Friday, September 30, 2011

Name That Tune

It is the first anniversary of my mother's death. Her material bequest to me is a few pieces of 50s furniture that Himself hates and a mountain of ephemera I culled down to a couple boxes of correspondence and photos strongboxed in the garage. I am finishing a manuscript about my childhood and this is what I consider my mother's true legacy to me. Mom doesn't come off too well sometimes in my description of my life before college and a lot of the response I've gotten to the writing is of the “Gosh, I never knew you had it so hard” variety. For me, with the telling of the story, it has become way less hard to think about those years and also clearer that my mother loved me fiercely.

Mom never really knew what it was she wanted or how to go about getting what she thought she wanted. She yearned to be admired and resented that her beauty was not the key to the kingdom. Some of her conduct was so outrageous that it's laughable and there are parts of the book she definitely wouldn't like very much. But I think too that she would glean from between the lines my gratitude at having had a mother who was able to fend off mortal blows by cracking wise. Having inherited Mom's mordant humor, I take delicious delight in chronicling her bad behavior. Throughout my life my mother was bitter that she wasn't a fairy princess and this was exacerbated by my own lack of the characteristics that she thought would insure me a life of ease. My failure to fulfill her archaic expectations broke her heart but she never gave up on me and scrupulously saved every word I wrote to her and many boxes of my childhood artifacts.

Joe College came home the first few weekends to assuage his culture shock. I think now he would be fine spending a weekend on campus but there are holidays and social obligations that will require his presence home just about every weekend for the next few months. This coming and going is hard on me as it seems like every Monday I have to get used to him being gone all over again. Again, I remember how clueless my own parents usually were to what made me tick, but his transition to college isn't, from my own vantage point, what I'd anticipated. I'd expected, after attending small charter schools that sometimes weren't as challenging as they could have been, that he might find the coursework a bit overwhelming but it seems that he is stimulated, working hard and doing well. I'd also assumed that having been a popular, outgoing theater kid for as long as he can remember that he'd immediately ferret out suitable friend candidates and be surrounded by a genial posse as he's been at home. He has reports about interesting students but doesn't seem to have really clicked with anyone yet.

I floundered myself the first year and pretty much felt like a loser but I pretty much was a loser when I arrived at college and my son has always been more adept at forging and nurturing friendships. After barely seeing him for five minutes the whole summer he calls frequently now about inconsequential things and I don't think I'm imagining a neediness. Part of me wants to say, “We were wrong. You aren't ready for this. I'm not ready for this. Come home.” But, when he is at home there is a maturity and reasonableness about him and I guess, unlike his mother, he is realistic in knowing that starting college is inevitably a challenging transition and he's confident that he will get through it.

I take the boys and their friend who persists in calling me “Mrs. Murphy” even though I've told him that this is kiss-ass, to the Hollywood Bowl for a five band concert featuring TV on the Radio. I fancy myself the hip parent at these things but there are a number of soul patched, balding dads in Hawaiian shirts. One of the rare moms sports a spray-on tan, ratted hair and a ripply butt crammed in Forever 21 leggings. I suppose my gray frizz and $7 prescription glasses make my own oldness just as conspicuous. The opening band, Smith Western plays pleasant Beatlesque tunes. They are very young and the Bowl is nearly empty for their set but they play earnestly and energetically. The next band, Warpaint, is the revelation of the evening. I presumed that the all female band was British because they remind me of another sophisticated girl band “Electrelene” but it turns out they're from L.A. It pains me, that while there female classical performers, women are under-represented in rock'n'roll. The members of Electrelene are all trained classical musicians and it shows in rock that has a discipline, elegance and is distinctly feminine. Testosterone seems to be a key ingredient in “below the waist”music and I guess it's tougher to tap the feminine counterpart. Warpoint isn't sugary but a satisfying sweetness rises from the darkness they fearlessly embrace.

