Things we never told Mom: The kitten, the projector, and blackmail

When I was a kid, my mother was the only woman in the neighborhood with a job. She was way before her time. The bearer of a bachelors degree and a former reporter, she was smart, acerbic, and sometimes scary.  She was by no stretch of the imagination that sweet mom everybody went to for a hug. Understandably, we rarely crossed her.


My mom had a projector courtesy of her employer: the Livingston New Jersey Board of Education.

But she possessed something that will loom large in this story: a projector. I didn’t know anyone in the early 1970’s who owned this particular piece of technology. My mom had the machine because she did public relations for our local board of education.

My brother, sister, and I would be called latch-key kids today, had we actually owned keys. Our house was never locked. New Jersey in the 70s was like that. What was abnormal was returning from school and finding no mom at home.

My brother Jeff, two years older, was on the football team, so our house was often overflowing with teenage testosterone. Perhaps, then, it should not be surprising that one day, after a quick bus trip into New York City, he arrived home with a package wrapped in brown paper. Turns out he’d paid a visit to 42nd street with the express purpose of purchasing some reel-to-reel porn.

Jeff had a plan to make some money. He’d invite his teammates over and charge them to watch those skin flicks. All he had to do was set up the projector, close the curtains, and unroll the screen, which we also had courtesy of the Livingston Board of Education.


A kitty found a reel of film the perfect plaything.

What he hadn’t counted on was my sister Meg’s new kitten. The wee, gray-and-white cat was a fluffy ball of kitty mischief, who wandered into my brother’s closet, only to find the most fantastic “toy”. She  pawed at one of those spoked film reels, toppling it to the floor where it started to roll. That kitten chased the reel as it unspooled, leaving a trail of X-rated, Super 8 film as it went out the door and down the stairs into the living room.

As it happened, Meg – who was about 12 at the time – found that movie footage. She gathered it up and put it back in the box, but Jeff was far from off the hook. Meg was the smartest of the three of us. Even at her tender age, she understood Jeff would be in serious trouble if our parents found out. So she did what siblings have been doing to one another throughout the ages.

She blackmailed him.

I was never privy to their arrangement. Knowing Meg, she probably got a hefty cut of the gate. As you can imagine, our home became rather popular.


My brother and his friends staged a photo shoot with a beer keg on our front lawn.

The funny thing is my mom and dad never had a clue that these X-rated parties were occurring in their living room. But leave it to my brother to push his luck. Because one day he and his friends came up with another smashing idea. They would purchase a page in the high school yearbook and take a “team” picture. So, they set up a beer keg on the front lawn of our suburban home, arranged themselves in orderly fashion, and waited for my brother to crawl up onto the roof, where he snapped some photos of the boys, no doubt using my mother’s board of education-provided camera.

How that picture got past the yearbook censors is anyone’s guess. But it did, and imagine my mother’s surprise when she turned a page and instantly recognized her own front yard and all those boys mugging with a beer keg.

I’d like to tell you that I recall the fallout, but I don’t. I steered clear of those events, hoping not to get caught up in the subterfuge. But Mom was not the forgiving type. I’m guessing Jeff paid a hefty price, while Meg got away with the spoils.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)


Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.



4 thoughts on “Things we never told Mom: The kitten, the projector, and blackmail

  1. Coleman Smith says:

    Unlike today, when the consequences for mischievous activity would ultimately involve police, thankfully in those days, the punishment for such hijinks was handled “in house”, literally. Great story. I recall a New Years Party(at your parents house, I think) when one of my fellow partygoers realized late in the evening, after driving around a little, that he had lost a contact lens at the party. We returned to find the hostess(you?) in frantic cleanup mode. We found pieces of his contact in the vacuum cleaner bag. Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

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