Friday, May 15, 2009

Little Old Ideas

Little Old Ideas


My mother will not permit anyone but a professional beautician to touch her hair and it, and her finger and toenails are getting gnarly. I brace myself for several hours of wrangling her and stifling her from agreeing to hundreds of dollars in extra salon services without sounding like a bitch. The familiar dry heaves are starting to roil when I call over to announce that I’m going to pick her up for a grooming triage. Ning, the owner of the board and care tells me that she herself has already taken Mom to the beauty parlor the day before. This is better than winning the lottery. My stepmother has dropped off a pound of See’s candy for my mom and some lousy Costco cookies for my kids and I consider a switcheroo, what with the Alzheimer’s and all. The sixteen year old and I go to visit and freed of beauty shop ordeal, to keep good juju, I fork over the See’s. She does not offer to share and wouldn’t have, even pre-dementia, when, if I’d had the temerity to ask for a piece, she would have snapped, “You don’t need it.”

The other two lady residents are always clad in sweatpants or model coats. My mother sits imperious, on the periphery, with her purse in her lap. She wears a woven silk skirt and complimentary cashmere sweater and trademarked impossibly wide belt. The only thing that betrays her, if she doesn’t open her mouth, is that a bunion, after years of wearing size 6 high heels, reduces her to only thong sandals. Thanks to the Alzheimer’s I am able to purchase them for her in the correct size (7 ½). Ning suggests I provide a few more pairs of flip flops and I notice the sparkly ones she herself sports are right up my mom’s alley. I ask her where she got them and she laughs, and says that my mother has inquired after these same sexy shoes herself. A number of times. An incalculable number of times.

Mother’s Day? We don’t celebrate it. Himself reminds me annually of his father’s rationale for failing to acknowledge his wife on this day. “She’s not MY mother.” Nevertheless, when I rise there is a gorgeous letter from my beloved and a handmade card from Spuds on which he has glued a picture of a very fat me with his very tiny brother and written a sweet loving message. I hunker down on the couch with a book and the phone rings at 8 a.m. for me to pick up the still not driving, which makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs but I restrain myself, sixteen year old, immediately from a sleepover because he doesn’t want to impinge on THAT family’s celebration. Having chewed him out, I return to my nightgown and bed. I hear kitchen clatters and presume breakfast in bed is being prepared in my honor but it never materializes, which is probably a good thing, because I would still be cleaning the kitchen. Spuds ascends the stairs, late morning, under threat of grievous bodily harm, to present the mother’s day card anew and with the addition of his brother’s signature.

I ostentatiously prepare for myself only, a perfect grilled cheese with enough butter to merit a Lipitor chaser. I realize that the kids’ rehearsal starts an hour early. Himself has offered to take them and pick up his weekly portion of strawberries from the farmer’s market but the kids need lunch too and three separate errands in a single outing is beyond his scope. I hurry with my sandwich but eat all the way around and leave the center, bitten into a perfect square, on my plate, the best bite, saved as an incentive to get ready quickly. I throw on my jeans and descend the stairs and the plate is gone. “Where’s my bite?” I wail. Himself, thinking it a carelessly discarded scrap, has divided it into three portions and fed it to the dogs.

The tutoring schedule changes and instead of working one-on-one with primary graders I return to work with groups of tenth grade English students at Marshall High. The last group was funny and interesting and sweet. This group is militantly not interested in me or anything I have to say, which I could have stayed home for. These kids, the same age as my boy, are hollow eyed and will not look me in face. Two of the girls play incessantly with each others' hair and one boy keeps his head between his knees so that he can gaze at a fresh tattoo on his ankle. At the end of the class the teacher asks the kids to give the volunteers a hand and the kids all burst into rowdy applause except for my group who remain slumped in their seats staring at the clock. The kids want nothing I have to offer and I resent them for wasting my time. The teacher apologizes for my particularly recalcitrant charges and sites that the class itself has been in upheaval with one kid coming from a pretty hard core boys’ residential facility, three girls pregnant and the boyfriend of one of them on the verge of expulsion for losing his temper at a substitute teacher.

