Friday, May 22, 2015

Drive All Night

I am not not happy. And I do not live only for time with my children. The truth is that usually during the course of one of our infrequent visits we get on each others' nerves and I look forward to a return to solitude. So much for that. Joe Workforce is all graduated and moving out of the dorm that he has inhabited for four years. He is not crazy about returning home. This is mutual. He is busily networking and schmoozing every connection he can think of. I suspect, like most newly minted grads he will end up working at something he's not crazy about and that certainly doesn't require a four year college education. Given his student loan debt, a schlub job will likely foment even greater resentment. And the return to the kingdom of Mom and Dad is the frosting on a very crappy cake. I have relegated the discussion of room and board charges to his father.

This is Spuds' second summer out of the nest. Last summer he received school monies for an internship in Detroit. He moved into the long established household of a friend's son. Now he is determined to live off campus and it appears that all of the local housing requires a full year lease from June to May. Instead of subletting he is going to stay in the rental for the summer. He has hustled for three part time jobs on the campus. There is a shuttle that runs from his little village to the school but one of his jobs is parking cars at a music venue and there is no shuttle on weekend evenings.

His plan is to use the car of a friend who is leaving town and has no place to store it. I provide the parents with proof of adequate insurance coverage but the kid's dad is so dicky, wanting to involve attorneys and such, that I put the kibosh on the whole arrangement. This causes Spuds, who is in the midst of finals, to nearly blow a gasket.

I have been concerned about Spuds' being dependent on friends and public transportation, particularly come winter, when staying in bed might be preferable to waiting in the snow for the campus shuttle. Given the debacle with the loaner I start thinking that maybe it's a good idea for him to have his own Purchasing a vehicle in New York is more complicated than it is here. A car has to be inspected and can be registered only to a New York licensed driver. Plus, any car in our price range will inevitably be a rust bucket.

Given that Spuds has never established his own residence I think too that it might be a good idea to be there to help him purchase household items and establish utility accounts. The beauty of the Hudson Valley makes the prospect even more attractive. After conferring with Jimmy my mechanic, I start car shopping. I make some Craigslist contacts and ask people to take cars to Jimmy for his inspection. Jimmy is from Thailand. Even though he is only a year older than I am, he calls me “Mama,” an honorific (at least to him). After each Honda or Toyota he calls and says, “Piece of crap Mama.” I decide that Spuds will have to bum rides until I find a safe, inexpensive vehicle. It starts to look impossible.

I find a website called Car Guru which lists the inventory of a number of different used cars dealers. What's different, is like on Yelp, vendors have been reviewed and rated. It is no surprise that most local dealers are short on stars. I find a decent looking Toyota Corolla with one of the rare well reviewed dealers and arrange to check out the car. I take Bryce, my Filipino office manager, who is knowledgeable about cars, to Koreatown with me. The dealership has no English signage but the salesman is probably a native speaker. We ask if he's willing to take the car to Jimmy's and he obliges and drives us cross town. There's a ton of traffic and then when we get there Jimmy is out testing a car and we have to wait for half an hour. The salesman is a great sport about this. We talk a lot about food. When Jimmy finally does show up, with my retinue of Asian men, I negotiate the purchase of a car.

I am to set out by myself this weekend. Yes, driving a car cross country will certainly go down in the annals of Jewish motherhood. But, I love to drive and will stop and visit friends en route. I have a 30 hour book on tape of “The Goldfinch” and this is probably the only opportunity I'll ever have to get through the whole thing. Still, I hope I get some points with Spuds and that when the time comes, he opts for the better rest home.

There's tons to do, getting ready for a two week expedition but once the tension of the car purchase is over I find myself excited and aware of feeling happy. I have a conversation with a friend with a girl Spud's age. We have a couple of drinks and try to remember how we did it. I look at a decade of old datebooks and there are two or three appointments or activities every single day. Now entire weeks are blank. But after years and years of having little kids to tend to, intellectually I accept that I very much deserve to chill. Why do I feel so guilty about my indolence?

Since both kids are at college I've cultivated solitude. I walk with the dog for several hours a day. My Catholic husband never uses the word “happy” unless there is an “un” in front of it. I will not categorize these days of contemplation as happy ones. But I have never been more present in my life and there is a peace and satisfaction that comes of the quiet, solitary hours.

