Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dirty Money and Pasta Anxiety

We are ensconced now by the sea in Cambria in a vacation house that is extremely comfortable but sort of disappointingly void of character clues to ferret out, like the flotilla of matzah and LDS planner we unearthed in the last rental cabin we occupied. But there are no teddy bears either. There are deer all around which I badly photographed. There were so many friggin’ deer everywhere that I felt sort of stupid for getting all gaga over the first little spotted fawn I spied in the neighbor’s yard. There is a little Virgin Mary fountain there and the car in the drive bears a RIGHT TO LIFE voter bumper sticker. Given this, and while I have all of my medical marijuana ducks in a row, I feel sort creepy about medicating out on the deck. Intolerance to the enlightened use of cannabis is not necessarily part and parcel to hardcore Catholic, but it’s not like there’s death metal blaring and a vegetable oil eating car in the driveway either.

I fumbled with all the impossible Russian names and read to Spuds, a summer reading requirement, 20 pages of War and Peace. I admire the school’s lofty ambitions but I note that Spuds, albeit pretty smart, is TWELVE YEARS OLD and that the teachers are females of the same general age as I, and therefore I surmise that the assignment is evidence of menopause induced insanity. The fifteen year old is condemned to afternoons tapping away with Mavis Beacon, typing being one of the subjects on his summer school schedule. It’s not War and Peace. Himself and I have walked on the beach and read and talked and cuddled. He is obsessed that a bowl of pasta I made be eaten before we leave. I dislike wasting food myself but this friggin’ pasta is really in his craw. I woke in a cold sweat at one a.m. and left the connubial bed and ate a bowl of it just to diminish the quantity. During our walk he mentioned it twice again.

I got note from John O’Malley recently that he won a suit in Las Vegas and I gleaned from the tone that it was a monumental triumph. I ascertained that a tremendous effort and stunning intellectual agility must have gone into winning success in a case of such magnitude. The verdict was forty eight million dollars. This spoke to me but neither of the players were on my radar until I read a story about Sheldon Adelson by Connie Bruck in the NewYorker. This was one of the most deft and nimble profiles I have ever read and it climaxed in John’s recent victory in a case against Adelson for having cut out the guy who facilitated a deal for him.

Adelson is a scrappy Jew from that hearty breed of scrappy Jews from which I am bred. He introduces himself as Sheldon Adelson III. The response to surprise that Adelson’s pop had been a II was, "He wasn’t. I’m the third richest man in America." This is the same sort of joke (too bad he didn’t make the money to tell this one exactly) that my Dad would have told, and told. Adelson started out dicking around and selling packaged toiletries to hotels and anything to make a buck stuff. Like my old man. Like me. He founded the Comdex Convention. He owns the Venetian Hotel, among other concerns, in Las Vegas and having manipulated the first western foothold into the Chinese gambling market in Maccao while screwing over the guy that helped arrange the deal, his fortune exploded into multi -billions.

My sister, in addition to the other attributes made her life a sad one for me to think about, was a compulsive gambler. The economic consequences of this to effect financially my business and family now, nine years after her death. I buy a lottery ticket once in a while but when I think about a man, particularly a Jewish man, making billions and billions of dollars from gambling, knowing the misery and degradation it causes, I’m sickened. Adelson’s wealth has enabled him to wield enormous political power in Israel and his position is staunchly against even the smallest concessions to the Palestine. It is shit like this that makes me fear that organized religion will make the world topple.

I humiliated myself this week and requested a scholarship for the kids to attend the same Jewish sleepover camp which was hugely formative for me some forty years ago. We are lousy about attending temple and flaky about Spuds and Sunday school and while our shabbat observance is pretty regular, except during baseball season, the center of it is usually an "R" rated movie replete with lurid violence, graphic sex and lots of potty talk. I know some of the JCA spiel is Israel stuff that it probably too jingoistic for my tastes but the community experience and the act of worship in nature softened and sweetened my boys and I am determined that they have this again this summer.

I hope too that they attend the Birthright program, which provides any Jewish American teenager a trip to Israel, free for the asking. This program is endowed mainly by Sheldon Adelson and for this opportunity for my own children, I will make the painful judgement call and I will help him launder his money.

My father grew up so destitute that he would exploit any available source of income with no reference check whatsoever. I have refused to provide footage for a number of "right to life spots" and have also, I am embarrassed to say, scrutinized projects of Middle Eastern origin for signs of malice for Israel before committing to them. I have read quite a bit about China recently and I think it would be prudent economically to explore business opportunities there but it is hard to ignore what a cesspool it sounds like. Hating the human right’s violating, pollution spewing, Godless giant that is China is an odd area of convergence for the far left and the evangelical right. There is agreement that things are fucked up but conversely, and probably largely by virtue of this, there are huge fortunes to be earned by westerners who carpe diem pronto. For this one, the good of the world vs. putting food in my children’s mouth, I will do no active outreach specifically for Chinese business, but I will not turn it down if it comes in.

