In the second week of our series we pick up at chapter 3: “Movin’ On Up.”
If you missed the first installment, you can catch up HERE.
From the trilogy
Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey
THE MAKING OF A NATURAL DISASTER
This is a work of fiction. Although it is written in the form of an autobiography, it is not one. Clearly, no reasonable person would ever consider this absurd story to be true. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. With the exception of public figures and those with reputations of public renown, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Full of salty language – This is intended for mature audiences.
Movin’ On Up
MY PARENT’S INDIVIDUAL ventures were going so well they felt it was time to upgrade our living situation and get a little closer to the coast. We moved 20 miles away to Westminster. Still in Orange County, we lived in an actual house for the first time. It was nice, four bedrooms, a fireplace, and a yard with a high cinder-block privacy wall. A short bike ride or a reasonable walk would get me to school or the park, and it was only a 15-minute car ride to the Pacific Ocean.
I made friends right away with kids in my neighborhood, but school was a different story. The chilly reception I received when being introduced to my new class caught me completely off guard. No one wanted to even speak to me at recess or lunch. My neighborhood friends attended private schools, so I had no allies in the schoolyard. There’s no way around it, being the new kid just sucks. School just became a chore I had to do, like dishes or mowing the lawn, before I could go outside and play. I didn’t look forward to going anymore. It felt like I was just doing time waiting for the weekend, and ultimately, summer to come. One saving grace was that we were allowed to leave school premises for lunch and that’s just what I did, every day, rain or shine.
At home, things were quite different than in Brea. The cleverness Keys demonstrated by creating and promoting his own music pool earned him a district job offer from an even larger chain of nightclubs. Much of his work consisted of keeping the DJs in a steady supply of fresh dance tracks, giveaways, and cocaine. Mom was also making strides and there was just more of everything. More money, more things, more parties, more drugs, and more people with more power in the industry hanging around. A new candy apple red sports car sat in the driveway and a few signed Salvador Dali lithographs hung on the walls.
The sound set up in our house would be impressive to anyone, but it was nothing short of stunning to a 9-year-old. Turntable, dual cassette, reel to reels, tuner, equalizer, amplifier, and monitors as tall as I was. The shelves underneath the equipment housed a couple of stacks of reels, a modest selection of cassette tapes, and countless sleeves of vinyl records in several genres. This beautiful monstrosity, with all its lights, knobs, moving parts, and plethora of musical choices, took up an entire wall on the platform above our sunken living room. You might expect most people to utilize this space as a more formal dining area, but we used it as a dance floor.
There were also some great headphones I used while my parents slept into the early afternoon. I liked to catch the AMERICAN TOP 40 with Casey Kasem on the radio and root for my favorite songs on the countdown. I’d also been sneakily listening to the comedy albums of Richard Pryor and George Carlin for a couple of years.
Being an only child, I was very good at entertaining myself, but I didn’t really care for dolls or other toys. If I wasn’t listening to music or dirty comedy albums, I was reading or drawing. These activities traveled well so I could use them to occupy my time at the studio while my mother worked. I was a voracious reader. I blazed through Tolkien’s books, NANCY DREW & THE HARDY BOYS, and the dark tales of Roald Dahl. I also read several books about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m not sure what brought on this fascination with the civil rights leader, but I ended up submitting no less than five book reports about him.
Our house was hang-out central on many weekends. If there wasn’t already some other party to attend, one would get started at our place. You could find movers and shakers from all aspects of the music industry. Record executives, studio owners, producers, promoters, songwriters, singers, musicians, and the occasional drag queen were all around, as well as some chicks Mom referred to as “The Goodtime Girls.”
I loved to hear the British recording studio owner say anything in his accent. There was one regular who always smelled good and seemed to have an endless supply of funky patterned shirts and sharp shoes. Whether as a musician, producer, composer, or executive, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone he hadn’t worked with. I was a big fan of his work on some funkier movie soundtracks of the day. There was a female writer-producer and studio owner who’d crack me up with her jokes about getting her blind ex-husband “a seeing-eye alligator”. Of course, my favorite record exec was the one who would do magic tricks for me
Bill Wardlow from Billboard magazine was a regular fixture and would be considered a close friend by my mother for many years. At the time, Bill was arguably the most powerful man in the music business. Considered the “Father of Disco”, he was the head of the Billboard magazine charts department. He, quite literally, wrote the charts and his more dubious practices when it came to assigning chart positions have been well chronicled over the years. Almost always found in a crisp white suit and brightly colored button-down shirt, he seemed pretty hip to a 9-year-old.
