The Long Maturing Road

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

As I was walking – no, crawling – on my long maturing road, I moved from a junior college to a university and switched majors from Communications to English Literature.  Why?  I was afraid to drive the freeways.  Embarrassing to admit back in the day, but it was true.  Anxiety regarding driving the freeways actually changed my entire college path.  I had transferred to a state college with a forty-minute drive on the freeway, but on the first day of school, I had a panic attack, and realized I couldn’t force myself to meet the challenge; when it came to fight or flight, I was a flight risk.  So, with a lot more shame than embarrassment, I ended up transferring to a university with a mere fifteen-minute drive from home to classroom… on streets.  At the time, it was just another seemingly paralyzing, shameful reason as to why I was stuck in a place of arrested development; and another reason why I felt so insecure and would find myself escaping into Tom Jonesville, a place I went to whenever I needed a boost or a release for my many emotions.

Tom Jones - Do we like the striped short-sleeved sweater?

Most people thought my fear had to do with actually driving on the freeway, or a fear of getting lost, which I have to admit, not wanting to go outside a 5-mile radius beyond my home tended to confirm that theory.  However, the biggest reason I didn’t drive the freeways had more to do with the fact that I got severe migraines, which were often triggered when driving.  I would be cruising along and suddenly, the glint of sunlight off of a chrome bumper would temporarily alter my vision and I would see spots and lose part of my vision.  Once the spots showed up I would inevitably have a “light show” in my eyes, followed by temporary, partial vision, and a severe, debilitating migraine headache.  I would end up in bed and stay in a dark room for one or two days.  The pain of these sick migraines was severe and debilitating and lasted for years. 

Because we didn’t go to doctors, I didn’t know what that visual problem meant, and so, in my ignorance, I was afraid that I was losing my vision.  My mother and I would pray, and pray, and pray over this lurking fear of blindness.  I had so many lingering fears regarding my sight and the horrible pain and sickness of a migraine that it interfered with my ability to live my life freely for years.  In my limited world, fear of losing my vision while driving also translated to fear of driving any distance by myself on freeways.  What would happen if I had to pull over and wait for an hour on the side of the freeway to get my vision back?  What would happen if I became sick on the side of the freeway?  Good things don’t happen to girls alone on the side of a freeway.  I would focus on every news show that featured a horrible story about a woman on a freeway.  As usual, my inability to contain my fears always led to catastrophizing.

Tom Jones, 1972 - The striped sleeveless sweater?

At this point, my father, who did see doctors, took me to his ophthalmologist.  The surgeon was shocked to find out that I feared losing my vision, and was quickly able to identify the lights and loss of vision as a migraine “aura,” which can precede a migraine for up to 60 minutes and can include blind spots, fine lines that float across your field of vision, spots that move or shimmer, and flashes of light.  I cannot describe the relief that came with the news that I wasn’t facing blindness.  It was as if I had been living in the Dark Ages, and a man from the future came back to share his knowledge.  (Side note: These migraines can still occasionally knock me off my feet, though in the late 80s I began to use medication to help with the pain and limitations they imposed on my life, and it made a huge improvement in the quality of my life.) 

Speaking of my father, I have to honor how he always moved heaven and earth for me to see Tom Jones.  In fact, I honor all of the men – the fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, and male friends – that were patient and accepting of all of us women who danced around Tom Jones for years and still do, and made them change their plans, spend money when maybe we shouldn’t have, attend concerts, let us control the TV clicker on certain nights, listen to albums or CDs over and over again, drive us long distances, etc.  For me and Mommio, any trips to our mountain cabin were planned around TV Guide and had to occur either before or after any TJ television shows or specials; Dad just accepted it as “girl rule” and part of his lot in life, as these were the old days, before Beta, video, or DVR.  (Today, can you imagine such a life?) 

Due to my fear of driving the freeways, Daddio would always drive me up to whatever L.A. box office was selling TJ tickets, because I could get better tickets than places like Ticketron offered.  He also gave me the tip to show my photos with Tom to “improve the odds of getting better tickets.”  He was a keen writer, due to the fact that he went to law school, (though getting his law degree was interrupted by the war), and when I was really young and trying to promote “Tom’s Booster’s” fan club, he taught me everything about being specific and checking for details, and how to edit, edit, edit.  He was a great salesman and businessman, and Daddio was probably the one who told me to have a “cheat-sheet” in front of me when I made calls to Tom’s management in order to prompt me what to say.  It actually helped assuage my nerves, and is a life lesson I’ve used for years.  Daddio always had more confidence in me than I had in myself, saying repeatedly, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”  I never believed him, until I met Tom Jones.    