The next act is Panda Bear—Noah Lennox, also a founder of Animal Collective. The sound is sacred/ electronic-meandering but intense. The yearning in Lennox's voice is raw and moving. Half of the crowd is entranced and the other half are waiting for the Arctic Monkeys. This hugely successful British band is the odd man out of this lineup and disruptive to the flow. In Britain people of all ages dance in pubs to pleasant but non-edgy pop like Elton John and Rod Stewart. The Arctic Monkeys are a good workaday and dance in the pub band but seem outclassed by the other acts. The portion of the crowd that is there only to see the Arctic Monkeys grow frenzied, evoking comparisons to Beatle and Biebermania, and then leave en masse after the set. The band is tight but the songs are predictable and the affected pugnacity of the lead singer is grating.

Tunde Adebimpe, the front man of TV on the Radio was born in Nigeria but raised near Pittsburgh. He worked as an animator at MTV and acted and sang in the film Rachel Getting Married. Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel are obvious influences but the layered music is a hybrid born of lots of eclectic listening and not public radio bland eclectic. The best songs have a driving urgency that builds you up to near bursting. I am very self conscious about embarrassing my children when I appear with them in public so I have always refrained from dancing at concerts but the boys leap out of their seats for the particularly infectious song “Wolf Like Me” and soon we are all moving with the music and there are no dirty looks.

Emboldened by having danced without incurring censure or vomit I start a conversation with strangers which is usually even more taboo than sending food back at a restaurant. We are filing out of the Bowl and there is a promo for an upcoming Bob Mould tribute and a cute girl asks her friend who Bob Mould is and I snap “Husker Du! Seminal punk band,” and some wiseguy behind me corrects my use of a short “u” in Husker. Spuds does admit subsequently to being the pedant who corrected my pronunciation of Husker Du. I blame his father. The girls are sweet, adorable and say they loved the show but that they thought the Arctic Monkeys played too long and I say that any Arctic Monkeys are too many in my book and they interrogate me about what I do like. Mr. College, instead of finding a rock to crawl under joins in the conversation and doesn't even give me the stinkeye when I ask their ages. They are 28 and too old for the boy but both weigh in positively as to his cuteness. I realize that now I am really able only to accurately estimate the age of people who are my age or older. The girls tell my sons their mom is cool and my jaw drops when the boys agree. One girl reports that her mom listens to the Mamas and the Papas. I proffer that I'm sure she has other good qualities and bask in a rare moment when my own kids recognize one of mine.

Spud's father will read here for the first time that in the anxiety of the big school change, Spud's IPod Nano-the size of a postage stamp-has gone missing. Fortunately a bit of manipulation of cell phone upgrade eligibility and some financial contributions by wage earner Spuds will rectify the problem when the new IPhone model is released in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we make the long drive to Pasadena with my Droid and we take turns choosing tunes. He shares the upbeat electronica of Biblio and I play him some Sparklehorse and we are stunned by the shimmering beauty of the music, even more poignant as frontman Mark Linkous took his own life last year.

I've saved a small box of the kids artwork and letters but I am nowhere near the archivist my own mother was. I figure that an edited collection of well chosen items will suffice. I think the kids will be glad I'm not leaving them a mountain of crap to sort through like my mom left me. After I'm gone I'm sure they'll tell funny stories about my myriad neuroses that I wouldn't find particularly amusing but I know too that every so often they'll hear a glimmer of some music that we shared and be reminded for a moment of their mother's fierce love.

Shabbat Shalom and L'Shana Tova

Friday, September 23, 2011

Roll Models

My elementary school best friend and I connect on Facebook. I haven't seen her in nearly 40 years. She lives on the Westside, which is like Katmandu to me but we have surprisingly common interests and plan on meeting in person, midway, in the near future. I later happen on the Facebook page for my class at Grant High School. I left after eleventh grade to attend college and the administrator of the group is suspicious because I hadn't graduated but finally condescends to let me join. I scan the list of members and look at some reunion photos of remarkably old people, none of whom bear even the slightest resemblance to my former classmates. There are birthday greetings and Jethro Tull tickets being sold. I am friended by a couple old pals but make no connection other than a few messages back and forth. I find a thick stack of letters from an old high school friend while cleaning out the garage a few weeks ago and remember how sustaining this relationship had been at a pretty crappy time. I send a friendly note, of the type I would be thrilled to receive, and there is no response. There are a couple of other people in the group who I wouldn't mind catching up with but I guess not enough to take the initiative. Similarly, I've kept only a handful of college friends and while the Johnston College Facebook discourse isn't as banal as the Grant pages I suspect I've drifted away from more high school and college friends than a lot of other people.

