Category Archives: The Bionic Woman

London To Paris-On The Run


March 1991

London to Paris
On the Run

March 1991-London

Most people seldom realized my mother was insane when talking to her, but I knew.

When I was young, standing around my mother’s knees, I loved listening to her voice and watching people fall under her spell. At the time, I thought everyone loved her as much as I did. She had a smooth throaty voice that was rich yet feminine and it could turn into velvet when she wanted something.  It wrapped around you like the warm blanket of an opiate high.

With all the adventures and carpetbaggery and pills in her life; she still could keep all the lies together in that racing, manic mind and spin tales so casually when dealing with her newest victim.

Mom told tales of woe that were simple for others to understand- but her specialty was finding people with money and getting it out of them.

My mother was a master illusionist. Most people who got swindled by her would agree later on; she had a way about her.

She was witty, educated and articulate-with a genuine protectiveness for the uneducated and downtrodden.

Her face would captivate you; she had bright blue eyes of a true Irishwoman and the smooth white alabaster skin of her Mother’s Polish roots that had bewitched many a lover during her days in Greenwich Village on Jane Street. Despite being heavy later on in life, she was always considered beautiful because she carried it well.

On the day she jumped bail after several months at Holloway Women’s Prison, she called me from a pay phone at her bail hostel in Oxford. If she stayed for her court date, she said, she’d be locked up for more than a year. She told me to start packing, because she’d be by to pick me up in an hour.

Looking back now, I realize I would have done serious time had I been caught helping her escape, but, I was seventeen and thought I could save her from herself.

Anyway, I knew it was time to get the fuck out of dodge; it was just a matter of time before I caught for performing the traveler’s check scam she taught me. The con had kept me fed while I was on the streets, but it was still considered theft in the eyes of her majesty’s courts and I didn’t want to end up sharing a cell with my mother.

It was around mid-afternoon when I heard her pull up to Amanda’s apartment in a black shiny London taxi. I was rushing around, packing up the last of my shit, when I looked out of the open window, down to the wet street and saw her getting out of the cab. I dropped my cigarette with a shaking hand and stared at her.

The few short months in prison had changed and hardened her, she’d lost weight and her face was ashen. For the first time, she’d been in prison for months, not just the few days that she was used to. I had told her over and over again that the computer age was upon us, but she kept running her old scams and ended up in all the systems. I began to believe her when she told me England was trying to kill us.

“We have to go,” Mom said as she walked in Amanda’s East end apartment in Stoke Newington. She looked around at the bare living room and her eyes settled on me, she was edgy and restless. “Now.” she looked at her watch. She didn’t bother to chat with Amanda; who was by the window, smoking a silk cut.

I looked at Amanda and she understood. She and I were the same age and became friends in a strange way. Our mothers were cellmates together at Holloway.

Mom had begged Amanda’s mother to let me live with her daughter, because it was winter in London and I was sleeping on the streets or at friend’s houses. Her mom showed great compassion and Amanda and I bonded immediately.

We had a lot in common-we liked to get as drunk as we could on Thunderbird, smoke hash and laugh at the absurdity of life.

Amanda had a thick Cockney accent and was of mixed race. She wore matching Addias hoodie tracksuits and always had her hair up in a ponytail. She was Sporty Spice.  She had creamy cafe latte skin, with a spattering of freckles across the bride of her nose and her eyes were hazelnut colored with flecks of copper. She should have been a Bennetton model, but she was stuck in the ghetto and didn’t know how to get out.

Amanda had talents and one of them was being a professional when it came to rolling spliffs. She taught me how to roll quick, small ones you could puff on and toss in the bushes if a cop was nearby. Pipes were too much evidence to carry and get busted with.  Joints, as we Americans call them. Spliffs in England.

The Brits also have a different way of smoking out. When you smoke weed in a circle of friends in the U.S, you take a hit and pass it. In England, one holds on the joint for a few puffs and smokes 3 or 4 hits while everyone chats. If you pulled that shit in California, you would get your ass kicked for Bogarting the joint. Puff, puff pass, bitch. Everyone needs to get high. Now.

Oh, and they don’t have weed, grass, chronic or any of the green stuff over there. They smoke hash. And if you smoke too much or try to smoke it like grass, you will puke in a few hours.

Reality was something we didn’t like to deal with while our mothers were in prison together, so we got high. And drunk. But high during the day. We knew that if you drank during the day, you were an alcoholic. So we smoked hash.

