All this talk about Tang has launched me back to my teenage years, and my one and only experience with babysitting.
My best friend in high school, Mary, and I both lived out in the pukeweeds. In the summer our only companions were the stickiness of humidity and the silence of roads where nothing drove by but farm implements. Even Mary and I lived so far apart that we didn't visit much in the summer. At 15 we were at the mercy of whether or not one of our moms would drive us back and forth. When we did see each other, we laid out on a blanket in the backyard, sunbathing and sweating and talking about guys we knew and guys we wish we knew, surrounded by cornfields on all sides and steeped in the misery that is the isolation from the "town" kids.
Mary found occasional work babysitting for a couple who lived just a quarter mile from my house. You would never know they were there, since they'd built their house way back in the woods, down a dirt path that used to be a railroad track. (When the railroad track was still in use, years earlier, my older sister used to take me outside to watch the train go by and to wave at the man in the caboose. I don't think there are men in the cabooses anymore. Maybe there aren't even cabooses.)
The couple, both of them doctors, were wealthy as sin and we had never seen their fancy house. Only the steady flurry of vehicles going back and forth on the path, now covered with limestone gravel.
Mary, having met one of the doctors while getting her school physical (remember those?) usually babysat their two youngest boys. "They're completely rotten," she said.
There were also two older ones, from the husband's previous marriage, but she hadn't met them yet. Mary told us about the big elaborate house and its full walls of glass, looking out into the forest. The giant closets filled with expensive clothes, the uppity stainless steel sink in the kitchen with its fancy spigot.
Once when Mary was not available for sitting, she recommended me. The doctors were thrilled to have another sitter, and just a stone's throw away. My parents gave their OK and I was off to my first ever chance to make money that wasn't inside my family.
When I arrived, I was told my Mrs. Doctor that my duties were to watch all FOUR boys, feed them, and do housecleaning. All this for $1.25 per hour. For 8 hours. It seemed a bit much to ask of me, even way back then when money was money.
The boys were 12, 11, 6, and 5. Which is what I will call them.
12 was pissed off beyond all reason at the idea of being young enough to need a sitter. He spent the day cussing and hocking up big loogies, pretending he was going to spit them in my direction. (Here is one of those moments when one wishes with all of one's heart that one could go back to a particular day while carrying not only the wisdom earned by middle age, but also the pure willingness to punch.)
11 was moonie-eyed over me from the start. He was a hole of black need. I'm sure that no matter which female sitter had shown up, he'd have wanted her all to himself.
6 and 5? Total hellions. As though the devil himself had mated with two small, vicious hyenas, and this was the wretched spawn.
"I want Tang!" screamed 6.
"I want Tang too!" echoed 5.
"Give us Tang or we'll kill you!" yelled 6.
"Yeah, we'll piss on you!" sweet little 5 said.
Rugged little foul-mouthed bastards with scabby knees and filthy feet, these boys were obviously not acquainted with manners or discipline. I wanted to acquaint them with a sledgehammer, but none were in plain sight.
I searched through the state-of-the-art kitchen cupboards and found the giant jar of Tang. As I put it on the counter and started to look for glasses, 6 took the jar and opened it.
"Wait until I mix it up!" I said.
But I was unaware of their customs. 6 stuck out his considerable tongue, made a tight fist, and licked all over every speck of it. He then dipped his fist into the jar of Tang and ground it down as though he were a flesh pestle in a Tang mortar. When he was satisfied, he pulled his fist out, orange and powdery and sticky with spit, and licked it like a dog with a succulent bone, far from the madding crowd. It was so slurping and so elaborate a licking it would have caused a crowd of proper Victorians to mass-faint, just as they took their last horrified glimpse at a curvy wooden Jezebel piano leg.
