MYSTERY WOMAN

Standard

IMG_0541When my mother died at the end of November 1993, she left among her effects an old photograph, mounted on board, of a young woman in a long dress and long pearls, gazing up at the heavens with a tragic expression. The woman did not appear to be a family member. But who was she?  Why was she so important to my emigrating mother, aged eighteen, that she had chosen to bring her photo out of the nascent Soviet Union as one of the few personal possessions she was allowed to take with her?  And why had she kept the woman’s picture till she died?  There were no photographs of her own mother surviving among her effects.  What made the lady with the pearls so special?

The photo bore a name at the bottom printed in Cyrillic lettering. But at the time I found it, I didn’t know how to read all the letters.  Moreover, even if I had been able to piece together a name for this woman, in 1993 the internet was a mere fledgling.  Very few personal computers were then connected to it.  Search engines were a thing of the future.  The woman remained a mystery.

Until a year ago, when I embarked on private Russian lessons with a tutor. (Not, I assure you, to ascertain the identity of the mystery woman.  I was searching for the sound of my “roots,” having conveniently forgotten that if there is such a thing, mine are not really Russian but Jewish.) It was an effort doomed to failure.  I hate to admit I’m too old for anything. But I was certainly too old — or else insufficiently motivated, roots or no — to retain the unbelievably complicated conjugations and declensions of almost every single word in this maddeningly elusive language, despite valiant efforts and the painful expenditure of $35 an hour. However, before giving up, I did learn to identify those funny-looking letters in the Cyrillic alphabet.  Now I could laboriously decipher the mystery woman’s name printed on my mother’s card.  It was  — as you learned in a previous post — Vera Kholodnaya.

And now also there was an almost omniscient internet available to me.  Perhaps some answers at last?  Given the little my mother had told me about her girlhood and its pleasures in wartime Baku, I had thought Vera would turn out to be a famous and idolized soprano or else a stage actress of renown.  Not a bit of it.  My teen-age mother had been spending whatever spare time and few rubles she had at the movies!

Vera Kholodnaya was the biggest silent screen star Imperial Russia had ever known!   Her large gray eyes and often extravagant costumes made her a fascinating enigma for Russian audiences everywhere. By the time of the Russian Revolution, a new Kholodnaya film was released every third week.  One of them (“At the Fire Side”) was so popular it was being run in cinemas as late as 1924, six years after she died — when the Soviet authorities ordered many of her films destroyed. (Too bourgeois?)

IMG_0758

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Vera’s specialty was melodrama.  In the photo below, she is suffering both anguish for the man in her arms (played by Ivan Khudoleev), a circus performer who has fallen from his airborne perch, and humiliation by the suave suitor at the left (played by Ossip Runitsch), a wealthy man who desires her and whom she rejected before Ivan fell.  Now she has been forced to accept money from Ossip so that Ivan can have medical help.  My recognition of Cyrillic letters does not extend far enough for me to read the words of dialogue printed on the screen in silent movies, so I don’t know what price Ossip has extracted in exchange for his filthy lucre. But you can imagine.  Nonetheless, Vera is clearly happy that Ivan will be made well again, despite what is to come at Ossip’s hands.  Thrilling, isn’t it?

IMG_0764

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The scene is from her last picture, and three minutes of it survives on YouTube, if you’re interested in details of how Ossip was rejected, how Ivan fell, and Vera’s look of shame at accepting the money. It’s called “Molchi, grust… molchi.

My mother was just fourteen when Vera died, and didn’t leave Baku with Vera’s photograph in her luggage until four years later.  However, Vera’s life and death may have been even more melodramatic and appealing to a romantic young girl than the stories in her films.   She was only seventeen when she married Vladimir Kholodny,  said to be one of the first Russian car racers — be still, my beating heart! — and the editor of a daily sport newspaper.  Vera would often accompany him in the car when he raced, many of the races resulting in road accidents.    But after he was drafted to fight in World War I, she was also rumored to have begun an affair with the French ambassador!  And there’s no smoke without fire, right?

Official government records state that she died at the age of 25 of Spanish flu during the epidemic of 1918-1919 — a tragic end right there. But others believe she was poisoned by the French ambassador with whom she was having the affair after he became suspicious that she was a spy for the Bolsheviks!  Talk about your melodrama!  When Alexander Vertinsky, a well-known film and song writer who venerated her and was a frequent visitor to her house, learned of her death (however it occurred), he wrote a poignant song in her honor that my young mother may have heard: “Your fingers smell of church incense, and your lashes sleep in grief….”  And a director with whom Vera had frequently worked filmed her large funeral, which seems to have become her best-known film.

