I have long held the contention that German is comprised of merely 50 root words, endlessly rearranged and combined to make it one of the most complicated and difficult languages known to man.

Example:  The two syllable darling known in English as a “matchbook” gets expanded to the whopping five syllable “Streichholzschachteln” which literally translates to something along the lines of “box of wooden sticks that you strike”.


But if you break these impossibly long words down into their smaller components, you can easily suss out the definition based on the roots.

Here are a few examples.


\SCHPEEL-o-tek\ noun

Lit: A chain of casinos.

Fig: A cinema where it is permissible to scream aloud (vent your spiel) at the movie screen, much like when in your own living room.  In every other cinema it is (read: should be) verboten.



\CHRIST-baum-schmucks\ noun

Lit: Christmas Tree Jewelry

Fig: Messianic Jew-hating dicks. ‘Christbaum’… get it? No? Okay. Nevermind.



\FRY-halt-en\ verb

Lit: Keep clear

Fig: What Weight Watchers recommends you do after eating six French fries.



\ay-SCHTEK-ish-uh  SHEER-ur-gee\ noun

Lit: Plastic surgery

Fig: A discussion on the aesthetic appearance of Javier Bardem/Anton Chirgurh’s controversial hairstyle in the film, No Country For Old Men.



\AUS-fart\ noun

Lit: Exit (for cars)

Fig: A fart that is released out into the world without fear of recognition.


\EIN-fart\ noun

Lit: Entrance (for cars)

Fig: A fart that desperately needs to be released, but due to the unfortunate circumstance of being in close company, must be held in.



\SCHTAD-trund-fart-en\ noun

Lit: Sightseeing bus

Fig: A special bus where the trend is to stand and fart openly in the company of strangers from other countries.



\FOY-er-VER-zoo-fart\ noun

Lit: Fire access lane

Fig: Where there’s fart, there’s fire.

It’s odd to grow accustomed to rickshaw travel: the fresh air, the cruising under the night sky just a little buzzed after a stop at Shantou’s finest wine bar where elbows were rubbed against those of the budding bourgeois. Sometimes I think of the rickshaw as a time machine, transporting me back to a moment when the triangular straw hats and tattered short pants of the driver were no less obsolete than… rickshaws. Despite the allure, I think I’m witnessing the last days of rickshaw culture here in Shantou. Traffic is getting a little too car oriented and I can’t imagine this mode of travel making it very long in such a fast growing city. There are other bits of local culture in Shantou, however, that seem perfectly safe for the forseeable future, and one of those was exactly what I set out to explore on the back of my rickshaw last Saturday night.

All my local friends have assured me that KTV, or karaoke, is the best time to be had in Shantou. In my mind a karaoke bar is a big open room where people get sloppy drunk and sing their favorite Credence, their least favorite Fine Young Canibals or their hopeless renditions of Queen (which always begins seriously but quickly, upon coming to the realization that nobody can really sing those high notes, become hopeless), as friends berate their lack of vocal prowess, and at the end of the night everyone’s that much more certain of the fact that they made the right choice in giving up their operatic aspirations and going back to whatever tone deaf, sobriety laden occupation keeps them busy on weekdays.

But that is not this karaoke bar. ‘Bar’ is really not the applicable term. It’s a palace, reminiscent of the home of a Suadi Prince who fell in love with a Vegas based interior decorator. It’s divided into hundreds of private rooms like a hotel. These private rooms line the neon and mirror filled mazes of hallways on floor after floor of closed doors, the gentle whiff of John Denver or the Carpenters slipping from under the threshold.

I wanted in. KTV is supposedly a Shantou delicacy (though that seems to be the claim no matter where you go in Southeast Asia), and I wanted a big fat bite of some local culture that wasn’t coated in MSG (I love my MSG, but too much is too much). Alas, we, myself and three other Americans, were led down one of the long magical hallways and into our own private room. The room was ours for the night at 300RMB (about 50 USD) and came complete with 30 cans of Budweiser. There was even a bathroom in our room, which meant that for the next six hours or so, we had no reason to exit our private salon.

We turned on the machine to look through the song list. Chinese… Chinese… Chinese… Chinese… What’s this here “three little Indians.” In case you don’t recall your primary education in the days of zero cultural sensitivity that is the song that goes a little something like, “one little, two little, three little Indians, four little, five little, six little Indians, seven little, eight little, nine little Indians, ten little Indian boys.” Over and over again. And that was it. That was our English selection. Well, that and a couple of Avril tunes.

It was just as the confusion of the one-English-song karaoke machine was wearing off that the tray of six assorted varieties of chicken feet was brought in, and we were all forced to acknowledge that the next three hours, or however long it was going to take us to finish those 30 beers and six trays of feet, and we were determined to finish them, were going to be very long hours. Not so much because of the short song supply, or even the chicken feet, but mostly because we were going to be stuck with each other in a confined space with little to no odds of meeting new friends, girls, practicing Chinese… In short, all of the reasons that I go to a bar were locked away in identical, tantalizingly closed-off worlds, spread around this massive karaoke palace as if it were the honey-comb universe of Quantum Leap and I was Scott Bakula.

Ultimately, we were forced to breach the force field of the vigilant hallway security team by doing a sort of, ‘I’m just standing in the hall whistling and leaning… doing some fresh air… taken a break from the little Indian song…’ charade, and darting into random rooms as soon as security’s heads were turned. No one was fooled except perhaps us in assuming that they cared if we entered random rooms, but too much Budweiser mixed with the giddiness of four quasi-grown men thrown into what felt like grade school sleepover conditions, led to a little bit of make-believing. To us, these forays into the unfamiliar rooms were bona fide adventures.

Once inside, we were greeted with more Budweiser and chicken feet, and Chinese songs being calmly, sweetly sung amongst mostly sober friends who were caught just a little off guard by the beer filled, socially starved Americans who had sabotaged their gathering.

By chance, on one of our clandestine missions into unknown territories we stumbled upon a couple of Chinese friends from work, and they came back to our room to get a little taste of what American karaoke was like. They told us that the spicy bird feet were good luck. I picked one up and asked if you were supposed to rub it, like a rabbits foot, our eat it for luck, but they didn’t seem to follow. I ate it, but then decided to name it Rub to be sure I was respecting both of our traditions.

It was time for Avril, and lets just say the gods of rock would have been pleased with the show we put on… The Chinese fan of karaoke on the other hand…

There was some fundamental misunderstanding here about the meaning of Karaoke, and beyond that about the meaning of going out. While it seemed that the patrons were fully attempting to create a barrier between their own group of friends and the outside world, that idea was the height of undesirable to my mind. I was going ‘out,’ after all, not staying ‘in.’ And yet, here I’d gone ‘out,’ just to end up being locked ‘in,’ and I’d ended up acting like my friends parents had gone to sleep and we had to sneak out of his room, and down to the pantry to steal more Poptarts.

I am not intending to make any judgments about who was wrong and who was right here. Actually, I’m pretty sure that if I were to make any they would not be in my favor. Among other things, I realized that my sense of social is completely distorted. I don’t claim to speak for Americans by any means, but I think that I have witnessed in many Americans (or maybe I’m projecting) a fear of intimacy that precludes the kind of deep friendship that most of us crave. Mostly, I spent a night being extremely immature, sneaking about like an interdemensional hopper from a crap sci-fi program, and shotgunning cans of beer like I haven’t since the last time I was in Indiana (long story), because the idea of being in a quiet room with three friends and no distractions (chicken feet and children’s songs excluded) made me quite anxious. But, I’m not going to be too hard on me. It was a pretty good time.

But, it’s true that intimacy is something other than what it used to be (or at least what I used to think it was supposed to be), no? We (I) are more self-absorbed in all the best and worst ways than I thought we (I) were. We don’t think of relationships in terms of self-sacrifice for the preservation of tradition, family, etc…, which as far as I can tell are still very much a part of Chinese society. For better or worse, I think I see relationships almost like the various rooms in this karaoke palace; we spend a lifetime wandering from one to another, learning the lyrics to Raffi, Green Day, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone and finally, morbidly humming the tune to some Requiem all alone, watching for the door handle to jiggle when the white gloved waiter walks in with the bill.

I’m thinking of friends who’ve said to me after particularly hard break-ups, “well, I guess you two had learned what you needed from one another.” After which I nod my head in agreement. On to the next room. Even serious relationships (and I am including friendships) lack intimacy when you expect them to end, when you remove the possibility of their being, for lack of a better word, eternal.

