by Maggie Dove
“I’ll tell you what, kid, if you earn enough money to pay for half of the [insert item here], I’ll go ahead and pay the other half.”
That line, or some variation of it, was spoken at one time or another on every sitcom I watched as a kid. I assume this was because sitcom writers were just trying to screw over every parent in America.
If it happened with one sitcom family after another, you had to assume that this was the way life worked: if, as a kid, I earn half the money for this thing I want, then you, as a parent, should give me the other half as a reward for going out and working to earn it.
Or for my initiative, or something.
I was on the cusp of fourteen, living in a cockroach-infested house with caved-in ceilings and collapsing, moldy walls, when I decided that I was going to turn my bedroom into a cool efficiency apartment with all the modern conveniences, and that my mother would, of course, finance half of it.
My mother and I have a special relationship, in that she's willing to humor me by listening to my "propositions" rather than just beating me to death, which is what she should have done any time I went to her with one of my propositions. I was never going to get what I wanted, but it seemed like she enjoyed watching me try, probably because no matter how many times she turned me down, I never failed to walk confidently into her kitchen the next time, ready to pitch a new proposition, absolutely certain that she was going to give me what I wanted. It’s probably just that old fashioned ant-moving-the-rubber-tree scenario. She appreciated my high hopes. Plus, we couldn’t afford cable television anymore, so she probably needed the entertainment.
I’m embarrassed to admit how long I droned on and on with my formal proposition regarding an $80 black satin cocktail dress with matching bolero jacket that I "needed" that one time for a friend’s Bar Mitzvah before I attempted the never-before-tried nuclear option of curling into a ball, while repeatedly banging my head on the high-low olive green carpeting of our living room floor, crying until I literally gagged. I wasn’t particularly proud of the turn that proposition took. What can I say? Satin dresses for formal events make teenage girls come unglued.
I rightfully ended up with a $15 baby blue and white dress with humongous shoulder pads that was more suitable for a rural Baptist church than a swanky bar mitzvah in the fancy town that was one over from our crappy one, which was more than I deserved for acting like such a brat. Teenage hormones are the actual worst.
After sharing my bedroom with my sister for nearly my whole life, I finally had my own room, and I wanted to really make it feel like my place. The kind of place a girl could come home to after a long day of sleeping in class in the eighth grade, kick off her discount high-tops, pop on some hair metal cassettes, smoke stolen cigarettes, and blow the smoke out the window through an empty paper towel tube with a dryer sheet rubber-banded over the end to mask the smoke smell. You know, kid stuff.
I had recently tried to personalize my room by adding a bumper sticker to my hollow plastic shelving unit that read: This room is protected by a Pit Bull with AIDS, but it still just didn't feel like me.
I realize I curry no favors with anyone by mentioning that cringe-worthy and offensive bumper sticker, and I would never find such a thing to be even remotely amusing today, but I was thirteen in the 80s and a low class, unwashed idiot, and these stories wouldn't do any good at all if I didn't offer the full unvarnished ugliness of my trashy adolescence. To my credit, I eventually replaced the gross and offensive bumper sticker with drawings I made of metal band logos that I signed with my own blood. While my mother was not amused, I thought Nikki Sixx would have LOVED it.
I sat in my room with the Service Merchandise catalog (R.I.P. Service Merchandise, where all jewelry proudly featured amethyst, blue topaz, and red garnet) for hours and hours over a period of weeks picking out what I would need for my awesome apartment/room. I figured if I went to my mother with a well thought-out plan and an itemized list of all the bells and whistles of each item on it, that she would admire the hours of research I'd spent on this particular proposition and happily allow me to plead my case.
Never mind the fact that we were so poor that we didn't have money for things like roof repairs or a car that wouldn’t need to be pushed in order to start. Never mind that we had to color our Easter eggs with red cabbage water one year because the Paas egg-coloring kit was too expensive, whereas we could still use the cabbage water for soup, afterwards. Never mind the fact that my two sisters and I shared a single pair of dress shoes that we had to fight over any time we had a formal event on the same night, resulting in so much hair being ripped out of each other’s heads that we could have made wigs out of it.
Never mind any of that. I needed a wall-mounted old-timey replica telephone, convection toaster oven, and a talking piggy bank/change counter in my room, damn it.
I admit the Fry Baby deep fryer on my list was probably a stretch, as were:
the framed picture that had a hidden wall safe behind it for hiding such important valuables as my Poison and Motley Crue cassettes;
the electric manicure set with attractive carrying case for easy on-the-go beautiful nails;
the mini-slot machine that could be loaded with spare quarters for red hot Vegas-style action right in the comfort of my own bedroom;
the miniature putting green for letting off steam after a hard day in the corporate rat race;
the miniature pool table with the top that flipped over to a poker table for all those swanky soirees I might have occasion to throw in the eighth grade, even though I only had two friends;
the pink neon flamingo wall sign that said So Cool in cursive (for obvious reasons); and
the SaladShooter. Because health.
We did actually have a kitchen in the house, but I thought it made more sense if I had my own right there in my bedroom. Granted, I didn’t enjoy cooking at all and would generally avoid doing it at all costs, but maybe that was just because I had to walk twenty feet from my bedroom to the kitchen to do so.
Maybe a SaladShooter in the bedroom was exactly what I needed to get my culinary juices flowing. Maybe I would become a chef and it would be an investment in my future. Maybe, someday, I would be on television, telling a late night talk show host that the thing that inspired me the most to be a world famous chef and culinary legend was the SaladShooter that my mother had so graciously agreed to pay for half when I was on the cusp of fourteen. Viewers at home would be so touched that they would buy their own teenagers a SaladShooter. The SaladShooter company would become the most successful kitchen appliance business for centuries to come.
