I've been getting mail solicitations to join AARP for a few years, but this recent one in particular caught my eye because it included a free gift with membership -- something that actually looked useful. My daughter saw it laying on the counter, and laughingly asked if I was going to join. I told her I might, because the trunk organizer was kind of neat. "Trunk organizer?" she exclaimed. "I thought it was a diaper holder!"
Earlier today, while listening to the news on my car radio, I heard it reported that Osama Bin Laden had been keeping a diary. If it's anything like most people's diaries, one might assume that he kept an account of his hopes and dreams, as well as his day-to-day happenings, both exciting (to him) and mundane. Needless to say, I couldn't help but imagine what some of those entries might look like. Not only that, but just imagine what the diary itself looked like! Was it simple and utilitarian, made of goatskin? A fuzzy purple and glitter-accented number from Claire's? Or perhaps pink and pretty, with Hello Kitty on the cover. Tasteless? Maybe, but just think of the possibilities.
July 30, 2001: Dear Diary...One of these days, I will crash not one, not two, but at least three -- maybe four! -- planes into filthy American landmarks.
September 12, 2001: Dream has (mostly) come true!
December 13, 2001: My video was released today by the imperialist government of the United States and was a rousing success, but I still can't help but think that the caftan I was wearing made my hips look big.
November 3, 2004: This cave is cozy enough, but terribly dreary. It definitely could use a woman's touch. Perhaps it is time that I take a new wife.
January 19, 2006: So some news agencies are claiming that the voice on the tape released today is not, in fact, mine. Of course it is! Everyone knows that the Jews control the media!
August 24, 2007: Stewed goat, roasted goat, braised goat, goat in a blanket, goat fricassee, goat a-la-orange -- when will it end?
March 11, 2009: Abbottabad is rather charming for such a provincial town, but the view from this villa is lousy. Who thought to build an 18 foot wall? Stupid architect!
April 30, 2011: I am thinking of taking on a seventh wife, but my advisors tell me that it would mean I have to up my life insurance policy and pay higher premiums. Bah! What could possibly happen?
May 1, 2011: I have this funny feeling today that I just can't shake. Oh, never mind!
A couple of weeks ago, on the tail of yet another one of our all-too-frequent full-blown snowstorms, my son -- over some probably winless argument of the common variety in this house -- decided that cursing at me would be a good way to put an end to our rather heated conversation. Never quite having been able to grasp that this kind of behavior is not acceptable, and despite back-to-back and overlapping punishments due to behavior of this and other kinds, I informed him that he was not losing just one, but two privileges: TV and video games (which he is only permitted to play on weekends, anyway). Unable to accept his fate, he decided to run away -- escaping from one of his bedroom windows, which happens to be adjacent to a lower roof area not terribly far from the ground, especially when one has a couple of feet of snow to cushion the fall.
Not long after being banished to his room, I heard an alarm chime, alerting me to the fact that a window had been opened. This being the dead of winter, no one in their right mind would think to open a window except, of course, Sam -- who has been known to climb out on the roof in the past, always on the heels of some emotionally-charged episode of some kind or another. This time however, he launched.
I went upstairs, and found wedged between his door handle and frame a folded piece of loose-leaf paper, upon which were written the ominous words: Read Me.
And so I read.
Hello. If your reading this then I am gone. The rules are simple; you take away my punishment or try to find me and get me in troble. See I have my phone, you can call me, but it's not as if you can triangulate my cell phone. I have money that I can use for 2-7 days. If I need a train or taxi, I can afford it. Since you gave me no pity, you get none, too. I'll clean my room and buy a new compass only if you take away 60%-100% of my punishments (except for spanish -- I can manage 1 week of no computers). Think about it like this. I run away, you call, but no priviliges are taken back, so I refuse. You come looking for me, really trying to find me and...you call me. If you don't believe me, then think about it, why did I take my time writing this? See! I'm good.
I should clarify that the Spanish he referred to was an assignment he failed to produce and as a result, lost certain privileges, and the compass was something he had smashed in a recent fit of rage.
Although he may not have spelled everything correctly, I really had to hand it to him. The kid managed not only "triangulate," but also used one mean semi-colon. It was almost a proud moment. And those arbitrary 2-7 days, and 60-100 percent of punishments! It was all I could do to not burst out laughing on the spot. I did laugh a few moments later, when I attempted to read the note aloud to my husband and daughter with a straight face. Jeff grabbed it from me, imagining that he could actually accomplish what I could not. How wrong he was.
I decided to ignore Sam's note and not call him. I knew I could count on the weather being on my side, along with the fact that he jumped into mounds of snow wearing only his sneakers, virtually guaranteeing that his socks took the brunt of the wet and cold. How far could he really get?