And, maybe, this makes relationships potentially stonger, more realistic, someohow more intimate in the acceptance of the joint limitedness of their partakers. But, usually it just taps into our insecurities and makes us avert our eyes, maybe drink faster, wish that Rickshaws didn’t have to go out of style instead of listening to the person who is sitting next to us in one, pretend that you are in an episode of Quantum Leap instead of taking advantage of some time with friends… Maybe it’s just me.

On the way out of the karaoke palace, we were all just a little bit wobbly, and in quick need of a rickshaw back home, potentially making a stop for some barbeque to reconcile the Budweiser and bird feet churning in our stomachs. There were, however, no rickshaws to be found. The rickshaw drivers, it would seem, had gone on strike at some point between 10pm and 3am. Maybe we would be seeing the end of that relic sooner than I thought. It looked like rather than cruising home pretending to be on the back of a very lo-fi time machine, we would be walking down the long road that passed Wu’s sweater shop. But atleast we were finally ‘out.’

It is a phenomenon that began the first month we were “trying.” While on vacation this summer in Quebec we were seated in a restaurant and my husband started laughing – above my head hung a large, rather grotesquely vivid painting of hugely pregnant woman in a red dress. As I anxiously awaited the day when I could pee on an informative stick, they only seemed to multiply. One would be standing beside me in the elevator, another would follow me onto the subway. It didn’t help that we live in a neighborhood that seems, in certain seasons, a kind of hothouse experiment in human fertility. There it was – there were pregnant women everywhere.

Now that I’m pregnant myself, I seem to see even more of them then ever, though my feeling towards them has changed. Before I knew I was pregnant I felt them taunting me with their fertility. “Why this old thing?” the beach-ball-bellied jogger in Prospect Park seemed to say, “It’s my fifth!” Then there were the tired-looking moms-to-be on the subway who would all but shout, “Hey you, you unpregnant, totally-normal, no-one-extra-living-in-your-guts plebeian – give me that seat!” Now, on the other hand, I see them all as cohorts, as if we were sisters in this bizarre hobby of ours. I find myself staring inappropriately at midsections. I’ll get all excited by a rounded stomach only to realize upon further examination that it’s plain old pudge, my interest in its carrier suddenly flatlining. A normal, I’ll tell myself, disappointed. Not in the club.

It is, for me, a silent club, since I don’t actually know any other expecting mothers other than a few scattered coworkers and the attendants of my prenatal yoga class, (none of whom I actually really speak to, mind you). Which is probably the very reason why I feel such kinship with this imagined clique. Do I really have anything in common with the chic Midtown business lady balancing her belly on stilt-like Manolo Blaniks? Probably not, though that doesn’t stop me from having to fight back a strange desire to run up to her and say, “Hey! Does it seem like you can feel your belly stretching sometimes? Are your nipples practically purple? Are you growing fur all over? Oh my god me too!” It really is so strong sometimes I almost can’t resist it, though I am generally not that kind of overly-solicitous, making-small-talk-on-airplanes kind of person at all. And yet, I worry that one of these days some rounded neighbor of mine is going to find herself assaulted. “Hey!” I will scream, pawing at her arm as she reels back in alarm. “I am also growing a tiny human! HOLY SHIT ISN’T THAT SO WEIRD? CAN YOU BELIEVE OUR BODIES CAN DO THAT?”

At the very least, I am thankful that the tiny human still lives inside, where she can’t yet be embarrassed by me.

Blessing Lost

By Erika Rae


She was unapologetically beautiful with ocean damp hair and breasts that pressed two dark spots into her pink camisole.Light freckles on her nose matched her sand crusted toes and she walked the leaf-shadowed path as if she bore the weight of a hidden royal past.

Warning: this post is not for anyone under 18, faint of heart, or my mother.

When you think of Amsterdam, certain things immediately come to mind:

So imagine my surprise when I, for all intents and purposes, a “good girl”, was asked to be the keynote speaker at an event celebrating pubic hair (or lack thereof) at an erotic novelty shop.

You see, I made this little film that has caused quite a ruckus, tarnishing the shiny patina on my ‘good’ name.

It’s a silly film. A cute film. Despite the title and subject matter, it’s extremely innocent…

… if you also discount the pink shots and porn stars.

My very first bikini wax (at the age of 34) was a toxic disaster. No seriously. Toxic. Some people just shouldn’t do some things.

A lesson learned too late.

Image © 2007 She Shoots to Conquer, LLC.
All Rights Reserved

When infection set in, I immediately called the friend who had recommended that I try it in a full-on rage.

Words like “follicular” and “rape”, “misogyny”, and “death of feminism” spewed forth from my frothy lips. “Why do we do this to ourselves?” “How is this considered beautiful?” “What perv wants to fuck a twelve-year-old!”

After she talked me down, she explained to me that what happened to me didn’t happen to everyone. Clearly, I had a bad reaction.

This made me even madder.

“Really??? So this isn’t just one of the perks???”

She jokingly told me that I ought to make a documentary about the experience; and having just finished watching Why We Fight, she suggested I call it Why We Wax and make it a spoof; noting that these particular WMDs were obviously Weapons of Mass Distraction.

Fast forward five months.

Finding ourselves with nothing better to do that summer, we decided to turn a bad joke into a better reality. We’d make the film together. A short one. Funny. Without any man-bashing or über-feminine agenda. We’d make a fair and balanced assessment gathered from all perspectives: Gay & Straight, Male & Female. We’d tackle fashion, function, fetish, fad, feminism and fun. We’d research the origins of the Brazilian (not Brazil, btw) and dig through the annals of time to get to the root of where it all began.

And so now, just one short year after completion, our little film is in competition at the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) in the company of some of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2008 from around the world.  Cool, huh?

But not really the point of this little tale, is it?

You want to know how this ‘good’ girl ended up in the company of Candida RoyalleXaviera Hollander and Willem van Batenburg, don’t you?

You naughty thing, you.

Well, it’s simple enough. Bod-mod trends (as with most everything else) seem to start with porn, become embraced by the gay community and eventually get watered down and become acceptable for mainstream consumption.

So who better to start with than porn stars?

Candida Royalle quickly became our little porn mommy. We loved her! Candida is not only a leader in female-centric adult films, but she herself is an enlightened, empowering woman and successful entrepreneur. Hers was an incredibly intense interview and it was she who connected us with the brilliant ladies who own and operate Mail&Female – Amsterdam’s version of Babeland – when she heard the film was going abroad.

And these Mail&Female broads whipped up an event too spectacular for words: An entire evening devoted to the celebration of SCHAAMHAAR (pubic hair).

Could a little film like ours ask for better press???

There was to be a coloring contest!

Fun Betty’ give-a-ways!

Hair-based performance art!

Vintage early-80s porn with hirsute girl-on-girl action.

Just like any other cocktail party, really…

… where the cocks have tails.

And at the center of it all was… me.

The ‘good’ girl.

What would my mother say???

To kick off the evening, I gave a speech about the film and a clip was shown. After which, a lengthy Q&A ensued.

Now, I’ve done a fair amount of these sessions over the past year and American audiences have had some interesting questions that have led to evocative discussions. But Americans have been well-trained, or are too prudish, to ever ask anything too personal.

Or maybe I’ve just been lucky.

The Nederlanders were different. These people were interested in every sordid detail, from the exact (and I mean exact) description of my malady to my own pelt preferences (both personal and partner-based) and everything in between, like: “Describe how your cunt* felt without hair for the first time. Surely you enjoyed the licking much more than before.”

*“Cunt” (or “Kut” in Dutch) is considered quite harmless, but is nonetheless shocking when you’re jetlagged all to hell.

Now normally, I would have come up with some quippy retort to deflect such intimate and what some may consider rude questions, but it was as if, suddenly, in these surroundings, I was in Bizarro-world, where it was good to be bad and bad to be good.

I mean, I was surrounded by crotchless panties and impossibly long strands of anal beads.

What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam, right?

Fueled by less than four hours’ sleep in 36 hours’ time, three glasses of prosecco, the residual effects of the Klonopin/Whiskey chaser I had on the flight over ‘The Pond’ and a slight contact high from the oh-so-fragrant streets, I decided to let loose and answer each question in minute detail. These people genuinely wanted to know, and in Bizarro-world, I wanted to tell them.

