(formerly: “High School Never Ends”)
(I will be taking the next two weeks off to retool my memoirs so that I can start knocking on the doors of literary agents across the land—again! Wish me luck! While I’m otherwise preoccupied, please enjoy one of the stories I wrote last year, which I have revamped. This story helped me launch my blog site and boosted my courage to become a writer. Enjoy!)
Do you know what I’ve discovered? High school never ends.
Why is it in our adult lives, as in high school, we exert so much energy trying to impress people we don’t know, won’t ever see again after our season of random internment, and who have no financial or emotional investment in our future?
I have beautiful, white girlfriends who won’t go to a swimming pool while on vacation because they don’t have the figures they had in college anymore. The strangers across the pool from them who they don’t know and couldn’t care a rat’s ass about, might become scornful of their cellulite or less than perky boobs. When in reality, they should be embracing Joy Behar’s classic observation of things that shouldn’t matter one iota: “So what – who cares?”
Women in bathing suits on Collaroy Beach, 1908, photo by Colin Caird
All my baby-boomer girlfriends have better bodies than I, but even though I’m at least 40 pounds heavier (when I’m telling the truth), I have a black woman’s sensibility about this issue: accent the positive, suck in the negative, and skirt the thunderous. Then bedazzle your entire goddess self with a rhinestone cover-up and rhinestone flip-flops, add a Sophia Loren hat, and “drop it like it’s hot, baby”!
“The Author” droppin’ it like it’s hot!||”WW” Tomczyk photo
Not too long ago, my husband and I celebrated our 32nd anniversary on a cruise in the Mediterranean. It was the trip of a lifetime. Everything was better than we had fantasized: the weather was picture perfect, the people were warm and accepting, the 3,000 passenger ship was outstanding, the food was superb, and we were like newlyweds reveling in each other’s company. The only thing that seemed to cause just a tiny bit of consternation was the very aggressive touring itinerary (4 days of excursions, 1 day at sea, 3 days of excursion, 1 day at sea, 2 days of excursion, 1 day at sea) that we had been given. But I wasn’t overly concerned because even though I’m a “fat-bottom girl,” it doesn’t mean I’m not in good health. I’m a daily exerciser and had trained for this trip for 8 months. I added strenuous hills to my daily treadmill workout, climbed the stairs at work in the afternoons, and special ordered shoes a triathlon athlete would use.
What I didn’t expect and what my research never revealed was that all of our 10 touring sites were perched on the top of hills or mountains with steep inclines to protect the ancient inhabitants from marauders. Most accesses to these cities of antiquities were like scaling walls.
Malta||”WW” Tomczyk Photo
Every evening we’d be given an overview of the activities for the next day. In between the instructions for the cake decorating class and the marzipan demonstrations would be listed the information the cruise director felt we needed in order to survive our shore excursions.
- Ship Brochure: It takes 300 steps to reach the top of your fabulous destination. There is a cable car if you prefer or you can employ a donkey to transport you up and down the ancient stone stairs. Wear comfortable shoes. Cost: $100 – $400/person. WARNING: The ship departs at 5:30 – if you miss the departure, you will have to make your own way to the next port to meet the ship.
- Translation: The 300 steps are straight up the face of a mountain; the cable car often has a two-hour wait, and you will miss your ship utilizing that mode of transportation. The stairs are shared by donkeys that slip constantly on the descent and leave slippery “pooh” all over the staircase from Hell. No manner of footwear is capable of keeping you upright once you lose your footing going down – you might as well kiss your sorry-ass goodbye. Before you leave this beautiful island, the tour guide will make sure she dumps you in the shopping area that has only one way in and out to the stairs or the unreliable, overly-crowded cable car system. The shopkeepers will try to help you by relieving you of as many Benjamins as possible to lighten the load of your descent. Trying to balance yourself on a donkey while your hands are stuffed with chotzkies, however, will be proof-positive that you have lost your ever-loving mind — once and for all. Good luck, silly over-weight Americans!
ENTER STAGE LEFT: My husband (the Energizer Bunny), the gay couple (the extremely handsome, not-one-ounce-of-fat-on-their-bones Neil Patrick Harris and his partner David Burtka look-alikes), the lesbian couple (50’ish with similar body frames as mine whose bodies had each born children in their former lives), the grandmother from Iowa sporting a recent double-knee replacement (60’ish and looking like she could be my sister in height and weight, only Caucasian and blonde), and the old dude with Parkinson’s disease who shook so badly I thought my glasses where out of focus (who should have been anywhere but here — on the shore excursion from Hell).
