Cape Cod Chronicles- The Lost Summer of 89

If a summers success is measured by the deep warm glow of bronzed skin and a well-rounded belly filled with freshly caught seafood served at a kitschy clambake, then the stretch of time between early May and September of 1989 was my greatest warm weather achievement to date.

I can’t remember exactly whose idea it was to rent the tiny clapboard beach house in Dennisport MA, but it was a decision that would change the course of a few stupid privileged kid’s meaningless lives.
The four of us, with the wisdom exclusive to college sophomores, had been careening wildly from one bad summer financial decision to another. I’d had a worrisome trail of lost and discarded shit jobs that were beginning to look like a work ethic void, and everyone else wasn’t faring much better. The decision was made, deposits were sent and the experiment began.

The first two weeks were bliss, all of us in our relentless prime toasting ourselves on windswept dune-lined beaches, the kind Jaws might like to swim past looking for a snack, and then the Acme anvil of reality fell on my fantasy, destroying it with the swiftness of Roadrunner flattening Wile E Coyote.
Suddenly people were waking up at six a.m. and heading out to earn money, audibly sighing at the sight of my gently snoring form, and determined to motivate me to do something besides roll gently down the hill to the warm sand of the beach. After two weeks, my vague suspicions that my roommates thought of me as lazy were confirmed when they began hissing at me to “get a job” as they left the house at seven a.m. under a cloud of vicious contempt.

I still didn’t feel compelled to act, but a bad situation involving a tuna melt at the corner deli and a lack of funds forced my hand. If I wanted to eat, I had to work.

My job experience in Cape Cod up to that point had been limited to endless hours of hard basking in the blazing sun, but my efforts had gotten me the kind of deep rich tan that is usually only achieved after a long summer endurance event consisting of foil, baby oil, sheer force of will and the hands of time.

In the past, I had relied on shameless nepotism to land cushy office jobs at my fathers and mothers offices in New York. Spending summers doing crossword puzzles and reading gossip magazines in the comfortable air-conditioned confines of concrete safety. Now I had to come to terms with the local beach economy offerings, which consisted mostly of positions requiring hard labor and long hours. They needed a workforce with grit and consistency. Both areas where I was painfully lacking. My diaper wearing crybaby act was wearing very thin and my roommates perfected their disgusted glare technique as I struck out night after night.

Finally, someone quit the front desk job at the seedy, by the hour, Lamplighter Motel and I was employed.
My first week was both terrifying and fascinating in equal measure. I would check outrageously drunken couples into rooms for quick and unsatisfying sex, and provide what looked like long-term lodging for extended families that were clearly staying for an unspoken duration. Then there were the parties. Large blocks of teenaged kids and their kegs went clanking up two flights of outdoor metal stairs and into the rooms. People jumping off the roof into the pool of questionable cleanliness, ( the ph was NEVER right). Streaking, screaming, probably a few murders. The cleaning staff would come and get me to check rooms that had been annihilated during the late-night debauchery – used condoms stuck to the walls, blood all over the television, a guy we thought was dead, but turned out to be a severely hung over shallow breather.. it never ended.

The crazy thing about the Lamplighter was that you couldn’t slam your fist down in anger that you’d been hoodwinked. It was exactly what it had promised to be, a vile semen stained den of sadness fueled by alcohol and no oversight. I knew I hadn’t been hired by the Ritz-Carlton but standing there looking at another vomit filled bathtub as an immature nineteen-year-old I was fluctuating wildly between self-loathing and wild aggrandizement. I’m worthless with no skills/ I can do better than this.

I spent the better part of three months walking the dusty road back and forth to my No Tell Motel, and then just like that, with no warning to anyone I up and quit. Immaturity, relentless optimism that I’d snag another job in a beach community with limited seasonal offerings, and the oppositional defiance disorder that whispered in my ear “no one can tell YOU how to spend your summer!” all converged in a perfect storm consisting of lack of impulse control and poor decision making. I was unemployed for the final four weeks of our adventure.

