GOOFING OFF

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Back in the days when I was going to school, it never crossed my mind to not go to school.  I might miss something that could be on a test.  Besides, I liked school, more than being at home.

And when I reached college, the classes were the best part. As it was a college just for women, sex — or what passed for sex in those days — didn’t have to compete. I might slide by on some of the reading, but never on showing up for those weekly round-table seminars where I could shoot off my mouth as much as I liked to male professorial approval. (The only class I can recall taking from a woman was Modern Dance with supportive Bessie Schoenberg, because she was the entire Modern Dance faculty except for Jose Limon, who appeared only for an hour and a half on Fridays, expected you to glide across the studio floor on the diagonal using one foot and the big toenail of the other, and was therefore clearly not for me.)

The work world, however, was another story. At first, when I was typing stencils to be run with purple-stained fingers through a mimeograph machine (don’t ask what that was), I resented every moment I had to waste of my glorious, well-educated youth earning a meager excuse for a living. Once, arriving at the gates of the enterprise that employed me, I simply turned around, went back home again and called in sick. Nothing bad happened.  I wasn’t fired for lying because no one knew I had lied.

It was, as they say, a learning experience. Later, paid work became somewhat more interesting, and certainly better rewarded.  But I never did get over the injustice of having to hand over at least five-sevenths (and later, when I became a lawyer, an even larger percentage) of what was left of my life just in order to survive.

This was, of course, the wrong attitude.  A better one, philosophically speaking, would have been — in the words used by Joe Campbell back in those halcyon college days — to “follow my bliss.” But as I never figured out what my bliss was, other than to lose myself in an unendingly passionate love affair (which it goes without saying never materializes, at least not unendingly), I had to settle for less than blissful modes of employment and, when I couldn’t stand another day of it, play hooky, as I had learned to do when typing stencils.  Take the day off.  Tell a lie.  Keep track of the lies, so as not to repeat one too often, if at all.

Fortunately, I enjoyed excellent health, so fraudulently using up a sick day now and then never rose up to bite me in the ass as it might have done had I ever really been sick.  Oh, those bouts of twenty-four intestinal flu that never were!  The brakes that had imaginary failures on Storrow Drive!  The pipes that supposedly burst in the bathroom of the people upstairs, flooding mine. The non-existent elderly widower next door I once had to take to the hospital!   Not all in one year, you understand.  I dropped out very infrequently, and only when I wasn’t due to file something or appear in court. But I must admit that if, as was sometimes said of me in the office, “Her briefs sing!” — my excuses for a no-show could have earned me an audition at the Met.

So why am I telling you this now, when I am nearly ten years “retired” and every day is hooky day? Well, ahem, hadn’t you noticed I’ve been gone for a while?  About eight days, to be exact.  (The stats going down the toilet are certainly a tipoff, except you don’t get to see them, do you?)  And just when I’d promised to write a second post about my two great triumphs in Hingham District Court in the fall of 1984. How I made mincemeat of a nice lady who looked rather like me but had had the misfortune of driving into a tree on her own property after shopping for Christmas presents all day and then stopping for a glass of wine before coming home. Unfortunately, she’d been nailed by an off-duty cop who’d been shopping in the same mall and followed her because her driving was erratic.  No breathalyzer on him. It was his day off.  His word against hers.  And how, on another occasion, I played David to the Goliath of a Boston defense lawyer hired by the employer of a young man stopped on a state highway for wobbling in and out of his lane.

Certainly when I mentioned it, I must have thought it was a good idea to tell you these two war stories about how, as a middle-aged student, I confronted “crime” and won!  Until I realized I couldn’t now remember the regulations governing blood alcohol levels in Massachusetts, or what happened if a driver refused a breathalyzer test or for some other reason didn’t take one, or whether you could be charged with operating a vehicle under the influence if your blood alcohol concentration didn’t reach the per se level. And suddenly I was doing bloody research again instead of banging out a fun post.

