March 31, 2006 - Letters: nfrank aka alice, uptown

March 29, 2006

Car talk: free-for-all for any generation

I spoke only of mother-daughter forced intimacy; what I didn't mention that while my father never asked the questions, he had already intuited the answers.
Then there was the famous father-son car talk, 250+ miles to Lake Placid, with a parent who did not like rest stops. Although my father didn't see fit to preserve the confidentiality of the child-nailed-to-the-seat car talk, he did think age 13 was the perfect time to have the sex talk to end all sex talks -- five hours on the road -- with my brother.

I don't know the exact wording, but I assume wet dreams, hookers, and precisely drawn definitions of fidelity were among the topics. (My father wasn't the only intuitive member of the family.)

That car talk culminated in one of my brother's 16th-birthday presents from my dad: the proverbial box of condoms. The moral: don't kiss and tell. Or rather, if you fuck, don't tell.

For both my brother and me, we separately had our parents-to-the-seat-belt at later points in time: at 20, my brother wrested the car keys from my father's hands, since my dad was too coked up to drive; at 31, I wrested the keys from my mom, since she was too drunk.

Cozy little family stories, aren't they?

I received several comments on "Revelations at 60+ m.p.h." (There are no hyperlinks in this blog due to my inability to retain HTML for more than 10 seconds.)

sporksforall said...
"I can't tell you how glad I am this technique has never occurred to my mother. Not that she's any worse at cornering me. Given her suspect driving skills, there are many people in the southeast who should also be grateful. As to your mother, is it possible that as they get older the filter wears away?"

I must admit, it's not only her filter, but mine that we have worn plumb out.

scout said...
"Hmm, my mother prefers the not knowing in just about every case (except where my health is concerned; she has M&M reports to prepare), so when I came out it hit her like an iron skillet upside the face. Good times."

My mother is terrified of the M&M report possibility, so she is perhaps not my wisest choice as health care proxy. What really did her in was the time the NYPD left a message on her machine: I was fine, but in the E.R., having fallen down some subway stairs.

What comforted her was finding out when the EMTs took me (walked me across the street) to the E.R., the E.R. doc asked, "did you lose consciousness?" My reply? "How would I know?"

The Misanthrope said...
"I am glad that we don't usually have those kinds of conversations. I would lie anyway. I also don't tell daughter anything, not that she wants to know."

Lying is an option, but my guess is, your daughter knows more than you wish she did.

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March 18, 2006

Revelations at 60+ m.p.h.

Car talk: some might consider it moments of intimacy demonstrating maturity in the mother-daughter relationship. That is, those who were not trapped at 60+ mph, when the inquisitive mother, circa 1977, decided on the moment to ask, "if you were pregnant, would you have an abortion?" (Um, yes, murmured the virgin daughter.) "Would you tell me?" (I don't know.)

This was topped only once, 10 years later, by the 70 mph trip on the New Jersey Turnpike when the IM turns to the non-so-virginal daughter for clarification of suspicion: "Are you a lesbian?" (Bisexual, says the daughter, to avert collision with other vehicles on the road.)

In neither of these cases did I have the option of running out of the room and shutting myself up, alone. We had too much ground to cover.

To think in 1968, my mother was too embarrassed to tell me how babies were made and so I had to read the books from the school nurse, followed by a post-cocktail pop quiz from mom.

How times change. I don't have a daughter, but apparently a good quantity of my parenting efforts have gone to raising my mother, more than I had bargained for. So much for the generation gap, which I preferred to leave the width of the Grand Canyon.

"Don't ask, don't tell," was invented just to prevent these generational Q&As. I thought I had it on good authority that I was conceived immaculately. After my dad died, my mother blurted out a few more details than I wanted to hear -- that is to say anything -- about their sex life.

In his most recent divorce wars, my brother openly confessed to my mother that he and his wife hadn't had sex in several months prior to the jump-or-pushed debacle that ended their cohabitation. My mom passed along this information to me. This is exactly where "Don't ask, don't tell" is a motto for the generations.

Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote: "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." Evidently he never got into a car with my mother.

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March 14, 2006

The inmates have taken over the asylum...

while I have been running away.

It hit home today, once again, that the inmates are my peers. They shared elementary school, high school, college, and other quasi-academic venues with me.

The man who writes front-page New York Times articles covering Bush and Iraq is the boy who my entire sixth-grade class pegged as "queer," in the elementary school vernacular (not to be confused with current gay-pride reclamation of the word).

The boy who graduated a year ahead of me in high school has made his name as my state's attorney general (ruining the careers of many from our alma mater ) in his securities industry cleanup. Now I get invitations to fund-raisers for his campaign for state governor. Governor? This guy wasn't popular enough in high school to be president of the student council.

If I don't know the people writing the best-sellers, I do know the people who edit and publicize them. I danced at the wedding of the New York Times op-ed editor. At that wedding I met the folks who got me my freelance gig at that same newspaper. I was there as a guest of the bride, a best-selling feminist author I'd met at a writer's colony.

