Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Center is Holding

The Center is Holding.
We struggle, Him and myself, with parents biological, adoptive, birth and step. We are hostage to four separate tragedies, playing themselves out before our eyes. We strive to honor our significant elders and beaten down we cling together and pray for patience and humor and thick skin.

Richard joined me and the kids at the Hotel for the annual Christmas celebration. Himself and I have a deal that he only has to see my mother on her birthday and I only have to see his father on his. Even in the few days since the move downstairs there is noticeable decline, although the strangeness of the big dinner and the room crammed with families may have addled her a bit more.

I am never able to eat the gravy laden served on styrofoam plates meals plopped in front of us at these huge holiday banquets but my mother and the kids, and even Richard eats with the nostalgic abandon of a kid in a cafeteria. I pick at my food. My mother glances at me. "Layne, you're not eating." "Yes I am." She returns to scraping the gravy from her chicken and shaping it with her fork into a smooth little mound, as if to say, "I dislike gravy." Spuds finishes every last pea and eyes my plate and I swap my full one for his empty one for him to attack. My mother glances at the empty plate in front of me. "Did you eat all that?" she asks, outraged.

I made latkes in the kitchen that I never enter without feeling deeply thankful for. I was reminded of how my dad always beamed when he talked about the screening room on Fulton Avenue. He did it on the cheap, completely by his own design, and it was cunning and groovy and I remember him running films and smoking his pipe and listening to Nelson Riddle or Artie Shaw in his beatnik riff on a French Cafe. This is the most happy memory I have of him. This space was the most beautiful thing he ever created in his life. I wake my beloved from a sound sleep and beg him to hold me so I feel safe and he is weary but he does. I cook in the kitchen I worked so hard to bring to fruition while the kids lounge about eating microwave popcorn right out of the bag and watching Arrested Development on the new t.v. and Himself sits in the corner and blogs and whispers little songs to his poodle. It is almost unbearably sweet. The center is holding. When I get over feeling bereft and humiliated, I am reminded again and again that I have what I need and then I bask in luxury.

The center is holding although tears are shed on Christmas, a day through California, from L.A. to S.F. up the 5 with snow and winds and tumbleweeds and pounding rain and rainbows and crystal skies and every second looked like the most romantic of matte paintings or idealized landscape of the big big west. The 16 year old made a trip playlist and recorded all of my favorite albums and a couple of Himself's on his IPOD and we listened on shuffle, each song a wonderful new treat, until Himself was driven, by the under representation of his musical tastes, to his own IPOD and the wife canceller's, the headphones which he spends hours of car time painstakingly cleaning and fussing over. Soon after, the 16 year old tired of my lexicon and reclaimed his IPOD and Himself and I listened then to a few hours of an Irish Radio produced reading of Ulysses, the part where Bloom burns the kidney and probably farther into the book than I ever got for a film and literature course I got an "A" in anyway. But I saw the movie.

Our rental apartment is on a sort of scuzzy part of busy Fell Street. The stairs are wobbly and steep and there is the musty small of rotting wood and vaguely damp carpet. The banister is six inches too low and rough with splinters. The towels are thin and the unheated bathroom is dank and moist. The tiny kitchen cupboard contains a head of garlic, a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels with a few sips left, reduced sodium soy sauce and thousands of packets of salt from In 'N Out Burger. We ordered Indian food online, a huge novelty because the only delivery available on Mt. Washington is Pizza Hut and the food was surprisingly good, particularly when followed by the pint of Hagen Daz I splurged on when I lay in a small store of provisions at the woebegone bodega, alone and lonely on Christmas Day.

We learned at an Exploratorium exhibit ways that married people can argue more constructively. We have issues that are such ancient history we don't even bother anymore. I eat in bed. I am extravagant. I am my mother's vain needy daughter. He would rather have a 13-year-old get drunk than waste a drop of the hard cider I was unable to finish. My beloved has now learned though that walking ahead of me, that beyond speechifying, hard kernel of ancient history, can have devastating results. Nearly half a century of pain and shame was savaged at him as long legs forged ahead en route to a dingy Chinese restaurant. We are full of empathy. We are disappointed and angry. I am tempted to change this to "I" am full of empathy and "I" am disappointed and angry because maybe it is arrogant for me to presume my beloved's feelings and foolish to try to capture the recent maelstrom in dumb meager words. Whenever Himself was wistful and yearning to know his biological parents, I assured him that this was something he'd overrated. But my heart hurts as he discovers that there is a truth to this. We have always said that the Bay area has been very good to us. This is a trip that challenges that. Or, it challenges us to make it so. We are tender and in this sentence I have no temptation to change the "we" to "I".

The center holds. We cling tight with every sorrow and in each other’s arms we are more certain than we have ever been that God's grace shines on us now and more strange and wonderful, is that it always has. I write this from the old redwood ringed Mt. Hermon cabin where we stayed last summer, next door to Chris and Bob. This is our longest winter visit. Himself and I are both vulnerable to cold and sometimes even in milder L.A. our teeth chatter and our bones ache. We long to retire here and pass our days with books and walks and music and simple meals and complicated conversation. I guess we'll tolerate the cold, if we take vigorous strolls and clomp about in heavy socks and nubbly sweaters. I am waiting for Obama to wave his magic wand and let us believe again that this is possible.

Plotting retirement is foolish and masochistic in dire times when we are asking ourselves questions about short term survival that we never dreamed, after our decades of hard work, we would be asking. My mother's notions of past and future have degraded now in a (serendipitous) wearing out of an eighty eight year old brain. My own "now" demands my full attention and it requires self discipline not to wander from past to future in avoidance of the terrifying present. The center is holding but I have to keep reminding myself that this is true. I lie on the cheap Herculon couch in this funky cabin watching daytime network television with my indolent goofball teenage boys. We sleep in a double bed in a pine walled room, closed off from the central heating. The morning light streams through the redwoods and shines on our tangled bodies. The room fills with the ancient, familiar scent of our awakening together. I thank God for keeping me so very warm and am reminded the center is holding and it is sweet and solid.

May we all be showered with blessings in the new year, the year I believe will define for all of history the turn of the millennium. I send special love to Chris and Bob whose friendship affirms how very good the Bay area has been to us indeed, but we beg them to contact the Dog Whisperer post haste. Leaving our refuge here and returning home to home’s trevails is softer for me, knowing I will begin New Year’s Eve exercising and bitching in the dark cold with my beloved bootcamp sisters who are an anchor and a comfort. I cherish every minute I am blessed to spend with them, except for the exercise part.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fading Messengers

Fading Messengers

My last entry lauded the talents of filmmaker John Cannizzaro, whose program of animation at the Echo Park Film Center blessed me with a small rebirth of wonder. Instead of appreciation for my fawning, no sooner had I arrived at the office, before I even poured my coffee, I was admonished for failing to note that his tour de force "Fifty Feet that Shook the World" was also, as I had explained with regard to his film "Gulliver's Travels,” created for the eponymous competition “Fifty Feet that Shook the World” which requires filmmakers to create and edit a film solely inside the camera. I apologize for this erratum and express my thanks for the appreciation I did receive, after being corrected for my omission, for the (well deserved) extravagant praise I have heaped on the oeuvre of Mr. Cannizzaro, now thrice.