As it turned out, not too far; less than a mile from the house, right on the corner of Main Street. He called to see if I was moved by his bold deed. He was disappointed not only to find out that I was not, but also that I was busy and requested that he call later when he was ready to come home. That call came not too long afterward. I picked him up, and we rode home in silence.
My husband, however, turned out to be quite impressed by Sam's feat, actually requesting that he re-enact his majestic leap from the roof into the backyard to be recorded on film for posterity.
Although this didn't happen yesterday -- it actually took place about a year and a half ago -- I still find myself sighing in wonder about an event I never could have imagined. Not that what took place was truly unimaginable in any way, but given my family history and all that it involved, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. And it all comes down to this (much abandoned) blog.
On August 12, 2009 I received an email I almost didn't open because from the address and title, it appeared to be spam. The name, although not necessarily a common one like Smith or Jones, wasn't all that unusual, and the subject line said, "It's been a very, very long time." I figured it must be from a company I might have ordered something from way back when or, more likely, some kind of come-on for a sex site (I am forever getting emails offering me the opportunity to increase the size of my non-existent penis). But for some reason, I actually opened it.
I read your blog today for the first time and I could certainly relate to some of your insecurities, especially since we share some of the same genes.
I'm your long lost cousin Lori, yes your uncle Bernie's daughter.
Oddly enough, I live pretty close to you, in North Hills.
Would you be interested in meeting for a cup of coffee?
Lori, my first cousin, who along with her sister Carol, I hadn't seen (save for one brief meeting in 1989) on any regular basis since 1975.
I was stunned, immediately knocked into a daze. All I could say aloud was "Holy shit," which I continued repeating both outwardly and inwardly for some time afterward. But it sure didn't stop me from responding, and I dashed off an email immediately. We made plans to meet the following Sunday for breakfast at a nearby diner.
It was one of the most wonderful days of my life. And not long afterward, I saw Carol again, too, who as it turned out originally found my blog and passed the information on to Lori. And since then, we have been together on every Jewish holiday -- Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Passover -- holidays that long held emotionally-loaded memories for me of my immediate family in all its dysfunctional glory, but were now replaced by a sense of peace I never could have dreamed possible. And every bit as wonderful, my children have been afforded the opportunity to celebrate these occasions as well -- with others, not just us, alone -- creating for them warm memories that will hopefully remain with them for the rest of their lives.
I've been wanting to update my blog for some time now (as you can see, I haven't written anything since back in March), and although I have a lot to say, a certain member of my family often leaves bizarre and "hijackish" comments based on my posts, some of which I have had to delete due to their inappropriateness. Lest anyone imagine that no one could be more inappropriate than I am with some of my observations, I don't use ugly and inflammatory words and phrases like this individual chooses. I also don't try to top the words of others by echoing their style in my comments with imagined cleverness.I realize that what I write is out there for the world to see, and believe me, there are certain topics I have chosen to stay away from out of respect for this person and his issues, but also have had no choice but to stay away from because of this person and his issues. This behavior has even extended to following comments I've posted on other people's blogs, and returning here to echo my words (words which I have chosen to delete, but may retain from now on for legal/security purposes).
What isn't so apparent is that I have software that allows me to access the IP address and roughly pinpoint the location of anyone who as much as opens a page here, if even for a split second. It also tells me the pages viewed and how they got there, as well as entry and exit times, among other things. It has been in place for many, many months. I initially decided to use it because I thought it would be interesting to see where some of my readers are coming from and how they happened upon me, and indeed it has been -- from all over the world, in fact, and just as often accidently as intentional. But then it proved to have a higher purpose of sorts, as sad as that is.
I've changed my comment settings to exclude anonymous comments, which is rather regretful, as there are actually people out there who aren't registered but have valuable things to say, and whose observations and experiences I welcome. Of course, there's a chance that this, too, leaves things open for one to comment using a phony and no doubt, inside joke-type web address (which would be so like him), but then again, I'm watching.
If this person wants to write missives based on his own experiences (individual or shared), starting a blog of his own would make way more sense. This blog may be publically accessible, but it isn't meant to be a playground for the manically mentally ill. There are better ways to be heard, and a good place to start would be in a psychiatrist's office.
Although I have been acquainted with a number of my husband’s family members for many decades – long before I actually knew even him – it wasn’t until I became a member of the family myself that I began to realize that just as water seeks its own level, the dysfunctional manage to somehow land smack dab among the similarly blessed, despite all clearly illusory attempts to the contrary.
Like many families, his was largely led by a figurehead, in this case a matriarchal font of wisdom – and for some progeny, one of seemingly bottomless pockets -- known as Anna. As my husband’s maternal grandmother, she was always pleasant to me, and I truly enjoyed the times I spent in her expansive and antiques-filled apartment in Brooklyn, a fortress of a building on the corner of Bay 28th Street and Benson Avenue. She raised three daughters – my mother-in-law, along with her twin sister and an older sister – all of whom I had long been familiar with. While their father was an attorney, it seems he wasn’t a particularly successful one due to certain vaguely described aspects of his personality. So Anna always worked, took care of her family, and ran an all-around very tight ship. In her prime, she loved entertaining, and her house (and later, apartment) was always a place where relatives and friends would congregate and enjoy her skillful cooking and baking.