Last night I checked the credits for one of my favorite TV shows; in my 20s, I drank nightly for several summers and swam in Vermont with one of the producers, a woman to whom I am related through fewer than six degrees of separation: her father coached a national football team owned by a man whose mistress was my father's first cousin. Small fucking world.

Where have I been, while all around me have become such high achievers? Alive and stumbling in the nervous breakdown lane, making large contributions to members of the American Psychiatric Association and to shareholders in every large pharmaceutical company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda -- well, as it happens, couldn't. Depression is polio of the brain, and there are times my mind needs a wheel chair. When it doesn't, I am off and running, usually as far as I can. It is the only way I don't feel guilty about being self-employed and not producing anything salable. It also affords me some time away from the daily phone calls from my mother, who has taken to calling attention to odd postmarks recently.

As it happens, the year I turned 38 I was diagnosed with osteopenia, precursor to osteoporosis, the disease of disintegrating bones that makes old ladies break their hips.

My solution? Take my calcium and get on a plane. See the world before I crumble. I've succeeded there, six continents in six years: according to the stamps in my passport,

North America: eight trips to the Caribbean -- three to Grenada/Carriacou, two to St. Martin/St. Barts, twice to Barbados, once to Aruba -- once to Mexico; and three or four trips to Canada, from Vancouver to Toronto to Montreal.

Europe: England and Switzerland mostly, the former for a couple of days each way to visit old haunts en route to Africa, the latter four or five times to see my best friend from grad school.

Africa: South Africa (twice) and Botswana, home of the five-star safari.

Australia: all over the East Coast, visiting a friend from my writer's colony, and all over New Zealand, where my best friend from high school lives. I stayed with them in Denmark, but that was another time, and an earlier passport.

South America: Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Asia: China, Hong Kong (no visa, separate stamp, despite China's rule), Japan.

Next up, per the airline ticket on my refrigerator, is the Czech Republic, Hungary, and France.

I've been traveling for 30 years, sometimes as a student and others as a five-star Eloise, and I don't think I'll stop making plans any time soon, in part because I'm not sure how later will play out, either in terms of my body or the world-at-large.

I have great and horrific hotel stories, bad and worse air travel ones, and, within the U.S., tales that exemplify why a driver should come with whatever car I rent.

If auto makers really wanted to make their cars safe, they would forget about the you-need-your-oil-changed e-mail and concentrate on making a robotic chauffeur. You tell it your destination, and then sit back and enjoy the ride.

Drivers in New York, California, Florida, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina and places unknown can attest to that. My rent-a-car should come with a cautionary bumper sticker: driver doesn't know where she's going and cannot guarantee simultaneous navigation and maintenance of control of vehicle.

I do try to avoid Hertz and Avis in my travels: if there is a bus, a train, a plane, anywhere to get me to my destination that does not involve my having to merge onto highways, I'm there. It is the least I can contribute as my public service and civil duty to drivers everywhere.

I have changed planes in states I would be afraid to visit: Texas, Utah, Georgia and Colorado come to mind. (I do have friends in various parts of Texas, both in the blogosphere and from pre-computer days.) As airports go, I don't recommend Chicago, either, although I have had fun with friends there. Where white supremacists and old-fashioned bigots live, like Idaho, and the Carolinas (North and South), I would not, in the era of Bush, care to return.

For that matter, when I saw the "Jesus is looking after the New River Valley" billboard near the Appalachian trail in Virginia, I got very nervous. Had I not been to see an ur-WASP friend, I might have turned and run. Yet in all the years I vacationed in Haiti, I was not once afraid. No one was out to lynch me for being nominally Jewish, and a born and bred New Yorker. In small towns in the South? I had less confidence.

Given the malignant state of American "democracy," some dictatorships start looking benign by contrast. My father's long-ago comment echoes: "You don't talk politics in a dictatorship." He died before it came to pass that politics deteriorated to the blue-state, red-state level, and that talking politics could be more provocative here than in Athens, the ancient cradle of democracy.

My family visited Athens when I was a teenager, enamored more of room service than democracy, although in retrospect I am glad I climbed on the Parthenon just before a Plexiglas shell was designed to preserve it.

In our hotel suite were buttons to press to summon a housekeeper, a meal, or the bell man. That, however, was long ago and far away, the year we cruised the Greek islands, with a one-day stop (long enough for my non-kosher family) in Israel.

When I was younger, I was happy to tramp through Europe with one tiny suitcase, overnighters in one country one night and another the next, convinced I could get by with my semi-fluent French, regardless of my location -- Italy, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, even Austria or Germany. Now I most reluctantly wheel my own luggage and make sure I have health insurance and bail money wherever I go, and never spend fewer than three nights in one place.

In the U.S., I am sometimes convinced that Wonderland is a country unto itself, since I fail to comprehend so much of what happens west of the Hudson or anywhere near the Bible belt.