Lyric loved to cook for guests and her Southern roots served her well. Some would gather around the island in our kitchen, licking their chops, while she worked her culinary magic and told old road stories. I don’t know if they were salivating over her or the aroma, but they appeared to hang on her every word. It was as if she were stirring a cauldron and spinning a spell.
My mother was beautiful. She was tall, blonde, with big brown eyes, and a smile that could light up any space. Her skin was fair, translucent, and flawless. She’d had her overly abundant breasts surgically reduced. They now sat firmly at attention atop her statuesque frame and I’m uncertain as to whether she still owned a bra at this point.
Even more striking than her appearance was her personality. Although she was no longer performing professionally, she was endlessly entertaining and larger than life. Her laugh was enormous and infectious but could cut you down to size as well. Lyric took no shit whatsoever, from anyone. She possessed a quick wit, with a filthy, sometimes twisted, sense of humor. Known to be quite sharp-tongued, she could give sailors lessons on cussing. Always ready to party, she’d never be found without her tooter and coke spoon around her neck. Both were made of gold, but the small spoon that Daddy-Keys had crafted for her held a row of precious gems that gave it the shape of a cross.
Easter and Antics with Alice
LYRIC’S PARTY THROWING shenanigans went next level crazy for Easter of 1980. It started out normal enough with us decorating massive amounts of eggs the night before. The only difference was, in addition to traditional Easter designs, Mom was inscribing several of the eggs with things such as, “Golden Egg”, “Sexy Egg”, “Alien Egg”, and “Gay Egg”. She explained there would be an Easter egg hunt for the grown-ups and in addition to a prize for finding the most, there would also be prizes for party goers who found special eggs. My part in the fun would be getting to hide the eggs. Awesome.
On Easter morning, I threw the covers back and jumped out of bed to hunt for my basket. No, I didn’t still believe in the Easter Bunny, but my mother was a fan of the tradition.
“If you don’t believe, he won’t come” she’d almost sing in a cautionary tone anytime the existence of the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus were called into question.
There was obviously no downside to my playing along so I darted out of my room and searched for my basket. Working myself into a sweat after about an hour of searching, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait for her to wake up at around noon-thirty. I returned to my room in defeat and immediately felt like an idiot. By far the largest basket I’d ever gotten was sitting on my dresser the whole time. Bursting with color, it had everything imaginable in it for Easter, including giant chocolate bunnies. Not the hollow, plastic tasting ones either. Nope, these babies were solid chocolate.
I spent the morning basking in the gluttonous glory of my Easter haul until I heard my parents’ bedroom door open. There was still a lot to do for the party starting later that afternoon. Once Mom got a few things in the oven, we started setting up the prize table. This thing was insane. In addition to an array of tall chocolate bunnies and gift baskets full of other edibles, there were KISS dolls, ALIEN action figures, and movies of every sort. There was also an assortment of adult toys, including some very large dildos in a variety of colors. I was anxious to get this crazy ass table finished because I was ready to start hiding eggs.
Just when I thought we were finished, she brings out more bags. I was getting impatient, but she started pulling out plastic eggs in two sizes and a plethora of colors.
“MORE prizes?” I asked in disbelief.
“VERY special eggs” she replied.
“Do I get to hide those too?” I was getting excited.
“Yes, but you’ve got to help me stuff them first.”
She plopped down a crumpled brown grocery bag and sorted its contents on the table.
“Put the baggies with the weed in the large eggs and the white stuff in the small ones.”
I carried on with my task and Mom returned a short while later with a small stack of twenties, fifties, and hundreds. She placed individual bills into small plastic eggs and let me know she would hide the money eggs herself, but if I found one, I could keep it. Apparently, she wasn’t worried about me messing with the weed or cocaine, but she didn’t quite trust me with the cash eggs.
I greeted guests as they arrived that gorgeous afternoon and showed them to the brightly colored Easter baskets and prize table. Some let out a few chuckles, but no one seemed as excited as I was about the impending hunt. Their lack of enthusiasm was starting to bum me out, but that would change soon enough.
Eventually, a few people reluctantly grabbed their baskets and meandered into the back yard. They probably hadn’t hunted for Easter eggs in decades and clearly thought they were way too cool for it now. Mom waved me over to the sliding glass door to watch as partygoers wandered into the bushes. We peered with great anticipation as the first guy found a large egg and cracked it open.
“What the hell?” he looked over his shoulder, crammed the weed in his pocket, then quickly darted around in the bushes, much like a rabbit.
We were snickering at the sight when somebody exclaimed “COCAINE?!”
This got more guests involved in the hunt and others just curious enough to watch. You could hear shouts from all over the yard.
“Look for the plastic, I found money in this one.”
“No, go away, this is my spot.”