I could not speak. I could not believe my eyes. I imagined the bitchslapping my own mother would've delivered had she seen such a behavior from me. She had bitchslapped me just recently, one morning, for ripping open a box of kleenexes (instead of using the perforations) when I was freaking out because the school bus was on its way and my nose was running. Had my mother seen me performing this lewd and horrible act with a jar of Tang, she'd have beheaded me. I could just hear her before the axe came down: "I don't give a god damn if it IS the favorite drink of astronauts!"
6 took his fill, then passed the jar to 5, who fist-licked himself into glucose oblivion. When they were finished, I begged them to wash their hands, but they were quickly off into the far corners of the house, leaving Tang-prints on furniture and walls.
What to do?
11 skulked forward, suggesting that 6 and 5 might go for a bath. They like baths, he said.
It was a plan. I ran the bathwater, added unreasonable amounts of Mr. Bubble, and lured them in.
"Get a bath and I'll make brownies," I lied. No way in hell was I going to make brownies.
They insisted they could bathe alone. I left the bathroom door open so I could hear them, and then sat down in the uber-groovy mid-1970s hanging wicker chair in the family room. As I took a moment for myself, barely swaying to and fro, 11 came back.
"Can I sit with you?"
"Sure." I made room, and once he got next to me, he wanted to cuddle. Like a baby. I held onto him and listened to the little hyenas cussing in the bathroom.
"No, YOU are a pissf*ck!" And so on. I had never heard such high level cussing from such young kids before. (Remember, this was 33 years ago.)
11 just hung on to me, sighing with contentment, and I wondered where 12 was.
"He's in his room," 11 told me. "Hating us."
Suddenly 5 and 6 ran, soapsuds dripping everywhere, through the family room.
"Look at our penises!" 5 yelled.
They were carrying what I found out later to be their favorite book: All About Our Bodies. Guess which page they had worn out.
"LOOK!" yelled 6.
"I see your penises," I said. "Now could you please put on some pants?"
"WE DON'T HAVE VAGINAS!" 6 proclaimed. "BUT YOU HAVE ONE!"
The day went dragging on. I didn't care what it took to shut them up. I let them finish the Tang. I let them wrestle and cuss and roll around the kitchen trying to shish-kabob one another with wooden spoons. I let them open the back door and bring their St. Bernard, Hal, into the house.
"We ALWAYS bring him in!" they lied.
Hal urinated on the corner of the white, flowered couch in the family room. St. Bernard's are able to carry an entire bucket of steaming urine in their mighty bladders. There was no hiding it. The couch looked jaundiced and smelled to high heaven and 5 and 6 were laughing themselves into a seizure. I was doomed.
I tried to clean it off with paper towels and Fantastic, and this was an utter failure. I gave up on that, and on getting 5 and 6 to stop riding Hal.
Years later, it was finally time to go home. Mrs. Doctor showed up, gave me a crisp ten dollar bill, thanked me, and sent me on my way.
The next day, the phone rang. It was her. I was sure she was going to sue me over her couch. But she was telling me the boys liked me, and could I babysit this Saturday? It would be just the boys and some of their friends. Oh, and they'd be swimming most of the day in the pond way out behind the house. I could swim, couldn't I? I could keep an eye on them?
After I stupidly said yes, I got my mom to call back and tell her that she wasn't comfortable with me being a lifeguard (true) since I really wasn't that good a swimmer (true) and besides that, what would I do if two of the boys needed help at the same time. Go Mom!
And thus ended my babysitting career. Mary continued to go, and she paid dearly for it. Her last day to take on the doctors' boys did not go well. Mister Doctor, a would-be pheasant hunter, purchased a big wooden crate of 100 not-quite-flying pheasants. He planned to release them into the woods and then he'd have something to shoot at. He put the crate just inside the back door of the house. They weren't old enough, yet, to be released.
His mistake was in leaving a babysitter with the boys and the box of pheasants and a BB gun. Mary came onto the scene too late, because she probably WAS making brownies. 5 and 6 had pried open the crate, lifted some pheasants out of it, and were taking turns shooting at them, inside the house, in their half-flying, half-jumping bird panic. I don't know how many they hit.