Didn’t that seem like it was all worth it? Changing the face of the world was what was going to happen if I got that SaladShooter.
After pouring over the Service Merchandise catalog for weeks, I made my final selections, including the aforementioned SaladShooter, carefully cut out the pictures and descriptions of the items from the catalog and glued them down onto a leftover piece of poster board from my science project next to notes that I had written out in magic marker. I used all the colors of magic markers that I could steal from school because I had heard somewhere that people are more susceptible to sales pitches that constantly stimulate the brain with things like flashy colors. If I could have attached a strobe light, little metal pinwheels, and a couple of sparklers to the poster board, I would have.
This was actually the first Vision Board in existence, as far as I know, and we’re talking about 1989, so I would like my fair cut of the money that phony-baloney lady made off that book The Secret. I was pasting down pictures and wishing for shit I didn’t deserve decades before she and Oprah decided it was a thing. I'll take some of that Pinterest tech start-up money while we're at it, or, as everyone's mother calls it, Pin Interest.
Along the side of the poster board, I wrote out an itemized list of the total cost of the things I had picked out for my super awesome apartment for a grand total of: $540. At the time, my mother was trying to support three children while working a job for around $8.50 an hour. I was asking for more than two weeks of her pay after taxes to turn my bedroom into my own well-appointed apartment, complete with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Freddy Krueger. Did I mention the Freddy Krueger cutout was a collector’s item?
“But wait!” was what I had actually written at the bottom of the poster board with an arrow directing my mother to the back of the board.
On the back of it, I had written, “But you’ll only pay $270! Ask me how!”
I carted my poster board into the kitchen early one morning, where my mother was having her usual full pot of coffee while reading the mail, fully confident, as always, that I was bringing her a proposition she couldn’t refuse. It was such a complete, professional, yet dazzling presentation, how could she possibly turn me down this time? I thought that if I were her, not only would I give myself all the stuff I was asking for, but I would throw in, as a bonus, new pair of headphones, just to show how much I appreciated my youngest daughter’s moxie.
“With this kind of moxie, someday, this kid is gonna be a star!” she’d exclaim, and the dollar bills would start raining from the ceiling.
I made my presentation to her, flipped the poster board over to the back, and finished my sales pitch with, “And since I’ll be earning the first $270, all you have to do is give me the other $270! It’s a win-win!”
She did not move, but her eyes did glance up from behind the newspaper. The rest of her face still hidden, she said, “First of all, I don't think you have a real clear understanding of what the term "win-win" means, and second, if you think I’m giving you a single thin dime to turn your bedroom into a cool apartment, you’re out of your mind. Know who else wants a cool apartment? Me. And if I'm not getting one, you sure as hell aren't getting one, either. The answer is no. End of discussion.”
The term "end of discussion" from my mother simply meant you'd have to do a little wheeling and dealing. Everybody knew that. She was a soft touch with some things. That's how, despite being destitute, we ended up with six cats, three rabbits, and a pregnant mouse named Corinne, who subsequently shocked the whole family when she ate all twelve of her own babies, proving that I was correct in giving her such a dramatic, soap opera name even though everyone else had said it was a stupid name.
Corinne The Infanticidal Mouse was pregnant as hell when I bought her in the pet department at Zayre, the discount chain down the street, and I knew it. Mouse babies are adorable, you know, unless the whole cannibalism thing happens. I believe my exact words when I brought her pregnant mouse-ass home were, "I thought she was just fat!"
It was worth it to me to have everyone think I was just stupid if it meant I got to potentially cuddle with two handfuls of mouse babies. Maybe I would become a famous veterinarian someday, and when a late-night talk show host asked me what inspired me most to become a veterinarian, I would say it was the handful of mouse babies that I got to cuddle with when I was a kid.
Apparently, I have a thing for this late-night talk show host interview.
I ran my hand down the side of my vision board like Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune and said, “Look, I know money is tight, and it wouldn't make any sense for me to have all this stuff just for myself. That's why if you sign onto this deal today, I’ll let you use my SaladShooter when I’m not using it!”
She said, “How generous. What the hell is a SaladShooter and why would anyone want to shoot salad to begin with?”
I circled the picture of it with my finger on the poster board. “This! This here! You put the whole fruits or vegetables in the top and then it automatically slices them and shoots them out right into the salad bowl! Plus, the commercial I saw for it on TV says you can use it anywhere and that it's a breeze to clean!”
She looked back down at the newspaper and said, “Please tell me the date of the last time you prepared a salad, or even ate a salad, or cleaned anything.”
I realized I was losing her fast.
In a last ditch effort to get anything out of the deal, I told her I would be willing to just settle for the mini, retro-style fridge - despite the fact that it was the biggest ticket item so it wouldn’t really be "settling" at all. I was hoping she wouldn't notice and would accept my plea deal.
She looked up from her newspaper, sighed, looked back down and said, “Get out of my kitchen.”
“But that’s the thing! If I had my own cool apartment bedroom, I wouldn’t ever bother you in the kitchen again! You wouldn’t even know that I lived here anymore!”
She said, “Hmm. Now that’s probably what you should have opened with.”
I said, “So you’ll do it?! I can be ready to go to Service Merchandise in two seconds! I’ll go find your car keys!”
She repeated, “Get out of my kitchen.”
I picked up my poster board and started down the hallway, knowing for sure that I had been defeated this time. Next time would be different, I was sure of that.
I yelled back to her, “Everyone’s parents on TV are willing to do this! This is how this whole parent/child thing works, you know! You’re supposed to admire my initiative!”
She yelled back, "And stop stealing all my cigarettes and dryer sheets!"
[Check out Maggie Dove's back porch advice]