Saturday, December 22, 2007

What We Write About When We Write

My friend Diana Wagman has a piece in the Times today called "The Cancer Drug" about using pot to get through chemo at,1,5385759.story?ctrack=1&cset=true
I was delighted that Diana dealt a well deserved slap in the face to the sanctimoniousness and downright stupidness the issue has taken on. Some guy brought in some footage of the closing of a big clinic in Hollywood, trying to get me to support a feature project and perhaps be interviewed. All the footage was of real patients and it was like stoners via the Farrelly Brothers--like the lowest brow comedy and it just proves that lots and lots of folks who habituate these clinics could find other remedies for what ails them but they just like to get high. "Is that me?" is of course the burning question of the minute. And even if the answer is a resounding yes (I swear I don't know) given the human condition blah blah blah, is that a bad thing?

Diana also takes a big risk in a number of pieces she’s done for the Times by writing honestly about her family. Himself is wounded by me (I would so much rather he be angry) because of a piece I wrote here about his temptation to shield his birthmother from who he really is. I ended the piece with a passionate proclamation of love for him. I naturally assumed that this would defuse the sensitivity of the authenticity issues and expected an outpouring of love in return. I came home instead to a chasm. Everything I said was true and thoughtful. He has nothing to be ashamed of but if I were a good wife would I have considered that he might feel differently? Am I guilty of cheap writer shit or is it a mitzvah to publicly proclaim my love and discourage shame? Even though I brought it on like the graceless clod I am, I believe he will more fully confront who he is now at the very beginning of his journey to know his birthmother and that this will enrich the experience. Even though I have caused him pain, I do not feel the need to be forgiven by him. I need desperately though to feel loved by him and maybe this will teach me to keep my mouth shut. Right huh?

After reading Diana’s Times piece, I sent her an e-mail lauding her bravery in these essays and bemoaning my own sad situation with my beloved and she responded with a warm embrace and another question that burns, and that I cannot answer, "Our families are our lives and our lives are our work so what else can we do? ...You could ask him first I suppose - but how would you feel if he said no?"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas from Casamurphy!

My husband is protective of his birthmother. She sent us a Christmas card. We do not send Christmas cards. I spent all morning making a single Christmas card. There was a program I used to adore called Sierra Printshop which enabled me to create really nice cards and flyers and stuff. It was seamless and elegant and will not run on any current computer. I have a high falutin’ more sophisticated program but it is a useless tacky embarrassment, as is all the other comparable software available. With clunky software, and printing problems and my stupid assed perfectionism a single greeting card took me an entire morning, giving me lots of time to ponder its ramifications. Does my husband need to foster false assumptions because he made his birthmother vulnerable, seeking her out, unbidden, revealing her secret?

Several days after Leo’s birth, by husband entered the mikvah at the University of Judaism and was welcomed into the covenant. His birthmother had specifically requested that he be adopted by a Catholic family. She attends mass weekly. Does he have the responsibility to protect her from who he has become? He has never mentioned his conversion to his adopted father, out of what I feel is a well placed sense of responsibility. It would be taken personally and no good would come of it. It is different with the birthmother, but I do puzzle if his first responsibility in this case should be to her or to himself.

I should be cleaning but the drop in the bucket on the home organization front has yielded a long lost copy of Diana Wagman’s novel BUMP which I am devouring. The theme of mother love is confronted with great abandon and at great risk, and I chewed this around last night as I sat at the Christmas banquet at Chez Alzheimer’s across from my mother, trying to recall having felt it. I have accepted my mother’s consistent lack of connection to the things of which I am most proud and hold most dear. Now I have been blessed with a husband’s love and approval and acceptance to sustain me. I am at his side on his journey to know his mother and having a mother and being a mother, I know both the complications and richness inevitable to this road. I know and cherish who he has become. And who we have become.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Writers I Run With and Into

Last weekend, the Silverlake Children’s Theatre performed Turbulence, written by 16 year old Olivia Russin, daughter of screenwriter Robin and arts administrator Sarah. The performance was attended with great difficulty by Robin’s frail 92 year old dad, Robert Russin, a renowned sculptor and one of those hunting and fishing tough manly Jews who settled in the most unlikely of Jewish bastions, Wyoming. Robert lived a long life. He saw films written by son Robin and a play written by granddaughter Olivia. Robert Russin died in his sleep two days after the performance. Sarah and Robin have been dear friends for over a decade and I reach out to them in their sorrow and hope they are comforted that Robert, famous artist and patriarch, was able to proudly drink in the extraordinary accomplishments of his children and grandchildren. I also suspect now that Sarah may forgive him for having nodded off for a few minutes during the show.

Yesterday Spuds and I took grandma out for lunch. She was more agitated than usual. I stopped at Petco briefly to pick up cat litter for her and left her in the car with Spuds. I got a hysterical cell phone call from Spuds indicating that he was unable to keep Grandma in the car. She was implicated several months ago in the cutting of phone wires in her boyfriend’s room in order to prevent annoying incoming calls from his daughter and all of her scissors have been confiscated. While I was shopping and Spuds was minding her, she’d located an advertisement for scissors she’d ripped from the newspaper in her purse and was absolutely determined they would have them available for sale at the veterinary clinic or the gun store adjacent to the Petco. I left my place in the long line and firmly escorted her back to the car. Just as I reached the register, I saw her spring out of the car again and run across the very busy parking lot. At that moment, Broderick Miller (also useful for the removal of dead cats and a screenwriter, playwright, and founder of the Silverlake Children’s Theatre ) suddenly appeared at the register inquiring about the purchase of a hamster and I screamed at him to go put my mother back in the car, which he accomplished swiftly and forcefully enough to make it stick. I thanked him for saving the day and received back from him a warm and comforting note.

Shopping for produce, I ran into Kim Jones, a weekly Hollywood Farmer’s Marketeer, writer and mother of teenager and we talked about how our family experiences can feed our writing and like Rashomon, the stories told by parents and their children would spin themselves out quite differently. This made me think immediately of another writer, Marion Siwek, whose famous writer mother actually did publish a memoir of intimate family details. I was chewing this around still when I got to Trader Joe’s and there was Marion, at the dairy case. Just like God sent Broderick to end the scissors debacle, there was Marion in the flesh to finish my thought and share fears, while we obstructed egg and yogurt buyers.

In many ways the weekend stank. We have teenager problems and a terrifying strike and I visited last night my dad’s house for the first time since his death. Monday now though, I sit here putting the words down. Writing. Maybe healing. And thanking God particularly for bringing into my life so many other clueless people compelled to string words together towards some sort of knowing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Kitchen as Metaphor

My niece Cari’s mom Faye passed away over the weekend and my heart goes out to Cari and Marlene. Aliki made her first public appearance since my dad’s death on Sunday to see Leo in a Silverlake Children’s Theatre production. I float from moments of being immersed in something immersing, to being charmed by family and friends to sadly still feeling my still newish state of fatherlessness. How sad and complicated and grown up it all is. To my beautiful nieces I send my love.

Himself helped me get to the point where I have cooked a bit in my new kitchen. There are still boxes and dust but we have what we need to perform rudimentary cooking. I’ve fought a cold for days and wanted soup. The first thing I prepared was chicken soup, oy, the cliché, I loved making it and eating it. We still don’t have a fully functioning oven and lots of other things require tweaking but it is so sweet to cook and it is shameful how happy it makes me to scramble eggs or boil pasta.

Although I no longer attend weekly, I had a check up therapy session with Leslie this morning. I told her about my one week marijuana fast. I noticed when I reinstated my daily morning dose, even when experimenting with smaller and smaller doses, there were times I felt foggy and wished that I had not taken any. I talked about the Whole Foods latkes and tears episode as an example of the stress and anxiety I often experience sans pot, but noted that today I’d taken none and felt fine.

It came back to the kitchen and living for months and months with filthy boxes stacked to rafters, a constant reminder of the chaotic garbage filled mess I’ve made of my life. The journey of the last year and a half has been arduous, including losing a parent and institutionalizing another. Through at all, I chipped away literally and figuratively, at ridding my home of broken and unloved objects but it was only in the last few days, with that first pot of chicken soup, that I felt something tangible to show for it.

My parents loved me but were disappointed at my lack of beauty. I lived for so long disappointed with myself. I married a man who also grew up in a house where he was also misunderstood and his genuine gifts were overlooked. We have soldiered on for nearly twenty years and while there are still boxes of detritus to be hauled away and destroyed, we have each found value in ourselves despite our parents’ shortsightedness.

