WHEN ALL I'VE EVER HAD TO GIVE IS LOVE
(by Randy E. Halprin)
I adapted to my new family quickly; I was comfortable immediately, and I felt safe. My adoptive parents did everything they could to show Wesley and I that we were loved, and that their home was a final stop on the rough beginning to our short lives.
My dad told me that school would start in September for me, but before it began they wanted to take a trip to the beach. “Have you ever seen the ocean before?” My dad asked.
“No...” I replied.
“Do you want to see the ocean?”
“Can I swim in it?” I asked.
“You sure can, but you'll have to fight off the sharks! They like to nibble on little boys' feet,” Dad said.
“Dan!” My mom interrupted.
“I'm not afraid of sharks,” I said, matter-of-factly.
“No, I didn't think you are,” mom said, “but if one ever does get near you, just bop it in the nose as hard as you can.”
“Okay,” I said.
I vaguely remember packing up a suitcase and my mom loading an ice chest with snacks and little cans of pineapple juice. My parents loaded our luggage into the back of the car and told us we were going to drive the entire way. I'd never been out of State, or very far for that matter, so I was excited about seeing things I'd never seen before. My brother, Wesley, was buckled into his seat and my parents told me to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't unbuckle it or try to climb out of it. When everyone was in the car, dad started the engine and we began our journey.
Two things stand out the most about the drive to Florida. One was the first fight I remember having with Wesley...In between Wesley and I was another seat belt for a middle passenger, and he grabbed it and swung it at me!
“Stop!” I yelled. Dad looked up in the rear view mirror and told us to knock it off. Wesley swung it at me again and I said, “He won't stop swinging it at me!”
“Boys, quit it or your father is going to pull over on the side of the road and you don't want him to do that.” My mom said.
Wesley didn't stop and with a hard and final smack, the metal buckle hit me on the back. I felt a sharp pain and I let out a cry. Dad, having had enough, pulled over to the side of the road, climbed out and opened my side of the door.
“I told you to knock it off,” he said, sternly.
“It's not me! He keeps hitting me with the seat belt!” I cried.
Dad grabbed the ice chest on the floor board of the car, and put it between us. “That stays there!” He said. “If you two don't stop it and I have to pull over one more time...you don't want to see me angry. Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about.”
I choked back my tears and went quiet. It felt unfair, but I didn't want to upset him. Dad slammed the car door, climbed into the driver's side and started the car back up.
“How about we put on a tape,” my mom said, breaking the tension. “You boys ever heard Raffi?” She popped in a cassette and a childhood of torment began with the lyrics, “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea...you swim so wild and you swim so free...”
The other thing I remember is a family tradition that began whenever we'd travel. As we would approach the border of a State we were passing through on the way to our destination, my mom would begin, “Here comes Mississippi...uh-uh-uh-uh-uh...” And then we'd all yell, “MISSISSIPPI!” Or whatever State we were crossing.
When we reached Florida, my excitement grew. I'd only ever seen the ocean on television and I wondered what it looked like in real life. Even though I made the bold statement about not being afraid of sharks, secretly, I was terrified and I hoped with everything in me that JAWS wasn't out there waiting to get me.
“Is anyone hungry?” Dad asked.
“Yeah!” Wesley and I said, yelling at the same time.
Up ahead was a large sign. “Randy, tell me what that sign says,” mom asked.
I was just beginning to learn how to read and began to pronounce it.
“Slopey Joe's,” I responded.
“No. Not 'slopey'. 'Sloppy,' My dad corrected.
“Sloppy Joe's.” I repeated.
We neared the restaurant and my dad clicked on his turn signal and we pulled into a parking lot. After we all ate we climbed back into the car and headed to what my dad said was called, 'Clear Water'.
Florida seemed magical to me. The sky was a bright blue with the biggest and puffiest clouds I'd ever seen. They looked like huge marshmallows ready to be plucked out of the sky. Birds were everywhere...Seagulls. Pelicans. The very first pelican I noticed was on the side of the road watching cars pass by. It's beak turning this way and that.
We reached the city and the first thing I noticed was a large building with a painting on the side of it: a man in a ship's crow nest peering through a spy scope.
“You want to take the boys to the beach before we hit the condo?” My dad asked.
“Yeah. I think they'd like that,” mom replied.
