Camelot, Marilyn Monroe, and the Red Panties
The Red Panties Fable states that she who covets them shall become what they represent. Arthur pulled the sword from the stone to become king, so too, she who slips on the red panties will become queen—the queen of the perfect female form—or so I believed.
The End of the World
Do you want to know why I bought them? Do you? Do you really want to know? Because I’m sick and tired of being looked at as a scrawny, nerdy—whatever—and having it make me feel like one.
Tonight, I decided to write everything down that happened to me. Why? Because it’s either write or bust! And I’ll write everything!! The truths, the fantasies, the frustrations!!! I’ll hold nothing back!!!!
To start with—who has the right to say that a nerd can’t buy and wear red panties? There are two women inside every female: the sexy Marilyn Monroe type, desiring nothing more than to draw out the lust in every male. And the gentle, Jackie Kennedy type, the sophisticated female soaking up every ounce of respect and dignity she knows she deserves.
Do you want to know what pushed me over the edge? Do you? Do you really want to know?
Both the women inside me, Katina Beebe, were brutally assaulted today, Friday, September 20, 1963—the real day that will live in infamy!
I sat on the steps of the school entrance just after the last bell and had paused at a page in my Life magazine when I felt them behind me. I turned and looked up. One hand dug under each armpit and yanked me to my feet. Life flopped down a step and sprawled open to a large picture of my idol of female sophistication.
The big senior, who my best friend Heidi and I called “Miss Boobs,” snatched the magazine up and stared at it. I wondered if all perfectly formed females like her were nothing more than hourglasses filled with the sand of human insensitivity. Maybe it just came with the package.
“So, Ka-teenie weenie, this is who you admire?” Her two senior companions holding me on either side laughed. “You really think your nerdy, freaky qualities are going to put you in the same class with Jackie Kennedy?”
She ripped the magazine in half.
“Hey,” I said. “That’s mine.”
Miss Boobs tore each half in half and tossed the fragments over her shoulder. The wind scattered them over the steps. The other kids sitting and standing around looked, saw it was me, and then went back to what they were doing. That’s how little respect I get around Aberdeen High School.
Miss Boobs pointed at me. “Hold this nerd tight. I’m going to show her how to bring out her only feminine quality.”
Her senior companions squeezed tighter sending ripples of pain bouncing through my body. Miss Boobs opened her shoulder bag and removed her lipstick. Pulling the top off, she moved it toward my face.
I shook my head. “What are you doing?”
“You juniors need to stay out of our way,” Miss Boobs said. “Now, hold still, or I’ll color your whole face red.”
The girls beside me clamped their hands on my head holding it still. Miss Boobs grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled back my head. And then—and then I got really mad!
I thrust my elbows backward, smashed two sets of ribs, and both girls doubled over and released me. Grabbing the lipstick from Miss Boobs, I smeared it on her face and shoved her good and hard. She stumbled down the steps and fell into the grass.
I strode toward the sidewalk paralleling Monroe Street—that is, until Bill Morgan stepped in my way. He’s the second-in-command in Ricky Mason’s gang—a gang devoted to tearing apart nerds like my best friend Heidi and me.
“Whoa,” he said. “Wait, wait, wait.” I stared at his muscular frame as he shoved a finger in my face. “Ain’t you the nerdiest nerd there is?”
“No way,” I answered, and moved to stride around him. He stepped in my way again.
“Well, well, well, Miss ‘Skinny Minnie’ Katina Beebe.” He threw up one finger. “You can’t just walk around me like that.”
I feigned walking to the right. He stepped in that direction, and I darted around the other side and scurried to the street. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Bill strutting after me.
Continuing up Monroe, I hurried toward Front Street. Another glance back found Bill talking to two other Ricky Mason gang members. They took off after me while Bill twirled around and headed for State Street in the opposite direction.
I reached the intersection, trotted across Monroe, and disappeared behind the row houses up Front Street. As soon as I was out of sight, I broke into a run. I reached Jackson Street and Bill Morgan jumped out from around the corner grabbing my shoulders. The other two boys pulled up behind me and Bill pushed me back into them.
“Where you going in such a hurry?” Bill said.
The taller boy with the hunting cap grabbed my right arm. “Yeah. Where’s the fire?” He broke into a long, machine-gun rattle of giggles.
“Fire?” the short kid with curly blonde hair said, “Hey, you can tell people you was burned in one. That’ll explain why you’re so ugly, and that it’s not really your fault.”
And then I got really mad again! I thrust forward and gave Bill such a shove that it sent him reeling backwards into the bricks of the row houses. “Now just one cotton-picking, barn-burning, corn-poning minute here.”
I spun around, jumped up, and let both feet fly toward the other two boys. Each foot connected with a different stomach, and the two dropped to their knees with their mouths frozen in an open position.