I find myself in the middle of a crippling strike which will have some serious ramifications for my already struggling little business. The kitchen is unfinished. There are boxes and little pockets of crap all through my house. All I would have wished for when I lay in my little girl bedroom on Fulton Avenue, beauty, wealth and fame, is still elusive to me at age fifty. Instead I am more wildly in love than I ever would have dreamed with a man who nurtures my intellect and faith and love, in the real sense of love. My children are handsome and gifted. My friends hold me tight and make me laugh and watch over me. My soul is burnished by heaps of loss and sadness. I can make chicken soup in my own kitchen. I am happy and perhaps some would call me superficial for attaching so much to a kitchen, but I am full and grateful and at my best.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bread Ahead = Less Dread

This morning I took a tiny bite of pot cookie, ending my angry dog week. During this week I had great exercise and yoga, recovered sweetly from a big marital blowout, had fun working at the kids’ play and an uplifting satisfying experience at the temple. I also got into a huge snit about the lack of latkes at the Whole Foods on the first night of Chanukah and if the lady in charge had been white and educated seeming I would have gone off on a big ol’ eloquent tirade, subtlety evoking anti Semitism, (Pasadena...) but it was a hugely obese black woman so even though the Jews have never been shown enough appreciation for our role in the Civil Rights movement, I put a sock in it.

I was irritable all week and the little sleep I had was fitful. I came on to the pot and felt a calm awareness of God in the world. I felt despair and anger and hopelessness last week. I reached out and was met with healing love but still felt a kernel of anger. After my morning cookie, this has melted into compassion and anxiety feels supplanted by hope. The pot too is like truth serum and while I do feel lessened anxiety and clearer focus, I am aware too that it is critical to pursue all means necessary, as in God and love and exercise and yoga and music and this writing, towards honesty and light and peace. I know that of all the things I do so that I can exist in peace and joyfully shoulder my responsibilities, pot is the only tool with drawbacks and one to be employed mindfully.

My cabinetry is being finished as I type here and I will begin unpacking our filthy boxes. We still need paint and lots of tweaking but by weekend’s end we will be eating food prepared by me and off of real plates. I was raised by a mean, narcissistic mother, a product of her time, I suppose and I forgive, to be a whore. Both of my parents reinforced again and again that a woman’s sexual desirability was the true her measure of worth. A lot of failure and humiliation have brought me finally to the point of discrediting this. I am worthy because I show love. I am most confident about showing love when I make people laugh, strive for compassion and cook food. I have finally become much more confident about my sexual desirability but it is no longer tied into my self worth and much more about surrendering self and loving strongly and fearlessly jumping off into the void with my beloved. I look so forward to having a house full of kids or a dinner party or just eating with other than a plastic fork and filling this home with love in the ways that I know best.

There is lots of bullshit ahead. Business is tough. I am the mother of a teenager. I am married to a brilliant introvert and our different priorities inevitably make me feel put upon at times. I am confused about my use of marijuana. I love my marriage and my family and my friends and while this home never bodes to ascend out of funkiness, soon at least we will break bread that I have baked and partake of good things. My nearly useable kitchen. Oh fresh hope.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Seventh Day Will Follow the Sixth

I have not imbibed any marijuana for six days. I have had a couple of icky meltdowns, one of which resulted in my beloved sleeping a night on the floor. I have screamed at both of my children. I have sobbed at the office and at the house and in my car. I have slept poorly and my motor skills feel off. I may have bottomed out yesterday when I was kicked in the ass by hopelessness and rage and desperation, and morphed into the Angriest Dog in the World, "the dog who is so angry he cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He can just barely growl...bound so tightly with tension and anger he approaches the state of rigor mortis."

I sold concessions for the Children’s Theatre all weekend, elbow deep in ice water, fishing out cans of sodas. I perform this big job four weekends a year and am always left exhausted but the time with dear old friends was particularly tonic and while I am still miles from inner peace, I do take comfort in the community of families we have nurtured. As I come out more and more about my reliance on pot and my resulting confusion to my friends, it surprises me that there are still snickers and snorts, which I doubt would result if I said I was struggling to come off of Prozac. I wonder if marijuana is too sullied with its outlaw history to ever be taken seriously as a legitimate medication. Still, I felt shitty and at sea and being with my friends made me feel better.

Saturday Spuds and I attended services at Knesset Israel, one of the two little backwater synagogues we belong to. Both of our tiny congregations have survived due to an influx of Mexican congregants, some of which apparently have discovered some Ladino roots and others who have found Judaism as a jumping off point from evangelical Christianity. I presume most have completed some official conversion process and noted that they knew the songs, prayers and responses far better than I, who have been attending synagogue, albeit erratically for over fifteen years. The prayer at Knesset is very intense and raw and it feels primitive. There is shuckling (swaying) during prayer which is not too common at Conservative shuls and to my knowledge seldom practiced in the Reform movement, where it is probably perceived as being too hardcore, like speaking in tongues. The Rabbi and Cantors covered their heads with their tallit, epileptic ghosts, as they prayed for the sick and ailing and I prayed as hard as I could, given my current diminished focus. This is how they must have prayed at the Temple before it was destroyed or in the shtetl or in the camps and I was innocent and open and touched and maybe I even believe a bit that these fervent prayers may heal me too.

I have sent out my SOS and dear friends have reached out and this makes me feel better. I have exhausted myself at bootcamp and this makes me feel better. I have donned my yoga face and stretched and this makes me feel better. I have indulged more than ever in the comfort of music and this makes me feel better. My beloved has returned to our bed and this makes me feel better. I do not though feel as good and clear and hopeful and focused and confident slogging through the travails of being a mom and a wife and a daughter and a business owner as I feel on the days when the marijuana I imbibe is neither too weak nor too strong. The burning question is whether I medicate myself due to some real biochemical need or because my circumstances are simply beyond my endurance. Am I chemically fucked up right now or just lucid? Tonight begins the festival of lights and celebration of miracles. Tomorrow I will have abstained from pot for a week and while I feel beaten down and haggard I do believe in miraculous light. I have seen it and trust in God that I will again.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pot Mom

I stopped taking Prozac, after titrating my dose for several months, in July. I had taken a large dosage daily (except during pregnancy and lactation) for about twenty-five years. I don’t even remember what the initial diagnosis was but it was probably something like depression and anxiety. I stopped taking Prozac under the supervision of psychologist Leslie and a nice psychiatrist and felt markedly better when I did. I have had a prescription for medical marijuana for over a year and I find it assuages depression and anxiety much more effectively and without the mental dulling caused by the more traditional and widely prescribed Prozac. I have been open with all my practitioners about the substitution of marijuana for Prozac and have been treated with respect and taken seriously. I can make a compelling case for why marijuana is more effective for me than Prozac and yet, as I type this, jittery and anxious after 48 hours sans cannabis, I will admit that the patient herself is not 100% sold.

Prozac never made me feel good. I presume it made me feel less bad but there was a palpable dullness that lifted as I discontinued the drug. When I first visited the psychiatrist he was certain that another prescription antidepressant could be more effective. After several visits though he decided that medical marijuana did seem the most salubrious for me in particular and even put this in writing for me to have my medical marijuana recommendation renewed.

Pot makes me feel good. Is that bad? Have I totally bullshitted myself and my minions of medical experts? I have described here what I knew at the time was a dangerous and degrading addiction to opiates. Because the literature recommends the cessation of pot use for a week annually I am sitting here feeling funky. I sat at the same window in my office a year ago in the throes of full blown opiate withdrawal. This is nothing compared to that but nevertheless, I am chastened and thinking about what I put in my body and particularly, why.

I have used marijuana recreationally on and off since high school. I like being high on pot, just like I enjoy a few drinks, in the right circumstances. The first time I went to a marijuana clinic it was a big thrill and my inner pothead got a big rush at the veritable cornucopia of cannabis and related products. And perhaps it does speak to the authenticity of my medical need at how fast this got old.

My ritual is to consume an edible (brownie or cookie) first thing in the morning. I was using an excellent dependable suspension for a while but this is no longer available and I have been unable to find any other liquid or capsule form of marijuana that is reliable. The voters of California voted that marijuana should be considered a legitimate medical treatment. There are a lot of asshole clinic owners making big bucks from this, completely flaunting the intention of this referendum and clearly selling pot for recreational use. The federal government still considers any use of marijuana criminal. It is therefore a real challenge to find marijuana dispensed appropriately and knowledgeably for medical purposes. Although the dangers of smoking anything are quite apparent, for some reason, there has been much more of a crackdown on edible marijuana than on smokeable and it is difficult for me to find edibles in Southern California.