But this week I'm digging the little rush of adrenaline that comes from making plans and lists and reservations. I don't have the desire or stamina to return to 24/7 motherhood. But, this little surge of hustle and bustle reminds me of the organizational and logistical skills I've cultivated. I'm looking forward to two weeks in full throttle mom mode. When I return I presume Joe Workforce will be fully ensconced in the basement that I'd been fantasizing about using for my own purposes. Himself has always thought I'd spoiled the kids if they had two pairs of shoes. We were both completely on our own when we graduated college. Still, I'm not ready to change the locks. But I must remember. I'm not just Mom to the 22 year old graduate. I'm Landlady.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Fantasy Letters

Beloved Son,
Dad and I are so proud that you've graduated college. We know how hard you've worked for the past four years and are sure that all of those Facebook pictures of you passed out next to a keg or dabbing were simply photoshopped by other less ambitious students who are spiteful and envious of all of your accomplishments. We are sorry too that the Volvo, which was in pristine condition when we gave it to you has been vandalized, probably by these same jealous bastards. Because how else would the cigarette burns in the upholstery and unidentifiable sticky substance on the headliner have gotten there?

We know that what you need now is a bit of time to decompress and regroup. The contractor is coming this week to install in your room, some shelving to accommodate your vinyl record albums and stereo equipment. My hearing is so shot now that Norwegian Death Metal doesn't bother me so much. Crank it up! (or whatever you kids say now). Also, a new mattress has been ordered. Top of the line, so please make sure that you get as much use out of it as you possibly can. Truly, I am in no hurry to create the “woman cave” that I've envisioned for so long. My treadmill, off-season clothing storage area and gift wrapping table can certainly wait. Gosh, I've waited my whole life. What's a few more years?

Daddy and I have gotten into the habit of eating scrambled eggs and sharing an English muffin for dinner but hell, you've been through four years of college food, so I'm stocking up. Despite our vegetarian predilection, I know that you prefer animal protein. I will make sure to prepare plenty of steaks and lamb chops for you. The bonus for me is that the aroma of dead animal on the grill makes me want to puke so I may be finally able to take off that last ten pounds that I've been struggling with.

Also understood is that it will take some time for you to adjust to post college circadian rhythms and we are aware that when you join us at the table for dinner you will just have awakened. Undoubtedly the meal I provide will be more akin to your breakfast and you will require two additional meals and a number of snacks during the time which your father and I are asleep. Therefore, in the freezer you will find the Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches, Trader Joe's taquitos and other items high in sugar and/or sodium. And there's usually a twenty in my desk drawer in case you need a Lucky Boy Burrito or a taco de ceso at three in the morning. If that's not enough, you know where my wallet is.

Your head is still undoubtedly still processing the end of college so it is understandable that sometimes you will microwave an entree and take a few bites and either not like it or forget about it. I totally don't mind cleaning up the kitchen before I rush off to work. Gets my adrenalin revving. You are preoccupied with existential quandaries. I only worry about dying so of course I don't mind refinishing the furniture. I would be insensitive to your angst if I asked you to use a coaster for your IPA.

By the way, we are impressed at how knowledgeable you've become about beer. Enslaved, nearly since birth, by technology, they say that yours is a generation of dilettantes. And to that I can say “Hogwash!” You have used computers as much as any other kid but you demonstrate a remarkable capacity for deep, laser-like focus. I can ask you anything about beer! Just like, what brand shall I have for you in the beverage refrigerator that I've purchased for your bedroom?

When you've sorted through the significance of your college experience a bit more and perhaps start to feel symptoms of the vitamin D deficiency common in those who adhere to a bat-like schedule, you may begin to consider considering a quest for employment. Do not feel pressured! We respect your need for a period of reflection. But should you elect to ponder the thought of working in order to get money, you are correct to believe that any employer who would request such an archaic thing as a resume is certainly not the right fit for you. After all, you have just completed four years of college. There is nothing more that you will ever need to know and anyone who requires a resume to ascertain this is just not worthy of you. Absolutely wait until they find you. After all those ironic Twitter posts and votes at Rotten Tomatoes, of course your brilliance will inevitably be recognized and well rewarded. Do not settle!

With regard to your gasoline credit card and cell phone, I will try not to interfere with your contemplative mode and pester you with silly questions. I will not be bothersome to you and inquire as to the possibility that your gas card has been stolen or your phone hacked. If you spend seventy five dollars at a gas station convenience store it must be for stuff you really need. And I will assume that the forty minute phone call on your bill is for an urgent heart to a heart with a friend who's studying abroad in Mozambique.

Your student loan payments might become due before the end of your spiritual journey. Not to worry!
Like lots of people, Dad and I can donate plasma at the City of Hope! You get to watch cable TV and they give you cookies and juice. Just think! Free entertainment and we'll be able to cut out those English muffins!


Dear Mom,

I know I sound like a broken record but again, I am grateful with every single fiber of my being to you for the sacrifices you made in order for me to attend, despite being voted an excellent value by U.S. News and World Reports, what is nevertheless a private liberal arts college.

