You Asked for It!

Skylaire Svenglad of Glen Ridge, NJ remembers the influential television programs of her childhood:

There was a strange television program when I was little, called You Asked for It, which was a kind of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” treatment of freaks and people with deformities. I think it ended before the whole Thalidomide thing began, but it definitely would have feasted upon those victims.

What we did see were a guy with no lower legs, but who played tennis successfully by bouncing around on springs attached to his stumps. And a guy who had no arms, but could shave himself every morning with a safety razor between his toes.

Watching this program brought me to a very embarrassing episode in my young life, because my little brother just assumed from this that crippled people and amputees loved to talk about their deficiencies and put on a show for you. Was my face red! But I’ll get to that in a moment.

I happened to remember that strange show recently because my husband and I happened upon a really gross cable series featuring Weird Body Modifications. One of the examples was a man whose dog was dying because of liver cancer (also the dog was old), and the man had the dog’s head and forelimbs sutured onto his own body. Like on his shoulder, you know. And this partial dog actually survived this way for a little while, so the man got to spend a few more days with his beloved pet. But the dog’s system and the man’s blood didn’t get along that well, and the dog paws quickly turned necrotic, and within a week or so the man woke up and found a dead dog-head on his shoulder. Then to make matters worse, the man came down with some serious blood disease that eventually killed him. He got buried with the (now detached) dog head.

Then there was a woman who wanted to be a Human Glove Puppet. She’d actually lost use of her legs, and bladder and bowel control through some progressive nerve damage, and the doctors wanted to remove the whole bottom half of her body. So she said, Why don’t you just hollow me out like a glove puppet, then I can be like Kukla and Ollie, and people can put their hands up me? This was not really medically feasible, since there were still vital organs in her thoracic cavity, but they did a little bit to make her happy. I think she died soon too.

I don’t understand people’s fascination with this stuff but obviously it’s been going on for many years. Getting back to You Asked for It, my brother Tim saw an episode with a quadriplegic artist. He could draw really well with a graphite stick or tortillon in his mouth. He did really good portraits.

So we are visiting some relatives in the city, and going up in the elevator, and this old woman in a wheelchair gets on. She’s got almost no hand control, because her fingers are all twisted from rheumatoid arthritis. She has to bang on a lever to make the wheelchair go and stop and turn. She’s getting on a lower floor, maybe fifth floor, and apparently going all the wall up to the penthouse, where our relatives are.

The elevator opens directly into my relatives’ hallway, because, as I say, it’s the penthouse, and they’re the only people on that floor. So we all get out and apparently this old woman in the wheelchair is this friend and neighbor they invited to dinner.

Throughout the evening, Little Tim keeps trying to get the old lady to stick a crayon or pencil in her mouth, and draw a picture of him. We’re all embarrassed, the old lady included, since she can’t draw. But Tim’s only five years old, so what can you do?

Maybe that’s not much of a story, but it was embarrassing at the time.


Uncle Moloch at the Supermarket

Mrs. Linsley Horgenrather of Hillsborough, California favors us with this hellish reminiscence of growing up in the 1950s:

Whenever Mumsy was in the insane asylum, I got sent to stay with Aunt Pudge and my cousins in Seattle. They lived in the U District, in one of those ugly brick houses that look as though they were built in 1840 but were probably built in 1930. I’m saying this just so you can picture it.

(If you’re wondering where my father was, it was probably Singapore where he trying to sell some deal to Jardine Matheson. At least that was the story we gave out, because it shut people up.)

Aunt Pudge was some kind of assistant dean or administrator in the University’s psychology department. Her job consisted of talking on the phone a lot, and signing memos. When I was really little my cousins and I spent a lot of time playing in the big anteroom outside her office. There were a lot of strange toys out there, like a mechanical bear that when you squeezed it would open its mouth, and a turtle would come out.

Sometimes psychologists would come in and watch us. They believed that the first toy a child chose in the room would determine your course in life. I always went for the bear, so they decided I was going to be a dental hygienist.