My dad made another turn and we pulled into the parking lot of a public beach. My heart pounded. We unbuckled our seat belts and when dad opened his door I could smell the warm salty air, and hear the squeaks and squawks of seagulls flying overhead.
Mom grabbed Wesley out of the back of the car, and then we all closed our doors. We walked across the hot pavement and when we hit the sand I could see the blue water stretching all the way to the edge of the horizon. I'd never seen so much water in my life!
“Go ahead and take your shoes off,” Dad told me.
I kicked them off and peeled off my socks, and felt the hot sand on my bare feet. “Can I run to the water?” I asked.
“Sure. But don't go in. Wait for us to catch up.” Mom said.
I was off like a lightening bolt! I ran through the sand as fast as I could, and when I reached the edge of the beach my feet stopped in wet and slippery sand, and a wave splashed against them. I reached down and picked up a handful of the mud-like sand and squeezed it through my fingers. Another wave rolled in and I kicked the water and let out laughs of joy.
When my parents caught up, my dad said I could wade into the water up to my knees. “No further!” He said. Mom tried to put Wesley down, but he wouldn't budge, so she held him in her arms.
Dad had a camera in his hand and began to furiously snap pictures, catching every moment of our joy. “Hand me another roll!” He yelled to my mom. But I was oblivious to them as I kicked at the water, bending down and splashing it with my hands. It was so blissful that every hardship I'd ever experienced in my short little life, every bit of heart ache, simply vanished in that moment.
“Alright. Alright...We'll hit the beach again tomorrow. Let's go to the condo. We're all pooped!” Mom said.
A few days later we returned home and fortunately there was not a fight between Wesley and I on the drive back. When we were back in Arlington, Texas, preparations began for me going to school. I'd been in Kindergarten at Key Elementary which was just a few blocks away from our home, but now it was time for a new school year! Right before school began, neighbours invited me to go to a small theme park in Grand Prairie, Texas, called, “Sesame's Place,” which was a Sesame Street owned amusement park. I was around the same age as their son, so my parents said it was okay for me to go with them.
We spent the day riding the water slides, seeing Sesame Street themed music shows, and ate Sesame Street themed food. There was a murmur that they were holding surprise auditions for the television show on PBS. We went to watch them because rumors were flying that some of the actual puppeteers and puppets would be interacting with the children, to see how they in turn responded.
There was a good-sized gathering of kids standing around, and a guy in a red Sesame Street shirt began to pluck kids out of the crowd, and stand them to the side. I watched with amusement when the man stopped in front of me and said, “How about you?” Want to meet Big Bird?” I looked at the family who had invited me and they told me to go ahead.
After he had about ten kids gathered, he grabbed a microphone and told the crowd, “That's it for the auditions today folks! However, if you want to watch these kids interact with the puppets, feel free to wait around. This will be recorded, and you never know...It might just show up on a segment of Sesame Street!”
A producer then yelled out, “I need everyone to be quiet! Kids, when he asks your name, just speak into the microphone. Be yourselves. Don't be silly.”
He stopped, held up his hands to the crowd and gave a 'hush' sign, then said, “In 5...4...3...2...1...Action!”
The guy spoke lively into his microphone and then went up to the line of kids gathered and began asking our names. My heart beat nervously when he was in front of me and said, “What's your name?” I looked at him and with the heaviest accent in the whole of Texas' history, I said, “Raaaandy!”
We went through some acting exercises after our introductions, even interacting with a green screen, when suddenly Big bird arrived! I hadn't noticed the garbage can nearby and as if by magic, Oscar the Grouch flipped the lid to the trash can, and popped his head up! Big Bird and Oscar began speaking to each other and then asking all of us questions. I felt like I was really on Sesame Street!
After it was all done, the producer shortened the group of kids to a few. I didn't make the cut, but they allowed the people who brought me to order a video tape of the event, and the family promised that when it arrived they'd give it to my parents. That video exists out there somewhere to this day.
When we got home I told my parents all about how I was almost on Sesame Street and they seemed to be upset about it. My dad called the neighbors up and there was a brief argument, and I heard my parents say they were trying to protect me. They didn't want my biological parents to come searching for me if I was on TV.
Some months later a modelling agent would see me at school and approach my parents about getting me into modelling. They immediately turned her down, citing the same reasons.
It makes me wonder to this day what my life would be like now, had I been on Sesame Street, or been a child model.