I’m walking up 24th and Mission when I see this little boy
about 3 years old sitting in the middle of the sidewalk.
He’s not crying, but he looks a bit angry about something.
I stop and look around to see if there is a mother or grandmother
around, and it takes but a few seconds to spot what is probably
the grandmother talking to another woman in front of a store.
From time to time she checks on the kid and then goes back
to talking with the woman.
The kid seems to be getting more angry, and I imagine that this
is so because he wants to go home, to the park, or wherever
they were headed in the first place.
As people pass him, some look down and say a few words,
but I’m the only one who’s stopped to observe the whole scene.
As I head down the street I suddenly remember my own grandmother
who could sometimes be on the mean side, who toward the end
would accuse my father and aunt of trying to steal her bankbook
for the money she didn’t have. . .
Around 1971 I took this public speaking class at City College
of San Francisco as part of my requirements to get an AA degree.
In the class was this woman named Debralee who had an overbite
and a pronounced lisp that hindered my being able to understand her
at times when she was giving a speech in front of the glass.
The teacher, who was an opinionated old woman in her late 70’s,
was very hard on Debralee when giving her feedback, saying things
like, “You need to speak slower, project more, and look at your audience
more often.” She’d present her comments in a less than encouraging manner, and I remember that Debra often challenged the teacher’s feedback, which, of course, drew them further and further apart.
I recall that one time, after Debralee had received some harsh criticism, she said to the teacher in front of the rest of us, “Just you wait and see!
One day you’ll be watching me on television and in the movies!”
With this, we all looked at each other with dubious expressions, and
I was thinking, “Sure, Debralee! We all can’t wait to see you on TV
and in the movies!”
Then a few years later I was flipping the channels and suddenly
realized that I was looking at Debralee. She was on “Welcome Back Kotter,” the center of attention in Kotter’s classroom, and a young John Travolta
was with her.
From there, I saw her on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” and after that she was on a sitcom called “Angie,” in which she played Angie’s sister.
I also remember seeing her in that blockbuster movie, “American Graffiti.”
The unfortunate part to her story is that I read she had lived a hard
and fast life of drugs and alcohol, and died fairly young from cirrhosis
of the liver.
And even though her story is not unusual in this day and age,
especially with regard to celebrities, reading about it made me sad,
because I liked Debralee.
At the same time, I felt glad she had achieved the success that she
always craved, proving the rest of us wrong. . .
Jeffrey Zable is a teacher and conga drummer who plays Afro-Cuban folkloric music for dance classes and Rumba around the San Francisco Bay Area. His writing has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and anthologies-- more recently in the Soft Cartel, Brickplight, Typewriters and Salve, and Third Wednesday.