I was however close to a number of high school teachers and college professors and have remained in touch with a number, including Rosemary, my International Affairs professor at Johnston. The truth is I don't remember what class I took with her but that she let me crash in her office when I was too wasted to make the ride to the cabin I rented off campus in Forest Falls. I took her shopping once in Century City and was gobsmacked, this must have been 1975, when she spent $125 on a pair of jeans but the message that being smart didn't preclude dressing cute was more important probably than the content of the course I can't remember. Once my mom went off at me particularly viciously and I was sobbing in the passenger seat as my boyfriend drove back to Redlands. Rosemary rode in the backseat but she leaned forward and kept her hand on my shoulder all the way home.

Rosemary's lived in England now for decades but is here on a whirlwind tour. In e-mails she described herself as having aged and being less mobile so I am astounded when I pick her up at the airport and she looks exactly the same as when I saw her about eight years ago when we met up in Hungary. Despite living quietly alone and toiling at research for long hours at the Oxford Library she is a good sport about our hubbub, incorrigible dogs and the basement futon she's been relegated to. We decide on mass at our Lady of Angels, the downtown cathedral that replaced St. Vibiana's. I still refer to it as “the new cathedral” although it's almost a decade old and mass with Rosemary is my first visit. Not too long ago Rosemary's preoccupation with free parking would have gotten on my nerves but now I am just as ardent as she is about making sure we are validated.

Because I am perhaps the last Angeleno not to have visited, it is probably unnecessary to note the beauty of cathedral which is even graced with “The Jerusalem Fountain,”donated by the Jewish community to celebrate the ties between Judaism and Catholicism. The wall of donors is filled with the names of powerful players like Doheny, Hilton, Murdoch, Riordan and former centenarians Bob and Dolores Hope, too good an opportunity for the Jews to pass up I suppose. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also listed on the high roller board which, now faced with contentious divorce, he may rue.

We've chosen a Spanish mass and Rosemary races to a front row seat where I am relieved that there is no prie dieu so my not kneeling is inconspicuous. The man seated next to us sports several heavy jeweled rings on each stubby finger and thumb. He wears iridescent gold shoes with taps. I can't help looking at his hands during the boring parts, drawn like a magpie I suppose to shiny objects. There are a few other characters but it's mostly families and I guess it's good they feel comfortable in church. I am always struck by the casualness of Catholic worship attire and even at the Cathedral short shorts, wife beaters and a type of footwear the slang for which is so vulgar that I cannot bring myself to use it in a paragraph discussing the church, are de rigueur.

The only revelation gleaned from the Spanish homily is that while I was pretty fluent during college, my Spanish now totally sucks and I could only make out a few words. I've been to mass enough times to know that it is time for us to go in peace and then clear out but the priest takes the mike and explains about the Cathedral's outreach to the poor and then presents an Asian priest who reads from a script. Spuds completed one year of Spanish on-line and admits he felt stupid completing the oral practice with the computer so he skipped a lot of it. I was trying to help him with his homework and made him read aloud which he did phonetically like he was just deciphering gibberish. The Asian priest reads similarly and pretty much repeating what the other priest just said. This is followed by a second offering which I think it is safe to say is expected from many people for whom it was a struggle to make even the first. But still there are crumpled bills and coins in the basket when it comes around the second time. The Catholic Church is too easy a target and the stance on birth control and the failure to deal with widespread child abuse are well trodden territory. Nevertheless, the things that are wrong about the Church are human in origin and partaking of the ancient liturgy in a sacred space is ineffable.