While I was struggling with the application for the camp scholarship I got a call from a researcher to bid on a nice job and I negotiated a nice deal for her client and I had a nice license fee cemented in my brain and heart. Finally, she informed me that the project was for the Boy Scouts of America. There was a pause sufficient for the client to fear disconnection. Himself says I overreact but I would just as soon have my children participate in Hitler Youth or Nascar than let them become card carrying members of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s particularly sad because, and if you’ve read here at all you would agree, the things that the Boy Scouts do and much of their philosophy would be absolutely tonic for my spawn. But there is also that official policy that prohibits gay men from leading troops. It is amazing to me that a group with such an august history of nurturing human relationships and building character would promulgate the fallacy that gay men are pederasts. Far more pedophiles are heterosexual than are homosexual, but lets go ahead and teach our boys to be hateful and fearful of gay men.

I do have hope that Israel will see the fairness of sharing hallowed ground with the Palestinians and that the Boy Scouts too will see the light and maybe even offer a merit badge in Human Sexuality. My kids’ Jew fix is undoubtedly being subsidized by some inevitably dirty money. Likewise, I took the Boy Scout gig and will pray for the organization’s enlightenment while I sign next week’s paychecks. Nothing I’ve read makes me feel very hopeful about China but maybe history will prove me wrong. We are spending shabbat afternoon at that famous monument to diirty money, Hearst Castle and returning to finish that fucking pasta.
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Map Reader

Himself and I have been legally shackled for seventeen years. Life is more complicated than it was when we first met twenty years ago and we could stay in bed all day and then spend the night at a double feature. As much as we love ‘em, the consequences of unprotected sex suck up emotional, financial and time resources in a way I never could have imagined. Kids test a relationship and make for a different and a harder time in a bunch of ways. The mom thing and the work thing weary me and often I wallow in self pity, but when I look at the last twenty years with Himself, except for the cellphone, it takes me mostly to my happy place. Unable to make a bed and staggeringly parsimonious, nevertheless, my prescient beloved he has mined and nurtured beauty in me that I was blind to twenty years ago. The big "L" for Loser tattoo I’d always imagined across my forehead fades a bit each time I feel his love for me and often (if I’m not too busy screaming at ‘em) I see this love in the living, breathing, going through an astonishing amount of food, bodies of our boyos.

Our delight in one another has helped to wear away both of our feelings of hopelessness and self doubt. We have fought and screamed and slept apart and our marriage has survived all the wrong things we were taught and all the things we were never taught at all. We have grown braver and better for twenty years of duking it out and biting our tongues and holding so fucking fast it makes me weep to think about it. I cannot read a map and neither Him nor myself have been able to install Google Analytics so I can track how many people read this blog. I keep meaning to ask Carrie, fellow M.I.A. lover and the coolest chick in Drogheda, to set me up. I’ll get around to it and will probably be a bit blue if there are fewer readers than I expect and tickled if there are more.

I told the fifteen year old that this blog here is in many ways my greatest creative accomplishment. I have written an average of twice a week for nearly two years, over a hundred thousand words, I figure. I have other projects in various stages of development which I think also convey my quality as a writer but this blog, in tandem with my therapy, is a compass for someone who is unable to read maps. I might get a bit wistful if the analytics show that Himself is my only reader. But when I do write as if he is my only reader, I write down the bones, like the seminal writing workshop guide suggests and this results in my best work here. It is this self published, self absorption in this remote outpost of cyberspace, this hubris, that after trying to express myself with words my entire adult life, finally suggests I’m qualified to call myself a writer. I feel the writing here entitles me to take up that mantle and mindful of my beloved’s intuition and grace, I write here very much to make him proud. And I really ain’t afraid of no Google Analytics.

Someone wrote to me that "nothing teaches like failure" and this felt so cold and mean that I dashed off, "You are wrong wrong wrong! Nothing teaches like love!" But, now that I think about it, failure does teach and is unique in its pedagogical wallop. Maybe failure isn’t as terrifying to me as it should be. I have failed a whole bunch and I will fail again. I have learned, probably not enough, from past failures and pray that I am sage enough to learn from the future ones. The failure thing itself isn’t that scary. What’s scary is falling. Himself and I are engaging in serious discussion about how we live and how we want to live and the risk of failure we take as we more seriously contemplate a change in direction. We are evaluating if we are up to the challenge of living more fully by our wits and imagination, although perhaps, even giving voice to this at all is folly. I don’t want to fail and but of all the paths we face, none offers an iron clad guarantee of success. But the hardness and the meaness don’t really pertain to the miscalculations which result in failure. It’s the falling. But we are holding fast himself and myself and I may fail but I will not fall. This is a beautiful thing when you cannot read a map.

Our anniversary and Himself’s day of birth and the day in-between find us both suffering with work pressures and the tying up of too many loose ends before we head out of town. I am having a severe relapse of depression and it is not nice to be around a depressed person, particularly when it is your birthday or your anniversary but as one who has survived these spells for many years, he trusts that I am doing all I can towards making the symptoms abate. I will be forgiven for issuing a celebration raincheck in order to attend bootcamp because there is a correlation between running up that fucking hill with that fucking ball and the fucking restoration of hope.