I tell my 16 year old, who will make eye contact and engage with anyone who appears mentally stable and makes an overture, that these kids at Marshall make him look pretty good. I remind him that safe sex is everyone’s responsibility and he rolls his eyes. Later I text him a line we use to crack each other up from the movie Kinsey. A heavily accented man is participating in sexual history interview, “I sed it was whore. Not horse.”

Kinsey began our dialogue about sex and Helen Gurley Brown was one of the first to give women permission to enjoy it. My mother read Sex and the Single Girl and Cosmo slavishly. Her boyfriend Sumner, who she insisted on calling Jose for some adorable reason that escapes me now, would come to pick her up for their regular date every Saturday night to take her out for dinner. Frascati. Tail ‘o the Cock. The Dresden Room. He stood behind the knotty pine bar at Fulton Avenue and stirred martinis with the gin he was expected provide. Mom coughed up for the olives but she’s stock up on them at the Bargain Circus when she found a mark down. Sumner paid for and transported a babysitter. The one I liked the best was Virginia, kind of a rough chola all the way from Pacoima who they used only if no one closer was available. We watched the Virgin Spring on KCET and I can see the rape and puking sequences on the little black and white t.v. haloed with UHF antenna. She told me about boys trying to cop a feel or get a piece of ass.

I think my mom adhered to the Sex and the Single Girl admonition that you enjoy approximately twenty expensive restaurant feeds before you invite your gentleman for a home cooked meal, for which he should provide all libations. Gurley Brown emphasized that single women should enjoy sex and men while simultaneously exploiting every mercenary potential. She spoke to women my mother and sister’s age. As a college student I was more programmed for a harder line feminism which fomented rebellion against pervasive male oppression but I filed this brain index card a few fathoms from the one that read, “I like boys.”


When I was eighteen I came home to Fulton Avenue for a weekend and slept with an old boyfriend from high school. Both my mother and my sister were open with me about being involved with married men at the time and there were douche kits and floral feminine hygiene sprays in the bathroom and Cosmo graced the coffee table. It didn’t occur to me that my old boyfriend spending the night would elicit anything except some niggardliness about me giving him breakfast, but my sister discovered him in my bed and all hell broke loose and they both called me a slut and I rushed back to college without even having done a load of laundry.

I am my mother’s vain shallow needy girl and when I was relieved of my virginity in 1973, I was torn between Helen Gurley Brown and Kate Millet and pathetic insecurity and loneliness. I assumed the girl role in my relationships and was one of those chicks who, Jill Johnston, the feminist writer, who thought capitalization was patriarchal, derisively referred to “sews patches on her old man’s jeans.” Being considered an intellectual equal wasn’t an issue in these early relationships because all boyfriends, previous to Himself, had been intellectually challenged, although a few at least were quite nice looking.

Himself’s misanthropy is legendary but because he is so purely prejudiced, he is the least prejudiced person I have ever met. Himself never denigrates or disrespects me because I am a woman. It is due instead to some, as perceived by him, deep seeded flaw unique to my own character that has nothing to do with gender, weight, or religion. He is harsh and fussy but the foundation of his interpersonal relationships is his pure experience of a person’s self and not fogged by circumstance of birth or persuasion.

Last week I took pleasure in helping a group of high school students understand about epiphanies and big new ideas. There are no big new ideas this week but I am reminded that the advantages I have struggled to bless my children with have paid off. I am sorry that it takes a group of their sullen brain dead contemporaries to remind me of this. Himself has never had to exchange my cooking or even the love I pray he feels showered with, for restaurant meals or decanters of gin. I am lucky to be a woman who can love and be loved with no trace of guile or avarice or commerce. I’ve given up on the friggin’ cellphone but at least he’s pretty good about putting the toilet seat down. Maybe there is an epiphany or two in here somewhere. Shabbat Shalom.


1 comment:

FionnchĂș said...

If I have to be a misanthrope and equal-opportunity misogynist, there's nobody I'd prefer sharing my misery with than you.

And, for better or worse, I was not relieved of my virginity until halfway through my senior year. In college. Of course, it was Catholic, back when such distinctions sort of still mattered. Obviously, from the Marshall crowd, that's all passé. Are they any better off now? xxx me