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Claudine Jones
Damn You, Meryl Streep
Scene4 Magazine-inView

August 2012

Being white in the sixties was a problem: all my heroes were people of color: Gandhi, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte—of course I loved Pete Seeger, too;  yet, looking at my life of privilege as an obstacle? Please.  As a teen-ager deep into theater arts, I spent some awkward evenings in the living room with my dad playing 'folk' guitar, (me singing Matty Groves or some such).  I think he thought he was helping me find something, but it only reinforced mimicry; we reached our limit quickly and he drifted away after the initial excitement.  That was a hard thing to accept: he just got bored. If something was too hard—I pushed & he retreated.  What was that?  From this distance it elicits a slight sickness in my belly, in my heart.  The sort of circling around the business at hand, as though it might burn you if you got too close; if you were so enclosed you could barely breathe, and you felt such fear and exhilaration.  That was not his game—too bitter to let any of that be a possibility—and I never found out from him what he was afraid of; he only told me he thought I had "what it takes".

It took me decades to sort that out.

Everybody had the hots for Bob Dylan then; so for Christmas Dad got Phil a harmonica, which my big brother would not let me even touch.  Didn't want me even to try to learn. Heck of a surprise to me:  how long had he been harboring this? He of the eternal 'go ahead, jump off that chicken coop! It's not that high!' ethos apparently wanted nothing more than to see me, I don't know...maybe out on tour somewhere, far away from any circle of influence upon him—artistically speaking. He would not ever in any sense be less than the first born.

O, 21st  Century. I've become what I wanted to be in the kitchen. But this now gray-haired brother makes the world's most truly horrific beer-sausage soup—not like I don't hold first place already for my vegetarian carrot-chili, if you count points for how fast it hits the compost bin—but his oyster stuffing almost killed us. Ironically for awhile with him it became all about getting my kitchen a new/real/decent [fill-in-the-blank].  Brings a new turkey baster to Thanksgiving. Rags on me for changing my diet & doing acupuncture & pressure-points trying to save my ailing gallbladder—this woo-woo regimen was going to lose the family a great cook, sez he, since gluten & whatnot are out—like it's any of his business. My damn organ.   You know jealousy—that feeling that you really don't want to have, but that will not retreat, that causes little spirit-pockmarks: why does my brother want what I did get, being the only girl of us three? I didn't even get to hold the damn tools or drive the damn car & all he ever had to do was take out the fucking garbage.

Apparently I did have one ace-in-the-hole. Summer '67, sweaty, long haired ex-sailor boyfriend Brett Matusek showed up at our front door, brown eyes burning, wearing a poncho, feet in scruffy sandals.  Looking past my mom, he grabbed her by the shoulders & asked for me. Seeing me back there, he moved her gently aside & strode out to the patio; hadn't seen him for six months & on the spot he wants me to come help him search the Haight for his missing sister.   He of the crazy letters sent to me from wherever he'd been, onboard a Navy vessel, before he was discharged on a section 8; always scribbled something on the outside of the sealed envelope, which particularly drove my mother nuts when he signed it with endearments she thought inappropriate—'what if the neighbors saw it!' —and I wrote back 'probably shouldn't put that on the outside where my mom can see' and he responded with a note 'dear Claudine's Mom' on the next one, signed 'her Lover' , (which he in fact wasn't.) And so many years later, I revisit those memories with my mother and she admits that she had had a 'thing' for poor Brett & thought seriously that I definitely shoulda rode that pony (not her words, of course).  I put that right up there with her insistence that if I had really wanted to wear jeans (forbidden—too vulgar), I should just have insisted.  

My missteps: never going to Northwestern for Drama; loneliness in Berkeley '69, friends all off somewhere; nothing but school & lost ballet & green-eyed boy in class who gave me the Look but didn't act on it & walking Telegraph in  the summer; music haunting me like it did in '68 on the radio in my tiny room at Mary Elizabeth Inn on Bush Street. No sense of connection with what I wanted most to do: recapture the process I began in childhood of working a role.  

Now I find out I'm born the same fucking year as Meryl Streep.

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©2012 Claudine Jones
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Like an orthopedic soprano, Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades. With her co-conspirator Jaz Bonhooley, she also has developed unique sound designs for local venues. She's also a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives

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August 2012

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