Being bi-coastal is not as much fun as it sounds. Born in California (Hollywood, to be exact) and raised in Marin County (have you read The Serial?), I had a certain perspective about life. People were generally good, you could ride your bike downtown on Saturday to have See’s candy with your fourth-grade teacher, and sneakers were the preferred footwear all year long.
In sixth grade I was one of the “popular” girls because, of all things, I excelled in math. I was captain of the softball team. My best friend and I had boyfriends who were twin brothers. We got into trouble together and our mothers threatened to send us to boarding schools with 6-and then 10-foot-high walls. Until they realized they should be separate schools, as we were dreaming up the things we could do there together.
One day my father came home from work and announced we were moving from Mill Valley to NEW YORK CITY! We would pack up everything we owned, board a TWA plane, and head to new adventures 3,000 miles away. WOW, what fun! We learned about hurricanes and how to say “LonGisland” like New Yorkers. We “warshed” the “ca” and waved goodbye to our California lives. And I became bi-coastal.
I’ll admit that the first few months were interesting, living in a hotel in Manhattan and my sister and I pretending we were Madeline. We even experienced a hurricane, replete with candles and board games and chocolate bars in our hotel room, deciding then and there we should have a hurricane every week.
But the first blush was not to last. We moved to the suburbs, started at a new school, and I was a fish out of water. My homeroom teacher was black, the first black person I had ever seen. There were cliques, a word I didn’t even know. The popular girls didn’t excel at math — they excelled at heather skirts, Peter Pan collars, and penny loafers. No one wore sneakers.
Then my father had a massive heart attack. New York sucked.
I couldn’t wait to get back to California. My friends were there, my aunt and my grandmother (both of whom I adored) were there, my self was there. My father survived his heart attack and I made a deal with him that, if I saved up $150 for the plane fare to go back to California, he would match it. Of course he said yes — I was 12 years old and unemployed.
The summer I turned 14 was my renewal trip to “home.” I came alive again. I had saved my allowance, babysat, sold wrapping paper door-to-door, and was a full-time mother’s helper for two summers, and I surprised my dad with my $150 in crumpled bills.
My die was cast. I had learned that if I wanted something bad enough (and I have always wanted a lot of things), I had to work for it. Summers, school vacations, weekends — all through high school I worked as a deli clerk, a corsage maker at a florist shop, a babysitter, a soda jerk at a hospital coffee shop. I worked and saved for college, which I dreamed would be back in California.
I was accepted at two UC schools and my “safety” school in upstate New York. Then I found out my father had forgotten to save enough money for me to go to college for four years. The only college I could afford was the safety school because they gave me two scholarships and a special waiver to — you guessed it — work on campus starting my freshman year.
I got my wish to go back to California my senior year. My parents and younger sister and brother moved back there the previous year. While I was having a nervous breakdown trying to save money by graduating a semester early, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I flew home and took on the jobs of being her full time caretaker and my family’s full time stand-in wife. The nervous breakdown was only a slight inconvenience.
Of course I also started my first “real” job. Remember, I said this was Marin County in the early 70s, so real is in quotes. I worked for a major pothead during the day, and listened to Alice Cooper wafting up from the nightclub bar down the hill from our house in the evening.
I tried to keep my father sober, my mother alive, my sister from running off with a tow-truck driver, my brother in naive bliss, and myself somewhat sane. I failed at it all. And then I got married and had to move back to New York.
Did I tell you I hate New York?