Near the end of his life, my father took me out to a little restaurant on Balboa Island in Newport Beach.  After lunch we would always walk around the Island, admire the beautiful and charming homes, and check out the sailboats and “stinkpots” in the bay.  He was struggling with his short-term memory this summer, more so than ever before.  He forgot three times that we had already ordered our lunch, but was able to describe, in detail, the way his childhood bedroom looked, the first car he got when he was 14-years-old, and what he ate on board ship in the navy during World War II. 

Neither of us knew this would be our last lunch alone together, or that in a mere three months he would be gone.  Out of the blue, he asked, “Judi, was I a good father?  Was there something I could have done better?”  For me, just asking that question was the very answer.  There were so many ways he was a good father that I could write a blog about this tall, handsome man who wore a bow tie, seemed to know the answer to everything, was generous beyond words, and always left me with a kiss on the cheek, saying “I love you, my sweet,” or “Keep your powder dry.” (This is a “Be prepared!” reference that comes from the old days when you had to carry a satchel of dry gun powder to place into your gun when it was necessary to shoot, and meaning you have to be careful with your resources and use them when you need them.)

Tom Jones, 1973 - Or the plaid three-quarter-sleeve sweater?

I have to admit that among the many things I told him I was grateful for was his willingness to pave the way on my long trip to Tom Jonesville.  Like my mother, he knew it was important, but unlike my mother, I don’t think he understood why.  But that was the beauty of my father; even if he didn’t get the why, he simply understood it was.  While we ate lunch, I reminded him about the time he drove me up to my sister’s place to see Tom in L.A., and a few days later, after I seeing him on and offstage, Dad was supposed to pick me up and take me home.  Suddenly something came up in his business and he couldn’t pick me up; mother was ill and couldn’t pick me up; and my neither of sisters could get me home.  I was afraid of going on a public bus system with so many strangers, or in a taxi with only one stranger (on the verge of an anxiety-ridden agoraphobia attack). 

For some reason that neither one of us could remember, I had to get home.  What did he do?  Daddio sent me home from LA to Orange Country in a six-seat passenger airplane.  There was twenty-something me, scared-to-death to be with five very serious businessmen heading home from a long day’s work in L.A.  I was able to manage my anxiety because I was actually flying on a TJ high.  Daddio and I both laughed out loud remembering all of his enabling of my Tom Jones shenanigans.  I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, because by then I was managing my life-limiting migraines, fears of driving the freeways, and oh-so many other things that in my teens and twenties I didn’t dream possible during my Tom Jones days.  We both laughed it off, but I will be forever grateful that he supported me 100% in the long maturing road that included… the singer who saved me.

Tom Jones Reality Check – Part 2

July 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Should I stay or should I go?  That was running through my head at warp speed sitting on the sofa with Tom Jones in the backstage mobile home at the Universal Amphitheatre in ’73.  I didn’t have much time to think it through.  Tom was wearing a leather jacket.  Was he going to stay or was he going to go?  Would it be right to separate from the fan I came with?  Was it selfish of me?  Was it safe for me to stay alone, and safe for the other fan to go alone?  Would that be breaking an unspoken fan code?  If you come backstage together do you have to leave together? 

Should I stay or should l go?  Cell phones weren’t even invented yet, so how on earth was I going to let my sister know that I would be staying?  She was waiting for me back at the parking lot.  How would I get back to her place in LA?  Would a ride be provided?  Would I get a taxi?  Was there a phone in that funky mobile home?  I was not yet wise to the ways of… well, what was it?  Changing from fan to groupie?  Oh, heck no, I thought, I am not a groupie.  Remember, groupies are gone in 60 seconds. 

Should I stay or should I go?  Within seconds, I realized my goal was unchanged.  I was going to get close to Tom Jones so that he could see all of the wonderful qualities I expressed that no one else could see.  (Distorted thinking.  Of course there were people in my life who saw good, positive qualities in me.  I just couldn’t accept it because I didn’t believe it.)  Then, Tom would somehow magically fall in love with me, just like when the handsome Prince falls in love with Snow White and they live happily ever after. 

Tom Jones – Universal Ampitheater 1973

Should I stay or should I go?  I did not stay.  I believed that jacket meant he was going to go, and I didn’t want to “party” with a bunch of musicians and hangers-on.  There was only one person I wanted to hang onto, and if he wasn’t there, there was no reason to be there.  Besides, if I had ditched my sister, my family would have called 911 and let the bloodhounds loose. 

