Friday, November 21, 2008

Doddering Daughter-y

Doddering Daughter-y

Rahm Emanuel's dad could be my dad. From Time:

In an interview with Ma'ariv, Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

Around the time Roots was being televised author Alex Haley was conducting some research at Budget and my father asked him, "Are you still writing that black stuff?" Once an African American woman we had archiving film for us came into my office and closed the door. She advised me that she had heard my father tell a filthy joke about a little black girl. I tried gently, for the zillionth time, to urge him to watch his mouth and his angry response was that if she had been wearing her headphones, and therefore working, she wouldn't have heard the joke.

My mother would embarrass me in public often with regard to money. She responded to panhandlers by proclaiming her own poverty. She argued at the supermarket about expired coupons. The Thanksgiving before she moved to the hotel she used Dial-a-Ride to transport her to us from the valley. When she arrived, jello mold foisted, I tried to hand the driver a few dollars and she grabbed it from my hand, screaming, "You don't have to tip him." She continues to fade but always, when we are in a restaurant she tries to shove a fistful of precious money at me. The names of her dead daughter and of her grandchildren are lost to her forever. Her love for me is one of the last remnants of her.

Himself and I were talking about our earliest awareness of sex. I hope he tells his story on his blog. A one word teaser is "Sambo's." I don't remember a particular pivotal moment when I became aware of that "thing" but I learned early on, the importance, the necessity, the absolute essentialness of feminine allure. There was no straight talk about sex but from nearly first memory it was clear to me that a man was to be ensnared to take care of a girl and that beauty is the bait. Later I learned that sex is the trap. Himself's first emotional association with sex was shame. Mine had something to do with commerce. My mother loves me. She offers me money as love and because I am her unbeautiful girl with no one to take care of me. So much has faded but still there is love and pity.

My mother liked my friends if she thought they were attractive or their families were well to do. I had one date once with the son of a dentist. I figured about ten minutes in that he was a nutcase and extricated myself as delicately as I could. But he kept calling. I asked him not to call and he kept calling. I had my phone number changed and delisted it. Six months later my mother told me that that nice dentist's son had called and she'd given him my new number. Why the hell wouldn't I want the son of a dentist to have my number?

One of my Dad's well worn catch phrases was that he'd lost two houses on two wives. He left my mother's house, the home he loved the most, and my mother reminded me of his abandonment of us until the dementia freed her from resentment. My father married his second wife about two years after divorcing my mother. She disliked children he told me from the get go. They lived less than a mile from me for most of their marriage but I visited their apartment no more than half a dozen times. Once when things were particularly horrible on Fulton Avenue and my mother had made it clear that she didn't want me there, I stayed for a few days with my father and his second wife. She was into new agey and outdoorsy things. They camped and rode bikes and went on weird diets. They spent time at nudist camps and racier venues too. Once some papers arrived special delivery and we were sitting at the breakfast table and she opened them and I was curious and she caught me glancing at them out of the corner of my eye (they were airline tickets) and exploded at how nosy I was. She was also completely intolerant of my weight and threatened to make me strip so she could weigh me accurately and put me on a diet. I wheedled my way back to my mother's house. I never visited that apartment again.

They later bought a home in the Palisades, where she still lives I believe. I visited that home once but it was only to deliver something and the transaction took place at the door. I was not invited inside. My time with my dad from the time he remarried, when I was about eight, was pretty much at the office. He would bring in scrapbooks from his travels through Europe and South America and Asia and point out the beauty and expensive wardrobe of first wife number two, and then wife number three. My father took me to San Francisco on an airplane for my only visit with his mother when I was about seven. There was a Bedlington Terrier and I learned to play blackjack. I never traveled with him again. I was living in London when he was there for a few days on his honeymoon with wife number three. He was furious that after being there for six months I couldn't find him an edible American hamburger but other than that, the bulging travel scrapbooks have no pictures of me.

This is my second Thanksgiving without my dad, the third one on which we will attend the early Tuesday celebration, with live entertainment, at my mother's residence and my first in my new kitchen. Cooking and entertaining are a great joy and for all the inadvertent things my parents did that wounded and hobbled, this is their gift to me. They loved a party. My father threw me a lavish 30th birthday party at the Scandia and financed a lovely wedding. My mom and dad were both lucid and present at my son's Bar Mitzvah. The last festivity. I feel the most tender towards my parents when I hostess. But, I don't trot out the thimble sized coffee cups and funnel Old Fedcal gin into the Tanqueray bottle.

