Horizontal Lives

True Tales of the Infamous Courtesan: Persephone N. Hades and her Horizontal Life underground. How she got there, her mis-adventures and her struggle to re-surface.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Courtesans Have Parents Too

This is what I think: One should never have dinner with one’s parents if one can avoid it.

Have other things. Have other moments. Just don’t do it over dinner.

Don’t misunderstand. I love my parents. They are Ostriches. They prefer to live life with their heads in the sand. Loving them as I do, I will not cruelly pluck their heads out. In all the years I have worked at my profession, they have never pried. I told them I was a massage therapist, as I tell everyone in the outside world, and they believe me. They believe me because they want to. Because they have to. Because they wouldn’t know what to do with the real information.

We talk on the phone but don’t see each other often in person.

My parents are ‘snowbirds’ heading from their Cold State to Florida every winter. I happened to be in Miami when they were there and so decided to stay with them.

I am wonderful in some rooms of a home, (mainly bedroom and living room), but the kitchen is not one of them. Subsequently, I love to dine out.

Let me also state, that I have been financially on my own, without a safety net, since the age of 15. My parents grew up poor, as did I. Subsequently, my father has, what basically amounts to an illness, when it comes to money.

My second evening with them, I suggest I treat them to a lovely dinner at the China Grill. You would have thought I had invited them to an execution—namely theirs.

"But it’s past 5 o’clock." My mother protests in her ethnic-tinted Midwest twang.
"Not everyone eats by five, Mom. It’s okay to go later."
My father: "But why spend more if you can get the same food for half the price if you go by 5? It doesn’t make sense."
"If we go at 8, we won’t get home until after 10 and your father likes to watch the ten o’clock news."
"Well maybe he can miss it just one night. I’m not in town that often."

They sigh, resigned. We go.
The restaurant is lovely. Dark, candle lit and elegant. We are seated at a spacious booth near a window.

"It’s very dark in here." My mother offers, a wide pseudo-smile spreading out across her face, showing her teeth.
"It’s romantic." I say.
"Romantic? Who needs ‘romantic?’ I can’t read the menu." She glares at the menu finally placing it useless in front of her.
"I’ll read it to you."
"Well, you’re going to have to. Maybe we could ask the waiter to turn the lights up. How do they expect you to---"
"Mom. Stop. I’ll read it to you."

A recitation by me of the menu follows. And if you know the China Grill, you know this is almost a Shakespearean task. Hundreds of items and their descriptions are read enticingly to the ears of my beloved parents. There is a silence. Both my parents reply simultaneously:

"There’s nothing I can eat."
"What do you mean ‘there’s nothing’?"
"We can’t eat anything on the menu."
"Why not? You like Salmon. You like Tuna. You like Steak."
"Did you say those things? It sounded so fancy-schmancy, maybe I didn’t hear it."
The waiter arrives asking for our beverage order.
"Water." Say my parents.
I hasten in. "We’ll have a bottle of Evian and a bottle of Pelligrino. Also, I’d like to order a bottle of the Cakebread Cabernet."

The waiter leaves. I notice my paralyzed parents with Popeye eyes staring at me.


My mother mumbles something into her napkin and gives a passive-aggressive back-of-the-throat groan.

(She does this when she remembers something but wishes she hadn’t. Or, when someone says or does something that she feels is hurtful to her, but she is a so virtuous she would rather suffer than let him or her know. She possesses a unique groan. It emanates from her closed mouth, back in the upper palate by her tonsils, like a low grumble and stays there as if she is in pain but won’t let it out-she’d rather suffer than to let the rest of the world know. But she is letting them know with this disapproving rumble. It is accompanied by her head upright but pulled back creating double chin look and her eyes averted downward. Soft and understated, it has been the loudest sound in my life: my mother judging, my mother disapproving, my mother suffering in relative silence while her selfish child tears her heart out.)

My father plays with his utensils.