Of course, after I left, I privately, anxiously ruminated over whether I made the right decision.  Did fear make the decision for me?  What if this was the time and place that Tom Jones fell in love with me and I blew it again?  And why, oh why, did I have to ask about Snow White?  I loved being called Snow White.  I must admit that it made me feel special, and I did feel like I was waiting for my prince to come kiss me and break the evil spell I was under.  The spell of self-consciousness, self-doubt, and sometimes, even self-loathing.  I loved being Tom Jones’ Snow White until I asked him the questions that I wished I’d never asked once I heard his answer:  

“You’ve called me Long Tall Sally, which I get.  But, you’ve called me Snow White a few times.  I’m kind of curious.  Where did Snow White come from?” 

I wished I had never, ever asked that stupid question.   When Tom told me he called me Snow White because I made him feel like a “dwarf,” he recognized, in that split second of my mortification, that his comment was more hurtful than cute or funny.  Given my limited ego strength, it was hard for my brain to compute his honesty, and that it really said more about him than me.  At the time, however, it was still too close to the teasing and bullying I experienced.  I was still too tender and still too sensitive. 

Jones always took me away from my issues.  I always felt like his extraordinary confidence trumped my extraordinary height.  But this time, my question about the nickname opened my personal can of worms that slithered all over my fears and anxieties to strangle any shred of self-confidence I had in that moment.  As I look back on those photos with Tom Jones, (see post Tom Jones’ Reality Check), I see a young girl who didn’t see or feel her own beauty.  I see a young girl who heard from a grandmother, “Number One Sister is pretty.  Number Two Sister is beautiful.  And you, Number Three Sister, you are (imagine a painstakingly long pause) different.”  I see a young girl who heard from adult strangers, “You’re different,” and from children, “You don’t belong.” 

Handing Over the Tie

Why did that girl allow others to be the barometer of her feelings and confidence? I felt so lacking in normal human connections that I sought after a superstar to find some kind of super connection.  That Jones was so accessible is still amazing to me.  (NOTE TO MUSICIANS AND SINGERS:  Lesson 101 – How to Build A Fan Base, by legendary singer and icon, Tom Jones.  Be accessible to your fans.  They will follow you into the future.)  I was not a stalker, errr… welll, I do have some funny stories about a limo chase or two, but that is still to come…  And is it really stalking when you kind of, sort of know the person and kind of, sort of know where they/you might be going???  But, I digress. 

One of the biggest flaws in my pursuit of Tom Jones, and that I’m sure everyone on the face of the earth would have told me except that I kept it a secret, was looking to him for validation.  As I look back I realize that I was always looking to someone, everyone – my mother, my father, my sisters, my church, Tom Jones, and later, friends – for validation.  I was looking for someone outside of myself to give me what I could not give myself – confidence.  In that small, private moment when Tom whispered something in my ear, he validated me from an external standpoint, and so the confidence was fleeting and dependent upon his feelings and words in that moment. 

On-stage Banter

In that moment, he took me from painful to pleasurable feelings in the blink of his eyes.  But the validation was external, fleeting, and short-lived, which explains why it fueled the fire to keep me in Tom Jonesville for years to come.  I was always trying to connect and then reconnect to my object – Tom Jones, The Voice of energy, comfort, and emotional expression, the worldly and famous superstar – who, by finding me attractive and loveable, would allow me to believe that I was worthy, significant, and that all six-foot-two-inches of me had a place in this world.  (Another distorted belief.  Even though my religion told me I had innate value as a child of God, I didn’t feel it.  Even though I believed that all human beings had innate value, I still didn’t feel it.  Let’s face it, I was still a sensitive, tortured soul.)   At twenty, I knew I still wasn’t the woman I needed to be for Jones to fall in love with, but I was much closer than the hypersensitive 17-year-old, the gawky 18-year-old, or the awkward 19-year-old.  I was getting a little more mature, a smidge more talkative, and able to reveal a tad more of my personality.  While outwardly I may have looked like a young woman who had her act together, inwardly I still had a lot of work to do. 

Not long before the Amphitheatre performances, which I attended on multiple nights, I had a class in which 50% of our final grade was based on oral presentations.  I spent weeks begging my professor to allow me to write a lengthy paper in order to avoid standing and speaking in front of the class.  Nonetheless, I had to do the oral report, and my face flushed, my voice quavered, and my whole body quivered from start to finish.  So, how did this same girl gather the courage to run up to the Universal Amphitheatre stage, ask Jones for his tie, and be kissed by him in front of over five thousand people?  It was the sheer magnetism… of the singer who saved me.

“Hello. Is that Snow White?”

May 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Tom Jones fire was alive, but the next trip Mommio and I took to Vegas was not  exactly the trip we planned.  We flew in on a Hughes Air bright banana yellow jet, (what was Howard Hughes thinking?), and went back to Caesar’s Palace.  Mother wasn’t  feeling well, so we went straight to the hotel room so she could lie down before we went to the Friday night dinner show.  As we dressed, I was nervous, because my mother was my rock, my right hand, my wing-woman so-to-speak.  Even though I was now a grown, mature-looking 20-year-old, I depended on her like I depended on Tom Jones – only lots, lots more.