When I took Prozac, I filled it monthly at the pharmacy and got exactly the same dose everyday. I have actively educated myself with regard to marijuana as much as possible but because there are virtually no standards, it’s a crapshoot every day. Sometimes a brownie will have no effect at all and sometimes, I find myself too high. When the dosage is correct I am not particularly aware of being medicated but am less likely to experience physical jitters or hobbling anxiety. I think that this is how I want and how I should feel. Since beginning yoga and bootcamp and engaging in some serious discussions with an enlightened clinic owner, my medical pot consumption is about half of what it was. If I could get a uniform dosage of pot from the Rite Aid, I would probably take it and give it as much thought as a vitamin. Because the drug (I think) I need is messed up with crime and government and not offered in a normal medical venue makes me ask questions of myself that I might not otherwise. Might. I do have a history of drug addiction so it would be foolish of me to get on any high horse. A friend (in recovery) wrote me a confrontational letter several months ago about my pot use. It hurt and has been taken seriously.

I hate to eat in the morning and one of the things I look for in an edible is potency in a small size. I found some tiny brownies and cookies at a clinic in San Francisco. Edibles are plentiful and inexpensive in the Bay area. Fuck if I know. These are extremely small and extremely strong and because they were so tiny, I didn’t bother cutting them in half. I spent about a week feeling overmedicated and decided that this would be a good clean out week but the fact that I had to approach it using the recovery argot of "one day at a time" gives me pause.

I might go home and smoke this evening. I might hang until next Wednesday and make it a full week. Maybe at the end of this week, after extra yoga and bootcamp my anxiety will be at bay and I’ll continue being abstemious. Anxiety and depression have fucked me up. So have drugs. So has (most particularly) being full of shit. Prayer on the other hand, has never fucked me up and as I struggle with this, and so many other things, I pray to be able to pray.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Back Here

After a brief detour to drop Spuds his forgotten lunch, we headed up 5, Himself fussing mightily most of the way with audio related external battery headphone calamity stuff. We stopped at the new Tita’s (right off the highway) in Buttonwillow, which is much the same as the other Tita’s but a bit more expensive for saving you the mile or so drive into downtown Buttonwillow, for a fabulous breakfast. We did have great tunes the whole way and it has been a long time since we’ve listened to music actively together. An overcast day on a flat road and we were listening music for the most primal reason people listen to music and we were hearing it.

We arrived happy at the Hotel Vitale, where you can sit on the toilet and breathe oxygen for 15 bucks a crack but is nevertheless one of the finest hotels I have ever stayed at and a sweet time was made sweeter. We strolled the Embarcadero and saw fireworks at a stupid angle from the lobby of the creepily enormous Hyatt Regency Hotel and then supped at a restaurant (Sens) that we realized had reincarnated from another (Splendido) we’d dined at on another trip to the City more than a decade ago and we held hands.

In the morning I availed myself of the free lobby coffee and the free morning yoga class provided by the hotel. With instructor Treasure, I stretched and breathed and saluted the barely visible sun from the 8th floor yoga studio, overlooking the Ferry Building, the Saturday produce market in full pre-Thanksgiving bustle. Himself escorted me to wait for my car and prepared to the lobby to wait for his first meeting with Anna, his birth mother. I had meant to, had wanted to, be long gone but my car took longer than it might have and I saw a couple, of appropriate age, arrive on foot and he kissed her goodbye and I saw her face. I knew it was her and the nanosecond in which we made eye contact took my breath away. I am comforted now, when I look at the photos from the end of the day, after Himself and Anna had conversed for several hours, followed by a several hour chillout period, and then dinner with Anna and her husband Jerry that the pictures I took reveal such soft sweet happy faces. Anna, a very direct woman, told me that she’d been very angry at me but she thanked me now and I thanked her too. We both knew it was unnecessary for me to say that I had been angry with her as well. Now, I believe we all feel blessed and grateful. So much of what we assumed was wrong and I ask forgiveness for my harshness.

I brought Ferry Market provisions to the Harper Berry/ Berry Harper residence in Mount Hermon made even more sacred to us now with a room addition, a grand and humble cathedral in the forest where we spent the evening eating and drinking and actively listening to music. Bob and John and I have listened to music together for so long that we are tattooed with each other’s instincts. Chris humors the old folks and tolerates what must be to him, our moribund lexicon.

We returned home, buoyant and showed the boys pictures of Anna and Jerry and described the meeting. I said that it was particularly poignant to me because adoption was such a large major theme in my own family history. Spuds looked puzzled and asked, "Adoption, your family?" And then it clicked. My sister had given her daughter Cari up for adoption but now she and her daughter Marlene are so naturally and easily and seamlessly members of the family, blood relations, that Spuds had forgotten for a moment that lives had been separate for many years. I gave thanks yesterday for my family and for music and food and for lives that have been separate and will now come together.

My husband writes beautifully always, but particularly beautifully about the last few days at

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Mimi Pond has a terrific animation called “The Training Wheels of Love” at I noticed too a painting by husband Wayne White above William Saffire’s column in the NY Times magazine two weeks ago.

The brattiest girl at Bootcamp, Mary Beth Sorensen asks that we all take a moment to help our local h.s.:
Please help our high school, John Marshall, win $25,000 for aclassroom makeover. It's easy! Just visit the website, www.expomarkers.comand vote for Ms. Lee (classroom #2). Forward this to everyone you know andwe can win a new class for our kids with enough votes!

We have again foisted our progeny on Uncle Richard and the Smith family and tomorrow morning Himself and I will head north to meet his birth mother. She has evolved from feeling furious and violated and ruined several months ago, when contact was first established, to enthusiastically albeit nervously, arranging a meeting, which will take place this Saturday morning.

My feelings about this are strong. I am aware how momentous this is for my beloved and I will wear the dress he likes when we meet her and try not to be shrill in that way he hates or show off or embarrass him. My heart is filled with love for him no matter what, and this will only grow as the events of the pending weekend unfold. I asked himself why he loved me recently and there was a pause. “Because I’m there?” I asked. “No,” he responded, “because you’re here.”

Yet, I am really fucking tired of strong feelings. I pray the trip to San Francisco will be a beautiful experience for Himself but today, I am feeling a bit beaten down. In the last year I sold my mother’s house, my father’s beautiful creation only to see it destroyed and covered with cement and stucco by the family who promised to restore and cherish it. They are trying now (unsuccessfully, apparently) to flip it.

It was a year ago this week that I took the last quarter of a Norco pill, after having taken 30-40 of these opiates daily for about 5 years, subsequent to a number of surgeries. I am in the middle of remodel that has not gone well. Even though new thoughts have been thought, the initial brutal rejection of Himself by his birth mother broke my heart, and because I had initially made the contact with a cousin, I felt culpable too. And my father died.

My regular weekly therapy with Leslie has been discontinued. I am not cured but apparently have achieved a satisfactory level of self awareness, for at least the time being. What I am aware of now is fatigue and the appropriateness of it. I look forward to driving up 5 tomorrow, the two of us, listening to Mogwai, our favorite traveling music and stopping for a burrito at Tita’s in Buttonwillow. After that, I do not know, but I am here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I am Having Fun Yet

It’s been five months since I’ve been able to do any cooking and I’m jonesing hard. It is so essential an expression for me and ties in so with everything that matters. The other thing that keeps me on kilter, and is integral for me being in the world on many levels, is music. I listen to music during most of my waking hours and have spent an inordinate amount of time tweaking my Launchcast Radio station so that it plays plenty of old favorites and occasionally exposes me to a worthy newcomer. My kids expose me to the best (and sometimes the worst) of urban music but from the idiosyncratic domain of alternative rock I reside in, there is very little new stuff that I like and I purchase very few cds and practically none recorded by bands who haven’t been on my radar for at least a decade. Yet I remain open to hearing young voices that rock my soul.

In the last few days I have attended four concerts. I saw Yo La Tengo once by myself and then caught two additional shows with Himself, who wrote a much more in depth and insightful review on his blog than I wrote on mine. I have discussed frequently here my connections with people through music, frequently and mercilessly excoriating poor Broderick Miller and often dismissing my husband’s preferences for being strictly “above the waist.” Drugs (especially psychedelics) influence much of what he listens to but his predilections are, for the most part, not fraught with sex and soul and booze the way mine are. My husband is a rock ‘n roll intellectual and I am a cheap whore. While he was a good sport about the Yo La Tengo overdose I knew not even to ask him about The Hold Steady and instead conned Barry J. into accompanying me.