"What?" I ask again.
"We didn’t know you were an alcoholic." My father says finally.

I’m stunned. My eyes blink twice. I stare at them not knowing what to say.

"An alcoholic? How did you get that? Because I ordered wine?"
"We didn’t know you were a drinker."
"I’m not a drinker. I like a nice glass of wine with dinner."
"But an entire bottle?"
"I was hoping you’d share it with me. It’s a lovely bottle. Cakebread makes a wonderful Cabernet. It’s like drinking velvet. I thought you might like to be treated to a nice bottle of wine, that’s all."
"We are not hoodlums. We don’t drink."
"I know you don’t drink, regularly, but a great glass of wine now and then adds some luxury and spice to life."
"We have enough spice."


The waiter arrives with the water and wine. As he’s pouring, my father says sternly, as if the waiter has purposely defied him and must be brought to justice:

"What’s this? Water in a bottle. I want the kind with ice cubes. I don’t need this water." Then to me, as I turn purple, "Is this what you waste your money on? Water in a bottle? You can get it out of the tap for free."
"Okay dad, but just for tonight, try the water in the bottle. You might like it. No germs. That’s good. Right?"

The waiter pours the wine into a gorgeous, paper-thin wineglass for me to taste. I nod and he begins to pour for all three of us. My mother pushes her glass, as a toddler would, way, way, far, away from her.

"Not for me. I’m not an ‘alchy’." She says, giggling to the waiter.

My father allows the pour but says as the waiter departs:

"How do you drink this? This glass is like a fish bowl."
"I know. That’s what they give you with really fine wine. It allows the wine to breathe."
"What? The wine will suffocate otherwise?"
"Just try it."
"Later." My father says, and pushed the wine to the side.

Comes time to order. My mother insists there is nothing for her to eat on the entire menu. Instead, she says,

"Don’t worry about me. I’ll just drink water. I wasn’t hungry anyway."

I order for she and I, knowing that once the food arrives she will not only eat it but she will eat most of mine as well.

"Give me the Tuna." My father barks, as if the waiter is a subordinate to an Army Captain.
"Rare sir?"
"Our tuna is usually served rare. It is an Ahi Tuna."
"What is this? A sushi place? You know we don’t eat sushi. Sushi has parasites. I don’t want my intestines filled with parasites."
"You can make it well-done," I say to the waiter with a weak smile, pouring myself a second glass of wine.

Both my parent’s eyes widen as I pour. They say nothing. I pretend not to notice.

"So tell me some stories." I say, trying to lighten the mood.
"What stories? We get up. We go out. We go to sleep. What stories?"
"I don’t know. Tell me about our family. The olden days."
My mother does the back-of-the-throat groan.
"You know all those stories." My father says as he signals a passing busboy.

The busboy stops at our table.

"Give me regular water, from a pitcher."

The busboy pours. The ice cubes clink into my parent’s glasses. They seem happy about this.

"I know I know the stories. I just like to hear you tell them. It makes me feel cozy."
"I want to talk about why you’re not married yet. You’re a beautiful girl. I don’t know what to tell my friends, the family."
"I know why she’s not married." Offers my father.

This I want to hear.

"She drives men away. She’s too independent. Men don’t like that."
"Men like me, dad."
"You’re too opinionated." He says.
"She gets that from you. You taught her that. It’s your fault." My mom retorts.
"I’m fine. I have male ‘friends’. I’m not lonely."
"Ooooh." My mother says to her chin. "Married men? Are you screwing them?"
How does she go from complete sexual denial to absolute crudeness?
"Let’s talk about family stories. Please?? I like that."

They are silent.

