Note: I have decided to trash the “Childhood Traumas” page and move its contents here. So, you can look forward to intermittent posts about some of the memorable things that befell me as a youngster. Below, the first “Childhood Trauma.”
Picture, if you will, an innocent three-year-old girl with bouncy brunette pigtails, sporting a snazzy floral bikini and even snazzier white leather Buster Brown sandals with crepe soles. It is 1975 in New Jersey, and while my parents (Jan and Lew) are sunning themselves by the swim club pool, I am sitting down to a tasty lunch with my fellow day campers.
The counselors — a bunch of stoners in cut-off Levi’s shorts and halter tops — pull our small brown paper bags out of a giant plastic garbage bag and toss them to the appropriate camper.
Stacey Cohen is already digging in to her PB & J on Wonder Bread, while Kenny Stein pulls out his turkey sandwich, which features a perfect lettuce ruffle.
I can barely contain my excitement! What did my future hold — what had Jan packed for me this morning?! MMMMM … maybe some egg salad? OOOH. Maybe some of that plastic yellow cheese?
I giggle, thinking of the thrilling little sandwich bags that await me — one containing my delicious main course, one containing a fistful of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish or maybe some Berry-Lu cookies …
My brown bag comes flying at me, hitting my forehead.
After nursing my injury for a few minutes, I reach inside the bag and pull out a rather heavy item wrapped in tin foil.
It’s so heavy! What could it be?!
Eagerly, I tear open the foil. It’s … it’s … it’s … A BIG CHUNK OF SOMETHING WHITE.
I am quite confused, as anyone expected to ingest a big chunk of something white would be. My confusion turns to embarrassment, and I look around to see if anyone notices what’s sitting in front of me.
Sadly, someone does: Cindi, one of the stoner counselors.
“What the hell is that?,” she asks as I try not to cry.
I have no answer for her.
She calls the other counselors over and they take turns speculating about the nature of the big white chunk as all 20 of the other nursery school-age “Lenape Lizards” listen.
“Is it cream cheese?”
“It looks more like butter.”
“It actually looks like SOAP.”
SOAP?! Why would Jan give me soap?! Was she mad at me?!
I can’t help but be moved to tears by my own plight.
Then Cindi asks, “What kind of mother gives her kid SOAP for lunch?”
Wait, are they insulting my mom?! That’s so mean! My mom is nice! My mom must have made a mistake! Take that back, evil stoner counselor!!!!
I am afraid to taste the mystery chunk, so Cindi has to page my parents by the pool. I only hear part of the conversation, but it seems Jan mistakenly grabbed the wrong tin-foiled item that morning. My real lunch was still at home, and what I had with me was mozzarella cheese.
Cindi and the other stoners, as well as the Lenape Lizards, all find this rioutously funny.
Chuckle away, I think. YOU had leftover macaroni and cheese.
I can’t recall what I ended up eating for lunch that day, but I do know that the whole thing scarred me for many, many years. I referred to the trauma constantly, eventually dubbing it “The Mozzarella Incident.”
At first, Jan was apologetic and expressed sincere remorse for her error. But as time went on and she realized I wasn’t going to get over it, she changed her story.
“Look, for the LAST TIME, I thought you LIKED mozzarella! I was trying to do something NICE,” she repeated in self-defense, adding an unintelligble Yiddish phrase that I assume meant “You’re driving me crazy, shut the fuck up.”
To this day, I can only buy string mozzarella cheese, as the sight of the chunks bring tears to my eyes.