I find this trip through my wild and often weird past strangely satisfying. In our daily lives, it is so easy to forget that we were once Hellions or rebels, and that we were anything but angels and a delight to our parents.
When a friend recently called, her concern took me back to my own questionable past. She was fraught with worry that her teenage son had taken up some undesirable practices like, LYING! What was she going to do? It sounded like the wolf was at the door, huffing and puffing, threatening to blow her life away. I’m sure she was already seeing her son’s picture gracing the walls of the local post office. “Go to Jail, directly to Jail. Do not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.” Oh my.
My response, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, was pretty ho-hum. “And? Of course he’s lying. He’s a teenager. That’s what they do! Some are just better at it than others.”
Keep in mind that his lie was pretty minor. He said he was studying with a friend when he really went to the movies. But this mom, like many other mom’s would, thought the world was ending—that she had failed.
Lying is a way of life for many teenagers. How else can they assert their independence and do what they want to do? I think it’s a rite of passage. If I hadn’t lied when I was a teenager, I would have missed out on the most incredibly wonderful adventures. I think I would have grown up to be a duller person, less interested in the world, and most assuredly, less confident in myself.
One standout incident happened when I was fourteen. In 1964, my best friend, Louise, and I latched onto the latest and greatest definition of cool. Only, I think we used the term “bitchin.” We had purchased eye-dazzling, bleached, synthetic white wigs. Wow. These were so amazing. Big, bouffant style, made of the same fiber that Smurfs now sport on their the jaunty tops. And, did I mention that they were white—really white?
We were two goddesses with “neato” wigs in search of an adventure. We couldn’t wear the wigs to school; in those days, there were strict dress codes. So, we decided to ditch classes one day and have an adventure. We dressed up in spike heels—mine were alligator with a bag to match, wool Jackie Kennedy-style suits —I wore one of olive-green and turquoise. To finish the illusion of sophisticated women-about-town, we applied lots and lots of makeup.
So, step one in our plan was escaping our educational institution. I called the school, pretending to be my mother, and said I was down with the flu. I don’t remember what excuse Louise gave though it was probably the same. Fortunately, our mothers worked during the day so the principle couldn’t check up on our absence. And, since we A plus normally took the city bus to school we had transportation to anywhere we wanted to go.
In those days it was easier to skip classes. Proof of my excuse wasn’t required. Plus, because I had a more mature voice than girls my age, no one at my school ever questioned the multitude of times I skipped out to play. Maybe they thought that girls my age weren’t that devious. I’m not sure. But I am sure that I got away with a boat-load that kids today could never pull off.
So, bewigged and dressed to the nines, we caught the bus to downtown Los Angeles, about 30 minutes away, then made our way on foot to the most sophisticated place we could think of—the Statler Hilton Hotel on 7th and Figueroa. At that time, it was the epitome of snootiness.
In we walked, brightening the day with our light-bulb heads, pretending to be French. I’m sure any real French people would have spotted our phoniness immediately, but that possibility didn’t enter our minds. We two fourteen-year-old teenagers having fun.
After walking the corridors and pretending to shop, we headed for the ladies’ lounge. It was large, elegant, and furnished with plush upholstered chairs. Gold-tipped and turquoise-papered Vogue cigarettes in hand, we sat. All day we sat in that room. Whenever anyone came in, we spoke as if we were millionaires, or French tourists, or hookers. We sat, talked, giggled, and smoked. Our lunch was from the candy vending machines. The odd stares we got were interpreted by us as “Aren’t we just the neatest, bitchinest gals around?”
We headed for home in time to arrive before our parents and changed into regular clothes, lightbulb Smurf hair lovingly placed on plastic heads ready for our next jaunt into the city.
Another story comes to mind of teenage ilk. I desperately wanted to take a trip to Big Bear Mountain with my friends. This was also early 1960s. When I asked my dad if I could go, he said absolutely not. It was too dangerous to drive up in “that heap.” By this, he meant the 1936 Plymouth Coupe that one of my friends owned.
Was I going to take “no” as a final answer? Of course not. So, I waited a few days and said I would be spending the night with my friend, Louise. She was going steady with my friend, Gary, who lived alone in the house behind us. His mother owned a gift shop in the mountain town of Running Springs. Everyone liked Gary. He had a 1957 cherry red Chevy and polished it every day. As I remember, he looked a bit like Nicholas Cage.
Anyway. On the day of the big trip, I took the bus to meet Louise. We were picked up by our friend (name is now forgotten) in his ’36 Plymouth Coupe. This car was meant to carry four people at best. I think we had six. Gary, Louise, Rick, me, the driver, and one other, who’s name I can’t remember. Off we went to Big Bear Mountain. In those days, it was about an hour and a half drive from the San Fernando Valley.
Things were going great for a while. We sped along the freeway happy as clams, probably stoned, I don’t remember. Then someone noticed that big, thick clouds of smoke were spewing from the tailpipe. Oh, well, so what? We continued on, laughing and joking as only a pack of teens can.
Off the freeway, we drove through the little town of Patton, then began our climb up the mountain. Life was good until—Sputter, spurt, cough. The car, it seemed was not happy. The little coupe chugged along for about three-quarters of the way to Running Springs then it let out a final shudder and a wheezing cough. We coasted to a stop. She was deader than a roadkill racoon.
This was before cell phones so we were pretty much stuck in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain road, alone. Okay, we thought, It’s late afternoon and getting cold. We can’t go back. We can’t go forward.
Gary’s mother lived about three miles up the hill. So he and Louise got out of the car and walked. We waited, broke out the cheap wine and cigarettes and had a keep warm party. Just at dusk, Gary and Louise returned. His mother said “tough cookies.” We could walk back home or hitchhike but we couldn’t stay there and she was not going to drive us back. We all thought this was unfair and hard-hearted, but in hindsight. Gary was a difficult boy and she was probably practicing tough love.
So, we all piled out of the car and walked, not home, but up the hill to his mother’s storage shed, behind her house. There was a queen-sized mattress and some blankets, some stored bottles of Coca Cola, and bushes outside where we could pee. We were so cold and exhausted by the time we snuck into the shed that everyone piled onto the bed and spooned to keep warm.
The next morning, after Gary’s mother went to work. We went into the house, had breakfast, and I called my dad. Needless to say, he was furious. I don’t remember what my mother did or said. Dad called the other parents and had them wait at my house. Then he drove up and got all of us in his gigantic Cadillac.
I was grounded for a thousand years, but my sentence turned out to be only three days because I was driving him nuts. I remember his words: “Don’t you have friends to call or something so I can have some peace and quiet?”
I was sprung.
In retrospect, I’m sure that belief in my invincibility, natural intuition, some above-average smarts, and dumb luck were what allowed me to have a helluva great time as a teenager without getting into real trouble.
“Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.” Mark Twain
I’d love to hear about your adventures. Leave a comment, good, bad, or beautiful.