Aunt Pudge’s first husband died during the war, and she had a succession of men in her life afterwards. When I was about ten she was going with a guy name Moe. He was very exotic and foreign-looking. We called him Uncle Moe, though his real name was Moloch. He had pointy features and wore a goatée. He was going bald and often wore a beret, but he wasn’t French. Uncle Moe’s thing was trying to get you to undress, if you were a little girl. I don’t know what he did with boys. He was pretty creepy, so I didn’t like to be in his company unless Aunt Pudge was around. I don’t think she knew how creepy he was, because he seemed to behave himself around her.

One day we all went to the big supermarket in Wallingford. Aunt Pudge, Uncle Moe, my cousins Cecily and Curt, and me. Supposedly we were getting ingredients to make Cecily a birthday cake. She had very specific instructions for the cake. She wanted it to be three-layer, with the middle layer fudge brownie and the other two layers golden cake; with chocolate frosting that was colored orange, because her birthday was Halloween. Now, there was no Betty Crocker or Pillsbury or Duncan Hines cake mix like this, so we had to combine different mixes and ingredients.

Cecily and Aunt Pudge fussed over the mixes and frosting ingredients while Uncle Moe took Curt and me around the corner to the lobster tank. He asked us if we wanted a pet lobster. I couldn’t think of anything worse, but Curt actually said, “Oh yeah that would be keen.” This was an expression he picked up from Spin and Marty. “Oh yeah, that sounds keen!”

So Uncle Moe picked up Curt and held him over the tank and told him to choose a lobster. You weren’t supposed to put your hands in there. You were supposed to pick the lobsters up with a pair of long-handled pliers that hung on a hook above the tank. But Uncle Moe ignored that. Curt just reached in and grabbed a couple of lobsters and threw them on the floor.

This caused a lot of excitement among the ladies in the meat section, across from the lobster tank. One of them started to scream. There wasn’t anything to be scared about, because the lobsters had rubber bands around their claws. But when they scuttled across the floor it looked like they were chasing people.

The man in the white coat in the meat department came out of his freezer room to see what the commotion was. Uncle Moe tried to put him at ease. “It’s just the children having a little horseplay. You know how kids are!”

I don’t think the meat man believed Uncle Moe because, you know, with his beret and his pointed beard Uncle Moloch looked like a pretty shady character. But the meat man sighed and slapped his hands together and went over to fetch the lobster pliers.

What no one noticed up to now is that Curt was in the lobster tank. It was almost deep enough for him to swim in, and he was in all the way, kneeling on the bottom with the lobsters around him. Curt was making faces at us with his face pressed up against the glass.

I figured Uncle Moe was going to try to talk his way out of this, and he did, by saying it was me who put Curt in the tank. This was a sheer impossibility, but I always got in trouble if i talked back to grownups, so I stayed mum.

“I’m going to have a word with you when we get home, young lady!” Aunt Pudge said in the car when we stopped at the light at 45th and Roosevelt. I knew I was really in for it. Was my face red!


A Note to the Reader

This damned thing fell down because it was hacked numerous times and I never put up enough of a wall. Well now I’ve salvaged most of the contents and am assembling it again.

Your obedient servants

Penelope Pepper Pringlebury
Margot Vliet Sheehan Burns


Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing!

1 comment

Anchors Aweigh!

Mrs. T. B. of Newburyport, Mass., writes:

When I was a little girl staying with my grandparents, they told me we were going to visit old Captain Bottomley, who was a sailor. I had just seen Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh! so I had a very firm idea of what a sailor looked like. I was most eager!

However, Captain Bottomley was nothing like this. He was about a hundred years old and had a huge goiter. He had old green tattoos on both arms and he had a wooden hand that kept opening and closing, going clack-clack-clack like a castanet. He was so scary that I couldn’t look at the rest of him, and just focused on the wooden hand moving by itself. Clack-clack-clack!

My grandparents pretended nothing was wrong with this, and that Captain Bottomley was just this friendly old man with lots of stories about fighting whales and sailing ships in the olden days. He had shelves full of ships in bottles that he’d made himself, and little sculptures and etchings he had made on whale teeth when he was at sea and being bored.

He told me I could have one of them. In fact, I could have anything in the room, because he was going to die soon, he said. Without even thinking, I said, “Can I have your wooden hand?” Was my face red!

Funny thing was, Captain Bottomley took it off then and there and gave it to me! My grandparents had a big argument about whether I could keep it.