She was also, in some photographs, quite lovely:

IMG_0759

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

So now I understand why my mother, whose head was full of romantic dreams for longer than she may have ever been willing to admit, might have brought a celebrity photo with her to America.  It was a photo of Vera Kholodnaya, the silent screen star who had led such a brief and dazzling life of romantic drama and tragedy.

But why did she keep the photograph of Vera till she died, when she almost certainly threw out any photographs of her own mother she may have had, together with all her mother’s letters, after she learned of her death during World War II?  I think I know the answer to that one now, too.  Her mother’s face may have been too painful to keep, once she was gone.  Whereas she didn’t care at all about Vera after a while, and just forgot she was there.

 

 

Advertisements

A POST OF SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

Standard

Hi everyone,

My first published piece is in print!  The Iowa Review just announced the arrival of its Spring 2014 issue, containing — at last, at last! — a memoir of my thirteenth summer, “Falling Off the Roof.”  Never mind that I first submitted it three years and three months ago;  I have outlived the waiting period!

I hope those of you who are interested in reading this kind of thing will take a look.  I’d love to know what you think!  TIR is offering opening snippets of some of the Spring issue pieces  on its webpage —  to whet the appetite of potential purchasers, I suppose.  But they’re not offering a snippet of mine.  So they probably won’t mind if I do it myself.

Here are the first two paragraphs of “Falling Off the Roof” — just to get you going:

Back then you knew, even when you were very little, what you were going to do when you grew up. In the nineteen-thirties only daddies went out to work in the morning; the mommies all stayed home and kept house. A woman went to business, said my mother, only when there was no one else to put bread on the table.

Later, the movies to which she took me almost every Saturday evening confirmed this fact of life: after the heroine and hero met “cute” and experienced a series of silly misunderstandings, all was eventually resolved by a proposal, after which the credits rolled to a surge of triumphant music and that was the end. There were also the stories that appeared, three per issue, in the ladies’ magazines she bought at the corner newsstand every month and I devoured before she had time to sit down and enjoy them. Sometimes the heroine was deeply in love with a foolish man distracted by a flirtatious and superficially glamorous competitor until he came to recognize the enduring worth of the heroine’s goodness, virtue and purity. In other stories another sort of heroine, with an overabundance of suitors, had to learn, during the course of the narrative, how to differentiate between Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong. (Mr. Right was the one who loved small animals and children, just like she did.) But it all came to the same thing in the end. Will you marry me? Oh yes darling yes.   I could polish off all three stories before dinnertime….

The rest of it — it’s about 10,800 words — is available at www.iowareview.org.  Alas, the price per print issue is $9.95 plus $2 domestic shipping.  However, you can have it instantly for $4.99 from Amazon at the Kindle Store, if you don’t mind reading on a Kindle. (Or an i-Pad, or a tablet of any kind that takes the Kindle App.)  Just be sure to specify: Iowa Review Spring 2014.  (An earlier issue is also available on Kindle.)

You’ll be getting much more for your money than just me: two other pieces of non-fiction, six stories, two book reviews, and a lot of poetry.  [I told you this post would be shameless self promotion, didn’t I?]

And if you do decide to spring for it, please don’t keep your opinion to yourself.  Speak up. Don’t be shy.  Use the Comment section with abandon. Get full value by making yourself heard.  We’ll be waiting to hear.

The rest of you, thank you for your patience with the marketing.  Back to regular blog stuff next time!

NRM

STUPID ME

Standard

IMG_0808

I admit to many flaws; stupidity usually isn’t one of them. However, there’s always a first time. And here it is: a slender book called Monogamy which has left me feeling really dumb.

Not that Adam Phillips, the author, isn’t a terrific writer.  He is, he is!  But I’ve had to reread each page of his book at least twice to figure out (most of) what he’s getting at.  What seems evident to him is so much less evident to me that it’s hard for me to follow.  On the first go-round anyway.

Phillips also leaves me dumbfounded because what he seems to be saying here does appear to be the way things are, or one of the ways things are.  And my life might have been quite a bit different if I had been able to think about these things in the way he does.