Old habits die hard.  I just didn’t want to.  Maybe some other time I might want to. But not right then, anyway. Forgive me, Victo. Forgive me, Takami.  (If either of you even remember you said you could hardly wait.) In fact, I didn’t want to do anything I was supposed to do.

 What did I do instead?

(1)  I emailed a couple of graceful lies (“Something’s come up”) to the leaders of two groups I belong to, thereby bagging my attendance at this month’s meetings.

(2) I rescheduled teeth cleaning for a couple of weeks down the road.

(3) I “slept in” — way past what you’d believe, not really asleep but daydreaming with the blinds still drawn about matters that have no business being described in a squeaky clean blog like this one and that many might not think still arise in a nearly eighty-four-year-old mind, but they do, and how!  So there.

(4) I wasted the better part of two afternoons on the computer enraptured by what my parents’ generation would have dismissed as “dreck” — namely, worthless garbage.  It was indeed that:  all thirteen episodes of “Grace and Frankie,” a sort of vanity project on Netflix for Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, playing wives of 70 (ha ha, both actresses are past midway to 80) whose husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) — law partners for forty years, secret lovers for twenty — want divorces to marry before it’s too late. I didn’t believe any of it for a minute but was held spellbound by exacting scrutiny of Fonda’s facial bones, over which nearly unlined skin has been pulled so tight as to be skull-like, except there were also masses of gorgeously coiffed hair and meticulous makeup to distract from all that, unless you are watching with the eagle eye of a contemporary-plus-some. (As I was.)  Her clothes were very good, though. Bill came to take a look.  “Too thin,” he pronounced, adding, “Enjoy yourself, sweetheart.” (God only knows what he was watching on his i-Pad; I wouldn’t stoop so low as to check.)

(5)  We ate strange (for us) fattening things that I didn’t have to cook:  pizza one night, lasagna another, leftover cold Chinese food with potato chips (God forgive us) still another.  One night it was just big soup bowls full of goat’s milk ice-cream — chocolate and vanilla — that happened to be in the freezer from a while ago when we had company over and the company didn’t want dessert.

(6)  We also watched “Fifty Shades of Grey” — Bill to “please” me, he said.  What a cop-out.  Not even exciting.  Bill looked up Jamie Dornan and discovered he and Keira Knighley were an item for three years. I’m not sure why he thought I’d care.  I was never one for gym-built muscle.

(7.)  But in recovery we drank copious amounts of fresh organic vegetable juice, and ate green salads, and also watched “Marius,” and “Fanny” — the first two of Daniel Auteil’s remakes of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseilles trilogy — both of which I recommend, even though some may find them too sentimental.

(8) And then I read Barbara Pym’s “Quartet in Autumn.” (200 pages or so; if you’re over 50, by all means check it out; it seems modest but is beautifully written.)  And now I’ve launched myself into what may turn out to be a summer (Philip) Roth orgy: rereading, for the first time since their publication, and probably with much more care:  “The CounterLife,” “Deception,” and “The Facts.”  Possibly more about these four books later, although maybe not.  Apparently making promises is not good for this blog.

Anyway, for whatever it’s worth, I’m back.

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20 thoughts on “GOOFING OFF

  1. Very interesting blog post, Nina. There is a lot I could write about here. Things I would have said to you if we had met when we both were much younger. And here I am referring to your mention of sacrificing 5/7th of your life in order to make a living, or the desire to have a never ending love affair. I think both of those subjects could each provide enough material for a full sized book. It was also interesting to read of your plans to reread Barbara Pym and Philip Roth. I had never heard of Barbara Pym, and intend to read a bit about her and some reviews of her work, because of your desire to read her again. As for Philip Roth, I have been aware of him since his first published works, and read some of his books. I was more often disappointed by him than enjoyed his works. But there were some that I really enjoyed. For example, Patrimony. I understand that what ‘grabs’ the American reading public is that he blurs the borders between reality and fiction, which puts him in the forefront of post modern literature. I found Saul Bellow more powerful. But this could be a matter of taste. Best wishes for very enjoyable reading.