There was some roommate pushback initially, but the cottage’s sunbaked delightfulness, the relentless inside sunlight made possible because it was completely devoid of window hangings, the smell of coconut tanning oil and the pervasive feeling that we’d gotten a glimpse into a slightly askew version of adulthood helped give my ‘take this job and shove it’ antics a rosy glow. All the ineptitude and laziness I’d kept under wraps was out there on display. No job, no prospects, hours lying on the warm sand with a mind so free and blank that the nation’s teachers would recoil in horror. I ate only leftovers and the occasional free meal provided by my hardworking boyfriend at the time. Once I caught him looking at me, as I wiped Ritz Cracker crumbs from my mouth, and his face contorted into a mask of realization as he had what I can only imagine was a terrifying flash forward into his possible future with someone who was as unambitious and incapable as a slow loris without a grape.

Eventually, I straightened up and flew right, but not before we ran down the clock on what would be the last hurrah in Hyannis Port. It was the final summer where I had no clarity, zero understanding of the stakes in life, not really knowing what was real or what you could lose if you were careless. The endless myopic selfish weirdness of that summer fit like a badly cut suit the following fall. It had been steered entirely by destructive drives and too much sun and there had been no one to answer to every morning except the ocean. Now I only go South for my vacations.



Filed under cape cod, hyannis port, beach vacations for unsupervised teens, bad jobs, when your roomates want to kill you, there was NO TV

The Lodestar

I miss 1970s  Kelly.


Back then everyone called her Kelly Ann and she spent most of her time doing incredible things like designing obstacle courses with two-story drops onto mattresses of questionable durability and thickness as well as attempting to use various forms of inadequate tripping and rock throwing to achieve unconsciousness with blunt force trauma just to brag that she’d been knocked out.

She once saw a guy on a motorcycle get hit head-on by a car and she ran full speed with her friends toward the scene of the accident while her dad sprinted to the nearest house to call the police. She tried to use her junior brownie survival training smarts about head injuries to tell him he should NOT get up. When she went to the giant lake in upstate New York with her best friend you couldn’t tell her not to make the swim from shore to the distant island with the big kids because she was too small, as she would sooner drown trying to doggie paddle out there than die from the shame of being left behind on the craggy rocks. She knew how to split wood with an adult-sized axe and work the flues on both the wood stoves to create a slow steady burn for heat maximization. One horrible day someone called a sad friendless boy named Chris a “stupid fatso” and she found herself with her fists up surrounded by chanting classmates while she bobbed and weaved, prepared to punch the cruelty culprit like some sort of miniature, pugilistic, retaliatory Jesus karma smote machine. Well, that is if Christ had ever embraced the solve it with your fists method of conflict resolution, which he very well might have considered in this situation. She got in trouble, and the sad friendless boy never thanked her, but she didn’t care. Jesus probably totally disapproved.

Things were so clear to her. You were good or you were bad. You didn’t get to be a flawed human being making a poor choice inflicting your murky grey area deeds and actions on the unsuspecting innocent populace. You paid for being an asshole.

Nature makes sure things that clear cut and untainted don’t last.

I often sit and wonder exactly what it was that broke 70s Kelly Ann of her righteous streak of certainty, bravery and follow through. Most of it was probably the realization that I was wrong approximately 99%  of the time in my fierce fight to promote my virtuous vision and further the causes of the downtrodden.  One incident in particular, however, does stand out in my mind.


This is where we delve into the grammar school controversy of the century. Prior to it, everything was in absolutes. Afterward, I wasn’t so sure… but …I know the fulcrum, the pivot point where everything changed. My crystal clear vision of right = might met the devious and Machiavellian masterwork of a skilled manipulator.


So let’s discuss the mysterious and never solved cold case of little Kenny and his near-fatal (might be an exaggeration)  encounter with the Jay Street Strangler.

When you’re nine you say what you mean, you shake to end a disagreement, everybody laughs at farts and the person who pedals fastest on their bike is the leader. But what happens when a new kid unleashes a never before seen set of superior skills on you and your friends?

The new girl had a half decent Dorothy Hamill haircut and thick reading glasses. She was taller and stronger than most of us sparking an onslaught of terrifying rumors- that she’d been left back (*gasp!*) or spent at least a year in juvie .(*terror!*) Her family had just moved into the house next door to my best friend Sharlyn, and unbeknownst to me, she wanted very much to step into my shoes.

