Mr. Wow’s Most Memorable Thanksgiving. And other things. (Fasten Your SeatBelts!)
First off, and as usual—apologies for the long silence. I am in good health, still married and doing my best to avoid over-indulging in my favorite over-indulgence.
The latter is not easy despite a scrupulously dry house, and no desire to drink unless I am on the East Side of Manhattan, performing certain duties that I laughingly refer to as “work.” By the time the day is over, I am like Susan Hayward in “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.” (But without the fabulous red hair and the snarl.)
If any of you keep up with a certain column, you have a pretty good idea what I am reading, watching and obsessing over. I always hope you are keeping up with that, so as to know that I am alive and thinking. More or less.
Recent events in the news have been maddening in every way. Soul-numbing, terribly depressing and wildly agitating. I try to avoid newspapers and (especially!) cable TV news, but like tequila, it just keeps pulling me back in.
All I know is this—Hillary will never be president. I’ll vote for her if she runs, because the Democrats have been too stupid to cultivate anybody else. Her self-sense of inevitability is hubris in the extreme. All politicians are egomaniacs, but Mrs. Clinton has taken it to a Mt. Everest level. Frankly, all politicians revolt me. And scare me.
I know this, too—policemen should be taught not only to “shoot to kill” but “shoot to wound and THEN kill–if you absolutely must.” Anybody out there with a knee issue? Know how painful that is? Think of a bullet in your knee. I think that would stop most people. But many policemen are as damaged as the criminals and so-called criminals they apprehend. I don’t think most start out that way, but when your job requires dealing with the worst in people, all people become one threatening person.
My last encounter with men with badges occurred a couple of years ago. I was on my way home from an event. I’d had a couple of glasses of white wine. Definitely not drunk. Or even slightly stoned. But I couldn’t hold my pee. I darted into a dark Hoboken alley and relieved myself. Just as I was zipping up, a cop car appeared. I was embarrassed, of course. Then I was more than embarrassed. These two big guys get out of the car, tugging at their guns. I am five foot seven, 150 pounds. They question me, and then call for backup. It was slow night, I guess.
I did everything right, called them “sir” and kept my eyes lowered reverently. They were super-intimidating. Thank God I wasn’t drunk. One sloppy gesture might have gotten me killed, or at least roughed up. Guns at the ready, and backup. And I’m white. (I had to go to court and pay a fine. Hoboken has a lot of this–drunken college kids pissing and causing trouble. So, even though I was clearly a few years past college age, I got it. One shouldn’t piss in an alley. Or, tragically, steal cigars. )
Anyway—aside from all that Mrs. Lincoln (and Ebola and ISIS and a totally irresponsible press corps, who were hot for U.S. epidemics, terror attacks and Ferguson riots) the play that is my life is reasonably enjoyable.
B. will prepare a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner.
Now, I still scramble or fry eggs, make gigantic sloppy sandwiches (I use English muffins) open cans of soup, often throwing in leftovers to bulk it up, scoop ice cream into my own mouth. But my cooking days are in the past. I was never especially skillful, except for a good pasta sauce and some crazy rice medley—the rice thing I still do the day or day after Thanksgiving.
But B. is so much better; inventive and patient. In cooking and in all other ways.
Thanksgiving is just me and B. We both prefer it that way. B. was never terribly outgoing—except in his young dating years. (After hooking up with me he clearly had to make a choice: “Have fun or deal with this nutcase.”) I was once much more given to going out but after a couple of decades of on and off depression, not to mention being…over 35, I am more comfortable not being so social. Truth be told, even at the height of my sociability, I was always tense and concerned underneath, always worried about how I looked, if I was smart enough for my friends, what did people really think of me? The answers were—I looked fine, I was more than smart enough, people really liked me. Mostly. And strangers or people I meet or know casually, adore me. (B. was ever amazed at how smoothly I engaged total strangers.) The more one gets to know me, the less charming my insecurities and quirks are.
As a child and young adolescent (till about 14) Thanksgiving was a big deal. So were all holidays.
The family was big—my mother had six siblings, just for starters. And most everybody was Italian. My Aunt Jeannie married a strapping Nordic guy named Eric, they had two gorgeous sons, both of whom I lusted after even as a six and seven year old. But Aunt Jeannie was crazy. They were all crazy. My Aunt Margot (genteel, pretentious crazy), Aunt Bertie (sloppy, crude Roseanne Barr crazy), Aunt Gloria (certifiably crazy), Uncle Bobby (he was just gay, but moody), Uncle Richard (basically an outcast and eventually a suicide.) My mother struggled mightily to handle her neurosis and be what her family thought she should be—as if any of them were role models. (She was always being “accused” of being a lesbian, which was a riot because all her sisters had had female lovers at one point or another, and my poor mother suppressed herself tragically.)
The genetic issue of my aunts–my cousins–were all fucked up one way or another. It was only a matter of time before this one or that one would end up dead or in jail or a junkie slut (my cousin Margo—lots of fun until she wasn’t.) Only my cousin Stephen, though he had his issues, was close to sane and eventually escaped the lunacy and criminality (yes!) of his aunts, uncles and cousins. He died young and I still think of him often.
All this dysfunction had to spring from somewhere, right? You bet. My grandmother and grandfather, off the boat from the old country. He was a miserable bastard who gave my grandmother as many children as possible—not counting the miscarriages—and was never faithful.
My grandmother was a very great beauty, and not dumb by any means, but to say she was constricted by her times would be a tragically un-funny understatement.
In time, my grandmother lost her mind. And she abandoned all her children. Her husband could not, would not, care for them. They were shipped off to a Catholic orphanage. Brutal doesn’t begin to describe it. Although all the aunts could tell tales full of horror but with a gallows humor only those who are survivors can manage. (When my mother was compelled to leave me at a Catholic orphanage, as her mental issues overtook her, the worst for her was believing she was doing to me what her own parents had done to her. My experience was not pleasant—and surely set in place many future problems–but it was not brutal.)