There was a stalled car in a traffic lane on a blind curve on the Pasadena Freeway. The dog toppled and the kids looked up from their IPODS and the words that came to me were, "I failed these children,” but I hit the brake and with a half an inch to spare they were saved. How vulnerable we are at every moment. How much time I've wasted pouring out love never destined for reciprocation and suspiciously rejecting the genuine article. I drove up the 101 to Pismo Beach, a brief reprieve from smoky air. Every grove of eucalyptus might be the one I remember. The earliest thing I remember remembering, a long narrow grove from the jump seat of my uncle's station wagon. My mother's sad and happy memories are lost to her. My own ebb and flow. When the hour came to brave the traffic and return home from the beach in time for yoga, I felt a sad stab at how very fast time can pass. I drove past the Coldwater Canyon off-ramp returning and I wept to think about how much sweeter my life is than I could ever imagine in my girlhood dreams on Fulton Avenue. I feel beautiful in a way my parents would probably not value or understand. I love my father and he is blessed to rest in the peace of having been loved. I love my mother and she is blessed to know the time is now.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Embarrassment Sans Riches

Embarrassment Sans Riches

We have breakfast after bootcamp on Saturdays and even if we passed the workweek sipping mimosas instead of quaffing the working mom cocktail of stress and drudgery, it would still probably be the high point of the week. Overcome with warm fuzziness, at the end of our meal, Trish made us hold hands and we did a sort of prayer circle affirmation thing right there at the restaurant. The conspicuousness of this was embarrassing to me. Kaz, do you remember Mr. Baker's Coffee Shop in Redlands? There were often folks ostentatiously saying grace there and I likely felt smug and contemptuous. Mimi, noted my obvious embarrassment at our little ceremony but she divined that I really am a complete sucker for that kind of effusiveness. But it still embarrasses me.

More confessions follow. Himself and myself have both read Andrew Sullivan's piece about blogging. Sullivan on blogging: "Its truths are provisional and its ethos collective and messy." Because these pieces here are churned out in immediate response to whatever I am sponging up and because I am over reliant on left-leaning media and what Rocky at bootcamp tells us from The View, I have, also to my embarrassment, gotten some things very wrong.

I messed one thing up and I cannot accurately remember the source of my misinformation. I have searched the Internet and not found a reference but I suspect it may have been an essay in the New Yorker. This is the perfect example of why I blog. I can say something I read, or someone I talked to, or a piece of music I heard gave me an idea. I may be proven wrong or change my mind tomorrow, but here, preserved for weird posterity is what came just now of some fleeting notion. I don't feel obligated by any code to search extensively for the source. Through something I read, I got the impression that Obama volunteers were strongly encouraged not to answer questions about specific issues and were instructed to refer all posers to the website. The same Trish who subjected me to hands clasped, sucking the air of out the big open patio thingie, reports back though that Camp Obama was an environment that welcomed and encouraged every voice. Although they were advised never to speak to the press, volunteers were encouraged to discuss anything they felt qualified to with the public. The training experience was designed to sow seeds of leadership and lay the groundwork for a network of energized citizens which would juggernaut beyond the election and political divides to change the face of government forever.

I have been corresponding with Carrie, an American ex-pat in Ireland, and I glean from her that feminism is much more tied into class here in America than it is across the pond. I had assumed and it seemed substantiated by what I had read, that as a conservative Christian, Sarah Palin is opposed to sex education that focuses on anything other than abstinence. By googling "Sarah Palin Birth Control Sex Education" the first hit is "John McCain's choice for Vice President is a radical social conservative who opposes birth control and sex education" and this quote appears repeatedly.

