Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving As Published 25 Years Ago

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Every fall when Thanksgiving rears its feathered head, my autumnal anxiety begins: where to celebrate, with whom, and why? My mother stopped cooking Thanksgiving dinner 12 years ago when I graduated from college and she and my father moved to a small apartment. I can`t blame her. She`d produced, for an average of 20 people each year, 25 consecutive perfect meals.

``It`s time for me to be a guest,`` she explained, passing the culinary torch to me and thus initiating a long line of eclectic, basically senseless dinners. My dinners weren`t senseless because of the food; genetic programming enables every woman to cook an exact replica of her mother`s Thanksgiving dinner, just as it enables men to pour drinks. No, my dinners were sabotaged because I was not hosting them from a nuclear family`s upper- middle-class home.

I did not own a mahogany dining table with extension leaves. I did not have china. Worst of all, I did not have a consistent guest list except for three constants: my parents and Doris.

Doris was my high school best friend; she used to spend every holiday with my family because of her own parents` unsavory politics. Home from college for Thanksgiving vacation in 1968, Doris told her mother after dinner that she`d just eaten enough to feed an entire Vietnamese village. She hasn`t been welcome at home since.

My auxiliary guest list always included a man, if I was associated with one that particular year, and various orphans in the holiday storm. These orphans were usually victims of divorce, separation or some other romantic quandary that rendered them temporarily homeless.

There was always a faint ``heartbreak hotel`` sensibility to my Thanksgivings: dislocated adults drinking quite a bit of Scotch. Every year I`d ask my date to carve the turkey; every year, regardless of who he was, he`d refuse.

``Men our age don`t carve turkeys,`` Doris explained to me. ``It`s too much like a commitment.`` So my father and I would hack at it together, chortling over our ineptitude, while my mother and Doris orchestrated the thickening of the gravy and the lonely-hearts-club members opened the wine. A Norman Rockwell painting it was not.

``Why don`t we go out to a restaurant?`` I suggested one year. Every Thanksgiving, envy engulfed me as I watched my neighbors get into their car and head for a fancy dinner. While I was lacerating my thumbs peeling chestnuts, all they had to do was dress and locate the Visa card. Was this fair?

 
This idea brought my father as close to hysteria as I`ve ever seen him. ``All I know,`` he said with the slowest deliberation, ``is that I have three daughters, and if I have to go to a restaurant on Thanksgiving, then I just don`t know what.``

My father is not really a demanding person, not like Doris` father -- who actually threw the turkey out the window one year when he discovered the dinner plates hadn`t been warmed. He just wanted to spend his holiday in comfortable home surroundings where he could take off his shoes and loosen his tie.

I saw his point. If I wasn`t giving him grandchildren, couldn`t I at least give him candied yams? I never mentioned restaurants again.

THE SECOND SIGNIFICANT Other in my life spent four years trying to change our Thanksgiving menu. ``Turkey is bourgeois,`` he`d start complaining in early November. ``Why don`t we poach a salmon?`

I mentioned the salmon to my father. ``If we don`t have turkey, I`m not coming,`` he announced.

I reminded myself that Significant Other Number Two had been born in Central America and knew not the blasphemy of his suggestion. While going to a restaurant approached barbarism, altering the home menu might well be the most heinous crime of the 20th century. (``Men love the rituals of domesticity,`` Doris mused. ``It calms them.``)

Doris was right. The rituals of domesticity are at the heart of the Thanksgiving tradition. They begin the moment your mother lets you tear apart whole loaves of unsliced bread for the stuffing. It is all very magical from a passive, indulged child`s point of view: intoxicating smells, intoxicated adults, turkey-baster hilarity, and no school.

Significant Other Number Two never dropped the poached salmon issue -- he`d follow me around for weeks telling me how rigidly stupid family holidays were. ``All right, let`s go to your cousin`s house next year,`` I finally challenged him, ``and see if she poaches a salmon.``

And that`s how we had our first Guatemalan Thanksgiving two years ago. Sitting down to a pre-dinner ritual of tequila, lime and salt, I remembered the joys of being a guest. All you have to do is dress; you don`t even need the Visa card.

We stuffed ourselves with turkey and tamales and listened without complaint to a Guatemalan comedy album after dinner. While everyone else at the table exploded into hysterical laughter at 90-second intervals, my monolingual parents and I smiled inanely and ate more pie.

 
A short time later it came to me that if I had opted to cook a Thanksgiving salmon, I would only have been berated for deviating from tradition. The impact of this realization was undeniable; it brought the following year`s guest list back to the basic three. Then, to top it off, Doris moved to another state.

SO LAST NOVEMBER found me searching, more frantically than ever, for friends in the Familial Twilight Zone. Instead of finding, I was found.

Miriam, a co-worker from the past, called me. She was recently divorced, and both her mother and grandmother had been widowed within the last 18 months.

``All the men in my family have vanished,`` she said. ``It`s horrible. Even the male cat ran away.``

``Great,`` I told Miriam. ``We`ll join forces. My father will be the only man, but he`s getting used to that.``

The trouble began when we sat down to write the shopping list. Our respective family traditions collided repeatedly.

It started with the turkey itself.

Miriam`s family bought theirs fresh each year from a farm. It was free of preservatives and cost close to $2 a pound. Myself, I`ve always bought inexpensive, frozen birds.

``You can`t taste the difference in an expensive turkey,`` I insisted. ``Nothing that`s been roasted for five hours even remembers its original state. With the money we save on the turkey we can have oysters on the half shell before dinner.``

``I loathe oysters,`` Miriam said.

I lost that battle, but won on the cranberry sauce and creamed peas and onions. Miriam`s family had always depended on the kindness of Ocean Spray and Bird`s Eye for these dishes.

``I will be personally responsible for making these from scratch, as God meant them to be made,`` I said.

``What about a green vegetable? Or a salad?`` Miriam asked, innocently, and here I grew impassioned. Everything I believed about Thanksgiving suddenly came to the fore, and I was moved to stand up and deliver this speech:

``Thanksgiving dinner is essentially a child`s food fantasy. It is soft, sweet, and starchy. It is unhealthy and wonderful. It has the texture of a Mexican meal -- cheese enchiladas and mushy refried beans -- and the colors of Van Gogh`s palette: brilliant oranges, reds and burnt siennas.

``Green vegetables and salads are therefore gratuitous; they have no rightful place here and no one ever eats them. The only greenery should be the peas peeking through their cream sauce.``

I think my fervor frightened Miriam. ``All right,`` she said, ``no green beans. But my grandmother`s baking the pumpkin pies -- that`s non- negotiable.`` This was fine with me; I never did learn to bake.

We shopped, cooked, and finally gathered around Miriam`s table, my father at the head.

Miriam and I carved the turkey (``I figured out years ago that it`s just easier to learn to do it yourself,`` she said wisely) and my father recited his traditional grace: ``Good bread, good meat, good God, let`s eat.``

We divided the leftovers among us so that we might all, while individually suffering our Friday hangovers, enjoy Thanksgiving`s finest gastronomical moment: the huge turkey sandwich on French bread slathered with mayonnaise and just a hint of cranberry sauce.

I was in the midst of exactly this ritual when Miriam called me. ``Pencil us in for next year,`` she said. ``Now that we`ve worked out the politics of the menu, we`d be crazy not to do it again.`` 

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1986-11-23/features/8603120647_1_thanksgiving-dinner-doris-turkey

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dark and Gloomy Arabian Nights

Though I like to pretend I’ve just now figured out that I am The Fly to The Cowboy’s cruel Spider, I have, of course, known this fact all along. Even when I was still on my meds and only one thousandth as paranoid as I am now, there were moments of jarring lucidity in which I understood fully that I was The Fly. And, in moments more jarring still, that I was not even The Fly, but one of a whole flotilla of flies he rotates, as I guess all cowboys must, in and out of his big rawhide web.

“You really think he’s cheating on you?” Ed Head would ask me in such times of darkness.

“There’s nothing to cheat on,” I would remind him. “We have no relationship.”

“You mean you don’t have a commitment,” he’d say.

“Well, I'm committed, if that means anything.”

“Why don’t you just ask him?” Hank Fitz would ask me when Ed Head could no longer endure such conversations.

“Ask him what? How many cowgirls he’s sleeping with?”

And then I’d have to explain to the nodding Hank Fitz that The Cowboy was not just The Cowboy, he was also Mel Belli, and as such would answer my question with one of his own:  How many cowboys was I sleeping with? 

To which I’d say “None.”

To which he’d say: “Aw Jeannie, ah know they’re all after yew, yew must hafta fight them off with a stick.”

“Why don’t you just have him followed?” Hank Fitz asked me one day in a rare state of pique. “Then you’d know the truth once and for all.”

“You mean hire a P.I.? “ I asked, as if Hank Fitz might not be speaking English. “You mean like spending actual money?”

But it wasn’t my penury, or even my cheapness, that got in the way, it was Hank Fitz’s usage of “once and for all.” Such a death knell, that phrase. Such a biopsy coming back with bad news. Such a swatter whose only job is to swoop down and smash—once and for all—this fly unto irreversible death.

No, the only thing a fly can do to stay whole is to forget she’s a fly and pretend she’s the spider. And the only real way she can properly do this is to keep spinning what she believes is a web—a purely fictitious web, to be sure (preferably the fiction of others, from Stephen King to the constantly wondrous T. Coraghessan Boyle)—and make it so sticky that even the boots of The Cowboy might some day adhere.