Spuds has transferred from the airy fairy charter school in far flung Pasadena to the gigantic Marshall High School which is closer to my office. At the charter Spuds completed AP classes via independent study and has heard great things about the School of Advanced Studies at Marshall and now that his chauffeur is off at college not having to make the drive to Pasadena certainly is a factor when I encourage him to apply there. He has his sights on Columbia or NYU and knows that Marshall grads have a great track record with admission to these schools. There were fifty kids in most of the classes and for the first time in his life, he is so intimidated by the harried teachers that he doesn't dare ask for help. He does connect with a lot of kids he knows and indicates that the social scene is a big improvement. We decide to give Marshall five weeks, after which, if necessary, he could return to the charter school and recover from any less than stellar grades.

On the way to school I see a Volkswagen wrapped around a lamp post so completely that it is unlikely that a driver or any passengers could possibly have survived. I gasp and when Spuds turns to look I cover his eyes and tell him that there will be plenty of horrible things for him to see in his life and that he shouldn't go out of his way looking for them. The Glendale Blvd. off ramp of the Golden State freeway has always given me the heebie jeebies because a curve obstructs the view of oncoming traffic. I pull out very hesitantly and have twice before been spooked by an oncoming car and braked suddenly to be rear-ended. The picture of the Volkswagen remains vivid when I creep into the intersection, see a car coming at me and slam on the brakes. I am hit hard by a little car which follows me for a few blocks until we can pull over safely. I bolt from the car as does a frantic young woman. “I'm sorry!” we both wail simultaneously. I know that the rear-ender is always the guilty party but I feel that I had braked so abruptly it was impossible for her to anticipate it. We look at my car and then hers. We are both holding back tears but we agree that there is no damage to either vehicle. I notice an infant in a car-seat in the back of her tiny Prism and he smiles when I wave at him. We stand there for a moment, and while I am far from being a touchy feely type, I find myself in a tight embrace with her and we both sob. Our boys are safe. This time.

Spuds calls and says he doesn't feel well and isn't going to his tutoring job. I pick him up from school and ask if he's having allergies but he reports having failed three tests and goes on that he's concluded now that he's not very smart at all and has no hope of getting into college. I remind him that he passed the college level advanced placement English Literature test completely on his own but he is inconsolable and more beaten down than I'd ever seen him. I ask if he wants to return to the charter school right way rather than sticking with the five week plan and he agrees immediately. I am able to reach the principal by phone instantly and before I am able to finish the question he tells me emphatically that Spuds is welcome to return. When he hears, Spuds transforms almost magically and sits breathing in deeply the air of his liberation from the overwhelming school. For the first time since his enrollment at Marshall there isn't four hours of homework so we go see “Contagion” which features Anna Jacoby Herron, a good friend of the boys, playing Matt Damon's daughter and we marvel at how good she is and the size of her role. After, we go out for dinner Spuds even eats fish without complaint and I wonder if ever again I'll be able to make a single phone call that will transport my boy from deep despair to elation.

One of Spud's six teachers at Marshall High calls him by his middle name, Gabriel, once but other than that, in three weeks he has not heard his name except during roll call when he doesn't even bother to correct the mispronunciation. Spuds indicates through that if the classes weren't so crowded the teachers may have been more accessible. He says that if he'd started, like most kids, as a ninth grader, instead of a junior, he might have acclimated. We go to check out and Spuds has to go to from class to class and have his teachers sign a form. One teacher wishes him well, the others barely speak. He leaves his books with the teachers, returns to the office, and is told that the books must be returned to the book room. He has to circumnavigate the giant campus again to collect the books, astonished that no one had bothered to apprise him of the checkout procedure. We arrive at the charter school and the gym teacher calls him the “prodigal son” and he is welcomed back with gusto and hugged by students and teachers alike. The English instructor who lives in Silver Lake volunteers to drive Spuds to his tutoring job after school and Spuds passes on to me many of the teacher's excellent music suggestions.