Carrie contradicted that Palin was indeed in favor of birth control and some searching yielded this:
“I’m pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues,” she said during a debate in Juneau.
From the L.A. Times, "Palin’s statements date to her 2006 gubernatorial run. In July of that year, she completed a candidate questionnaire that asked, would she support funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs instead of “explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?”
Palin wrote, “Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.”
This was the quote that lead many of us to believe that Palin only favored abstinence programs. The Times however went on, "But in August of that year, Palin was asked during a KTOO radio debate if “explicit” programs include those that discuss condoms. Palin said no and called discussions of condoms “relatively benign.”
“Explicit means explicit,” she said. “No, I’m pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don’t have a problem with that. That doesn’t scare me, so it’s something I would support also.”

Through notes back and forth with Carrie, I realized that for me to characterize a sixteen-year-old mother as "doomed" betrays my elitest attitude about motherhood. Because it taxes ME so much, motherhood should be reserved for educated, financially well-off, stably married women who have established their careers and sown oats. I referred to the inevitability of a sixteen-year-old mother becoming "chattel" out of the hubris that only my ilk possess the resources and maturity to be up to the task. I am very close to a woman who had a child at age 17 and she is a wonderful mother. I wonder, though, how many teenage mothers, wonderful and not so wonderful, suffer, with their children, in poverty? I would like to know what most teenage moms would answer if asked years down the pike, "Would you have waited until you were older to have children?" I know that this cannot really be answered in such black and white terms, but I wonder if the balance might tip a bit towards wishing they'd waited.

I personally apologize to the Obama campaign for the muzzled volunteer accusation. Most everyone else who reads this is off the hook for that. But, let's all apologize to Sarah Palin (not that she should ever be the president) on behalf of our ilk and our left leaning media. Let's support mothers and fathers. Let's get over our shame at sex. Let's bless the faithful and the separation of church and state. Let's remember that the future of the planet probably hinges on population control and do what we can to get that message across all lines of gender, culture, class and religion.

Himself and I both had parents, who were, in the 1950s & 60s, a great deal older than those of most of our peers. We took my mother out for her 88th birthday. I think of how mortified she would have been to know that I had revealed her age but nothing mortifies her anymore. She knows me and her boyfriend Charlie but can refer to no one else by name. She is peaceful and safe in the land where time is only now. I see her every week but Richard and Himself hadn't for a while and were sad to see how much farther away she has drifted. Himself made the sad journey to OC to visit his nearly 92-year-old dad who was recently moved into assisted living where at least he is being kept safe. We are happy that our parents can end their days in comfort while we fret about our own dotage.

I am scared about the economy, and how we will fare when we're that frail. Mostly scared that I don't know how scared to be. As I write this an e-mailed NY Times newsflash arrives advising that the Dow has dropped 400 points. The huge mythology of the Depression, my parents' legacy to me, plays in my nightmares like a Dorothea Lange slideshow. I vaguely remember the Cuban missile crisis and a palpable sense that the adults around me were scared as they marched us through our duck and cover drills. I remember the Rodney King riots and driving home from South Gate Adult School dodging bricks that were hailing from many overpasses and panicking at the televised eruption at Florence and Normandie, inches away from where Himself was teaching that same night at Manual Arts. I remember two big earthquakes. These are my forays into collective terror but it was real scary and then it was completely over. I don't know how long we will be riding out this historic economic failure. I hope it is one of those "everyone got all whipped into a lather but everything worked out o.k." kind of panics. I obsess on how bad things may get but try not to sink into deep cynicism and to kind of feel a part of the collective "desperately waiting for Obama."

I said to Himself that maybe what all the smart people we know say about Obama is right and he said, "I hope Bob is right." This was the most optimistic thing he's said since the election. Not that I bring up the election very often. We were talking about being kids recently and Himself made an observation about my own childhood that was dead on and painful but also something character building to address. But there was also this exalted high that there is a soul in the universe who is so connected with me that he helps me put my pieces together. This is my optimism. I have struggled with this writing all week and for the first time I questioned whether I am cut out to blog and whether writing here is really just self aggrandizing exhibitionism. Mimi was right about me. I am embarrassed by my lust for effusion. I will try to cast off the intellectual hardness I cultivate, and which my brilliant loving generous mate nurtures in me, and say directly to my most beloved reader and all my other beloved readers too, that when I feel our hearts beating together there can be nothing but optimism and I pray to love you well enough for you to feel the same.