Sometimes I choose the picture for the entry before I write it. I have cobbled away here this week to make a fitting tribute for my beloved to commemorate the anniversary of our marriage and of his birth and a Stanley Spencer painting that I used for a previous entry came indelibly to mind. There is a never ending supply of novels on my nightstand. I do very little reading of reviews but Himself does extensively and he knows what books (and music too) will appeal. I picked up my latest novel and within the first ten pages, Stanley Spencer was mentioned twice.

Chess was used as a plot device and metaphor in the last novel I read and both Himself and Leo have found intriguing chess references in their recent media consumption. Himself taught himself to read music and play the tin whistle with hours of patient study not to play for his own pleasure or ours but in order to merely enrich his understanding of music. He practices Irish, also self taught until his intensive course in Ireland last summer, religiously and writes passages which he translates into English every week on his blog. These translations are some of the most satisfying writing I have ever read—poetic, funny and acute. How can I get mad at someone who puts the spoons in the spatula drawer then he has such a fierce compulsion to learn and inspires all of us at Casamurphy to this as well?
I found a scrap of paper and it had a diagram of a chessboard. Himself is studying chess. Not to play it with anyone. Just to understand it. Below the neatly penned chessboard were some notes as to positions and strategy. The notes were written, for practice, in Irish. I drove around looking for the birthday gift of a magnetic chessboard to no avail and this here then, is my only love offering. Thank you beloved for the worlds you’ve opened for all of us. A raincheck on the chessboard and celebration but if I could give you the gift of seeing yourself as I see you, that is what I would do.

Friday, June 20, 2008

We Are Noisy Neighbors

The fifteen year old and I had a big blow out, which, like any noise emanating from Casamurphy, provoked a query from Mrs. Kravitz next door. I called the fifteen year old a “know it all” and he called me a “fucking bitch” and it went south from there for a bit until I evoked my therapist ordained right to disengage. We spent the following day in détente and then, on the morning road to Silverlake I elected to test the waters of reconciliation.

I told the 15 year old that he may be smarter than I am. The jury is still out. We both know he is smart and his own intelligence is the thing that he is most self confident about. I told him that I suspect if asks folks who count, most everyone would agree that his mother is of above average intelligence but cannot read a map (the humiliation of which my husband forces me to admit again and again). My boy agreed that his mother is smart. This truly made my heart go pitty pat and while I guess I knew it deep inside all along, he has been so determined and dogged about making me feel stupid, it was good to hear the words.

This fifteen year old is blessed with his dad’s encyclopedic memory. I don’t think I was sharp as he is when I was fifteen and now, I don’t dare compete with either of my sons or their father when it comes to factual recall. I bet though, that I could wallop my mom in a game of Concentration. My husband appreciates my more honed and refined intellectual attributes but the fifteen year old lacks the maturity to appreciate the way in which I am smart. Because I don’t have alot of information stored up, he often perceives me as being an idiot and due to all that other adolescent stuff, and the mother stuff, he tries to humiliate me. I reminded him today that although I do not remember the last film Fellini directed or the birthdates of all of the entire Wu Tang Clan, that I haven’t been exactly living in a cave for the last fifty-one years.

Information is wonderful I explained but added that my intelligence, which he finally affirmed exists, was, and continues to be, cultivated by a lot of reading and listening to the discourse of smart and mature people. My point was that if he didn’t behave like such a superior little know-it-all, he might actually find me interesting and a tool for stimulating the intellectual development he aspires to. I left out the actual phrase “know it all” this go round and was well satisfied with the conversation.

Emboldened by the fifteen year old’s spirit of cooperation, I reminded him, yet again, that Himself and I have gone to bat for him and lots of living earning time has been dedicated to making calls on his behalf and driving him to numerous appointments. He was offered a golden opportunity to redeem himself academically and also given a project to log some hip hop footage for my library. His academic obligations were met, but just barely and he spent a few hours with the hip hop footage and then lost interest. The office computers bear tell tale signs of his wandering from his at hand tasks to a number of websites and computer games. However, any mention of his dereliction of duty was met with angry defensiveness. Now he finally softened a bit and admitted to a less than stellar performance these last weeks since leaving traditional school.

Given this opportune mellowness, I felt that the presentation of a carrot on stick survival plan might be propitious. We struck a deal that he will complete his summer classes, help out at the office, behave like a mensch and attend summer camp and whatever school we feel best about in the fall without making a fuss or being an asshole, in exchange for whatever transportation, monetary and time resources are available to make the rest of his summer entertaining.

His independent studies classes were to have been completed last week but the instructor found some of his work inadequate and I had to leave the office again to schlep him for a final afternoon meeting. After our civilized and productive conversation, I dropped him at his volunteer gig at the local elementary school and chanted about 50 times, “Be in front of the school at 12:45!” before he left the car.

There was no alert appreciative fifteen year old waiting in front of the school at the appointed time and I had to park and have him paged. He appeared with ice cream in hand and on face and then took his sweet time retrieving his possessions from the classroom. Luckily Kravitz’ super powered hearing doesn’t extend to the interior of my car. I screamed from Silverlake to Highland Park and ran a few red lights. We were fifteen minutes late, which might well have resulted in the already exasperated teacher pulling the plug and not accepting work that was a week late. The teacher was generous and kind hearted and I suspect the ride across town with Mommie Dearest might have been harsher than repeating the 9th grade.