Amanda would pull out a brown sticky square of hash and flick her lighter over the end corner of it. She would carefully sprinkle the crumbly brown hash over tobacco, which had been ripped out of a Silk Cut cigarette. She rolled it up in a Zig Zag paper and  light it. She squinted as the cloud of smoke wafted in her face.

She took a long drag of a joint and held it in as she spoke,  “Morgain, I’m just a half caste girl living in the ghetto. ” She blew it out and her eyes watered. “What kind of job can I get? I ain’t got nuffink, mate. No fucking education, no fucking money, not even me Mum.” She shook her head ruefully. She looked up at me, like maybe I had the answer.

I replied,  “At least your mum left you a house to live in when she went down in flames, my Mom left me holding a bag of shit. Pass that spliff.”

We’d dissolve into the giggles and insulate ourselves against the harsh world with laughter. The highs from the hash would take us to an innocent place where we could be like children again. She was the only girlfriend I’ve ever had that also had a mom in prison and we could tell each other the truth.

I’d smoke and smoke, taking deep long hits into my lungs, so it would fill up the aching in my chest. The fuzzy, creeping feeling that spread through my body made me feel safe.

I felt bad that Amanda didn’t have any sisters to share the misery of having a parent in Prison. At least I had my three sisters when Mom got arrested in the States. I thought about them and knew they were worried about me, but there wasn’t anything they could do. They didn’t have money to send me and were trying to stay alive themselves. And, I was too ashamed to tell them that she’d tricked me, again.

Now, Mom was back. I wasn’t sure why I felt so uneasy around her, but I could tell that she was in the dark places of her mind where not even I could reach her. My mother was gone, replaced by a strange, sinister woman with a wild, leaping look in her eyes.

Usually when it was time to run, Mom would laugh and say to us, “Let’s get this show on the road, kid!” or “You go where I go amigo!” but not this time.

I was packing my stuff in the bathroom and I caught my reflection in the mirror as I looked up from the sink. I was very pale and my eyes had a strange glimmer to them as well. They weren’t my eyes, they were like a street cat’s, skittish and not sure who to trust. Mom’s long stay in prison must have changed me too.

I said goodbye to my friend, thanking her for saving my life and from the bitterly cold London streets where I had been wandering, humiliated after I had to leave my posh school and friends in Kensington. I lugged my suitcase down the stairs and we got into the waiting taxi.

As the taxi puttered along to train station, I took a long last look out the window. When we fled from the detectives in the States, Mom told me she was going to turn her life into something good here and get a job as a writer. I had loved this city and all the hope it held for us in the beginning. Then everything had turned dark, like it always did before we had to leave in a hurry.

Waterloo station was coming up and I thought of the long trip before us. Getting out of England was going to be hard. Mom was supposed to be back at the bail hostel by now and it was getting dark. They would start looking for her soon.

Mom and I got out of the cab and headed towards the train station. She was slow and creaky from age and I turned around to wait for her. The wind whipped her grey hair up in tufts, in a comical way, like a picture of fun times from the rollercoaster rides at an amusement park. She smiled at me and I knew I couldn’t leave her. Another round in prison would kill her.

We could start over. Mom would never be able to get a job with all the police and detectives looking for her, but somehow, starting over sounded right.

Going to France would buy us some time to come up with a solution. Maybe the detectives would realize she was mentally ill and needed help, not prison.

She was supposed to be back at the bail hostel in Oxford by dusk, and it was definitely dark now. We still needed another hour on the train south to the ocean.  Then we had to get on the ferry in Portsmouth.  Somehow, we had to get on the boat without Mom getting caught through their checkpoint and sent back to Holloway Women’s Prison.

When we got to the Waterloo train station, I realized sporting events were finally good for something. The British were invading France for the weekend so see their soccer team.  A massive crowd of  rose-cheeked men from Liverpool in soccer jerseys were flooding the station, trying to get on the last trains to the ferry. The were jumpy and excited, looking for a fight and a fuck.

These Celtic men were on fire and they were determined to stay as functionally drunk as possible. They carried cases of beer under their arms and most had backpacks filled with more supplies in case they ran out on the nighttime ferry ride over.

For once, the ancient rivalry between these two countries helped women. Well, they helped two Irish American gypsy women evade the law. Thanks, soccer.

As we went into Waterloo Station, I hugged her. Then we went over to the ticket window to buy our tickets to Portsmouth, where the ferry would be waiting.


