FRESH YARN presents:

The One Armed Babysitter
By Barbara Rushkoff

Stacey was the daughter of some lady that my mom knew from The Sisterhood at the synagogue. The Sisterhood was a kind of Jewish ladies club where the main activity was talking on the phone about who did what to whom. They even had their own phone books with an embossed picture of the synagogue in 3D on the cover. Their husbands' names, usually Chick or Sol, were listed in parentheses as were cute little sayings like "Yenta" or "Is that a knish in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" Stacey's mother was listed as Yvonne Himelfarb, "Vonnie," and her husband was Morris ("Moishey"). There was no mention of their only daughter, Stacey, or the fact that she was missing an arm.

I had seen Stacey around the neighborhood when I was riding my bike. She used to hang out at the schoolyard with a bunch of kids that looked like they were thirty-five years old. They would sit on the ground, smoke cigarettes right down to the butts and then flick them clear across the yard. You could tell they thought they were tough, like a cult of Junior Mansons or something, only they drank Yoo-Hoo.

Whenever they saw me watching them (They were so exciting. Even when they were just eating Fritos!), I would feel really boring. My perfectly coordinated pants and top from what I thought was a "cool" store named Butterfly Luv were simply not dangerous or cool enough for them. Butterfly Luv was next door to the anti-Semitic grocer, a place called Ham the Man. I was never allowed to go in there because Mom had said Ham (the actual name of The Man) once threw a party with his own cold cuts, only they were delicately trimmed into the shape of swastikas. And while Mom ate the spread, "just to see if they tasted racist," she said that we probably shouldn't go in there anymore.

Although Stacey's small group of friends was only about 6 or so years older than me, they looked like real adults with enlarged pores and everything. There's a huge difference between being 11 and 17. There was Stacey in her big girl bra, ratted out hair and adult acne. And then there was me in my undershirt, Pippi Longstocking braids and prickly heat rash. I so wished I could be grown up just like Stacey. She mostly hung around two guys. The one I liked the looks of was named Jordan. Jordan was lanky and freckled and his hair was as big as a kickball. The other one was Jeffrey, a short pudgy guy with wire framed aviator glasses, bushy eyebrows and a penchant for wearing flip flops even when it was cold out. This gang didn't do much except for hang out in the school yard where they made bracelets out of found telephone wire that we called gimp.

Stacey's one arm was usually adorned in those bracelets. Mostly she didn't bother wearing a fake half arm or anything, but sometimes she wore a flesh colored piece with a plastic hand. Stacey never talked about her missing arm and I was too chicken to ask her about it. I would have been happy to light Stacey's cigarettes or brush her hair or polish her fake arm. I wanted her to let me in on all her secrets like how to iron your hair and what it feels like when a boy gropes you.

I almost got my chance when Stacey came over one afternoon to get to know me and my sister and brother before she had her first professional gig babysitting at our ranch house. She did this by plopping down on our slip-covered sofa and staring at us for fifteen minutes straight, not blinking. I thought she was really cool and imagined that she was thinking the same thing about me. I was sending her telepathic telexes -- was she getting them?

A few days later, on the night of the Goldfarber Bar Mitzvah, my father picked Stacey up in his car although she only lived around the corner. That's the thing about my family, why walk when you can drive? Even if it means it will take you twice the time to find a parking spot. Driving is better than walking and sitting is better than standing. Staying still is good too.

By the time Stacey came over we were heavily drugged from our starch and sugar dinner. We had no energy to play tricks on the sitter or beg her to stay up late. Stacey seemed to be in a bad mood, too. Something told me to just leave her alone because she had that look of losing it at any minute. She ordered me to bed by pointing straight to the bedroom with her foot. I was used to this. Lying down is even better than sitting!