I was relieved by the outcome of the final school meeting and headed back to work where it seem natural that the fifteen year old, rescued yet again by his beloved, smart mom, would happily and gratefully return with renewed zeal to archive my hip hop footage. Alas, he claimed fatigue and requested I detour out of my way to drive him home for a little siesta. If I hadn’t shot my energy wad on the “not being in front of the school when I told you to” tantrum, I might have spat out something even harsher than “know it all” but it was a sweltering day and I dropped him at the house and let it slide.

I returned home from work and my husband Ebenezer refused to consider the application of air conditioning and made his usual demand for a hot meal, free of salad or ingredients which could be contained in a salad and with protein, vegetable and starch presented as three separate (and do not even let them touch on the plate) components. I sweated over a hot stove and after calling the snoozing fifteen year old from his lair about twenty times, we, all four of us, sat down for dinner. This is quite rare, due to evening teaching and bootcamp schedules, and the last time it happened, it resulted in the know-it-all fracas which immortalized us to Kravitz as the battling next door neighbors. I am reminded of (back when he used to be funny) Woody Allen’s quip about growing up in an apartment over a bowling alley, the patrons of which would complain about his family’s noise.

Even if Kravitz were perched right outside our kitchen window--which was wide open so the house could fill with hot sticky air dirtied by the constant neighborhood construction, due to air conditioning embargo—she would have heard nothing but banal conversation. There was no great rapprochement. The fifteen year old didn’t apologize for being a thoughtless teenage slug and I didn’t apologize for constantly reminding him of my sacrifices and my “I can scream my head off and drive too fast simultaneously” demonstration. We talked, all four of us, about our upcoming northern sojourn and while most families would be planning hikes and nature activities, we cheerfully debated our Netflix and Books-on-tape rentals. I described a couple of movies I thought the fifteen year old would like and he listened and enthusiastically noted my suggestions. Well, a couple of them at least. I felt a part of my family of four. A cog in the machine, and it seemed that the fifteen year old did too. He cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher without being told and I retreated to a cold bathtub with a library novel. There is a sweetness in the fulfillment of modest hopes and I pray to remember this.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father Daze

This is my first fatherless Father’s Day. Last year we dined with my Dad, Aliki, his three grandchildren and great granddaughter at the Cobalt Café. The restaurant site, some fifty years ago, was Economy Films, the precursor to Budget. I was facing a lumpectomy that week. We hadn’t yet sent the e-mail which led to tracking down Himself’s birthmother. Now Dad is gone, although his snack size containers of applesauce linger in the Budget fridge. It wouldn’t break my heart if someone threw them away but I can’t bring myself to do it. My breast lump was benign but yet another friend had less favorable results and has endured chemo and two surgeries in recent months. We found and infuriated the birthmother but she came around with grace and love and we will be spending the 4th of July with her and her husband in San Francisco.

We attended Spud’s' school year end performance, which showcased barefoot children in black, playing strings, singing in Latin and gibberish and dancing very modernly on the theme of Dante's Inferno. I tried to get himself good and liquored up before but had only time to get about a pint in him (beer--a pint of vodka might have done the trick). The 90 minutes of atonality was punctuated by his derisive grunts and hangdog body language. My beloved did not receive the "good sport" medal. Last year Spud’s appearance in the show, which marked the culmination of a year of theatre arts study, consisted of him imitating a chicken for less than five seconds. The school has discontinued the theatre arts program and now Spuds majors in dance. He was cut, without explanation, from two dances he’d been assigned and so the climax of one year of intensive dance study was only a brief and interstitial moment. He walked across the stage, like a human, not a chicken, leading sort of a desultory conga line of children who had been apparently been directed to "act sad."

Some of the kids can really dance but the modern stuff (sans joy and melody and not ready for sex) doesn’t really showcase their talents. The school accomplishes amazing things with string instruments, having been founded by parents of violin and cello prodigies. These kids are brilliant and it is understandable that they dominate the string performances at these big year end extravaganzas. I find it curious that these same children seem to appear rather disproportionately in the dance numbers too but maybe when I start my school, Spuds and Leo will be the superstars, just ‘cause. I like the folks who founded the school. They are smart, hard working women and have given me incredibly helpful advice and great support. That said, the school, is a town without pity. One of the carpool girls is a terrific dancer. Her Grandma died two weeks before the performance and she missed a week of school when she was in Florida for the funeral. Her part was eliminated and she simply remained home for the week of rehearsals and the performance.

I hope that I am not on the verge of ghettoizing myself as a critic of local performances which feature children. While the children’s theatre serves the creative fulfillment of adults to a goodly extent, at least the kids have fun and lots of it. The annual school performance, while it does showcase the virtuosity of a chosen few, is remarkably and doggedly fun free. The rehearsals are strict and if your grandma dies, you are shit out of luck, or, in Spuds case, even if your grandma doesn’t die.