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    • Hurrying past the “what if” in your first four sentences, I get to the “intellectual” part of your reply, Shimon. About Pym, I’m not rereading all of her, and you probably shouldn’t either. Much of it is dated, and takes place in a world which was never yours or mine (although her focus on lonely single ladies once had a certain appeal for me). But “Quartet in Autumn” does transcend all that. (It’s one of her three last, before she died, too young, of breast cancer.) And if you like that one, maybe “The Sweet Dove Died” and “Excellent Women” — neither of which I’ve read for a long time and may not read again, since time, and life, is short.

      But as for the Roth bibliography — allegedly now complete, as he says he will not write for publication again — that’s another, long long story. “Patrimony” (which I too liked) is not a novel, but about the death of his father, so I can understand why it might be something you would enjoy reading. But as for what “grabbed” the American reading public (whatever that is) about Roth, you must mean “Portnoy’s Complaint” — his fourth book, all sex (of a sort) and having the liver in the refrigerator twice, once privately in the bathroom after school while it was still raw, and then again, cooked, on his plate for dinner. So whether or not that blurs the borders between reality and fiction (Is Roth Portnoy, or Kepesh, or Tarnopol, or Zuckerman, or even the Philip in “Deception”?), you can see its appeal.

      But I am not “the American reading public.” I am just nineteen months older than Roth, speak the same form of vernacular English he writes, come from somewhat the same cultural era and background (Baku, not Galicia, but close enough), discovered him with “Goodbye, Columbus” (his first) and have been faithful all the way through to the end (except for “Our Gang” and “The Breast”), even when I didn’t like some of them — and, just as he has grown older and more bitter over the years, so I too have grown older and read with different eyes than I did when these books were first being published. By the way, I don’t think of him as “post-modern.” (It’s a catch-all phrase for a lot of writers who live in their heads.) He writes what is to me real speech, and whatever it’s about (which I also appreciate or try to appreciate), when I read I hear a somewhat familiar voice in my head, which becomes more valuable as the “real” familiar voices die away. I started this summer with “The CounterLife” because I wanted, at last, to figure out its construction, and its relationship to “Deception” for myself. I will probably go on, chronologically, through “Sabbath’s Theater” and then stop for a while. Hopefully, there will be other summers yet, for all three of us — Roth, you and me. Thank you for your good wishes. And best wishes for enjoyable reading to you, too.

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  2. I’ll never forget reading the part in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” by Tom Robbins where the protagonists “calls in well.” That is, he takes a mental health day. He’s feeling too good and doesn’t want work to interfere with the buzz.

    BTW, I too think that Fonda is upstaged by her cheekbones.

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    • Don’t know the book, but love the concept of “calling in well.”
      Re: the Fonda “cheekbones.” It’s not only the skull beneath the hyper-stretched skin that draws the eye; it’s also what the camera can’t conceal — her hands. Now a script that took place outdoors during a Canadian winter and kept her well gloved from start to finish…. But I guess money can’t buy everything.

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  3. Goofing Off is your right and privilege. If you can’t totally please yourself at the tender age of eighty-flumthing, when will you ever? I hope you had a great Goof-Off, but I’m glad you’re back 😀

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    • Tempted to goof off? Be my guest. Blogging, and reading other posts, is supposed to be a pleasure, not a duty. When you get back, your world will be exactly the way you left it. Except you may be able to enjoy more of it again.

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    • Some of them may be moot. Perhaps some can be ignored. Another perhaps: on the train (or drive) back after the lovely day in Kew Gardens, you could also consider why you have so many in just one day and what to do about considerably reducing that number. Just perhaps….

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  4. I’m laughing now, because a week ago I tried to reduce them in my settings – and failed! I am skipping many nowadays, but I have an honesty box in my head, I can’t ‘like’ anything I haven’t read, so it is read or delete and I really do enjoy most of the people I follow, so I feel bad zapping their posts…

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  5. You’re right, but it is not too many people so much as too many posts (10 or more a day?), some from people who have interviewed me about my books, or reviewed them. I am zapping a lot now, but I keep gallivanting for a day or two, so they build up. I’ll learn.

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