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Queen of the OddballsAnd Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan
By Hillary Carlip
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Hillary Carlip
All right reserved.
What do you do when you feel so invisible you can't sleep without a light on, afraid that in the dark you just might vanish entirely? Simple. Become someone interesting enough to be noticed. And that's exactly what I did when I was eight years old.
I took on different personas the way other kids tried on clothes. I Frugged and Mashed Potatoed incessantly for an entire month when I was being a go-go dancer from Hullabaloo! After that, for several weeks I yanked my short hair into pigtails, wore all black, and skulked around the house and school, acting "creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky," when I was being Wednesday from The Addams Family. A few months later, hooked on Gerry and the Pacemakers, I sang and spoke only in an English accent. How much more interesting could I get?
The answer came one night when my parents were out and my ten-year-old brother, our teenage babysitter, and I watched the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's on TV. I was smitten with Holly Golightly. Daring and darling, she shoplifted and had only one friend, her cat named Cat. She was strong and independent, saying things like "You don't haveto worry. I've taken care of myself for a long time." Those words rang so true to me.
My parents, Mim and Bob, both on the short side, each with open, reassuring expressions and sympathetic smiles, took on full-time jobs as compassionate listeners to everyone else's problems -- the gardener's, the grocery checkout clerk's, the mailman's. In fact on more than one occasion, they invited our mailman, Felix, to join us for dinner at the end of his route. They helped the neighbor's daughter get into private school, found a job for the pharmacist's son, and took in Esperanza, a teenage boarder from Guatemala. Whatever remained of my parents' energy was sucked up by my hyperactive, rebellious older brother, Howard, whose constant demands for attention began as early as when, at six months old, he literally threw himself out of his crib.
I was definitely noticed when I started acting like Holly Golightly. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the sort of attention I had desired.
I sat on a hard wooden chair in the principal's office, my arms hidden behind my back, when my parents walked in.
Mr. Shelton, the principal at Bellagio Road Elementary School, sported a head of bushy gray hair and matching moustache, making him look like Larry Tate from Bewitched. I wished I could twitch my nose like Samantha Stephens and turn myself into something tiny and unnoticeable, like a postage stamp.
"Your daughter's being suspended from school," he told my parents.
"From the third grade? Why?" My mother was stunned.
"What did she do?" my dad asked.
"Her teacher, Mrs. Renzoli, caught her on the playground smoking cigarettes."
"What?" My mother shrieked as my dad's eyes darted around, searching for an ashtray to stub out his Benson and Hedges.
"Hill, why were you smoking?" Mom asked.
I shrugged. My dad excused himself, opened the office door, stomped out his cigarette on the sidewalk right outside, then hurried back in. "Answer your mother," he said.
I slowly pulled my arms from behind my back, revealing my mom's black, elbow-length gloves that, on me, went up to my shoulders. "I was being Holly Golightly."
"Who?" Mr. Shelton asked. It figured he didn't know who she was.
"She's a character from Breakfast at Tiffany's," my mother responded. "Hillary saw the movie recently, and I guess it made an impression."
"I tried to get a long cigarette holder, but I couldn't find one anywhere," I said, confident in that moment that my parents were now on my side, having to explain to the ignorant principal who Holly Golightly was.
But they weren't at all on my side. In fact, my latest shenanigans not only got me suspended, they also resulted in my being sent to Dr. Eleanor Troupe, Child Psychologist.
"Please, Mom, don't make me go," I begged at the door of Dr. Troupe's office, a fading salmon pink one-story duplex dwarfed into near oblivion by the high-rises on busy Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood Village. "I'll do anything you want if I don't have to go -- name it."
My mother took a deep breath and exhaled any doubts she may have had. "Sorry, Hill. Your father and I have made our decision, and it's final."
We stepped into a waiting room, and I begrudgingly sat on the sofa -- but it was difficult to maintain an attitude with my 3'10" body swallowed up by puffy pink pillows.
Dr. Troupe came out to greet us, and the sight made me gasp out loud: a woman older than my grandmother, her body was distorted in several directions at once. She limped in on her left leg, which was bent to the right, while her torso twisted in the opposite direction. Her right hand looked like a claw, raised in a permanent fist near her shoulder, and her mouth warped to the left, creating a bucktoothed, snarly smile.
"You must be Hillary," she sputtered. "I've heard a lot about you, and you sound like a very interesting young lady. I'm very happy to meet you."
Though I was terrified by her deformities, this was the first time anyone had called me interesting. That was enough for me to willingly follow her into her office. She motioned with her eyes -- the only uncrossed thing on her body -- for me to sit in a maroon leather chair. My mother called out from the waiting room, "I'll pick you up in an hour," then left.
Dr. Troupe pointed with her claw to a large glass jar filled to the top with a mix of Brach's chewy chocolate and caramel squares wrapped snugly in smooth plastic. "Help yourself," she said.
I did as she opened a cupboard and pulled out a board game. "You ever play Clue?"
Excerpted from Queen of the Oddballs by Hillary Carlip Copyright © 2006 by Hillary Carlip. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“Colorful? She was a kid Auntie Mame! Her book should be mandatory reading for anybody contemplating fabulousness.”
“Hillary Carlip is the best kind of eccentric: Genuine, ballsy, funny and soulful. ... She deserves to be our queen.”
“An unpredictable, fresh, distinctive memoir ... it will suck you in before you know it.”
“A hilarious and inspiring read for all of us who were too afraid to be ourselves. Or stalk Carole King.”