In what rapidly became a lively and animated group discussion, Xaviera Hollander and I debated the best way to ‘prune a hedge’. Willem van Batenburg and I talked shop about the infamous bed scene and when someone challenged me, calling me a hypocrite based on my personal aesthetic desires vs. the conclusion we arrived at in the film, I threw my hand on my hip and saucily retorted in a manner that delighted the audience:

“Listen, sister. I judge not. I’ll take what I can get, however I can get it. If it comes the way I like it, so much the better for me… and for him!”

I made bad girls around the world proud that night.

And no one would be the wiser.

Because what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam.

Of course, I forgot that the entire evening was being filmed, to be shown on Holland-wide television as part of the IDFA Opening Night festivities.

Bad girl.

Very bad girl.

This is the third chapter in my ongoing story of how I started writing semi-professionally and all the ridiculous mistakes I’ve made along the way.

The first segment revolved around me scoring an editing gig for a totally shitty magazine and almost getting sued: In the Beginning There Was an Unpaid Editing Job in Cleveland, a Potential Lawsuit, and a Bunch of Unprovoked Angry Geese.

The second installment had me milling around the (X-Games-like) Gravity Games on the 9th Street Pier in Cleveland, taking notes and feeling sorry for myself: Rewriting a Media Guide Is Easier When You’re Both Lonely and Looking Important.

I’m wondering if writers in my Generation X age group who contribute their talents to various sites and newspapers, and yet don’t feel like they’re a part of a literary movement, might feel a kinship to this particular piece that I have never shared publicly until now. The Dead Generation is an excerpt from Chapter Nine of ‘Citrus Girl’ (about a third of that chapter). It was written sometime between 1996 and 1998. Could all be drivel. It’s up to you to decide. Part of it was edited by literary historian John Arthur Maynard of CSU Bakersfield who wrote ‘Venice West: The Beat Generation In Southern California.’


Early on in the battle against Proposition 8 here in California, I told one of my lesbian friends that I was fiercely opposed to the initiative, but that I felt like it wasn’t really my place to be angry since it wasn’t really my battle.

“Are you kidding? We need you and other straight people like you on our side. We won’t win this proposition without that support,” she told me then.

At the time I thought she was only humoring me. I didn’t realize how true those words were until now. Statistically, the LGBT community really did need us straight people to vote down that proposition. Only 1 in 10 Californians are part of the LGBT community, which means, of the votes cast on Nov. 4 in opposition to the now-infamous Prop. 8, more than 4 million of them came from heterosexuals in support of their gay neighbors, friends and family.

There were also plenty of religious people and clergy who voted against this proposition as well – the few who were able to look past the flurry of lies thought up by the proponents of this measure. This is important to note as the LGBT community continues fighting for equality in California and elsewhere. Churches all over California have been targets for protesters, including a church here in Sacramento that fully supported the No on 8 campaign, and even spoke at a rally here on Sunday. I understand the desire to blame somebody for this egregious error in Californian voters’ judgment, but not all churches took part and it’s not any more fair for us to put them all in the same boat (no matter how much I find myself doing the same thing most days) than it is for them to do so to us.

This proposition has brought out some ugly sentiments on both sides of the ticket, but I have to say I feel like the gays are more justified in their distaste for the Yes on 8 people than the other way around. The utter hypocrisy of the proponents of Prop. 8 is what really gets to me. Every day I read about someone calling the pending lawsuit “frivolous,” or someone saying boycotts against companies and churches that supported proposition 8 are “witch hunts,” as though they wouldn’t have taken the exact same measures if the proposition had failed. I’m sure they would have called for a boycott of Google and Apple (as though anybody could resist these corporate favorites). Even worse, they would have put the gay marriage ban back on the ballot for next year (just like Prop. 4 seems to appear every year even though the majority of Californians have voted against it three times now).

I think what really bothers the supporters of the gay marriage ban is that they didn’t think the gay community would come together and get organized so quickly after the election. Granted, it probably would have helped to be more organized before the election, but the point is they’ve come together now and they don’t show any signs of letting up. And I think it scares the anti-gay people even more than gay marriage did – especially because it seems to be working.

Just yesterday, the CEO for a local theater company here in Sacramento had to resign because a boycott was called against the theater company (which is largely staffed and supported by the gay community, I might add) when word got around that the CEO donated $1,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign. All this fuss is still making headlines more than a week later as gay rights activists put together daily rallies throughout the state.

More than 5,000 people showed up to the rally on Sunday, Nov. 9

More than 5,000 people were at the Sacramento rally on Sunday, Nov. 9

It’s exciting to see this movement gain momentum. And, I think, it’s also important to note that this isn’t just about gay marriage. For some reason, marriage and adoption rights have stolen the spotlight on gay rights issues – perhaps because these are issues whose consequences are felt immediately and effect the biggest LGBT population.

But there are a number of other equality issues where all of us should be standing up for the gay community: First, let’s talk about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Does it seem ludicrous to anyone else that you can be fired from the military for coming out as a gay or lesbian? These people have volunteered to fight for our country and we’re giving them walking papers because we don’t agree with their lifestyle? In a time of TWO wars?

Of course changing DADT might extend to the Employment Non-Disrimination Act – you know, the thing that keeps you from facing workplace discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability? The only thing not covered in that act: sexual orientation. In 31 states it’s still legal to refuse to hire someone – and be fired – because of sexual orientation. But hey, if DADT’s good enough for the U.S. Military it’s good enough for corporations right?

At the rally I attended this past Sunday, one of the speakers made a great point on just this topic. He was urging everyone at the rally to come out – not just to their family and friends, but also to their co-workers. I remember him saying that one of the strengths the community has right now is that they’ve been able to hide in the open for so long. They’ve been able to become doctors and lawyers and educators without anyone standing in their way – as long as they keep it secret. And he said now’s the time to show everyone that the LGBT community is just as normal as any other community in this nation, not something to be afraid of.

This was coming from Chris Cabaldon, the Sacramento region’s first openly gay elected official – the mayor of West Sacramento. And here’s a sad fact: Just as his community was re-electing him by 16 points, they supported the gay marriage ban by a 6-point margin. He said something to the effect of: “This community can trust me to run the city, but they can’t trust me with a marriage license?”

I know there are a lot of people out there who are “sick of” all the noise the gay community is making right now, but I say it’s for good reason. Same sex marriage probably wasn’t their first choice as a right to fight for, but it was made their issue when states throughout this country started banning their right before they even asked for it. We saw in Arkansas that the religious right doesn’t plan to stop at same sex marriage when they’re taking away rights from the LGBT community. Marriage was just the beginning. So, really, they’ve been given no choice but to fight. And I plan to stand right there with them. The minority always needs others to stand with them, and I sincerely hope those of you who have been waiting on the sidelines thinking it’s not your fight will decide to join us too.

Dad? Are you high?

By Zoe Brock


Not so long ago, on a rare San Francisco day of surprising warmth and humidity, I was sitting at my nice orderly desk when an email appeared in my nice orderly inbox.

“Ping,” said my Google Notifier.

“Ooo,” said I. “Somebody loves me.”

The Google Notifier said nothing in response and I took it’s silence to mean that it was brimming over, like a fat and happy porcelain Buddha, with benign agreement.

I was right.

Somebody did love me…… and I am grateful.

That morning an almost sickly-sweet jasmine-scented breeze was blowing through my curtains and threatening to destroy my newest art-work. Like randy teenagers at an unchaperoned party the fine threads of my mobile danced together, much too closely, libidinous and teasing, flirting, tantalizing, making promises and whispering secrets. The  ancient photographic paper, like the very fabric of my small, cloistered reality, was in danger of ripping…

… so I got up and, with one last, grateful inhale of flowery air, I prudishly closed the window on breezy San Francisco, locking her outside to play with her other friends.

I wasn’t worried, she has many.

Once those windows were closed all sound abated. I was in a vacuum and all became still, muted…. and yet somehow quite dense. On this day my very white room felt more like a sanctuary than a sanatorium, a lucky occurrence that has as much to do with my mood as it does with the weather. On this day I was Home, and I was Happy. It was the perfect environment to be in when I opened my email and discovered these pictures-

The man-child in these photos is my father.

I had never seen these images, nor any of the ones that follow.

I was stunned.

There he is, my daddy, in all his youthful splendor, not quite a man and yet no longer a child.

Playing, preening, posing, entertaining, acting the fool – a rock-star artist lunatic.