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The Bionic Woman


The Bionic Woman

1976

The Bionic Woman-Canyon of Death-1976

California, 1976

One of my earliest memories of my parents was when my Dad got a big part on “The Bionic Woman.” My sisters and I loved that show – it was much better than “The Six Million Dollar Man,” because the Bionic woman was tall, blonde and kicked ass. The 70’s era futuristic “Boing!” sound she made when she flew into the air sent chills up my spine, and even though I was only three years old, I knew she was the good guy. I planned on being her sidekick when I got older.

When Mom gave us the news that my dad had landed a gig on the show, we were speechless with joy. Our father. He had made good. Not only was he going to be on a show we could watch, he was acting with the woman (besides our mother) that we worshipped. My three sisters and I beamed with pride.

The episode was going to be filmed at Vasquez Rocks, near our mountaintop ranch by the Angeles Crest Highway.

“We can even visit the set and meet the Bionic Woman,” Mom added, laughing when she saw our faces.

When the day finally arrived, my sisters and I piled into Pegasus, our old red Volkswagen station wagon.

Our father had named Pegasus with Meagan, who was the oldest of the four girls and usually got first pick of everything- but she was also the smartest. We all agreed that it was the most beautiful possible name for our family car.

The day came when we could visit the set, and Mom shepherded us into the car. As we bounced around in the backseat; she turned on the AM radio and Willie Nelson came on,  crackling through the airwaves. We drove down the dusty mountain driveway towards Agua Dulce, the searing sun beating down on that little red wagon, a bright ladybug in a sea of beige.

Pegasus hurtled down the winding mountain road, overlooking the vast expanse of the Mojave Desert. The Three Sisters Mountains were in the distance, shimmering under the heat, blending into tones of caramel and rose under a faded denim sky.

We loved to stand up in the back – it was easier to see everything – and as Mom drove towards the set, we tumbled between the flat back of the wagon, where we would nap on soft blankets, and landed on the hot black vinyl backseat with reckless abandon, burning our asses beneath the calico prairie dresses she bought for us at Gunne Sax.

When we got to Vasquez Rocks, the ochre colored monoliths jutted into the sky- casting a shamanistic spell as they loomed over the set. I stared out the window at the purple Mexican sage bushes rippling in the dry breeze. My father had told me this was a sacred place where cowboys and Indians had lived. But today, the area was covered in trailers, lights, and action; and we started jumping up and down in the back seat as we drove over to set parking.

“We’re here! We’re here!”  Erin shouted as we jumped up to the windows and started to brush our hair. Mom turned around after she pulled over and stopped the car.

“Okay, I want you guys to be on your best behavior,” she said, serious as shit. “I know you’re excited, but remember your manners.” She smiled as she spoke to us.

“We will, Mama! We will!” We crossed our hearts and meant it. Nobody wanted to get sent back to sulk in the car, not on Bionic Woman Day.

We scampered out of the car and over to the set, looking around for my Dad.  A bellbottomed PA with long hair came up to us and led my mother to some of the other actors and director. She started chatting and laughing with them. We knew to be good, keep quiet, and stay by her until we got the okay to start wandering around and exploring. But I didn’t mind, the truth is; I loved hearing my mother have conversations. When she started speaking, she would tuck her hair behind one ear and come alive. People would start to gather around her, leaning in to hear her stories.

I looked around, and peeked out from behind her dress. People were wearing open necked shirts with huge seventies collars.

Oscar – the Bionic Woman’s boss – came up to us and scooped me up. He carried me around, and introduced me to everyone. He had on huge aviator sunglasses and smelled like spicy man’s cologne, comforting smells, because they reminded me of my Dad.

I wanted to stay and live with the Superheroes, in this world, surrounded by the magic Vasquez rocks forever.

Then, SHE arrived: The Bionic Woman. She came out of nowhere and moved in slow motion, with a serene smile, coming toward us. Before me was the woman who could fly. She and my father stood together and were smiling at the four little girls looking up at them in awe.

Golden sunlight dappled on their blonde hair, making them gleam in the sun. My father smiled at me, his bright blue eyes twinkling, in his Astronaut suit, and I knew he was a God as well.

He was so handsome. He looked like a cross between Robert Redford and Harry Hamlin, and had been Paul Newman’s stand-in on the “Hustler”.  He was hired to do all the pool shots for that movie. He was the Stage manager at Lincoln Center in the early sixties, working with the greats of the stage: Elia Kazan, Jason Robards and Harold Clurman. He loved pool halls, women, nice suits and drinking. He taught me about truth and beauty in the Arts and to always strive for it.

When I got older, he told me how he supported his acting career in New York by working part time and doing odd jobs for a crime family in New York, and that he and my mother ran a nightclub in the meat market district for a big mob guy.