The thing about short stories, however, is that they are short. By the time I am reading “The End” to The Cowboy, it is the end, and he has to leave. To a fly still on meds, this might seem like a problem, but to a fly off her meds who thinks she’s The Spider, it’s merely the seed that will yield a new bloom:  The Scheherazade Thinking Disorder.

Chapters, I’m thinking (and I use the term loosely).  Chapters.  Cliff-hangers.  You know, suspense. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

You'd Think So, Wouldn't You? If You Were Insane.

The first tale I ever read to the cowboy was a Stephen King story called Premium Harmony, a cumbersome title for an elegant narrative whose horrors and humors (and indeed what’s the difference?) popped like so much corn from each page.

I tried to read with what my grammar school teachers once called “expression” so as to maximize the cowboy’s enjoyment—okay, let's face it, so as to maximize my own completely deluded enjoyment in imagining that this “reading aloud thing” would turn out to be The Thing---the grail, the key, the magical secret, the tipping point, the unstoppable power--that would get him, at long last, to love me.

While I was busy e-nun-ci-a-ting and sliding my voice around like a trombone the better to suit King’s various (but always doomed) characters, I was, of course, missing the point of what the cowboy was actually hearing: his first narrative concerning people not named Dick and Jane.

Which meant, of course, that I was also missing the point of what he was actually experiencing: the almost unbelievable gulf that lay between Dick and Jane (not to mention Spot and Puff) and Ray and Mary.  Ray and Mary being King’s married couple whose modern lives of bickering sorrow are forever changed by one trip to Wal-Mart.

When I say unbelievable gulf, I mean that the cowboy did not believe such a gulf had ever existed, let alone that he had, thanks to my benevolent spidery self, just been lifted across it.

“Does it really say that?” he would ask whenever I read him something particularly delicious, mean, or profane.

“Yes!” I would say, showing him the page so he could see for himself.

But even when he looked at it he didn’t believe it.

“They really print fuck?” he marveled.

There’s a point in the story where Ray tells himself that if he comes back to the Wal-Mart (in which his wife Mary has just keeled over dead) in a week or so and plays his cards right, that one of the sympathetic clerks just might toss him a mercy fuck. (Not that he would, but he sees that maybe he could. If he wanted to.)  

“Yes,” I assured the cowboy. “They can print anything now.”

It was as if I had just shown him sliced bread.   And wouldn't you fall in love with anyone who had just shown you sliced bread?  Especially if you were never going to slice it yourself and she was the only person you knew with a slicer?  

You'd think so, wouldn't you? 

If you were insane.

“That was great,” he said when I finished the story. “You read with such great expression,” he said.

Really, he said that. That’s because, well-read, unread, or anything else, he is the spider and I am the fly.  And he knows exactly which words to say to keep me forever trapped in his web.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

My My My: Spiders and Flies

One great thing about having four Pretend Husbands is you get to adore them for vast, varied reasons. Both Ed Head and Hank Fitz, for example, are maniac readers with whom I spend decades lauding, exchanging, and speaking of books. I need this discourse the way lungs need air.

It’s because I have Ed Head and Hank Fitz that I don’t need to mind that my other two husbands do not read at all. Actually, it’s only Boo who does not read at all. Mack the Cowboy reads when he has to for matters of business, but never sits down to read just for pleasure. This is partly because Mack never sits down, and partly because his work ethic is so huge and eclipsing it doesn’t really allow time for pleasure, but mostly it’s due to this one frightening fact:

Nobody read to him when he was a child.

The first time he told me this, I refused to believe him, which is odd because I never doubt tales of early (or late, or any) atrocity, and not being read to before you are able to read for yourself strikes me as truly atrocious. But it was as if he had told me that no one who’d witnessed his childhood—be it older sibling, parent, or aunt-- had thought to introduce him to chocolate. It was not my experience, I could not take it in.

My mother, who’s been gone from this earth five years today, read aloud to me all of the time and this, I am sure, turned me into a reader. That she might have done so to give me something to do later on while she was busy ignoring me makes no real difference. The point is she did give me something to do, something that saves my life every day.

When Mack finally convinced me he was telling the truth, my heart sank with sorrow and then promptly soared with the self-serving joy of this revelation:

Mack (in this sphere at least) was a virgin. 

And I (in this sphere at least and only in contrast to Mack) was Mick Jagger. 

“Can I read you a story?” I asked him, arranging two pillows behind his sweet head.

“Story?” he mumbled. “What kind of story?”

Reader (dear reader!), did I take my Madeline down from the shelf? Show him the colored drawings of Paris while reading him the same precious lines my very own mother had once read to me?

Little Madeline sat in bed
cried and cried; her eyes were red. 


No, I arranged two pillows behind my own head and said:

My my my, like the spider to the fly!

But of course I did not say those words either. What I did was turn on the reading lamp next to my bed and open up my latest New Yorker.

“Not that damned New Yorker,” he groaned.

“Shh,” I said. “Lie back and relax."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Living Well Is the Best Revenge But What If You Are Not Living?

Do I lust for revenge on the home-owning blonde who tried to run me down with her Panzer whilst screaming at me for having no life?

As a raging bull of long standing--god, yes!

However, as a trembling coward of just as long standing—one who rolls herself up like a potato bug at the slightest hint of adversity--perhaps not so much.

The problem is that now that I’m off most of my meds, I careen like a pinball between these two rather polarized animal states. The raging bull who can’t wait to run out and slash the blonde’s tires evaporates, a mere six seconds later, into the potato bug who can’t wait to pretend that karma, given adequate time, will restore moral balance by slashing them for me.

The problem with the karma solution is that I’d have to smoke enough pot to turn my mind into that of a hippie’s, and I can’t even think about pot—or of hippies--without drifting—nay, hurtling—directly into insanity’s stratosphere.

Alternatively, the problem with the slashing solution is that the blonde might just retaliate by slashing my tires or, depending on how many meds she herself has stopped taking, running her Panzer over Boo Radley, who, despite being Boo Radley, does venture outdoors now and then to exult in its nature and chase the odd squirrel.

The only problem that really matters, of course, is that Panzers do not even have tires.  I, or karma, would have to slash its fat treads.

As much as I believe that living well is still the best possible form of revenge, the fact (or rumor) that I’m not living at all pretty much makes that impossible. No, any pro-active revenge on my part has to be both quick and direct. And, of course, completely upsetting. Egregiously upsetting. Indelibly upsetting. Which leaves me with two obvious options:

Nominate her for
What Not To Wear so that Stacy London can ruin her life not just in public but in perpetuity. 

or:

Get Sandra Lee to take a hiatus from her Semi-Homemade Cooking Show to cater a dinner party on her behalf.  Lee, who, like London, has clearly not eaten anything ever, will serve plastic lemons painted with grill marks and explain to all present what it means to be Semi-Insane. This explanation will begin with the cognitive triumph of semi meaning 70% and end with a table scape so . . . so . . . so . . . oh my god, I can’t even think of an adequate adjective---anyway, so Whatever It Is that would reduce Albert Speer’s Hitler’s Berlin to so much craft store pipe cleaning whimsy.  

Trust me: I wish I had more, but the heat wave we're having has just poached my brain.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How I Got Ambushed in a Heinous Class War

When it comes to class war, the death of civility, and hot severed heads, last Sunday took the proverbial cake.

I was carrying said head in a brown paper bag (okay, it was a chicken from the Roli Roti truck, but its heat and heft made it feel like a head) when I was nearly run down by a black Panzer tank.The tank was honking directly at me and when I turned from my mailbox to see who it was, I was scorched by the eyes of the world’s maddest blonde. But I mean really, this woman was Mad Hatter mad, Mad Hatter Tea Party mad, nearly frothing.

“You are such the B word!” she hollered at me, and I do not think she meant Ballerina.

“You are the most inconsiderate person I’ve ever met!” she continued, her rage just unfurling.  A statement which struck me as odd since I’d never met her. I’d seen her and run, but that’s different. I pretty much do that with all of my neighbors.

“You always park in front of my house and when my grown-up children want to come over they can’t because you have taken their space!”

Not to be too insanely defensive, but let me just say that in the seven years that I have lived in this upscale neighborhood, I have learned never to park in the same spot twice for fear that someone will decide that my car has been rudely abandoned and have it towed to the netherworld.  Let me also say that there is always but always plenty of parking available here.  Oodles. Acres. Vast empty plains.

“That’s the difference between being a Homeowner and being a Renter,” she went on, like Dr. Laura spewing the R word.

“I should call the police on you right now!” she said next. But, since I know for a fact that parking one’s not-that-attractive fourteen year old car on a public street whose garages and driveways otherwise glow with shiny new Panzers might be unaesthetic but not—so far anyway—strictly illegal, I spoke.

“Go ahead,” I told her, pointing my bag toward my in-law apartment. “I live right down there.”

“Oh, I know where you live all right,” she intoned, and she intoned it so bitterly it made me think she might very well be happy to kill me.  Or, being a homeowner, to hire some, you know, renter to do it. And with this I thought she must surely have finished with me. But she hadn’t.

“The problem with you is, you have no life!” was her crazed coup de grace, and my immediate thought was: Oh My God, how can she tell?

I was dressed in active wear, for crissake! I had just actively hunted down my own dinner, its lovely provencal fragrance filling my lifeless nose as she spoke!