As one dude was just about to pick up his find, another came out of nowhere and hit him with a full tackle.
“That one’s mine mother fucker!”
“No! I saw it first!”
My mom and I laughed until we cried at the sight of these grown men, rolling around in the grass, fighting over Easter eggs. These grown-ups were acting like this was the best Easter egg hunt ever.
One partygoer, however, took a less aggressive and more smarmy approach to the hunt. I didn’t recognize him and he made me feel a little uneasy when he started following me around.
“So, I hear you hid the eggs” he whispered.
“Yep,” I replied curtly.
“Can you show me where to find some more?”
“I could, but that would be cheating.”
There were prizes involved and I was annoyed by the question. This creep followed me for what seemed like hours. Every time I turned around he was there trying to cajole me. It really pissed me off and my mom couldn’t help but notice.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Mom asked.
I explained the situation and pointed the guy out.
“She’s such a stickler.” Mom chuckled to her friends, but she could tell I was cooking up something in my little head.
“Wait, what are you up to?”
“I’m going to show him where to find an egg.”
“Hey, you wanna find an egg?” I asked while tugging on his shirt.
“Yes, of course, I do, but what kind of egg are we talking about? I want a good one.”
I think he was a little skeptical about my sudden change in attitude, but still had the nerve to be choosy. What a jerk.
“Oh, it’s a prize egg and it’s right under there,” I assured him as I motioned to the TV stand.
He sauntered over to the stand and discreetly rolled the egg out with his foot. Once the brightly decorated egg stopped rolling, he could read the inscription: “Gay Egg”.
My mother, now laughing her ass off, presented him with the largest dildo on the table.
“See, I told you it was a prize egg.”
As time went on, the parties got more frequent and more outrageous. Occasionally, Mom would give me a few sips of wine or blow some pot smoke in my face to get me to bed early. Finally, the thought occurred to my parents that I probably shouldn’t be hanging out at all these parties. It wasn’t so much the obvious inappropriateness of my presence as it was my uncanny ability to find the person in the room who’d done the most cocaine and start fucking with them.
“She’s freaking me out” was said on more than a few occasions, so they got me a sitter.
Alice was the teenage daughter of one of my mother’s good friends and became my sitter on party nights. I thought Alice was cool. She was pretty and loved to dance. She turned me on to bands like The Clash, Devo, and Madness. She was also a bit mischievous, but so was I. One night, I caught her pinching my mom’s stash and told her if she didn’t want me to tell, she’d have to share. She rolled one and I smoked my first joint with her.
I preferred going to her house because it was at the beach, but sometimes she’d also have to watch the daughter of another friend of our moms’. Younger than me, about five or six, and a bit of a terror, Mom used to joke that she was the kid from “The Bad Seed”. Alice and I hated getting saddled with her because it meant we’d have to stay put for the night and she was a complete brat.
One night, she threw an absolute total shit fit, screaming, throwing pillows, and knocking down chairs. She went for a lamp and we tackled her, knocking over the couch in the commotion. We ended up taking some pretty drastic measures to get her under control before frantically put the house back together.
When our mothers arrived, they could tell something went down. The house was fine, she was quiet, but we were flush, sweaty, and sporting some fresh scratches.
“What’s going on girls?” our mothers asked suspiciously.
“Nothing” Alice answered, coolly.
My mother shot me “the look”.
“Nothing, Mom” I insisted.
Then the little banshee started to cry again and breathlessly ratted us out.
“Alice and Harmonie forced me to smoke pot and put me in the dryer with the cat and turned it on.”
“LIAR”, I proclaimed, “We did NOT turn on that dryer, no, uh-uh.”
Boy, did my mother looked pissed! Her eyes got wide and her lips disappeared as she held her breath, handed me her keys, and told me to get my ass in the car. I was so scared waiting in the car my palms were sweating.
Mom eventually came out of the house shaking her head at me. She backed out of their driveway, then immediately pulled over to the side of the road and completely lost it, laughing.
“The next time we see them you better tell them I beat your fucking ass for that. You hear me?” she said after finally catching her breath and wiping the tears away from her face
“I hear ya,” I laughed.
The summer of 1980 was loads of fun. I lived on roller skates, dancing to the songs of George Benson, Blondie, the B-52s, and Earth, Wind & Fire at local roller rinks. I started the first day of the 5th grade along with everyone else and I felt like things might not be so bad this year. I was anticipating the fall of 1980 with great excitement. Mainly because I was going to enter the double-digit age, the big one-zero, but everything changed. Everything.
The absurd journey continues in chapter 5: “Lines & Smoke”
If you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the paperback or eBook HERE
Copyright © 2017 – 2018 Harmonie A. Hillwest
All Rights Reserved