All performance photos – Ceaser’s Palace, Las Vegas

In my family we kept all of our physical ailments private, so no one really knew that both Mom and I suffered from chronic, “sick” headaches.  Mom was determined to make it to the first show, so we put on our make-up and our evening gowns and headed downstairs for the dinner show.  In the elevator, we ran in to some of Jones’ musicians.  This was in the old days when he traveled with bandleader, Johnnie Spence, guitarist “Big” Jim Sullivan, well known from Jones’ TV show, other key players, and a rather large orchestra.

Mother, being extremely friendly and sociable, asked the musicians if they played for Tom, and struck up a light and friendly conversation with them.  “Where are you boys from?”  “How long have you been playing?”  The trumpet-player took an interest in me, and said, “I’ll look for you after the sets this weekend.”  Mom and I giggled after he left, both of us knowing full well without having to say it, that she would never, ever, for a moment, consider letting her underage daughter go out with a musician in “Sin City.”  Remember, Vegas in the 70s was not the family friendly Vegas of today.

What the trumpet player didn’t know, and what Mother didn’t know, (or did she?), was that I only had eyes for Tom Jones.  I mean, come on, when Tom Jones is the first man you have ever kissed, and you meet him when you are a teenager, why wouldn’t you think that maybe you had just an itty-bitty, eensy-teensy, tiny-winy little chance?   Helloooo, silly girl, because he was Tom Jones?  Because he was a superstar?  Because he was married?  Because I wasn’t in his league?  Because I was so young, so tall, so shy, so sensitive, so anxious, so…  Oh, puhleeze!  That didn’t stop me.

Onward, to the pre-show routine of slipping Jesse the maitre d’ a few “dollahs” to get close to the stage.  We ate the preliminary meal, and Mother chatted the preliminary Tom-chat with our table-mates, such as “Have you seen him perform before?”  I sat quietly.  Getting to the foot of the stage at Caesar’s Palace was the culmination of another year’s worth of motivating mantras that pushed me beyond my comfort zone.  My goal was to look and act “normal,” rather than like the girl who hides in her house, and only crawls out in order to go to college and church and a few other designated “safe places.”  My goal was to get to this time and this place where I could believe, even if for a moment, that when Tom Jones sang “She’s a Lady,” he was looking at and singing that song to me.  (Weren’t many of us smitten fans thinking that?) 

Mother and I were equally enthralled when Jones jumped onto the stage.  Jones and The Voice were like the Pied Piper to me, at once hypnotizing and energizing, and I found myself standing and asking him to autograph the blank page of my photo album (currently seen on my blog home page).  Where did that courage come from?  He teased me a bit, in a good way – a kind of a playful, flirtatious way.  No bullying from Tom Jones.  He made me want to say to all of the bullies, “See, this man finds me attractive.”  Hmmm… a recurring theme of finding self-worth through attachment to someone considered special.

This first show was the perfect way to start our TJ Vegas trip, but as soon as we got back to the hotel room, Mother went to bed for the rest of the weekend.  Uh oh.  This was big trouble for me, because I was petrified to do anything independently.  We kept the curtains drawn, the lights low, and had room service for the rest of our stay.

Mommio encouraged me to go out to the huge Caesar’s Palace pool the following day.  What was a normal activity for everyone was a challenge for me.  There was a lot of anxiety around leaving the safety of the hotel room; fear of going in the elevator by myself; fear of getting lost in the huge hotel (and it’s even bigger and better today).  Once I found the pool, there was fear of getting a towel from the pool boy.

Then came the ultimate nerve-wracking experience of taking off the cover-up to reveal the endless skinny girl legs. This was decades before Bethenny Frankel coined the Skinnygirl brand name and being a skinny girl became a good thing.  I tried to act normal and relaxed while sitting in a chaise lounge in a bikini.  But, I’m sorry, I wasn’t relaxed in my body when it was covered from head to toe, let alone, sitting in a bikini by myself poolside.  I don’t think there are too many people who feel relaxed in a little bikini.  Well, maybe Tom Jones.  But he was exceptionally fit and trim – and a bit of an exhibitionist.

The not so shy, Mr. Jones

I was not going to go to the second night’s shows in Vegas because Mommio was still sick, and I was too timid to go to a show by myself.  She kept encouraging me to get dressed “just to see.”  Mothers.  That’s how they lure you in to doing things you think you can’t do.  So I got dressed in my kelly-green “hot-pants,” a little one-piece jersey jumpsuit, (it was the 70s and short-shorts, as they are now called, were “in”), and black patent boots, that had to be “taken in.” That’s right, my legs were so thin that Anthony the cobbler had to take out inches on each side of both boots.