He looks high.

If he isn’t high then he sure knows how to pretend to be.

My father died in 2001. I never knew this version of him. I knew the later incarnations, the older, more jaded, disappointed and infinitely wiser and wearier versions of this creature I now found before me. The person in these photos is an innocent- a naughty, cheeky, confident kid- full of swagger and sex and adventure.

I was, and am, completely taken aback by these photographs. They do not make me sad but they do intrigue and confuse me. The guy in these photos is My Father, but his obvious youth and the striking physical resemblances we share trick me into thinking he is, despite my being an only child, my brother. I recognize him as much as I see a total stranger. These pictures overwhelm me. I cannot ask him where they were taken, or even who by. I cannot ask him what he was thinking, hoping, dreaming… or what happened in the years between this recorded day and the year of my birth to temper his innocence. I cannot ask him anything.

He’s dead.

I stare at these pictures, here in my clean, white space and feel certain of only one thing….

The guy in these pictures is one of Us. That guy is someone I’d like to hang out with. Get drunk with. Talk shit with. He looks like any one of a bunch of San Francisco neo-hipsters that loiter in the cafe’s along Valencia, or lean against warehouse walls with paint on their fingers and smirks on their lips.

He was a special creature. And, much to my amazement, a better, more daring artist than he ever let on. Maybe he forgot? Maybe he lost that part of himself? Maybe he just got bored and moved on… but I know for certain that, despite his dabblings in ceramics and the totem poles he was carving when he died, he never painted anything in my lifetime like the canvas he is working on here.

It’s fascinating to me that I can find a new facet to my dad so many years after his passing.

I’m so proud and impressed. I feel bigger and greater and more powerful knowing I have his blood and passion inside me. He could play, inspire, create, amuse, reprimand, take no shit and always encourage.

In his honor I will continue to play, preen, pose, entertain, be a fool and a goddess and a rock-star-artist-lunatic… although something ever so unsubtle is telling me that I probably have no choice.

The proof is in the pictures.

This one’s for you, dad. x

Comment by Bruce King 2009-02-17 03:51:41

It is with considerable delight and interest that I “accidentally” discovered your wonderful chronicles by searching Google for snippets relating to my old mate, Warwick. Your Dad was one of my closest friends in Christchurch back in the early to mid 1960’s. We partied wildly and sang together heaps; in fact we often performed together at some of the great folk venues around town in those halcyon days—before Brock & Eggs, before Lyttelton, before the wheel . . . if you know what I mean. Could I have met you in your early childhood at that wonderful house overlooking the Port of Lyttelton? Recently I (amazingly, through a common interest in woodworking) met the German woodcrafter who currently lives there. Just the other day, I unearthed a poster I had done for the occasion of the Wellington Folk Festival several years ago (I am a retired graphic designer—a career choice in no small way inspired by your Dad). This visual chronology, in the form of a photomontage, has many pictures of Warwick, along with his old friend Bruce King, alias yours truly. If you would like a copy I’ll email a pdf to you, just say the word. The last time (literally) I saw your Dad was in Newtown, about 10 or 12 years ago. He and Cath lived a couple of streets away from Owen Street where my Mum used to live. I have never before seen the photos you have shared on this site—marvellous. I do miss his indomitable spirit and wicked laughter! Go well, Zoe, Bruce
PS: My wife Jessica and I live in Golden Bay where we are currently applying the final touches to our new adobe hacienda. What a joy!

I loved my high school youth group. Every Wednesday night, no matter how much homework I had, Mom or Dad drove the 30 minutes across town to our church, where my younger sister and I were deposited, no questions asked. Two hours later, we would emerge rosy-faced, talking too loudly, and in need of another layer of deodorant.

For the average Evangelical, this is really where it all starts. Sure, there is Sunday School and no end to Vacation Bible School, Awanas, etc. for the younger ages, but everybody knows that it is the teenage years that are crucial. The stated purpose of this Youth Group, of course, was to turn us into thoughtful and godly young men and women, although as an adult, I suspect ulterior motives. Sure, we would play our silly games like wall ball and how-much-baby-food-can-you-eat-before-you-puke before gathering together in a splatter-painted room called “The Lion’s Den” to talk about God and the pressures of being a teenager in today’s world. But regardless of what we actually did, I am pretty sure that the main reason for the existence of the Youth Group is to take the place of sex.

There’s the foreplay. We would meet in the gym for games. Boys on one side, girls on the other. At first, it was all about the heart rate. We’d run races. We’d see who could skip the fastest, wrap ourselves in toilet paper the quickest, spin in circles for the longest. Slowly, things would progress. The boys would hoist the girls on their shoulders, the girls bearing handfuls of whipped cream. The girls giggling, with only flimsy material separating their important places from the backs of necks, only a matter of rotation, really. So close. No, but there is the matter at hand. Must pummel other girl, also deliriously straddled atop other boy and bearing whipped cream. Must beat her to the smear. If it lands in my face first, then it is all over. No more pressing. Must not be the smearee. Must prolong.

The games move on from there. Wink ‘Em. A Shot in the Dark. And my favorite: Caveman. The boys lock arms altogether in a mosh pit of maleness, while the girls rush in, pulling tickling tugging. If the girls team up together against one guy, the better the chance for release. The already-ejected males, sit defeated and panting by the wall. At the perimeter. And then, just then, at the apex, when there are only two more guys to conquer, the girls do something extraordinary. Focused on one goal, and one goal alone, they cooperate. There is no cattiness; no competition. With half on one side, and half on the other, the tug of war commences. It doesn’t last long, the resistance. It is over before it begins, really. A triumph. A disappointment. It is here that the Youth Group Leader gathers us together.

Our favorite Youth Leader – I’ll call him James – was a tall man, blond, handsome. He has just graduated from college, so he knows what we’re going through. He relates. For him, the struggle is over, having recently married his college sweetheart. And believe me, he tells us, the wait is worth it. We giggle in spite of ourselves. Some of us, jealous as hell, can’t help but perspire a little at the thought. A few of us girls glance over at his wife, Donna, feigning embarrassment at the back of the room.

We are impressed by their candor. We cannot help but be blown away by their realness. They are cool in spite of their years and if they were still in high school, we would totally be friends.

My father one time made the mistake of criticizing the car they drove in front of me as we pulled into the parking lot behind them. “What are they doing in that clunker?” He rhetorically had asked. “It makes them look like smokers.” For my father, “smoker” was about as close to a swear word as he ever came and the effect was staggering. James was our leader and king, and he had just received my father’s lowest blow. From that point on, my younger sister – cute, smart, and a far better person than I – and I were 100% devoted to King James with the fervor of groupies. What a visionary! What a radical! He didn’t care about status or approval – only that we knew The Truth.

James stands at the front of us sweat-drenched and panting teenagers and tells us about a better way. The right way. Together, we have embarked on a journey. It has its ups and its downs. Jesus wants to love us fully. Completely. If only we would let Him! It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past. There are tears. We hug. We cuddle. We are invited to take it a step further and pray the prayer of repentance. Many of us do. If any of us want to go for ice cream down the street, we are invited along – a post-youth group activity fittingly called an Afterglow.

Of course, at age 14, I was impressively ignorant of the real purpose of the Youth Group – to keep us from breeding like rabbits. And yet, I knew there was something tugging at my hormones. Inertia existed before Newton gave it a name, if you know what I mean. But the reason my good friend, Gina, would often disappear during Youth Group with her boyfriend, only to reemerge half an hour later with a fresh layer of make-up, truly eluded me. Blond, beautiful, funny and charismatic – just about anyone who ever meets Gina likes her immediately. She has a dry wit about her that sends me rolling to the floor time after time. She’s a hard act to follow – especially when she’s on a roll. But even more impressive than her sense of humor is the fact that she doesn’t seem to care what anybody else thinks about her. Anyway, she told me that they had been praying together – and I believed her. I even remember feeling a twinge of jealousy. How come none of the boys wanted to go pray with me?

I suspected I knew the answer. Clearly, I wasn’t spiritual enough. I wasn’t living up to the potential that God had given me. I knew then in my heart that I would have to try harder. Clearly, there was a higher plane of spirituality out there – just waiting for me. I began to pray fervently to this end.

So when King James announced one night at Youth Group that we would be sponsoring a city-wide roller night, I could hardly contain my excitement.