"I know a story I never heard." I venture. "Tell me how you and dad met and fell in love."
"We ordered appetizers didn’t we? What’s taking so long?"
"Mother. This is dining. This is not the ‘early bird special’. When you dine…dining is not about gobbling food and running. It’s about the ambience. The company. Enjoying a nice meal out. Relax. Please."
"I’m relaxed. Why are you always picking on me?"
Sigh. "So how did you meet?"
"Let me think about it."
"Okay. Here’s an easier one. What was it like for you when I was born?"
"Oy, I don’t remember." My mother says giggling through her sentence. "Ask your father."
"Why don’t you remember?" I am a bit incredulous. "Weren’t you there?"

My mother lifts her shoulders to her ears and laughs coyly but with a hint of annoyance.

"I don’t know. Stop asking me. Ask your father."

My mother hates painful emotion. And any emotion is considered ‘painful’ unless it is laughter. She is the wave-rider of life. Not a scuba diver. She hates confrontation and anything that isn’t surface gossip is torture to her.

"You know, I was the first one to hold you when you were born." my father says, reminissing.

He is smiling. He is not as fearful as she.

My mother reaches into her purse and pulls out, in this elegant restaurant, her current crochet project. She is very talented with her yarn and needles but she uses it as a wall, so she doesn’t have to participate if she chooses not to.

My father tells the story of my birth as my mother crochets.

"Why didn’t they give me to mom?"
"Your mother was sleeping."
"Aaahgh! It’s true." Mom yelps, her eyes still on her yarn.
"Right after I was just born?"
"Oh your poor mom. She was so scared. She can’t take that sort of thing. We got to the hospital and she was screaming ‘Put me out! Put me out!" My father chuckles at the memory. "So they put her out. Boy, she was out like a light." He shakes his head at the remembrance.

Another groan from the back of my mother’s throat.

"I don’t think I woke up until the next day. Is that right Irving? I didn’t wake up until the next day?" My mother comments, her eyes watching her own hands turn the needle.
"That’s right."

(Oh my Ostrich mother. Even while giving birth, her head is in the sand.)

"Tell me a story you do remember Mom. One from when you were little."

I know which one she will tell. It’s the only one she seems to recall.

"Oh Sal used to tease me terr-rr-rribly." My mother begins.

Sal is her older brother and my uncle.

Her voice dips lower. "Horr-rr-ibly." Voice even lower now. "Unforgivably." She’s in a low whisper and her mouth is pulled into such a long frown, she now has a double chin. "I was his whipping post." Heading up the scale for: "And I would protect my younger sisters from him so I would get it tw-ww-iii--ce as bad." Her mouth moves into and freezes in a smile shape but she bites her lower lip with her top two center teeth that cross over each other, and remembers.

"One time Sal was hanging out with his buddy Arthur and he called my name like this: Ray-ay, Ray-ay." She makes a song of it. "And they told me to come to the balcony. So I went to the balcony because I did everything he told me to do…" She laughs a high-pitched single-note laugh. Then silence. "I did what he told me to do." She says, resigned.

"And what happened?" I asks, craving the answer I know already.
"They told me to lean over and so I leaned over." She passes me a look like: ‘what else was I supposed to do?’
"And they had a bow and arrow and they shot it and it hit me right here. You see? I still have the scar." She points to the light scar I have memorized underneath my mother’s right Elizabeth Taylor-shaped eyebrow.
"Oh, did Grandpa Andrew get him!" She says, referring to her father; giggling like a crazed schoolgirl.

Customers around us hush and look over to see what the cackling is about.

"You tell me a story dad, of what it was like when you were little." I whisper.

The most significant person in my father’s life was his mother who, even after a radical double mastectomy, died of breast cancer alone in a sanitarium, at 40 years old, when my father was just sixteen. Perhaps for this reason, just as my mother would forever be fifteen, my father was forever sixteen.

"A story from when I was little. Let’s see." My father teases. He knows I know all his stories.
"Start from Grandpa Leonard!" I always enjoy hearing the entire saga and usually pick up a few unrevealed details at each new telling.
"Well, your Grandpa Leonard was one of five children. Can you imagine that? Five children."