Before the show, we made musical confessions. His: Uriah Heep, Humble Pie. Mine more along the lines of Judy Collins and other off key pretentious folkie crap. We mourned the heartbreak we’d been meted by Phil Collins and Rod Stewart and compared Springsteen periods. I am more E Street and Barry more Nebraska. I confessed to never really getting Patty Smith and I surmise that Barry has not given the Replacements/Westerberg a fair shake and he admitted to being unfamiliar with Husker Du.

I worry about the music I love the best though. Yo La Tengo are critical darlings and have been playing and recording for years. We have seen them twice at the El Rey, a number of years ago and the room was jammed. This weekend, although there were three shows, they failed to sell out the ultra tiny (200 seats?) Ivar Theatre. The Hold Steady was Blender’s band of the year and their three cds have received unanimous high praise. They were originally scheduled to play at the Wiltern but the show was changed at the last minute to the much smaller Music Box at the Fonda Theatre. Even with the change to a venue about 75% smaller, the show did not sell out and was so sparsely attended that the balcony wasn’t even opened. The audience was tepid and except for a few hard core fans at the stage, pretty disengaged. This pisses me off because it was a great show. Maybe even a show that will be compared one day to Springsteen at the Roxy at the beginning of his career. Unless Barry was being polite or in an altered state due to the beer we swilled on empty stomachs and tried to blot up with licorice Altoids, I think he really saw and heard what I saw and heard, that rare spark of new and good.

Frontman, Craig Finn is an extraordinary force of nature. Even my asshole husband admitted that his lyrics weave astonishing wry dark stories. It was the Springteenishness on the record that was the big turn off to him, but live, Finn sort of channels Pee Wee Herman and Jerry Lewis, juggled with the earnest elegance of Elvis Costello. I’m sure there are 10,0000 locals who would swear they were in one of the hundred seats at the legendary Springsteen Roxy in 1975. The Hold Steady put on a show I’m sure that I’ll remember energetically if I’m alive in 30 years. I wonder if others will wistfully lie about having been there, or if the music I love is becoming, and destined to become more, irrelevant. Sigh. At least I’ll be able to get back to some serious cooking early next year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The One I Used to Carry Like a Sack of Potatoes on My Hip

Polish the "Mom of the Year" medal for me. Last night I took my kids to a chain restaurant, The Yardhouse, in Pasadena, for Monday night football, fried foods and sodas (diet). The beer selection was astonishing but, as per most of Pasadena, the food was designed primarily to create a thirst for liquor. The place was so filled with things that repulse me, like mediocre food, blaring 70's rock, football, large groups of men watching football, large groups of men drinking, and Big Gulp sized servings of beer, that I was stunned into a weird fascination and suddenly I was Margaret Mead in Samoa and amid people of similar bulk. After our healthful repast, we attended a school night showing of American Gangster. Spuds dutifully reported to Daddy that the girls had to be naked when they packed the heroin so they wouldn’t steal it.

I returned home and Himself said that he was writing me an e-mail as I entered the room. Spuds asked why we couldn’t just talk to each other. I explained that there were certain practical matters that Mom and Dad could more efficiently address via e-mail rather than waste our precious time together. "Yeah," he responded, " so Dad can read a book and you can eat and watch Weeds."

Monday, November 5, 2007

Yo La Tengo and the Force of Feeling

I attended three Yo La Tengo concerts this weekend and my husband condescended to join me for two of them. I haven’t read his review of the shows on his blog because it may harsh my mellow. I’d never seen a rock show at the Ivar Theatre but it is small and genial and by the second night they got around to selling some beers. This was called the Free Wheelin’ tour and it was largely acoustic and showcased the large and eclectic body of songs they’ve written and covered. All three shows were unique and only about three songs were performed more than once. Ira Kaplan urged the audience to ask questions, most of which unfortunately were quite inane. The audience participation, such as it was, sparked the band to chat a little and find inspiration for the next musical number. It was sort of like having a jam session in your living room although if it were in my living room, the guests would have asked smarter questions than the paying crowd at the Ivar. I will confess to having been staggeringly and droolingly blissed out through the whole experience. I see now how people can actually surrender to that force of feeling and speak in tongues and stuff.

During the summer, my husband, after decades of genealogical research and longing to connect with his blood roots, was dealt one of the cruelest blows I can imagine. After years of searching he was able to establish contact, through another relative, with his birth mother. Her response was angry fury and she sent him a letter so excoriating and full of rage that neither of us has been able to read the whole thing. A single fuck with a married man, nearly half a century ago is still so excruciatingly shameful that when my husband lay at her feet the beauty of the life she’d made, she could not be comforted. I like to think that my beloved took comfort in my arms and embracing the grandchildren of the woman who seemed to have dedicated her life to ruing his very conception. But I am not him and suspect that the pain of her hatefulness may have been even greater than the comfort of my tender love and what we’ve made together could truly soothe.

On Saturday Himself received a letter from the Bay area. It began, “I hope you can forgive me.” It was from Anna, his birth mother and it expressed remorse for her reaction four months ago to his initial attempt to contact her. She is married to a retired journalist and they live in San Francisco. She is sorry. She wants to meet John. We will go to her, confident that her burning shame will dissipate and she will look into his eyes and surrender to the force of feeling.

Friday, November 2, 2007


I spend a lot of time in bed. Since June, there has really been no other place at home for me to be. My husband has his little office and the kids have their dungeon but we have no kitchen or living room and I have made my bed a sanctuary replete with snacks both sweet and salty, laptop and reading materials. Himself has been tolerant of incessant crumbs and tapping but as I tap this from the boudoir, one floor below me, an extremely gruff foreman is leading a crew and cabinets are being installed.

My friend Jan, said, many years ago, upon entering our house that she knew it was a happy house. While it hasn’t exactly been Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf around here, the last few months have been hard on my family and it fills me with pure joy to think of cooking a meal and having a place in the house where we can sit together. Maybe it is hippie b.s. but houses give me a feel. Some houses, replete with splendid furnishings, feel empty. Some feel full of fear and others blast love. A friend sent a photo of a beautiful modern home. It was clean and perfect and beautiful and I was told that the plans were unbelievably elegant but it gave me no feel and I wanted to strew used kotex over the lawn.

We blew last night as workmen were rushing to install moldings in order to be ready for the intimidating cabinet installers and certain family members said and did some things that were very bad and definitely not befitting a happy home As for myself, I plead temporary insanity and suggest in the interest of long term mental health my words and actions be erased from memory, as the costs of gaining further insight through therapy would be prohibitive.
The foreman is barking orders and the drills and saws reverberate. I am thankful for the happiness I have known and shared here at Casamurphy. I pray my new kitchen brings more happiness to my family and friends. All of our funky homes have room for more love. Shabbat wishes for full hearts and houses we can live in.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Variations on the Theme of Bitterness

Some people I love and confide in have fucked up things happening in their lives right now and so do I. Leslie commented that the adage that God never gives you more than you can handle is bullshit. I am heavy with my own burdens but also with the burdens of stalwart and courageous friends who swaddle me in comfort and in love. We reach out to each other in grief and terror and unspeakable fear about our selves and our families. To my sweet friends who tap to me in the dark, I send this Sabbath day an extra blast of pure and healing love.
I sent Bob a happy birthday note rhapsodizing about my discovery of The Hold Steady and received a note back almost immediately that he thought of me when he heard the band. I will often hear a few notes of music or a beat and think of Bob, whose ear I think yearns for what mine does, except for a certain "Bobness" which I can identify but not describe in mere words. I had lamented suffering through Bright Eyes and hearing a certain callowness when I attempted to revisit Jackson Browne, who did craft some gorgeous songs, but perhaps a greater number of cringe inducing ones. I have been listening to Kanye West with Leo and Spuds and I totally get it but I continued to be perplexed by lack of an equally compelling voice within my own musical pigeonhole. Craig Finn, of the Hold Steady, has written the most erudite lyrics about recreational drugs since Lou Reed. The band will be compared to Springsteen and while this is apt, it might trivialize this razor sharp yet infinitely listenable voice. I hope they fare better than fellow Minnapolisites, The Replacements.
Fellow rock’n’roll chick and vigilante, Mimi Pond, picked me up for lunch in her very groovy vegetable oil eating Mercedes wagon. Mimi revealed to me a Google function that alerts you if anyone mentions you in a blog. This seems to have infinite diabolical potential for sucking people in. I wonder who knows about this? I wonder who uses it? I don’t think I’m gonna use it. I suspect that whatever anyone writes about me I will either find out about it or I don’t want to know.
My incriminating photos of the week would have been wallowing in the gnat filled muddy chill of Griffith Park doing calisthenics, which except for no napalm, must resemble the Viet Nam paratrooper experience. I’m sure I also cut a dashing figure doing yoga. I asked my teacher if there were some sort of beginning class I might attend while he was away and he said, "no." Spuds and Himself are veritable pretzels but I continue to slog away. Last night Himself was boondoggled by me into a Partner Yoga tape, rendering us all twisted together and stretching and breathing. He still walks ahead of me and we haven’t solved the cell phone stand-off but he really is an awfully good sport my husband.
Our personal chef Spuds had a rough week with his steak stolen by Fido and I suspect he is getting bored with the limitations of the microwave oven and the Foreman grill. Brother Leo is out celebrating his 15th birthday with mostly the same pals he’s had since nursery school. I guess all teenagers are supposed to be shitheads to their parents most of the time and Leo is certainly fulfilling this contract in that respect but when I see how sweet he is with his friends or hear him on the phone comforting his Grandma Aliki, I know that he’ll be o.k.
When I get really low Leslie makes me do this "worst case scenario" exercise which is excruciating and I will spare you and cut to the chase. It is unlikely that I ever have dirty hair and push a shopping cart filled with trash bags through downtown Glendale. There are many fucked up things in my life and other lives that intersect with mine. God will inevitably give us more than we can handle in a world of tender mercies. Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Sadness Less Pure