James had apparently made friends with the manager of a failing roller rink while doing some unexplained fieldwork, and had immediately seen the possibilities. He not only had a heart for the community, but he also just so happened to have roller-skating in his soul. Who knew?

It was given a mission and a name: Rollin’ with Jesus. The idea was to let anybody in from the community who wanted to skate for free, as long as they stayed to listen to a talk about Jesus sometime during the night. It was Evangelism at its coolest.

Now, it is important to understand before I proceed that our church was vehemently opposed to dancing. Later, in my college years, we would actually be fined in the amount of $50 if some killjoy named Martha from the fourth floor of the dorm ratted us out for shaking our booty on a dance floor on the opposite end of town at a club called Thumper’s. (Oh yes, I knew it was you, Martha.) And if anyone cared to object, all he or she needed to do was to look it up in the church Handbook and see for themselves how it was a sin and all that.

And not only dancing. The Handbook was very clear on a variety of issues including, but not limited to, movies, alcohol, smoking, premarital and extramarital relations, and swearing. Certainly, not all Evangelical churches have such documents. Under the umbrella of “Evangelicals,” there are many flavors and varieties. At my Christian high school alone, we represented more than 60 denominations, but there are literally thousands of denominations and sub-denominations under the heading of “Evangelical.” But in our church, the Handbook ruled the day, coming in just below the Bible in authority. If the Handbook said that attending movies was ungodly behavior, then that was that.

Not that there weren’t loopholes. We may not have been allowed to dance at our church, but there was nothing in the Handbook against roller-skating. There is music; there is movement; there is no mandate. Consequently, there were simply no grounds on which the church board could object – although it did put forth its best effort with a stalemate lasting over 18 hours on the subject of sweaty knees.

The objection was put on the boardroom table by one of our church’s oldest, most stalwart members. Beatrice Belch may have been pushing 80, but you couldn’t put anything past her. Already famous within the church for saving its youth from the clutches of evil in the late 70s by putting a ban on all articles of clothing that bore the color red, she demanded the board’s respectful attention. As the only woman on the board, she was forced to remind them that she, too, had been young once and had been confronted with the issue of sweaty knees in her own life. No, she conceded, there was no sin in having glistening joints. But when two young people of the opposite sex allow slick body parts to come together, it can only lead elsewhere. It is a pathway. A gateway drug, if you will.

The young people will only be roller-skating, argued the proponents of Rollin’ with Jesus. The chances of full-body perspiration were slim to nil. Not good enough, said Beatrice. Although a widow, she still remembered the predisposition of her own husband, Donald – God rest his soul – to perspiration. All he had to do was think about yard work, and his underarms would be wetter than a dishtowel after Thanksgiving Dinner cleanup. Do we want to enable our young people to fall into the Devil’s Plan? Or do we want to stop sin before it happens. Be a kind of spiritual antiperspirant, as it were.

OK, said the Rollin’ side. Worst-case scenario. A guy and a girl sit next to each other during the sermon and accidentally touch sweaty knees together. Then what? They are just going to run toward the backseat of the nearest car and get it on? Hasn’t it occurred to anyone that sweaty knees are considered gross by teenagers? (Read: Has it been that long, Beatrice?) The likelier scenario is that the 15-year-old girl who has just unwittingly exchanged fetid body fluids with her male counterpart is going to feign a gag reflex and spend the next week telling all of her friends about how she totally almost vomited all over her new, white Keds.

It was no use. Neither side would budge. For Beatrice and her posse, it was a battle of the encroaching culture versus morality, plain and simple. For the Rollers for Jesus, it was a bunch of out-dated ideology standing in the way of progressive Evangelism. Elders from the church were called in. The prayer chain lit up faster than PTL on pledge night. The wives of some of the board members brought in casseroles. But no matter how logical the arguments, the church was pretty much split right down the middle. It wasn’t until Donna, wife of James, opened her mouth that a compromise was reached.

“Why don’t we just require everyone to wear pants?” she asked. The board leaned in; considered. It was pushing it, said the Rollers, but it was a way. It could work. Beatrice’s side shifted, cleared their throats. Nodded with approval. The matter was settled. Rollin’ with Jesus was a go.

A Special Witness Team was rapidly formed for the purpose of getting the word out. Due to my leadership skills, or perhaps simply to my unparalleled enthusiasm, I was unanimously voted in as the team leader. What better way to jumpstart my spiritual life than to throw myself into mission work? I knew there was a lot riding on the success of Rollin’ with Jesus, and, consequently, I took my job very seriously. If we were going to make this event a go, we were going to need the help of a professional. We were going to need Travis.

Travis was one of the kids from the Junior High division of the Youth Group and was well-known for his artistic talents. He was short, scrawny, and had a shock of red hair on the top of his head that had the strange property of always looking as if it had recently been towel dried. He looked to be about 9 instead of 13. But there was no denying his gift. There was nary a soul in the church who had not seen his amazing portfolio of pencil drawings depicting the Apocalypse and all of its horrors. He was the Hieronymous Bosch of Holiness. He was gruesome in his imaginativeness. Brilliant in his scope. He may have dealt with some difficult and, well, graphic subjects – but it was from the Bible, after all. If God didn’t want us thinking about such horrific things, then He shouldn’t have written them into His book! And anyway, it was all in black and white, so it wasn’t as if there was red blood spurting everywhere. It was black.

He took a little convincing at first…something about artistic license and a brochure for roller-skating not exactly being his genre and all. After numerous phone calls and a promise to buy him a box of Hot Tamales and a Coke on the big night, though, I had him. I agreed to let him come up with the design completely on his own. Granted, I did make the suggestion that it should have something to do with roller-skating. He did not let me down. The very next day, he was at my doorstep with the finished product.

“Can I look at it now?” I asked stupidly, as if he had just passed me a personal note that would be awkward to read in front of him. We were still standing on my front doorstep. I hadn’t exactly been expecting him and was wearing one of the more embarrassing pairs of sweat pants from my immense collection of loser lounging attire. He shrugged.

“Whatever,” he said. I pulled my over-sized T-shirt down in the back to cover the giant hole in the seam of the butt and invited him inside for orange juice. As we did not drink soda in my house, I could not offer him anything more sophisticated. I could, however, at least offer my guest orange juice at full strength as my mother had not yet diluted the latest can from the freezer, as was her habit, leaving me to at least a shred of dignity. I mentally prepared myself for the task at hand and tried to remember where the pitcher was kept.

“No, thanks.” I followed his glance out to the street where there was a Mazda with the motor still running. Somehow, I had managed to overlook this when I opened the door. His father nodded at me when we made eye contact through the windshield.

“Oh. OK.” I looked down at the picture in my hands. It took a moment to understand what I was seeing – evidence of his genius, I believe – and then it all became clear. I blinked hard to hold back the tears. It was an emotional moment. Travis had not only come through for me, but he had so far surpassed expectations that I could barely speak. In the background, true to his theme – his heart’s passion – were the four horsemen from the book of Revelation. They were running hard. Striving. You could see that they were in pursuit, but you could also see by the strain in their eyes that they were losing. For there in the lead, blazing on ahead of them, was the object of their chase. I recognized him immediately. It was Jesus. On roller skates.

For the entire week leading up to the big night, we posted ourselves all over town. There were only three of us on the Special Witness Team (code name: “SWAT”), requiring us to be extremely strategic if we were going to invite the entire city of Colorado Springs. Since school had recently been let out, we took turns spending our days handing out our smokin’ fliers – at the malls, sticking them under windshield wipers at the grocery stores, taping them to telephone poles, etc. I tried to get more people on the team so that we could cover more ground, but most everyone I called already had plans.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter. Not only did we have Travis, our lead graphic artist extraordinaire, but we also had Tammy, our premier quizzer from the Bible Quiz Team. If anyone on the street tried to stump us on a spiritual point, she was sure to set them straight with God’s Word. By the last count at the time the SWAT team had been dispatched, she could produce on demand no fewer than 320 Bible verses from memory.

For the most part, people were receptive. Several of them actually looked at the flier before tossing it into the nearest receptacle, once they had clearly consumed and memorized the specifics of time and venue. When all was accounted for at the end of the week, we had distributed over 1,000 fliers – all created using the church secretary’s photocopier, which, incidentally, caused a bit of a disruption that week in the creation of the Sunday bulletin. But it didn’t matter. What was a little lost time and toner when we were doing the Lord’s work? Based on our observation of public reaction, we were going to have a full house. By our calculations, we were proud to report to James that no less than 700 people could be counted on to show up from our efforts. Conservatively.

