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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 …

And the sparklers red glare [Also on iTunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud]


We didn't celebrate the Fourth of July when I was a kid growing up in Canada in the Sixties. But that doesn't mean we didn't have fireworks.


And the Sparklers' Red Glare


July 1st and in Niagara Falls we were celebrating Dominion Day just a few days before the Americans right across the river celebrated their independence. As a kid I didn't separate the two concepts. Fireworks were fireworks, explosive charges that burst into beautiful fiery lights, zapping our sleepy summer skies with noise and color and a dash of danger. The nuance that the Americans were celebrating their freedom while we were celebrating the 1867 union of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada into one country, the Dominion of Canada, under the governance of British rule was lost on me. It was 1963; the maple leaf flag was yet to be, the Union Jack still waved. God Save the Queen!

Like the American kids across the river, all we cared about were the burgers being grilled, the crunch of sweet corn, butter running down our wrists. Running through the sprinkler, rinsing off the sticky dampness of summer. And how much longer we had to wait to set off the fireworks. They call it Canada Day now; they made the change in 1982. I don't know what families do in Niagara Falls to celebrate these days but in those less tethered times, we didn't pile into a car to go sit in stadium seats and watch a big fireworks display at some local venue, complete with classical music. We simply went into the backyard where our dad would set off our store-bought fireworks at the bottom of the garden. Fireworks he likely picked up on the American side of the river. A patchwork of explosions blazed in the sky up and down the block.

Then, like now, it took forever, all day long practically, to get dark. In the meantime, hopped up with holiday spirit, we huddled around my friend JoAnn's garage while someone's older brother [mine?] passed out sparklers they'd smuggled from their parents cache. Even then, just having matches, running around with sparklers without a father looking on, was a punishable offense that could get one sent to one's room. One's room where there was no TV let alone a computer.

Being bad, I knew, often brought its own consequences, worse than being sent to your room where Nancy Drew was always waiting. In line for my turn to light my sparkler, breathing through my mouth, glasses slipping down my sweaty nose, I worried at those consequences: the danger of getting caught, of getting burned, of backing out and being called a suck. Which was the greater danger I wondered, while JoAnne's sparkler lit up with that tell-tale lisping spark. That first hiss and flash was thrilling. We held the sparklers straight out, far away from our almost bare bodies—sleeveless cotton tops, seersucker shorts—and drew circles in the air; trying to write our names before they fizzled out. 

Thwut. Thwut. Thwut. 

The sparklers had come packaged in a slim plastic bag, a dozen, maybe two dozen in neat little soldierly rows. Someone's bright idea, that older brother's? [mine?] to bore holes through the plastic with the red hot end of the stick. Sizzle. Spark. A flash, a flare. Plastic flying. A red speck, a ladybug, landing on my hand, the fleshy side of the pointer finger of my left hand.


Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children are gone.
A red hot ladybug. A scream. Mine. Someone pulling the plastic free. [My brother?] Great big gulping tears that had to be swallowed. No running home to momma for me. No hugs. No there there, it's okay

The consequences. A tiny scar, a shiny little spot, ladybug in size and shape, just to the right of the knuckle. Vivid then, a solitary spot on my pudgy little girly 10 year old hand, that scar has been joined by other scars since, remnants of slipped knives, dripping candle wax, freckles and age spots from a lifetime of living in the sun. The marks of time, the consequences of living.




Image Credit [AllThingsBrightandBeyootifulTumblr]

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