Thursday, November 6, 2008



Shorter days and cold mornings remind us that we are entering a new season. I watched the election returns on the new television. In the spirit of openness, I will share, from a love note I received from Himself, "I am blessed to bask in your presence, despite that TV blaring all the time." Yet, the television has seduced our spawn out of their den of iniquity. I cooked on Saturday and they kept me company lolling on the sofa and watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall on the new 37" behemoth. We are so over "things it's icky to watch with your mom." Spuds and I have watched a lot of baseball and he can aways spot an erectile dysfunction product commercial from the first frame of attractive silver headed man. We share a puerile snicker at the five hour erection contraindication. Himself, I noticed was sort of glued to a show by the makers of COPS, called JAIL and even shushed the kids a few times he was following it so raptly. I share his fondness for this type of cinema verite program. Many years ago we spent New Year's Eve with friends in San Francisco and stayed at the St. Francis. We finished a sort of boozy dinner and the bars were hugely crowded anyway so we all ended up back in our room at about 9:30 and we watched COPS. There was a call from management that the guest in the adjoining room was complaining about the raucousness of our laughter, at about 9:45 on New Year's Eve. It is, sort of to my shame, the closest I have ever gotten to being thrown out of a hotel.

While 60% of Californian voted that chickens should have room to flap around in their cages before they are slaughtered, Proposition 8 passed, although I am sure there is a big legal battle ahead. The exact measure also passed March 7, 2000 only to be overturned by the State Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The language of the proposition is unchanged so it seems reasonable to expect it is as unconstitutional now as it was on May 15, 2008 when it was overturned. This reminds me that even in one of the most liberal states in the union, organized religion still has quite a stranglehold. I note though that in 2000 Proposition 22 passed and about 7.5 million voters voted in that election and 62.4 percent of them favored the measure prohibiting same sex marriages. 38.6% (2,909,370) voted against proposition 22. The vote has not been completely tallied and the numbers are very close as I write this, but it looks like the measure was approved by only 52% of the electorate, as opposed to 62% in 2000. Approximately ten million votes were cast, 5.2 million for and 4.7 million against. Nearly three million people voted against proposition 22 in 2000 but nearly five million people voted against proposition 8. At least this means that nearly 2 million more Californians recognized the wrongness and mean spiritedness of this proposition than they did in 2000. The measure did pass but at least 2 million more people see the folly of it than did seven years ago, so as hurtful and excruciating as it is, we are chipping away. The narrow lead the proposition garnered was due in part to church going African Americans and Hispanics, groups with religious and cultural baggage which seems to fuel particular antagonism towards the gay population, who came out in force for Obama. I will continue to write checks and bay at the moon about this but I don't really have the ear of anyone requiring enlightenment. It saddens me particularly that voting for Proposition 8 were 70% of the African American voters who are basking now in the wonderful denouement of the civil rights movement yet voted to deny these same hard fought rights to others. I hope gay and lesbian folks of color muster the courage to raise their voices, like others before have raised theirs, in the name of tolerance and equal protection under the law. You've got at least one white hetero broad behind you but my voice isn't one that counts much.

I pretty much kept my mouth shut while watching the election returns at home. Himself, indifferent and of the half empty glass persuasion, retreated to the bedroom before the networks proclaimed Obama the winner. The 16 year old was only interested in the Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert take on the proceedings but Spuds and his friend from next door sat on the couch with me and watched McCain's concession and then Obama's acceptance speech. I think Spuds was sort of embarrassed by my snot inducing sobs but also got it that Mom was moved because Obama's election, for all I've snarked about it, is a big big fucking deal. Himself is a white male. There is the Irish Catholic thing but JFK pretty much pulled the carpet out from under minority status for that. He whines frequently about the lack of opportunities in higher education for white humanities guys but from what I hear from other folks with high tone university positions he's not missing much and I remind him constantly that a better antidote than ruing not having been born a disabled transgender person of color with post-modern literary proclivities, would have been law school.

I have been reading lately about, inspired by the Obama campaign's masterful use of it, the development of the Internet, a history that spans about 35 years. Around forty names were mentioned as having been particularly instrumental in creating the technical framework of the information highway. All men. It doesn't surprise me much that television and the harnessing of nuclear energy and pretty much all of the technology that existed when I came into the world was developed by men, but it did that this most modern innovation seems to have been solely created by people with dicks. I'm the one who had to call the 16 year old while he was trick or treating to have him walk me through turning on the t.v. but that no women will be remembered as Internet pioneers, and surely there must have been some chicks with a greater aptitude for this than me, makes me sad.

