Work In Progress

Dispatches from the Wasteland: The Magical Joy of Moist Lips

Note: This is one installment of a blog series I ran several years ago, wherein our petite and pre-teen heroine is chronicling the many ways in which lip gloss has saved her life. This is her second journal entry…

2. Lip Gloss brought me closer to Jesus.

  It’s not that I hated going to Sunday School at our local Baptist emporium, that really wasn’t the case. After all, if there were things I might accidentally do that would damn my soul to Hell, I certainly needed to do some research so that I could avoid doing such, as long as the avoidance fit my agenda. I was far too busy for damnation. I had too many other goals to accomplish other than crossing some river and then screaming for eternity whilst things around me burned.

  No, it wasn’t the concept of Sunday School that troubled me. I was more disturbed by certain elements that were part of this Sunday School situation. Take away any of these sidebar irritation factors and I would have happily raced to church every Sunday morning, worshipping away while only slightly wondering how I could arrange to have some of this devotional attention for myself. Who doesn’t want 12 trainees spreading the word about you and taking meals at long tables with lots of food?

  Anyway, my dissatisfaction began with our Sunday School teacher, who went by the startling name of Mrs. Morganstern Cochtosan. (It took her forever to sign anything. We would get bored and experiment with the paste jars.) This frightening woman had such an enormous amount of issues that, to this day, I still wonder how our entire class didn’t turn into serial killers with a fondness for using hand-carved Amish implements as weapons.

  First, there was this thing with her hair. (One of Mommy’s drunk friends called it the “Kirksville football helmet”. I laughed and laughed, until Mommy took my juice box away and wouldn’t let me watch “Romper Room”.) There was so much hair piled on that woman’s head that I swear woodland creatures lived in there and would wave at me during the morning prayer. If she ever fell down, buildings would collapse.

  Then we had her choice of footwear, these cork-soled wedgie hoofers that could mesmerize you with their ugliness. Granted, it was the 70s, when people would wear anything that didn’t chafe. Even if you were under the influence of the drugs that were rampant in that care-free time, no one would ever look at those shoes with fondness or appreciation. You would look at them and want to write poems about barren rocks and death.

  But you couldn’t just avoid glancing at the shoes, hoping that by looking the other way you could preserve your sanity and save yourself from a life of crime. Because Mrs. MC had an odd way of standing, with her left foot positioned alongside her right foot, but halfway back, as if she were competing in an odd alpine skiing event. It didn’t make sense and looked very unbalanced. So, of course, you couldn’t help but stare.

  It’s very hard to Love Thy Neighbor when they are weird and their hair can kill you.

  Anyway, Mrs. Morganstern-Cochtosan also made us participate in uninteresting activities, usually involving singing or hand puppets. One of her favorite tortures was making us sing the names of books in the Bible. It was never clear why this was necessary, or why we only got to sing certain names. (She probably didn’t care for the books that advised against ugly shoes or making youngsters vocalize in unison.) Whatever the case, we had to sing this irritating song every day, until we were on the verge of initiating a coup that would make the singing stop, whatever it took.

  Then one day Mrs. Morganstern-Cochtosan surprised us.

  There was going to be a competition. (Hurray!) With prizes. (Yippee!) And everybody had to sing a solo about the Bible. (Crickets chirped.) We immediately turned to Missy Baxley, our union steward, and the vice-president of Little Christians Local 6171. Can she make us do this? Is it in the contract?

  Missy rifled through her paperwork and consulted an appendix or two, then looked up at us with tears in her eyes. Yes, union members could be forced to perform individual songs of worship as long as there was compensation in the form of cookies and/or silver dollars. The rest of the hour, we sat there glumly, not having the strength to wave at the creatures in Mrs. Morganstern-Cochtosan’s hair as we pondered our sins that may have led to this troubling situation.

  And really, I’m not sure why the prospect of a solo was causing me such consternation. Normally, I loved the spotlight more than cherry popsicles or breathing. I lived for any ounce of attention that I could get, knocking down weaker children in my eternal quest for validation. But something was wrong this time, something was missing. I had to speak to someone about this immediately. If I couldn’t be popular, there really wasn’t any point in getting up in the morning.

  So, I raced home, pigtails flying in the wind, to consult Mommy about this, because even though she irked me with her continual need for homework completion and room cleanliness, she often had good advice that I would pretend to ignore while waiting for my crown to get back from the cleaners. I barely slowed at all as I scurried the blocks to the house, only stopping a few times, once to admire the reflection of my bonnet in the front window of P & Hirsch’s Clothing Emporium, and the other time to throw a rock at Janie Dilson’s house because she had told people Mommy ironed my hair.

  I clattered through the front door of our house, and finally located Mommy in the dining room. I could tell that she was busy trying to keep my siblings alive, but this had never stopped me in the past, so I plunged right in with my demands. “Mommy, I don’t understand why I don’t want to sing about the Word of Jesus.”

  Mommy just looked at me for a second, a few worry lines appearing on her forehead, then she kept moving. “One second, Puddles, let Mommy finish what she’s doing.” She then climbed the rest of the way up the stepladder and began scraping dried macaroni and cheese off the ceiling.

  This did not please me, the temporary delay in the satisfaction of my needs. The priorities around here had been out of whack ever since my sisters started showing up, causing havoc by taking focus away from me. I couldn’t stand them, especially the loud one who jumped around a lot and lied about what she did to my Barbie dolls.

  Just then the loud one, Mellie Jo, thundered through the room, cackling madly as she drew a line with purple crayon all the way down one wall. In the distance, we could hear an odd thumping noise mixed with small yelps of pain. I didn’t know what that was all about, nor did I care. I just wanted Mommy to listen to me.