Examples:

19.  In private life the word we is a pretension, an exaggeration of the word I.  We is the wished-for I, the I as a gang, the I as somebody else as well.  Coupledom can be so dismaying because the other person never really joins in. Or rather, they want exactly the same thing, but from a quite different point of view.

******

27.  At its best monogamy may be the wish to find someone to die with; at its worst it is a cure for the terrors of aliveness. They are easily confused.

******

39.  If sex brought us in to the family, it is also what breaks us out of the family.  In other words, people leave home when what they have got to hide — their sexuality — either has to be hidden somewhere else, or when it is best shown somewhere else.

If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nowhere to go. Which is one of the reasons why couples sometimes want to be totally honest with each other.

******

40. Every marriage is a blind date that makes you wonder what the alternatives are to a blind date.

******

45.  Rules are ways of imagining what to do.  Our personal infidelity rituals — the choreography of our affairs — are the parallel texts of our ‘marriages.’  Guilt, by reminding us what we mustn’t do, shows us what we may want; it shows us our moral sense, the difference between what we want, and what we want to want.  Without the possibility of a double life there is no morality.

******

Is all this is making you cross and headachy? It shouldn’t.  Monogamy is not prescriptive.  It’s not expository.  As you may already have noticed, it’s a collection of short — sometimes one-sentence — observations on its subject.  What the French call apercus.  There are only 121 of them.  Lots of white space on each page.  Lots of time to roll each around in your mind. No need to hurry on to the next.  (Except perhaps out of curiosity.)  You can open the book anywhere.  Put it down anywhere.  Go back and read some of it again before you’ve got to the end.

But let’s back up.  Who is Adam Phillips?  If you’re not British or in the shrinkage business, you may not have heard of him.  Not being in either of those two categories, I hadn’t heard of him either. Then he was interviewed about a recent book of his in The Paris Review.  (The book? Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life.) What I read there whetted my appetite to learn more.

Phillips is not only an author but a prominent British psychoanalyst.  He studied English literature at Oxford before becoming interested in psychoanalysis. (His particular interest was in children.)  After finishing his analytic training, he worked in the National Health Service for seventeen years, and from 1990 until 1997 was principal child psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London.  But when he found the Health Service’s tightening bureaucratic demands growing too restrictive, he left to open a private practice in Notting Hill.  He now treats adult patients four days a week and writes every Wednesday.

As a psychoanalyst, he has been a maverick, so that he’s been called “ludic and elusive and intellectually slippery.”  He also declines to defend psychoanalysis as a science or field of academic study, preferring to think of it as “a set of stories that will sustain …. our appetite for life.”  He has also said that for him, “psychoanalysis has always been of a piece with the various languages of literature — a kind of practical poetry.”

As a writer, his thinking has clearly been informed by his psychoanalytic practice with children. In addition, he’s  been described by The (London) Times as “the Martin Amis of British psychoanalysis” for his “brilliantly amusing and often profoundly unsettling” work; and by John Banville as “one of the finest prose stylists in the language, an Emerson of our time.”

[He’s also, as shrinks go, photogenic — if that cuts any ice with you.]

It may be that I made a mistake in beginning with Monogamy.  I picked it because it was short and sounded easy.  (Ha!) Here are some of the other Phillips books I might have chosen instead. [And this isn’t the whole list.  There’s even a new one on Freud’s life coming out this month.  His Wednesdays are apparently quite productive!]

  • On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored:  Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life
  • On Flirtation: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Uncommitted Life
  • Houdini’s Box: On the Arts of Escape
  • The Beast In the Nursery: On Curiosity and Other Appetites
  • On Kindness
  • On Balance
  • Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature

On second thought, Monogamy was not a mistake.  Perhaps it’s the masochist still lingering in my depths even after twenty-four years of (non-consecutive) shrinkage. But stupid or no, I do find the book a keeper.  Here’s some more.  Maybe you too will develop a taste for it.

28.  There is always the taken-for-granted relationship and the precarious relationship, the comforting routine and the exciting risk.  The language won’t let us mix them up.  We have safety and danger, habit and passion, love and lust, attachment and desire, marriage and affairs.  We are not mixed up enough.  In other words, we still have bodies and souls.

******

58.   The point about trust is that it is impossible to establish.  It is a risk masquerading as a promise.  The question is not do you trust your partner? But do you know what they think trust is? And how would you go about finding out? And what might make you believe them? And what would make you trust your belief?