One night, he got stabbed 12 times for getting into a boozy argument with his friend, a “made” man, but survived after a bum walked into the bathroom during the stabbing, saving his life. Later on, the big bosses had a sit down to discuss the incident, and decided that Dad was wrong for being disrespectful to a superior, but his murderous friend was equally wrong for stabbing an employee without any upper management approval, so both were admonished they moved on.

He also couldn’t live without an audience of adoring women, or, at least one adoring woman. So when my mom started having children, it took attention away from him, and things started to change between them.

He had famous actor friends; one of them was Dennis Hopper, who gave him role in Easy Rider, before I was born. Mom said Dad sang and performed with Warren Beatty playing the piano back east, hustling women, but I think most actors are born to hustle, one way or another.

If you ever see a Jack Nicholson movie in the 70’s, like the “Last Detail”, the bartender is usually my dad. It was a big deal when he came home from a Theatre tour. We would get dressed up and go out to an elegant restaurant, ordering elaborate meals and later dance with our feet on his shoes.

I think he finally realized he had four children and a wife to support, so he broke down got a good job using his Theatre building skills to supervise set construction at Fox Television-and brought home a regular paycheck.

He told me, when he was in his seventies, “Morgain, I was working up in the rafters on Oscar night, when I saw myself up on the screen with Jack Nicholson. He was up for an Academy Award in ‘74 for “The Last Detail”, and they used my scene as the best clip. But, we needed the money, and I had to work that night. I didn’t go to the show and I’ll never forget it.”

I tried to imagine how he felt, high up there, overlooking the luminous crowd of famous actors, directors and writers-watching his scene- then going back to work rigging or fixing something up there, back to the drudgery of his job.

After Bionic Woman Day, life slowly returned to normal, but my sisters and I couldn’t wait for the episode to air.  We bugged our mother constantly.

“Is Daddy’s show going to be on tonight?” we asked her every morning.

“No, not for a few more weeks. It takes awhile for a show to air,” she said.

At night, I stalked the magic box in the living room. I turned the heavy knob on the TV, thunking through the channels, trying to find my father. The static electricity from the screen made the blonde fuzz on my arms rise up, but I never found him flickering through the screen.

My mother came into our room one morning and finally announced:

“Tonight’s the night!”

We jumped with joy. History was about to be made; our dad was going to fight crime with the Bionic Woman.

We had a huge dinner in our dining room, which had the best view in the house, overlooking the vastness of the Mojave Desert. Our house was perched high above the basin, and everything far down in the town lights below looked so tiny. The fading evening looked like melted rainbow sherbet to my three-year old mind.

Nightfall was coming and soon the stars would be thick in the sky, almost as if we lived in space.

We all camped out on blankets in the living room, while my father and mother snuggled on the sofa. The clinking of the ice in his glass of scotch was the sound of a party and happiness.

The Bionic Woman episode was called “The Canyon of Death”; and as we sprawled around the TV on a blanket. Meagan (eight) and Katie (six) would tell me what was going on when things got confusing. My little sister Erin was only one, but she knew something was happening; jumping excitedly and shrieking whenever we shouted, “There’s Daddy!” when he showed up in a scene.

We sat there,  hypnotized by the flickering television. But wait, something wasn’t right. My father looked angry and mean, throughout the show. We quieted down and stopped cheering. He was doing something bad and the Bionic Woman was looking for him. Then we began to get it; he wasn’t her crime-fighting friend, he was trying to hurt her.

He had stolen a NASA space suit from the government, and then violently fought off the Bionic Woman before flying into the air with the help of the rocket propellers strapped to his back.

We watched in horror as the Bionic Woman flew up to meet him, tackling him and wrestling him to the ground. We looked at each other, stunned.

Our father was the bad guy.

I was torn. I was angry. How could turn on us and hurt our beloved heroine? Was he really that evil and wicked? We started shouting at the television.

“Kill him.” I heard Katie say beneath her breath.

“Kill him! ” Meagan said, a little louder.

“Yeah! Kill him,” I shouted. “Don’t let him get away!

Our parents thought our reaction was hysterical, but we were really upset; our father was Judas.

Right now all our friends had their televisions tuned into the episode and everyone was watching our Dad trying to kill the Bionic Woman

They tried to warn us before the show that he was the bad guy,  but I had kept hoping that Daddy would change his mind while he was in the episode and turn good. But it never happened.

The episode ended.

We eyed our parents on the sofa, laughing.