Obama's election makes it seem that the doors are open to making things more fair for women in this country, and towards keeping our path lit and after a lot of reflection, I confess I have been sort of a pig about Sarah Palin. Carrie in Drogheda sends this link: to an essay which made me feel uncomfortable with myself. If Sarah Palin were pro-choice and in favor of sex education that wasn't focused only on abstinence and she were the Democratic nominee for vice president, I wouldn't have considered her Susan Sontag but I would have found her cute and refreshing and populist and real, if not the brightest bulb, and her presence on a ticket certainly would not have prevented me from voting for it. I would have excused even the shooting wolves from a helicopter as an Alaskan idiosyncrasy I could forgive. She would have reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore or That Girl and I would have considered the choice of such a real talkin', perky girl,working mom as a refreshing change from stuffed shirt politicians. I disrespected Sarah Palin because her views are different than mine. I agree with Obama that determining the moment life begins is far beyond my pay grade and also agree that our energy is better spent towards preventing abortion rather than outlawing it. I can see why many people believe that life begins at the moment of the possibility of life, conception. People who profess to believe this yet would sanction abortion in cases of rape or incest are hypocrites and completely sap the pro life movement of any credibility. If you believe that life is sacred and that it begins at the moment of conception it is inconsistent not to oppose all abortion...and euthanasia and the death penalty. I don't know where Palin stands on euthanasia but presume she does not oppose the death penalty. Nevertheless, her view on abortion is different from mine but I respect her consistency and commitment to her belief that doesn't waiver even in the tragic face of rape or incest. I strive to do better than to automatically assume that someone who disagrees with my educated white liberal perspective on issues, lacks character. There is much I disagree with Palin about but assassinating her character did nothing to strengthen my (more enlightened, but still...) opposing position.

Obama got most of the Jewish vote. There are Jews who vote only on the issue of Israel but it's not a huge percentage. Among the first voices raised on behalf of the civil rights movement were Jewish ones. Half of the participants of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom summer were Jewish. Abraham Joshua Heschel walked arm and arm with Dr. King in the Selma march of 1965. Freedom Fighters, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were murdered along with African American James Chaney, by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964, were both Jewish. A lot of American Jews feel that their devotion to the civil rights movement has been denigrated by the black community as inconsequential or paternalistic but the truth is that Jewish blood was shed and a lot of the legal work towards abolishing state sanctioned discrimination was done pro bono by Jewish lawyers. In 1984 the Reverend Jessie Jackson referred to Jews as Hymies and New York City as Hymietown. I watched him weeping at Grant Park and wondered if he was moved by the magnitude of the occasion or if he was bereft because Barack renders him and his ilk so over. They say the Joe Lieberman's presence on the ticket was a milestone for American Jews but even before he turned tail, I wasn't inspired or encouraged by Lieberman and while I suppose it was a huge stride for those of us of the Hebrew persuasion, it moved me not. Watching Obama addressing the crowd though,I felt for the first time that here in America anything is possible and oddly, as Obama is neither, as a Jew and as a woman I felt that a door had been unlocked.

I was raised on the fumes of World War II bravado. After that triumph we made a mess in Korea and then in Vietnam and intermittently have thrown our weight around in other countries and are perceived by many throughout the world as being materialistic imperialist scum. I inherited my parents pride at our WWII gallantry and sacrifice but in my own lifetime there has been nothing, except maybe the moon landing, which I was too young to get the significance of, that's made me feel particularly proud to be an American. When I think of growing up in America I think of military aggression and fallen leaders lying in pools of blood. But now, there's President Elect Obama, born of a marriage that would have been illegal in a number of states in 1961, the year of his birth, greeting the audience at Grant Park. Oprah was even there. The president elect said, "...for that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow." I wonder if any human is up for the tasks Barack Obama has in store but for the first time in fifty-one years, I feel full of hope and I feel proud to be an American. And I even believe that some day people will be treated with the same compassion as poultry.