I returned from Seattle planning to formally end my period of bereavement and stepping back into my yoke. Didn’t work. I retreat to my bed for hours on end. This accounts for my quietness here. Words came more easily right after my father’s death. Perhaps because the pure love from which my sadness came made it easy to focus. Now it is one month since the death of my father. He was the man we eulogized. But he was my father. He loved me but as a human being, he failed me a number of times in his life time. Several of my father’s failings have come to light since his death. At first it was shocking, after all of my pure grief, to feel angry at him. Then I laughed at how familiar it felt.

Sadness about friends with breast cancer is also familiar and fucked up. I reach out to the families who navigate these seemingly godless waters and pray for healing and comfort. And for us all.. Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Packin' Ashes

I had two teaspoons of my pop’s ashes in a baggie in my handbag when Himself and I traveled to Washington for an Irish Studies Conference in Tacoma. Our issue were most adequately and warmly attended to by the Smith Family (as in Brian, Clara, Riley, Addie and Granny), Marlene and good ol’ Uncle Richard, to all of whom our humble thanks are offered. Mine at least. Let Himself thank you on his own blog.

It never occurred to me much to discuss Washington lore with my dad while I worked beside him for over twenty-five years. I made a mental note to get facts and addresses back when we booked this trip several months ago but I never got the chance. I remembered that his earlier years were spent in Port Angeles, where his dad ran a hotel and then the later years, after his father died of suicide, in Seattle. The only real geographical clue I had was Garfield High. Pathetically and embarrassingly scant details but I did get a feel for the hardness of the place and perhaps a bit of a sense of how man’s love/hate relationship with mother nature particularly plays itself out there. Chilly dark wet days make for obscenely spectacular green of nearly psychedelic intensity.

We strolled genteel Pioneer Square, where the first "Skid Row" was named for logs being dragged through streets that were rawer when my dad walked them.. We sought out Garfield High, now gutted entirely and as an historic monument, undergoing a spectacular refurbishment. A construction worker snuck us in and it occurred to Himself afterwards that I should have sprinkled a few ashes in the foundation but I sure wouldn’t want to have my ashes spiritually connecting me with high school through all eternity. I’d rather die.

I did get my mind around what it must have been like for Dad at the age of 22 when he left the cold stateliness of Seattle, where he’s sought comfort from poverty, and undoubtedly from being, in movies and music. There was family strife hinted at too but I never took the time to broach this with him. My dad traveled South, to Hollywood , by train, in 1940, to have three wives and three homes and an obit in the Daily Variety. He returned to Seattle perhaps three or four times in his life. I saw the roughness and hardness of the place. I tossed a teaspoon of ashes from the Space Needle and the rest into the harbor, near the ferry port in Port Angeles and was glad that the rest were home warm and dry with Aliki.

I haven’t traveled by air in several years and you will be happy to know that America is safe from terrorism now because my lip gloss is in a plastic bag. Himself and I had calamitous near flight- missing adventures on both legs of the trip but in-between he read a beautiful paper about little known writer’s writer J.F. Powers and his even lesser known wife, Betty Wahl. We traveled on a WWII amphibious duck vehicle, blasting rock n’ roll, on a land and water tour of Seattle. We were close and warm, although he persists in tailgating and I continue to be unfairly inconvenienced by his dogged refusal to use his cellphone and of course there’s the walking ahead of me business, although that, at least, has considerably improved.

Tess Gallagher, poet and wife of the late Raymond Carver and native of Port Angeles, read and signed books at the conference. She is an elegant voice for the sacredness of connection between lovers, and I thought of her, sleeping a night in their bed together with dead Ray when I learned about Aliki pounding on the door of the morgue and I think about it when I lay naked with my husband and we flail and cry and touch and are reminded of the sacred bonding of our spirits as we worship each other’s immortal souls and their temporary vessels.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The I in I-5

I remember my mother’s face reflected in the mirror through the crack in the door of the steamy yellow tiled bathroom on Fulton Avenue. I must have been about Leo’s age. Tears streamed down her cheeks. A new lavender scented lotion had triggered a memory from childhood of being somewhere in the country in the middle of a field of the stuff. I pictured her in long pigtails and a white middy blouse. A sweet memory of a mother who seldom recounted sweet memories.

Recently I purchased at the Body Shop a peach scented lotion and the aroma shook me back to the early seventies and indian bedspreads and boys with long hair and pretty faces and I was washed with the sweetness of yearning and reminded, that for all my loneliness there was beautiful music and hippy fragrances and some dear friends and I was just discovering food and learning to cook it and reading good novels and going to revival houses. There were jeans that didn’t fit and boys who didn’t call, my narcissistic mercurial mother and other sad sorrows. But the weird, near saccharine scent of the lotion reminded me to grant this time justice in my memory.

I took a car trip by myself this week and listened to music, trying, without much luck, to find some younger talent with an authentic voice and also listening to some talent that was younger when I was younger and I sadly found much of it inauthentic and thin as well. I know there are others out there but the two albums that come to mind, from that era, as always feeling fresh are Astral Weeks and Moondance by Van Morrison and alas, I realized on the road this week that the best of Jackson Browne just wasn’t all that good. I am scheduling Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan Neil Young and selected Paul Simon for the jubilee acid test smackdown. Stay tuned.
I visited a little mission I love in San Miguel but the lovely chapel was closed so I prayed in the car and a voice described the Grapevine as I drove through it at magic hour and then it faded away. Voices and songs and scents fade away and drift off and sometimes it makes me weep that I cannot hold them in my hand but only trust to God that these comforts will drift back some day and wrap me warm.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Now This Is Yours

Lito picked up my dad’s ashes from the crematorium and the death certificates arrived. I’ve managed Budget and have held shares in the corporation for over twenty years but my dad always reigned supreme over the film itself and I confess that I probably couldn’t make a successful hot cement splice if my life depended on it and I am timid about rewinds and projectors and stuff. I seldom close up the office but Friday I sent everyone home and conducted the closing procedure by myself and every light switch and deadbolt I touched came with a weird jab in the heart that said, bittersweetly, "Now this is yours."

Yo La Tengo plays tonight at the Hollywood Bowl with M Ward and Bright Eyes. I am vaguely familiar with the music of the other acts but splurged at Amoeba this week in order to further familiarize myself before the concert. I’m iffy on the M Ward but open to more listening but I’m thinking the Bright Eyes may have been bad investment. Actually Bright Eyes is one person. Connor Oberst. Just like Badly Drawn Boy (Damon Gough) and Nine Inch Nails (do not admit it if you do not know this name) and while I admire some music of the later two, this one man as a band thing seems a stupid affectation. Bright Eyes has that sort of doe eyed Jackson Brown quality but skinnier and his voice is both pouty and petulant. Songs are sort of musically interesting and maybe tonight, with the philharmonic that will be even more evident but on record he’s got a voice I sort of want to slap.

I also fell victim to a Jackson Browne best of collection during my bereavement trip to Amoeba and without even looking at the linear notes I knew in my gut that the first chords I would hear when the cd clicked in would be of Doctor My Eyes, and yes, it did sound sweet. But so very impossibly young. I listened to the first of the two disc set and found a number of the songs embarrassing and some of the memories of who I was when they were the most meaningful to me a bit embarrassing too. And a bit sad.