I signed up for online traffic school to make reparations for the speeding ticket I got on my way to Santa Cruz. The sixteen year old has had some DMV heartbreak and because I made a conscious decision to flout the law and knew that I was risking a ticket, I decided I was not really in need of re-education and that the on-line program might be most cost effective as a study tool for the written driver's test. He was off school last week because there was an emergency staff meeting of two days' duration precipitated by the carving of, by an unidentifiable hand, "Fuck this school' onto a class computer. I dragged the 16 year old to work with me for two mornings and he arrived to begin a four hour morning nap. When he was rested and luncheon digested, I hooked up my laptop on my desk and we listened together as the five chapters of traffic training droned on. At the end of each section, we completed the quizzes together with good success. We breezed through the final exam, confident of all of our answers and I was sure he had great command of the material.

Himself took the 16 year old for his second exam, but before entering the building made sure he was able to correctly answer all the questions from the five practice tests published by the DMV and also from the first failed test. Fewer questions were missed on this go round and a number of the ones he missed were confusing to me and pertained to topics not covered by the sample DMV tests we'd printed or in our on-line efforts to have my crime expunged. What is astonishing to me is that so many of the drooling fools on the road purportedly passed this written test which has caused us so much grief.

I was called in for a meeting with the director and medical staff of the dementia facility which houses my mother and that we refer to as the "hotel." My mom has drifted away bit by bit over the nearly 2 1/2 years she has lived there but in the past month, I noticed a marked decline. I was prepared to hear that there would be a rate increase now that she required more care and that the cat was a goner but these are kind people, devoted to my mother's comfort and safety. It was determined that my mother would be bereft sans cat and we negotiated a greater involvement by the staff in caring for it. I was also advised that it was time to move Mom "downstairs" and I agreed to the change. I have snuck up to my mom's room a few times and removed a number of garments that were either worn or stained or not to my taste. My mother had a penchant for jejune attire and I smuggled out a number of shirtmaker blouses, worn with tails tied high on the waist, in my handbag. It was determined that the staff lady who fixes her hair and manicures her would sort through her possessions and move her and cat downstairs on Saturday. This required me and the kids to keep her away from the hotel for several hours.

She was sitting in the lobby when we arrived. It was raining. She had her raincoat. "I'm surprised I still have this raincoat. It's reversible." She sees the kids. Their names and relationship to her are lost. "They're taller than I am." We get in the car. "Oh, Layne. You're driving now. You learned to drive really fast. You sure know your way around."

I order her a hamburger at the restaurant. "I can't eat all these fries. Eat them Layne." "No thanks Mom." "Layne, you don't eat very much. Eat these fries." "No thanks." "Look at all these fries. Do you want some of them?" "No thanks Mom. I've got plenty to eat." "You sure don't eat very much. Take these fries." Her coffee is served with tiny sealed containers of cream. "I don't use these." She grabs them in her fist. "Take them home." "I don't need them Mom." "They're good. Take them home." She shoves them at me. I palm them off for one of the kids to hide under a napkin. "Look at all these fries. You should eat some."

I help her with her raincoat. "This raincoat is reversible. I'm surprised I still have it." The kids help her into the car. "Look, they're taller than I am." We fasten her in. "Layne, you're driving now. You learned to drive one-two-three." We've decided to take her to a movie to kill time while her stuff is being moved downstairs. "You sure know your way around." I chose a movie based on convenient starting time and proximity to the hotel. I had assumed Slumdog Millionaire was a colorful frothy comedy, set in India. In the first scene, the main character is strung up at a police station and tortured with electric current and it really didn't lighten up until the beautiful big production number finale. My mother whispered "This isn't my cup of tea" a couple times but for the most part sat quietly, except for a loud and long foray to the restroom, for the film which the three of us thought was quite wonderful, and even though it was inappropriate for Grandma, she won't remember a single frame.

I helped her with her raincoat. "This is a good raincoat you know. It's reversible. One side is black and the other blue. I've had it for years. It's reversible." I park her and the boys in front of the theatre to bring the car around. "Look. They're taller than I am now." I pull up for them. "Oh, Layne. You're driving now. You learned so fast. Boy, you sure know your way around."

We were all very nervous about her reaction to the new room. A new key on a bracelet that says in big letters "ADELE NEW ROOM" is placed on her wrist. Our plan was to tell her that her boyfriend, Charlie, THE DOCTOR, had thrown his weight around and arranged for her to be moved to a better (identical to the old one) room, closer to his own. We placed a large photo of them all dressed up and holding hands on the door of the room and I bought a potted plant (she always reviled cut flowers as wasteful) and a box of chocolates as his welcome gifts for her and Sally the cat.

Two months ago this would have been a delightful fulfillment of romantic fantasy but she was quite non-plussed by the new room and only irritated that she was expected to wear the key on her wrist. We stayed a while to make sure she was adjusting and the kids and I looked through their old baby photos and I was reminded of how extraordinarily cute they were and how extraordinarily fat I had been. I reminded her again that she was in a new room and would no longer have to take the elevator. I told her again that Charlie had wanted her closer to him. She said, "Who's Charlie?" "Your boyfriend!" I reminded and pointed to the picture. She examined it and then spat, with disgust, "That fat thing?" My kids startled, and then both looked at me tenderly, hearing the vitrol with which she said, "fat."

I was floored when I saw the cover of the latest issue of Oprah's magazine. Oprah, after having gained 40 lbs. has been doing lots of headshots but on the Jan. cover sheepish fat Oprah is side by side with bare midriffed thin Oprah. "How did I Let this Happen Again?" sobs the banner. Oprah had an undiagnosed thyroid problem but also she was working too hard. She wasn't getting enough love. She took a vacation in Maui and sipped soy milk and snacked on flax seed and played with her dogs on the beach. Oprah says her goal is to "reorder my life so there's time to replenish my energy." It’s hard to muster a lot of pity for Oprah but I thought it was courageous of her to approve that cover and it inspired me to have a thyroid panel run.

