I had my very first crush at the age of four on Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch. I watched the Brady Bunch religiously. My parents have an old cassette tape we made one night at dinner in the summer of 1980, in which you can hear me, with my pleading little voice asking if Greg could come to dinner. My mom said he couldn’t and you could hear her getting more and more exasperated as I kept on, “But why? Why can’t Greg come to dinner?” She was desperately trying to think of a reason. “He’s busy.” “But why??” “Um, he’s out with his friends.” “But I want him to come to dinner!” It goes on like this for quite a while on the tape. This was before I understood that Greg Brady wasn’t a real person, but a character on a TV show, played by an actor. In fact, I can remember the moment my mom told me that the Brady Bunch wasn’t a real family. I burst into tears and she felt terrible. She hadn’t realized I didn’t know. But I guess, when you think about it, how would a kid know such a thing? Why wouldn’t I think that there just happened to be this family, dressed in far out bell bottoms and polyester, that would be going about their normal business while the world watched? I conceived of reality shows before there were reality shows.
The other thing on the tape haunts my parents to this day. My mom was getting ready for guests and making some kind of dip to be served with Fritos. You can hear me in the background begging and pleading for some Fritos and my mom keeps telling me I can’t have any because they’re for the guests. Finally she breaks down and says, “Ok, you can have an ice cream cone or two Fritos.” Suddenly I sound so happy: “Fritos!!!” and a moment later, you hear, heartbreakingly, “why only two Fritos?” My parents feel so guilty about that one incident, immortalized forever on tape, that I am constantly receiving large bags of Fritos for my birthday, in my Christmas stocking, etc.
And speaking of cassette tapes… When I was about five my mom took me to see the movie Annie and I watched in amazement as other little girls acted and sang their hearts out on the big screen. I wanted so badly to do that too. My mom got me the soundtrack and my dad recorded it onto a cassette tape and drew a little picture of a curly headed girl on the label (a depiction of Annie herself). I wore that tape down, sitting in front of the stereo for hours, singing the songs and perfecting my performance. I would beg my mother to let me become an actress. I would look up talent agencies in the yellow pages and leave the phone book, open to the page, on the kitchen table in the hopes she’d get a brilliant idea. But to no avail. My child star dreams went unrealized.
It’s funny what kids will believe and imagine. In the house we lived in until I was nine, there was a small entry way between the living room and the dining room. I thought the dining room was called “the dying room” – it makes logical sense, after all. Why would there be a living room and no dying room to juxtapose it? So my brother and I would play Living Room Dying Room, a game I invented, which pretty much involved standing in the dining room, clutching our hearts and saying in an exaggeratedly feeble voice, “Oh no, I’m in the dying room, I’m dying!” Then we would stumble out into the entry way, a sort of limbo between the two rooms, and drag ourselves ever so strenuously into the living room where we would jump up and down and happily proclaim that we were alive! We made it into the living room! I can’t recall what else was involved in the game but it seems there must have been more to it. On the other hand, it may have just been us racing back and forth between rooms, caught in the gray area between living and dying.
It’s funny how trivial things felt so important then: the fact that Greg Brady couldn’t come to dinner. A disturbing lack of Fritos in my life. And why, oh why couldn’t I become an actress so the world would love me? Sometimes I long for a time when complete safety was available, only a few feet away, in the living room. That is, if you could only manage to drag your mangled, earthly remains out of the dining room and across the entry way.