Before Spuds starts Marshall he accompanies me to Redlands for his brother's enrollment at Johnston. We drop his sibling and walk the graceful old quad at magic hour. I think Mr. Columbia or NYU might appreciate the beauty of the small campus and begin to ask him if he might consider it but he cuts me off mid-sentence and says firmly, “No way.” Rosemary stays with us a couple days and I think our incessant yapping gets on everyone's nerves but I've explained how grateful I am to her and the family recognize her as one of a couple teachers who helped propel me forward and how indebted I feel. Spuds is asked if he, like his sibling, will attend Johnston College. “No,” he says, “but only because my brother is there. I definitely want to go some place small.”

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, September 16, 2011

Plaster Perfect

The half empty nest isn't what I expected. I knew an adriftness would come after listing parenting as the number one item of my job description for nearly nineteen years but I didn't anticipate the exultation I would feel at the boy attending the same hippie college that I did or alternatively the bereftness that would overcome me padding through the house now so quiet without him. I didn't see much of my college bound son this summer although there were emanations and blasting music when he was home. There was dirty laundry left on the washer and I texted him a couple times to chew him about about gasoline bills that suggested he had driven to Abu Dhabi. He applied for a couple jobs but his blank resume yielded, not surprisingly, no results. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of him arriving home as I was leaving for my pre-dawn constitutional. Himself was sitting on a chair, wrapped in my fluffy bathrobe organizing the refrigerator and yelling at me like he always does about buying too much food and a fetching female overnight guest of my cusp-of-college son appeared at the breakfast table. The young lady wore the cutest shortie pj’s and when I realized she was actually dressed for her job at a retail clothier I was glad again I didn't have girls.

Joe College started school about a week later than most of his friends and during his last days he was bored and cranky, perhaps feeling neglected by the group of kids who had nothing to do but hang out and cultivate their connoisseurship of taco trucks all summer but were now too busy for him, settling into dorms and focusing on new friends. The boy gravitated between mopey, sullen and insolent and I knew on an intellectual level that he was experiencing separation anxiety but a byproduct was that one of the separatees grew more and more eager than anxious herself with regard to getting him the hell out.

This will be the first weekend he's not returning home and he sounds happy about having the time to hang with new friends. The first weekend with us he was still a bit agitated and whiny but the second visit he was chill and made us laugh to the point of tears imitating his roommate Skyping with his grandma and speaking in the Puerto Rican accented voice of Salty, a guide dog whose owner released him from his harness so that he could save himself as they wound down the stairwell of the World Trade Center on 9/11. The dog, according to his owner in a taped interview, remained steadfastly by this master's side until they were able to exit safely.The entire interview was from Salty's point of view. We all blubbered watching it, particularly when we learned that Salty is now in doggie heaven, but only the collegian picked on the deliciousness of the golden retriever's thoughts channeled through the heavily accented blind man. “We are together in this. I will not leave djew”. After Sunday dinner the boy packs up his laundry and says “It's time for me to head home.” I stop myself from blurting “This is your home,” because I know we both need to get used to the idea that it is less so.

Now big brother is back at college and Spuds asks wistfully if I'm even going to bother making dinner. The table looks absurdly unbalanced with only three place mats. Spud's bedroom is in its usual crime scene state but his brother's bed is always made and his dirty underwear I assume is flung on the floor in an altogether different county. His closet is empty but for white socks he no longer favors and size 11 shoes he's outgrown. On my dresser are the plaster footprints both boys made in nursery school when they were still in diapers and slept cocooned between us. Being needed is so exhausting that I seldom caught my breath for long enough to appreciate this time and I am grateful to whoever thought to memorialize their tiny feet.