Carnie Wilson is another celeb whose weight gain has garnered much snark. Carnie was interviewed about her accretion of poundage by skinny skank bitch Diane Sawyer who looked throughout the interview like she smelled a fart. Carnie was cool and got it that we suffer so much over the single issue of fat when what we need to aspire to is better management of global physical and mental health. But photos of Oprah or Carnie or Kirstie Alley eating are golden for paparazzi. Imagine what a shot of the three of them at a buffet would be worth. Rosie O’Donnell did a great cameo as a guest at a Weight Watcher type group that’s moderated by an insensitive monster on the HBO show Little Britain. I have replayed this skit a zillion times. My husband is sick of it but I especially like it when the group leader asks Rosie if she’s a lesbian because she’s fat or if she’s fat because she’s a lesbian. I have asked myself my whole life if I’m fucked up because I’m fat or I’m fat because I’m fucked up. My thyroid is normal. My mother said the word “fat” with a venom that took my breath away. But they have moved her downstairs because she is fading.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Bane and the Beauty

The Bane and the Beauty
The price of gas is down and suddenly there is traffic. Our morning commute is a long one and we are vulnerable to delays. Spuds' school makes tardy scholars (as they are referred to with no trace of irony) sit on a rug on the cement floor of the drafty cavernous building and miss the first period. It is a town without pity. We were late once, due to a traffic back up from a large fatality accident. I walked him in and shot the director a imploring but firm look and he was allowed to join his class. I figure I can pull this off again maybe once between now and June. The morning rush sometimes makes it difficult to harness my rage at the selfishness and thoughtlessness that people are capable of behind the wheel of a car. Sometimes the car ride is not a very happy one and I feel bereft for becoming unglued and missing genial chat with the boys. I am embarrassed by my outbursts and I try to remember to apologize after the fact. I am afraid my children will feel that the stress they witness during our rides to school is their fault and that they are the true object of my frustrations. My kids know, and I tell them far too often I'm afraid, about how their requirements impinge on my personal life and that I no longer enjoy the ease I knew before they were born. I want them to know that I am just weak and overextended and that they are the dearest blessings of my life.

My mother had a long term boyfriend and worked, usually full time, and conveyed consistently to me the injustice that someone with her looks be deprived a life of leisure. Her boyfriend died when I was fifteen so I was younger than that when, in some argument. my mother raged at me that I was the reason her boyfriend would not marry her. I probably was. Mimi was at some SRF lecture and a speaker said something about how essential for adult development it is to stop blaming our parents. I don't write here about the scars I carry to indict my poor parents. They loved me and wounded only out of their own woundedness, woundedness I am left alone now to puzzle. I hope I honor my mother and father by struggling to heal and praying for the strength and wisdom and grace necessary to avoid passing their mysterious kernel of hurt to their grandchildren.

My mother's has declined precipitously in the last month. She has refused to shower or change her clothing. The hotel has suggested she is no longer able to care for Sally the cat. What do you do with a seventeen year old indoor cat? Richard suggested we smear the cat with ground round and tell Rover that she'd called me a bitch. On our last visit I asked her about Charles, the gentleman with whom she passes all her waking hours and she said that she was not acquainted with him. Now, mine is the only name she knows. She has not visited my house since entering the hotel. We were remodeling for a long time and now that we are not remodeling I am afraid she would become disoriented, even if I were to stash away the few items of furnishings I appropriated from her home of fifty years. I made mashed potatoes the way she used to for Thanksgiving. She would have loved the food. I thought of picking her up but did not, more due to the fear that she would impinge on my guests and more particularly my personal enjoyment of the holiday, rather than a concern that she become confused and agitated.

My mother has lived at the dementia facility for over two years now. The first few weeks were difficult but then she eased in, felt safe and loved by her man friend there and she was freed of most memories. I have never seen her happier. I have been gratified that for most of the last few years she has been at peace for the first time in my memory. It was hell prying her away from her home of fifty years and selling it and everything in it. My ordeal was worth it and the last two years of serenity is my gift to her. It took an enormous amount of forgetting for my mother to soften and feel safe in the grace of love proffered, blissful in the eternal now. I have made it clear to my own children though that, having had a far different life than my mother did, I cannot bear the thought of, and would not wish to live, stripped of my own memories.

I often think of how my mother would react if she understood that most of her precious possessions were sold for nothing or given away. She was house proud and enormously fussy and in later years truly paranoid, about the upkeep and safety of her property. There were many strict rules of conduct on Fulton Avenue. Even though I learned the rudiments of cooking in the kitchen there, it was always at the risk of inciting my mother's rage for improper clean up or placing a pot in the wrong cupboard. Spuds and recently even the 16 year old, are learning to cook, usually under my tight supervision. I try to gently impart to them how much easier a kitchen works if order and cleanliness are maintained but sometimes, for all the promises I made to myself to be better than my own mother, I morph into a screaming control freak monster. Himself writes 5000 words of erudite criticism a week but he is unable to distinguish a saucer from a dessert plate and his natural curiosity does not extend to learning the difference. There have been words and accusations of shrillness. But, more often, there have been meals he's dug into with such gusto we're tempted to hose him down after. Perhaps I am a bit too kitchenproud, it straddles the t.v. as the center of our home, but for the most part the home improvement has brought joy in cooking and in eating, even sweeter when we recall the endless remodelling when I was too dispirited to even divise a perfunctory meal and Spuds toiled nightly with the Foreman grill and the microwave for which he received $2.00 a meal.

I copy and paste a link and a customer in Australia is able to download broadcast quality images and pay for it with a credit card. In my father's day a ninety minute film meant three steel reels in metal cans, packed in a fiber shipping case and weighing approximately 18 pounds. No physical commodity is involved in most of the sales we make now. My building is still crammed with films, valuable now only for the images we copy and license from them. Film is susceptible to an organism which causes it to melt into a gooey ooze, a condition called the vinegar syndrome. My father completed a full inventory about five years ago and purged us of cases and cases of putrid festering film. I notice lately the strong vinegar smell in the aisles. We are overdue for another inventory. The boys will start it over the slow holiday period and for weeks the dumpster will be full with wreaking decomposing celluloid, including rare prints of films that now will never be seen again.

I stroll racks of film in my building and it is bittersweet for me. They feed my children. They rot away. I walk through the aisles and see Dad's meticulous, almost mechanical, printing on many of the cases. Thousands of feet of celluloid here have run on manual rewinds through my father's calloused thumb and forefinger. Thousand of tears and breaks repaired by precise guillotine splices would hold, intact and perfect if they were to ever pass again through a projection gate. I remember films he showed me when I was little or prints I'd borrowed to show to friends in college but then I smell that vinegar smell and feel sad and vulnerable and impotent that I can do so little to preserve the collection, let alone this business my father began in 1950. People always visit the office for the first time and gush, "Look at all the film," and I respond with less and less enthusiasm or pride. The economy is rotten all over though so somehow my diminishing, literally rotting, assets and mocking, silent phones, do seem a bit less like a personal failure.