Sliding into my bed, I almost pulled my shoulder blade out. My mother liked to tuck the sheets in way too tight. Feeling like a sardine in double layers of saran wrap, I fell onto my cold pillow, ready to dream a little dream. Every night my sister and I would put on records to fall asleep to and tonight we had picked The Beatles, "Abbey Road." I fell off to sleep, singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," but the sound of the doorbell ringing and strange voices rattled around in my head soon thereafter. Wasn't that Hee-Haw special on tonight or had my sister switched the Beatles to something else?

I got under my covers some more and quickly started to dream about some long-haired love-boy. I clung to Rosarella, my Spanish puppet doll, although it was difficult because she was wooden and not very comfortable to snuggle.

"You have out of sight hair, little chick," said my dream boy.

Hey, call me a kid with an active imagination -- I've been called worse -- but I didn't think I was dreaming anymore. Unless boys in your dreams ask you where your hair brush is, get the Dippity-Do and start to comb out your hair.

"Octopus's Garden" played as I now found myself upright in my bed. It was my beloved Jordan. He must have come over to visit Stacey. Or did he really come over to see me? It didn't matter because there he was next to me, smelling like dead lettuce. I didn't move, too fearful that I was still dreaming and might shake myself out of this bliss. Jordan was holding me like a giant doll, brushing my hair with his fingers. The next thing I felt was a spatter of cold Dippity-Do. He began to coat my head with it, smushing it on in huge glops. It felt... pretty good.

"You are the most beautiful doll in the world," he garbled.

This is where it gets weird-ER. When love-boy spotted Rosarella, he totally dropped me like last year's Barbie. Apparently, Dippity-Don't.

"You two look exactly alike. Which one is older?"

I tried not to move too much, because no matter how strange this dream had gotten, I still wanted more of it. However, Jordan's hand had lost all interest in my noggin and now both of his mitts were on Rosarella.

"Want to go to a party with me?" Too bad he was talking to the doll.

I looked over at my sister, who was sound asleep and snoring. Still inert, with a mound of hair gel piled on my head, I saw Jordan trudge out of my room. I resumed the fetal position and tried to get back to a deep sleep. I tried to get back to the place in the dream where my love-boy embroiders my jeans for me -- with gimp.

The next sound I heard came from my mother a few hours later. It was pitch black in my room. My bed sheets were totally off and the room smelled faintly of burnt tires anguish. I looked at the clock and it was almost 2:00 am. Mom was yelling something about "goop being all over the place."

Goop was this slimy liquid kind of toy that came in many vibrant colors. It was in bottles with a pouring spout for easy access. You could pour the goop into readymade molds of your choice. Then you drop the molds into boiling hot water and thirty seconds later peel out the newly formed goop work of art. It was evident that Stacey got a little curious about the whole goop factory. In a way, I couldn't blame her. Goop was so thrilling!

My mother started yelling for my father as he came in the door from dropping Stacey home.

"Look at this! Goop everywhere." She led my father into the hall bathroom, muttering something about "Helter Skelter." The walls were covered in the stuff. Stacey hadn't even bothered to heat the goop up. She just drew on the walls with it right from the bottle. I was secretly impressed.

Mom started scrubbing the place right then and there, still dressed in her gold lamé pants-suit. When the stink of Ajax hit my nostrils, I knew it was safe to go to sleep again. I must have slept like a rock because the next morning, my head felt very heavy. I didn't have a headache but something was wrong. When I tried to put my hands through my hair I found that it wasn't glued to the pillow at all. It was glued to my scalp. Screaming, I ran to the mirror. Coated on the top of my head was thick film of green guck.

"Did Stacey touch your head? I'll kill her!" My mother often threatened death, but I had never seen her actually do it.

This obviously called for a call to the Sisterhood. Mom dialed on the kitchen wall phone and delivered her battle cry.

"This is war!"

I heard my mother say to her friend Mona Baum-something on the telephone. When she hung up, Mom pulled on her ankle boots, grabbed me, and together we went to pay Stacey a house call. It was war, after all.

