Monday, March 10, 2008

Work. Eat. Talk.

I visited the home of Julia’s parents in Sherman Oaks (nee Van Nuys), a few blocks from where I grew up, for a gathering following the death of Julia’s dad, Bernie. I hadn’t been to the Wayne house for many decades and was surprised at how easily I navigated the small residential valley streets to the low slung cul de sac home. The décor was the same as I remembered it, except for the addition of many portraits of grandchildren and a certificate that Bernie won for hitting a hole-in-one at the local course. I saw how painstakingly well maintained the house was.

That morning, I’d had a big tizzy fit about the condition of the fifteen year old’s clothes closet. I weirdly remembered the price of every wadded up shirt therein and felt that this carelessness was an offense to all of the hours Himself and I toil towards housing and feeding and clothing our progeny. I felt my work was not being valued and because I equate my work with showing love it was like the purest, finest part of me was being shat upon. The Waynes were hard working people. Daughter Julia is one of the hardest working people I know. Their house is one that people worked hard to build and furnish and maintain.

There were no speeches, only many tables laden with food but in many ways, it was the quintessential Jewish event. We talked and we ate. And then we ate some more. We eat when we are sad and empty and with every death we learn of, we ourselves come closer to the time when we too will eat no more.

I went from a Jewish affair to a distinctly non-Jewish affair, a birthday party on a part of the Bette Davis estate in the old equestrian section of Glendale. This was to commemorate an old friend and business associate of my dad’s and mostly in attendance were film collectors, a few old enough to remember my father. The bar was of much greater interest than the skimpy food. My dad, like Bernie Wayne, worked hard and taught me to appreciate hard work and inspired me to work hard myself. I feel disloyal for typing these words, but it is a matter of public record that in the 1970s, my father was arrested on charges related to film piracy. After many years and enormous legal expense, most the counts were overturned and he was left with a misdemeanor on his record, or maybe, I am hazy, with no record at all. Nevertheless, my father did some illegal and immoral things for money. I’m sure there are many things I don’t know about but there are a number of things I did know about and I registered my disapproval and was bitterly rebuked as a goody two shoes. There were also times when I kept my mouth shut.

I run the business differently than my dad did. I feel guilty often because I don’t work as hard as he did. I guess it is a combination of time and my redefining the business that for the most part separates the company from its scoundrel history. Yesterday, in front of Spuds, a colleague, at the party, mentioned what my dad always referred to as “the bust.” Today, I am here at the business my father started, trying to earn a living and provide more shirts for the fifteen year old to disrespect. I am the daughter of a hardworking scoundrel whose hard work provided me with the accoutrements to acquire the moral and ethical foundation he never had. I was reminded yesterday of my legacy, as my youngest child learned of it anew. A job I had high hopes for, is playing itself out differently than I had hoped and expected. Business is full of disappointments and sometimes I think I am on a hamster wheel, a prisoner of my father’s karma. Sometimes I think I just don’t work hard enough.

I sat in the front room with Julia’s mother Laverne yesterday, a hardworking woman of valor, now a widow. Laverne is suffering from ALS and she is unable to speak. She wrote on a pad to me, “It happened so fast” as she painstakingly tried to nibble tiny bites of food which had been cut up for her and bore no resemblance to the deli platters heaped in the adjacent rooms. She gave up and spit into a little wastebasket. Her grandchildren played on the manicured lawn. No words came to me. I held her hand but was relieved when other guests arrived so I could discreetly return to the array of lox and bagels.

I worry that my inheritance has doomed me to fail. I worry that the person I have made myself into is doomed to fail. I try to work hard and I pout when this isn’t appreciated. It makes me sad that my grief for my lost father is complicated by shame and that now, my boys must suck this up too.

I am ashamed of my tendency towards laziness as I remember my shirtless father erecting a brick fence on Fulton Avenue or lifting eighty pound film cases from high shelves. Sometimes I push myself at bootcamp but sometimes I allow myself to space out and go slack. My friend Diana has been in treatment for breast cancer for over a year and if you read her terrific L.A. novel BUMP you will learn that as a writer she is drawn to the idea of death, and like me, writes a lot to vanquish her own fear. Diana began bootcamp with us on Saturday and she propelled her poor body which has been cut and chemoed and radiated a hundred yards ahead of adipose, lazy me. Afterwards we sat and we ate and we talked and I hope to remember the fullness I felt from this when my doubts and fears render me frail and hollow.

There is death and there are miracles. Early retirement is not in the cards for me and there has never been a time when there wasn’t a big stack of overdue bills on my desk. My children will continue to thrash the meager possessions I am able to provide. But until I am no longer able, I will talk and I will eat.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

And if you were Irish, you'd drink. Or, be in the minority who'd wear the Pioneer pin or take the "pledge" and lord your reformation from the rake's progress or refusal from the cradle over everyone else, like a chiseled vegan amidst Brent's lavish deli platters.

Niall and I and even Leo are all proud of you. Don't forget that your integrity may annoy us and your righteousness may cause at least two of us to roll our eyes, but like the child who learns at the knee of the parent what not to do wrong, we all follow you. xxx me