I have always loved the way my father asked questions during his stories. Especially when I was a young girl. It was as if my opinion mattered. It made me feel grown-up. It still does.

"They were living in Poland and in those days, everyone was trying to get to America."

"My side of the family was Hungarian." My mother tosses in as she curls a yarn around her finger.

"In Poland, they were very poor and there wasn’t the same chance to get a better job like there is here. And because they were Jewish. People in Poland at that time didn’t like Jewish people so they made their lives very hard. So when your grandpa was just thirteen years old, can you imagine that? Thirteen? His parents, my grandparents, put him and his little brother Israel, who was a hunchback, on a boat to America."

"All alone?" No matter how many times I hear it, the story always astounds me.
"All alone."
"How old was Israel?"
"I believe he was eleven." My father looks to my mother who without lifting her eyes, nods knowingly.
"It’s weird that we had a hunchback in the family."
"It was a disease back then that we don’t have anymore."
Back of the throat groan from Mom who then adds under her breath, "Thank G_d."

(She never puts the ‘o’ in God as she feels it is sacrilegious. Not that she’s at all religious. More superstitious than anything else.)

"But I also heard it is good luck to have a hunchback in the family." My father says. "People would come up to them and rub their backs for good luck. So what happened was, Grandpa Leonard and Israel took this long, long boat ride to America and when they got here-wouldn’t you know it, there was a problem."

The waiter arrives with the appetizers. My parents scrutinize the plate of exotic food.

"Did we order this?"
"I don’t know what it is. I can’t see it."
"Just try it. I promise you’ll like it."
"Is everything in order?" the waiter asks.
"It’s fine." I smile.
He nods. Says, "Bon appetite."
"Is this a German restaurant?" my mother asks.
"That’s not German, Ray." My father corrects. "It’s Spanish."
"I thought this was a Chinese place."
"Just try it. I know you’ll like it."

They push and pick the food apart as if they’ve been served chocolate fried roaches. I dig in. Starving and getting a bit tipsy on my third glass of wine with no food in my stomach and no therapist near by.

"The problem was," my father continues, "that the United States had what they called a ‘quota system’. They had this because at that time, which was over seventy years ago, there were lots of people coming in from many countries. So the United States decided to limit how many could come in from each country before the new ones had to wait to let the others settle in. What happened with your Grandpa and his brother was that they got here and the United States went ahead and turned the boat away."
"I can’t even fathom it. What did they do? Weren’t they scared? Did he tell you?"
"I don’t know if they were scared—your grandpa never talked much about his feelings about it, but what they did was, they took the boat down to Cuba to wait until they opened the quota again."
"But why didn’t their parents go with them?"

The idea of this constantly disturbed me.

My mother, now scarfing down all the appetizers in one fell swoop, chimed in:
"At that time, they didn’t have enough money to come over at the same time so they sent the children first. They sent Mary before Len and Issy, remember Irving?"
"That’s right!" Irving, my father, gets excited with the new detail he had left out. "They sent their daughter Mary first and she ended up in Chicago."
"But how did they live in Cuba without any parents?"
"In Havana, your grandpa Len got a job as an apprentice in a barber shop and he and Israel lived in the back of the store."
"Issy died." Raina, my mother, says without losing a stitch.
"He died?"

I hadn’t heard this part of the story. I knew he died of course, but not the details.

"I don’t remember? Maybe he died of hunchback-ism. Do you remember Ray?" My father asks.
"When I talked to your Aunt Mary, she said he died in a fight."
My father is surprised. "See, I didn’t know that. What did she say?"
"She said he got into a fight and he was killed by some boys. That’s all I know." My mother says, non-chalantly, letting us view the food in her mouth.
"In a fight about what?" This new detail is horrifying to me.
"Maybe because he was a hunchback. Who knows. It’s past. Past is past." Says my mother.
"So after Israel died, Grandpa Leonard stayed on working for the barber and then he became one himself."