Thank you too Mom for entertaining all of the friends I brought to the house. No one minded at all when you pointed out their nose rings and sighed, “I'm sure glad I'm not your mother.” I am aware too that it was not just my black friends who you could not tell apart. And it was totally fine of you to interrogate my guests about their parents' professions, religions, and ages. It's cute how you perk up for doctors and Jews. I understand how comforting it is too for you that there are parents who are even older than you are. And that Sarah in the Bible joke makes me crack up every single time.

I've been offered two jobs, coincidentally both firms are located very close to your house. One pays 75k and the other 60k but they offer more vacation time and a better 401k. What should I do? Of course, I would not make a decision about anything without consulting you and I would never think of not following your advice to the letter. Whichever position I accept, we'll need to set a date for you to go shopping for my new workplace wardrobe. No one else knows what looks good on me.

Things have gotten very serious between me and Sasha. You remember. The one who you made recite the Sch'ma because you were sure that she's a shiksa. She's starting USC Medical School and coincidentally, her parents just bought her a very nice house in Mount Washington. Just a few blocks from your house. We hope you'll be able to help us decorate. And btw, Sasha's parents have a villa in Italy. I think she said something about Woody Allan shooting a film there once, and they say that you guys are welcome to come stay for as long as you want.

The first financial milestone I hope to achieve will be to pay off your mortgage. I know it will take a few years but in the meantime, there is no one on the planet who I would rather spend time with.

Your son

Friday, May 8, 2015

Old Mother Hover

My sister's 72nd birthday comes on another motherless Mother's Day. I guess at 58 it's a bit indulgent to pity myself as a sibling-less orphan. Now, the concerns of my parents which struck me as selfish and paranoid suddenly seem practical. I missed the chance to admit this to them. What will I do with the days that are left? What will I leave behind for the people I love? When I was in my twenties I was fully formed and immortal. I so want to challenge my children in these assumptions but I know it's futile.

With two kids in diapers and a business to run, I flew frequently to Las Vegas to make sure that my sister's private nursing staff was providing adequate care. I held her hand while she died and returned to Los Angeles to tell my elderly fragile parents that they'd outlived their first born. I made sure my dementia addled mother had warm and efficient care. When my father exhausted extraordinary measures and after the plugs were pulled I sat by his side for the thirty six hours it took for him succumb.

I romanticize the house I grew up in and can recall fifty years of wallpaper and every plant in the garden. I was the only kid in the neighborhood whose house had a screening room and a mural of a Paris street scene. I was shattered when I was forced to sell the house in order to finance my mother's care and the new owners ravaged it with spray-on stucco and concrete columns.

Despite my affection for the home itself, some of my memories of the people who lived there are less sanguine. A decade before I got high and listened to Joni Mitchell in the front bedroom it was used for my sister's illegal abortions. My dad traded film prints for the service. Everyone screamed at everyone else. Door hinges often required replacement due to incessant slamming. Ceramic pots and Franciscan plates were flung and shattered. Accusations were vicious. Love and money. No one ever had enough. I screamed at my parents and sister in anger. If my own children ever spoke to me in such a fashion the wound would be irreparable. I don't know if I vindicated myself by rising for the occasion of their deaths for the heartlessness I demonstrated during their lives.

This is not to say I grew up in a house of horrors. Sheri and my parents all shared a wicked sense of humor. We all loved to eat and to entertain. But, there was a mysterious kernel of pain that plagued my family. I've chewed this around for years and years and still only have a glimmer of understanding. I do know that all the hatred that was hurled in my direction emanated from some hollow carved long before my own conception. I learned however to retaliate. Compassion remains a work in progress.

Perhaps I have overcompensated and striven too ardently to insure that my children never feel less than cherished for even a nanosecond of their existence. Maybe the aggressive unconditional love that I foist at them has hobbled them in some way. I know that both are far more sensitive about displeasing me than I ever was with my own parents. When I reflect back on some of my worst fuck ups I see now that, despite their apparent blindness to it. a lot of my actions were motivated by hostility for and rejection of my parents. As much as, despite their own demons, my parents loved me, I doubt if either ever agonized about whether their parenting had been harmful to me in any way. They both knew that I was essentially OK and had little personal investment in the struggles I experienced towards achieving OK-ness.

Mom and Dad ascribed very much to the nature over nurture philosophy. My own ego is right in there though. Every single one of the kids' triumphs or missteps gets jammed through the “what I did right or wrong” filter. Perhaps because or perhaps despite both have grown into people I respect. It is hard however to park the helicopter and accept that my children will require less and less. I am forced to find something else I'm good at and frightened that the time I have left will be spent languishing in a nostalgia for motherhood.