With such a formidable figure at the helm, I suppose it was understandable that she attained something on the order of living-legend status while she was alive, and sainthood (as is usually the case, unfortunately, even with total bastards) when she was no longer. But also as is usually the case, how things appeared weren’t exactly aligned with how things were, and as wonderful as she was, little by little the reality of how she operated was revealed.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing about her; in fact, it was largely good. However, it might have been a case of good gone too far, which further reinforced her matriarchal status, hard-earned as it was. In every family roles are appointed or otherwise settled into and played out, and Anna's was that of both leader and rescuer. She became so accustomed to earning and saving, that she became for some a secondary (or even primary) source of income -- extending even into succeeding generations. My mother-in-law, along with her husband and children, was not among those benefitting from such generosity, which is certainly to her credit. My in-laws were always hard workers, and instilled the same shared ethic in their children. While others were helped along in many ways, from rent paid, to grandchildren’s camp and college tuitions covered or subsidized, to vacations treated to, no such rewards – none at all, in fact -- were accorded to the ones who displayed any measurable amount of independence and success. Although it was clear to those not so munificently anointed, as well as to others (like me) on the outside looking in, her canonization remains intact to this day, a good 16 years after her death.
To those who benefitted from her financial generosity, she cooked enough for an army; according to my husband and his cousin Saul (son of my mother-in-law’s twin sister, unquestionably the most loving and dutiful of daughters), she served a pound of fish for a dozen guests, exclaiming, “Take, take – there’s plenty for everyone!” To those who made unfortunate choices, she was exceedingly unsparing, resulting in subsequent offspring to expect – and receive – the same. Those who ordinarily neither needed nor expected anything of the sort from her were, however, rebuffed when even a short-term loan of relatively small significance was timidly and respectfully requested. Failure, great or small, was amply rewarded; success of any noticeable degree was punished. Her role as leader of the family was, without question, carved in stone.
A few years ago, shortly after Jeff’s cousin Saul bought a house in our town, our family moved in with him for about a month or so until we transitioned to a temporary apartment, due to unexpectedly having to vacate our home during a large-scale renovation. Our children took up residence in a bedroom housing a lovely maple dresser that had originally been in Anna’s bedroom until she passed away. Like most children (and even some adults), they couldn’t resist peeking in closets and opening drawers. It was in that very dresser that they uncovered a small, robin's egg blue plastic box. Excited at the prospect of what they imagined might be a treasure even Saul himself was not aware of, they opened the box – and found inside a set of false teeth, the sight of which immediately elicited from them a very audible, and in unison, sound of disgust.
Repulsed, and at the same time clearly enchanted by the very personal nature of their discovery, they ran to all three of us – Saul, Jeff and me – to show off their find, with which they made sure not to get too up close and personal. “Are these your teeth?” they asked Saul. “Certainly not; mine are all in my mouth,” he answered. “Those are grandma’s teeth – my grandma, who was your great-grandmother.”
It was a shared moment of absurdity, combined with a certain measure of poignancy, and one I could not let pass without comment. Although she was long gone, a strangely important part of her remained, symbolic as it was. When alive, she dispensed not just money, but her own brand of wisdom; dead, a conduit through which that wisdom was transmitted remained, revealed through the surprising disclosure of her dentures.
“Why in hell would you want to keep something like that?” I asked Saul, laughing. “I don’t know,” he answered. “It’s hard to let some things go; I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them out.” My husband chimed in, “Does she talk to you through them? Give you advice? ‘Saul! Why did you need such a big house – it’s a waste of money!’” he mimicked.
And there it was, the greatest treasure of all, somehow discarded by those who in their frantic scramble grabbed whatever appeared most valuable, leaving behind that which continues to represent Anna’s unending source of knowledge and wisdom. Thanks to the goodness and sentiment of Saul, this relic remains, forever to be regarded by our small cabal with much reverence and joy -- an archaeological find we now refer to as The Oracle at Benson.
Picture this, if you will, or if you imagine having the intestinal fortitude to behold such: A man-creature, about 5’8” tall, appearing relatively nondescript from behind, and most certainly from a distance. He turns around, and you find yourself facing the confounding image of a man of a certain age, but with the abdominal distension of a woman nine months gravid. Alone, this would perhaps not be too alarming, but then there’s the attire, at once contradictory on such a figure and, at the same time, almost viscerally and painfully stereotypical, but you have hope. Although he sports a velveteen jogging suit, you try to rationalize the comfort factor of his attire. But then you are confronted with the open shirt and the multiple chains, one sporting a rather large cartouche; the thick gold bracelet and the Black Hills Gold ring. That he has a bald pate is not to be faulted, of course, but it is yet one more element adding up, adding up…
And then he opens his mouth, and the thunderous voice, the expert-on-virtually-everything cadence seals the deal.