I went to a program curated by my friend and colleague, filmmaker John Cannizzaro at the Echo Park Film Center. I often feel stuck and oppressed, sitting here in my office jammed with films and obsolete equipment and film books I haven't touched since IMBD and lots of other crap. The Film Center is a non-profit community group in a funky store front on Alvarado. They teach film-making to kids and seniors and have a big bus they drive around with, teaching folks to make films during the day and showing movies on a big screen at night. They teach super 8 and 16mm film-making and host public screenings a couple times a week. The accouterments are similar to my office but while sometimes it feels like Mrs. Habersham here, everything withering and rotting, the film center feels wonderfully comfortable and alive. This funky community center reminds me, that despite having been worn down by trying to eke out a living for over a quarter century, I do love film. I took the sixteen year old with me. He has seen 16mm film projected more frequently than any of his friends, but last night I realized, watching him watching, that it hasn't been enough.

John, the co-curator of the International Animation from a Surreal Mind program, out of sheer love, though buoyed by some good film festival nods, produces avant garde shorts and frame-by-frame stop motion animation. The program included some stellar examples from other filmmakers, including the breathtaking 1971 Jabberwocky from Czech animator Jan Svankmajer. The intricacy of this film, which made use of Victorian dolls and costumes and extremely elaborate and exquisite paper arts is a stunning ode to patience and vision, even though John's 16mm print is quite faded to red. Another highlight for me was Frank Mouris autobiographical Frank Films from 1973, a stunning stop motion montage of thousands of images that captivated the artist through the course of his life. John's own stop motion parody of Eisenstein, "Fifty Feet that Shook the World" in which the Odessa steps scene is reenacted by film cameras, uniting in solidarity against the encroachment of video is hilarious. if not prescient that video itself would be close to obsolete not long after the completion of this laborious production. His second title was made for a competition to create an unedited narrative film entirely inside the camera, and Gulliver's Travels, a stop motion homage to Eastern European animators is visually complex, funny and a wonderful example how some artists can flourish even when imposed with seemingly impossible constraints. There is no more labor intensive form of film making and I kept elbowing the 16 year old and spitting, "This was made WITHOUT computers."

My business is transacted mainly via computer. I smell the film and worry about it but most of us labor at keyboards all day and seldom refer to a film element. We watched real prints last night in Echo Park though. The film broke. The focus was fuzzy. Some of the prints were bad dupes and others were scratched. Nothing was new or pristine or digital. It was real live film, rotting, fading and breaking and it is beautiful.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008



Barney, a particularly charming beagle whose vivid black and tan had faded to snow white in the course of his fifteen or sixteen, or so, rescue dog years, has eaten his last doggie treaty. I offer up condolences to MB and the family Inkelis. Barney died naturally and at home. Poor MB had to take the body to the vet's for cremation. Natural and at home is preferable to "the shot" or at least the excruciating anticipation of it, but I suck with dead bodies, pet and human and roadkill. When it became clear that our beloved ancient Bowser was beginning to suffer, we arranged for a vet to come to the house to administer the two injections. Himself was able to stay a bit but I fled at the instant of the final pronouncement. The remains were discreetly removed and boxed immediately and left in the driveway for the crematorium driver. Even though we were spared much contact with the body that was formerly Bowser, we must have fallen apart pretty royally. The vet, who probably performs this very service several times a week to much waterworks, expressed very earnest and particular concern about our emotional condition.

My husband loves dogs and I impressed him early on in our courting phase with my good recognition of different breeds. He wept on the balcony of the El Capitan at a sad scene in Beauty and the Beast. He feels shameful when he indulges in sleeping late instead of rising at the crack of dawn for a rigorous jaunt on the treadmill, a thorough brushing of dogs and a spartan breakfast of strawberries, non-fat yogurt and artificially sweetened tea. He recycles. He discourages triviality. He gets cranky sometimes, usually in the face of the necessity of him leaving the house or the necessity of someone coming to the house. He dislikes most vegetables. I have written oft about the cellphone loggerheads but I am hoping that the dishwasher issue is nipped in the bud right here and now so that no bandwidth is wasted on it.

I was close to bawling most of the week, blissed out to prepare my first Thanksgiving in the new kitchen. I had Lucy on the big dick t.v. to keep me company and the kids and Himself wafted in and out to watch or eat or hang. Himself gave me a real hard time about buying the t.v. and indeed it has defined a real center to our house. I am not stressed that the t.v. will dumb down Casamurphy. My only concern is that its proximity to the kitchen will lead to the fattening up of this viewer. We do spend more time with the kids and get a clearer idea of what rocks their world. They watch pretty good things although perhaps they are more selective when I am present. Every minute my children spend in front of it is one minute of exercise, or reading, or room tidying, or cancer curing pissed away, but I do love my big t.v.

After Thanksgiving I went into a three day drool. I stayed braless on the couch and took no real meals, grazing only on Thanksgiving leftovers. My artificial molar floated in Polident for 72 hours. I wrote not a single word, read one novel (that my husband considers middlebrow), played online word games and watched t.v. with the kids. Himself also had several consecutive days of leisure. For the four day period of November 27-30 he wrote nearly 5000 words. I am very satisfied to write 1500 words in the course of a week. He posted reviews of the following books: The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, 352 pages; Young Irelanders, 244 pages; My Name is Legion, 512 pages; Idle Passion 248 pages. He also reviewed a Deerhunter CD called Microcastles. He wrote two brief entries about i.q. and taste in music tests specifically for his blog, as well. This staggering output, and the fierceness with which he reads and riffs on it, is not an anomaly of a long weekend. I have labored enormously for the 71 blog entries I have posted in 2008. Himself's blog boasts 349 entries so far for the year. And he apologizes for sleeping late.

Himself reads a dozen books for each one I finish. He reviews in depth and detail everything he reads and listens to and is, according to the new and preferable rating system, the 142nd most popular reviewer on Amazon. I can look at his reviews chronologically and trace his journey through chess, and Buddhism, and Welsh and California deserts and Hungary, larded with all manner of fiction and things Irish. He has been teaching himself Gaelic for years and practices by writing small passages in Irish about his day-to-day life. The translations of these little language exercises into a sort of halting English that reflects his humble awareness of his limitations in Irish, are among the most beautiful things I have ever read. My husband was raised where the only labor of value was either physical or wage earning or preferably, both. The concept of personal satisfaction was some high falutin' notion to those particular Irish Catholics, born to work and suffer and reject those who would aspire otherwise. I try to encourage my beloved to do what he loves doing the most and he feels guilty because he derives so much pleasure from it he cannot construe it as work. But work it is and so very fine.

My husband's parents owned a kennel. They bred boxers, and some other breeds of dogs that don't much appeal to me enough to even bother spell checking the names, and boarded dogs. In the dog eating regions of China there is a distinction between food dogs and pet dogs. Struggling with a similar distinction is part of coming of age in an environment where there are pets and dogs that generate income. My sister bred dogs so I saw dogs come and go and I got to know some dog people. Himself and I both share heartrending childhood tales of coming home to find a beloved dog "gone to the farm" for the most specious of reasons. We have tolerated some pretty ill behaved canines that have led us frantically to pet psychics and the Dog Whisperer and perhaps our dog doggedness thing is one way we work out the abandonment issues we also have in common.

