Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ojai, How Are Ya?

Like most small town kids, I had a 25" console television in my bedroom when I was growing up. I was a shy, introvert who spent hours alone, entertaining myself. But no matter what I was doing, the boob tube was on, beckoning me into one zany adventure after another. I made many friends in the land of make believe. At the top of my list are two people: Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers.

Jaime (yes, that's how she spelled it) was one of my closest childhood friends. Steve Austin and I were tight too, but Jaime embodied much more of a fun contrast for me. Cute. Sweet. Funny. And could kick some Fembot or Bigfoot ass when called upon to do so. She could also chop vegetables faster than a Cuisinart and when faced with no can opener, could use her bionic fingernail to get at those baked beans. She was the whole bionic package. She, Steve and I shared many bionic adventures together. As a lazy kid, it was fortunate that in order to play "bionic", I just had to move in slow motion. This kid wasn't going to break a sweat!

I was giddy to discover Season 2 of the "Bionic Woman" was available on DVD in May, and I snatched it up as soon as it went on sale. Ken was sleeping more then, so after the house was quiet and kitchen was clean, I sat in front of my computer and watched a couple of episodes. It was like an emotional orgasm of childhood, bringing back the wonderment and security of childhood. In spite of the wonderful distraction it provided, something told me to put them away; and that they would better serve me later. Soon after he died and I found myself alone and never in great need of a distraction of bionic proportions, I pulled out those DVDs. And they served me well.

My obsession with Jaime made for a couple of my very favorite outings when we lived in LA. Always up for a day trip, Ken asked me one weekend where we should go. I didn't really know how far away it was, but I suggested Ojai, where Jaime Sommers lived in rustic apartment above the horse barn of Steve Austin's mother and step-father. (GEEK ALERT: They had also become her legal guardians when she was a minor because her parents died.) After the couple-hour drive, we explored the quaint town and had lunch. We took a drive out of town into the Ojai Valley and passed some beautiful olive farms. We drove through some tunnels that had been blasted through the mountains, and stopped to admire this subtle and beautiful waterfall.


Further down the same road we happened across a state camp ground. I'd never been a camper before I met Ken, and he'd taught me to love it. So we made plans to return later in the month for a long weekend. Little did I suspect that he'd hatched a plan to bring Kathy, one of my Chicago besties as a surprise. It's one of my favorite memories. My bionic obsession was well-known to Kathy. She revealed to me late in our friendship that while on a trip to Universal Studios in the late 70s, that she had been chosen from a tour group to be "Jaime Sommers" in a tug of war with several large burly men. In true Hollywood fashion--sound effects and all--she yanked the rope and dropped all the would-be assailants to the ground like potato sacks. It was extra special to share an evening under the stars with her in my beloved Ojai. It's funny to think of all that as I watched those episodes and felt the comfort of those few nights by the camp fire with Kathy, Ken and Q. It gives me just as much comfort now.

However, was it completely coincidental that I fell in love with a handsome hottie with a bionic leg?

The bionic theme continued at Ken's soiree--which took me completely by surprise--and only enhanced the experience in a very special way for me. During the prep for the event, my friend Terry presented me with a gift bag. Along with pushy Kathy, they both insisted I open the gift in front of them. Opening gifts in front of people is an IBS-inspiring moment for me. As an improv teacher once told me, I'm just not that good of an actor, and contrary to popular opinion amongst the rapscallions I run with, I don't (always) enjoy seeing people cry in disappointment. But this surprise made my heart leap.

In true 70's "women's lib" fashion, it's the Bionic Woman's Bionic Beauty Salon. No, of course, it couldn't be Jaime Sommers Covert Ops Training Center! Who the hell would buy that? Oh, wait…me. Of course, I would have begged for it if it were The Bionic Day Care Center (bionic pooping babies sold separately). But I think the point is Jaime had choices--a pink house coat or her tennis whites…hmmm…life is full of difficult decisions, no? And of course, a photo of pseudo-boyfriend Steve Austin is displayed prominently to remind Jaime why she has to be beautiful. And finally, in spite of the geek-known fact that bionic skin doesn't tan, there is a huge nuclear-powered sun lamp center stage at the salon. From the brilliant, in-touch minds of Kenner!

Make no mistake, I love my Bionic Beauty Salon. Watching the show recently--like watching it when I was a kid--enveloped me in a world where people could do things that were surprising, if not superhuman. It was a message that resonated with me--and still does. I'm no former-tennis-pro-turned-undercover-8th-grade-bionic-teacher-who-saves-the-world-on-a-weekly-basis-and-looks-vintage-doing-it, but my life--like everyone's--has been faced us with situations and people that we found overwhelming, yet somehow found a (perhaps surprising) way to overcome it. Hence, we are a little bit bionic. Watching Jaime kick some bootie reminded me that she was in a sense (as I imaginarily inserted my character of her younger brother Brody into all story lines), and as i watched them a few weeks ago, she was doing the same thing: protecting me--this time, emotionally. Focusing my mind on something so magical and fun and fraught with good memories made me feel so good and it placed a short moratorium on sadness. It's a weird connection to the kind of naive strength and ambition a kid can have--before society beats it out of him.

Now I have a little bit of Ojai sitting in my living room--as well as a huge target on my forehead for mocking by aforementioned rapscallions. Mock away. I have to brush Jaime's hair. Steve just called and said he was running over--at 60 mph no less. Ugh.



  1. I would like to help you work on your book. (You did say once in a fb status that you were working on a book, yes?) Do you have help? ...Do you *want* help? I would love to be a part of one of your projects. I love the layers of your writing. Everything is so jovial, light-hearted, a touch self- deprecating,...but there is an underlying sadness as well, and the reader just knows it is leading somewhere... Anyway, not many writers can mix these colors. You've got the gift.

  2. Thank you for the compliments, Rebecca. It fulfills me to a level I can't describe. I am working on a novel and a couple of other non-ficition things. I'm always open to a little help from my friends.=)

  3. Thanks, Claire. I hope things are going well in La La Land. xoxo