As is often the case with siblings, my sons have different personalities and Spuds is sometimes taciturn but he is unflappable and while I knew that his decision to transfer from a warm and fuzzy charter school filled with earnest people to one of the largest public high schools in the county would result in some culture shock , I foresaw no genuine turmoil. We were told after waiting five hours in line for processing at registration that the school had been hit hard and that nine clerical positions alone had been eliminated. We were warned that classes would be large but we were also reassured the school had one of best reputations of any school in the district and graduates landed at Berkeley, Stanford and a number of ivy leagues. We weren't prepared for classes with over 50 students and teachers spread so thin they are unable to help Spuds acclimate, given that his previous coursework doesn't dovetail with the current curriculum. Mr. Unflappable is flapped. I exchange e-mails with a nice but beaten down counselor who advises me that there is no flexibility to change a kid's schedule because they are short dozens of teachers. She also apologizes in case she hasn't addressed all of my points but explains that using the LAUSD e-mail system she is unable to have my note open on her screen to refer to it while she composes her response. Spuds and I, for the first time I can remember, raise our voices and argue. I explain that he will have to be assertive in this sort of environment and he bristles, too overwhelmed to even consider advocating for himself.

I stop at the cleaners and send Spuds over to Gelson's to get a drink and ask for a iced decaf for myself. I wait in the car and see an e-mail from a client and need to access a computer as soon as possible to subvert a problem. I phone Spuds to see what's taking so long and he says they're just finishing my latte. I scream that I don't want a latte, I must have decaf. Five minutes later I phone again and he says the drinks are still in progress. There is another frantic e-mail and I call Spuds and he says he's in line to pay. I scream that I don't give a damn about the coffee anymore and that no matter what we have to go NOW. He dumps my coffee and a bakery snack he'd chosen for himself in the garbage and runs to the car. I blather on to Spuds all the way home about feeling like an asshole and then feel like even more of an asshole for bothering him with my feelings at all.

We arrive home and there is a dead baby possum on a chair. I automatically expect stolid Spuds to take care of it, as I assume the oldest male present will deal with things on high shelves, trash emptying, car unloading and rodent removal. Spuds is reckoning with the decision about returning to his old school and just endured the decaf debacle. The carcass puts him over the edge. I grab my computer and sequester myself in the bedroom and hear him stomping and screaming and somehow ultimately disposing of the former possum. Later I bend his ear again apologizing for being over-reliant on him and failing once more to keep my emotions in check. Then I apologize for belaboring it and he just rolls his eyes and says he has a lot of homework.

One of my boys is even tempered and dependable and the other is impulsive and funny. But, my own mother died a year ago this week and I remember feeling she never had a sense of who I was. She expressed pride in me with regard to things about which I wasn't particularly proud and I felt she often denigrated some of my genuine accomplishments. Boxes of her stuff have moldered in my garage since she was institutionalized about five years ago. I forced myself to open them a couple weeks ago. There was, lots of spite stuff, as I had expected. She saved copies of numerous legal claims she made again my father and tons of other correspondence that inspires only bad memories. There was also a lot of hair. There was hair from my first hair cut and my sister's and some hair Mom clipped from my sister's daughter the day she was taken from us to her adoptive family. There was also a complete ponytail my mother had shed in the 1950s and her own mother's brush, with hair still in it. Both of these were intricately wrapped in tissue and then aluminum foil.

I confess to trashing the brush and ponytail. There was also though another box of my mom's with every letter I had ever written to her, each report card and neat clippings of all my publications, despite her having criticized my writing at the time. There was a package wrapped thickly in newspaper and bound meticulously in thick tape. I muttered to myself, wondering what piece of shit is this that I'm going to have to get up and get a scissors to open. I attacked it and unpeeled the layers of paper to find a plaster cast made in kindergarten of my tiny hand. I guess they were too uptight in the early sixties to have kindergarteners remove their shoes and stick their feet in gush. I wonder if Mom knew when she was wrapping it that I would open it after she was gone and she wanted me to know how she'd cherished the time when I was tiny and our relationship uncomplicated. I put my tiny hand next to the tiny feet of my sons. I will not claim to fully understand who my boys have become since they stuck their tiny feet in squishy plaster but even when their feet were impossibly tiny I felt the essence of who they are. It still makes me sad that my mother never seemed to get the me I thought she should be proud of. I know I have some skewed assumptions with regard to my own children that they too would find off base. I do hope that the chasm between who I need them to be and who they really are is narrower with me and my kids than with me and my own mom. Should I be unable myself when the time comes, I hope that plaster hands and feet are wrapped for transport with exquisite care.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back to Now