This was true. When my Grandpa was alive, he had a barbershop and I remembered him telling me and my brothers, in his thick-tongued Polish/Yiddish accent, "Learn how to cut hair. You’ll never be without a job."

"So did the quota open up and is that when he came to America?"
"The quota didn’t open up and I remember your grandpa describing how he was cutting hair and watching through the barber shop window as revolution after revolution went by—guns firing, people dying, shouts of ‘El Presidente’ from the streets."
"How did he finally get to America?"
"Well," Raina chimes in now, feeling comfortable with this part of the story since it has nothing to do with her and also, it being about love that turned out well, in her estimation. "Your grandpa had a sister that was sent to America first."
"Mary?" I inquire, making sure I’m correct with this part of the story.
Raina nods. "And Mary had a girlfriend named Lavinia. Lavinia was single, and in those days, if you were over the age of twenty-one and still not married, you were an old maid!"

Raina gives a serious look to her crochet needle. As opposed to giving one to me.

"Lavinia was almost twenty three, so she was considered an old maid. So Mary asked Lavinia if she would marry her brother to get him in the country and of course, she said ‘yes’. Leonard also said ‘yes’ because he wanted to get into the country and he didn’t mind getting wife and being taken care of. Isn’t that right Irving?"
"I think you’ve got it right Rae."

"Are you finished?" the busboy asks. We nod. I hardly ate. My parents, who can’t eat anything on the menu, polished it all off.

"And then what?" I adore this upcoming part of the story.
"He came to America and married your grandma Lavinia-the one you were named after—and he set up a small barbershop on the West Side of Chicago—"
"It used to be a very Jewish area at the time." Raina adds. "But now, it’s all gone. What’s there now Irving?"
"I don’t even know. Korean, I think. But your grandpa cut hair in the store front and we all lived together in the back room behind the shop."
"Who was there?"
"Let’s see. At that time, it was my older brother, your Uncle Barrie and myself and was Rachel born then? Uh, yes. Rachel was born by then. And my mother and my father. And the whole family lived in the back room together."

"In just one room?" I ask this question every time he tells the story. It’s remarkable to me that an entire family shared one room. When did the parents have sex?

"Oh," my father would always say, (and is saying now), "we loved it there. In fact, at one time, your grandpa moved us to a one-bedroom apartment and I’m telling you, we couldn’t take it. We couldn’t take it. It was too far apart. I guess we got used to it that way."

"How did it look?" I asked him this time and time again, loving to hear him describe it.
"Draw it for me." I beg. I take out a lipstick pencil and have him recreate the room on the cloth napkin.

As he draws, he narrates:
"There was a big round table in the middle of the room and our beds were around the walls. Your Uncle slept at that wall, and I slept on the wall by the closet and your aunt slept by the stove and grandma and grandpa slept by the door."

"Tell me about the time Grandma Lavinia chased you with the broom!" I had heard that story over and over again and loved it each time.
"It wasn’t a broom," he would say, "I think it was a butcher knife."

But if I said, "Tell me about the time Grandma Lavinia chased you with a knife."
He would say, "It wasn’t a knife, I don’t think; I think it was a broom."
"So why did she chase you?"
"Oh, it was something small. I don’t even remember anymore."

I remembered and was ready to remind him when my mother chimed in.

"It was the candy." She says.
"That’s right!" he said, genuinely excited to be reminded.
"I remember I was eating a candy bar or a piece of candy or something like that and it was before dinner and I was heading home from my buddy’s house and my mother saw me in the street. Oh! You should have seen her face! She turned white as a ghost and did I get scared!"
"You did?" I still tingled as I did as a little girl, at the thrill of this moment.
"My mother saw me, and she yelled out: Irrrr—vvv—ing! Just like that! Irrrr-vvv-ing! And boy, did I know I was in trouble!"
"But why were you in trouble?"
"Because I was eating before dinner. And my mother didn’t like that."
"So what happened next?"
"Well, she started chasing me but I was too fast for her. Remember she had just gotten cancer at this time. And she was a bit heavy like your mom here."

