I was always the chick that got dirty, had skinned knees, and was one of the guys. It served me well in elementary school when all I ever did was roam the fields behind our home and play hide and seek, or cowboys and Indians, or kickball – to the dismay of our parents who could never keep us off the grass. As it happens, there was no loss there—that neighborhood has since been demolished and replaced with a strip mall that, ironically, houses a very fine Cuban restaurant. But I digress.
It wasn’t really until Mother Nature decided to endow me with the attributes of a full grown woman (at age 14) that the relationships started to shift a little. I was a Tomboy, no doubt about it. I played all the pick-up games with the guys. I could smoke the locals in a swim heat (the backstroke, and the important leg in the freestyle relay), smash them at ping-pong, and inflict some serious damage on the basketball court.
That’s when I realized that if I charged the key, the guys would move out of my way. They wouldn’t touch me. No one would touch me. Ha! I could do anything – and have a lovely little lay-up waiting for me. I was slow to realize that my now slight build, at barely 5’8”, was no match for the six-footers who were getting taller by the day. I was dangerous, not because of my height, but because I was a girl.
They stopped playing with me. Or I stopped playing with them. Does it matter? Eventually we all moved to a different playground, anyway.
When I was older I did the whole study abroad thing and even backpacked through Europe – an adventure I remember fondly. I will share one picture. One. Let’s just say that the past is comfortable just where it is.
Anyway, we were a motley crew and had a blast absorbing as much of everything as possible. A really grand adventure that among other things, revealed to me that I hadn’t changed very much from the sandlot days. Most of the girls spent their days complaining about not having showers, having to walk, eating on the run, and heaven forbid, sleeping in sketchy places. While I admit that I am too old now to want to sleep in sketchy places, I’m still ok with making do with whatever else roughing it entails.
It was their loss. I saw things and did things like accidentally stumbling into Cezanne’s workshop (closed to the public but we unintentionally entered through a back entrance) because a group of us decided to try a short cut while the girls were getting their hair done. (I put my hair up in a ponytail and opted for the adventure). I also trespassed on Picasso’s summer cottage (it was a villa, who am I kidding?) and picked wildflowers on his property.
Oh. And I slept in a house of ill-repute. But that’s for another blog.
That’s relevant because at the end of the summer, in the dog days of August when there was an oppressive heat wave in Italy, I found myself in Rome with this same motley crew. All the girls piled into one room, and all the guys ended up next door. In the late afternoon, we all went on the balcony to watch the sunset, sip on room temperature water, and make plans for the evening. We had a magnificent view of the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, and excellent location for partying that night. There was talk of going to a couple of discos, dinner in a piazza, the possibilities were endless.
And then my roommate piped up. She was the Ugly American, always poised to gripe about having to endure a hardship, and given to ordering ketchup on everything. She also thought she was Maggie McNamara, and was INSANELY insisting that I could be Dorothy Maguire and we should live out Three Coins in a Fountain. Her plans for the evening included seeking the Fountain of Trevi.
We vetoed that. Immediately.
But not before the boys in the group had to listen to the entire plot of the movie and her romantic notion of having us all go throw away our money. We were poor college students, remember? That’s about when a little animosity toward her started to arise, unbeknownst to the girls. You see, Maggie, put out by the heat and clearly losing her mind, decides to tell us all that it is too hot to sleep in pajamas and that it’s a good thing the balcony has some crazy spikey barrier to keep the boys away, because she intended to sleep au natural that evening.
What an idiot. She then proceeded to assign sleeping arrangements to all of us, because there were two double beds and a cot, and her delicate frame could not be subjected to the cot. In a hurry to end the conversation and get on with our evening, I said I would sleep on the cot, she could have the bed furthest from the balcony, and couldn’t we get dressed for dinner…all in the presence of the guys.
Later that night, back from a magnificent evening, ready to crash and prepare for a full on adventure in Rome, Maggie started sighing from her corner of the room. Although my cot was a little lumpy, there was a breeze that cropped up randomly. None of it was making it to Maggie. More sighs and lamentations of heat exhaustion. Fed up with not being able to sleep, I offered her my cot. Please don’t think I was being altruistic – I wanted her to shut the hell up.
That was an unfortunate switch for Maggie. You see, the guys were planning a little practical joke on me. They were going to cover me in shaving cream, having risked sure death by scaling the barrier on the balcony.
Only, it wasn’t me they covered. Instead, they found a very naked Maggie lying in the cot. It was too dark for them to see that it wasn’t me and they were about to make a mortal mistake. Fools that they were, they decorated Maggie’s body with shaving cream and jumped back over the barrier to safety.
We were awakened by hysterical screaming.
When I realized it was shaving cream and nothing had been disturbed, I started laughing. It was clear to me exactly what happened but Maggie would hear none of it. She grabbed a bathrobe and started banging on the guys’ door, waking everyone up on the floor and barreling into their room accusing them of all kinds of assault. I couldn’t stop laughing. The more distressed she became, the more I laughed. The more confused the guys became, the more I laughed.
The next morning at breakfast I was the one who was ostracized. Maggie was sure I had set her up. The guys thought I had set them up.
I just sipped my cappuccino and smiled quietly.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.