As I’m writing these stories, I’m finding (to my chagrin) that there are only certain parts of my life that I remember clearly. Most of these parts occurred in college and New York. I barely remember anything before college. I barely remember anything in the last five years. And the events that I do remember from college and New York are the events that I’ve honed through retelling.
Am I abnormal? Or do most people have a hard time recalling events from their lives? As a writer, I feel a little embarrassed by my inability to remember things. I’ve always assumed that one of the things that makes a writer a writer is his observational abilities. But like, I can meet a person at a party and forget her name the minute she tells it to me. I can say, “Hey, I’m Jeffrey, what’s your name?” and not pay the slightest bit of attention to her answer. Because I’m more interested in appearing interested than I am in actually being interested. It’s douchey! I know it’s douchey. But it’s me.
I would like to believe that everyone’s mind works the same way as mine. And this makes me very suspicious of people who make a living telling stories of their childhood. Like David Sedaris. I bet David Sedaris takes a thing he kind of remembers from his childhood and spins it into a story that does not remotely resemble the truth. This is the kind of story I’d like to tell you today: a story that is probably not anything close to true, based on a grain of a memory from when I was a child.
And we begin.
My sister and I had plenty of differences when we were children. I did not like playing Barbies; she did not like playing He-Man. I owned a detective agency, she owned a dance studio. I liked to wrestle and do kung fu, she liked to try on pretty dresses and max out her Visa card.
One thing we agreed on was the soap opera Santa Barbara. The summer after second grade, our mom went back to work. She was a teacher, but she couldn’t get a teaching job, on account of how there were no teaching jobs to be had. So she took a job at a place called GCARC, which stands for the Genesee County Association for Retarded Citizens. It was a school for retarded adults, basically. And before you get on my case about how they should actually be called “mentally impaired adults” or whatever, please take it up with Genesee County and with the United States government, for whom “retarded” is a legal status. At any rate, “retarded” seems like a nicer phrase than “nature’s jesters.”
When my mom was at work and we were at home, we needed a babysitter to take care of us. Whatever, I’m not proud. I know most kids can take care of themselves by the age of 9, but I was not one of those kids. I didn’t even have a driver’s license. So that summer, Kris Manzer, age 15, became our de facto mother.
Kris Manzer was sort of beefy and sort of hot and loved to hunt and helped us choreograph all sorts of elaborate dance routines that she made us perform with the other neighborhood children. Years later, her picture was featured in the Clio Journal because she was one of the first “wrestling cheerleaders.” What that meant was that she was a cheerleader who cheered at wrestling matches. I thought it meant something entirely different.
The biggest event of our summer was the debut of NBC’s brand new soap opera, Santa Barbara. Kris Manzer had already turned us on to Days of Our Lives, but the thought of watching a brand new soap opera from the very beginning made us spasmodic.
The day the show debuted, my sister, Kris, and I sat in front of the television in rapt attention. This was our Super Bowl. This was our Oscars. Actually, the Oscars were our Oscars. And our Super Bowl. I was a little gay at age nine.
But I was all man during the debut of Santa Barbara, which soon went on to eclipseDays of Our Lives as our favorite soap. Just as Sally Jesse Raphael went on to unseat Phil Donahue as our favorite talk show host. (Most of our time with Kris Manzer was spent watching TV.)
Even at the age of 9, I knew that Santa Barbara was pretty strange TV. It was Twin Peaks way before Twin Peaks. We became obsessed. This was long before the current cable era, in which cartoons are available 24 hours a day. We had to grow up quick in the 80s, relying on our 15 year-old babysitter to help us comprehend the sex and the murder that permeated every moment of the show.
The summer soon ended, as did our obsession with Santa Barbara. We weren’t rich enough to afford a VCR, so we had to bid adieu to the Capwell family and their fascinating adventures. The only time I’d get to watch my old friends was when I stayed home sick from school. Oddly, even though months would go by between viewings, it always seemed like the show was still right where I left it. The moral of the story: nothing moves very quickly in soap opera world.