Sans-culottes in Sevenoaks

jeffrey bernard

This is an old story I got from Jeffrey Bernard. It appeared in his Low Life column in The Spectator a few years before he finally croaked. I understand he told different versions of it over the years. The setup is that there is a young man who is the son of an affluent bookie in Piccadilly, near Simpson’s. The father has an office party and the son drinks too much…

He was green and inexperienced, ignorant of drink and its attendant dangers. For an hour he mixed champagne with whisky — disastrous. He lost control and inadvertently how can I put it politely? — evacuated his bowels. With a mixture of panic and embarrassment he staggered into Simpson’s and asked an assistant for a pair of trousers. ‘What sort of trousers?’ he was asked. ‘Any,’ he said, ‘Any at all. The first pair that comes to hand.’ He left the shop with his purchase and hailed a taxi to take him to Charing Cross to get the train home. Once the train was moving, he went to the lavatory to clean himself up as best he could. Having done that, and as the train was speeding through the suburbs, he threw his dirty pants and trousers out of the window. And then, with what one can only imagine to have been a long sigh of relief, he put his hand in the Simpson’s carrier bag to pull out his new trousers. The only thing in the bag was a V-neck pullover. He had been given the wrong bag.

This is tight and quite sufficient by itself, but Jeff added a few more lines to fill out the column and to give it a touch of believability:

I presume he put his legs through the sleeves of the jersey, but what I want to know is where did he put the exposed V of the jersey. To the front or his rear? I wonder, too, what the ticket collector thought, let alone the other passengers alighting at Sevenoaks. He is probably a broken man now and gets out of the train either at the stop before Sevenoaks or the stop after in order to go home by taxi. He is now almost certainly a teetotaller. I presume he put his legs through the sleeves of the jersey, but what I want to know is where did he put the exposed V of the jersey. To the front or his rear? I won- der, too, what the ticket collector thought, let alone the other passengers alighting at Sevenoaks. He is probably a broken man now and gets out of the train either at the stop before Sevenoaks or the stop after in order to go home by taxi. He is now almost certainly a teetotaller.


The Manhasset Babysitter

A (male) friend writes, “Did I ever tell you about that time I babysat for a three-year-old girl? Well if I did, it was much worse than I ever admitted until now. I was sixteen, and a junior at Choate. It was Easter vacation and I was home in Manhasset. My parents went off to a party one night with another couple, friends of theirs who lived down the street. Now these neighbors had a three-year-old girl and couldn’t get a babysitter. I think their usual babysitter was off in Florida on a ‘Spring Break’ thing. Anyway they asked me to watch over little Pelissa.

“They had a great house. The kid and I just watched TV and ate some frozen pizza. Then she dozed off, there on the couch, and I went exploring. The best part of the house was the master bedroom, because they had mirrors rigged up on all the closet doors, so you could open them a particular way and see yourself on all sides, multiplied a hundred times, receding into the distance.

“After trying on some of the woman’s clothes (just for the hell of it), I stripped naked and got into some serious self-abuse right there on the floor, in front of the infinite mirrors. I got something to use as a dildo—the woman’s vibrator, I think—and had my legs high in the air. It was all working very well. And then the little girl came in. Very quiet, very sudden. The bedroom door just opened and there she was. She was staring at the bottle of Oil of Olay I had there on the floor next to me.

“‘That’s mommy’s,’ she said.

“I screamed at her to get out. After scaring her off, I tried to think up an explanation of what I was doing in there. I came up with a good cover story, and went to tell her. But she was asleep again, in her bedroom. It was after midnight, the parents were going to be back soon.

“I had to wake her up and tell her my fish story, otherwise she’d be telling her mother the next day about how I was entertaining myself with a bottle of Oil of Olay in front of mommy’s closet.So I went in and woke Pelissa up. And I said, ‘You see, I accidentally sat on a tack! And the tack was stuck to my rear end! And to find the tack I had to take off all my clothes and look at myself with my legs in the air and my head upside down! So that’s what I was doing! Oh boy, it still hurts!’

“And Pelissa just stared at me for a few seconds, then said ‘Okay,’ and went back to sleep.

“For years and years afterwards I tried to avoid these neighbors.”