Swing low

April 12, 2012

Grandma Beanie had just one rule about motorcycles: don’t. Ever. I knew that, but somehow forgot to heed it one bright September day in 1976.

I was 16 years old and recently returned from an exchange student program to Japan, I was far too full of myself. Life was good. I had a wonderful boyfriend, had made the cheerleading squad and was due to audition for the swing choir. Things were nearly perfect. So of course, I did something monumentally stupid to screw it all up.

A friend had come to visit and to show me his new motorcycle. Grandma Beanie and Grandpa John were out with friends that afternoon so I agreed to take a quick spin with my friend. I didn’t forget the rule; I ignored it. But I was not going to get away with that bit of defiance, oh no. I climbed on to the back of the bike and like a true full-of-herself novice clad in shorts and sandals, I placed the inside of my right calf firmly on the tail pipe. It took me a few seconds to get off of the bike while the tail pipe sizzled and spit, roasting my leg. I didn’t feel it, much, not for a couple of minutes. I felt it then. I felt it clear through to my adenoids.

The burn was big and deep. It was ugly and hurt like crazy, but all of that was just the beginning. I was likely to hurt a whole lot more in a very short period of time.

The first thing to do when you have done something really stupid is to try to remain calm. Calm is not my strong suit. The next thing was to try to avoid Beanie. Impossible. Worse, Beanie has powers of observation that rival the eyes in the back of her head. It’s kind of like “limp radar”, she never misses a limp. Wearing jeans was not going to keep me from having to face Beanie with this one. The next thing to try was to tell the truth and hope Beanie would understand my pain. It also seemed a good idea to try to face the truth with Beanie when she was busy, such as doing laundry in the basement. Maybe that way I could slide by without too much trouble. Yeah.

I told Beanie what I had done as I was casually helping with the laundry. She looked at me as if I had just turned green and completely lost my mind. The laundry was forgotten. The basement was forgotten. The entire world was forgotten. There was just me and Beanie’s face. Doomed, I was.

I started backing up, retreating to anywhere but the laundry room. Beanie followed, beginning her tirade. She was quiet at first but the volume was quickly rising. I backed up the stairs into the kitchen and sat clutching the table. I figured I should hang on and try to ride it out. Beanie chided me in a very low, scary tone. Gaining volume again, she paced into the family room and back and then paused, looked at me, hollered some more, looked at me again, grounded me forever, sat at the table, grumbled about other things any and all of us had ever done, looked at me again, then gruffly said, “Let me see it.”

Whew! That went well! Beanie understood my pain. She showed me how to care for the burn; we applied ointment and wrapped it up. Later in my room, I tried to dance. Devastated, I sat down on my bed. I had blown the swing choir audition.

Two days later I pulled up my bootstraps and dressed for the audition. I placed a dirty, extra bandage over my burn dressing. I let it hang. I wore a too big, torn and tattered dress, no pantyhose, and worn tennis shoes. I was ready. Any dance missteps could be attributed to comic presentation. I went into the audition room and let fly from my very core the song “Hey, Look Me Over” by Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman, from the Broadway musical “Wildcat:”

Hey, look me over, lend me an ear,
Fresh out of clover, mortgaged up to here.
But don’t pass the plate, folks, don’t pass the cup.
I figure whenever you’re down and out, the only way is up.

And I’ll be up like a rosebud, high on the vine.
Don’t thumb your nose, bud, take a tip from mine.
I’m a little bit short of the elbow room, but let me get me some,
And look out world, Here I come!

I was still far too full of myself but I was a new member of the swing choir, and finished with motorcycles for a long, long time.

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