I strive to be in nowness but my father’s death is such a slap back to the past and not only to who we were, father and daughter, but who I was. There is a pull back and also, a horrifying kick in the ass about the future. I ran up a muddy hill carrying a medicine ball in Griffith Park this morning. The grass has been aerated , a sea of uniform clots of dirt resembling dog turds. I finished this exercise and if there had been the life in me I would have sobbed. It hurt. I hurt. My dad was eighty-nine when he died and I wonder how, when he ran the movie of his life in his head if he would have been embarrassed by himself at fifty. Will I live to be eighty-nine? My Welsh bitch trainer seems to think there’s hope for me. If this is the case, I can’t help but be curious about how the movie of myself, at fifty, my Jubilee year, will go over in 2046.. "Oh, I certainly did go on a lot about myself on that silly blog thing back in my waning days of menstruation." The regrets and embarrassments on my horizon are certainly different than ones my dad is now at peace from. Dad is at peace with all his follies and I am alive here and fifty and perhaps making a fool of myself but there was more than a transfer of physical goods to me when my dad swam off. If I can honor this legacy maybe I’ll look back on myself at age 50 one day and think that I wasn’t that much of an asshole after all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One Week Out

The boys just walked me through the film aisles and tried to fill me in on their progress with our never ending inventory process and I realized on yet another level how much I already miss and will continue to miss my dad. What a fraud I am and how ill prepared I am to preserve his legacy. How lucky I am that God seems to have set in place a crew of folks to help me steer closer to doing tribute to my pop and his gift.

Yesterday I went up to the Stadium to try to sweet talk some tickets for the final Dodger game on Sunday which happens to be Spud’s 12th birthday. Those of you who follow this blog will remember that Spuds has not only had a birthday fall on Yom Kippur but last year his father projectile vomited at the entrance gate to Disneyland on his birthday, which I hope is his bad birthday topper for life. This year, due to the Grandpa dying situation, I am particularly committed to making a sweet celebration. I entered the stadium office and walked right into Tommy Lasorda and Jamie McCourt (the owner of the team) and immediately, upon seeing white haired twinkly eyed Tommy, burst into tears and started nattering on like a total fool about my little one having just lost his grandpa right before his birthday. My husband would have puked again at THIS performance. Nevertheless, Tommy said to tell Spuds (who just two weeks ago cheered himself hoarse at Tommy’s 80th birthday celebration) that he’d always have another Grandpa and he wrote Spuds a note and sent a picture and some other Dodger swag. And we got the tickets to the game on Sunday too.

Last night was Himself’s big panel discussion about book reviewing for IWOSC and while I snickered inside that a man who couldn’t change a tire if there were a gun pointed at his head touted his working class background, he was erudite and witty and poised and after his stellar performance a lady thrust a pair of jumbo knockers at him while she begged him to review her book.

Aisles of films. Tommy Lasorda. Budding writers and boobs. Feeling God and knowing the power of sadness and of comfort.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Drool Love

I went to visit Grandma at Chez Alzheimer’s this weekend and was informed that all scissors, including nail clippers, had been removed from her room. I was late for Grandpa’s service but we called today for additional details.

Grandma’s boyfriend, Dr. Charles, has a daughter Linda who calls all the shots, and apparently with an iron fist. Dr. Charles is a bit portly and at Linda’s insistence, his lunch ration is fat free cottage cheese and sugar free canned peaches. Every single day. It was also at Linda’s behest that I was called into the director’s office to be informed that the family would bear no responsibility whatsoever should my petite mother be crushed by the ample and apparently not entirely impaired Dr. Charles. I will add that this is a Mormon family. The Mormons on The Big Love have lots of fun and sex but apparently either due to her faith or some other inspiration, Linda seems quite adamant that there be no fun or sex for her dad.

It seems Doctor Charles was complaining about Linda calling him too frequently. Mysteriously, the telephone line in his room was cut. This happened three times until it occurred to someone to conduct a little raid on room 263.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deathbed Confidential

My pop stabilized on life support and for about a week we went from living by the hour to living by the day. Now we are, since yesterday afternoon, living by the minute. For how many more minutes now will I have a living father? It is a finite number.

I am doing, as everyone tells me, extraordinarily well. This means not being too hard on myself for writing down the incorrect time for a meeting at Leo’s new school and arriving one hour late. A similar screw up on my part caused Spuds to miss another basketball game. I have watched a lot of t.v. I stopped at 7 11 and bought a big pack of Good ‘N Plenty on the way to Cedars to consult in a private meditation room with a young Russian doctor (referred to by Aliki as "even more foreign than I am.") about whether upon the (inevitable) failing of his heart we want them to try to shock it back. We do not.

I was afraid that there might be tension between us. Aliki clings to him desperately. I am so afraid of pain. I thought we might disagree at some point. I donned my yellow paper scrubs and rubber gloves yesterday and entered the mechanical chamber of my father. I had seen him last on Thursday and he was pink and peaceful. The condition was different yesterday and I looked at him and I looked over at Aliki and we both nodded. The meeting with the doctor was heart breaking but also in a way one of the most beautiful experiences of my life because Aliki and were able to enter the room without having said a word to each other and we said in unison, to the doctor, "He’s tired." With that, we both know, with all certainty, that the death of my father is imminent and inevitable.

On Monday, we were called in yet again to meet with a whole team of doctors, the palliative crew discreetly on-call until we were prepared for them to waltz in, doe eyed and compassionately. My father was failing rapidly. It was suggested that his pacemaker be deactivated, after which his blood pressure medication be discontinued.. His legs had grown gangrenous and would require amputation even if there was the most remote hope of him ever surviving off of life support.

My father always had a short fuse with projectors and cameras and typewriters or just about any mechanical object he came into contact with. He never used a computer but spoke of them hatefully on a daily basis. The young resident who was charged to deprogram the pacemaker couldn’t get the software to cooperate and he spent what seemed an inordinate time on the phone with tech support to essentially facilitate pulling the plug on my pop. I could hear in my head the old man raging about god damned computers and technology and why is this taking so fucking long. The expectation was that he cease to function within about an hour after being logged off of the pacemaker program but he stayed with us about another 8, winning the bonus of the 9-18 rather than 9-17 date of death. I sat there with him all night. I felt horribly guilty for being so idle in his presence. I worked a bit on a crossword puzzle but it was, even in his absent state, difficult to be with my dad, the hardest working guy who ever lived, and not be doing something gainful. I took over Aliki’s little chair and dozed a bit while she stretched out a bit in the meditation room while the doctor watched the heart rate fade on the monitor.

Aliki caressed and kissed my father’s ravaged body while he died and after he died. She described again and again her intimate and loving care of him. We were told that after death, the patient’s family could remain with the body with four hours until it was removed to the morgue. It was four a.m. We had been up all night. For several nights. The room wasn’t smelling really great. I asked if we HAD to stay for four hours at which point someone rushed in with some forms to be signed and said we could leave at any time. I presumed that Aliki was as desperate for fresh air as I was and I walked her to her car and watched her drive off. I went home, rested for an hour and then began making a large number of phone calls. Aliki turned the car around as soon as I was out of sight, returned to Cedars and stayed with my dad’s body until they literally locked her out of the morgue.

She is doing fine now. Well, you know. On paper, I guess I’m doing fine too. The last few months have been hard on her physically and her hair needs some emergency tlc and I hope she burns the housecoat and lumberman’s jacket she has taken as her hospital uniform, along with the sparkly kitty totebag. It is amazing that some guard at Cedars hadn’t kindly intervened and had her transferred to a shelter. She has been assigned to make herself beautiful for Grandpa’s service, and although the challenge is a daunting one, she is up to it. My wacko crazy making stepmother, selfless giver of the strongest purest love I have ever witnessed is the closest I will ever come to having a parent again. Sad and blessed.

She has shown me (although maybe it’s still a bit creepy) the culmination of a beautiful and intimate marriage. Both of them often drove me out of my mind but they sure did teach me how to be married and what it is actually possible to aspire to. I see clearly my bond to my father and know that we loved each other with all our might and that we have each made the other a better person. We got the father-daughter thing right in the end, after years and years of getting it beautifully wrong. Cool beans. But the best, was what I learned about marriage, as I watched one of thirty years duration come to its physical end.