We headed down to Leisure World to take my beloved’s ninety-one year old father and sister to celebrate Father’s Day at the Mission Viejo Claim Jumper, a restaurant choice we arrived at utilizing sophisticated diplomacy. We’d suggested Yard House and they’d countered with Olive Garden. We tried the old man once at a non-chain restaurant but it had an Oriental motif and Asian staff and he freaked and refused to eat anything. When we returned from our little retreat a few weeks ago, I found a quite nasty message from him complaining with bitter sarcasm that Himself was apparently too busy to call him. I erased it immediately but nagged my husband to call his father. My father-in-law is nearly deaf and has few interests in common with my husband. My husband makes cursory conversation with his dad and then hands the phone off like a hot potato to patient, Republican, sports loving Spuds.

My father-in-law speaks in that ear splittingly loud way that is favored by the hard of hearing. He brought a small American flag in his pocket to the restaurant and waved it in our faces as he noted that it would have been his sixty seventh anniversary, his wife’s birthday and Flag Day. Himself was gifted an anthology of Art Linkletter anecdotes, a tribute his dad saw as befitting his apparent love of reading. The old man launched into an exegesis stating that Mother’s Day is a more significant holiday than Father’s Day, because, "a man may work from sun to sun but a woman’s work is never done."

I do let myself feel put upon. I remember with shame at one point while we were unloading groceries at the end of a long day, I nearly physically cornered Himself and began to recite each of appointments to which I had transported our children in a single week. And yet, my beloved brings us books and while we both work very hard we both take the time to read them. He spends many an hour taking our kids to the library and actively participating in the their intellectual and aesthetic development. He encourages their curiosity and he takes out the garbage and feeds the dogs and washes the dishes and even tries to make the bed in the most retarded way anyone could ever imagine. And while he attends the kids’ performances more than a little grudgingly, he does attend them, and he drives them to appointments and haggles with their teachers when his schedule permits. He still won’t turn on the fucking cell phone, but he has grown beyond the role his own (distant) father felt relegated to.

For the family shabbat movie this week we chose The Squid and the Whale and we laughed our heads off at the way the literature PhD, portrayed by Jeff Daniels, reminded us of Himself. The professor let his son’s girlfriend chip in cash for her own dinner and forbade the use of paper towels. Himself is frugal like this and also like the character, prone to dismissing the life works of respectable authors he happens to dislike with a single cruel grumble. Our kids often express their critical opinions with derisiveness and perhaps at times they sound a bit pedantic but I think it’s better for all of us to have a cheapskate dad with ludicrously high literary standards who doesn’t know how to make a bed but who loves us and is generous with his time and has transcended old notions of what a father is supposed to do and takes pleasure in watching our minds soar.

I miss my dad. He liked beautiful clothes and I always tried to find him something nice. He liked eating out and we would have gone to his favorite mediocre Chinese restaurant or his favorite mediocre deli or perhaps a place of my choosing which he wouldn’t like as much as the predicable places of his own comfort zone. Instead I have used some of the coin that would have gone to feting my own dad and splurged on some orange roughy from the pricey but superior farmer’s market fish monger and Spuds toiled long and hard over a complicated Boston Cream pie which has been photographed as the illustration for this entry. The fifteen year old has magnanimously agreed to sort out his father’s CD collection but I suspect this project will go fallow after he has located all of the titles he wants to transfer to his own IPOD.

The father of my children is not gregarious, has no interest in barbecuing and would never be called the life of the party, unless every one of the other guests was indeed literally dead. But, in his quiet way he has showered these children of mine with affection and attention and they will be better people for having been blessed with his love. I know that all of the love he has poured out to our boys will be returned to him by them but it will also enrich their own future relationships. Fathering was a brave new world for my beloved. Who he is, and the time we live in, and his courageous openness have resulted in the abandonment of the blueprints our own fathers fathered us by. My husband will reap a rich and loving relationship with both of his boys and how sweet it is to know that the love he’s poured out will come back and that it will pass beyond us to, God knows how many, future generations.
Happy Father’s Day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Bat Signal

My mother is back safe from the hospital and Richard and I lunched with her at the hotel. Previous to her tenancy at the hotel a hospital stay, no matter how minor or routine the purpose, would result in her to looking me in the eye, wiping her brow dramatically and sighing in her throatiest voice, "That was a rough one, kid." Now, she has almost no memory of having been in the hospital but for the occasional glance at the IV bruises on her wrists.

For the Christmas dinner at the hotel a single woman with a freshly colored bouffant updo and dress-for-success duds was placed at our family table. One of the staff members whispered in my ear, "I'm sorry, but I have no place else to put her." The lady was a bit younger than my mother and her dementia seemed slightly less progressed. But she was nasty and glowered throughout the ultra gravied meal. The dining room at the hotel was packed and we were squeezed in and one of the African American (and I have no friggin' way of knowing if she was American because she didn’t open her mouth and even if she had, she could have taken an accent reduction course or have been from Canada or something. Would someone please give me permission to say BLACK?) attendants accidentally bumped our companion’s chair and the "n" word was muttered by her in an extremely loud stage whisper.