Raina gives her back-throated groans but doesn’t miss a hook/stitch.

My father, because he is faithful to my mother is annoyed with her overweight status. But my mother is a hedonist and things will never change so they just go on picking on one another about this issue.

"So she hollered to the man standing in front of his store: ‘Catch that boy!’" Irving gets softer vocally as he imitates his mother’s yell. "And he did. Oh. I’m telling you, that man grabbed me by my collar, just like this…" Irving mimics with his own shirt the way the man pulled him up from the back.

I am tittilated at the movie he is recreating for me. A movie he created for me when I was a little girl.

"And I was caught."
"So what happened?"

I am almost breathless—a combination of the stroll down memory lane, being connected to my parents and my fourth glass of wine.

"I escaped."
"You did?"
"I did. I got out of that grip but my mother then caught up with me and dragged me home and when we got inside, I escaped again and we started to run! Oh, I’m telling you—you should have seen it! Around and around that table we went! My mother was yelling at me! Swinging that broom! ‘Irving you stand still so I can beat you!’ She hollered! Oh, I’ll never forget it."

This story is a favorite of mine because it reduces my father to joyful tears.

The main course arrives. Kill me now.

It looks scrumptious.

The plate of Tuna is placed in front of my father.

"Excuse me." He says gruffly to the lowly waiter. "This is not what I ordered. This is not rare. It is raw. Take it away. I cannot eat it."
"Dad…" I plead with my eyes.
"They charge enough for the food here. They can get it right. I won’t eat this." He pushes the plate into the waiter’s hands.
"I’m sorry." I say to the waiter, "Maybe they could just cook it a bit more?"

I can see from the waiter’s expression that he is probably going to spit or pee on it before he brings it back out. Would it be so hard for my father, to be polite? I am baffled.
The waiter removes the plate. My mother digs in.

"Oh now what did I order?" she asks.
"Those are Lobster Pancakes, mom."
"Did I order that?"
"You did."
"Am I allergic to Lobster, Irving?"
"No. Just scallops."
"Can I eat it?"
"Eat it Ray."

She does.

"So, Mom? How did you and daddy meet and fall in love?"

I ask because I know it will keep the party going until the waiter brings my father’s Tuna back.

My mother’s posture changes for this story. The crochet and the yarn are placed by her side. She pulls her head back so her chin doubles, deciding where to begin.

"Did you know right away it was true love? Did you know right away, you were soul mates? Why did you pick daddy? Or did daddy pick you?"

Before Raina can speak, Irv says,

"Oh, daughter! I was so lucky. When my momma died I was so lost. It was a miracle I even finished high school—"
"No it’s true Irving." Raina chimes in, her mouth in a wide smile, biting her lower lip, Lobster pressed into her front teeth liked smeared white lipstick.
"If I hadn’t found your mama…" He gives me a squeeze around my shoulders. "She saved me. I’m tellin’ you. But it was really your grandma- your Grandma Etta." (He means my mother’s mother.) "Boy she was something. She took me in and I felt like I had a real family there."

My mother, her head still tucked in, her eyelids heavy, her eyes looking at a time only she can see, says,
"When you were young, in the forties and fifties, your idea of growing up was to grow up and get married and not to work and as a woman, that’s the thing I always remember. My dream was to be a housewife and a mother. To stay at home and devote—devote all the time and my uh, my life, to my children. Because that’s what I saw. That’s what it was in the fifties. And I didn’t thing it was wrong. I even went to college and it was, (in a high-pitched squealà )‘You don’t need college. You’re gonna get married. You’re gonna have babies. (down the vocal scale forà )You don’t need school. Be a secretary! (Strange one-note groaning high-pitched laugh) then, serious: ‘so that’s exactly what I did. I did what my parents told me to do. And at that time---"