Trust is a word we have to put too much trust in.

******

60.     Self-betrayal is a sentimental melodrama; a deification of our own better judgement, an adoration of shame.  I am always true to myself, that is the problem.  Who else could I be true to?

When I say that I have let myself down, I am boasting.  I am the only person I cannot avoid being faithful to. My sexual relationship with myself, in other words, is a study in monogamy.

******

64.     It is always flattering when a married person wants to have an affair with us; though we cannot help wondering exactly what will be compared with what. In fact, we become merely a comparison, just a good or bad imitation.

To resent this would be to believe that we could ever be anything else.

******

65.  No one gets the relationship they deserve.  For some people this is a cause of unending resentment, for some people it is the source of unending desire. And for some people the most important thing is that they have found something that doesn’t end.

******

69.   There is always someone else who would love me more, understand me better, make me feel more sexually alive.  This is the best justification we have for monogamy — and infidelity.

******

121.   Monogamy and infidelity: the difference between making a promise and being promising.

******

51.   Serial monogamy is a question not so much of quantity as of quality; a question not of how many but of the order; of how the plot hangs together. Of what kind of person seems to be telling the story.

******

53.   The outlaw, the femme fatale, the heretic, the double agent, the pun — infidelity gets all the action. It has the glamour of the bad secret and the good lie. It travels because it has to, because it believes in elsewhere.

So what would we have to do to make monogamy glamorous? Or rather, what would we have to stop doing?

******

And how do I stop quoting?  [Monogamy, you see, becomes addictive.]  By reminding myself you can always get your own copy.  Me, I’m going on to Promises, Promises (see above).  That one is essays.  Essays I can do.  Apercus?   I’m still working on my French.

 

HOUSE CAT WITH PRIVILEGES

Standard
IMG_0780

A RARE TREAT.

Sasha and Sophie are house cats.  They are not allowed to go out.  Not without me, that is.

Unfortunately, going out with me involves wearing a harness with a leash attached.  Cats don’t take kindly to being harnessed, and Sophie — the younger of the two — still will not submit to it.  Out come her claws as she struggles, and back into the drawer goes her harness. Another time perhaps.  But Sasha, now five years old, has learned the rare appearance of the harness means something exceptionally good is going to happen. She will get to explore the great Outdoors.

Our cats are not entirely housebound.  There’s a wire-fenced deck off the kitchen, from which they can smell foliage, hear birdcalls, spy on squirrels scampering through the underbrush in the rear of the condo.  But there’s no grass under the paws, no growing leaves to munch, no trees on which to scrape the claws.  And Sasha certainly appreciates the difference.

We don’t go out together often, Sasha and I.  Not in winter, when it’s too cold for both of us.  Not in summer, when it’s too hot for me, since I can’t crawl underneath the low spreading leaves of a grove of trees where it’s cool and shady.  But there’s still spring and fall.

However, walking a cat is not like walking a dog.  You go where the cat wants to go,  not vice-versa.  It takes a long time, it’s tedious, and sometimes it’s hard to get her back in the house when I’ve had enough.  Not that we go very far.  Usually she just slowly circles the five-unit structure in which our condo is located, investigating every ground planting in the front, and making a few careful forays into the uncleared and dedicated forest land behind.

Exciting though it may be for her, it’s boring for me.  Especially as there’s really nowhere to sit down while she explores.  But she makes me feel so guilty when I go out without her — and don’t think she doesn’t try to second guess which door I’ll be using so as to run out with me when I leave — that once in a while I carve out an hour of the afternoon just for her.

Sasha Getting Her Greens.

SASHA GETTING HER GREENS.

Then she can poke around to her heart’s content. Although it makes Bill nervous when he sees me do it, I do let go of the leash if she ventures where I can’t or don’t care to follow.  The harness is red, so it’s easy to spot, even at a distance.  And she doesn’t go far. When I call, she even waits for me to catch up. That way I have both hands free to try to take her picture.  Or should I say pictures? I have to snap six for every one that’s usable.

Image

WHEN I LET GO OF THE LEASH, THE HARNESS TWISTS AROUND. BUT SASHA DOESN’T SEEM TO MIND.

Occasionally, someone walks by pushing a baby carriage and does a second take at the sight of a cat on a leash.  But if Sasha’s off the leash, they do a second take at the sight of me, lounging against a tree or sitting on a rock in a residential neighborhood as if I had nothing else to do.