In my dreams!
I remember last year in tenth-grade American literature when we studied James Thurber. His character of Walter Mitty always appealed to me; probably because I felt a kinship with him. He sat and daydreamed about being the ultimate hero—and he really was the ultimate zero.
And so am I. What really happened that morning was this:
Miss Boobs drew a hairless vulva on my cheek and ordered me not to erase it until I got home. Bill Morgan and his two henchmen did bump into me, and I did run; but they caught me and made fun of the drawing on my face.
Bill got rough by grabbing my hair and pushing me against the row house, brick wall. They all made fun of my other body parts, too. Bill said my putrid-brown hair looked like a wad of cooked spaghetti. Giggle Boy said I was as skinny as a stick of macaroni, and Curley said my boobs were the size of two gumdrops. All sadly true.
Then they pushed me to the brick sidewalk causing my glasses to fly off and my books to scatter everywhere. My skirt flew up exposing my backside and Bill pointed out my scrawny rump. Then Giggle Boy said I looked like I was drawn by a Mad Magazine cartoon artist after he and his buddies threw an all-night drinking binge.
They left laughing louder than a pack of wild hyenas, and I couldn’t help thinking it was too bad for them the Germans lost World War II. The Ricky Mason gang would have made great Nazi guards in a concentration camp.
A weird thing happened as soon as they left. My tears dried up, and I felt too humiliated to cry. I stood still stuffed with many mixed emotions, my lousy life flashing through my mind. I hated Ricky Mason and his gang. I hated boys! And I hated shapely girls with big boobs!!
But much more than that—I hated being Katina Beebe!!!!!!
Welcome to my World
It’s Saturday, September 21, 1963. I stepped out of my shower, dried off, and got ready for a day of shopping with my parents.
It’s so weird. That incident with Bill Morgan yesterday encouraged me to write. And writing out my emotions actually made me feel better. I think I’m going to start a regular diary.
Anyway, that putrid nightmare points out how much I hate everything about my life. I can’t help thinking that if I had the legendary red panties, I, too, could feel like the eternally seductive female.
I saw myself a few short years from now, when my breasts would appear for real and my hips bulge with more sex appeal than Marilyn Monroe’s on a Hollywood movie set of a New York street. I’d be standing on a grating in a long, white dress.
“I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille,” I said.
“It’s Mr. Wilder,” the director replied, stepping out from his film crew. “And we’re going to do the full shot first, my tantalizing, stimulating sex kitten.” He pointed to the grating. “In a few seconds we will turn on the blowers. You look all sexy, and when the wind shoots up, throw your hands down in front of your dress so only the sides of it blow upward. We don’t want your underwear to show. We want the men in the audience to use their imaginations and fantasize that underneath your dress … you’re wearing nothing at all!” He cupped a hand to the side of his mouth and spoke so only I could hear him. “Just be careful not to get the crew too excited.” He winked, and I winked back.
“Okay,” he said, leaping back among his film crew. “Quiet on the set. Start the blowers … and … action!”
I pursed my lips, wrinkled my brow, popped a twisting finger onto my darling little dimple, and wiggled my hips as the air started whisking my dress upward. Thrusting my arms between my legs, I—boom! I turned into the nerdy Katina Beebe right in front of the entire film crew! My dress tore away showing me in plain pink panties and training bra. The extra cameras panned in for close-ups to show every ugly detail of my undeveloped, scrawny body for a future documentary on the ugliest people in America. Then Mr. Wilder pointed at me and he-hawed like a jackass, and the rest of the crew started he-hawing with him.
Oh damn! Hit by another horrible daymare. Everyday, four and five times a day, daymares invaded my thoughts. Most people had nightmares, but I had to be different. Mine haunted me during the day.
Anyway, those days of feeling like that and having daymares over them are going to change. Today I’m taking charge of my life!
My father never waits for anyone. Today he and my mother left the house and sat in the car waiting with the engine running before I even pattered downstairs. I stopped and held open the front door dreading being cooped up with him in our small car.
My father is a dark and sinister character. Pessimism is his middle name. George P. Beebe. The P actually stands for Percival, but he doesn’t like to hear it. He dislikes everything and everyone, but he especially hates change-of-life babies—and I mean “hates” with a capital HATE!
He is sixty-four years old. Go on and do the math. Sixty-four minus my age, sixteen, means he turned forty-eight when I was born. And that implies he was forty-seven when in the act of—well, you know.
“Will you move your behind and get in the car?”
I shook myself out of a stupor and stared at him standing by the opened driver’s side door leaning on the roof of his Ford Falcon. I set the lock, closed the front door, and pattered down the concrete steps. Trudging along the sidewalk, I reached the car.
“It’s about time,” he snapped as I slid in the backseat and shut the door.
