I can’t remember what her real name was. Spacek? Spassky? I’m sure she had a first name too, but if she ever said it I wasn’t paying attention. What I do know was that in some small way, I was instrumental in her personal growth.
She lived in Oxnard Shores. I no longer did, but I spent some weekends there visiting my father who had moved back after some time away. I still had friends who lived there. I was about 14 at least a year or two older than any of them as I was both immature and small for my age, stunted in mind and body.
One of these friends was a boy I’ll call Jake. He was about 12 or 13 at the time. He came up with Mrs. Spastic’s nickname and was the one who introduced me to her as well.
“She’s a crazy lady. This’ll be fun,” he said.
Mrs. Spastic lived in a typical house in Oxnard Shores, a single-story tract home with a cinder-block wall to shield a concrete yard from the ocean wind. Shag carpet was commonplace (it was the 1970s), screen doors ubiquitous.
We walked up to her front door and rang the bell. Jake told me we could just walk right in if we wanted. She never locked the door. She never locked anything.
The door opened and there stood a woman in her 40s as best I could tell. She was about five-two, no matter which way you held the tape measure. I was no taller than her then, but I was considerably narrower. Her hair had a bowl cut that I would one day associate with child molesters. Her most prominent feature though was her smile. It was too wide for a normal set of human teeth so hers spread out leaving gaps you could floss with a shoelace.
Upon greeting me, she grasped my hand in both of hers and held it against her belly, which had surprisingly little give for a woman of her corpulence. When I tried to pull my hand away, she tightened her grip.
“Jake tells me you’re an actor,” she said. Surprisingly enough, this was a little bit true at the time. I had started auditioning for school plays in the eighth grade, something that would continue all the way through high school. I wasn’t that good so I mostly got cast in small to medium parts in dramas and bit parts and extras in musicals. In the musicals, I was told not to sing because they said I couldn’t carry a tune. I sometimes sang anyway just to prove them wrong. I never did.
“Theater’s pretty cool,” I said.
“Do you like Oscar Wilde? Because I think you would be perfect in The Importance of Being Earnest playing …” she said, citing some character in the play whose name I didn’t recognize. I was trying to figure out if the Ernest in the title referred to Hemingway or Borgnine, but I wasn’t about to tell her that. Like most 14 year olds, I was loathe to admit I didn’t know everything.
“You think so?” I said.
All the while, Jake is standing behind Mrs. Spastic making faces and clicking his retainer every time she said something. I found I could keep myself from busting out laughing if I let myself smile. I ended up smiling a lot. She probably thought I was the most charming boy ever.
“Hold on. I’m going to get my copy of the play. I think it’s in the bedroom,” and off she went to go find it.
As soon as she was out of sight, Jake went into the kitchen, picked up a plastic bottle of dish soap, and squirted its contents all over the curtains covering the window above the sink. Not to be outdone, I opened the refrigerator and fired a snot rocket into a carton of milk.
Mrs. Spastic emerged from the bedroom empty-handed, blathering on about how she couldn’t find the play anywhere. That suited us fine. We already had our fun for the day.
Jake and I visited Mrs. Spastic a number of times after that. On each occasion, we committed some mischief. A salt shaker had its top loosened so it would spill all over her dinner. A toothbrush was peed on. Her garbage disposal was stuffed with Brillo Pads so it would grind to a halt the next time she used it. We never stole anything though. Both of us considered thievery to be low-life behavior and we knew we were better than that.
For a while, we got away with everything. She was nothing if not trusting, so trusting in fact that she used to leave her keys ignition if her car. This proved to cause my fall from grace in her eyes. One day, I thought it would be funny to start the car and rev the engine as high as it would go.
This caused Mrs. Spastic to storm out the front door all apoplectic and screaming at me to stop that this incident while I ran away laughing. She also threatened to tell my parents, or maybe the cops. In either case, I wasn’t too worried. The reason crazy people make the best victims is that nobody believes them.
After that, she had little interest in my acting career, which was fine. I was spending less time in Oxnard Shores anyway and Jake had moved away. Before Jake left, he must’ve introduced her to some other kids in the neighborhood because word had gotten around that she and her home were fair game for anything you wanted to do.
One weekend I was visiting, a bunch of us were sitting around feeling bored so we decided to all go see Mrs. Spastic together. We marched up to her front door and rang the bell.
“Hold on boys. I got something for you,” she said and shut the door. All of us liked gifts so we waited patiently for her return.
When the door opened again, her smiling gap teeth were now gnashing in fury. Not only that, she had a weapon. I didn’t get too good a look at it, but it appeared to be something akin to a high-powered slingshot with a pistol grip and she was shooting what I think we’re ball bearings at us. We scattered and fled. She could have easily put one of our eyes out, but I doubt she cared. She was clearly sick of our shit.
I never saw Mrs. Spastic after that. I doubt any of the others did either. I like to think she went on to spend her days enjoying her well-earned peace and quiet, free from unexplained mishaps around the house, and relaxed enough to read her beloved Oscar Wilde.