But I am doing something.  I’m enjoying her appreciation of the big wide world.

Image

 WE CAN ALWAYS TELL OUR TWO CATS APART BY SASHA’S GOLDEN EYES.

Image

APPARENTLY A CAR JUST PASSED BY. THAT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. (ACCORDING TO SASHA.)

Eventually, though, even she gets tired.  When we pass the deck chair on the front walk, she settles down for a rest.  Soon I’ll be able to pick her up without her fussing, and carry her into the house.

IMG_0805

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Image

 LOVING LOOKS MAKE EVEN THE THREE ITCHY BUG BITES I COLLECTED OUT BACK WORTH WHILE.

 

MOLLY ON HER OWN

Standard

[A story.]

The campus seems to clear out on Friday afternoons. Students who come from New York and find themselves without weekend dates go home as soon as their last class is over. It’s only two hours away. Even the dreary girl across the hall from Molly who plans to major in East Asian Studies has already gone back to Brooklyn. Home is a place to which it has not occurred to Molly that anyone in this exclusive, expensive women’s college would want to go, given her own eagerness to get here after high school.

But now, on the fourth dateless Saturday of her first semester, she decides immediately after her meager breakfast that since she too has a home to go to, she can study there as well as here. She pulls a small carry-on from the dorm room closet, a gift from her parents when news of the full scholarship arrived last spring. All she really needs is the current reading assignment for her Tuesday Exploratory Lit class – it’s Gide’s Strait is the Gate, in translation — and a few toiletries. Still in narrow jeans and jean jacket, she just makes the 10:10 to Grand Central. From there, it’s the familiar subway out to Queens.

Molly is 5’7” and weighs 125 pounds. The 125 pounds is new, the 28” waist of her new jeans likewise, both the rewarding results of rigorous dieting all summer long so as to begin college life looking right. She may be almost always hungry, but she’s also gratified right now by the sight of her silhouette in the dark window of the subway car as it hurtles from Manhattan to Queens.

How happy Molly’s mother and father are to see her! What a surprise! How beautiful she looks! How they’ve missed having her in what her father calls her “little room!” (It’s the smaller of the two bedrooms in the apartment, a half-room really.) They’ll celebrate! What would she like for dinner? A nice porterhouse steak? Peas? Potato? Poppy-seed rolls? (Her father’s favorite.) And of course a special cake from the bakery, because it’s such a special occasion! What does Molly mean, she can’t eat potato, rolls, cake? One slice of cake isn’t going to hurt her. Now that she’s thin, she has to start eating normally again.

Afterwards, when she looks back on how it all started, Molly won’t remember the dinner, or whether there were poppy-seed rolls. She will remember the cake: a large three-layer chocolate cake with chocolate cream between the layers and thick chocolate fudge icing on top and around the sides. She allows her mother to persuade her to have a slice, her father nodding his approval.   When she’s finished slowly eating every last delicious crumb while they watch lovingly, they urge her to have another. (“Don’t be silly, of course you can, what are we going to do with all this leftover cake? Actually, you’re a little too thin. You could use a few pounds.”) And on Sunday morning, the celebration goes on. Her father hurries out to bring back lox, cream cheese and bagels for a late breakfast because, “How often does this happen?”

Amazingly, the waistband still closes when Molly wiggles into her jeans again on Sunday afternoon. “Take the rest of the cake,” her mother urges as she watches Molly repack her carry-on. “Maybe your new friends would like some.” Molly doesn’t say she doesn’t have any new friends, not really. Doesn’t tell about her disappointing room assignment, at the end of a long hall, where she shares a bathroom with a plain girl from Brooklyn who studies in the library all day and every evening, comes back to the dorm at eight-thirty, takes a hot bath, and is in bed at nine. Or about the two sophomore girls in the next nearest suite of rooms who are somewhat distant. In fact, Molly tells her parents nothing at all. Why should they worry about her? Isn’t she supposed to be grown up now? Instead, she insists she can’t take the rest of the cake because it would only get squished in the carry-on. She insists although she does very much want to take the cake, one last sweet taste of home to bring back to her lonely and difficult new life. She thinks about the cake on the subway all the way into town.

