Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How Tybee the Frog got her name

This is sad. Some people blog about world events, humanitarian efforts, elevated ideas, and edifying pursuits. Well, guess what? They're all weenies! I've now been blogging long enough to see that an ugly pattern in my subject matter is emerging, and I'm not proud of the truth: INEXCUSABLY DOPEY objects (with names!) that reveal my true inner KITSCHY nature. Oh, Lord. Is this what I've become? [small desperate voice] help me.

Introduced to you yesterday, that charming wench Tybee the Frog didn't have a name at all until just last weekend.

I'd been enjoying watching her sunbathe outside my kitchen window. Just as with Curtis the Buffalo, nothing offered itself in the name category. I had to probe her essence, uncover her personality (the rest of her is already pretty well uncovered), to probe her name.

And then, like a shot out of the blue, it came to me. Tybee! There she is, after all these years--Tybee P., my first apartment landlady! You go, Tybee! How I miss you! How long I've not said anything about the Really Big Impression you made!

When I was in college I shared a small apartment in Santa Monica with a friend from my former dorm. It was one of those 50's-60's "courtyard" style complexes: two storeys, apartments arranged in a big square, doors and windows all facing toward the center of the square, and lush tropical foliage around a central swimming pool (kidney-shaped, natch).

But at this complex, the central feature wasn't the swimming pool. It was Tybee P., the elderly complex manager. Now, hang with me here. Like Dave Barry, I am not making this up. All that I'm about to state is truly in the spirit of having enjoyed this person; she was one of the most colorful, real people I've ever known. I don't have any mean intentions; I just have to describe her as she was. And I'm relatively certain the past tense is appropriate here, for reasons that will henceforth become clear, I can't imagine that she lived more than ten years after my tenancy was over.

It would be a crime to state that Tybee enjoyed the outdoors. Hell, Tybee lived outdoors; I often wondered why she had an apartment at all! And, since her permanent perch was out by the pool, who needed clothes? I'm not sure whether Tybee owned a wardrobe composed of anything other than bikinis. And they were big on top, and very small on the bottom, to compliment her compelling physique. Everything she had was pretty much out there, such as her swinging saggy boobs and protruding round belly, and it had been out there a long, long time, frying under baby oil, baking under the palms, shrivelling into elephant-like folds hanging off of slim, once delicate bones like the meat of a dessicated chicken that had been in the oven for fourteen hours and wasn't coming out anytime soon.

With skin such a fetchingly unnatural brown--cordovan might be the more flattering term for the shade--it would have been a shame to have boring hair, and Tybee did not disappoint. As soon as you got sort of used to it, it would change in some unpredictable way. Shockingly short for a woman of her age. Even trend-setting. No beehives for Ms. T. Fuzzy as a poodle's--no, actually not curly but straight and sticking up like the topknot feathers on one of those exotic white chickens you see at the county fair. Now and then the white would go polar bear (yellow or green, take your pick); or the ends would have a brassy cast while the rest stayed polar bear. Once it was all red, but she couldn't stand it. Neither could we. It just wasn't Tybeeish enough.

I should have finished discussing her looks, but I see that I've failed to describe her arms and legs. These are important details. They were scrawny. I had never seen such skinny legs in my life (well, by this age I have, but that's another story). Toothpick legs, flapping skin, tiny ankles that seemed charged with the impossible task of carrying her substantial upper body. Shoulders narrow, arms as gawky as the gams, little feet flopping around in cheap chenille slippers, never thongs. When she had something on her mind she put those mechanics in motion and strode with a purpose. And your purpose was to get outta the way!

Here I'll just mention the sunglasses. Tybee was the Old Navy Lady way ahead of her time. Only Tybee's frames were white and the lenses were black.

Another endearing trait was her chain smoking. No, she had perfected the art of multiple smoking. Many times I'd seen her carrying not one, but two cigarettes simultaneously, and she honestly didn't seem to notice. Drag from the left! Drag from the right . . . stand up, sit down, fight fight fight! Yay, Tybee!

And then there was her voice. After all, you'd expect that to match the rest. When Tybee opened her mouth, tenants listened. Actually, I mean they heard, because they didn't have a choice. Whether she was standing one foot in front of you or diagonally across the courtyard and upstairs, all the tenants could hear everything she said. And very New York. This was a deep, calliope-whiskey voice that could scare every cowboy out of not only Billy Bob's or Gilley's, but out of their respective pairs of boots and a mile down the road as well.

Tybee's apartment, strategically positioned upstairs to view both street front and courtyard, was a lesson in decorating. How not to. The mouths of today's reality tv decorating makeover shows' producers would water if they could get a hold of something like that. She had a bowl of plastic fruit on the coffee table that wasn't even trying to look real; a bunch of things on the wall that looked like what people try to get rid of at their garage sales, but can't--you know, raffia things, tiki masks, black paper silhouettes of children that were probably already grandparents; cheap "collector" plates ordered from newspaper ads in 1948; and framed portraits, some of them colorized, of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

But the greatest thing about Tybee was conscientiousness. Obviously not in regard to her own person, but she was always on the lookout for the well-being of everyone else in the complex. She was a superb negotiator: Who could say "no" to somebody like that? If she was worried about something or somebody or if she knew a tenant had behaved in an unchivalrous manner, she took care to broadcast it. She ran a tight ship in that little building, becasue she cowed us and amused us and scared us into submission. And, then, she also had a big heart. She would always tell us girls to just let her know if anyone bothered us or caused trouble. She had a fine sense of justice and never hesitated to make things the way she saw fit. Disputes were settled pronto, and no one would ever dare argue.

After all, weilding those dual cigarettes, she could easily successfully render a tenant's life to ashes, as she'd done with her own skin.

A toast to you, Tybee, wherever you're sunning yourself today.

[Bleah! Why is the Hello photo service not working today??? Screeeeeam . . . Sigh. I'll post the photo later.]


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