I was so nervous and self-conscious that much of the night seemed like an out-of-body experience.  Throughout the evening I had mini-panic attacks, but I was getting better at not letting anyone see what was going on in my body or my mind.  I managed to pay the “toll” to sit down front. People probably thought I was aloof, even though I was actually nauseous with fear and probably would have started crying if anyone had tried to engage me in real conversation.  There was anxiety due to not having my designated “safe” person with me.  Anxiety due to all of the attention I was getting wearing the very “hot” hot-pants.  And anxiety related to being completely out of my element; the outside didn’t really match the inside.  I was a faint-hearted young lady, and not the sexpot I had dressed to portray.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is… Tom Jones!”  The moment he began to sing, all of my fears melted.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the sound of his voice was my “relaxation response” that Herbert Benson describes in his book, The Relaxation Response.  All of the tension in my body dissipated.  His power on stage seemed to act as a defibrillator on my weakness; a magnetic force that allowed me to breathe in Tom Jones, breathe out Tom Jones, and feel stronger.  I felt a degree of confidence I normally didn’t feel.

After Jones’ hello to the audience and a corny joke, (I think all of his fans love his cute, corny jokes), about how Las Vegas reminds him of his youth in Wales because, “When you work in the coal mine you don’t get to see much daylight, (pregnant pause), and it’s the same thing here.”  Then, from out of the blue, while he was hydrating his throat with his own drink, Tom Jones asked the table, my table, “Everything alright?”  How’s Snow White treating you?  She okay?”  I got the impression he was talking about me, and as shocked as I was, I gave out a vibe in a whatever Lola wants, Lola gets manner that told him I knew what I wanted, and it was him.  Then he raised his glass, looked directly at me, and said, “Cheers,” with a twinkle in his eye.

After he sang “She’s A Lady,” Jones again drank from his own glass, again looked at me and said, “Hello.  Is that Snow White?”  Now I knew he was talking about me.  “That she is that,” he continued.  Could he hear the Disney song waltzing through my brainDid he know he was my Prince Charming?  What would have happened if I had burst into singing “Someday My Prince Will Come”? (Song by Larry Morey and Frank Churchill.)  Forget my previous nickname – Long Tall Sally – I became Tom Jones’ Snow White during this Vegas sojourn and thereafter.  The dwarves asked their lady if she was a princess, and when Jones called me Snow White, I felt like a Princess with a capital “P.”

As I stood up to continue the conversation, he said, “It’s you again.”  This time I pulled out my photograph from the Greek Theater (seen in the post “Be Careful What You Wish  For”).  “I remember,” he said.  “I remember everything.  Well, (pregnant pause), nearly everything (audience laughter).”  As I handed him a pen, he asked, “What are you shaking for?  You were shaking last night, as well (more laughter).”  I was in Seventh Heaven before the kiss, which brought the house down with roars and cheers.  Despite a little shaking, I  realized I had made an impression on Tom Jones, the man whose voice had been my comfort and joy for years.

Now that Jones has been forthright about his less than perfect ways, and documented them in his song called “The Road,” from his CD, 24 Hours, I will, for the first time, admit that I had “heard” from the more groupie-side of his fan base, that sometimes someone was invited backstage on behalf of Jones.  A trusted Jones employee, whom I will call The Getter, would deliver the invitation.  As I left, still in the thrill of what my youthful mind saw as on-stage flirting, I saw him – The Getter – and he was looking at me, heading my way.

I panicked.  I started shaking.  I could barely breathe.  My chest was pounding – this was a full-blown, gale-force panic attack.  My endless legs, barely covered by my little hot pants and knee-high boots, automatically bolted, while my waist-length blonde hair fluttered in the wake of the speed at which I moved.  Forget Tom Jones, forget all of my hopes and dreams – I could not get up to the safety of the hotel room and my mother fast enough.

Of course, Mommio immediately wanted to know everything, and in my breathlessness I shared everything that went on.  Everything, except the come-hither-I-am-woman vibe I put out, and the incident with The Getter.  I knew that if I told anyone about those things, especially my mother, my Tom Jones concerts, future backstage visits, and the mere possibility for me to somehow get him to fall madly in love with me would have been immediately shut down.  Kaput.  Over.