And then I was outraged myself: Wait a minute, I thought.  I have no life? Excuse me, lady, but I have four husbands! 

And I have a date with one of them now!

Which, thank god, I did. My plan, before driving my horrible car to my local Farmer’s Market to pick up the lovely provencal head, had been to stick said head into my fridge before driving up to the city to enjoy a chatty lunch with Mister Ed (just a coincidence) Head. A man who, despite owning a home of his own, has never once tried to mow down a renter.

And it was while I was recounting this all to Ed Head, over Ativan (mine) and green curry pot stickers (ours), that I came to see every obvious thing: 

That the rich really do hate the poor (and/or those whom they just perceive to be poor), especially if their cars or mere bodies dare to blight their own gilded landscapes. Moreover, that the way that blonde made me feel for an hour (okay, a week) is the way every immigrant and/or person who dares to harbor an iota of pigment is made to feel every hideous day. And that this situation just gets worse by the minute.

And also, of course, that the Panzer lady might very well have just gone off her meds.

But hey, so have I.  And boy do I miss them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dr. Mars and The Impoopible Dream

Okay, so things have been a little bit iffy since I went off two of my three antidepressants, but honestly, I just had to do it. Not to be a scatological bore, but do you know that children’s book “Everyone Poops”? Well, everyone doesn’t. If you take medication whose side effects make pooping impoopible (or even improbable), you know what I mean.  I can’t believe I’m even discussing this.

“Let’s think of this as a scientific experiment,” I told Dr. Mars, who kindly agreed to wean me slowly off one medication, and then, even more slowly, the other. “I mean, who knows? Maybe I’ll go off them and realize I did not even need them. “

Dr. Mars gave me a look.

“Then again,” I said hastily, “if I get into trouble I can always go back to taking them, right?”

His look altered slightly.

“And maybe get a colostomy bag?”

I am always trying to get him to laugh (i.e., to prove that he loves me) but he is way too professional to ever succumb. Which is probably just as well because as soon as the drugs were fully out of my system, I pooped like a mad man and then promptly went mental. I don’t know how else to describe it (going mental, I mean) except to say that I got up one morning and, triggered by nothing, panicked and wept and then wept and panicked and found myself asking Boo Radley (my cat and fourth Pretend Husband) in all earnest despair, what he thought I should do. (“What’ll I do, Boo? What’ll I do?”) And, since Boo didn’t answer, I called Dr. Mars, who did know what to do, which was to take a small dose of one of my two missing meds and see if it helped. Which it did, except I also stopped pooping again. So I went off the med yet one more time and told Dr. Mars I was just going to have to learn some very tenacious Mood Management Skills.

As I tell all my pretend husbands (except for the cowboy with whom one really should not discuss psychopharmacology), going off meds is like going home again.

I lived in Depressionville from age 13 to 42, and for the next 18 years, got to live somewhere else. And while parts of Depressionville still look and feel exactly the same, those 18 years also make it feel different.

The biggest difference, of course, is that I spent those years finally getting some sleep. And—PRAISE GOD AND EVERY ONE OF HER KIND SPLENDID MINIONS—I am still able to sleep because my third antidepressant--the one that reintroduced me to the glories of slumber—doesn’t make pooping impoopible. I will take it for life, and afterward too.

Ergo, no matter how lethal depression feels now, I know, as I never did before, that I’ll get the daily reprieve known as unconsciousness. Nightmares be damned, at least it’s unconsciousness.

What did Bette Davis say at the end of that hideously addictive movie “Now, Voyager”? 

Oh yeah: “Don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

Who knew the stars would be sleeping and pooping?

But I mean, really, I'm asking: Who knew?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Too Haunted to Blog

Dr. Mars, my kind but increasingly horrified shrink, reassures me that some day I’ll regard my late parents as something akin to “historical figures.” He doesn’t say which historical figures (Rasputin? Pat Nixon? Howard of Troy?) but that’s not the point. The point is, he wants me to think that some day I might stop having the nightmare I’ve had every night for the last five years wherein they show up at my house for Thanksgiving dinner only to find I’ve: (a) completely forgotten that they were coming, and, far worse; (b) completely forgotten to go to the store.

It’s not just my late parents who appear every night on my R.E.M. doorstep, it’s every late relative I ever had, as well as a few who still dare to live. Indeed, there are nights when Polish and Ukrainian graveyards alike issue my ancestors long weekend passes just so they can stop by and eat. There they all are, nicely arrayed in their black shredded shrouds and matching babushkas, waiting for cocktails and hot juicy drumsticks, and there I am with nothing to give them.

When I say nothing, I mean Truly Nothing, as in no chairs for my dead guests to sit in, no table to hold my dead roasted turkey. Not that it matters, since another thing I don't have is an oven. This is not only true in my nightmare, but in Real Life as well. The only real-life oven I have is the convection oven my landlord’s microwave is supposed to turn into if I were to push the right buttons--except that I've never tried it because I know it will turn into a blow torch instead. Also, in real life, I don‘t have a stove. I have a hot plate that dies every year, after which I go out and replace it.

“So you used to cook Thanksgiving dinner for your family?” Dr. Mars asks me when I explain how having variations of this dream every night without interruption leaves me feeling, every subsequent morning, crushed by delirium, not to mention too haunted to blog.

“Every year since I was 24,” I remind him.

I’m sure I’ve told him this a zillion times, unless I’ve just vividly thought it a zillion times. “Also Christmas and Easter and all family birthdays and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day too.”

I ask my friends if they too dream of their late parents nightly, and they tell me: "No.  Not even yearly."
Is this because they are sane while I am not, or merely because they all have real kitchens? Or is that the same question since only a mental would settle for living without a real kitchen? 

Why, I ask Dr. Mars, does the Food Network Channel never address such matters? Why, for example,  can’t Bobby Flay ever grill out of grief? Or Paula Deen deep fry her sons, plunge them in mayo, and cater a wake?

"Who are Bobby and Dean?" he asks.

I tell him they’re historical figures.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mad Men, Peggy, and Chicken Kiev


As alarmed as I am by Food Network stars---from The Complacent Contessa to The Always Ecstatic Though Seemingly Foreshortened Giada—I’m thanking god that the Mad Men are back so I can allow them to alarm me instead. 

Mad Men, of course, covers the era before food as we now know it existed. This is why the increasingly drunken Don Drooper must seduce his dates over such awkward fare as Chicken Kiev. And why Joanie orders up equal parts deli and take-out Chinese to serve at the office Christmas debacle. Who among them can taste food anyway? Lucky Strikes have scorched every palate and gin martinis have numbed every bud. Indeed, Freddy Rumson could dump his Pond’s Cold Cream into a chafing dish and pass it off as a pallid fondue.

Speaking of Freddy, let’s speak of Peggy, a woman for whom no man ever buys Chicken Kiev. I suppose the odious Duck might have ordered her some from room service once, but since he is so odious, I highly doubt it. No, Peggy can’t get Chicken Kiev because Peggy’s a girl who tells men the truth, and truth is never girly, to wit:

Freddy to Peggy as they discuss how to advertise Pond’s Cold Cream: “Isn’t it about making old ladies look good?”

Peggy (pause): “Nothing makes old ladies look good.”

And when Peggy isn’t telling a truth, you can see by her face that she’s in the horrendous process of realizing one. Take the last scene of this season’s episode two, when she’s finally succumbed to her boyfriend, the Sex Nag, a lad so clueless he thinks she’s a virgin when she’s actually given birth to Pete Campbell’s baby. (Oops, I guess Peggy isn’t always telling the truth—bring her a platter of those steaming Kievs!) Peggy doesn’t want to be lonely, but being stuck with a Sex Bore for life might, she senses, be even worse.

And how does she know this? Here is my thought: As ancient and evil as Duck Phillips is, he did tell Peggy that he longed to (let me paraphrase here) take off her clothes, throw her onto the bed, and give her the “best go-around" she’d ever had.  The best go-around she'd ever had.  Ponder this statement a moment.  It might not be romantic, but it’s still quite a promise. And who knows? Maybe he kept it.

In which case, Peggy could be maritally doomed. Unless, that is, she can find a way to send Mark the Youth to Ducky the Devil for several sessions of Go-Around Tutelage. Now that’s an episode I want to see. I’ll watch it while snacking on scotch and rumaki. Or some new-fangled buffalo wing per a recipe from  Down Home with the Squeelys, yet another show that completely alarms me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Every Gal’s Pretend Husband: The Butcher

You might think that four pretend husbands would be more than enough to please any woman, and that just might be if I saw them more often. I do get to see Boo Radley a lot, but that’s only because he won’t leave my house and, oh yeah, is a cat. The other three, alas, are free agents. Two of them, Ed Head and Hank Fitz, are so obnoxiously free they even board planes and take long vacations. And while Mack the Cowboy never takes a vacation, he doesn’t need to—he just takes a powder. After which time I do get to see him, after which time he takes another. Basically, I see him in between powders. 

Which is just one reason I so adore butchers. Butchers make perfect fake husbands and they do not take powders, or, when they must, they leave kindly replacements so their lonely fake wives won't feel   abandoned. Indeed, I think all butchers learn this as part of their professional training. First there’s “How to Break Down The Carcass,” then there’s “How to Be Nice to Women. “ They’re even nice to the women who sport genuine husbands, which, if you ask me, is gilding the lily. But never mind that. Let us speak now of the small hearts of chickens and forget, for a while, the small hearts of cowboys.