  But she wasn’t ready for that just yet, snagging the loud sister with one practiced hand as she came back down the stepladder. “Mellie Jo, I told you not to put your baby sister in the dryer. I don’t care what Slutty Amy says, she will NOT shrink. Now go let her out.”

  Mellie Jo folded her arms and pouted, a smudge of ash still on her forehead from when she tried to shoot a roman candle at the neighbor boy earlier this morning. “But she STINKS, Mommy. All she does is poop and cry. I don’t like kids.”

  Mommy sighed. “You are a kid. And kids do what they are told until they are old enough to get arrested. Now go let her out or I am selling you to anybody that will take you.”

  Mellie Jo stomped across the house to the laundry room, where we heard a bang of metal and then what sounded like a sack of potatoes hitting the floor. (“I don’t LIKE you,” Mellie Jo muttered. “You’re dumb.”) Then Mellie Jo slammed the back screen-door, trotting off in search of her next victim.

  Meanwhile, Baby Sahara just lay there on the floor in front of the dryer, humming a happy little tune to herself as she calmly survived another day in her tortured, tiny life. I liked Sahara, because she never said anything and didn’t eat much except pizza. It was the middle sister that needed to leave so I could be Queen again.

  Anyway. “Mommy, I have to sing by myself in Sunday School and I don’t want to but I don’t know why I don’t want to because when people clap I love it but this time I just want to sit there and not sing even though I still want clapping. What’s wrong with me? Am I dying?”

  Mommy sighed again, trying to smooth my unruly hair, one of her eyes twitching as she quietly regretted her decision not to enter the convent. “Well, Puddles, I’m sure it’s nothing. Let’s just talk through it, okay? Do you still like to sing?”

  Of course I did. “Yes, my voice is golden and angels weep.”

  “And you still like to put on shows for people?”

  I nodded. “Yes, all the time, every day. It makes me sad when people aren’t looking at me.”

  “Well, then,” said Mommy, standing up and straightening out her apron. “You’ll do just fine.”

  This did not placate me. “But Mommy, something is still WRONG.”

  Just then, Little Sahara came crawling into the room, wisps of dryer lint in the patch of hair on her head. She worked her way toward me, using my leg to help her stand, and then pulled something out of her diaper.

  It was my pink bubble gum lip gloss.

  That was it! That’s what was missing from my ensemble. I snatched up the tube, ripped it open, and slathered my grateful lips. Almost immediately, I couldn’t wait to be on stage in front of thousands of people, singing the chorus of “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: The Gospels Remix”. Leaving Mommy standing there, I went racing out the front door to go find people I could entertain until next Sunday rolled around and the competition began.

  Two seconds later, the back screen-door slammed again, followed by Mellie Jo stomping through the house. “Hey, Mom? Betty? Did that dancing girl just run away from home? Because I want her room if she did.”

Previously published. Some changes made, partly to smooth the narration, but mostly to whittle away at an annoying tendency I had at the time to use ALL CAPS for emphasis more often than I should. This series resulted in quite a few posts, enough for a respectable novella, making it yet another back-burner book project on my overcrowded stove. (P.S. Those of you who have been with me for a while might recognize our heroine from some of my other stories, only a much younger version of such. Two points if you get it right.)

37 replies »

    • If the family didn’t have any issues, I probably wouldn’t be writing about them… 😉

      As for possible Puddles piddling, I don’t recall her ever getting wetly excited during our friendship as adults, but I can’t really speak about her formative years…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I particularly liked your photograph of slate. I used to have a cottage in Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales, formerly a town that claimed to have roofed the world with its slate. There was a slate tip on the hill above my cottage and several more throughout the County or Gwynedd. The image brought back happy memories.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh, this here boy could certainly get up to some hijinks as well in my formative years, especially if I ran out of library books over the weekend. But yes, boys are usually much less drama. Not necessarily less trouble, but less drama… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bubble gum lip gloss? I found that Cherry lip gloss was more effective, but I was much older than our heroine appears to be.

    Zero points for me. I’m still a newbie, even though I know it feels like I’ve been here forever… and no, I won’t leave. You can threaten with withholding libations, or seating me next to the weird cousin… I’m still staying.😝

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trust, the real-life basis of the (anti)heroine character can give you the exact benefits and detractions of every make, model and flavor of lip gloss that was ever on the market. She takes her calling seriously.

      I certainly hope you never leave. If you do, I promise I will be knocking on your door. And if you don’t answer, I’m going to go bang on some concrete in your backyard… 😉

      P.S. I think you might actually know the character, as she’s mentioned quite often, in various settings and stories, some of which I know I’ve shared since your delightful arrival at Bonnywood. I’ll give you a a few days to ponder such…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hmmm… I shall ponder. I did just have a flash of a story about a singer who was unhappy about the size of the audience for her outdoor show… did she wander into a Cafe and meet a man??
        Am I close? In my defense, I haven’t had my coffee yet, so the starter is whirring but it’s not catching. I might should stop before I flood it😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are spot on! (Which doesn’t surprise me, I might add.) Yep, that story was one of the many wherein my bestie Tiffany has played a significant role. Most of the time, she’s thrilled. Other times? Not so much. As I say to my friends and family who are not impressed when I include them in a story: Stop doing things that get my attention and you’ll be fine… 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  3. “mesmerize you with their ugliness.” LOL. Is the 70s an ugly shoe era? Is lip gloss that strong and that toxic and that lifeless? I used to love lip gloss for its shine, but now I have to look at it differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, it wasn’t just the shoes that were ugly in 70s America. It was everything to do with fashion. Something went really wrong somewhere, and we often left the house in amazingly insipid outfits. We just didn’t know we were doing so at the time. It’s only when we pick through old Polaroid photos that we recognize the madness for what it was… 😉


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