I noticed the Christmas lady, with who must have been her son, in the hotel dining room when we last visited. I couldn't make out much dialogue but their body language signaled to me that things were not that rosy between them even before dementia paid a call. During the Christmas dinner her demeanor conveyed anger and hostility. As she interacted with her son though, her face was frozen in fear and confusion. I think I have been more patient with my own mother lately. I've accepted that the old business is mine to sort through, and pre or post dementia, there was never any potential for emotional resolution or to forge that connection I have always suspected that other girls have with their mothers. There must have been times when I reached out for her and she was there for me but apparently, my mother is not the only one who suffers from memory loss.

When my mother first entered the hotel and was still missing her home and confused and angry she got me real rattled and I exploded with a shrill and tearful tirade as I drove her around her new Pasadena stomping grounds. I saw in the corner of my eye that suddenly she was terrified and I promised myself not to lose control like that again, no matter how much she infuriated me. Dementia, although it has permanently closed the door on the living mother and daughter relationship I aspired to in my mind’s eye, in its way, has been kind. My mother becomes more docile and less provocative with each visit. The angry son and mother ate Pollo Loco from Styrofoam containers a few tables away from where my mother and her doctor boyfriend hold court. It had never occurred to me to bring in food and eat it there in the dining room, while all of the other inmates were relegated to the institution's soft, bland, no sodium fare. It seemed mean, but I noticed that no one really gave a rat's ass. I hope the Christmas lady softens like my mother has and that her son accepts that for the most part, the phase of having a participatory emotional relationship with his mother, is over. The one piece of conversation I did make out was when he said to her , shaking a finger and using a particularly loud voice, "and I don’t want to have to say it again" which is sort of an unrealistic demand to make at an Alzheimer’s facility.

There are hurt feelings for things I have written here about the last children’s theatre production. I have done so much gushing here about Brod and the children’s theatre that I thought sharing my less than stellar reaction to the last production wouldn’t be all that devastating. My praise had been extravagant and consistent and loud and clear for many moons. There has never been much comment about the worship I’ve heaped on the children’s theatre so I didn’t think some criticism would necessarily be such a bad thing and perhaps I was freer in dispensing it because I believed it would go largely unnoticed. I am so friggin’ socially awkward and accustomed to feeling impotent that it always surprises me when people actually respond to or take umbrage with my opinions. I don’t think anything I said was savage and I feel rotten that it was perceived that way. I’ve been a stalwart supporter of the theatre group for years and as a member of the community I have never made it secret that I think the plays are too long and that many of the productions pose unreasonable financial and energy demands on us parents.

The inspiration for the last play was wildly imaginative and during the actual moments when the piece was true to the brilliance of its vision, it was satisfying. But it was just too big and too long and while it was gorgeous to look at, I heard very little favorable audience reaction, had trouble sitting through the whole thing myself and even though my kids’ tuition for participating was hefty, another fundraiser is being held to pay for it. I said it was a spectacular disaster and I think that as a member of the community the theatre group is purported to be, I am not only entitled to this opinion, but obliged to voice it.

Broderick is one of the smartest, wonderfully cunning, wildly imaginative and endearingly eccentric people I know. I think I get what he was going for in the last production and bless his heart, he stood true to it. This time, the inspiration was just too grand and elaborate and it taxed our meager resources. The beautiful vision was allowed to drown out the cries of concern to scale down and trim the production. I hope he doesn’t feel less beloved by us for we know that the dreams he brings us are precious gifts but it is beyond our means, we are not worthy, to bring the more elaborate ones to fruition.

My observations about the theatre group came out of my personal explorations on the subject of failure, something I have a lot of personal expertise in. The fear of failure looms particularly fucking huge for me now as a business owner and as a parent. I type this next door to my dad’s office, which, even though it has two windows and mine only has one, remains untouched since his death nearly ten months ago. My dad had failed marriages and failed business ventures, some of which I cautioned him against sitting right next door in the office that is preferable to the one I use, and could be mine if I wanted it. Sometimes I feel small and timid and afraid to fail but then I remember my father’s funeral, which was packed to the rafters with people who truly loved him and I realize, he died a successful man. He didn’t listen to me. He fucked up and I forgive him and I still love him. In order to succeed you really need to be brave enough to fail.

My bravery has wavered this week. I have an emergency session with Leslie scheduled tomorrow which I made after two nights very shaky nights of insomnia. I am stronger today and that is because I said in words that I was afraid, and some who love me, and love me in success and failure and in upcloseness and farawayness, heeded the clarion and reached out with murmurs of comfort. I am still afraid to fail and I am awkward and graceless but I am loved. I pray that I am able to reciprocate the generosity of those who hold me stalwartly in their hearts when I am low or wrong or when I love them but not their plays.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Service with a Smile

It occurs to me what an asshole I am for going into paroxysms of pique when faced with the prospect of gassing my extremely safe, solid, heavy, premium-fuel-guzzling automobile. It is not just the price, although I always approved of higher prices as a means to limit American’s swinish oil consumption, but as the price does soar now it is hard to say this with as much conviction as I used to, particularly when the oil companies are showing record gains. I note that prices are over eight dollars a gallon in Europe. But, in addition to better baked goods, most of that continent is blessed with more efficient public transportation than there is here and a population that is willing to drive around in tiny cars.

