As promised, here is one of my past columns that featured my cousin Elizabeth. One of our favorite pastimes in our younger days. This is reprint from the Daily Freeman-Journal on Aug. 3, 2011.
“What are you guys doing?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep, we aren’t doing anything bad, promise!”
During the summers of my youth, I spent much of my time with the neighborhood gang. A rag-tag combination of friends and cousins that patrolled the blocks of Bank and Water Streets on our bikes. We’d play capture the flag until darkness took over, and held Super Mario championships like it was our job. But every once in a while, the group split off and the girls would have time for the “pink stuff” – you know, dolls, diaries and books.
Sure, we spent loads of time reading “Sweet Valley Twins” and “The Baby-Sitters Club” series, but when we read books together, we looked for more advanced material. We found that easily in the form of women’s romance novels. Preferably of the Harlequin variety.
My cousin Elizabeth and I would sneak off to her bedroom with a few of our hidden finds and start reading. We weren’t looking for characterization, heavy plot lines or themes – just for the quite obvious.
We wanted a juicy cover. Especially if it was the artistically drawn Fabio on the front of the paperback novel – with his blond flowing mane, tan skin and protruding pectorals. Fabio’s eyes were always diverted and stormy – while he clung to a ship, horse or laid back on a green meadow. His clothing was always a bit too tight, and that was fine with us.
We’d laugh, pretend we were him, lowering our voices to give him life:
“Come on, baby, give me a kiss!”
“I’m a manly beast,” we’d say in our best Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions.
The woman was always secondary – but comic fodder nonetheless. Her flowing hair was usually ridiculous – hairsprayed and teased within an inch of its life. And her poor dress was always falling off. The female lead never seemed to get a grasp on correct sewing, and managed to always look dippy, helpless and pathetic.
“Help me, Fabio, my dress accidentally ripped again,” we’d say in high-pitched Minnie Mouse-inspired voices. “I’m going to faint, I’m so delicate.”
Elizabeth and I would take turns holding the book as we became voice actors for the dime novel, while the other would hold their stomach, painful from laughter.
After dishing it out for the dramatic cover, we’d start on the inside of the book. We never actually read all of it, just the stuff that counted. It was amazing to us that every book was constructed in almost the same way. There were usually three or four juicy parts and if you opened each Harlequin novel in about the same place – you’d eventually find the wanted section.
We’d find the two or three pages of romance, and hyena-laugh ensued all the way through. Each of us would start to read it out loud, but find that we’d fail, whispering the forbidden words in an effort not to die of embarrassment.
The writing was really an exercise in adjectives and adverbs. “He hoarsely declared his love.” “Ralph’s bulging biceps dripped with beads of sweat.” Good grief.
Becoming bored with the novels, we’d soon stumble off to find out what the boys were doing. Most likely playing outdoors, and we’d quickly forget about our amusing readings.
But when I see the books at supermarkets or stores nowadays – I always laugh, and usually take a peek inside. Nothing much has changed, with the book’s content or my instant ability to crack up.
Immaturity is a glorious thing.