The worst is the sadness. I had a dad for over fifty years and now I don’t.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Al Drebin

January 16, 1918 --September 18, 2007

Memorial Service-Sunday, Sept. 23, Noon

Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park

5711 Monte Vista Street

(Two blocks west of Figueroa between Avenue 57 and Avenue 58)

A gathering for friends and family will take place immediately after the service at the home of Broderick and Gwen Miller.
Small contributions to Temple Beth Israel or the Hadassah Organization will be appreciated in lieu of flowers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Saddest Sadness So Far

My dad died this morning at about 3:30. Aliki and I were with him. It was peaceful. Our family and friends have been extraordinary.
We are sad and blessed to feel so much love.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Birthday of the World Blow By Blow

I went to my bootcamp exercise program instead of to Erev Rosh Hashanah services, after which Spuds and I watched the Dodger Game. Himself is working today and I have been working too much of this birthday of the world but I am waiting for the kids to get ready for shul. I write this morning, pre communal prayer, feeling angry and frustrated and maligned. Yesterday I honked and screamed at a older Latina lady in a beater car who was (stupidly, but still...) blocking my way on a narrow street when we were late for school. Last night, I came home and fired my contractor, a friend for over 20 years, when it occurred to me irrefutably that my best interests had been overlooked negligently a number of times. Thus, I spent this morning scrambling to get someone in to finish the job. My husband thinks I acted rashly. Perhaps I did. Perhaps I will regret it and my current stress aggravated my sense of betrayal and I will return from temple with a more open heart for my contractor, whose long neglect and miscalculation regarding my kitchen was due in part to preparation of a project for Burning Man. I am open to forgiveness and yearn to feel awash with it and will pray and suspect indeed I will forgive my contractor, but whether I will able to trust him to complete work my family so desperately needs done is another question.
Other ties hang in the balance of being severed or left to fade away this Rosh Hashannah. I am hurt and broken but I have lived this last year more with love than any other of my life. I am still weak.
I am now returned from the tiny Temple Beth Israel, where Himself and I have attended holiday services for 16 seasons. Most of the congregants I knew when we first joined, who attended Leo’s bris, are dead now. I still remember their customary seats. The elegant Ida Waller who held baby Leo and kept a calendar to occupy him with pictures next to her Siddur. The opera loving Guttenstein Brothers who knew every page number and ark opening by heart. The Simonoffs. The Kramers. The Weisses. The synagogue soldiers on. We are far less active than we were and we are missed.
I went into Shul expecting some sort of epiphany, some message of peace and I read over and over Hannah’s prayer of thanks to God for making her fertile as I sat there with Leo and Niall who followed some Hebrew and didn’t squirm and made a dashing ark opening. Beth Israel is such a tiny congregation that it depends on itinerant Rabbis for the high holidays. Rabbi Feldman, wheezing and portly seemed much more like someone’s dad than the charismatic pulpit rabbis larger and better off synagogues demand. His sermon wasn’t polished but it was sweet and the boys and I sat stonefaced for a bit, and then I started alternately sobbing and cracking up, pressing my fist tight against my lips to conceal it.
The Rabbi reminded us how Sarah was concerned that her beloved son Isaac’s half brother, Ishmael was a troublemaker and a bad influence. He pointed out how in so many families there is one son that fulfils and exceeds parental expectations gracefully and another son, who is seen as a proverbial troublemaker, the diamond in the rough detained in the principal/s office, at which point all three of us could no longer contain our laughter. The Rabbi knows, and I am reminded, that we must love our children whoever and wherever they are. Sometimes it is more challenging to love someone who is bad assed and irascible but sitting there with the two guys, I am reminded of my challenge to love them patiently, and how also, with the remodeling and critical care Grandpas, it’s been a while since I’ve caught my breath and focused on how much I do love my boys and how much I want them to feel that from me. I have exhausted myself lately transporting them and keeping them fed and clothed and purportedly educated but afer our laugh at Temple, I just wanted to be with them. I am the fierce matriarch. We will have a kitchen. I will run the family business. I will chill with my kids.
Richard has done some phone magic and it seems we have a long list of candidates to competently (if not as quickly as we’d like) finish the kichen. We met with a nice floor contractor today and then, mother and sons went off to the hilarious and stupid and amazing ballet of gore and violence that is Shoot "em Up and we all three laughed almost as hard as we did in temple.
On the way home from the movie Aliki called from Cedars and was feeling downcast and lonely and I agreed to join her. Leo held my arm gently while I wept and drove and insisted that even though he is not allowed, even scrubbed and gloved, to enter the hospital room, on accompanying me, telling me I needed his support. He joined me and we looked through the window at the old guy and forced Aliki to join us across the street for a Rosh Hashanah dinner of matzoh ball soup at Jerry’s Deli. Leo made us both laugh. He came home and beat up Spuds. Isaac. Ishmael. And whatever civilizations that may spring from them. Where will God lead us?
I am weak. We all are. I feel a bit stronger.
L’Shanah Tovah

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


We have a complicated carpool but the lady who has put herself in charge is dedicated and I like talking to her on the phone and because we haven’t met, our chats have the liberating quality of phone sex, without the sex part. There is a school picnic on Saturday so I’ll be able to attach a face to the voice, although I am a bit intimidated, as her phone message indicates she teaches Pilates, Alexander Technique and something called Trauma Recovery, which might be another of those new agey Mount Washington crackpot things, or my destiny or probably something that just IS that I (now that I do yoga!) can be open minded about. I do wonder if I’ll be able to speak to her so freely after we breathe the same air.

Aliki is thrilled as, according to her, the old guy is “eating and pooping” which intimates he is ordering matzah balls from the Jerry’s across the street from Cedars and retiring to the commode with the Variety, but unfortunately, the old man’s bodily functions are all being performed by tubes and machines and two doctors reminded me this week how grim the prognosis is. I commanded them to respect Aliki’s fervent hope and prayer while bearing in mind, that like me, my Pop has always been a huge wuss about pain. As he is oxymoronically “stable on life support” Aliki and I perhaps have different expectations, but we are working together and harmoniously and out of love for my dad.

I can’t be in the hospital room for but a few minutes because it feels like I’m standing there awkwardly in yellow paper scrubs and rubber gloves hovering over what USED to be my dad. Yes, I will feel like an asshole (his surviving this long is already a miracle to the doctors and Aliki’s prayers are potent and awesome) if Grandpa is dancing at Spud’s Bar Mitzvah next year. But I would also feel like an asshole if I were unprepared for what seems, for all practical purposes, a huge change on the horizon, and one I, de facto leader of the family and the family enterprise, need to be prepared for. Aliki makes excuses for my glaring absence at the hospital and speaks appreciatively of my obligations. She is there with him 24 hours a day. My father, it appears, is dying. The truth is, I have no obligations more urgent than being present for his passing. If I could talk with him, or if he could hear or understand me, I would climb the 7 flights of the Saperstein Critical Care Unit on bloody knees to be by his side. I am too weak though for the current vigil and there, with the hum and pumping of the machines it is hard for me to think anything but corpse and I am desperate to flee. Aliki understands this but gently spares me the humiliation of my pathetic weakness by referring to my “obligations.”

During the time when there are no obligations, real or perceived by Aliki, I’ve been eating wasabi almonds in bed and watching a lot of HBO shows. Himself and I, watched the first episode of the new dirty show Tell Me that You Love Me (two sex acts-missionary position, one with testicles visible from a not particularly attractive position, one pretty graphic hand job and Jane Alexander sporting a shit eating grin after having obviously, but not graphically, given head). Not bad for 52 minutes. The therapy sessions themselves seems a bit off base to me but the sex looked like real sex, and more to the point, I was touched by the distress of the struggling couples and blown away by the way, in 52 short minutes, the universal desperation to connect and feel loved came through with a sort of Spartan elegance.

Summer ends in a few days. Diana had her last chemo last week. We wrote regularly all summer but I haven’t laid eyes on her since May. I get a flutter when I see a note from her in my mailbox. She is stalwart and funny and strong and bitchy and dead on and very easy to write to. In the final throes of sick making chemo, she reached out to me with kind words about my dad, when others, seemingly less afflicted, have been mysteriously and heart-breakingly silent. I am looking forward to a time when Diana feels well and strong enough to share air and lunch but am nervous and giddy about stepping out of the confessional and into the clear light of Silverlake to embrace my real friend.

Letters from Drjlmurphy in my inbox also warm my heart. I do not sleep well these days and the condition of the house is such that there’s no place to really be but our bedroom or the kid’s, so I can’t slip off to read during bouts of insomnia. Last night, it became too much and I found myself bereft and sobbing in the middle of the night. My husband wrapped me in his arms and his love until I drifted into a peaceful sleep. Aliki has hired people to help care for my dad and planned elaborate meals for when he comes home. God bless her.

L’Shanah Tovah.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Husband is Top Notch.