Because I temporarily lost consciousness, I can’t remember at what point I lost my mind and reverted back to high school. I do remember approaching a sky-high escalator in a museum with hundreds of other people in sweltering heat and watching the escalator break down right before my group got on. Because there was a wall of people behind us, we were forced to go forward and mount a circular ramp that seemed like twenty flights of stairs that shot straight up to the heavens. The lesbian mothers, the grandmother from Iowa, the quivering dude, and I stared at each other in total horror! Hadn’t we just climbed 300 steps the day before and 200 steps the day before that, as well as an unexpected 100 steps in a museum that wasn’t listed? Didn’t the brochure assure us there would be no more steps to climb? I could have sworn someone said we’d catch a break today.
Vatican Circular Ramp||Google Image
All I know is that my husband, who has the ability to walk faster than most people can run, took off up the ramp so as not to lose sight of the tour guide who had been swallowed up by the crowd. (Getting disconnected from the tour guide could mean missing our ship’s departure, and the “hubby” was not letting that happen on his watch.) As our group began to ascend the inevitable, the gay guys began telling us about a rather large, fat-bottomed woman (with an ass the size of Cleveland) who couldn’t make it up the last ramp in the previous city, and they just couldn’t understand why people didn’t read the ship instructions about the strenuous nature of the excursions.
“I mean, really now, why can’t they ‘just say no’ if they’re too fat to complete the course without looking like they’re going to die,” said our Neil Patrick Harris look-alike cruise mate. “Personally, I feel like making an announcement tonight at dinner over the PA system.
‘Really people – know your limitations; because you need to cut the rest of us some freakin’ slack.
We’re having heart attacks just wondering if you’re gonna’ have a heart attack right in front of us out here’”!
The lesbian couple, the grandmother, the tremulous old man, and I gingerly laughed along with the boys, but we silently heard the “Rocky theme song” roaring in our ears (or was it the blood rushing to our heads before the onset of major strokes as we secretly wondered if they were talking about us?). We took off up the incline like thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby trying to match the gait of the boys, leaning almost at a 45 degree angle to balance our bodies on the slope. As I passed the old man at my road-runner pace, his eyes widened in terror as his lips mouthed, “what the fuck?” but my team and I had to leave him in the dust.
Beating the Adonises was all that mattered, even if it meant moving at the speed of light and losing a soldier along the way. These bodies had born children and nursed babies. The fat on our asses, our low-hanging breasts, and puff-n-stuff stomachs were badges of honor. Maybe the gay boys had children but they sure as hell hadn’t “had” children.
Vatican Museum Ceiling||”WW” Tomczyk Photo
The grandmother dropped out about two-thirds of the way (clutching her side) and gasping for air. My lesbian sisters and I made it to the top of the Vatican Museum without dying, but I had a Charlie-horse in my ass that wouldn’t quit. As the girls and I high-fived each other (sisters, hangin’ tough!), I could see (being the chubbiest in the bunch) that I had really impressed the boys. What they didn’t know was that I couldn’t say more than two words without gasping for air or I would keel over and die. I didn’t dare speak without great measure. I knew if I tried to articulate more than one five-word sentence, I’d be the gay boys’ prophecy come true: one fat-bottom woman careening into their perfectly fit, athletic bodies and knocking them back down the slope like a giant brown snowball from on high. So I took out my Blackberry, nonchalantly leaned against the museum wall, and pretended to check messages as if I were some high-muckety-muck at a Fortune 500 company and the business couldn’t live without me.
“Some hike, huh? Girl, you were awesome,” said the boys.
“Uh, huh. . . ah thanks.” I whispered, as my hands uncontrollable shook while trying to fake search my emails on my Blackberry.
“Great ship, isn’t it? What’s on your agenda tomorrow? We’re going rock climbing!” chirped my gay companions.
“G-r-e-a-t!” (tap) “Me doing” (tap) “pool” (tap) “volley-ball” (tap), I replied.
“Excellent! You go, girlfriend!” cheered the boys.
Ephesus Library||”WW” Tomczyk photo
The next day found the quivering old man glued to a walker while arduously climbing into the hot tub (he was still there at dinner time). The lesbian couple, the grandmother, and I met up at the spa first, and then we subsequently found our separate “quiet” corners around the adult pool and spent the afternoon hiding from our handsome gay boys — sipping rum punches, and napping the day away in our “rockin’ bathing suits.”
Bathing beauty from 1908||Image from “Clocks, Cancer, and the Best Time to Tan” By Elizabeth Preston
I’ve discovered that if my girlfriends (old and new) and I ever want to shake the specter of high school, we need to travel at the beat of our own drummer, because it’s the condition in which we arrive at the final destination, not the opinions of others, that really matter. And Joy Behar really is an oracle whose mantra we should adopt when the high school spirit tries to make us forget the amazing women that we have become: “So what – who cares!”
Mykonos||”WW” Tomczyk Photo
“To avoid criticism do
nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)
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