When I am desperate for a sign I do this Ouija board type of thing, counting on my fingers to make decisions or ascertain whether hopes will be fulfilled. I also count while I'm driving. If I see ten blue cars, or six Volvos or five out of state plates before arriving at the office there will be a big order. This is a weird thing I've always done and was too embarrassed to even think about on any conscious level until my beloved described it as a form of spontaneous divination which he, and I don't know if it should be to my comfort or my distress, practices too. Wikipedia lists many different forms of divination. There is alphitomancy, which is divination through barley, and cephaleonomancy which involves boiled donkey heads and choriomancy when pig bladders are the conduit to the divine. Dacylomancy (finger movements) and arithmancy (numbers) would cover the thing I do and I was glad and relieved that there's a name for it until it turned out the only reference cited for the article was Harry Potter. The sixteen year old and I also count fat students (an extraordinarily high percentage) in front of Muir High School in Pasadena. We know that this is mean and that it isn't really spontaneous divination. We get bored spending so long in the car though and perhaps this badassedness is a talisman against the next door McDonald's and the lure of the Casamurphy refrigerator, now dangerously close to the altar of entertainment.

My life has always been loud but my beloved has taught me to appreciate the quiet, and sometimes ventures with me to my joyous loud. I don't serve salad. He plays host. I slog through books beyond my ken and force my lazy brain around ideas instead of daydreams to make him proud. I would be single with many cats and left to my own devices I might have become a reader of US WEEKLY. Himself sings to the dogs and dances with them. We watch the new t.v. We are more tender with each other than we are with ourselves. I fall asleep wrapped in his arms and I wake him up to hold me every morning for a few minutes before I start the day.

Years ago Julia had a party and one of the guests was newly returned from graduate school at Brown and I asked him what he'd studied and he said in a single sentence, "Semiotics do you know what that is?" I began this blog entry yesterday and returned home to my still blogging helpmate. He was struggling to find an illustration for his entry and I asked him what he was looking for and he said, "Bibliomancy do you know what that is?" I told him it was the practice of using the bible for divination and remarked that I had written that afternoon about spontaneous divination. Several weeks ago we wrote on the same day of eucalyptus, the subject of my earliest memory, and now we both consider divination. Maybe it's a sign.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Doddering Daughter-y

Doddering Daughter-y

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Embarrassment Sans Riches

Embarrassment Sans Riches

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

More confessions follow. Himself and myself have both read Andrew Sullivan's piece about blogging.
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/andrew-sullivan-why-i-blog Sullivan on blogging: "Its truths are provisional and its ethos collective and messy." Because these pieces here are churned out in immediate response to whatever I am sponging up and because I am over reliant on left-leaning media and what Rocky at bootcamp tells us from The View, I have, also to my embarrassment, gotten some things very wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008



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

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

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

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

Obama's election makes it seem that the doors are open to making things more fair for women in this country, and towards keeping our path lit and after a lot of reflection, I confess I have been sort of a pig about Sarah Palin. Carrie in Drogheda sends this link:
http://www.cultureandmedia.com/specialreports/2008/SarahPalinChar/SaraPalinFull_Report.htm to an essay which made me feel uncomfortable with myself. If Sarah Palin were pro-choice and in favor of sex education that wasn't focused only on abstinence and she were the Democratic nominee for vice president, I wouldn't have considered her Susan Sontag but I would have found her cute and refreshing and populist and real, if not the brightest bulb, and her presence on a ticket certainly would not have prevented me from voting for it. I would have excused even the shooting wolves from a helicopter as an Alaskan idiosyncrasy I could forgive. She would have reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore or That Girl and I would have considered the choice of such a real talkin', perky girl,working mom as a refreshing change from stuffed shirt politicians. I disrespected Sarah Palin because her views are different than mine. I agree with Obama that determining the moment life begins is far beyond my pay grade and also agree that our energy is better spent towards preventing abortion rather than outlawing it. I can see why many people believe that life begins at the moment of the possibility of life, conception. People who profess to believe this yet would sanction abortion in cases of rape or incest are hypocrites and completely sap the pro life movement of any credibility. If you believe that life is sacred and that it begins at the moment of conception it is inconsistent not to oppose all abortion...and euthanasia and the death penalty. I don't know where Palin stands on euthanasia but presume she does not oppose the death penalty. Nevertheless, her view on abortion is different from mine but I respect her consistency and commitment to her belief that doesn't waiver even in the tragic face of rape or incest. I strive to do better than to automatically assume that someone who disagrees with my educated white liberal perspective on issues, lacks character. There is much I disagree with Palin about but assassinating her character did nothing to strengthen my (more enlightened, but still...) opposing position.

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

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Overwrought

Halloween Overwrought

I received an urgent, all caps e-mail through the neighborhood news group: HALLOWEEN SAFETY TIPS FOR DOGS. Himself read to me about long winded Missouri debates about the minutiae of regulating sex offenders on Halloween. Should they be allowed to celebrate with their own children? Is it ok for them to display jack o'lanterns on their lawns? The election is moments from us. We pondered at bootcamp what we’ll talk about when it's all over. Rocky, our cruel and sadistic trainer sneered, "Perhaps then yas can get yerselves a workout in" in that voice she used to tell us about the time back home in Wales when she got mugged. She was on her way to the pub with her sister to watch some big international sporting event and she felt a grab at her fanny pack, which contained her drinking money. The would be mugger’s poor choice of victim yielded him only serious contusions and no drinking money. A guard who manned an area security camera that captured the interaction was a friend of Rocky's dad and said to him, "Theys tough yer girls." We're tough but it's scary. Halloween is upon us and daylight-saving time will end and we're in a lather about the election and we are fraught with imagining how a tanking economy is going to end up affecting us personally. I haven't even opened the Thanksgiving issues of the cooking magazines.

One of the missing links, now that the blood relatives who reared me are no longer available for explanation, is what suffering made everyone in my family so fucked up about money. I may be wrong but I have always blamed it on the Depression, a time when both of my parents relied on charity. My dad was always reticent to talk much about his father, who committed suicide, according to the story, due to financial pressures, when my dad was about nine years old. I know however that there was a relatively prosperous time when the family managed, and I believe owned a part of, a hotel in Port Angeles. Was this change in circumstances due to the Depression or was there another ill-fatedness that I will never understand? There seems to be reason to be genuinely frightened at the condition of the economy and my suspicions about my parents' Depression experiences ratchet this up a lot for me.