As I lay in my hotel bed that night at Caesar’s Palace, I was so disappointed in myself.  I spent the dawn hours chastising myself for my childishness.  I couldn’t believe I ran.   But, I wasn’t ready.  I had enough insight to know that while the outside appeared to be sexy and sophisticated, I was far from being that Cosmo girl I was trying to depict.  I was still extremely immature, very naïve, and dare I say, innocent?  In fact, if I wanted to  hang with Tom Jones, I needed to get an education by reading Cosmopolitan magazine, or maybe even Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown.  Unfortunately Sex and the City author  Candace Bushnell was still a blink in her parents’ eyes.

I wondered how could I yearn for something so much, yet literally run from it?  Then it dawned on me.  Maybe the Getter wasn’t coming for me.  Oh no.  What was I thinking?  Tom Jones flirts with every female from age 5 to 95.  Maybe The Getter was going toward a celebrity or a business acquaintance that Jones was inviting backstage.  Oh no.  Alone in my bed I felt foolish and embarrassed.

There I was, a flesh and blood, 6-foot-two-inch blonde Snow White, muddling through a humdrum world surrounded by dwarves and dreaming about Prince Charming.  The Disney-animated, short brunette Snow White got her Prince Charming.  Even though I ran like the wind at twenty-years-old in Vegas, I still wanted my prince to be… the singer who saved me.

Long Tall Sally

April 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

We returned to Vegas in spring of 1972.  This time Tom Jones was at Caesar’s Palace.  The hotel was dripping with gauche golden Roman decor, and men and women running around the casino wearing togas.  Former fighter, Joe Louis was Caesar’s formal “greeter,” wandering around the hotel welcoming the guests.  There were often comedians, such as Don Rickles, Norm Crosby (he toured with Tom and his malapropisms teased about “the fringe on his benefits”) and football stars, such as Deacon Jones, and many other football players whose names I’ve forgotten, hung out in the casinos or by the pool.

This trip was just me, Mom, and Tom (forget the several thousands of others there to specifically see TJ).  This trip to Vegas wasn’t something I had to earn, so it was all about seeing Tom Jones and loooooking goooood.  I spent a lot of time preparing just the right clothes, sewing most of them, because during that time period, there weren’t a lot of clothese to fit my 6’2” frame.  If, I wanted to wear pants, I had to make them myself to fit my 36-inch inseam; if I wanted to wear jeans, I had to buy them in the men’s department, and let’s just say, there was always just a little too much fabric in the crotch area.

Despite all of my clothing challenges, Mommio and I were dressed to the nines from arrival to departure in Vegas.  Yep, while I had a distinctly spiritual side that prayed and thought about how to be a good daughter, a good person, and a good citizen of the world, I had this flip-side that focused trying to make myself look good in order to make Tom Jones fall in love with me.  Because if Tom Jones fell in love with me, I would feel beautiful, right?  Because, “I leaned the truth at seventeen that love was meant for beauty queens…At seventeen I learned the truth/And those of us with ravaged faces lacking in the social graces/Desperately remained at home inventing lovers on the phone/Who called to say come dance with me…It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.” (“At Seventeen,” lyrics by Janis Ian)

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club, Caesar’s Palace

At almost nineteen, something very strange began to occur.  Boys who used to be really mean, were suddenly looking at me in a different way.  I was still just as skinny, but any ounce of fat that I gained went to what judge Len Goodman, on Dancing with the Stars, refers to as the “chesticle” area.  Instead of being told, “You’re so skinny you look crippled,” (yes, someone had the gall to say that), boys, and even men, were suddenly saying, “Hey baby, hey baby,” (imagine Gwen Stefani singing the chorus).  But the change was too fast.  It was confusing.  What I was beginning to hear, didn’t match the internal dialogue inside of my head that said I was different and I wasn’t good enough.

 

As Mother and I enjoyed two fabulous days of fantastic Tom Jones’ shows, she had figured out how to get us seated at center stage.  There would be no more viewing from afar – uh-uh, oh no.  From now on it was up close and personal.  From now on, Jesse the maitre’d was the man to get us close to our man. Jesse and Mom spoke a special language called Greenback, and I think it took about 50-60 greenbacks to get us to that center-stage, touch-TJ’s-boots seating.

One thing we found fascinating was, how many men end up at Tom Jones’ shows, especially in Vegas.  These dear husbands, fathers, sons, and boyfriends who love their women so much that they are willing to sit around a bunch of women who are prime to go crazy and throw some panties at a man singing “What’s New Pussycat.”  The men are always won over by his voice.  Always.  That is the power of The Voice.  Despite the singer’s sexual antics and all of the wild women, The Voice is always the most important presence on the stage.