The night of the big event nearly blew my mind. With the help of a branch of the SWAT team, the decrepit rink was changed into something awesome. There were flashing colored lights, a sound system, a disco ball – and even a limbo pole. There were even a few faces that I didn’t recognize that had come in response to the fliers. And while we didn’t have the predicted 700, we did have at least, I don’t know, 23 people who I had never seen before.

We skated round and round the rink to DC Talk, Carmen and Rick Cua. Never had doing the Lord’s work been so fun. The music spoke to something deep within my soul and I even felt my hips begin to loosen a little with the rhythm. In a godly way, of course. Much like David must have felt in his famous Psalms dance – although unlike David, we were required to wear pants.

When James raised the lights halfway through and called us over to a more intimate circle in the snack bar where we could talk about how cool God was, I learned that several of the people I didn’t recognize had come together from one of our sister churches – from all the way across town! There were even two people from the community who said they wanted to accept Christ in their hearts for the first time.

“I want you guys to watch for people who might need a friend,” James had briefed us earlier in the evening. “Pray with them. Show them Christ’s love and acceptance. Be His hands.”

Well, when the people from the community began to pray, we were ready with our hands, piling them onto their shoulders to show them how much Jesus loved them. It was a moving time and there were many tears. I ended up with my hands on a plump young woman with long black hair. She didn’t appear to speak English, but it didn’t matter. I could see that she had been touched by the Spirit.

Because there were so many of Christ’s hands and so few people on which to lay them, we were wedged in quite tightly. We kept our eyes shut for some time as James led us all through a prayer of repentance. And when it was all over, I was stunned at how many people there were in our prayer circle.

“Amen,” said a male voice still in transition from behind me. I turned and looked up, recognizing the speaker immediately. His liquid green eyes were focused on me.

“Praise God,” he expounded.

“Isn’t it amazing?” I smiled at Scott.

“God’s just so…cool,” he shot a look around the roller rink in an attempt to incorporate the breadth of his feelings.


In the background, Amy Grant’s “Heart in Motion” began to blare.

“Wanna skate?” he asked me. My stomach dropped through my intestines and my face flushed red. Fortunately, the lights had once again been dimmed at this point. He had stayed late for swim practice, so he had been late. We skated for the next hour round and round the gym, neither of us brave enough to call for a break. Finally, when the lights went up and James told us that we all had to go home to our parents, we skated over to the side and took off our skates.

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“This was really cool,” he said.

I nodded.

And that’s when he said it.

“I don’t know – I just feel so happy right now. I feel like thanking God. Do you want to go somewhere…to pray with me?”



Erika Rae is a struggling novelist living in the mountains west of Boulder, CO.  The excerpt above is from her book “In a Handbasket: Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical.”

I don’t think of myself as superstitious, I guess, but what with the whole bathrobe situation I’m having to rethink that theory.

Lately I have been eying my ratty old bathrobe with disdain. It is red fleece and very cozy, but pilling all over and going a bit black at the cuffs, and I’m afraid the insides of the pockets have not fared well from years of used kleenexes being stuffed inside of them. So when recently my mother-in-law, who is a ninja of birthday gift-giving, bestowed upon my lucky self a Gap gift certificate, I happily counted among my purchases a new bathrobe.

As far as I can tell every writer has a book reading war story or two, wherein one travels 10 hours through blizzards or cross-country on a full-fare plane ticket in order to read to a snoozing hobo and a handful of bookstore employees. Perhaps this is what my publishers had in mind when I asked about giving readings in support of my first novel and they responded, “Eh, we don’t really do that so much.” For nobodies like me, is what they meant. I happen to know that in the weeks before my book came out my publicist was absolutely slammed with managing Pat Buchanan’s book tour. What does Pat Buchanan have that I don’t? This is not the first time I’ve asked myself this question.

Paranoid Mode

By Irene Zion


There are actually two stories involved in Sara refusing to ever help us out again. They both involve the infamous NANA, of nail scissor fame.

In the first, we asked Sara, who was in college, but on summer break, to please come home for a weekend to watch the animals, and be home for my mother just in case something untoward would happen. My mother lived with us and I took care of her for ten interminable years. My mother at this time was living one block away in a Retirement Village. She tended to have “incidents.”

The bottom three kids: Tim, Lenore and Ben were in summer camp and it was Parents’ Weekend. (Lonny was in Cambridge, England, I think, studying something artsy.) We were gone for four days, what with the driving up to and back from the wilds of Wisconsin, land of fudge and lakes. This was, (are you young ones even aware of this?) a time before cell phones and computers. She agreed to come. We left for Wisconsin. (FOUR FRIGGING DAYS!)

My father had actually pulled me aside when he was alive, (I know that seems obvious, but we are a strange family,) to ask me to promise that we would never ever, ever, under any circumstances, take my Mom into my house or my town, no matter what. I promised. Then my mother had a heart attack in Brooklyn and was left on a gurney in the hospital where she worked as an RN for umpteen years, for an entire weekend. Then on Monday a doctor saw her and told her that she had had a heart attack. How could I keep my promise to my father when my mother spent the weekend on a gurney in the hall of a hospital and wasn’t seen by a doctor for three days when she had actually had a heart attack and didn’t find out for three days? We moved my toxic mother to Champaign. I had to break my promise to my Dad. They were planning a retirement home a block away. She was one of the first to sign up for an apartment. She could have had any apartment she wanted. She lived with us until it was built a couple of years later, then after she moved in she hated it and moved to a different apartment. She hated that one too.

If you want to drive in Illinois, you must get an Illinois drivers license. That means a written test and also a driving test.. My mother wanted to drive in Illinois. My Mother failed the driving part it in the huge metropolis of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, so her friends told her to go to a small town nearby and take the test there. She passed. In my thinking that meant that she really only had a license to drive in a tiny small town with no traffic whatsoever. But, what do I know? Logic does not seem to be the driving force in the machinery of Government.

In this tiny four day interval in time, when we went to Wisconsin and asked Sara to be there, my mother got into her first and only car accident. It was massive. Her car was totaled, and, because she was old and befuddled, the Police gave HER the ticket, when, seriously, it was not her fault. (I would be the FIRST person to tell you if it had been, trust me on this.) So Sara had to deal with my mother and the Police and it was assuredly not pleasant. On the other hand, no one was hurt. Things could have been worse. Sara did not see it this way. She was very angry with us.

But it turns out that that was just a practice run for Sara.

The next time we asked Sara to watch the animals was when we had a chance to finally go somewhere. There was a retinal meeting in Israel. We had FIVE children. We never had time to go ANYWHERE. It was only ten days. Across the entire world, for TEN FRIGGING DAYS. (I’m sorry, I think I’m shouting. I apologize.) Tim and Lenore were at regular camp and Ben was, naturally, at Science camp. I believe that Lonny was at NYU doing something artsy. The only place we ever went was Wisconsin for Parents’ Weekend. I really wanted to go somewhere exotic where the economy was not dependent on fudge. Israel was genuinely unconventional and they were not into fudge. Sara agreed, reluctantly, but she agreed. Ten days in our house watching the animals with the slight but inescapable possibility of another “incident” with NANA.

We flew two million miles to get to Israel. We flew El Al. Those people really know how to keep people safe. They separated Victor and me and asked us questions to make sure we were not terrorists. This was fine with us, since we were not terrorists, rather we were tourists and we were realty hoping to fly on a flight that was entirely full of tourists and terrorist-free. Some woman on the flight got sick and had to get off after we had boarded, so we had to wait for them to find her baggage and remove it, since her baggage might very well have been C-4 in a suitcase. We felt so safe.

When we finally arrived in Israel, it was hours before the room would be ready. We had had no sleep and Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State at the time, was staying at our hotel. There was a lot of security. There were dogs everywhere. I said to Victor:

“Look, honey, we could have brought our dogs! This is a really dog-friendly country.”

Victor then explained that they were bomb-sniffing dogs and our dogs would probably not qualify. Oddly, this came as a huge surprise to me. I was not in paranoid mode yet. We discovered that every time we got on an elevator a very huge burly man with a big bulge on his hip accompanied us. None of these burly men ever got off on our floor. They just escorted us. Victor had to explain that to me too. I was still not in paranoid mode.