As everyone of a certain age knows, chickens used to come with a paper packet inside, a packet containing three thrilling gems: the chicken’s heart, gizzard, and liver. As the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t hurl these organs into the garbage (or, alternatively, into the cat dish), I used to put them in the oven along with the bird and, twelve minutes later, eat my savory secrets with the great greed and gusto that comes with eating alone in the kitchen. Then, one day while I wasn’t looking, the packet, not unlike youth, disappeared.

Then, once again while I wasn’t looking, chicken hearts themselves disappeared. My favorite market still sells gizzards and livers in bulk, but one day I noticed they didn’t have hearts. Not that I really wanted to fry up a pan full of tiny penile-shaped muscles to toss with fresh butter and herbs and linguini (or did I?), I just wanted to know that they were still there, that they hadn’t, in fact, taken a powder.

“Where are the hearts?” I asked one of my favorites, the butcher who looks like the dad on the original “Beverly Hills 90210” and speaks with a perfect radio voice.
He explained that no one bought them any more, but that they could, if I needed them, be special ordered.

If I Needed Them! See what I mean? I thought of getting a pound to split with Boo Radley, but feared he would barf them up the minute we got into bed.

“I can’t believe nobody eats them any more,” I said in perfect Aging Person Lament.

“Me neither,” he said, with an A.P.L. sigh.

“Do you eat them?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I used to barbecue them in the back yard.” 

I pictured this a moment. “They didn’t fall through the grill?”

“No. I made them into a shish kabob.”

And then, because butchers make such flawless fake husbands, we discussed what he used to put in his marinade, our mutual disdain for ruining shish kabobs by adding on chunks of stupid green pepper; and the revelation that his family might have loved his barbecued burgers, but would not touch those (talk about metaphors) hot skewered hearts with a ten foot, well, skewer.

While I, of course, would have eaten them all--indeed would have fought him for every last one.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pretend Husband Number Four: Boo Radley

Go figure: of all my fake husbands, the one I love best is the one who never does anything for me. No home repairs, no out-to-dinners, no friendly bouts of the ess-eee-and-ex. Then again, none of my other husbands—be it Ed Head, Hank Fitz, or even Mack the recalcitrant cowboy, can leap with grace to the top of my fridge, let alone sit there for 95 hours, glowering down like Poe’s depraved raven, silently hissing the word “Nevermore.”

“Nevermore what?” I can’t help but ask him.

“Nevermore Anything, duh,” he intones.

I don’t mind the hideous truths he imparts as long as he maintains the routine I rely on, that of sharing my bed every night and trying to finish me off every morning. He attacks me with claws, sometimes with teeth. It’s like living with a furry Ted Bundy.

“How ‘bout Nevermore Friskies?” I threaten, but Boo knows from experience that I’d never starve him.

“How ‘bout having your horrid nails clipped?”

Boo knows from experience that this threat is real, albeit only because Mack does the clipping. It’s one of Mack’s many pretend-husband tasks, and as annoying as it is (Boo’s large and cranky), it’s nothing compared to shoeing a horse.

Mack didn’t much cotton to Boo at first, and Boo so returned this antipathy that the tiniest hint that Mack was approaching made him fly like a bat out the window. As time went on, though, Mack started to treat Boo with a real respect and honest affection. Being insane, I took this to mean that some day Mack would also cave in to me, fall to his knees, and give me his heart. Some day, that is, while it still has a few working ventricles. Some day before we’re both wearing Depends.

“Nevermore,” says Boo when he hears me thinking this very thought.

And still I don’t kill him. How can I? He’s a warm, soft, vaguely male mammal who lets me touch him as much as I want. Or, rather, since as much as I want is probably five hundred hours uninterrupted, for as long as he can stand it, which is more like five minutes.  At which point he does what any man would: keens like a banshee while trying his best to bite off my thoroughly wrongheaded head.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pretend Husband Number Three: The Big Mack


Mack is the cornerstone of all my fake husbands, the one who leads me through the valleys of both Sex and Death, all the time saying that though he does love me, he can’t let himself be in love with me, because love is too dangerous for a person whose first daily goal is to stay clean and sober. 

Some people think of sixty as the new forty, but I think of sixty as one minute away from age ninety-nine, which my father would be today if he weren’t dead instead. Mack is the husband who keeps  my dad’s ashes, as well as the one titanium screw that survived the cremation I can’t even think about.

Indeed, Mack’s the fake husband that makes me so require the others. But the others cannot make up for his absence, nor, evidently, can making a short heinous mess of the classic poem by Andrew Marvell:

         To her Coy Cowboy 

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, cowboy, were no crime.

We would sit down and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day;

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;

And your quaint sobriety turn to dust

And into ashes all my lust.

The grave’s a fine and private place.

But none I think do there embrace. 



None I think do there embrace!  
Oh.  My.  God.  Was a line ever truer?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pretend Husband Number Two: The Feisty Hank Fitz

The best thing about having four Pretend Husbands is, you only have to argue with one. Or you can argue with all four if you like, but since that would be way too exhausting, I do all my arguing with P.H.
#1: the straight and happily married Ed Head. Once all that combat is out of my system, I’m more than ready to see the one husband with whom I have not one disagreement: the gay and crankily single Hank Fitz.

There’s a reason we see the world the same way; it’s called being raised Catholic and going insane. While I was raised Catholic in a psychotic vacuum (my parents were atheists), Hank was an actual altar
boy whose aged parents still go to Mass. If you think Catholicism is something you can ever get over, one glance at the crucifix collection nailed to Hank’s living room wall might convince you otherwise. I’d probably collect them myself except that even stained glass can get me to barf. Whatever the external manifestations, our brains sustain the same Catholic damage: black and white thinking, the need to obsess, and the even needier need to punish the trespassers who dare to trespass, even once, against us.

The Catholic system of punishment might be complex (Limbo, Purgatory, Costco, etcetera), but it’s nothing compared to Hank Fitz’s. Take Otto, the man who lives in the apartment next door who, despite all the times Hank’s begged him for mercy, still turns on every noisy appliance nightly at ten just as Hank is going to bed. And it’s not as if his dishwasher needs to go on at that time or any other, because Otto never cooks or has visitors and orders his dinner in every night. A dinner which, like Holy Communion, he used to receive but now, thanks to Hank, mostly does not.

It’s not Hank’s intercepting the delivery guy in the lobby so he can claim and pay for Otto’s pizza himself that I find so exquisite. It’s that, after shelling out $25 for Otto’s large pepperoni, he takes it across the street and gives it to Bob, who lives in a bush because he is homeless.

“Last night Bob enjoyed Chicken Masala,” Hank Fitz will tell me when he picks me up for one of our Pretend Husband dates. Chicken Masala, Shrimp Chow Fun---whatever the entrĂ©e happens to be, hearing about it makes me laugh so hard I almost always start screaming.

The cherry on this Byzantine cake, of course, is how Otto tells Hank when they meet in the hallway that his deliveries are getting screwed up. And then Hank sighs sympathetically and says he has the same problem.

“That’s sick,” says Ed Head when I tell him the story.

“No,” I say. “That is High Art.”

Which naturally leads to one of our continuing arguments, the one where I tell him that volunteering in a soup kitchen means nothing if you drive to Napa the very same day to gorge your senses at The French Laundry. Which he and Mrs. Head actually did once, without feeling one scintilla of shame.

“That’s sick,” says Hank Fitz when I tell him about the hedonist Heads.

And our total agreement makes me ecstatic.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pretend Husband Number One or: I Give You Ed Head

Of my four Pretend Husbands, Ed Head has known me the longest and, consequently, has suffered the most. The worst of his trials occurred early on, before a shrink finally put me on meds. Luckily, Ed Head had a mother who loved him, and as a result he is not mean to women. Not that he thinks of me as a woman. He thinks of me as more of a bison. At least that’s what he calls me (“Hello, You Big Bison”) when he isn’t calling me Vileness Itself or The World’s Most Remarkably Horrible Person.

The upside is that while he is calling me these hideous names, he’s also driving me to the doctor. The foot surgeon, brain surgeon, whatever’s required. Then, feeling sorry because I get the tumors while he, once a decade, gets the brief cold, he treats me to a big, festive dinner. I make fun of his Midwestern White Bread Terror of Flavor (always the chicken breast, never the thigh) while he mocks my Slavic Penchant For Dark (not just black bread, but jet black risotto, featuring squid in its own icky ink).  

If I had a brother, he’d be like Ed Head. Or, if I were a male, I would just be Ed Head. Which is to say that, despite our disdain for each other’s entrees, being with him feels, in the very best sense, like being alone, except I know that I’m not, because he is driving. Also, he reads and knows everything so whenever he talks I’m forced to expand my otherwise paltry vocabulary. Indeed, he’s the one who taught me lacuna (see previous post) and even now I recall how he used it:

“When I talk to you, Bison, it’s clear to me that you’re not stupid, but every once in a while I can’t help but notice this giant lacuna that looms in your brain."