"Oh at that time, your mother was beautiful."
"Oh, I don’t think I was beautiful. I never thought about beauty. I thought I was average."
"Oh daughter, she was a beauty."
"Oh. Thank you! I love it. Keep it up, Keep it up!" Raina giggles, stuffing more Lobster pancake into her mouth.
"Is that why you were attracted to mom?"
"You know daughter, I think it was the way she twirled her skirt—"
Before he can finish, Raina yelps, "I knew you were going to say that! So see, we wore these big felt skirts with poodles on them.

("Poodles" is a much longer word coming out of my mother. More likeà Pooooodalsss)

And I was very skinny at that time, so maybe if I—today they have size two and four—then they just had maybe size ten, so I wore a size ten and it would twist around on me and so when I would stand up I would twist it back. Isn’t that what I did?"
"Yeah." Irving answers simply, remembering.
"What was so sexy about that?"
"It was just what she did."

The waiter brings the practically broiled Tuna. My father gives him a stern look as he cuts it to inspect. I thank the waiter for him.

"See when I was a junior in high school, I had a girlfriend, Gertrude was her name annnd.."

(Although the word ‘and’ is always the longest in Raina’s vocabulary, she usually elongates all her vowels, pulling them out like taffy stretched to the limit.)

"Her and I decided all the boys we had dated were garbage, so we were going to get new boyfriends. So we decided, we were going to go to each class, and designate one boy in the class and that was the boy we were going to hit on—of course, at that time, there was no such expression—the expression was ‘make out’, so Irv was in my study hall-and they were all nice boys—they were all Jewish boys. That hung out at the Jewish community center—see, we didn’t know any non-Jewish boys. See the school was 99 percent Jewish and the one- percent Christian boy, who we called ‘hoodlums’, cause they had leather jackets and they smoked cigarettes, and they even rode motorcycles—Jewish boys didn’t do that. And the Christian boys didn’t even talk to the Jewish girls—it was very segregated. And I made out with Irving—in study hall –and then we went to the JCC—isn’t that where we went?"

"I remember we talked about cars." Irving says.
"I didn’t know anything about cars." Raina says, seemingly confused about this recollection. Then she perks up, all flirty and girlish: "Believe me, it was a big ploy!"
"I knew it was!" Irving almost interrupts.
Raina laughs by sucking in the sound Arrrgh.
"And theeeennnn, he said something that made me almost end it right then.

(Thump. Silence.)

"When we went to the JCC, and he says he plays pool and I thought ‘oh, he must be a hoodlum. Jewish boys don’t play pool. And then I was getting concerned." Raina’s face becomes grave. "But, we started dating and then we dated and we dated and we dated, for-ev-er—four and a half years and then, when it was my, twenty-ith and a half birthday, he gave me an engagement ring. I was, ess-tadic.
"It was forced! She forced it on me!" Irving teases.
"How did I do that?" my mother giggles like a bashful teenager.
"Very simple."
"You get lost Irving!" Raina suddenly bursts in a mock power tone. "This isn’t your story. You get lost Irv. Get lost Irv!"
"Well, one day, I was over at your grandma and grandpa’s house, and she was at a party for her friend Dolly. I think it was an engagement party." Irv says.
"It was a shower." My mother says softly.
"And we get a call back at the house—Rae was ill and she was hyperventilating and so forth, like that there."
"It’s true. I was hyperventilating. Why was I hyperventilating? I don’t remember."
"All your girlfriends were getting married, getting engaged, but you."
"Yeah, I think they deducted that."
"Well, the dad—that old man grandpa Andrew—your mother’s father—your grandpa--he took a look at me and he gave me a look that grew daggers right into my body."
"I don’t remember why I was hyperventilating. But your father deduced that-deduced that? Deducted that? What’s the word? So supposably I was. We got married, then, in a very small wedding in the Rabbi’s study; it was the Canter’s home. There was about twenty people there annnd we waited annnd we waited annnd we waited annnd the groom…never showed up. He was at the lakefront."
"I was just cooling off."