He is Shylock-become-flesh, Streicher’s boilerplate, a Riefenstahlian antithesis, and a plain old embarrassment to the rest of us tribal members who prefer to live their lives in (albeit relatively) quiet dignity: The bald-headed, loudmouthed, jogging suit-wearing, open-shirted, chain-jangling Niewe Yorkus Transplantus. Of the subgenus, Judaicus Embarrassallofus. And lucky, lucky me…he’s my father-in-law.
On the other hand, and equally luckily for me, he lives in Florida (naturally), where he spends his days compacting a particularly forlorn couch cushion while earnestly dividing his attention between all-sports or all-shopping channels. This would not be an issue to me at all -- after all, why would I ordinarily care how someone spends their time? -- but being the armchair expert that he is, the virtually total lack of interest in team sports on the part of my family (which includes his own son and grandchildren) becomes yet another object of his derision. Somehow, I get the feeling that the only sport he ever actively participated in was a rousing game of saluggi, in which he was the unwilling but desperate subject, hoping to rescue his errantly tossed pastrami-and-corned-beef on rye.
His generosity, too, is unparalled. To my husband and our children, he will occasionally grandly distribute largely useless and often age- and gender-inappropriate freebies he acquires from time to time from the travel companies he still does business with (he was a rather successful travel agent in his day, and has remained in the industry on a part-time basis). To me, he gives nothing, but occasionally affords me a tantalizing glimpse of his boxer shorts-clad physique. (Then again, he isn't one to deny anybody in proximity such splendors of the flesh, so perhaps I shouldn't feel so special after all.)
His "cave of wonders" is a spacious, filled-to-the-rafters, two-car garage. In there, off-brand wristwatches, hot dog cookers, vacuum sealers and additional never-removed-from-their-original-packaging small appliances nestle side by side and teetering toward disaster along with countless other precious items, such as those much-sought after, garishly-painted state quarters -- all presumably waiting for Indiana Jones to liberate them and reveal their glory to the world. In the meantime, they remain where they are and in his possession, because one never knows when that portable door alarm disguised as a plush bear will come in handy. And who’ll be the fool then? Clearly, not him.
In an attempt to make room for more treasures, he one day decided to climb up through the trap door leading to the crawlspace above his garage. He successfully sets up the ladder (a feat in itself), climbs through the opening (ditto), and then into the steamy, dark interior of a Florida attic -- not exactly the ideal environment in which to archive such alleged valuables, or materials of any kind, for that matter. In any case, the difficulty of negotiating the narrow joists soon takes its toll, and he spots some boards left behind by work crews during contruction of his residence. He steps onto one of them, and in a split-second realizes that it is, in fact, not attached. It shifts, and he plummets through the sheetrock below. My mother-in-law hears the crash, and comes running into the garage...to find him suspended by his belly, legs dangling through the smashed ceiling, debris scattered everywhere.
What I wouldn't have given to have been a fly on that wall. Or a Suzanne Somers ThighMaster. Mint in box, of course.
Although it appeared my husband had read my latest blog entry, Jabba the Schmuck, without incident, it turns out that he had been stewing about it for days.
For those of you who hadn't yet read it, Jabba the Schmuck was a lovingly rendered, bulls-eye accurate depiction of the man whose seed brought forth my husband. (Ugh, the mere thought of it...)
Jeff didn't have a problem with the physical description of his father, nor the fact that the man is a loudmouthed know-it-all, or that he watches sports and shopping channels habitually, or that he buys and stockpiles the largely worthless items purchased through the latter, or that he belittles virtually everyone around him...no, none of those were of concern. The issue, it seems, has to do with the hard, cold fact of his astounding sense of entitlement, and profound lack of generosity in kind. In other words, the kind of truth that hurts.
I will return with a kinder, gentler version of Jabba the Schmuck. The first three or so paragraphs -- the descriptive stuff, with which my husband surprisinglydoesn't have his panties in a twist-- will remain exactly the same.
I'm the indoorsy type, making occasional forays to the supermarket, and letting my psychotic dachshund take me out for a drag a few times a day. I also have a cat (like me, the indoorsy type). I do enjoy tanning, though, which kind of conflicts with my monastic proclivities, but I have a backyard deck and can be found there during the summer months strategically zinc oxided and encased in aluminum foil. I'm married with two kids -- one of each -- who never fail to make me laugh. Their existence validates my belief that sarcasm actually IS hereditary. Or, at the very least, osmotic. My husband sometimes makes me laugh. My in-laws never make me laugh. Except at them.