Victor and I visited all the requisite sites for tourists and were having the time of our lives. I loved seeing the teenagers in uniform walking around with uzis. We were never afraid for one minute the whole time we were there.

Halfway into our visit we ate somewhere where it was unwise to eat. We were very open-minded. (Did I say we were not in paranoid mode yet?) We got a case of food poisoning the likes of which we have, gratefully, never seen again. To be delicate, let’s just say that we needed a two-bathroom hotel room. The both of us were very, very sick for four days.

We were in Israel, in our hotel room, alternately running to the bathroom all day and all night. In the middle of the night at about the third day of our poisoning,


This was Israel. We didn’t know anyone, and yet the phone rang. That was when I switched into paranoid mode.

“Mom, is that you?” asked Sara.

“Uh, yup, it’s me,” I answered, “ What are you doing calling Israel in the middle of the night?”

“I am never doing anything for you and Daddy for the rest of my life,” she said.

“Uh huh, and why is that?” I asked.



“Uh huh,” I said. “What exactly do you mean?” I asked, needing to make a run to the bathroom.

“Here!” she said. “Talk to the doctor!” She handed the phone to a surgeon.

“Your mother has no circulation to her right foot and gangrene has set in,” the disembodied voice said.

“If we amputate now, we can get a below-the-knee, which is, naturally, far superior to an above-the-knee.” The voice said.

In the background, I heard my mother yelling:


The disembodied, apparently medical voice said:

“Your mother does not want the amputation. She says she wants to die. This is precisely what will happen if she does not get the amputation immediately.”


Then my mother got on the phone.

“If you interfere with this I will never forgive you,” she said.

“It is none of your business,” she said.

“I want to die NOW,” she said.

“This has nothing to do with you!” she said.

“If you hadn’t left me in the lurch none of this would have happened!” she said.

“This is all your fault!” she said.

“I will never forgive you!” she repeated.

I said: ”Mom, the doctor said that you will die without the surgery. Your foot has gangrene. You need to have the surgery right away or you will be left with the far harder above-the-knee prosthesis, or, what’s even worse, you will absolutely permanently die!” I pleaded.

“I damn you to hell, Irene!” she said to me.

”I hope you die in a plane crash!” she said.

“I always hated you and knew you would ruin my life,” she said.

“Mom, please let me talk to the doctor again,” I asked.

The doctor told me that she would die an appallingly horrific death without the amputation and that time was of the essence as she already had gangrene and sepsis was likely to set in very soon and death would surely result and it would be a painful death.

“Your mother does not appear to be of sound mind and it is up to you to decide,” the doctor said.

“But there was nothing wrong with her when we left.” I protested.

”Well, there’s certainly something wrong now and she will die if you don’t decide to save her right now,” said the doctor.

“Amputate her foot,” I said.

Sara got back on the phone and said:

“I will never forgive you.” (If you are counting, that made two people in my family who said they would never forgive me inside of a few minutes while I was on vacation, sick as a dog, two million miles away.)

“But Sara, Nana was fine when we left,” I said. “We had no way to know this would happen”

“You will never get me to do anything for you for the rest of your lives!” Sara said.

“You are acting as if I planned this to happen, Sara. She was perfectly fine when we left,” I reiterated.

“I may never speak to you again,” she said, and hung up the phone.

I ran to the bathroom.

Victor was already in the bathroom.

“I need to use that toilet you are on,” I said

“”So do I,” he said, “That’s why I’m on it.”

“I just told some surgeon to amputate Mom’s foot, against her will,” I said. “It was gangrenous and she would have died of sepsis in the most horrible way, the doc said, so I gave my permission because he said she was nuts and only I could save her life.”

“She’s really going to be pissed,” he said.

“How long are you going to be on there?” I asked.

“Not long,” he said.  “Why didn’t you just let her make the decision?”

“The doc said she could get a great prosthesis below the knee and she’d be just like new,” I explained.  “If we waited at all she’d need an above the knee and that’s way harder to get used to, and if we waited any longer then she would die of sepsis.”

“Are you done yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” he answered.

“So?” he said.  “Why do you want to get in the middle of this? She’s made her decision.”

“Because my mother will die if I don’t,” I answered. If I knew then what I know now, I would have just let Mom die. It would have been better than what followed, but how was I to know that then?

When we were well enough to travel, we flew back to Champaign. Sara was still very angry, as though we had set the whole thing up just to trap her. My mother alternated screaming at me that I had ruined her chance to see my father, (my father was already 10 years in the ground at this time,) and turning her face to the wall to shun me. She only had one foot.

The saga of my mother does continue, but this is as far as I’m going to go this time. It is remarkably draining.


Comment by John P |Edit This
2008-11-05 18:08:14


Did they amputate with nail scissors, or did they use proper doctory-like tools?

I’m drained just from reading that.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:25:26

Well, John P, I was not there, since I was a million miles away, but I’m pretty sure that the surgeons did the operation and not my mother, since she was pretty much set against having it. Surgeons tend to l like their toys and they are shiny and clean. Had it been her idea, I would’ve gone with the nail scissors as a guess.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:17:15

Are there two John Ps or do you have two pictures that look nothing like each other?

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Pamela Norinsky |Edit This
2009-04-02 04:20:48

OMG what a disturbing story! I remember you telling me how life was with your mother but I never imagined her to be as evil as you had related to me. My deepest sympathies to you for having to endure your mother’s craziness. I thought my mother was crazy but now realize yours had a monopoly on crazy.

My mother had at one point also refused to have bypass surgery for her leg and wanted to die instead. My brother, Aaron told her he would commit her and I cried my eyes out until she decided it would be best for all concerned if she had the bypass. She is now 84 and I believe thankful she had the surgery!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2008-11-06 02:46:17

i agree with this person

i thought i was going to read a light hearted story
about police or drunken pigs or some such thing

but when it was about nana i knew it was going to be draining
perhaps someone should charge my mom
for the time i mean

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:08:02

Not every story is milk and honey and puppy dogs.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:10:40

Watch out for the mile and honey and puppy dogs… That’s how she lures you back again!!!


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 17:20:31

Josie! You are giving my secrets away! Bad, bad Josie!

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:15:30

Ok I am dumfounded. no words.

Woah…….and that is about it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:26:42

Oh, but Melissa, there is so much more. I’ll need to scatter this story among the really funny stuff so I can get through it with some semblance of sanity.

Comment by Melissa (Irene’s friend) |Edit This
2008-11-07 14:10:45

Funny,,,,,,,,I thought it was going to be a story like when my grandpa ran into a bus bench with his car. Then went to court and told the judge he was nuts, he was never in an accident and they were just out to get him.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 15:56:27

Just because a person is old does not make an accident his fault. All these evil people will become old themselves and it will come back to haunt them!
Poor Grandpa!

Comment by keiko |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:22:00

that was intense. that’s it for me.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:27:29

Keiko, you work with weird stuff every day. You are stronger than that! Give it another shot.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:30:03

What a bunch of wusses. (Can you say that anymore?) Okay, what a bunch of Pansies. (Oh. Can you say that anymore?) How about Namby-Pamby? I know! You are a bunch of yellow-bellies! (Wait. That can be insulting too.) I’ll just call you sissies. I’m not sure you can say that either, though. God, I NEED a new rule book!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 15:58:10

Keiko, you are a chickenshit.
(But I love you anyway.)

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:42:46

i believe i’ve mentioned my theory about those so-called vitreous society meetings….

anyway, nana was crazy and mean. at least she was more interesting to look at after the amputation. i never liked her.

i bet i become her.


sara didn’t mean it…she was young and she probably thought nana sucked, too.

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2008-11-06 02:57:44

nana was always nice to me

she used to always bring me cashews – which i like a lot
tim or lenore would ask ‘why dont we get anything’

nana would say ‘no i only brought something for lonny’
hell yeah – i rule

i have nothing but fond memories of her cookies and getting us chinese food
oh and when we used to go to red lobster and all she ate was hush puppies
and she would put half eaten ones in her purse wrapped in napkins
the hush puppies i mean
she didnt wrap her purse in napkins – that would be silly

im not defending some of the horrible things nana thought it necessary to say to my mom
in fact just found out while reading this delightful little story

it was a typical upbringing
you know baskets full of potpourri, paintings of barns and lakes, lots of mayonnaise….