I pulled into a crowded filling station this morning and waited for my turn at the pump for several minutes in order to partake of what appeared, based on price comparisons, the bargain price of $4.59.99 per gallon, for fuel. Himself and I have noticed recently that it is impossible at most of the stations we patronize to use a credit card at the pump and one has to stand in line and have a human interaction with a surly attendant. One is not allowed either to just say “fill it up” but is forced to underestimate as nearly as possible the tank capacity. My last fill, when I was informed I had to predetermine a denomination, I blurted, “sixty five dollars,” but the fill arrow never quite reached the top and it annoyed me for days that I would have to endure, the humiliation that buying gas has become, all that much sooner.

I finally got a place at the pump and inserted my credit card, hoping for kismet and to be graced with the convenience of filling directly from the pump rather than being subjected to inconvenience and anxiety producing scrutiny of the station employee. The pump began to buzz so I reported to the cashier, credit card and driver’s license in fist, only to be told that the credit card processing system was down and that no transactions could be processed. The fifteen year old had already preemptively asked that I not get into to gas buying trauma mode and I shut myself up until I felt I would simply burst if I didn’t clarify.

“It really isn’t JUST the price,” I began and continued to recount that when I was his age, gas was about thirty six cents a gallon and when you pulled into a gas station, someone would come out. He would fill the tank and check the oil and the water and the battery and the air in the tires, and then clean the windshields, fore and aft. Only after the tank was filled and the car was prettified and inspected would the subject of payment be broached and a charge slip on a plastic holder and pen would be discreetly passed to the customer, who would never have to leave the car. The fifteen year old has spent less time on the planet being slapped around and is not particularly moved by nostalgia for how civilized things were in the previous millennium. But I urged him not to forget about little acts of niceness and hope that one day he will impart my memories to his children so that they too will be inspired to believe that the world doesn’t have to be so friggin’ hard.

But then I think about what I find so friggin’ hard for ME ME ME and I see what an asshole I really have become. I just looked up some statistics about poverty in the world and it makes my gasoline rant look pretty shallow and it makes me sad that we have already lowered our standard of living this year, although our trappings are still firmly middle class, that I cannot shave off another penny to donate so that we can help feed and house and immunize and educate the billions of children in the world who were born into poverty. I further disrespect their plight by trivializing and envisioning it, merely to feel less dire about my own.

Himself is probably growling now so I will add, on his behalf, that yes, I know that rampant fucking and not using birth control causes a lot of the suffering in the world and when I am finally adequately remunerated for my vast intelligence and have big bucks to establish Casamurphy Foundation I will throw some cash towards Planned Parenthood. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to all the human beings on the planet, even the many were brought into it due to lack of impulse control and/or information about contraception and/or outmoded religious imperative.

I heard the cut Laughing from the seminal REM Murmur, released in 1983 which was when I was twenty-six years old and about the time I met Harry, and the sound lifted me and was as fresh and new as it was twenty-five years ago. We are spending a few days in Mt. Hermon at the end of the month and Harry, let it drop, casually, that he was leaving his job in an affluent community, where his office overlooked one of the most spectacular Pacific vistas in the world, to return to work in a less prosperous, agricultural community. Harry was raised to be of service to the less fortunate. I was raised to be of service only to furthering my own fortune. I do hold those Oxfam photos in my head and they are indelible and I often hear myself waxing sanctimonious and judgmental. It makes me sort of sick to think of myself as coming off like such an asshole. The whole morally superior posture is really all about self flagellation for holding the Oxfam pictures in my mind’s eye and still doing nothing, except expend hot air, to assuage any suffering outside my narrow, and at least compared to the other half of the world, privileged milieu.

I think about buying a Prius, even though there is a waiting list and they are selling for way over sticker, it would still be cheaper I think in the long run than operating the behemoth Volvo. I’m lazy about recycling and I’m thinking that maybe the Prius would clean up my karma but then I worry about how I would fit both carpool and dog in vehicle, although as we edge closer to five bucks a gallon, it might be time to think about poor Rover remaining at home. See how pathetic my sacrifices are? Although, in Europe, dogs ride about on public transportation happily with their human companions, so while I would fatten on the baked goods laden with better quality butter, I would not have to sacrifice my dog's happiness for the sake of the environment.

Himself held me this morning for a bit before I had to rise and feed and transport his spawn and I realized that in addition to requiring nourishment and shelter and medical care, we also need to be touched. I am not going to volunteer for the Peace Corps or renounce my worldly goods this weekend but I hope to remain mindful of my blessings in what can be a fucking cruel world. My mother has been released from the hospital and is back ensconced in the hotel. We have been unable to reach Himself’s father but we have invited him for a Father’s Day lunch next week. I am useless in combating hunger and illiteracy and just about all of the evils in the world, but I will go and put seventy dollars worth of gas into the Volvo, and take my children, to visit our aging parents and we will touch them.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I’m not the greatest at relaxing and then I get guilty for not relaxing but it was nice to know that I didn’t HAVE to get up when I did at 6:00 a.m. on either of the two mornings I woke in Pine Mountain Club. We retreatified in the Dancing Bear Cabin there for two nights, in what is a private planned mountain resort community, replete with golf course, country club, equestrian center and an inordinate amount of negatory signage but in the middle of pretty piney mountains. None of the cabins were over 10 years old and most of them were over 5000 sf and some of them were staggeringly ugly.