She became increasingly frustrated after weeks of repeated attempts to lure my buddy away from me with promises of a Barbie camper and dream house (both of which I already owned, thank you very much) were met with a lukewarm reception.  That’s when everything came off the rails. A soulless reprobate with an ax to grind and a friend to steal is an unstoppable force that will not relent until it gets what it wants.

Our school playground had two good swings and eight shitty ones. The demarcation line was drawn by color. Grey ones *bad*. Red and brown ones *the best*. Sharlyn and I swung on those for the better part of an entire recess one day, unwilling to give them up after having fought so hard to beat everyone to them- when we were summoned to the edge of the thick woods that surrounded our school play area by two of our many dim-witted playground monitors. They instructed us to “LOOK AT HIS NECK!” Before it could really register, it became apparent we were gazing at the small, red, swollen neck of a long time classmate named Kenny. Kenny was about as diminutive and meek as they came.  He was also unfailingly sweet and even-tempered, we couldn’t imagine what had befallen him to give him this type of injury.  Suddenly, out of the darkened tree line stepped the single white female of my childhood. She (the new girl) pointed straight at me  and said with absolute certainty, “She did it.”

I was stunned. My friends protected me vigorously with facts, timelines and witness testimony, but what mattered was Kenny. And Kenny wouldn’t talk. At all.

When questioned about the incident he’d just burst into tears like a weeping Italian widow falling on the casket at an over the top funeral, claiming his assailant had grabbed his neck from behind and he was unable to see their face. I wanted very much for my name to be cleared, but every time I would march directly up to Kenny and point blank ask for the truth, he’d stammer and look at the person I was sure had been his attacker. The Life Coveter.

Years later, at a middle school event, I ran into poor skittish Kenny and he spilled. He gave me the entire gruesome blow by blow about his day of terror in the woods at the hands of a shitty,  lying, manipulative freak who wanted so badly to wipe me out that she almost killed a kid. Lured there with the false promise of “a surprise” and assured it would just be a great joke to play, he nearly met his maker in a lush forest death scene worthy of a Nancy Drew country mystery- minus all the kitschy clue finding and gee-whiz feel-good conclusion.

During the interim years, while the case remained unsolved and faded from our minds, the cluster B personality disordered maniac girl with the coke bottle glasses slid her way into our social circle and proceeded to shred whatever good was left between us and our interpersonal dynamics.  Her insidious  infiltration was like a long-festering toxic pustule that eventually ruptured and blew us apart from the inside causing us to splinter and fall  in with new social groups, but not before she’d demonstrated that fear, ridicule, lying and playing honest people off of one another to gain a power position almost always works if they aren’t hip to the long con.  Further proof that someone’s territorial pissings in all the corners of your life eventually make you burn it down to destroy the smell.

Not too long after that, I moved on to a small private school, Kenny stayed put, Sharlyn disappeared like so many people do, and the girl who was voted most likely to wear a coat made of my skin eventually ran afoul of the law and was never heard from again. Ok, that last part isn’t true.  Apparently, she became a normal citizen….with a SECRET.

As an adult I mourn the loss of 70s Kelly but I also think about poor Kenny, who probably came dangerously close to getting murdered in a creepy forest clearing due to the frighteningly desirous nature of an unstable girl twice his size who was hell bent  on stealing my best friend, inheriting my astounding collection of Barbie paraphernalia and making sure I took the rap for a bold unrepentant assault.

Occasionally 70s Kelly pops up and thinks about how much fun it would be to use the sleuthing skill set attained from a lifetime of watching Kojak, The Rockford Files and Law & Order to reopen the case and bust this thing wide open. But then modern day milquetoast conflict avoidant Kelly gives her a speech about letting go of the past and throws up a reminder about those queued up episodes of Black Mirror that aren’t going to watch themselves.