For quite some time I suspected my parents adopted me because I didn’t think males could—do it at such an advanced age. At any rate, I figure that’s why I slithered out of my middle-aged mother so deformed. I’m the Quasimodo of Aberdeen, Pennsylvania, and refer to myself as the change baby; because change-of-life babies are always the world’s Quasimodos—unwanted, unloved, and forced to live in secluded cathedral towers, alone and destitute.
“Morning, Father,” I said as he slipped back in, slammed the door, and glared at me through his rearview mirror. He hates to be called “Dad.” He says he already raised one kid, and he didn’t want to deal with everything the title “Dad” connotes. I had to check that one out. Connote arouses an idea with feeling. I had to agree with him on his lack of feelings, which explains why I stay out of his way most of the time.
He mumbled his response as he pulled away from the curb. I glanced at the back of his head and watched cigarette smoke drift above the driver’s seat.
“Good morning, Kat,” my mother said. She said everything overly cheerful. It’s downright depressing to always be around a person bubbling with too much joy, yet unaware of the world around her. If they ever drop the hydrogen bomb on Philadelphia, she would probably say, ‘My, what an unusually bright day today’ and continue on with her merry housework. If ignorance were bliss, and bliss money, then my mother would be very rich.
“You gave me the name Katina, Mom. Can’t you use it?”
Everything about me is weird. Even my name is weird. Katrina. Now there’s a normal name. I used to think my mother told them in the hospital my name was Katrina, and they left out the r by mistake. But, noooooo. My mother, in her finite wisdom, decided to use a name no one’s ever heard of.
“But Kat would be such a cute nickname for a teenage girl. It just dawned on me last night. You must be getting tired of me calling you the childish ‘my little kitten.’”
“Meow,” I purred. “If you had given me a middle name, I’d have used it instead.”
“But I just gave you a middle name. It’ll be Kat.” She reached back and plucked a piece of lint off my skirt.
My mother is fifty-nine, bright, and bubbly—to the point of SUFFOCATION! Gag! Gag! And as neat as the proverbial pin—which I’d like to use to pop her busybody bubble of a distorted world sometimes!
I leaned forward and she tweaked my cheek between her fingers forcing me to pull away and groan.
“I’m terribly sorry we weren’t selected to host the English foreign exchange student,” she continued. “I know how much you were looking forward to it.”
I stared at my fingernails and fought an overwhelming urge to bite them. “I could’ve told you that when you first came up with the idea. The first law of the universe is … anything I want never happens.”
My mother offered me that blank grin I hated so much. “The whole world is not out to get you, Kat. You’re a bright girl. You’ll get over the disappointment.”
She always tried to make me out to be special. Gag again! In elementary school she told me September birthday people like me were special because we were Christmas babies. I was well into junior high before I realized she meant September babies were conceived at Christmas! What a dubious distinction.
“Is the English girl in any of your classes?” she asked.
“Victoria is in my fourth period English and seventh period physical science.”
I shoved some fingers in my mouth, and my mother slapped them away. “Stop biting your nails. You’re almost a full-grown woman.”
“Full grown?” I said. “That’ll be the day.”
My father drove us to our favorite diner, Geppetto’s. We went on to a hardware store, and then to a delicatessen to replenish his supply of the most disgusting breakfast dish of all time. Scrapple! Yuck! And double yuck!! Doesn’t he know that stuff’s made from all the rejected pig junk that no one else eats?
Grocery shopping came next followed by a very quick stop at my mother’s favorite ‘over-priced’ store: Strawbridge and Clothier. It was the one luxury my father allowed her twice a year, but he put her under the clock—one hour. Tops! Not a minute more. So, here’s where I planned to make the most infamous purchase of my life.
“Oh, Kat,” my mother said, pointing to the sales clerk behind the cosmetic counter. “That would be a good job for you until you get married.”
I winced. “Selling cosmetics? Yeah, Mom, the management would love that. I’d be perfect proof that makeup doesn’t work on every woman.”
“You’re less than two years from graduating,” she said. “You’ve got to decide what you’re going to do with your life.”
“I told you. I’m going to be a cartographer.”
A rapid heating sensation seemed to be burning a hole in my cheek. I turned to discover my father’s eyes glaring at me. “A car … tographer?” he said. “And what in God’s name is that? A person who photographs automobiles?”
“No, Father. It’s the profession of mapmaking. They draw maps from aerial photographs.” Inside my head, I slapped an image of my hand against an image of my forehead. I had used the wrong word and now nothing could stop my impending doom.
“Profession? A woman’s profession is in the home…,” my father said for the six millionth, six hundred and sixty-sixth thousandth time, “… tending to her husband and children. That’s what you need to be thinking about.”