Anyway, it was something like that, and hearing it (once I looked up lacuna) made me feel the best thing there is: Understood.  As often as I've tried to explain to my friends how Thoroughly I Understand Nothing, Ed Head is the only one who’s actually perceived this truth for himself. He not only sees my dreadful lacuna, he flagrantly marvels at its horrible depth. Which is why, when I fill out medical forms, I always put his name and number as the person to contact in case of emergency. In case of emergency? Who am I kidding? I've never not lived on the verge of emergence.  Ed Head knows this.  God bless Ed Head.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Pretend Husbands

Another reason I can’t go on dates (besides being half deaf plus nobody asks me) is that I don’t know how to make conversation. My idea of small talk is: “So! What’s the most morally reprehensible thing you've ever done?” The only man who ever bothered to answer said he’d once tried to shove his wife from a car. A car that was moving. Fast. On a freeway. He responded so quickly I could tell he’d already given the matter some thought. This impressed me. After all, anyone can estimate how many smarmy acts they’ve committed in life, but only a few take the time to decide which act gets first prize.

Anyway, I must have forgotten my conversational handicap when I signed up with Match Death Dot Com and Kayak Dot Jew, but since the closest I ever got to a date was one ill-advised phone call, my memory lapse is but a moot point. A person who cannot date, of course, is also a person unlikely to marry. Not that I want to, except theoretically, in the same way one wants, theoretically, to travel the world, but in practical terms knows that one heat wave in Borneo will be more than enough to finish her off.

Indeed, having done it three times already, I don’t even want to live with a man, unless it’s in a sixty-room house, forty of which get to be my own bathroom. Even Mack, the born-again Christian Republican cowboy whom I adore more than truffle butter itself, is someone I don’t want to live with. I wouldn’t mind knowing once in a while if we’ll ever cross paths again in this lifetime, but that’s a whole other issue. (A bit of a cowboy issue, I think, per that Willie Nelson song admonishing mamas to not let their babies grow up to be them.)

As I doubt I’m the only crone in the world who’s never going to get her own husband, I’d like to offer up the system I use to try to make up for what is still (as one finds out if one leaves the house) a clearly stigmatizing lacuna.

I call my system My Pretend Husbands. At present I have four on my roster: Ed Head, Hank Fitz, Boo Radley, and Mack. While Ed and Hank both know I pretend they’re my husbands (never mind that Ed Head is happily married and Hank Fitz is unmarried plus gay), Boo and Mack still have no idea. How can I tell them? The H word alone would make Mack lose his mind, and Boo, last time I checked, had no mind to lose, because the other last time I checked, he was also--and ever will be--A Cat.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Neurasthenics Dot Com

While spending the past week stymied by mucous and guzzling Nyquil to not one avail, it occurred to me that I’d spent my childhood in much the same way, as well as vast parts of my stupid adulthood. My next revelation was how grossly I’d lied on my personal profile for Match Death Dot Com, not to mention my equally libelous work on Jew Date Dot Com, a.k.a. JDate. 

I'm not referring to the requisite lies--the frenzied halving of both weight and age--but the more insidious lie of omission. I’d forgotten to mention what I really was: a nineteenth-century shrill neurasthenic. A slacker who, instead of joining the volley ball game, drops into a lawn chair a mile away and drapes her knees with a Civil War blanket. Or, since I only seem to have sprung from the most tedious parts of a Henry James novel, with the latest issue of the New Yorker. My only defense is that Jackie O did much the same thing when the Kennedys tried to make her play football. Then again, Jackie ran miles around Central Park, and I wouldn’t run if God herself set my lawn chair on fire. I’d just mince away, taking a pause every now and again to search my purse for more aspirin. 

My sister, the very robust Mrs. Pep, is most emphatically not neurasthenic. Or, rather, she might complain like a real neurasthenic (“I’m tired and achey and I can’t breathe”) but she does it while either swimming the Hudson (the river she lives by in upstate New York) or taking confident strides all the way up to the peak of Mount Howard. I don’t know what the verbal complaints are about (when I offer her Advil, she shrinks like a slug who’s been sprinkled with salt) unless she does it just to imitate me, which I only now realize must be the case, because that is how I talk all the time. Which is just one more thing you can’t admit on Match Death Dot Com or Kayak Dot Jew—that even if you had been blessed with real pep, you’d only ever use it for whining. 

My mother, who feigned housewife normalcy most of her life, never complained of her own neurasthenia, but you could tell she was having it anyway. It wasn’t just that she wouldn’t play volleyball, she declined, every time, to even play Scrabble. As for lawn chairs and blankets, she kept a chaise lounge in our sunny back yard and lay on it daily with her Ladies Home Journal. It seemed to me she read one feature only, the one I read as soon as she’d finished, the eternal “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”.

Its format gave you three points of view—first the wife’s, then the polarized husband’s—and then the marriage counselor’s solution, which not only worked every time, but, like Jell-O's new chocolate pudding mix, worked right that instant.  Looking back, I think this is where my mom might have learned some marital lessons, in particular not to express her displeasures in actual, recordable words, but to keep instead to the mordant sigh and the shattering grimace. When I was ten she came to dinner one night and ate it all, without explanation, with both her eyes closed, and I don’t mean just closed, but fiercely slammed shut, as if she’d been caught in the world’s fiercest sand storm. She must have thought that not seeing what she usually saw (the face of my father, whose seat was opposite hers) would help ensure that she didn’t speak to him either, lest she utter words she’d be sorry for later when she was standing alone in some vile Divorce Court. Thus, perhaps, did she save her own marriage without even having to pay for a counselor.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t think tactics like that work any more. If I dated a stranger who made me feel crazy by, say, declaring his Starbucks coffee “amazing,” I really might feel the need to shut both my eyes. And if I gave in to this need, he’d surely reject me for being a mental, or at least for having some eye condition that would force him to drive me around all the time.  And I very well might give in to that need, because here’s the real horror: Even when I’m home alone, I sometimes drape cardigans over my head in case my eyes won’t close well enough to vanquish each and every visual stimulus. 

See what I mean? The lies on my profiles don’t even matter—if you spend any real time with a person, the truth always outs and it outs pretty quick. Neurasthenics Dot Com—that’s the group I should sign up with.

Except that I can't, 'cause even I would rather play football than date one.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Match Death Dot Com

Every time I have a moment of clarity—which, thank God, is not very often—I’m assailed by three miserable, soul-scorching facts: (2) I’m not Stacy London; (2) I’m me and I’m old; (3) I’ll never have a future with Mack.

The last time I had this clear moment was about six months ago and it made me do something murky indeed. Thinking I wanted a future with someone, even if that someone couldn’t be Mack, I made myself sign up with Match Death Dot Com. And although I realize there’s nothing new to be said about online dating, let me just say something anyway: 

Plucking the right mate out of the ether is like plucking the right dress off of the clothes rack—the best results will come to the normal. Clinton and the fabulous Stacy, who both have bodies of normal proportions, freely admit this on What Not to Wear. It’s the marginal, weird, and unusually shaped who have to try on five thousand skirts and then take that five thousandth skirt to a tailor. The odder you are, the more faith you need to keep on believing you’ll find your match. You’ll also need a few extra decades, by which time you will find your date, and he will be the grinning grim reaper. 

The thing about Match Death Dot Com is that most of the men who use it are normal, or just pretending to be because they want to meet normal women. By normal I guess I mean the majority, and the majority of my peer group today is evidently quite fond of the kayak. I suppose I could cram myself into a kayak, but the tumor that ate up half my brain’s balance might balk at being at sea and make me throw up all over my date. Can one really expect that a man who won’t tolerate baggage or drama (their profiles say this, I kid you not!) will want to put up with the bathos of barf? Personally, I think one cannot. 

As the weeks wore on, I gave up on finding a match with whom I might share even one interest, and focused on those who, not being picky, might offer, at least, the comfort of context. Imagine my joy when I found him on line, the west coast version of Tony Soprano, living only twelve miles away. Honestly, he had just retired from a successful career in waste management, and still went, along with the rest of his large Catholic family, to Mom’s house for dinner on Sundays. 

He spelled my name G-e-n-e, but so what? To have a place to go once a week, to eat home-made gnocchi with pederast priests, to belong to any living family at all, would more than make up for such a small lapse. That, and his being connected with so many hit men. After all, I was doing all this just to get over Mack, but what if I couldn’t get over Mack? Worse, what if I found out Mack couldn’t love me because he was loving somebody else? I’d have no choice but to get my new boyfriend to break both his legs. His girlfriend, though, would be drowned in a kayak. The judicious Miss London, I’m sure, would approve.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crazy Hearts

The only reason I agreed to see “Crazy Heart” was that Mack, the born again Christian Republican cowboy whom I still adore without reservation, told me the movie was all about him. 

“’cept fer the part about bein’ a star,” he added, lest I think he still suffered a drunk’s grandiosity and mistook himself for, say, Kris Kristofferson, who also got himself sober.

“You’re always a star to me,” I assured him.

I used to say things like that in hopes it would get him to marry me. Though I’ve since realized that marriage to anyone would cost me my hard-won and quivery sanity, I find I still say them, and I’m not certain why. Perhaps out of habit? Perhaps ‘cause they’re true? Either way, Dr. Mars thinks I should stop saying them and turn my affections in another direction, toward an available man who can fully return them. Which only proves that Dr. Mars might know what it is to be ancient, but is clueless about being ancient plus female. It also proves that he wasn’t in my dad’s hospital room when Mack bent down to shave his old face with more gentle care and genuine tenderness than I’ve ever seen or experienced. Ever.

Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing, and Mrs. Pep and I had already decided to try to distract ourselves from the worst of our grief by getting lost in a movie. My sister is not only well-read, but universally recognized as being culturally astute. So her first choice, perversely enough, was “Last Station.”

“It’s about Tolstoy,” she pointed out. 

“It’s about the dying of an old Russian Jew,” I corrected her, since our father indeed used to be the same thing. “Plus Ed Head says it’s unwatchable.” Ed Head, my snobby best friend, is even more culturally astute than is Mrs. Pep, plus he too lost a parent last year, his beloved mom, the same week that we lost our dad. Finally I had a sterling idea: “Let’s see a movie that has nothing to do with anything, one we can’t relate to at all.”

That, of course, would be “Avatar”, in which neither of us held one shred of interest. And “Avatar” it was going to be, until Mack called me up and said he was starring in “Crazy Heart.”

Even drunk and unkempt, Jeff Bridges looks handsome, though not, to me, as handsome as Mack. Whenever I tell Mack how handsome he is, he remarks that I must be hallucinating. And, considering my record of psychological health, he could be right. Except that he’s not.

The movie we should have watched, I realized only later that night, was made forty years ago: 1970’s hit “The Out of Towners.” As hard as I’ve ever seen my dad laugh, the very hardest was when he was watching Jack Lemmon swear he would sue the whole of New York for setting out to ruin his life. The delicious ire! The sweet paranoia! The simpering and still young Sandy Dennis!

Why didn’t I think of that movie last year and bring it to his hospital room? It might have been the one thing that could still reach him, the hilarious sound of Lemmon raging, as every man must, at the total injustice of everything!

I’m going to pretend to myself that I did, that my dad heard every word and laughed so hard that Mack had to pause while snipping his nose hairs. Dr. Mars tries to help me face up to reality, but so far, I prefer my revisions.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Dizzy Blonde Clause

My mother was too afraid of living alone not to precede my father in death, and so she did, by almost four years. But decades before this event ever happened, she made sure to look out for her three loser daughters (financial losers, if nothing else) by making my father add to their will what we all came to call the Dizzy Blonde Clause.

“The minute I die, your father will marry some dizzy blonde,” she used to warn us pretty much daily. “And that dizzy blonde will get all your money, unless I nip this right now in the bud.”

Nip it she did, which explains why I get to be crazy, but nonetheless--as long as I don’t buy anything or go anywhere--clothed, fed and housed. In this regard, I’m obnoxiously blessed. And since the money regard is the only regard that makes any real difference, you might even say I am totally blessed. They say good health is the one thing that matters, but if you have no money to treat your afflictions, you can’t have that anyway, unless you happen to be some bionic, affliction-free Viking. Plus, if you have to live without money, your zest for said living (99% of which will be devoted to fretting), might very well wane.

So I thank my mom every day for protecting me (so far at least) from dying alone in a boarding house a la the tragic and young Lily Bart. (See Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, a novel no girl should Leave Home without.) And back when I thought I was Edith Wharton (or at least sane enough to finish a memoir) I gave some thought to the Dizzy Blonde Clause and wondered if the blonde in question really had to have vertigo, and if she could just as well have been a brunette. What I wondered most was whether my mom had plucked this suspicion directly out of the paranoid blue, or if she’d known something about my dad that I didn’t.

And then I remembered my first cousin’s wedding, which took place in Brooklyn about forty years ago. My cousin, whose father was brother to mine, looked at that time exactly like Heathcliff (i.e., like Laurence Olivier) except about a hundred feet taller. We all flew east to watch him be wed, and my dad brought his movie camera to record the festivities. Since, even at age 17, I knew I’d rather be murdered than filmed, I spent the reception getting drunk behind drapes, thereby protecting myself from showing up later in Dad’s evil footage.

Let me just say that I needn’t have bothered. Neither my mom nor my sisters hid behind drapes and they weren’t included in his footage either. Nor, indeed, was the nuptial couple. No, neither Heathcliff of Harvard nor his young bride of Radcliffe showed up on screen, not even once. And this was because Dad had turned his lens on one person only: the youngest and dizziest blonde in the room. Possibly, since we were the only guests from California, the only blonde in the room. I recalled all this as the first time it had really occurred to me that my dad might be, well, you know, insane.

A few decades after that wedding, as I grew more mental and ever more doubtful of my own perceptions, I decided I had made it all up, that no man, even my dad, could have been so obsessed with one gorgeous blonde. But since I doubted all my perceptions, including that one, I had to watch one more time to make sure. And there she still was: In a mini-skirt yet. All by herself. In every frame.

Then I did something so nuts as to prove beyond doubt just how insane working on a memoir can make you. I sent an email to the publisher of the great Francine Prose. Reminding her that I was first cousin to her first husband, and had once, long ago, even been to her wedding, I told her I was writing a book and asked if she remembered that Blonde.

Prose, a prolific genius, is also exceedingly kind. She wrote back immediately and told me not only the name of that blonde (a good friend who, though blonde, had been with her at Radcliffe), she affirmed that I wasn’t insane for thinking my dad was, plus she was very encouraging about my dumb memoir.

Her attention filled me with both joy and hubris. Oh goodie! I thought. Maybe she’ll blurb the back of my book! And then, of course, I couldn’t write it. Which is partly because I’m not all that smart, but also because, afraid of being filmed as I was and remain, I knew I couldn’t promote it without hurling myself from the world’s highest bridge.

And so once again I give thanks to my mom. She wasn’t a paranoid, she was realistic. She’d made my dad add the Dizzy Blonde Clause even before we went to that wedding, so I guess she’d been used to fending them off. I can see those blondes now, spinning before her like Olympian skaters as she pours hot grease all over the ice. For herself, of course, but also for her failed writer daughter, who will live off the D.B.C. evermore. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Miss My Context

Imagine my sister Mrs. Pep’s horror when I told her that she and her husband would have to become my new parents. Imagine how vastly that horror increased when I further explained that we’d all be living in the same house. To keep her from shooting me (or herself), I assured her their marital bedroom would remain sacrosanct, that, a la the first Mrs. Rochester, I would sleep alone in some crumbling attic, but that, unlike that unfortunate thorn so painfully lodged into poor Jane Eyre’s side, I would not cause one iota of trouble.

For one thing, I’d have my own flat-screen TV to put my mind in the safe state of alpha. For another, I’d have Dr. Mars’ psychopharmaceuticals to put it, if needed, into the even safer state of unconsciousness. All I wanted from them, I explained, was that they make enough noise with their voices and feet to let me know that they were still down there and, more importantly, both still alive. That, plus letting me join them for meals now and then, would be enough to provide me with what I’d just realized I no longer had: Context.

Whether I’d known it or not (and mostly I hadn’t), both my younger sister and parents had defined a place in which, for good or ill, I belonged. Once they were gone, so was that place. It took me a while to notice it but as soon as I did (see previous post) I went so Mental, I went Existential.

Humans, I realized, have to belong—or just think they belong—to someone or other, because those someones will surround them with buffering context, indeed the only context (unless you’re a monk or Picasso or something) that really distracts them from what is of course the ultimate context, and I do speak here of the dank, yawning grave.

I don’t know what makes a grave yawn, I only know that the less context you have, the wider it does it. Which is why, after 20 years of living alone, I suddenly have to live with the Peps. You see, unlike my aggrieved Miss Havisham self, Mrs. Pep still has plenty of context, twenty-five years with a man so uxorious she’s never even pumped her own gas. Poor Mr. Pep. I appreciate that he didn’t sign up for this. At the same time I can’t wait to look on while he cleans both my windshields and wards off my death.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Miss My Parents

Last week I turned a new corner in the Village of Grief and found myself missing, at once, both my parents. Until then, I’d done my missing on a strictly individual basis, remembering each parent one at a time, as if seeking to grieve in safe, measured doses.

Then came Tuesday, when, for the first time, they popped into my brain as one solid unit. A two-headed unit, whom God, evidently, had joined just as tightly together as the couple in American Gothic. Only, unlike the Goths, my parents didn’t look as if they wanted to stab themselves with a pitchfork nor did they look at all old and grim. Au contraire, they appeared to be in their still hopeful thirties, bright-eyed and smiling, easy with mirth. That’s how I knew I was no longer missing two separate people, but what those two people combined had produced: Me, of course, but also themselves as the indivisible duo known to us all as mommyanddaddy.

I lay on my couch, longing to hear their young, gentle voices, to touch their smooth, warm faces again. What I yearned for most was to pretend I’d fallen asleep on the first couch I knew, so Daddy would carry me upstairs to bed, with Mommy walking softly behind. Knowing for sure, for absolute metaphysical sure, that these things would never happen again made me weep like a four year old child. When I actually was that four year old child, I’d watch out the window every time they drove away down the street and pray to God they’d come back again. Their not coming back was a terrifying, almost impermissible thought. So it felt then and so it felt Tuesday night.

I miss my parents. I miss having parents. I miss knowing exactly where I can find them, knowing which chair they have chosen to sit in. I don’t just miss them, I specifically lack them, in the way I think I’d feel the lack of an arm, with the same palpable pain they call (what else?) “phantom.”

Naturally, I told Dr. Mars that my sneaky grief had once more switched tactics. I also asked if he thought I’d continue to miss my parents as mommyanddaddy or go back to missing them one at a time. All he could say was that parents who have lived long lives and died natural deaths (i.e., parents not tragically cut down in their prime) eventually became, in the orphan’s brain, not unlike historical figures.