In Grand Central, she has fifteen minutes to spare before her train. One of the station kiosks is near the gate. Perhaps a candy bar to tide her over until supper back at school? Isn’t that what “eating normally” is all about? She gazes indecisively at the attractive display of O’Henrys, Milky Ways, Almond Joys, Hershey bars, M&Ms; it’s been so long since she’s tasted any of them. But why decide which to buy? Now that it’s all right to allow herself an occasional treat, why not stock up, for later? Molly enters her gate with seven candy bars in a small brown paper bag, one of each kind to enjoy during the week to come, plus a second O’Henry for the ride. She anticipates the taste on her tongue of the caramel, peanuts and chocolate even when lifting her carry-on to the overhead rack and settling in near a window with her jeans jacket on the seat next to her, so she can savor this unaccustomed pleasure in privacy.

She does try to wait until the train has climbed from the underground tunnel through which it has to pass to emerge into the twilight of the Bronx. But waiting is impossible. Trembling with happy anticipation, she unwraps the O’Henry and bites into it while the train is still in the dark tunnel. She can’t not do it. She’s on automatic pilot now.

Soon the O’Henry bar is gone. And after she’s methodically eaten three more, it’s just not worth bringing the last three to the dorm. She can always buy more at the campus store. When she steps off the train at her station, only crumpled candy wrappers remain in the brown paper bag. Before getting into one of the waiting taxis, she tosses the bag. There! Evidence gone! The waistband of her jeans feels snug, but with her jacket on, no one will notice.

By the time she reaches her dorm, she has just enough time to climb the stairs to her room, set down the carry-on, unsnap the top of her jeans and walk all the way to the dining room at the other end of campus. Why should she skip supper? Calorically, the day’s shot. She might as well enjoy what’s left of it.

Meals at college are always cafeteria-style, which means you can take as much as you want, and even go back for more. Molly has never done either of these things. Sunday night supper is especially hard for the rigorous dieter; it usually consists of some kind of slumgullion that uses up scraps remaining from the previous week — accompanied by single-serving bags of potato chips, pitchers of whole and skim milk, long loaves of crusty white and light brown bread, already sliced, and tubs of peanut butter and grape jelly. Dessert? Spotty-looking apples for the health-minded and powdered doughnuts on trays, plus cocoa, for everyone else.

But tonight Molly begins with a lightened heart. She serves herself some sort of hash with an egg on it, and a generous squeeze of ketchup. She has never had it before, and therefore plans to return for seconds. She also puts two bags of chips on her tray, and helps herself liberally to the white bread, three slices of which she slathers generously with peanut butter and jelly. Allowing herself to have these things is okay, she reasons, as she plunges her knife deep into the peanut butter tub, because she’s only going to do it this one night.   She chooses whole milk over skim. “I’m just so hungry!” she exclaims to the two classmates who set their own trays down at her table. “I had to miss lunch to catch the train back.”

Her classmates seem to think nothing of it. After all, Molly is thin. When it’s time for dessert, all three return to the buffet together. Molly’s classmates skip the apples. They’re for powdered doughnuts. “Mmm, they do look good,” exclaims Molly, taking two. And they are, despite all she’s already eaten. So she waits, very slowly sipping cocoa, until the others have left. Then she returns to the doughnut tray, trying to look casual, where she wraps six doughnuts in double paper napkins to bring to her room. She would take more, but can only manage to carry three in each hand. On the path up the hill towards her dorm, she meets someone she recognizes from British History hurrying to get some food before the dining-room closes. “For my suite-mate,” Molly explains without having been asked, waving the napkin-wrapped doughnuts. “She didn’t feel like coming down.”

The future East Asian Studies major isn’t back from Brooklyn yet. She must be having supper at home. Molly closes her door, unzips her jeans, and sits at her desk without undressing further to eat the six doughnuts. She might have preferred to stop after three, but doesn’t want to leave the other three around for the next day, and so manages to get them all down. Only when there’s nothing left to eat does she become aware she’s uncomfortably full.

Molly knows in a general way that during less than three hours, she has consumed seven candy bars, two large platefuls of greasy hash with egg, two bags of potato chips, three thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two glasses of whole milk, a large cup of cocoa, and eight powdered doughnuts. But rather than think about it, she pushes her carry-on to the side of the room. Gide can wait until tomorrow. Then she pulls off her jeans, shirt and bra, leaving them in a tangled heap on the floor, and gets under the covers.   She falls into a deep sleep almost at once, and never hears anyone come down the hall, open the door opposite hers, use the shared bathroom and go to bed.