When I am annoying Himself or the sprats and someone mutters, “You're just like your mother," I am devastated. Perhaps even more withering is when I dare to object to a family unit member's transgression and “Oh, go write about it in your blog” is spat back at me derisively. I changed up my usual “this is the week that was” writing habit at the first of the year and began a memoir of my early years. I am deeply embarrassed to use the phrase “my memoir” and perhaps it seems coy but it is so nausea inducing to write those words that I will refer for now to the opus as “the other thing.” I don't know if it is ickier or more narcissistic to expect readers to slog through my “here and now” or relive my appearance on the Engineer Bill Show. I have posted some writing every Friday for about five years now and it is typically my final gesture of the week and usually followed by a shabbat dinner. Even at the end of seven crappy days there is a feeling of satisfaction knowing that for another week I have given my writing ambition more than just lip service and with this I feel entitled to chill at the sabbath table. I am excited to get compliments but even though I wasn't raised, like my (still, for all intents and purposes) Papist husband, there is a “sin of pride” related shame that accompanies any whiff of self promotion.

The last nine months writing the other thing has meant more than just addressing the past instead of the present. I have been less focused on mining every experience as a potential writing opportunity. There were peak times like an outstanding family trip to New York, my young adult son's torturous college application ordeal, tacky graduation and subsequent enrollment at my beloved alma mater and my month without Spuds, who attended a writing program at Cal Arts. Himself has been spared my acid observations about his failure to even feign enthusiasm during my comprehensive/insane efforts to clear Casamurphy of the detritus we'd accumulated via our parents, children and selves. There are memories from the last nine months that will be hazier than some from when I was writing about the current week but perhaps “be here now” in many ways enriched the hiatus.

With regard to the other thing, it took on a life of its own. I am elated to have completed it but also sort of tuckered out. A pattern formed very early in the writing. There were a number painful memories that were so salient that I knew I had to include them but I dreaded the writing. I ticked off each one I tackled with enormous relief but almost immediately started to dread the next one to be endured. I let myself off the hook and left a few things out but I wrote about a lot of things I assiduously avoided remembering and now I am less bothered by them. I always thought the notion of catharsis was sort of idealistic and hippie dippy but there is a palpable lightness that comes when that stuff is faced and filtered though fifty plus years. Now that it's done. For just about every week since taking on writing the other thing there is an undercurrent of panic on Monday and Tuesday that the previous chapter was just a fluke and the well was dry. Wednesday morning was typically the lowest depths but usually by the afternoon there was a glimmer of an idea although I was seldom able to peck out more than a hundred words or so. Thursday was the wildcard day. Sometimes I produced only a paragraph or two but other times I had a piece nearly finished but for a little tweaking on Friday. Most typically I had about half a piece done and usually there were periods of flow where a thousand or so words would seem to come out of nowhere and at the risk of going Hallmark, it felt like a gift. The high of publishing a piece and getting reader reactions sustained me through every weekend until the inevitable Monday return to paralysis.

Most memoirs run about 150 pages and at the onset I presumed that mine would extend to the present but it became clear quite soon that leaving for college was the logical ending. It turned out that the week I wrote the final chapter which described packing up my Dodge Dart and heading out on the 10 Freeway to Johnston College coincided with getting my son settled in a dorm at the same school.

Thirty seven years ago, almost to the day, I moved into West Hall by myself, I follow my son, who has his little brother riding shotgun, to Redlands. I was in a very unlovely sixties dorm called West Hall. It has been renamed Stevenson now and seemed unfamiliar sans murals and the aroma of marijuana. Johnston College is now the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies and occupies Holt and Bekins Halls. Bekins Hall, was the first dormitory built on the campus of The University of Redlands, sprung for by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Bekins, as in Bekins Moving. Daughter, Ruth Bekins, class of 1913, wielded the shovel for groundbreaking on Feb. 9, 1910. The interiors have been modernized but the building is regal and charming and evokes plaid skirted sorority sisters getting pinned. My young adult son skitters up the steps with his laptop, cell phone and IPod. I moved into West Hall, think 60s airport waiting room, with an orange crate full of records, a turn-table and guitar that I finally accepted by the end of my freshman year, I could not play.