“Like Abraham Lincoln? Maybe Rasputin?”

I was picturing a gallery lined with portraits of the historically famous. Then I realized they’d only be famous to me.

“You’ll still miss them, just not as sharply,” he offered.

He might be right. Then again, even a smart shrink cannot know everything.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Curves, Continued

In an effort to be sane and pro-active, I did my best to tolerate Curves by finding and bringing in my own music. I bought it on line—possibly the world’s only workout CD (DVD? VD? PTSD?) to feature selections of classical music—none of it opera, all lyric-free. I slipped it into my purse, brought it to Curves, and begged the young Curves girl to please try it out. She said she needed the boss’s approval, and that the boss was away on a skiing vacation.

“Let’s pretend I’m the boss,” I said in my head. Outside my head I said: “Pretty please?”

“What if the other members don’t like it?”

There were, at the time, two women there. 

“Then we’ll all kill ourselves,” I said, again in my head, while outwardly swearing that if this were the case, I’d apologize to all two of them and keep my music out of Nerves ever more.

“What’d you say?” 

Oops. Calling Curves Nerves was my other attempt at making Curves doable. It had, after all, destroyed all of mine. Of course, I hadn’t meant to say Nerves aloud but when you’re in the habit of thinking one thing and saying another, this is sometimes what happens.

“What’d I say when?” I replied.

Feigned confusion plus two more minutes of the most abject of begging persuaded her to accommodate me. For the next half hour there was nary a hint of the Funkytown song, nor one tortured growl from a substitute Cher. This, plus my silent decision to trade in Nerves for the even more delicious title of Pervs, got me through the first half of the workout. I got through the second half by studying the post-its adorning one wall, each one declaring, via black marker, that Curves had helped yet one more member lose so many hideous inches.

“Sarah B. lost four inches!” bragged one.

“Laurie P. lost five pounds and fifteen inches!” boasted a superior other.

“In height!” I added to each, using the marker I keep in my head. After all, doesn’t menopause make you get shorter? Do we not, if we live long enough, Boniva and Pervs both notwithstanding, finally shrink to the size of a cell phone? 

I regarded the vandalized post-its with glee and, workout completed, flew out the door.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Curves

Writing my memoir made me so mental I actually forgot who I was for a while, and, having forgotten, went out and joined Curves. Dr. Mars thought Curves would benefit me, that physical exercise would help me to write by giving me a sense of wellbeing. Personally, I think that’s the job of life-affirming, glorious sex but, as I reminded both Dr. Mars and myself, a person can’t always just order that up.

The problem between me and exercise is that my favorite state of being is Perfectly Silent and Utterly Still. The problem with wishing to always be still is that after a while, your bones turn to dust and your doctor diagnoses you with the dreaded condition called osteopenia. Osteopenia, the secret name of King Lear’s fourth daughter, is the prelude to the even more dreaded state of osteoporosis, the disease that makes you fall down and break both your hips while strangers on cell phones sidestep around you. Curves, which is for women only, is designed to prevent that nightmare and more.

My friend Millie Moon, who adores exercise and never stops moving, recommended I try it. “The whole workout takes thirty minutes,” she said. “I go on my lunch hour five times a week!” I trust Millie Moon because, back in our twenties, we and a friend took tap dance lessons together. I’m not kidding. We wore leotards, tights, and tap dancing shoes. This was before my nervous system was thoroughly shot, when I could still bear the onslaughts of motion and noise.

It was the noise, not the movement, that killed me at Curves. That and the fact that no one else there, not even the frailest octogenarian, seemed to mind it one tiny whit. How, I marveled, could such a thing be? How is no one else made suicidal by the constant, anti-musical shrieks of “Won’t you take me to Funkytown?”

I jumped right off my bicep machine and went to speak to the girl at the desk.

“Do you hear this?” I asked. “Do you hear the words? Must we really go down? To old Funkytown?”

But it wasn’t just the ‘seventies hits that drove me directly into despair. Every thirty seconds (that makes sixty times per half hour workout) a woman on meth would interrupt “Funky Town” to remind everybody to “Change Stations Now!” Said stations, which are either machines or “recovery” sites where you keep up your heart rate by doing the Frug, are like lily pads in a big curvy pond.

I told Dr. Mars I’d turned into a frog, that I was leaping from one lily pad to another just to avoid falling down and being run over by convoys of skateboards. Which was probably going to happen regardless.

“Yes,” he said, “but is it helping you write?”

I tried to give him a withering look, the gaze of a disgusted amphibian, but honestly, I don’t think he noticed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Pansies

When I told Dr. Mars (as clearly I had to) about my adventure with Mom’s gaslit chives, he suggested she might have had what’s known in the biz as a “borderline personality.” My remaining sister, the esteemed and fiercely well read Mrs. Pep, told me she already knew about that and gave me the book that would help me catch up: “Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship.” The subtitle should give you a hint as to whether you have a borderline mother yourself. That, and the number of Xanax you can pop in a day and still look forward to a martini.

“The chives were scary,” I told Dr. Mars. “But the pansies were a million times worse.”

“You ate pansies too?” said Dr. Mars, puzzled.

He hadn’t meant to amuse me but I chortled regardless. A food mental might grill a pansy today, but back in the ‘fifties—perhaps not so much. No, I assured him, these were pansies that flourished in our carefully landscaped back yard, that set the stage for the roses behind them, that grew in a row to make a, well, border. While practicing handstands out on our lawn, I’d collapsed like a spaz right on top of them. Pansies are easy to smash, and while I instantly saw that I’d pulverized two, I also saw that a third one endured. And that, I realized when I saw the tag that said MADE IN JAPAN, was only because it was made out of plastic.

A quick and paranoid investigation revealed every third pansy to be made in Japan. Since Mom and I were the only ones who used the backyard (I’m not sure my dad ever noticed we had one, and Mrs. Pep, at that time, detested all nature) and since I couldn’t picture our Mexican gardener going insane enough to stick fake flowers in with his real ones, I figured it was either me or my mom who had done it.

“You actually thought that you might have done it?” asked Dr. Mars.

“Sure,” I said. “At night, in my sleep.”

“In your sleep?”

“Exactly!” I said. “I never slept. That’s how I knew I hadn’t done it.”

Talk about your not sleeping ever. Now I had to worry that someone else would discover the pansies and send my mom directly to Napa. Before Napa became shorthand for wine, it was shorthand for the Napa State Loony Bin. I had a friend whose dad was such a flavorless Fascist he wouldn’t let his family use pepper and insisted his wife fill both shakers with salt. I guess she forgot once because eventually he sent her to Napa and when she got back, he promptly divorced her, turning her into a penniless leper. As mental as my mom ever seemed, I couldn’t allow this to happen to her, let alone to my own selfish self.

While I lay in my bed completely not sleeping, I worked, as a lawyer might, on her defense: The pansies, I’d explain to the men in the white coats, did not indicate that my mom was a mental. They meant that she was an artist. So there!

“Would that have worked?” I asked Dr. Mars.

Words from a ten year old? In 1960? Not very likely, Dr. Mars seemed to say with a rueful shake of his leonine head. Not that I expected “yes” for an answer. But sometimes you just have to ask anyway.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fresh Chives

The only thing harder than being depressed is trying to hide your depression from others. My mother was valiant in her efforts to do this, but since depression rolls in like a big fat tsunami, there is always some inescapable leakage. Even if she could have fooled me by entering my bedroom each morning singing “Good morning, merry sunshine!” through gritted teeth, I’d have found her out later when I saw my bag lunch.

Her sandwiches were symptoms not just of depression, but of serious suicide ideation. Indeed, if wanting to kill yourself came in a can, she would have mixed it with mayo and slapped it between two slices of rye. But since it did not, she gave me hunks of ossified chuck roast that only a rabid coyote could bite through. At that point I’d be the one who was hiding. Hiding, that is, my mother’s pathology by throwing out the suicide sandwich before even one of my classmates could see it. Sometimes it felt safer to go home for lunch. Until third grade, when she brought me the bowl of cold cottage cheese.

“Wait a minute,” she said as I raised my spoon. “I’ll get some fresh chives out of the garden.”

She dashed out the back door to pick them. My mother grew up on a midwestern truck farm where she and four sisters plucked asparagus stalks from the earth while teenage boys yelled "Sit on it, ya dirty polacks!" as they sped by in clanky jalopies. She grew up to love vegetable gardens, and to hate, in equal measure, all men.

After she snipped the chives over my bowl, I ate up my lunch and walked back to school. It was later that day, when I came home at three, that things went just slightly amiss.

“Are you feeling all right?” she asked in a quavery voice as soon I walked in the door.

I’d rarely experienced feeling all right, but not yet aware of this, I answered yes.

“How’s your stomach?” she asked.

My stomach was fine.

“Well,” she said. “That’s a relief.”

She’d been worried, she told me, about those fresh chives. After I’d gone back to school, she’d realized they weren’t chives after all, but some kind of poisonous weed. She’d been waiting by the telephone all afternoon in case the school nurse called to say I was sick. It was, she said, with just the tiniest gleam in her eye, such a relief to know that I was all right.

My brain turned into a carnival tilt-a-whirl. Phone calls, I knew, could travel both ways. Shouldn’t my mother have called up the school to warn someone that I just might barf and keel over dead? Shouldn’t she maybe have called up a doctor? One of my doctors? As a skinny asthmatic, I had about eighty.