That singed me like a jammed toaster singes bread. “Darn it, Dad. You have to face it. No boy is ever going to be interested in me, and I’m going to stink at motherhood because I can’t even stand to be around babies. They make me feel so …” I sucked in my breath, “… creepy.”
My father breathed deeply, and I swear I saw steam come out of his ears. “Girl, where do you come off talking like common trash in front of your parents?”
I realized I had gone too far. “No, you’re right, Father. I’m sorry. I’ll work at being more attractive to boys.”
He bounced a stiff finger in front of my nose. “I don’t ever want to hear you talk like that again. Do you understand me, Katina?”
Too terrified to talk, I nodded.
The image of an executioner high on a scaffold formed in my head.
“Katina Beebe!” The executioner scratched his head in front of a large crowd and continued. “Alias my-little-kitten Beebe. Alias Kat Beebe. Alias my-tantalizing-stimulating-sex-kitten-from-an-earlier-daymare Beebe? You stand here today accused of a serious and heinous crime. The crime of talking back to your father.”
“Justice!” my father said in the front row of the gallery. He pounded a fist into his other palm. “Yes! I will have justice!”
My crying mother stood next to him with her face crammed in her hands. “Oh, my little kitten,” she muttered repeatedly. “If only I had taken better care of her.”
“Katina?” the executioner said. “Do you have anything to say for your miasmic, meager, miserable excuse of a life?”
“You see,” the executioner said. “You can’t even pay attention during English vocabulary lessons. You’re a noxious influence.”
“Stop stalling, you poisonous leech. Now, what do you have to say for yourself, girl?”
“Well … I … I always loved my mother’s oatmeal.”
“Pull the lever!” my father shouted. Soon the crowd picked up his chant. “Pull the lever! Pull the lever!” The noise stung so bad I tried to slap my hands over my ears, but then I noticed they had been tied behind me. Glaring at the executioner, I watched as he turned into the Cheshire cat.
“You could go this way.” The Cheshire cat pointed to the left. “Or you could go this way.” The Cheshire cat pointed to the right. “But, you’re going this way.” The Cheshire cat yanked the lever down, and I was jerked back to reality.
“And I’ll tell you another thing while we’re on the subject,” my father babbled on. Now, I had done it. I forced him into his lecture mode. Once there, he would never keep his lips from flapping.
We stood next to a display of handbags between the cosmetics and ladies’ shoes departments. I grabbed a handbag and pretended to examine it, making sure I positioned it between his eyes and mine. My father snatched it away and handed it to my mother.
“There is nothing more important to a man than to have a good supportive woman in the home,” he continued. “I’d never have survived all these years at the Chesapeake Glassworks if your mother wasn’t at home to bring up your brother Frank.” He pointed at me. “You were never planned … remember that. You caused a burden on this family. Just when your mother and I thought we’d be on easy street once Frank left, boom … you came along, and it meant eighteen more years of bringing up baby forcing me to wait an extra year to retire. I’m eligible to retire after this school year, you know; but since you’ll still be here, I’ll have another year of work until you graduate, so ….”
My father paused for breath as my mother plunked down the handbag on its original display. Turning to him, she pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows, and wrinkled her forehead. “George, aren’t you being a little ….” she held back saying the word ‘harsh.’
“Hell no, Betty.” He seethed at me. “Do you think I wanted another child? Of course, I didn’t. In two years when I retire, I want peace and quiet and no kids. So, you better go out and find yourself someone, because, baby girl, in June of nineteen sixty-five …” He tapped his finger hard on my shoulder to emphasize each of the following words, “… the rent comes due!”
That stung way more than usual, mentally as well as physically; and I knew I had to get out of there or my tears would flow with more volume than Niagara. Besides, now was as good a time as any to execute ‘Operation Red Undies.’
I bounced up and down. “Okay, okay. Look, I’ve got to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back. You’re still going to be here in the shoe department?”
My father nodded and looked at his watch. “For another forty-two minutes and eighteen seconds.” I offered a faint smile and scampered away.
While marching with rapid, giant strides, I thought mostly about my father’s frustration. I tried to understand what it would be like to have raised children and have them all leave home, fully expecting to sit back and enjoy life only to be hit with the news of another.
I didn’t know if God was real, because I felt He existed for women of stunning beauty and feminine perfection, not for the common riff-raff like me. No. For the unfeminine, enter the Devil. Nevertheless, I found myself wishing to someone, whether it be God, or Devil, or anyone, that my parents had done the forbidden act: abortion! Think of all the misery and suffering we would’ve been spared. They would be happier. I’d be happier, and maybe I’d have been someone else’s baby and grown up beautiful. If not, then at least I’d have had a peaceful, pain-free non-existence.
But maybe—just maybe ‘Operation Red Undies’ would change all that.
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