You Don’t Own Me
Late in the summer following her sophomore year, Billie Price was living in the Beverly Hills home of a blonde former figure skater. This photogenic darling of Orange County had risen from championship skating, to spokesperson at Knudsen’s Dairy, to management. She married an actor (of sorts) and from there hopped over to a full-time job at Fox. She had met Mr. Major Movie Star on a commercial promoting California cheese, which was arguably a metaphor for something. He brought home considerable bacon (more even than she, who could not claim to be poorly recompensed for her tireless efforts to assist the studio in the decline of cultural conversation, broadcast journalism, and perhaps even civilization itself). Accruing this ungodly sum of money replaced domestic responsibility, on both their parts. Hence Billie found herself hired to take care of Ms. Suit and Mr. Star’s children, Isabel and Andrew. She rejoiced in the title of Au Pair, which suggested (in Billie’s mind at least) a certain élan, an air of French sophistication, and an expertise in child rearing she did not possess. Ironic, really, for the closest she’d ever been to France was when she had watched an incomprehensible Jean-Luc Godard film at an art-house cinema; while the sum total of her knowledge of children came from her having been one, not so long ago.
The truth was Billie hailed from Cape Anne, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of what her mother rather archaically referred to as nautical stock. Cape Anne was a place whose inhabitants could proudly trace their lineage to whaling fleets and South Seas expeditions (or, at least they affected to). Within the community there were rather tangled thoughts on ancestry — that glossed over generations of grandfathers who introduced venereal disease to Tahiti — and instead focused (with reverence) on funny little artifacts; like the scrimshaw and shells in Grandmother’s china cupboard. It was also an area where you heard words like ghastly, fractious, and dim applied by the Anglo side of the family to the Italian side — the dark side (the side Billie took after) preferred these epitaphs: leccapiedi (boot licking) scassacazzo (pain in the ass).
Growing up in Gloucester it stank of fish sticks, courtesy of Gorton’s, and Billie couldn’t wait to get out. She knew ocean air was supposed to be bracing but for her it was nothing but salt spume and rotting chum, neither of which appealed. At eighteen she rattled down the coast to Cambridge in a sixteen year old Dodge Dart that needed piston work and a new timing belt. Billie was housed in a quad, a triumph for a freshman, with a San Franciscan whose sock drawers bulged with a formidable stash of weed, and two studious Mid-Westerners.
One evening in her second year, Billie found herself doing something that if she hadn’t been so high would have confirmed the nagging feeling that she wasn’t exactly making the best use of her time at college. The hours leading to midnight found Billie stoned out of her mind staring into the soulful eyes of a Border Collie — explaining the path of a point on a parabolic curve. In her less than sober state the Collie’s eyes anchored her. The very existence of this dog — who, in reality, was probably concerned with nothing more than when it would next be eating — was something solid to hold onto in a swirl of extremely altered perceptions. When she woke the following morning, Billie resolved to make a change: no more toking and a hell of a lot more studying. Her timing was, however, unfortunate. She failed integral calculus the very same day as she made the vow and within two weeks was working shucking clams at a seafood bar, another briny hell, near Faneuil Hall.
© Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.