My mother nods and adds in my father’s defense: "It was a hundred and four degrees and there was no air conditioning."

"And you lost your watch?" I ask, incredulously, not hearing this part of the story before.

"Aaagh!" Raina squeals.
"No! No. I got there."
"Aagh! Irv! You lost your watch!" Raina gleefully interrupts.
"No!" Irving protests.
"Aagh! And then we got married annnd during the ceremony, I started—"

She makes her head slump slowly forward to her chest as she explains: "going down. I guess? Why was I going down? It wasn’t the heat because we had air conditioning at the Canter’s house. And uh, Dolly had smelling salts. And that’s how I spent the rest of the ceremony."

She fells her chin to her chest again. "I was passing out. Probably from excitement annnd nerves annnd I couldn’t believe I was finally getting married! Annnd then we went back to grandma’s house annnd we had corned beef annnd then your father and I went on our honey moon—"
"We came back broke—no money left." Irving says.

(Typical of my dad.)

"Annnd Irv wanted to go see the movie ‘Psycho’ annnd I refused to go, so—he went by himself."

My mother falls silent.

"How is your dinner Dad?"
"It’s Tuna."
"I know it’s Tuna. But do you like it?"
"For the price they charge, it should be better."

"I hate to say it daugher. But you are a spend thrift. I don't like you throwing your money away like this. Almost three hundred dollars on dinner. I could have picked up fish at the market, some yams. Twenty dollars. This is part of your problem. Men don't like to be with women who spend money like water."

I give up.

My mother, still in the story, breaks out of her reverie. "That’s very important. It stuck with me." She pulls her bottom lip into her teeth and thinks for a moment and then says, "I don’t think it was important. It just happened. Cause we came back and that’s what—that’s what he did. Went to see ‘Psycho’. Without me."

The busboy collects out plates.

My father still has not tasted the wine.

"Dad, there is one glass left. Please try it? For me?"
"You want to turn your father into an ‘alchy’?"
"One glass won’t ruin him, Mother."
"I’ll try it." My father says, in a ‘what the hell, I’m an adventurous sort of guy,' voice.

Slowly he tips the glass to his lips. I watch the wine enter his mouth. He swirls it like Listerine. Suddenly, he puts the glass back to his lips, dribbling the lush, gorgeous wine back into the glass.

"What? You don’t like it?" I ask.

"Well, daughter." He says. "It’s not Mogen David."


At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today's headline was "Bush Signs Intelligence Bill."

It must mean that intelligence has become illegal.

Next they will outlaw wit, charm and perception.
You will be in big trouble, my dear. Better watch
your back.

I've read these pages from "cover to cover" with
growing fascination -- I'm hooked. Thanks so much
for sharing!

At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think intelligence, deep intelligence, has been illegal in this country for some time now, no? (Hee hee.) But thanks for the warning. I have spent my life 'watching my back', as you say! That's why I live 'underground'. Thank you for taking the time to read and 'get hooked.' I guess that is my job after all, in basest terms...to hook 'em in. ??? So so glad you took the time to read and let it hit your heart.
P.S. A good book for further reading if interested: "Ain't Nobody's Business if I do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes In American"..by Peter McWilliams

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Americans have regarded intelligence with
a certain suspicion for a long time. Now it's
turning into institutionalized hostility.
Legitimized by the election returns of course.

I have this vision of a new Un-American Activities
Committee. "You are charged with failure to lust after consumer goods, and to thinking that the characters on Seinfeld are shallow idiots. How do
you plead?"

Okay, so I'm being paranoid. Sue me.

If I'm going to continue to correspond this way
I'll need an identity. Call me Winson Smith.



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