Illustration: George Romney--”Mother and Child”

Friday, May 1, 2015

California's Finest

The San Fernando Valley of my childhood has all but disappeared. I grew up in the middle of a walnut orchard. There were no sidewalks and around the corner was an chicken farm where we'd buy a dozen eggs still warm from the hen. Fulton Avenue now looks like any other suburban street. There are still vestiges of the old Valley, particularly a string of old ranch houses on some rustic looking streets in Tarzana and Encino but even here, modern construction is encroaching, and gaudy McMansions have sprung up between the low slung 30s ranch houses. Himself is similarly wistful about his beloved Claremont area. We drive through recently and very little is the same as it was.

We are quite unique among our friends as we were both born in Los Angeles and live here still. We grumble, Himself more frequently than myself, about development and changes in the cityscape about which we're both nostalgic. I have always had a penchant for California art and artists. Himself and I both share a love for vintage crate labels from Redlands, Claremont, Riverside and a long list of towns where now barely, if any, citrus industry remains.

The Home Savings mosaics and paintings of Millard Sheets capture the quintessential California we both romanticize. Sheets was, like us, a California native, born in the Pomona Valley. He was the chairman of the Art Department at Scripps College. Claremont, and the colleges there, are still the hub of the Inland Empire art scene.

While Sheets was on the faculty at Scripps he met a young graphic artist, Sam Maloof, another Inland Empire native, born in Chino of a large Lebanese family.  Woodworking however, was since childhood, Maloof's true passion.  It was at Scripps also that Maloof met his first wife, Alfreda who was in an MFA program there. Maloof at this point was devoting most of his energy to furniture building. Alfreda had studied and taught art in New Mexico but after marriage she devoted most of her energy into running the business side of Sam's woodworking concern.

Sam's pieces caught the attention of the celebrated industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss who commissioned Maloof to create the furnishings for his Pasadena home. Scandinavian and Shaker influences can be seen in Maloof's work but his designs are distinctive and exemplify the very best of the post-war California craft movement. Most woodworkers take great pains to conceal joinery but Maloof's work was so beautiful and ingenious he preferred to showcase it and a simple Saturn-like join characterizes most of his work.

Maloof created a spectacular compound surrounded by citrus fields in Alta Loma. He and Alfreda raised their two children there and Maloof crafted furniture in an adjacent woodshop. Maloof's work was favored by Neutra, Eames, Saarinen and other modern architects and can be seen in many of the iconic 1960s California Case Study homes. Maloof was the first craftsmen to win McArthur genius grant. He had a relationship with Jimmy Carter, himself an avid woodworker. By 2000 Maloof's home and workshop had been declared an historic monument. When the 210 freeway was slated to run directly through the Alta Loma property it was agreed to move the house brick by brick and beam by beam to it's current location at the base of the San Gabriel mountains. The towns of Etiwanda, Alta Loma and Cucamonga have merged and now the whole area is officially“Rancho Cucamonga.” Alfreda died before the move was completed. A new house, also designed by Maloof, was erected and is currently occupied by his second wife Beverly. The original house is now a museum.

A Smithsonian exhibit of Maloof's work was schedule to open 9-14-2001 but the events of September 11 led to a postponement of several months. Another retrospective at the Huntington was high point of the 2012 Pacific Standard Time collaborative celebration of California Art. Maloof died in 2009 at the age of 93. His furniture designs are still being executed in a woodshop on the same property as the museum. There is a showroom on the property. Cheeseboards sell for $300 and a breathtakingly beautiful rocker is about $15,000. The new pieces use Maloof's designs and bear the initials SM in addition to those of the current craftsmen. Pieces that were actually made by Maloof have sold for upwards of 75k.

For me, art, particularly functional art, is better appreciated in a home, rather than a museum, setting. Maloof added 16 rooms to his original six room house. The rafters are carved Douglas fir. The doors and window frames are hand carved and no two are alike. Door hinges and handles are whimsical and cunning. A hand carved kitchen counter top has built-in spice holders. A large bookcase is a time warp with Irving Wallace novels, Gail Sheehy's “Passages” and a book about Synanon. Photos of Maloof, with his thick round spectacles and the ethereal faced Alfreda in different life stages are mixed in with paintings by Millard Sheets and Milford Zornes.

Maloof and Alfreda traveled over the world and there is a rich array of crafts from every continent. Fabulous bowls, baskets and figurines create a riot of color against rich brown wood. Decorative objects of course are off limits but visitors are encouraged to touch anything made of wood. The natural oil from human hands has a salubrious effect. The wood is impossibly smooth and sensuous.

The current location of the house was chosen because there was citrus on the land. Lemon and grapefruit trees, laden with heavy fruit are surrounded by a drought tolerant garden, heady with the aroma of citrus and wild sage. Endless miles of strip malls beige housing developments and clogged freeways are worth enduring to spend a couple of hours in what's left of the best of California.