I have been brought low, screaming at my own dining table over barbecued beef and I am not loving anyone very well at all I'm afraid. Nevertheless it was just announced that Yo La Tengo is opening for Bright Eyes and I got tickets. AND:

IWOSC General Meeting
The Art of Book and Theater
Reviews, hosted by Digby Diehl
Monday, September 24
7:30 to 9 p.m.
Veterans Memorial Building
4117 Overland (at Culver Boulevard in Culver City)
Free Parking
A top-notch panel of book and theater reviewers
moderated by Digby Diehl demystifies the steps
involved in critiquing a work of literature or theater:
what they look for, what matters, and what qualities
make literature and theater resonate with the public. In
addition, who is it that decides which books are
reviewed and which plays are seen? Panelists include
Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Erika Schickel,
Amazon reviewer Dr. John L. Murphy, Daily Variety
theater critic Hoyt Hilsman, literary fiction reviewer
Edward St. John, nationally syndicated radio host
Michael Dresser, and award-winning author and
critique Amy Wilentz.
Digby Diehl
The Moderator:
DIGBY DIEHL is one of the most trusted and
successful literary collaborators in America. He is the
founding editor of the Los Angeles Times Book
Review, and was the first online book reviewer for
Prodigy. Over his distinguished career, he's been a
literary and entertainment critic for numerous
broadcast outlets. His book credits include many
entertainment autobiographies, including the New
York Times bestseller Million Dollar Mermaid, actress
Esther Williams's life story, and Natalie Cole's Angel
on My Shoulder, a Los Angeles Times No. 1 bestseller.
He also penned the novel Soapsuds with actress
Finola Hughes. Diehl has moderated IWOSC
"Conversations" with Mariette Hartley and Sandra
Tsing Loh.
The Panel:
AMY WILENTZ divides her time between being a
critic and an author. Her criticism and stories have
appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles
Times, Time magazine, The New Republic, Mother
Jones, Harper’s, Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel &
Leisure, The San Francisco Chronicle, More, The
Village Voice, The London Review of Books, and many
other publications. She is the author of The Rainy
Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (1989), Martyrs' Crossing
(2000), and I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They
Happen: Coming to California in the Age of
Schwarzenegger (2006). She is the winner of the
Whiting Writers Award, the PEN Martha Albrand Non-
Fiction Award, and the American Academy of Arts and
Letters Rosenthal Award, and also a 1990 nominee for
the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the
former Jerusalem correspondent of The New Yorker
and a long-time contributing editor at The Nation. She
teaches in the Literary Journalism program at the
University of California at Irvine.
ERIKA SCHICKEL is a regular book critic and
occasional opinion page contributor for the Los
Angeles Times. Her reviews can also be seen in the
Chicago Tribune and Bust magazine. She writes
features for LA Weekly, LA City Beat, and In addition, her work has appeared
online at,,, and she is a featured "Native
Intelligence" contributor on She is
the author of You're Not the Boss of Me: Adventures of
a Modern Mom, which is currently being developed as
a television series.
Raised in New York City, Schickel, the daughter of
noted film critic and author Richard Schickel, now
makes her home in Los Angeles, where she divides
her time between being a writer, a mom, and sometimes
actress. Her website is
DR. JOHN L. MURPHY, a full-time professor of
Humanities at DeVry University in Long Beach, is one
of the most prolific book and music critics to appear
on He was ranked a “Top 1000”
Amazon reviewer as of September 2006 and has
logged upwards of 730 reviews. With a specialty in
Irish literature, folk, and rock music, Murphy’s reviews
can also be found in scholarly works such as The Irish
Book Review, Irish Literary Supplement, and New
Hibernia Review. More than three dozen of his articles
and reviews can be found online at The Blanket, and
at, a digital magazine of world music.
HOYT HILSMAN is an award-winning screenwriter,
playwright, and journalist. Hilsman has also been a
regular theater and television critic for Daily Variety.
He’s written screenplays for a number of studios and
television networks, including Disney, Sony, New Line,
ABC, NBC, and CBS. His stage plays have been
produced in theaters around the country and abroad,
and have won numerous awards. His television script,
"Foggy Bottom," based on his childhood in
Washington, was honored at the 2005 Slamdance
Festival. In addition, he is a past President of the Los
Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and a judge of the PEN
West Literary Awards.
While EDWARD ST. JOHN has made a career out
of cataloging music and other information at various
academic institutions such as Smith College, Loyola
Marymount University, and Loyola Law School, he’s
led a parallel life as a literary critic. He began reviewing
literary fiction for the Library Journal in the mid-1980s.
Additionally, he’s added Dow Jones, Salem Press,
and Magill’s Literary Annual to his repertoire during
the ‘90s.
MICHAEL DRESSER is a nationally syndicated
talk radio host whose author-centric programs are
heard from California to New York, and also
abroad. On an average day, his radio show features
eight authors. He has utilized his 25 years of
experience and knowledge to create a media training
and communications program on his show that
gives writers the ability to bring their message home
with confidence, clarity, and the relevance needed to
intrigue the buying public, regardless of subject
matter. According to Dresser, “if you sell the sizzle your
book sales will skyrocket.” Visit Dresser's website at
IWOSC members - FREE; non-members - $15.
space is still available) is noon, Monday, September
24. Call (877) 799-7483 or e-mail 

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

God and Serotonins

Fuck if I know. My pop, still pretty much completely on life support, has stabilized. At least there hasn’t been a new crisis since the weekend but I still really wonder what stabilized on complete life support means. Nevertheless, Aliki is determined to take him home and I feel sheepish for assuming since the onset of this hospitalization that the outcome would be different. My role in the family, what with running the business and all, makes for a tacit understanding that I should indeed be prepared to handle any eventuality. I am honored by that trust.

I use “payroll” as shorthand for all the shit that should be running smoothly under my watchful eye. I have not lost sight of my obligations. I have received sweet calls and e-mails from loved ones and these bolster me and I presume the senders understand my desire to be sad and quiet in the little cracks of time when I am briefly free from the yoke of responsible adulthood. There is a family predisposition to suck the life from the room to become the center of attention and I am consciously trying to not let the current circumstances become my personal circus. I am feeling your love but am not sweeping under the rug my profound sadness by aggressively eliciting it.

I did receive an e-mail reminder of how fucked up I appear to be. Some of it was valid, perhaps. I did not read carefully as the shock of the timing led me to file it away, but my skimming revealed much disapproval of my current coping strategies. Not that I don’t question them myself every day of my life. But still. Perhaps I am unrealistic about love and too dependent on medical marijuana and am a lousy writer. Jackson Browne begged, “Don’t confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them." My plea for total honesty and tough love was a sincere one and the gentle love coming to me through the ether and the phone lines and naked in the dark is comforting. Tough love, (and I do not doubt the love part) has been filed away for later reflection but, and Spuds would be proud, I suspect, for once, it isn’t all about me.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Life By the Hour

My stepmother Aliki is breaking my heart. She can't leave my dad's side and has slept for days scrunched up in a little chair in his tiny intensive care room. Last night she finally went home for a bit because she was sick but then she called me and said she couldn't bear being in the house alone. I held John so close. We breathe the same, our skin feels the same (neutrogena) and I remembered how lonely I was when he was just gone for a few weeks, even though there's lots of other stuff in my life. Aliki has fully committed the last thirty five years of her life to doting on my father. Her empty condo must be terrifying. She is still full of hope and while he is on complete life support, I have done nothing to disabuse her of this. There will be plenty of time for that. My visits are brief. I have other obligations. The real truth is, I cannot bear to see my father this way and I leave her there alone in prayer for hours at a time.

My dad is in the new Saperstein Critical Care Buiding. A whole huge wing emblazoned with "critical care" seems so very harsh. Maybe "the building that’s a teensy bit worse than the other one" would be more gentle. The cliche of callow young medical residents rings true there though. The girl resident phoned me at 3:00 a.m. to tell me that while she had bad news, she would first, the exalted medical school graduate, condescend to tell lowly, baccalaureate plus scant graduate credit, me, that my dad is a "really great guy." I failed to see the relevance of this and wondered if she had found my dad to be a real asshole, would she have pulled the plug or just lumbered on with him but trying much less hard.

It was with this same young Dr. Harrington (who called us, of course, by our first names) who came into today to discuss "do not resuscitate orders". Aliki shut down completely, standing catatonic with the mention of this (or anything else that intimates he won’t be returning to lie next to her in the night). I could not help but sense, the young Dr. Harrington, who undoubtedly worked very hard to be where she is, was enjoying the unusual lack of supervision she must have, on this, the last holiday weekend of the summer, and was getting damp panties from the power she felt while holding forth to us mere frail mortals, one of us now curled in a miserable chair and the other stretched out beside a loving healthy husband, writing in my blog.