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The One Armed Babysitter
By Barbara Rushkoff

Stacey was the daughter of some lady that my mom knew from The Sisterhood at the synagogue. The Sisterhood was a kind of Jewish ladies club where the main activity was talking on the phone about who did what to whom. They even had their own phone books with an embossed picture of the synagogue in 3D on the cover. Their husbands' names, usually Chick or Sol, were listed in parentheses as were cute little sayings like "Yenta" or "Is that a knish in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" Stacey's mother was listed as Yvonne Himelfarb, "Vonnie," and her husband was Morris ("Moishey"). There was no mention of their only daughter, Stacey, or the fact that she was missing an arm.

I had seen Stacey around the neighborhood when I was riding my bike. She used to hang out at the schoolyard with a bunch of kids that looked like they were thirty-five years old. They would sit on the ground, smoke cigarettes right down to the butts and then flick them clear across the yard. You could tell they thought they were tough, like a cult of Junior Mansons or something, only they drank Yoo-Hoo.

Whenever they saw me watching them (They were so exciting. Even when they were just eating Fritos!), I would feel really boring. My perfectly coordinated pants and top from what I thought was a "cool" store named Butterfly Luv were simply not dangerous or cool enough for them. Butterfly Luv was next door to the anti-Semitic grocer, a place called Ham the Man. I was never allowed to go in there because Mom had said Ham (the actual name of The Man) once threw a party with his own cold cuts, only they were delicately trimmed into the shape of swastikas. And while Mom ate the spread, "just to see if they tasted racist," she said that we probably shouldn't go in there anymore.

Although Stacey's small group of friends was only about 6 or so years older than me, they looked like real adults with enlarged pores and everything. There's a huge difference between being 11 and 17. There was Stacey in her big girl bra, ratted out hair and adult acne. And then there was me in my undershirt, Pippi Longstocking braids and prickly heat rash. I so wished I could be grown up just like Stacey. She mostly hung around two guys. The one I liked the looks of was named Jordan. Jordan was lanky and freckled and his hair was as big as a kickball. The other one was Jeffrey, a short pudgy guy with wire framed aviator glasses, bushy eyebrows and a penchant for wearing flip flops even when it was cold out. This gang didn't do much except for hang out in the school yard where they made bracelets out of found telephone wire that we called gimp.

Stacey's one arm was usually adorned in those bracelets. Mostly she didn't bother wearing a fake half arm or anything, but sometimes she wore a flesh colored piece with a plastic hand. Stacey never talked about her missing arm and I was too chicken to ask her about it. I would have been happy to light Stacey's cigarettes or brush her hair or polish her fake arm. I wanted her to let me in on all her secrets like how to iron your hair and what it feels like when a boy gropes you.

I almost got my chance when Stacey came over one afternoon to get to know me and my sister and brother before she had her first professional gig babysitting at our ranch house. She did this by plopping down on our slip-covered sofa and staring at us for fifteen minutes straight, not blinking. I thought she was really cool and imagined that she was thinking the same thing about me. I was sending her telepathic telexes -- was she getting them?

A few days later, on the night of the Goldfarber Bar Mitzvah, my father picked Stacey up in his car although she only lived around the corner. That's the thing about my family, why walk when you can drive? Even if it means it will take you twice the time to find a parking spot. Driving is better than walking and sitting is better than standing. Staying still is good too.

By the time Stacey came over we were heavily drugged from our starch and sugar dinner. We had no energy to play tricks on the sitter or beg her to stay up late. Stacey seemed to be in a bad mood, too. Something told me to just leave her alone because she had that look of losing it at any minute. She ordered me to bed by pointing straight to the bedroom with her foot. I was used to this. Lying down is even better than sitting!

Sliding into my bed, I almost pulled my shoulder blade out. My mother liked to tuck the sheets in way too tight. Feeling like a sardine in double layers of saran wrap, I fell onto my cold pillow, ready to dream a little dream. Every night my sister and I would put on records to fall asleep to and tonight we had picked The Beatles, "Abbey Road." I fell off to sleep, singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," but the sound of the doorbell ringing and strange voices rattled around in my head soon thereafter. Wasn't that Hee-Haw special on tonight or had my sister switched the Beatles to something else?

I got under my covers some more and quickly started to dream about some long-haired love-boy. I clung to Rosarella, my Spanish puppet doll, although it was difficult because she was wooden and not very comfortable to snuggle.

"You have out of sight hair, little chick," said my dream boy.

Hey, call me a kid with an active imagination -- I've been called worse -- but I didn't think I was dreaming anymore. Unless boys in your dreams ask you where your hair brush is, get the Dippity-Do and start to comb out your hair.

"Octopus's Garden" played as I now found myself upright in my bed. It was my beloved Jordan. He must have come over to visit Stacey. Or did he really come over to see me? It didn't matter because there he was next to me, smelling like dead lettuce. I didn't move, too fearful that I was still dreaming and might shake myself out of this bliss. Jordan was holding me like a giant doll, brushing my hair with his fingers. The next thing I felt was a spatter of cold Dippity-Do. He began to coat my head with it, smushing it on in huge glops. It felt... pretty good.

"You are the most beautiful doll in the world," he garbled.

This is where it gets weird-ER. When love-boy spotted Rosarella, he totally dropped me like last year's Barbie. Apparently, Dippity-Don't.

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