I speculated recently that it seems that the surviving members of the Weather Underground are probably good people. I will never manage to reach a full understanding of the times, although I experienced them myself, because I was too busy being young. This indelible and yet ephemeral imprint, and a disturbing parallel between those times and these, is why I gravitate now to remembrances of and reflections on the phenomena of my child and teenhood. Because of the localness and the luridness, I remember following news of the Manson Family. Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered in the Silverlake hills. I believe that Leno, a grocer, owned the market which was known as The Hub, and is now the Trader Joes on Hyperion. Another nasty news making cult Silverlake connection was noted by the L.A. Weekly
http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-23/news/from-silver-lake-to-suicide/ about two Red Diaper Silverlake kids, Ivanhoe and Marshall alums, Phyllis Alexander and Eugene Chaikin who married and in the spirit of the time, fell under the sway of a charismatic social activist minister. Gene gave up a successful law career. They sold their valley home and packed their two children off to a religious community which being built in Ukiah. All four of them died in Jonestown on November 18, 1978.

My skepticism about Obama is considered traitorous but I have said many good things about the man. His Marshall-like plan for Afghanistan seems prudent and even though our friend Anthony in Ireland pretty much sees the U.S. as pigs, I think that using our resources to build the infrastructure and promote peace is a good thing. Even if we often take it on more in the spirit of strategy than of compassion it is good to build schools and hospitals. I cannot fault Obama that we are so friggin' wretched and hollow eyed after the Bush years that the embrace of him as the answer of answers smacks of cult. The hard times of Vietnam, and Nixon and Kent State were stimulus for community organizers to hone their craft. But the period also yielded the Manson Family and the Reverend Jim Jones which I don’t think anyone would deny, were very much the products an era whose desperation and bleakness spawned mass obedience to the service of madness. Maybe we have come very far and the seeds that were planted towards shepherding a movement of enfranchisement have borne fruit and Obama really is the antidote.

Obama's management of his campaign has demonstrated a strategic brilliance that I hope will similarly illuminate the Oval Office. The Obama campaign's mobilization of volunteer campaigners is unparalleled although it seems that volunteers are strictly forbidden to answer any undecided voter concerns with regard to policy and that anyone posing this sort of question is to be immediately referred to the campaign website. It's ok for Obama folks to send money and take time off from work to travel at their own expense to swing states and trudge dusty Nevada sidewalks, banging on doors but they are not to be trusted to articulate what motivates them to dedicate themselves to the cause.

My husband, the same age as Obama, feels himself too young to be the president, which certainly relieves all of our anxieties about having to uproot to The White House. One pundit observed that although McCain’s era was Vietnam, there was very much a feeling of WWII about him. I think Obama’s youth will actually be an advantage, as his deft campaign has proven again and again that he has a sophisticated understanding of communications and technology. He seems then likely able to conceptualize the use of these most modern technologies as tools to further peace, and freedom and education.

This week, for the first time since the primaries I was actually able to examine the Obama website because previously I had been unable to access it without logging in with my name and e-mail address. I found an egregious grammatical error in the statement on educational policy and because I SUPPORT THE MAN, I sent an e-mail advising of this. I have not received a thank-you note but my in-box has been deluged.
As I toil on this piece, I received the following note from Barack himself:
Layne --I want you to be there with me on Election Night when the results come in.We're planning a big event that will include tens of thousands of supporters in Grant Park in downtown Chicago.We're saving some of the best seats in the house for 5 people who make their first donation to the campaign before Sunday at midnight.If you're selected, you can bring a guest, and we'll fly you in and put you up in a hotel for the night. You'll go backstage at the big event and -- no matter what happens -- you'll have a front row seat to history as we celebrate the supporters who got us over the finish line.Any donation counts -- whatever you can afford. Show your support at this crucial time with a donation of $5 or more, and you could join me on Election Night:

This movement for change has been a testament to the power of ordinary Americans coming together to achieve extraordinary things.I look forward to having you there on Election Night.
Thank you,

Yes, I would be a first time giver. I have sent no money to Obama. My husband noted on his blog that he had only "allowed" me to send money to Jerry Brown which sounds piggish but we just don’t give money to politicians or issues we don’t both agree on so it’s a matter of "allowing each other," but it did sound piggish. This plea for funds, particularly when it’s been reported that the campaign still has a bundle in the bank, has a t.v. game show quality to it and I thought it was sort of icky. I share it because Himself and I are the only ones we know–except maybe for Carrie and Anthony in Drogheda, who haven’t given money to the Obama campaign and this might give a little insight, into their tactics and I can’t tell if it’s savvy or cynical or both. On the money thing, and something everyone at Casamurphy agrees on, is that if you have some extra send it to the campaign to defeat Prop. 8 which having been wildly outspent urgently needs more airtime. Donate at

I hope that four years from now, our friends abroad will think better of our nation and even more important, that we will think better of it ourselves. A lot of people who I like and trust feel that Obama is a harbinger of this and I hope they are right and that my scepticism is proven unfounded. What scares me the most is not Obama's suitability to the position, but that burdened with the obstacles he faces, it will be impossible for him to live up to the zeal inspired by his campaign. Even Jesus probably wouldn't be up to being Jesus right now.

There are other things I cannot blame Obama for. Nearly one billion dollars has been spent on this presidential election. As one whose legacy it is to be fucked up about money, I have to say this sucks. Public funding for elections should not be optional. Every candidate should have exactly the same bank balance going into the fray and all of those issue committees and other loopholes for funneling in large amounts of corporate dough into campaign coffers should be cut off. And it's definitely not my beat but a glance
http://www.opensecrets.org/index.php will give an idea of how much political influence is bought and sold in this country and it seems a Catch 22 that any politician with sufficient stature to effectively challenge this and diminish influence peddling would be too beholden to PACs and lobbies to pursue reform. It's also time, although the more sparsely populated states will resist, to rethink the woefully outmoded electoral college and make each vote count equally.

There was a four block section cul de sac with handsome low slung valley ranch style houses behind the home on Fulton Avenue where I grew up. This was deigned the safest spot for trick or treating. One year for my costume I commandeered a huge cardboard refrigerator carton and painted the front with buttons and dials and cut holes for my arms and I was a computer. Most people assumed there were two or three kids inside so I made a good haul on the candy. I cannot really remember what I thought a computer really did, or was expected to do in the future, in those days but I think I had a feeling it was destined someday to replace thinking.

Himself and myself have never had much Halloween inclination. We have dressed up for Purim once or twice but other than that we have never attended nor hosted a costume party for adults. Our children still look forward to Halloween but I think their teen hormones make it a much less purely sweet experience like when they were little. We are charged with foisting them, they are too old to be chaperoned and only require transport, in Silverlake where they will trick or treat with hundreds of other kids from Ivanhoe and Marshall and knock on the doors of ordinary families undoubtedly also made anxious by these times. I feel very much that we are on the cusp of defining the zeitgeist shorthand that for all eternity will refer to the beginning of this millennium. It is Halloween and it is scary to think how much history we are living and that things will never be the same again. Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trick or Treat?