Stacey's mom, Vonnie, was almost tranquil as my mom explained "the wild LSD party" Stacey threw at our house the night before. I sat there, trying not to scratch my hair, which was hotter than jock itch in August.

"Feel the head," my mother was screaming at Vonnie. "The head is hard. Feel her hard head. This is my child's head!"

Vonnie weakly smiled at me and with one finger gently patted the mound of gel that formed into a molten layer.

"Where is Stacey anyway? Sleeping off the dope?" Vonnie still didn't seem upset as Mom got more and more agitated. "Go get her. I want her to see Barbara's head."

I'd heard bits and pieces of what was said to have happened at my house. From what I gathered, Stacey threw a full on drug party at our house the night before. I really didn't understand what that really meant at the time. All I had to go on were commercials of young girls jumping out of windows because they thought they could fly.

My mother made Stacey touch my head. I wanted to die but she giggled, then broke off a piece and started to examine it. Maybe she would make a bracelet out of it for me. My mother was waiting for some kind of gargantuan apology but it didn't happen. Anyway, this would no doubt be a much more interesting story to tell the Sisterhood.

Ten minutes later we were back at home. Mom bypassed the kitchen telephone and went straight for the goop factory in my brother's room. She tore it apart as best she could. Then she took every bottle of goop and poured them down the sink.

My brother and I openly cried. He did so for the goop, and I did so because my head was seriously beginning to feel like my hair was cracking off.

"Mom, can I wash my hair yet?" I was starting to leave a trail of green flakes wherever I went.

Mom ran me over to the kitchen sink and pulled out the hot water attachment to burn off the remaining sludge still perched on my head. The water was way too hot, but I didn't even feel it. I had a coating on my head as thick as three layers of Play-Doh. I was well on my way to using the whole bottle of Gee You Hair Smells Terrific conditioner before I felt my hair re-emerge.

I went back to my room, feeling ten pounds lighter. Although my bed was already made up, I forced my way in. I was dizzy from keeping my head in a downright sink position for so long. Maybe a little nap would help me figure out a way to get Stacey back into my mother's good graces. I reached around to have an imaginary conversation with Rosarella, but she wasn't there. Weird.

I had other things on my mind though. Like, looking for Stacey to tell her that I didn't blame her. But she didn't seem to be around anymore. Maybe her mom had sent her away to one of those teenage get-off-dope camps where they make you sit around for hours and make stupid things like ashtrays. For you know, your pot.

However, I did see Jordan a few months later. He was alone sitting in the corner of the schoolyard, eating a bomb pop. I wanted to run over and talk to him, so I could show him how long my hair had grown (from the Dippity-Do?) Maybe we could have a nice talk and he could tell me where Stacey was hiding. I positioned myself behind some bushes and peeked at him for a little while. He was talking out loud, but I didn't see anybody. I glared hard at him, secretly wishing that he'd walk over to where I was and pluck me up onto his shoulders and carry me away. We could go to Ham the Man and he could buy me an orange soda. I tried to put a trance onto him by scorching him with ESP. I had watched The Amazing Kreskin on The Merv Griffin Show, so I thought this was possible. I kept saying his name over and over in my head, summoning him to me.

"No one understands me, but you," wailed Jordan.

Oh. My. God. He had heard my silent wish after all! I started to make my way to him, gliding like those girls with the flowing hair in the Breck commercial, almost knocking over my bike in the process.

The noise must have unclouded Jordan's secret thoughts because he quickly scooped up Rosarella and sped off in the opposite direction. In about two seconds flat he was out my view entirely.

He never even saw me.



A few years ago my mother spotted Stacey at a friend's swim-club. When I asked her how she knew it was indeed Stacey, my mother replied, very seriously, "Well, she is STILL missing her arm." As if it should've grown back by now! What freaks me out most is that Stacey was at a swim-club. She must've gone suburban.

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