Besides, Wonderland is the asylum into which I was born. As I get older, I will know more and more of the asylum-runners, though I don't expect to be among them.

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March 13, 2006

Where there's a will, there's an executrix

Increasing, that person is me. My older clients, my mother's friends who are 70+, these people want me to take care of distribution their worldly goods once they are no more. It is at once flattering and disturbing.

Yes, I know the drill. An intelligent inheritor knows how to read a will or to interpret one that includes her. Plus, it's part of my day job. Yet I assure you it's much easier to deal with legalese than with what it represents.

For example, money that my father and his sister were due to inherit came in part to me, because my dad had died. His sister, my aunt, called me on the phone: "hello, heiress?"

"I would rather have a father." I depressed the hook and ended the call. Parting gifts? Some perverse consolation prize, that.

Initially I wrote a will when prompted by my father: I had come of age, come into some money, and he didn't want the cash to come back up the food chain into my parents' names should something happen to me. (At 22, pre-Prozac synapses melting, there were chances I needn't elucidate here.)

I rewrote my will when my brother married wife #1, and again when they divorced. Wife #2 never made the cut. Wife #3 did, with the proviso that she be married to and living with my brother at the time of my demise. Scratch that. The divorce is well under way, and any further wives my brother may marry and divorce are women whose last names I will probably never know.

As long as my brother has a dog, I will be more likely to know its name than his femmes du jour. The dogs last longer than the marriages.

And now I have agreed to be the executrix for my mother's best friend, who regards me as the only person she knows in my generation who has common sense, much less a financial background.

It is odd to know that in the end of the lives of the generation preceding mine, I will be the one to carry out the wishes of the departed. Once again, I will be called upon to act as fiscal parent to what was once an adult thirty years my senior, but in death, has become my child.

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March 07, 2006

Darkest when?

Not before the dawn. I've been awake 24 hours, and I assure you, in this hemisphere, in Wonderland, it is much darker at midnight....just in case you were curious. I wasn't, particularly, but independent (i.e., of my will to sleep) tests conducted last night prove otherwise.

Pitch black? Street lamps shine in my window, so that concept is shot, too. Do I mind? I would if I were trying to function today. I've given that up as a bad joke. Apparently the "darkness before the dawn" dates to Biblical days. Either I hallucinated last night, or it is a truism no one has bothered to confirm.

Or phone in. These days I figure if some news flash is that important, someone will telephone to let me know. This has been proven, on 9/11, as it happens. Someone could have carpet-bombed Manhattan, and I doubt I would have awakened to hear the impact.

Add sleep disorder to my list of complaints, if the page has any lines remaining. PMS is occupying a large slot as a deterrent to my competence and coherency. That is, assuming it's not menopause. Or would that be mental-pause?

Pardon me, I'm a bit punchy. Lack of sleep combined with pain combined with tranquilizing meds throws me sideways. At least that's the position I assume I'm in. Either that, or I've defied gravity, and no one's called in to report a shortage thereof.

In "The Dead," Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "Ilena thought it wisest to avoid complete mental alertness. That is was an overrated American virtue." Granted, no one would consider these political times a demonstration of such overrated virtue. Yet I must agree, mental alertness? Overrated is an understatement. I suspect I am lucky it is one from which I am not suffering.

I'm regressing quickly to the "ignorance is bliss" stage of life. If you have to phone it in, chances are, I don't want to take the call. In the words of Pink Floyd, "I have become comfortably numb." Or I'm headed straight there.


March 05, 2006

Don't bother to thank the Academy

All the folks on TV at the moment have or have had jobs within the past year. Presumably they got up, went to work, called it quits when their contracts allowed, and returned to face another day.

Me, not so much. The great advantage of working for yourself is that you set your own schedule. The disadvantage is that you have no one to fall back on should you be unable to fulfill your legally obligated duties. And how to explain, the darkness that hangs over me?

Even the off-White Rabbit senses that I am not all I could be. He sits, dejected, in his cage. Taking care of him is about my limit. Washing my hair seems to exceed it. And there's not a damn thing I can blame this mood on. Or if there is, I didn't get the memo. My memo department was made redundant several years ago, due to its inability to explain its existence, or my rationale for being.

I am the perpetual pharmaceutical guinea pig at the shrink's. 17 years and counting with this one alone. More years than I can say with a variety of his predecessors and the pre-SSRI depression meds of my youth. Girl, Interrupted? I don't think I'd reached the age of 9 when I had my first depressive episode. Back then, so long as my grades stayed high, no one asked any more of me. Nor, I suspect did they receive it.

As Jill Robinson once wrote: "To look at it, the childhood was happy. It was just the child that was sad."

If the Academy would remove superlatives from its descriptive and acceptance speeches, I might be able to watch the show. In three-plus hours, there must be a guaranteed minimum of serious fashion faux-pas for entertainment -- but ad-libbing is not an actor's strong suit.

I'm in no office pool, haven't seen any of the major films nominated. But I suspect my vote would be for Good Night and Good Luck.

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