Trick or Treat
I really am trying to get down with the hope thing but for the Obama campaign to purchase a half an hour of prime time t.v. at the cost of three million dollars is more outrageous and foolhardy than the McCain campaign springing for fancy duds and makeup for Ms. Palin. Delaying the World Series is a seriously bad idea and will piss off any undecided Joe Sixpacks majorly, as it would me, if the Dodgers had survived the Phillies. Thirty minutes of primo airtime is a glaring reminder that Obama had stated that he would finance his campaign with public funding. I believe legislation that provided for public finance of presidential candidates was intended to level the playing field and insure that the presidency could not be bought. Obama is ahead and I hope it stays that way. But, anyone who wanted to hear what he had to say has heard it and the thirty minute program will be perceived as an arrogant, premature victory lap and a cruel jab at McCain who fell to consorting with the devil in this campaign but whose commitment to using public funds certainly smacks of higher ground. To throw away three million dollars of the hard earned grassroots dollars that fueled this genius campaign is as tacky as the garb Sarah Palin showed up with from the Anchorage Consignment shop, Out of the Closet.

I don't know whether his health insurance plan will be economically feasible but it would help remedy an inequity that is shameful for an ostensibly civilized country. I am also impressed with Obama's plans for righting the misguided joke that is "No Child Left Behind" which manacles student and teacher to endless preparation for standardized tests and virtually guarantees that the staggering drop out rate will only increase. Our personal experience with charter schools has been a mixed bag although at present both of our boys attend them and for both we feel that, despite two hours a day in the car, it is the best situation available. Unlike our neighborhood home schools, the charters our boys attend are ethnically and racially diverse and have educational philosophies we can live with. Obama acknowledges the endemic failure of large bureaucratic education machines and promises to double federal funds to charter and community directed schools and place greater emphasis on insuring the quality of education offered at these smaller institutions. While it might be fiscally impossible to carry off, I also admire Obama's commitment to create a large network of parent/infant education programs and to offer an automatic $4000.00 tax credit towards college tuition for any student who completes 100 hours of community service. Consistent in his education policy is an enormous respect for the teaching profession and proposals are outlined to help future teachers with college tuition and elevate the stature and compensation of educators toward parity with other professions. McCain's solution was to take folks fresh out of the military and stick 'em in classrooms. Heck, anyone with a pulse can teach.

I doubt that Obama would be where he is today if he had attended an inner city high school and community college. He truly appears to get it about education. I have been listening to endless NPR interviews with swing state voters and it occurs to me that the chasm in America isn't a cultural or ethnic or religious one. Education nurtures tolerance and open mindedness. There certainly are highly educated people of faith who would have the government adopt their personal religious views, but generally what polarizes America more than race or culture is education. It doesn't matter what friggin' wars we win or if the economy rebounds. The state of our current educational system is a the gravest threat to the next generation and I think it will be good to have a president whose own life experience reinforces the dire need to fix it. But, it saddens me to think of how many God damn bake sales the three million bucks being squandered on air time could have averted.

My absentee ballot has been mailed and I voted for Obama. I remain skeptical about the man and will always wonder what the results would have been if the campaign coffers for both candidates had been equal. Nevertheless, I am awed by the brilliance of his campaign and I sense he will somehow better our educational system and maybe the hope thing is a teeny bit contagious. If nothing else, at least I am more optimistic than Himself. Ultimately, only Obama's accomplishments in office, if he is elected, will prove whether the ends justified the means.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chris and Bob 10-23

Chris and Bob 10-23

Chris and Bob 10-23

Bob and Chris are married now and I am in a plump bed overlooking the Santa Cruz board walk, having been lulled to sleep by the surf and barking sea lions and two Atavans. I drank three large cups of coffee on the road, Being an alert driver was to my advantage but having to stop to pee every half hour or so slowed me down a bit. It was a tight squeeze dropping Spuds at school at 8:30 and making it to the county courthouse in Santa Cruz by three, but even with my uncooperative bladder I was making good time until I crossed over from the 5 to the 101 via the 152 and the road was closed and I waited in a long line of cars for nearly forty five minutes. I was ultracaffinated, unfed and panic set in. My predilection has always been to drive way fast but it is one of many impulses I manage to keep in check usually and while a Volvo wagon may look like a housewife car, it actually has power. Lots. When I hit the 101, I knew I had to make up for lost time and was well aware that I was risking a ticket.

I was pulled over outside of King City. The cop was one of those really pugnacious short guys in the de rigueur mirror sun glasses. "How fast do you think you were going?" (This is a sadistic trick question) "Ah, maybe 80?" He raised his eyebrows. I told him the truth that I hadn't had any sort of ticket for over fifteen years. He said, "Well, now you got yourself a doozy." Despite my irritation of being delayed I found his use of the expression "doozy" rather quaint coming from a little cop who couldn't have been more than 30. I told him I was late for my best friends' 3 p.m. wedding in Santa Cruz and he said, "You're not gonna make it," but then he advised me that he was going to write my citation noting a speed of 80 mph although the speed I was travelling at was actually sufficient for him to revoke my license and tow my car on the spot. Tell that to those assholes who wouldn't talk trucks with me at the car show.

I actually arrived at the court house with time to change clothing and throw on some makeup in a public bathroom stall. We went to fill out the papers but it turns out that Chris's drivers license expired months ago and wouldn't serve as valid i.d. Fortunately, they allowed me, fortunate to still be bearing a current driver's license, with a neatly affixed donor sticker (and who was also able to promptly present to my CHP friend my proof of registration and insurance so although I am a scofflaw, I am a responsible adult) to sign an affidavit (it would have been cool to have been made to swear it on a bible but they didn't go that far) stating that I had known Chris Berry for 12 years, although I realized later Chris and Bob have been together nearly 15. Based on my personal experience, it takes about fifteen years to get the significant other thing to mesh with the significant self thing and I see how much better prepared Chris and Bob are to formally commit their lives than I was as a child bride in 1991.

Bob has always had a weird sort of hyper-alertness thing with numbers dates and coincidence. We used to say the word "synchronicity" a lot but we got sick of it. The dates and numbers thing and because I know that they don't need a blender, inspired me to buy a pen engraved with the wedding date of 10/23/08 for the signing of marriage documents. This active awareness of how things fit and drinking in numbers and symbols and omens is consciousness raising (a phrase I use as hesitantly as "synchronicity"). There is a strange miraculous order of things working away beyond one's control and this is comforting if you stay awake. Due to my tardiness and in an act of staggering generosity, Bob and Chris checked me in to my lovely waterfront boutique hotel and my room number is 1023. I presume that Bob had requested this room specifically but he hadn't and it was my destiny on 10-23 to witness a marriage and sleep alone, in the glaring absence of my own beloved, in room 1023.