My grandmother became something of a phantom, popping up at this or that daughter’s home in wretched condition. She would promise to behave, but havoc was her real name. In time, only my mother would take her in. Always to disastrous results. Of all the siblings, my mother seemed most desperate for love and approbation from both her parents. (She was the second oldest and had tremendous responsibility caring for and protecting the younger ones.)
My grandmother rarely appeared at family gatherings—who knew where she was most of the time anyway? But these get-togethers were always rife with vicious gossip (not even the children were exempt from being dissected by the so-called adults.) Arguments erupted out of festering ancient wounds. Inevitably somebody would end up weeping or storming out. As Ava Gardner said: “It’s not a party until there’s a drunken bitch crying on the floor.”
For us kids—even if we knew our affectionate aunts were secretly referring to us as latent homosexuals or retards—it was all good dirty fun. Sometimes the old photo albums would come out and it was great to see our aunts before their nose jobs or before they got so fat or too skinny. And it was cool (for some of us) to see our sexy Uncle Bobby in swim trunks in endless beach shots. (Last time I saw Bobby, many years ago, he was still smokin’!)
Sometimes we’d have to read between the lines of the veiled insults or salacious jokes. Not me so much—I read a lot of Harold Robbins. I knew from sleaze. So, despite the incredible tension—or perhaps because of it—family gatherings were something to look forward to.
And then came THE Thanksgiving. The one that went down in family legend. I’m sure if any of my aunts are still alive that evening is sometimes referred to. My cousins—even the ones in jail—I’m sure they remember.
Right away we knew we were in for something extra special. My grandfather was there—not too unusual. The icing on the crazy arrived with the appearance of my grandmother. She looked reasonably crisp and well-groomed. Wherever she’d been, her illness was in temporary pall.
Dinner was big, natch. It was a huge crowd. My grandparents stayed away from each other prior to sitting down. This was okay, obviously. Dinner was served. My grandmother was rather amusing—for her. My mother told many tales of her days working at the Paramount Theater and the Biltmore and Plaza hotels; all the stars she met, all the glamorous adventures. She had a marvelous gift for storytelling and writing (and painting and sketching.)
So far, so good. Then my grandfather, with more than a few glasses of red wine in him, began to wax affectionate about his children. “Your children? You fucking hypocrite” my granny muttered soto voce. It was soto enough that my well-liquored grandpa didn’t notice. They were at the opposite ends of the table—each at the head. Fantastic, considering the history.
Another glass of red, and then my grandfather made his almost fatal mistake. “Oh, my daughters. All my beautiful daughters. If only Gloria was here.”
Wrong. My grandmother’s face became very Linda Blair-ish in the worst of “The Exorist.” “Your daughters? Your daughter?! Gloria?! Gloria isn’t here because of you, you filthy bastard! You rapist. You raped her just the way you raped me all those years. You raped your own daughter!!!!!!” And then she grabbed the carving knife from what was left of the turkey and lunged for the old man. And when I say lunged, she didn’t rush around the table to get at him. She propelled herself onto the table, amongst the dishes and serving plates and glasses of wine and cups of coffee. She bashed her knees into the stuffing and cranberry sauce. Aunt Margot’s delicate plates were strewn and broken. Her lovely lace tablecloth was rent. And it was only the strength of two of my grandmother’s son-in-laws that prevented her from plunging that knife into her ex-husband’s heart. Or other, more offensive parts of his anatomy.
The day was over. One of my uncles drove my grandmother back to…wherever. My grandfather screamed that she was always a crazy bitch and if only he’d had enough courage he would have killed her years ago.
We kids were agog. Thrilled. It was so much better than a drive-in movie.
Later that night, my mother said, “Let me explain…”
“Mom, I know what rape is!”
“Well…, you see…”
“So it’s true?”
“But how can you have anything to do with him?”
“He’s my father. I can’t explain. But, that’s why I always take your grandmother in. You have no idea what her life was like. I can’t abandon her, either. He drove her crazy.”
“He’s my father. Don’t ask to me to make sense. I love them both. I need my parents!”
“What about Gloria?”
We never spoke of it again. But it was one more nod to what my mother’s life had been. One more reason not to hate her; and not to find her issues beyond my understanding. Understanding didn’t make life with her better for me. But, I had been formed by my own trauma, and I was my own no-longer-innocent person by the time my mom and I finally lived together. She was forever agonized by what she saw as her abandonment of me. I was forever wondering why I was abandoned—and so often! (There were many temporary situations.) Yet as each aspect of her experience was revealed to me, what could I say or think? I was too smart to blame her. Not smart enough to overcome it, however. Life has been an endless effort to be loved and accepted—without giving much back. Because I don’t really know how.
You might think this is a terrible Thanksgiving memory. And it is. But it served me well in many ways. Mostly in putting together another vital piece of the puzzle of my mother’s life. She felt compelled to love a father who’d raped her sister. Because she needed love so much.
Later, I thought on it in regard to child abuse and rape how often women (and men) can’t face it, or report it, or confuse it with some perverted aspect of love and affection. Or endure it, as, clearly, my grandmother did, until she couldn’t. (I also wondered why the daughters seemed so much more hostile to their mother, rather than their father? I suppose they felt if only she hadn’t disappeared…)
It was turkey with all the trimmings.
NOW—here is my Thanksgiving today. I am so thankful for my ongoing strange but interesting life…my good health…my beautiful, wonderful boyfriend (never gonna do the “husband” thing)…my few good friends who love me and are so patient with me…and all of you!
And the cats.