I animatedly told my husband this story,  absolutely sure he’d fix me a glass of therapeutic tea and be aghast at the devilish covetousness of this outrageous child from my past, but he just shrugged and said it sounded like run of the mill kid bullshit. Then by way of example, he countered with a horrifying story about a kid who smashed the spokes on his new bike with a hammer and denied it to the adults in charge. I felt sad for the tiny broken past version of my husband with his demolished superbike and the shit sandwich he was forced to choke down after his grownups didn’t punish the culprit. I guess the moral of this long endless story is that most people are envious shit monsters who will drive a Mack truck straight into and over you to get the things they want and that if they don’t have it, you can’t enjoy it either.


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Filed under 1970s, childhood memories, people that get away with bad deeds, reasons not to turn your back in the woods

Goodbye To All That ( Yes, I stole that from Joan Didion)

Hi! I’m Kelly and I’m so fucking lonely! (grabs ahold of your hand tightly) But don’t tell my husband! I picked this house out in the middle of nowhere and dragged my family to a faux brick colonial with 4 acres and Walden level tree coverage. It’s half a mile to my mailbox, where I get my contact with the outside world through Amazon. Yesterday my only social activity was yelling at dogs to stop barking at squirrels.
It wasn’t always like this. We lived in the city for twenty years! Raised three kids in a neighborhood where guys punched the air and screamed all night about those “sons of bitches!” There were robberies and assaults, terrible traffic, no parking and in the summer everything smelled like hot baked urine. I remember seething while suffering through one of the many daily endurance level gridlock moments, moving half an inch in an hour on 16th street, trying to squeak past triple parked bozos who loitered outside their vehicles to chat. Slapping my steering wheel, I vowed to never miss this slow, soul-sucking agony. Waving farewell to the parking tickets, the crime, the crowding, my leaky old federal row house, I was going to savor seeing this shit in my rearview mirror.

The first week in the woods was paradise. Crickets and frogs replaced roaring sirens. There was ample parking, a two car garage, we were spoiled for choice with multiple high-end grocery stores, and a fire pit where I could set everything I didn’t like ablaze. We bought hatchets, a leaf blower and several more weapon type outdoorsy things that made the Home Depot cashier play a round of ‘Outdoorsman or Serial Killer?’ in their head while they checked us out.

I don’t know if I can point to the exact moment things started to turn sour. Perhaps it was shortly after we started to get wildly thrilling jolts of middle-aged pleasure from scoring sick deals at the big box stores or when we began flagging down distant neighbors walking the lonely stretch of country road we live on to wave manically hoping for a return nod to quench our thirst for a dose of non-familial human contact.

Whenever it happened, it was a swift and powerful Kurtz, Heart of Darkness level descent into isolation and madness. Suddenly there were a thousand biblical level frogs on the driveway. Large angry spiders with mean faces and threatening looking stripes descended from the ceiling and spun six-foot webs in minutes. Deer ate everything and surrounded us on all sides. Foxes had awful sex parties all night in our back woods and screamed like porn stars on helium. The fresh hell of our tree-lined utopia was now clear. We were out of our element.

So, I’m sorry I’m holding your hand so firmly, with it clasped lovingly against my cheek, pouring out my heart, but I need this. I noticed you were wearing a smart Jil Sander smocklike garment with good shoes and I remembered this was the uniform of my people from long ago when I spent my days on concrete streets and my third child was afraid of grass on his bare feet because he had no idea what it was until he visited his aunt in upstate NY.

Now, when a flannel wearing local cocks his shotgun and fires at a row of beer cans, I become instantly nostalgic for getting a gunshot wound the proper way, from being in the wrong place at the wrong time on a city street, minding your own business while eating ice cream.


Filed under city mouse becomes country mouse, DC to PG, i miss the smells, moving to the country from the city, why are there so many angry animals that bite and have stingers

One Week, Three Kids, Two Dogs and a Squirrel That is Clearly Mocking us


To be perfectly frank, I have nothing to say to you.

I have one singular purpose now; seizing any opportunity that might come along that would propel me out of this snowbound wasteland and into the civilized world- or Florida. I’m not picky anymore.

In the wake of a Washington DC blizzard that crippled our transportation, closed our schools and kept us housebound for the better part of a week, I have come to realize that no amount of stockpiled bread, eggs, milk and toilet paper can combat the destitute singularity of a life lived without access to others.