I didn’t sleep for two years after that. Honestly, I had third grade through fifth grade steady insomnia. It was partly the chives and partly the horror movies Vincent Price kept starring in at the same time. “Premature Burial.” “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I saw them all and then spent my nights trying to come up with surefire ways to avoid—even if it was by mistake—the unspeakable fate of being buried alive.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Black Flag

There’s another small problem with writing a memoir: If your family’s still living, there just might be lawsuits. This hadn’t even occurred to me till the phrase flew out of my older sister, Mrs. Pep’s, mouth. If I addressed certain family, shall we say, issues, I was, she told me, to expect lawsuits. Not one lawsuit, mind you, but suits in the plural. Which, I surmised, meant she planned to file one suit per issue until they constituted a modern “Bleak House.” Since I’d pretty much rather be shot than be sued, I deferred to all her restrictions but one. I asked if I could still mention the rooster.

“There was no rooster,” Mrs. Pep snapped.

Which brings me to the other hazard of writing a memoir: the flurry of revisionist history. As I told my esteemed shrink (and husband-to-be) Dr. Mars, I wanted to explain to my readers how my family had made me mentally ill. Without this explanation, I said, my book would never make any sense. I’d lived my life as a paranoid, yes, but only because both Mrs. Pep and my parents had, from the start, been out to get me. Mrs. Pep warned me daily that I would die before turning sixteen, and because she was eerie and five years my senior, I had no choice except to believe her. She never said outright what would cause me to die, but I figured it out after she told me what killed the rooster. Said rooster had tried to ruin Mrs. Pep’s country cabin Easter vacation by waking her up at the crack of each dawn, so she’d sprayed him with a can of Black Flag. Which, I was sure, was exactly how she’d take care of me. It might take several cans, but so be it.

“That never happened,” the adult Mrs. Pep had insisted. “I must have made it up just to scare you.”

“That’s even worse,” I’d said. “That is Gaslight!”

As I relayed this sisterly exchange to Dr. Mars, he seemed to take on the rosy French contours of the film’s leading man, Charles Boyer. Shrinks, I knew from experience, could gaslight patients without hardly trying. What would I do if Dr. Mars tried? Bring Black Flag to our next session? Did they still make Black Flag? Would I have to bring Raid?

Then I relaxed, which is almost always a dangerous idea, but I really believed only god, if she existed, could gaslight me at this point in my life. I’d been gaslit way too much in the past. By masters, by misters, by rascals, by roosters. Starting with my own mother when she served me a lunch of large curd cottage cheese.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Basset Hound

I felt sure Dr. Mars would make a fine husband because, for one thing, he read The New Yorker. This meant that every week we’d have a new issue to talk about, and when that got dull, he’d give me the dish on his funnier cases. I understood he could not do so now, as professional ethics got in the way. He couldn’t gossip with me as a patient, but what about when I was his wife?  That, I was certain, would come under the heading of pillow talk.

Not that there’d be any pillows involved. We would, as I’d planned it, enjoy separate bedrooms in separate wings of what I imagined to be his already paid off, gigantic house. We’d conduct what the French call le mariage blanc. We’d have to, lest we fall into the cesspool of incest, for I would be playing the unbalanced daughter to his perfectly balanced and good Doctor Dad. As for the unspeakable force known as ess-ee-ex, perhaps Dr. Mars would look the other way if and when I could con the delectable Mack into making a visit.

As I told Dr. Mars, Mack was and still is the born-again Christian Republican cowboy who’s refused to marry me for the past fifteen years. This very admission reminded me that I wasn’t just plagued by writing a memoir, but by my lifelong atrocious choices in men, some of whom would appear on the page. Unlike my two sisters, both older and younger, I was the one who’d never been married. Before I’d gotten medicated for the exhausting affliction known as depression, I had indeed played house with some of my boyfriends, but only because I felt too abandoned by, well, pretty much the whole universe and the process of evolution itself, to endure the existential angst of living alone. I’d just needed to know that someone was there, and could just as happily lived with a dog. Except, and here was another Catch-22, I did not like dogs until I took meds.

Dr. Mars liked dogs and proved it by showing me a picture of his basset hound, Trudy. It took me only a second to realize the picture had been taken inside his office, with Trudy morosely posed on the couch.

“Did you notice,” I asked Dr. Mars, “that Trudy is sitting in the exact same spot I’m sitting in now? That you’ve equated Trudy with your own patients?”

He had, he confessed, never realized this, and wasn’t so very impressed with it now.

“Only a writer would see it like that,” he scoffed, taking back the picture of Trudy.

Could he be right? Did everyone else, from plumbers to astronauts, see only the dog and not its crazed context? Was it because I was cursed with the writerly gene that I'd always seen everything exactly “like that”? I’d never thought of this as a problem because this way of seeing was the only thing that kept me laughing. Even then I knew I’d go home, imagine Trudy looking hung over on Dr. Mars’ puce-colored couch, and laugh at it all over again. For perhaps half an hour. While I was alone. Which, of course, was just one more thing that qualified me as a bona fide mental.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Memoir Dilemma

When I first began seeing the esteemed Dr. Mars, my little sister and father were both still alive. My mother was gone, and while this fact was and remains unfathomable, it hadn’t yet rearranged all my brain cells to the point where I saw her at Trader Joe’s. That is to say, I did not run into her babyhood self. Her adult self, yes—I saw her everywhere, waiting for buses, exiting shops.

But that wasn’t why I sought Dr. Mars. Dr. Mars’ task, as I explained to him at our first visit, was to make sure I completed my memoir without ending up in a loony bin. Whatever this took--be it massive doses of psychopharmaceuticals, inane hippie aphorisms, or a chair and a whip—he was to use every tool in his box.

The basic conflict, I told him, was that I didn’t think memoirs should even exist, unless written by someone truly worthwhile, like Eleanor Roosevelt or maybe Dick Clark. For the generic person to think his or her story was important enough to be inflicted on others was, I added, the zenith of hubris. Unless it was the nadir of hubris. That was another problem with writing a memoir. You had to keep coming up with the right words.

The biggest hurdle, however, was knowing the ending at the beginning. You’re supposed to know how your memoir will end before you even begin it. What’s more, it’s supposed to end on a positive note to keep the readers from killing themselves, which, let’s face it, is not good for sales. Au contraire, the readers are supposed to be inspired by your ultimate triumphs, even if you have to make them all up. Never mind that making them up turns your memoir into something called fiction. Since fiction, as everyone in publishing knows, does not sell unless it’s John Grisham’s, you have to call it a memoir regardless. Which means you could wind up on TV getting yelled at by Oprah.

Dr. Mars, whom I suddenly noticed was movie star handsome, pointed out that no one could force me to write a memoir, that I had the option to back out any time. Shrinks are all about pointing out options. They like to pretend there’s a thing called free will.

“Money,” I said. “I have to earn money.”

And there was the rub. If I wrote the memoir, I’d end up in a bin. If I didn’t write it, I’d end up in the street. Or, like Blanche, dependent on the kindness of strangers, or worse, of rich friends, which I’d already tried once to disastrous effect. Clearly, my only real option was to make Dr. Mars want to marry me, after which he’d support me for life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Talk about being mentally ill . . . .

I ran into my dad at Trader Joe’s yesterday, which is odd because he passed on last year. “Passed on” is a term I used to disdain, but now that most of my family has done it (passed on, that is), I'm a big fan of euphemism and hear the word "died" as far too crass and corporeal. Inaccurate too, because what I’ve discovered through the surprisingly lively process of grief is that my parents and sister have not died at all. They have passed on—but only to an iffier venue, the mismanaged locus I know as my brain. I watch them in my dreams every night, and often run into them during the day. Indeed, the Trader Joe’s sighting of Dad wasn’t new (I've seen his white head bobbing through Mollie Stone’s too) but, since grief is no more static than life, it had a new aspect: he was a baby. A dark-haired baby Ukrainian sprite, looking out from his seat in his mom's shopping cart.

The sprite was one of those babies who looks adult early on, with his well-defined nose already pronounced and ears that stuck out like wings from his head. But it wasn't his features that made him my dad so much as it was his worried expression. His little brow was already knit, and his mouth was pursed in a perpetual O. His black button eyes were wide open, as if on alert, and, frankly, he looked astonished to be there. And what else could this baby dad be? He never believed in a Christian afterlife, never mind in the shock of reincarnation.

I stared at the sprite so hard and so long I thought his mom might have me arrested. And what excuse could I make for myself? That I wanted to be introduced to this creature who was surely, no question about it, my dad? They'd have had me hauled off in under two minutes--either to jail or a loony bin. And since the only goals I ever set for myself were to do my best to stay out of both, I forced myself to get out of the store. I did not even wait to check out my groceries. I left them behind along with my dad, and drove home feeling, at alternate moments, ecstatically happy and grievously wretched.

At least, I thought as my mood swung both ways like a pendulum on crack, this will be a good thing to tell Dr. Mars. Dr. Mars, my excellent shrink, has been keeping me sane--okay, vaguely functional--for over two years now. I like him because he's older than god and also because he has an M.D. This means not only that he can prescribe, but that once, long ago, he cut up cadavers.

That, plus his being ten minutes away and covered by my overpriced health plan, makes him the best shrink a mental could have. For this and many other such blessings (the very existence of Trader Joe's, for example), I am almost always humbly grateful.