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That time I wanted to pass myself off as Joyce Carol Oates #TBT

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I submitted my first piece of writing when I was seventeen, a story about my first job, working at the employee cafeteria at General Telephone where my mother was a dispatcher. Rolling the 20# white bond backed by a sheet of thin blue carbon paper into my Smith Corona, I typed it out slowly, carefully, on a piece of erasable paper—and mailed it off to Cosmopolitan along with a cover letter. Not just to any editor at Cosmo, by the way, I sent it directly to Helen Gurley Brown. 

The piece itself, meant to be comical, was full of clumsy attempts at self-effacing humor.  I strived for a similar tone in the cover letter I addressed to Brown, completely clueless that the high powered editor in chief wasn’t the one reading unsolicited manuscripts. After I signed off I added the following PS. I could have said I was Joyce Carol Oates. What I thought that would accomplish I can’t imagine. That an unsatisfactory submission would get published because of a lame joke? 

No surprise, in the SASE I’d …

There's no H in Satisfaction


Growing up in the sixties means many of my adolescent memories revolve around the British Invasion. Gyrating in the kitchen and gleefully belting "I can't get no satisfaction" making my horrified mother sputter as she did the dishes.
"You naughty girl! Stop that!"          
It was 1965. I'd just turned twelve; no way I was going to stop that.

You thought that was naughty, mum? Just wait until the Stones hit the airwaves with "Let's Spend the Night Together" a couple of years from now. You won't know what hit you.

I sang that song all summer long, not having a clue as to what fueled my mother's outrage, but loving to see her riled up, nostrils flaring. I sang that song while she drove Trixie and me out to swim at the Duff or Chippewa or the pool at the Cyanamid chemical plant, self-conscious in my new pale pink two piece, worried that my freshly sprouted tufts of pubic hair would show through when my swimsuit got wet.


I sang that song while my mother worked outside in a pair of cotton short shorts and an old shirt of my dad's tied at the waist, showing off curves I was sure I'd never have. Sang it while she watered the flowers she'd planted along the border of our driveway, and worked in the rock garden she was making in the backyard. I sang that song while I helped her with the washing, pouring the 'blue-ing' in the washing machine, carefully threading the sheets through the ringer, terrified my fingers would get mangled in the works.

I sang "Satisfaction" all through the long hot, humid July, stopping only when Herman's Hermits finally knocked the Rolling Stones off their number one spot with "Hen-ery the Eighth" in August. That's when my mother got me back, belting it out:
"I'm En-ery the Eighth I am, En-ery the eighth I am, I am
I got married to the widow next door, she's been married seven times before.
And every one was an En-ery" 
"EN-ERY!" my dad would join in if he was around.
"Never had a Willy or a Sam."
"OR A SAM!" 
 "I'm En-ery the Eighth I am. I am. En-ery the Eighth I am" 
It turned out that the newest number one hit was some old British music hall song that both my British parents knew by heart. "That old thing?" they laughed, putting a damper on my summertime singing career, especially as both my parents had beautiful singing voices while I couldn't exactly carry a tune. Not that 'Hen-ery the Eighth' required a beautiful singing voice. I can see my parents even now, my mother still radiant at forty, my father, ten years her senior, laughing in the kitchen, singing that song, exaggerating that cockney Aich. I can hear them singing still.

The H was silent in Hen-ery the Eighth, a song that flips the real story of Henry VIII on its end. I've been following that story as told by Hillary Mantel in Wolf Hall on my book-to-movie site, Chapter1-Take1. Come visit?

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