Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Little Words, Big Trouble

Long before the advent of social media or my entry into the legal profession (i.e. the 1980’s) I was using the power of the written word to disseminate information and argue with people. 

I composed long, compelling, hand-written “briefs” to my mother about why I NEEDED to have a particular doll or other toy, and slipped them under my parents’ bedroom door late at night, like a Supreme Court lawyer filing for a last minute stay of execution. 

Though often effective and always fun, my instinct to put pen to paper at the slightest provocation occasionally got me into trouble, and once it got me into the most trouble I ever got into with my parents.

First, some context.

There were lots of crotchety, nasty old people living in our New York City apartment building, and only a handful of children. These were the kind of “get off my lawn” (although we didn't have lawns) type cantankerous geezers who were always glowering at us kids for blazing up and down the hallways in our roller skates, shaking their canes at us, and generally yelling at us for making the sort of ruckus that kids are prone to making. The kids were in an ongoing "us versus them" cold war with the geezers that occasionally flared up into a full-blown battle, with our treasonous parents routinely siding with the enemy.

Well I would fix them, but good. The enemy was about to fall prey to a shock and awe campaign that would put them in their place once and for all.

To that end, I convinced my next door neighbor—a girl about six months younger than me—that we should write anonymous, incendiary notes about all of these grouchy senior citizens and drop them out the window. Kind of like an analog Twitter war. The notes were intended to flutter down to the various balconies below our ninth floor apartments at random, so that the other residents of the building could know what all of us kids already knew: that we lived amongst a bunch of old assholes, who would finally be outed as such to the entire building, and ultimately, the world. 

The notes contained highly mature, ad hominem attacks scrawled in magic marker, such as, “Mr. so-and-so in 7C is a fat ugly jerk” and “Mrs. what’s-her-name in 6G wears stupid poopy underpants--we know 'cause we see her doing naked exercises in the window every day.”

It didn't take long for these anonymous notes to be traced to their source, and phone calls began pouring in to our parents, who were livid and subjected us to a stern lecturing. I tried to defend our military strategy, but was skewered during the Congressional hearings as my justifications fell on deaf ears. My mother's go-to-punishment--no dessert or TV for a week--was swiftly imposed, and the windows were re-enforced with screens, for "safety."

I never threw another note out the window again, but the very next week I took a notebook to the supermarket up the street and started recording the movements of every stranger I saw, using one of my favorite books---Harriet the Spy--as my blueprint. I ignored the stares of curious strangers that questioned what a nine year old girl in pigtails was doing alone in a supermarket, lurking about, peering suspiciously at people, and scribbling furiously in a speckled composition notebook.

I was a writer, goddammit, said my evil little gaze. And I would not be stopped.

UPDATE: Here was my mom's response to this blog post:
I read your funny blog piece about your childhood escapade throwing notes out the window with [NAME REDACTED. I remember getting very upset about it but I'm sorry to say all of the other details have been shredded and thrown into my brain's wastebasket of parental hysteria attacks that were, in retrospect, about not much of anything. If I said no dessert and TV for a week I'm sure I never carried it out beyond a day or two, which was about as long as I could last in enforcing any punishment. My grade as a disciplinarian was at best C-. It's funny to hear about what stands out in your mind from childhood.

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