pony. Why wasn’t it me? That pony was so much more my size, surely I could handle it.

At school, I counted down until lunch. The bell would ring and off we’d head to the cafeteria. I was a lunch purchaser, not the homemade lunch bringer. On Fridays, they served chocolate cake, which was my favorite thing. Sometimes I would trade and trade until all I had on my tray were several pieces of chocolate cake and dinner rolls. Nothing substantial. I never ate the food anyway, I just picked. Then, the countdown till school let out. As if this wasn’t enough sugar for one day...

candy-necklaceThe walk to school was on Gregory and the walk home was always Charleville. Fridays were special. Straight to Wil Wrights, the magical ice cream store, decorated in red, white and pink, with small marble tables and wrought-iron heart shaped chairs. We weren’t here for the extra-rich ice cream accompanied by a free macaroon cookie.

On Fridays, we went to stock up on candy. Not just any candy. The candy necklace we would not touch until Monday morning. We would sport that jewelry to school, making sure others in class were looking as we pulled the first sweet, colorful, donut-shaped candy bead from the stretchy elastic and took a bite. The other half would break off so you had to eat it quickly. Candy wasn’t my thing, but being cool by wearing the necklace was.

wilwrightsSome kids were at Wil Wright’s to buy red or black licorice, but not me. However, rock candy was a must. So were pastel candy buttons on a long paper strip. Susie would buy white chocolate (a novelty at the time) almond bark for her father. And I had to have the tiny six-pack of wax bottles in rainbow colors called NikLNip. Not that I liked the nauseatingly sweet liquid inside, but I knew my brother did. You would tear off the top of the blue one with your teeth and taste wax and grape in the one gulp it took to polish it off.

Then it was off to our next Friday afternoon ritual. A strange one. Directly across from Wil Wright’s, in a two-story brick building on the corner of Charleville and Beverly Drive, was a furrier. Long before PETA arrived on the scene, we stopped to visit Art, sitting at an open window, working hard on a sewing machine. Art would hand us little scraps of fur. One week might be white rabbit fur, the next, dark brown mink. Some weeks, we would beg Art for the scraps, but there were none to be had. I amassed quite an impressive collection – keeping fur scraps on one side, suede on the other, for years. Later, when I moved out on my own, I gave the fur scraps to my cat, Cosmo, as toys to fetch and bat around.

The Friday afternoon adventures weren’t complete without a quick detour into the William Morris Agency building. We rode up and down the elevator, pretending to be somebody, or dreaming that one day we would become somebody. It was a simpler time. When a ride in an elevator and a handful of candy provided cheap thrills.

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.