At our first show the music played, and the words announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is… Tom Jones,” and I found myself literally sitting at the feet of the man who had been singing my teenage pain away, singing my adolescent heart to beat, and singing my youthful soul alive.  I knew the rhythm of his show (i.e., he sang two upbeat songs, then took a break to say hello to the audience and have a drink, before singing a slow song).  Suddenly, after the second song, I found myself standing, and this shy, awkward girl who was afraid to walk to the mailbox or go to school became determined, brave, and womanly, with a glass of water in her hand reaching out as an offering.  I heard him say to the band, “Well, looky here, there’s long, tall Sally.”  Jones was referencing the song, and the first of two nicknames he gave me over the years:

“Long tall Sally has a lot on the ball

And nobody cares if she’s long and tall

Oh baby, yes baby, whoo-oo-oo-oo baby,

I’m having me some fun tonight…”

(Long Tall Sally, by “Little” Richard Penniman, Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, and Enotris Johnson)

We had a mini on-stage chat, during which I lied about my age.  My spiritual side which told me to always be truthful, was always at war with my need to make contact with my object of transition, but there was no way I was ever going to voice the word “teen” in any conversation I ever had with Mr.  Jones.  That could seriously jeopardize his ability to fall in love with me, which was, after all, my ultimate goal.  Remember too, I looked far more mature than I actually was.  And then it happened.  Tom Jones leaned over, put his arm around my back, and kissed me.  This was not a little peck on the lips kind of kiss.  This was a man kissing a woman kiss.  This was my first kiss ever, with any man.  How lucky can a tall, skinny girl who was bullied and teased and felt nervous and anxious and terrible about who she was get?  My first kiss was with… the singer who saved me.

The Motivating Mantra of My Younger Years

March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

While most 18-year-olds and the law consider an 18-year-old an adult, I still felt like a child.  Like a little girl in a big girl’s body who had to hide.  Someone who couldn’t cope with normal things, like driving on the freeway, going new places, meeting new people, or getting out of my comfort zone – and my comfort zone was really, really small.

From the Lens of T.H.

And so, with much encouragement from my parents, I enrolled in college.  I no longer had the incentive to see Tom Jones perform in Las Vegas, so this is the slightly twisted mental game I played with myself in order to give myself the courage to move forward in my life:

“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to get out of the house.”

“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to drive to college.”

“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to walk into that classroom.”

From the Lens of T.H.

Why did I need to use the idea of Tom Jones falling in love with me in order to do the things I feared?  Obviously there was a lack of ego strength; a lack of confidence and self-love; a teenage self-loathing based on anxiety, teasing, bullying, rejection, not relating to “normal” kids at whatever age, being different from others, etc. The sheepish teenage girly-girl in me liked his exhibitionism and told me I needed my motivating mantra because he was handsome and must be as wonderful as my youthful hopes and dreams (projections, really).

My subconscious was sending some kind of message I didn’t know or understand at the time, and had something to do with me knowing that Tom Jones would never fall in love with the person I was.  So somehow I had to become the kind of person Tom Jones might fall in love with.  I couldn’t become the kind of person I needed to be just for myself, so I had to become the kind of person someone really special, someone who had a gift, might fall in love with.  If someone who has value loved me… it would mean I had value… right?

From the Lens of T.H.

If you look at ego development from Erik Erikson’s (esteemed developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst) point of view, adolescent occurs between 12 to 18, and is a time in which you find your identity through what you do, who you socialize with, how you define your beliefs, how you begin to grow away from your family, begin to move into your own social circle, and become part of society.  Somewhere during the normal course of childhood development, I grew physically tall, but was emotionally stunted; my family defined my beliefs and I had accomplished none of the steps of maturity listed above.

While I did a lot of praying, I didn’t know any other ways to help myself, so I “attached” to this singer who was able to express so beautifully and powerfully, in song, every emotion a human being could feel.  I depended upon his voice to always be there for me; I depended on his songs to identify or express how I felt; and once I saw Tom Jones sing live in Las Vegas I depended upon him to make me feel like a woman.  I also depended upon Tom Jones to never reject me.

From the Lens of T.H.

In Tom Jonesville I was safe.  Entry into the real world as a college student, however, was challenging because I had become so withdrawn it was difficult to be around strangers (basically, anyone I didn’t know, which meant everyone).  I lived in fear that someone, especially a professor, would speak to me and I would have to respond.

Thus began my secret life with my motivating mantra, “If Tom Jones is going to fall in love with me, I have to…”  And though it may sound odd, this is what helped me negotiate the scary dark corners of my younger years, and yet another way… the singer saved me.

BAM!

March 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

BAM!  Taking in a Tom Jones show in an intimate lounge setting was like getting a shot of adrenaline.  One minute I was simply existing, and the next I was acutely aware of the blood rushing through my veins, my heart pounding to the beat of the music, my ears keenly attuned to the sound of The Voice emoting the gamut of love, hate, sexuality, and even death in song.