Even my dogs, who at first basked in the undivided attention of a captive family, began slinking off to stare at Benny, the smarmy rodent, who sat in trees just out of harms way and snacked on forraged nuts while openly mocking them and letting his garbage roll carelessly onto the white carpet of snow below.

I took solace in thinking that the heads of the collective school systems would be in a hot radiator warmed basement somewhere yelling from behind some sort of scholarly pulpit that “TOMORROW SCHOOLS MUST OPEN!” and then slamming down a big gavel with finality and purpose….but no.

The emergency message red lettering that usually glows on my computer screen and results in an occasional gleeful day off a few times a year, kept informing me that we were never going back. Ever.

So here we sit, on day seven of our imposed exile. Surrounded by mountains of never-ending white, marinating in the filth of our uncollected garbage, wondering how it might look if we ever blew the power grid or faced some sort of epic planetary crisis without cable or wifi. My husband left our hive of toxic smells and bad karma two days ago to return to the relative sanity and cleanliness of his office, where he probably sits and waits and extra five hours to return home every evening. Can’t say I blame him, I found myself lingering a few minutes too long in front of the chatty saleswoman at the local craft store just to get some human interaction that didn’t involve the sound of clanking dishes or food requests screamed from the top of the stairs.

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Filed under adversity, snow emergencies

Get In The Van

I’m deep into the eighth hour of the marathon road trip that ends with palm trees and clear Gulf waters.

Shiva the destroyer has been my shrill but effective co-pilot on this  one, ensuring not only that I stay awake on the most treacherous  spans of highway but also that my body be made almost entirely of the stress hormone cortisol by days end.

In between bouts of proving that long term exposure to others in confined spaces breeds contempt, we managed to reminisce about a story I’d long forgotten. The tale of the van.


In my mid twenties I had yet to master the art of living well and understanding basic concepts like how to plan for unforeseen accidents and heeding expiration dates on lunch meat- so when a series of bad to worse fender benders that finally culminated in a car crash took away my ability to get from point A to point B, I waited around for a solution to fall out of the sky.

When this didn’t happen, I got a very generous offer from my uncle-the use of his early 80s Ford super van.  I had neither the balls nor the alternate plan required to turn down this mode of reliable and free transport- and so I became a van driver.

At first it felt like a marriage hastily arranged by old timey parents between you and a boy from their quaint European village of yesteryear. It was  as if I’d appeared out of a wrinkle in a future time line to clumsily wrestle with this dark paneled beast and its  purple velvet seating .  The vague superiority complex caused by years of only child syndrome and an inflated sense of self had me taking back roads and parking a mile away from civilization to avoid being found out by the Nancy Drew of automobile shaming.   But then something deep and resounding started happening inside of me every time I turned the key over and listened to the rev of its obnoxiously loud engine that rendered all occupants  unable to communicate with sound-  I began to fully appreciate its lumbering beauty.

What is not to love about rolling up to  the curb  in what effectively could be a fully functioning home?

It had bunks, a low swanky couch, a television, vcr and an eating area.

All you had to do was duck out for a bathroom break and a wash and all your worldly needs were met!


Soon though, like all things I embraced, I came to befoul and destroy them. The van became  sad, untidy, a receptacle of discarded food cartons and dirty clothes. Strange odors stole its charm and made me less inclined to stretch out in the back to watch full house episodes instead of working. Eventually, my car repairs were finished and per my mothers insistence I took my uncles vehicle to get detailed and buffed before handing her back.  Sad to see her go, but secure in the understanding that she would always be there if she was needed. Steadfast and true.

The simple beauty of the van was its unapologetic lack of cool . It served me well in my time of need and gave me something I sorely lack at this exact moment- as I write wedged between two Hardee’s fast food bags and my mothers gargantuan pocketbook- leg room and a crushed velvet body pillow to spoon.





Filed under Uncategorized

Bends Over Backwards So You Don’t Have To

Like most people, I prefer it when everything runs smoothly.


That is why, if we were  expressing this moment in interpretive dance, you’d see a small ineffective waif clinging to what remains of the status quo while angry imps, representing chaos and bad choices, hit her with mean words and dust mops embroidered with the word “WRONG”.