I had made a comment on Himself's blog about a trip I made through Pescadero during college and this inspired Chris and Bob to chose the excellent and funky tavern Duarte's there for the wedding dinner. It was one of the those really good meals made even better by ravenous hunger and pure sweet joy. I knew that my beloved, home with frozen pizza would have loved the restaurant and the food and the company and the occasion, and if he had his rightful place at the table I probably wouldn't have gotten a speeding ticket. I also probably wouldn't have been able to polish off a bag of salt water taffy from the honor bar, order a ten buck pot of coffee from room service because I have no patience for those silly one cup in room coffee makers or schedule a massage for this morning but I would have given up all these indulgences to have had him standing beside me when our dearest friends made their vows.

I am sad that Himself missed this milestone and even more than my profligate indulgences, there is a peacefulness to having a short time alone. I remember being lonely and alone in hotel rooms in my travelling days. I remember being lonely and alone in my own home and in my own marriage until we learned our significant others truly could make our significant selves stronger and glorious and more significant. My mother lived most of her life alone having somehow gotten the notion that if she surrendered to love something would be taken from her and not reciprocated and leave her bereft and naked. My father and my sister were terrified of being alone. My sister desperately clung to relationships that demeaned and exploited her and I think my poor dead Sheri may have felt like dirt, bereft and naked and was magnetically pulled to liaisons that would reinforce this. I like this hotel room and I like the sound of the waves and I am alone here but the voice in my head is not a lonely one.

From here I'll go to Chris and Bob's in Mt. Hermon and I will walk in the redwoods and make dinner and complain about their kitchen. I will sleep alone again and wake to light streaming through the redwoods. Bob and Chris are married now. Tomorrow I will return to Casamurphy and the brilliant, curious, sweet, open man who honors me and wants to spend his life by my side. Married.
Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Woman Who Wanted to Be a Lady

The Woman Who Wanted to Be a Lady

I am now the mother of a sixteen year old. We've had some very bad experiences at the DMV recently which were partially my fault. Perhaps it was less than supportive to have said "even retarded people drive cars." Nevertheless we dined at a nice place and there were some gifts of clothing which he will probably accompany me to Target to return and a big outing with friends this weekend to the Universal Studios Halloween Horror Spectacular. My life and my self, as I recall, improved quite a bit at age sixteen and I have a feeling this will bear out with my 16 year old as well. There are always kids in front of his school and some mornings when I drop him he'll kiss me goodbye and other days he'll barely grunt. Today the kids in front of the school seemed innocuous and I intuited outside of the school's center of social power and it being his birthday, I grabbed him and kissed his head. My signals were wrong apparently and he leaped from the car and called me "stupid" sandwiched between two words at the top of Lenny Bruce's list. In wanting to express my joy at his birthday, I inadvertently embarrassed him and in turn, his rage shattered me. I was five minutes away from the school and my phone rang. There was an apology and it was a heartfelt, loving one. Maybe 16 will be better than 15. Sweet.

Eventually my elderly Volvo will be the perfect rock solid vehicle for a new driver and this to me signals the beginning of the end of my days as chauffeur. I want something with a bench seat that will accommodate me and Rover only and I want something I can haul stuff around in. I've even sold Himself on the idea. I want a pick up truck. An old one, from the late 50's or early 60's. An Apache or a Cameo seem wonderfully suitable. Spuds and I rose Sunday at 4 a.m. and drove to the Pomona Fairplex to look at old trucks at the Vintage Auto Swap Meet. There was a sea of beautiful old cars and a number of trucks like the one Rover and I covet. I have never been to such an event but soon figured out by observation that the car owners sat on camp chairs chatting with each other. They'd keep an eye on their own cars and jump up and hurry over to engage in conversation anyone who lingered appraisingly. There were some very cool trucks. I lingered and examined and took pictures but I was approached by not a single seller. I thought I was doing something wrong or wasn't savvy to some ritual of protocol and then it dawned on me. I looked up and down the aisles of cars and saw that about 95% in attendance were men and the only other women I saw had male companions.

I publicly aver my intention to purchase a truck and to drive it around town with my not a foofy toy poodle dog. I also note my surprise and anger and sorrow at the realization that apparently unless I am accompanied by a person with a dick, no one will give me the time of day with regard to buying one. This is all true, I swear it, but the other truth is I lost a night of sleep because I felt bereft and sad and hopeless because I wasn't treated like a lady. I was not treated in the fashion that my poor old mom taught me to expect.

I think part of it is that Himself, for all the blight and noise and dirt in our neighborhood, really prefers to be at home. When we are out in the world, for him there is an almost magnetic pull to get quickly in and out of the car and in and out of the restaurant, or whatever place, in order to get home as quickly as possible. I know he appreciates the comfortable nest I've created and I love it that he loves to be there, but, sometimes it seems his urgency about returning makes me feel neglected. The other thing is that my beloved sees and relishes my strength and formidability. This adds a great frisson to our relationship and increases our intimacy. It would sicken me to have an old school husband treating me like a poor helpless thing and ordering my food or scrutinizing my checkbook. Yet, there is an old hurt that won't go away. I don't know if this is just another way in which my poor ma fucked me up or my negative response is entirely reasonable. I am wounded each time we park the car and he bolts towards our destination and is half a block away before I've snapped my keys in my purse. I am embarrassed when the check is settled at a restaurant and he is trotting down the street while I am still navigating out of the booth. My husband thinks it very silly and perhaps this comes out of his deep true respect for me, that he feels compliance would upset his vision of me as equal, competent, self reliant and strong. I don't know if walking beside a woman or waiting for her to depart a restaurant are outmoded conventions or they should be. I certainly see my own hypocrisy in feeling humiliated when they are not observed. I don't know what to do with such loggerheads. What do you do when you question the rightness of something but still desperately need it in order to feel loved?

A correspondent noted this week that my husband is a gem, and I agree, although she noted that she wouldn't want to be married to him herself. She added that he wouldn't want to be married to her either, the truth of which I can also attest to. Himself and I worship each other and while I joke about excoriating him in public each time he displeases me, he knows that my grappling here with our small struggles really just proves to the world we have created, and continue to create, a spectacular life together. We worked very fucking hard to shed the weight of shame we each carried when God brought us together and my life with him and the children we've made are my proudest accomplishments and every effort we make in words or thought or deed to strengthen our bond is golden. I am a big sissy who needs to be shepherded out of a restaurant. I want an old truck. No one will sell me one and that righteously pisses me off. Someone remarked that a lady driving a truck like the truck I want to drive could never be demeaned and how I wish that were true. Yet, maybe by sifting through the mess in my head and spouting off and keeping my arms and heart wide open, someday, truck or no truck, it will be.