Our lair had a pleasing Ralph Laurenesque look on the outside but the inside had textured drywall and was jammed to the rafters with teddy bears. We also found a Mormon dayplanner and a dozen boxes of Passover matzoh so we were confused about the identity of PapaBear, the cabin owner and loquacious e-mailer, whose true name, ala Father Knows Best, is Jim Anderson. It is clear that the Andersons are thrifty. A bucket of hotel toiletry products, all open and mostly two thirds used, greeted us in the bathroom with its claw foot tub and old fashioned pull chain toilets, chosen perhaps because when flushed, they explode with a bear of a roar. The kitchen basics consisted, in addition to matzah, jumbo sized Tupperwares chock a block with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and soy sauce packets. Himself was totally nonplused by this but I found it creepy and disgusting. Our attempt to formulate some picture of the people who owned the house was further frustrated by the oddness that no drawer, cupboard or closet had a handle or knob and we were all weekend jamming our fingers under drawer rims and muttering.

My mother is in the hospital and having some fluid removed from her lungs and they say she is confused but knows where she is. I am not at her bedside. Himself agonizes about calling his own father. I am filled with pity for both of these parents and feel that perhaps we could do better by them but it is a challenge to love them. I have an emotional ritual I perform to steel myself for the weekly visit I make to my mother. She knows no difference, but for me, I spend a penitential couple of hours with her every week. Perhaps it is not good enough but it is as good a daughter as I can be, or, as I choose to be. Today she is in the hospital and I imagine it is hard for her to breathe and she is scared and confused and a better daughter would not leave her side. I will leave work early but it will be a brief visit. She won’t know the difference whether I’m there for five minutes or five hours or not at all, but I will and this is sort of fucked.

The fifteen year old is hard to love sometimes too himself but with a teenager we call it a phase and not, like with aging parents, a permanent condition. We are virtually home schooling him through the summer and possibly indefinitely if we cannot enroll him in an appropriate school. This means he is with me at work two or three days a week and for the most part I dislike this. I dislike having to police him and yell when there are computer games on the screen instead of his physical education independent study program. I dislike him hearing my phone calls and conversations with employees and looking over my shoulder while I am working. I dislike that he wants lunch an hour earlier than I have trained the staff to eat (so that we can finish off east coast orders). I particularly dislike it when there is an overdue essay about Romeo and Juliet and the writer of said essay is found to be snoring in his Grandpa’s little cot. I do not like the melding of my mom persona with my boss persona and perhaps this has exacerbated the snippiness I prefer to keep in abeyance and this is sort of fucked.

The car is neutral territory and I am king of the road, although there is often discord regarding musical selection and radio stations. Yesterday was an NPR day and we listened to a report about what a huge surprise hit the Sex and the City movie is. Lots of chicks were interviewed upon having seen the film at a busy Washington DC multiplex. The reporter concluded by adding that not ALL of the viewers were dickless and turned his microphone to a male viewer of the film. The interviewee sounded like Paul Lynde and said something about high and low fashion and the fifteen year old and I both burst into laughter. Today was a music morning and I played the newest Radiohead which I haven’t listened to for a couple months. My first impression had been that it was forced and thin but today it sounded much richer and more compelling and wonderful. Just as I was thinking these thoughts, the fifteen year old commented, "this sure sounds a lot better than it did" and this is my boy and man, I hope that spending time with me will never be a big fucking ordeal for him. And it’s moments like this that keep spending time with him from being a big fucking ordeal for me.

Hillary, it seems, is a goner and I am very sad for her. I am struggling myself these days with issues of success and failure and when I heard Bill’s comment that perhaps today is his last day ever in such a campaign it made me think how hard it is to garner love and trust and respect. I do not have a dick, although I know people who do have them, or at least purport to. I suspect that this is complicated in a different way for a woman. For the rest of her life Hillary will think of how hard she worked to make herself the best loved and the most respected and how, in one, highly public, high stakes aspect she failed. Will she be able to take the better person (I hope) she has become and not be bitter that she wasn’t beloved and anointed as she might have been, as she’ll always know she should have been, and take some quiet time as a wife and mother and woman and simply bask in who she has made herself into?

I have nurtured many seeds with my love and grace and it is sad sometimes to accept that there are those that just will not grow and to watch them whither. Some have failed to see the best in me and I have been free and generous with love and at times, it has not been reciprocated. I strive to face this with open eyes and heart and to let it sweeten the love that does flow back and forth and back again and to exalt in that glory. Rejection and failure wear on me and while I know in my heart of hearts that I am loved and cherished, in living my loud life, there is sometimes reason for doubt. While relaxation is just not a natural forte for me, this weekend, an army of teddy bears bore witness to a temporary surrender of doubt and disappointment, as we fell together for a tiny crack of time, not parents or workers or children of aging parents but simply Himself and me, reaping the harvest we have sown for nearly twenty years.