A Johnston history display case in the Bekin's lobby has the Getting In/Getting Out catalog I described in the last chapter of the other thing, an old t-shirt and pictures, circa 1974 of the faculty. I am shocked that my professors were so much younger than I am now. The combination of sweet nostalgia and the excitement that my boy will experience this strange and wonderful place has me worked into the kind of froth that makes the kids want to strangle me. I blather to the student dorm workers about my arrival 37 years ago and they smile politely at least but are as indifferent as my own spawn. My memories are irrelevant to them and their own sure take on the world is all that really matters. I shut my trap but the refrain from Dylan's My Back Pages sticks in my brain, “I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.”

The afternoon begins with a Welcome Circle of about forty new students, their parents, most of the faculty and administration. We go around the room and everyone in the circle gets to share, a typical Johnston exercise in tolerance of those who, despite knowing that everyone in the group is going to take the mike, and there are snacks being served when it is finally over, insist on nattering on. Fortunately a number of pithy or interesting terse observations make it less excruciating and there is an open bar at the parent gathering that follows. Two of my professors are there and having presented my gray haired AARP eligible self to them at a reunion two years ago, both recognize me. I recently excavated a box of old stuff from my college days and am feeling particularly sheepish to have given so many college offerings short shrift to social and romantic aspirations. I am desperate and gawky and anxious to prove how smart I am to my old instructors. They were most likely on to my artifice three decades ago but probably didn't give a rat's ass then and most certainly do not now. Still I strive to mention as many high brow books as possible in a minute or two of chit chat. I am glad my son is elsewhere as he would undoubtedly out me for the hours I spend watching Hoarders, Toddlers and Tiaras and Cupcake Wars.

I read yet another essay about helicopter parents and am concerned that in my desperation for my child to be happy I have fomented in him unrealistic expectations. My coddling is not only motivated by my love for him but like most of my generation and to a markedly lesser extent my parent's generation, I have self-worth issues that hinge on my children's contentedness. The article cites a common problem among universities is that on freshman arrival it is difficult to get their parents to leave. One desperate institution engages an ensemble of bagpipers to impart the message. I have mentioned a zillion times that I drove to college myself. I will add, that most of the other students arrived in parentis absentus too. I don't even consider letting my son arrive unescorted but I worry now about lingering too long. I e-mail the college director politely asking what time I should plan on leaving if I didn't want to appear indifferent and self absorbed but neither to be chased out by bagpipers.

Our college student has come home twice in so many weeks and is alternately enthusiastic about college and negative and mopey. I was more eager to leave home than he was but my escape to college was not the panacea I'd expected. The first few months were particularly difficult and I went home on many weekends. My boy arrives with a load of laundry and a big appetite. He describes a few stressful issues and we give him our good and sage advice which he tells us quite emphatically he has no intention of following. I want the kid to get as much from college as I should have but my centuries of experience don't resonate with him. Himself, until he met a few of my former classmates who are much smarter than I, always thought Johnston College was airy fairy and unworthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as his own Jesuit alma mater. Now as his son describes learning contracts and tiny classes Himself is drooling jealous and ready to flay the kid for bitching about it. Like his mother though, my son doesn't know how good he's got it. Johnston's stated objective was to groom “life long learners,” which sounded vaguely cool and egalitarian. I went there though mainly because there were cute guys with long hair but when the mike was passed to me during the welcome circle I said that I made some appallingly stupid decisions in my teens and twenties but that attending Johnston so wasn't one of them. I don't know if in thirty five years my son will have written a book about his life before college but I hope he will consider his choice of schools a non-stupid decision.

Shabbat Shalom