“This is Tom Jones” Fan Club – Chicago 1971

BAM!  The memory of Vegas lived on.  By the time we were home, mother and I relived it again and again, as if it was our own personal Live in Las Vegas album.  Remember when he bound out on the stage?  Remember when he took his jacket off?  Remember when he drank champagne?  Remember when he bantered with the audience?  Remember when he danced?

BAM!  We loved every second of the singing, but we were suddenly focused on the man, because that was the first time we had ever seen the man.  Tom Jones was no longer a 36” television screen or a photograph on an album.  He was a real man.

BAM!  A real man.  The moment I laid eyes on Tom Jones in Las Vegas, I knew.  I knew I had to meet him.  I didn’t know how or when.  I just knew that somehow I would.  It was now my purpose in life.  And this is where my road got a little twisted.

This is something I never shared with anyone at the time, because to make it known would have been too embarrassing.  I knew it was childish and immature, and I would have been humiliated if others knew my true The Real Manmotive.  But, in my teenage fantasies, I believed that if I could just get Tom Jones to fall in love with me, everything would be all rightI would be all right.  If Tom Jones fell in love with me… it would mean I would have value, I could feel good about myself, I would feel loved, and I would live happily ever after.  Right?

There was just one catch.  Well, to be honest, there were a few catches.  Tom Jones was married.  I was an underage, “jail bait” teenage girl who couldn’t even walk to the mailbox without having conniptions.  I still struggled with hypersensitivity, social anxiety, awkwardness, and shyness.  I had trouble carrying on a conversation with my old friends, had no new friends, and in fact, my only friend was pretty much my mom.

Still, in my heart of hearts, I believed that if I could get Tom Jones to fall in love with me, everything would be all right. BAM!  Somewhere within, there was an itty-bitty strength that told me an unknown, unremarkable teenage girl could meet a famous, remarkable superstar — the man of her dreams and teenage fantasies.  And so, listening to the singer saved me… morning, noon, and night.

Hold On

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Well don’t you ever be sad,                                                                       Lean on me when times are bad.                                                                       When the day comes and you’re in doubt,                                                           In a river of trouble, about to drown.                                                                 Hold on, I’m coming.  Hold on, I’m coming.                                                                              Song by Isaac Hayes and David Porter

Atlanta Early 70s

After I broke out of my high school “prison,” I was safe at home.  Or was I?  I noticed that for a while, I was never left at home alone.  It was probably a wise decision made by my parents.  I often took a bubble bath and would plant my feet up on the end of the tub, almost floating in the water, surrounded by clear opalescent bubbles, thinking of ways to end the emotional torment.

In the old days, the taunting might have made it to the principal’s office, or maybe to the parents of the bullies.  Today, sadly, we see it on the national news and watch as parents talk about their beloved child committing suicide because of relentless bullying; we hear the anguish it has caused in the angry, quivering voice of the father who’s handicapped child has been teased and tossed around on the school bus; we hear about online cyber-stalking; and then we hear the professionally calm voice of newscasters speak dispassionately of teen suicide statistics.

I always wish that I could reach out and grab that child who decides to drive off the cliff.  I was that teen ready to put my foot on the gas pedal, full speed ahead over the cliff a’ la Thelma and Louise before there was Thelma and Louise.  I felt ugly… a misfit… rejected by and alienated from my peers… depressed… hopeless.

But – BIG BUT – if you can just hold on, hold on, it can get better.  You can grow up to find life, love, and happiness.  But, you have to hold on, despite the immediate and seemingly endless pain and humiliation.  You have to hold on to the seed of a promise of hope that the suffering will eventually end.

I held on to my mother.  I held on to my father.  I held on to my sisters. I held on to my cat.  I held on to my God.  I held on to my religion.  I held on to education.  I held on to my passion for clothes and fashion.  I held on to writing as a form of self-expression.  I held on to the TV (remember, in the “old days” there was no PC, no internet, no email, no Facebook).  I held on to music.  I held on to Tom Jones.  And the singer saved me.

“Lean on me when times are bad”

My head was filled with The Voice.  I tape-recorded his TV shows before there were Betas, VCRs, and DVDs, so I could play the music while I did chores, got dressed, did homework, etc.  Tom Jones was in my head 24/7 – even when I wasn’t listening to him, the Memorex in my head was blaring his voice and fueling my adolescent girl crush on the pop star.  He soothed my broken soul and was the reason I sometimes walked with a beat in my step.  It wasn’t a song he was known for or recorded, but I could remember him sing, “Hold on, I’m coming.  Hold on, I’m coming,” and I held on… to the singer who saved me.

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