It’s been many years since Molly’s parents celebrated her surprise visit home with a three-layer chocolate cake. Yet she still remembers with perfect clarity everything she ate on that Sunday after she left their apartment in Queens to come back to college. She has no such clear recollection of subsequent episodes of aberrational eating. Indeed, on such subsequent occasions she will sometimes make a detailed confessional list of what she’s consumed before falling, groggy with food, on her bed — so as to help her remember this other self who lives in her body and eats so desperately.

There won’t be a subsequent occasion for a while. College will get easier. She will have friends. But nobody ever said that life is fair. And for grown-up Molly looking back, here – at the gateway to adulthood — is the template for the recurrent nightmare of her future life. Here is where she discovers solace for what isn’t fair. And here too are solace’s ever-present companions: shame, falsehood, secrecy — followed by sleep so profound it resembles a little taste of death.

WHAT TO SEND A GIRL WHO’S GIVING YOU A HARD TIME

Standard

While rummaging around the basement a few days ago, I found myself wrist-deep in the contents of a dusty old suitcase that hadn’t been opened for quite some time. It was the smallest and only surviving case in a three-piece set of Amelia Earhart luggage my parents bought for me when I set off to college in September 1948.  You wouldn’t want to use it as a suitcase these days.  It’s heavy (for its size) and has no roller wheels.  But it has remained useful over the years as a sort of storage box.

Indeed, when I managed to pry its two closures open, it was jammed full of yellowing correspondence from the time when people sent each other real letters on real paper — sometimes even handwritten — which were then folded into real envelopes with postage stamps on them.  These were letters that took at least two or three days to reach their destination, and sometimes longer.  You had to be patient.  Or else pace impatiently, until the mailman arrived.

We may revisit the interesting question of why I hang on to all this stuff in another post, after I’ve figured it out myself.  However, this post is not about that.  It’s about the folded piece of paper on top of one of the bundles of letters in the suitcase.  The rubber band holding the bundle together had dried out and it snapped when I picked up the bundle.  The top piece of paper slipped to the floor.  It was just asking to be read!  How could I not unfold it and take it over to a good light?

Long story short, it was a plea/demand straight from the gonads — its author being a young man I had met and in due time kissed, again and again, during the previous summer.  Unfortunately, he was now in a college twenty-five hours away from mine by train, racked by uncertainty as to my feelings.   He wasn’t quite as young as I was, but nearly — and was definitely hotter to trot. (At least when writing about it.)  Apparently, I was taking my time — too much time, as he saw it — in committing the degree of my desire to paper.

Having just reread his typed expression of angst for the first time in nearly sixty-six years, I like it much more than I did when I first received it. I even now like the not-so-surreptitious suggestion that I was being a bitch.  [“Bright EYE WET nose can be taught all manner of tricks”]  I probably was.  I sobbed at parting in Grand Central Station, but otherwise would go just so far, and no farther.

Nonetheless, I must have liked it enough, despite the jab, for him soon to become an important person in my early life, the one referred to elsewhere in this blog as “first serious boyfriend.”  And I like it so much now I thought other people might like to read it too.  I know he wouldn’t mind, if he were still alive.  He’d smile.  Maybe you will, too.

[Note:  I’d re-type it to make it easier for you to read, but I can’t reproduce the e.e. cummings style without a typewriter roller, and I no longer have a typewriter — not even in my rat pack basement.]

[Second note:   although e.e. cummings was cutting-edge stuff to the 1948 college crowd, his poetic style, emulated here, may not have aged well.   On the other hand, the feelings expressed have no pull date.  Some kinds of H-U-R-TZ never go away.]

IMG_0751

NEW FAMILY IN TOWN

Standard

 

IMG_0766

They move away fast when you take out a camera.

IMG_0769

But it’s spring. And you know where a young goose’s fancy turns in spring.

IMG_0770

Maybe if we hurry around to the other side of the pond, we’ll be able to get a better view.

Ah!  That's better!

Ah! That’s better!

IMG_0772

There used to be two. Now there are eight:  mama, papa and six little goslings.

IMG_0773

I wish I could show you the six little balls of fluff huddled near their mama more clearly.

IMG_0774

But the parents are protective; they just don’t come close to shore with their goslings.

And even the miraculous iPhone 5s has its limits.

As do I.

But if you click on a photo to open it, you’ll get a better view.

(Don’t say I didn’t try.)