Those of us still plagued by old school ideas about raising and educating our kids consider them a set of guidelines that while sometimes suffocating are still better than any sort of idea we might come up with ourselves. They’re a necessary evil, and we tell our kids to buck up and get with the program so that the life machine can swallow them up a little easier when the school system spits them out the other side. And for a while, that worked here in our house as well.


Enter, the dragon. Or more specifically my third child. No core curriculum could interest him. No seat was big enough to contain his energy and more tragically no teacher could tame him enough to make him fit the confines of a classroom. At age four a preschool teacher deemed him “unteachable” and “a danger” and recommended an army of specialists with long lists of credentials. He confounded them all.  People who shouted loudly and forcefully to discipline him harder had no real understanding of what they were dealing with, and made an already strained situation worse with their frustration. In the middle of all this frenetic grasping at straws and last chances up in smoke stood the kid who was the reason for it all, looking at all of us as if we were already dead but just too stupid to fall over.

Cut to six years later, all the educational buffoons and braying donkeys were wrong. The small boy, about whom someone once remarked “he’ll either burn down the world or rule it with an iron fist” is a thriving, intelligent, kindhearted person with limitless possibilities. I used to struggle with the upsettingly tremendous sense of burden I carried with me when making decisions about how to proceed academically, personally and parentally (not a word? FU spellcheck) with my third kid, but now the sigh of relief you hear is deafening. The endless disciplinary hearings and terrifying diagnoses that made up so much of my nightmare fuel back then are distant memories. They’ve been replaced by the pounding elegance and delicate savagery of a boy who made his own way, despite every odd being stacked against him, with sharpened wits and a broad field of vision that enables him to see where he’s going and how he’s going to get there.

I dare say, he’s my boldest creation.

So if you find yourself mired in a pit of parental despair, surrounded by angry “specialists” that just charged you ten thousand dollars for the pleasure of sitting down and discussing the somewhat questionable neuro/psych/edu. test results they got, and what it all means for your poor kids future, remember that from the ashes of this complete and utter bullshit can sometimes rise a little phoenix – and keep ahold of that while you take a deep breath.


Filed under 2015 is the new 2013, am I doing anything right?, average is so much easier, back to regularly scheduled programming, I'm back bitches, kids with issues

1802 Domicile Redux


It’s a riveting concept.

The place where you keep all your things, feed your family and try to establish some sort of orderly routine lest you all fall into the lava pit of chaos where no one gets out alive.

It’s base, if you’re touching it, you’re safe.

Volcanic tantrums, meaningless fights, hilarity, love and hate all  took place  within the brick confines of its walls and you complained endlessly about its shortcomings- but it was where you lived.

So I suppose this is the half assed, semi enthusiastic long overdue love letter to the hundred year old city house with the shitty plumbing, scalding radiators and crumbling foundation.

Three weeks ago, when I walked out of you for the last time it hit me like a gut punch from Manny Pacquiao in his ferocious prime- the tiny people we raised there, the dogs that came and went, the absolute mischief and delight we caused and witnessed, the loud fights,the drunk guys on our porch catching a nap, the bold magnificently unrepentant rats, the hugs, the bedtimes, the recreation of a Santa Claus that came in the front door- because this is the CITY motherfucker. A guy could get SHOT just sliding down your chimney unannounced! These new owners wouldn’t be seeing this history and it needed to go somewhere…

Great things happened at 1802, an infinite variety  of gestures grand and small, growing pains and lots of juice stains on the carpet.  And there it is, the irony of all ironies- the woman who hated that house from day one gets the most crippling phantom pains once it’s gone.  The best surprises, of course, are the ones you don’t see coming- and that house managed to get a stranglehold on me while I was busy doing other things.  It started as a hazy idea, rough around the edges and out of focus, but then in sharpened, came together, righted itself and made it clear. You may like other houses, shit, you may love them and all their splendor, but you will never grow up, out and over a place like me with my uneven floors, my classic woodwork and bad overhead dim lighting.  So own it Duffy, you’ll always have a little love for 1802, no matter how hard you try to fight it.


Filed under 1802 strikes again, city people become country people, don't say I told you so, home, I don't miss the rats, moving