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Archive for the ‘Made-for-TV-Movies’ Category

Just this morning, as I was getting dressed, a large group of people walked past me, pointing and giggling. Generally speaking, this is something that you never ever want to happen to you while you’re naked. But I was in the locker room at the Y and other women, in various states of undress, were pointed at and giggled at, too. The eight-year-old girls who were responsible were there for their first day of YMCA Day Camp, and they seemed to be mildly scandalized by the sight of us.

I’m a veteran of YMCA Day Camp, and though I didn’t get a chance to test out this theory this morning, I’ve often thought that it should be called Children of Divorce Camp. I logged a couple of summers with my brother in the early-80s in Fontana, California, where the morning ritual usually involved single moms dropping off their kids before heading off to their pink collar jobs. While they were working, we drank a lot of McDonald’s orange drink, took orders from the counselors via bullhorn, and had important discussions in which we debated things like whether Michael Jackson was old enough to date our mothers. Every day there was at least one kid sporting a t-shirt that said “My grandparents visited Hawaii and all I got was this lousy t-shirt,” which provoked intense jealousy in me. My grandparents frequently visited Hawaii and they never got me a lousy t-shirt.

Though there were a lot of counselors, to us girls there was only one who mattered. Eddie was a dreamboat. He was sixteen, which we knew from watching teen movies was the perfect age for a boy to be, and he had black wavy hair. A lot of hearts were broken when we were divided into groups and Eddie was tapped to lead the younger boys, the Ewoks. My brother, an Ewok himself, had to explain to me that that was a Star Wars thing.

I was too young to realize that asking Eddie about that might be the perfect way for me to talk to him. Choosing the subtle approach instead, a friend of mine hatched a plan in which we would get his attention by pretending to be the Supremes. Pretending to be in a girl group was nothing new at the day camp. There already was a group of older girls who would impersonate the Go-Gos, staging choreographed, wardrobe-coordinated, lip-synched performances. As the Supremes, my friend and I planned to jump out in front of Eddie, palms out, singing, Stop in the Name of Love, but I chickened out at the last minute. It just seemed too forward to me. Besides, I was a little confused by the lyrics. I thought it must have been “stop in the name of the law,” because stopping in the name of love just made no sense to me.

During the school year, my brother and I made the exciting discovery that our babysitter, Cindy, knew Eddie from school. I was too shy to ask her anything about him, but my brother had no reservations. “Did you hump him?” He had just learned about the birds and the bees and “hump” was his favorite new word. I don’t know where he picked that up, because I was still using the phrase “making love,” usually in a whispered voice. Once, when I overheard one relative confiding to my mom that she and her husband were having trouble conceiving, I pulled her aside and whispered in her ear, “Have you tried… making love?”

I had one cousin, a few years older than me, who was partial to the word mating. One summer, while my brother and I were visiting him and his brother at their house in Pasadena, we watched an Afterschool Special while my aunt was out running errands. The female lead kept throwing the initials STD around, which everyone seemed to understand but me. “I have an STD.” “My boyfriend gave me an STD!” “STD! STD! STD!” At the end of the movie I turned to the babysitter and asked, “What’s an STD?” She was dumbfounded by my question, staring at me for a few seconds before my cousin finally spoke up, “It’s a disease you get from mating.”

His brother, my other cousin, was obsessed with his own phrase, nuclear winter, probably the result of watching the made-for-tv movie The Day After. His favorite question was, “Is it worse than nuclear winter?” I didn’t really understand what that was, but I knew it was bad. He once asked me if I was tough enough to survive nuclear winter, and not wanting to appear weak I told him yes. He replied, “That was a trick question. Nothing could survive nuclear winter.”

Even though I didn’t get to see The Day After until years later, I am a big fan of made for television movies and their ilk. Thanks to Malcolm-Jamal Warner and another Afterschool Special, it’s been impressed on me that people give away their prized possessions when they’re planning to commit suicide; The Starter Wife has taught me that I can be forty and fabulous; and Queenie, about a woman who is a quarter Indian, but mostly English, gave me a phrase with which I could annoy my ex-boyfriend, who is also a quarter Indian and mostly English, “I can’t help myself, it’s your black blood!” For the most part, the films have dark themes, but end in some sort of triumph for the main character. In Shattered Vows, Valerie Bertinelli plays a nun who, after a torrid crush on a priest, breaks free from the Catholic church. It’s a darker version of Change of Habit, in which Mary Tyler Moore must choose between the nunnery and Elvis Presley. While that seems like a completely unbelievable scenario, it did happen in real life; Dolores Hart, whose first ever kiss was with Elvis in Loving You, gave up her acting career to become a nun.

When I was seven my mom told me that my uncle’s wife and her identical twin had been in an Elvis film, Double Trouble. They played nightclub deejays in swinging London, and they spoke to Elvis in unison. Even more exciting, I was told that my aunt had dated Elvis. I couldn’t wait to confer with her daughters. “Do you think they ever… kissed?” Even though I was already familiar with the concept of “making love,” kissing was still pretty scandalous to me. Years later, I saw Cybill Shepherd on Oprah talking about her ex-boyfriend, Elvis Presley. She said, “He liked to get me up on the kitchen counter and…” I have no idea what she said after that because her words were blocked out by a very long series of beeps. Whatever it was, the audience seemed to be scandalized by it. In a good way.

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