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:35:25

Oh Lonny, I know. You had something in you that made her just adore you. She actively disliked the other four children. This caused problems for them and for me, but you were the perfect child for her. At least she loved one of you. The sun rose and set in your eyes for her. It was good for you and good for her to have someone to love so completely and unquestioningly. Grandmothers are supposed to be this way, but they usually love all the grandchildren. Nana had a bit of a glitch there.

I forgot about the pilfering. She’d take anything, wrap it up in a napkin and go home. Back in the old days when they gave you silverware and plates on airplanes, she’d take those too. Her bag was always full of packets of sugar and sometimes she’d unscrew the tops of salt and pepper shakers and put in some piece of napkin and screw the tops back on and then put them in her purse.

She always seemed to need more. She didn’t need any of this stuff. She had plenty, but she had this hole she couldn’t fill.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by John P |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:12:47

We would go to Yosemite National Park on Christmas day every year when I was growing up in Fresno. Sometimes we ate lunch at the Ahwahnee hotel and my mom would steal their fancy silverware. Only one piece at a time, but we ended up with a couple of complete sets by the time I left for college.
I think the similarity between my mom and your mom stop there. Although I think her mom (my grandmother) had some of those crazy mean spirited tendancies, but she died when I was very young so I don’t remember.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:56:34

What is it that makes certain mothers steal stuff they don’t need right in front of their kids? I think it’s a very peculiar thing. Also curious is that it happens so much.

I’m glad your Mom was nice. You should tell her how you feel. I’m probably sounding like a broken record here, but if you wrote her a short note and mailed it to her she would clutch it to her breast and treasure it the rest of her life. Promise, John P!

Comment by John P |Edit This
2008-11-10 10:19:52

I wish I could. She committed suicide in ‘98. I was only 22 and had just started grad school. I sure didn’t call or write enough when I had the chance.

Irene is right everyone – call your mothers and tell them how wonderful they are and how much you appreciate them while you still can. (Unless they are like her mom, then I’m not sure what you should do).

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-10 12:02:13

Oh John, I am so sorry!
No one thinks to call or write enough until they get old enough to wish people would call or write. You’re just a normal person. I’m sure she knew how you felt. Mothers always do, they just enjoy hearing it. I’m sorry that your Mom was in that much pain. I’m sorry that you have to carry that on your back for the rest of your life. That’s a heavy load at a young age.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:11:38

Sara was wonderful! She took on two jobs that were supposed to be easy breezy and ended up with the twilight zone. She’s probably gets a twinge every time she agrees to do something seemingly simple, all these years later.

Sometime I’ll go into why Nana was how she was. You’d forgive her. She didn’t mean it either. You can’t help it when you’re nuts.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:44:07

Lenore, can you imagine how hard it was for Sara, who is so GOOD, to do everything she could to please Nana and to be rebuffed? The rest of you took it in stride, but Sara always CARED so much. It broke my heart. (And she’s the one who got stuck with the “incidents!”) If you read this, Sara, I am unreservedly sorry!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Christine |Edit This
2008-11-05 21:10:04

Good gravy! Your mom sounds like my mom during her “bad menopausal years,” only your mom was always in Mach 10 Bitch mode.

You are the polar opposite of that Irene…and I love ya!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:14:56

When I was raising my kids and I started to become frustrated I would always stop and take a breath and say to myself: “You are NOT your mother. You have patience. Relax and enjoy your wild beautiful children.” It worked pretty well, the fear of becoming my mother.

Comment by George |Edit This
2008-11-05 21:28:58

When your mother lost her foot, did you change her name from Rose to Ilene (i lean!!).

Comment by George |Edit This
2008-11-05 21:28:58

When your mother lost her foot, did you change her name from Rose to Ilene (i lean!!).

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:16:03

OUCH! George, that is such a lame joke!

Comment by ` |Edit This
2008-11-05 22:09:31

I really wanted to go somewhere exotic where the economy was not dependent on fudge.

Priceless, that one.

I, for one, am incredibly entertained by this story. My grandma got pretty mean at the end, too – only NANA has her beat by a landslide. I wonder if I will be mean and what horse froth I will spout at my children…

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2008-11-06 03:02:03

the fudge store in eagle river was really something

they made licorice of many flavors, jaw breakers of many sizes (up to just silly and wont even fit in ones mouth), rock candy, candy dots (which is sugar on paper- if you dont know), and of course fudge – lots and lots of fudge


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:38:44

On Parents’ Weekend I think each person gained at least 5 pounds just from the Eagle River Fudge Store. The sugar smell would knock you right over when you walked in the door. I’m certainly happy we don’t have that where I live, what with having the metabolism of a person in a coma and all.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:23:09

Nana was under control, somewhat, when my Dad was alive. After he died, there was no one to say, (appropriately,) “Shut up, Rose!” Without him, she was an untethered tiger. Ten years of untethered tiger I was responsible for.

Sometimes old folks get really sweet. I’m hoping that will happen to you and me. My dog and I work at an old folks home and it’s mostly the sweet ones, only a few are mean and paranoid. We’ll be the kind of old folks that people WANT to visit!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:47:35

What happened to your name, Erika Rae?

2008-11-06 12:18:40

Hmmm. I think I was trying to go incognito. Or something.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:59:01

LOVE your new moniker! Who could ever forget it?

“Did you hear that Schmerika Schmrae got another book published?” I can hear it right now. Think how easy it would be to find your books on the shelves of the bookstores!

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-05 22:52:11

OK – that was quite a tale and I’m real sorry for you but dang it Irene – do not take me into the bathroom with you and your husband ever again, especially while he is on the pot!

I will never forgive you for the images you have left in my head!
I may never read you again.

:::Stomps out of the bathroom:::

And tell (Lenore’s dad) to light a match, will ya!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:25:55

Josie, I told it as it was. We were so sick when all this went down. I’m afraid the whole room stank, not just the bathroom. Wait, I think I just made it worse for you. Solution ahead:

I think eating ice cream washes those icky images from your mind. Go get some Chunky Monkey.

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:08:37

This is how you tricked Sara into round two, isn’t it?
I’m feeling like you’re setting me up for something here… like this whole thing is a trap…

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:03:30

Oh my poor Sara, the WORST things happened to her when she was the emergency person for my mother. No one should have to be in the positions she was in. The thing is that there was no warning, no hint anything could go wrong. She’ll probably hold it over my head forever.

Chunky Monkey, I promise. It will be all wiped from your memory.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:08:53

A surgeon entered the room. Maam, he said, I have good news and bad news, which would you like first. The thoughtful woman replied, I would like to hear the bad news first so the good news will cheer me up.
You need to have your foot amputated immediately. Oh, my G, she said. Quick, tell me the good news.
Your roomate wants to buy your slippers.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:17:48

ksw, That is a really funny joke. (And in much better taste than the earlier one!)

I can always count on you to make me smile.

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-11-06 07:05:41

Ohhhh involuntary foot amputation, that’s a good one. In my family, that would totally be On The List.

My brother and I keep a running tally of “things we were denied as children”. It includes pony rides in our backyard on our birthday, a limousine for the grade 8 prom, being allowed to stand on top of the refrigerator, and so on. In order to make it onto the list, we need to witness someone else enjoying the thing, for instance my mom’s cat is allowed to wreck the joint without punishment, doesn’t have to clean up after himself, is served treats at least thrice daily. The neighbour’s kids have their own private bunk house in the yard, own tiny motorcycles, and get to use any language they please. When we see yet another thing for the list, we announce it by shouting to our mother, “That’s on the list, too!” “Also on the list!” “Put that on the list!” etc.

There is a companion list of “things we had to do which others did not”. Making major medical decisions for our grandmother, that would definitely be on this second list.

In fairness, I am sure my mother also keeps a list of “things I had to deal with at the hands of my children, which other mothers were spared”. I suspect this list includes “daughter having boyfriend with own apartment at age 16″, “daughter going gay for 9 years then switching back”, and “daughter getting first tattoo in friend’s basement at 16, hiding it under long-sleeved shirts till age 20, then proceeding to get several more to keep the first ugly one company.”

If you were to keep such a list, you would surely be entitled to add ALL events in your story to it, without delay.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:10:41

Amanda, I love your lists! I have to say that it never even occurred to me to even WANT to stand on top of the refrigerator. My kids didn’t think of it either. I’ll bet that is a singular wish, maybe peculiar to your family. (Not that I am intimating in any way that your family is peculiar. Seriously, who am I to even hint at peculiarity with my glass house?)

The things you had to do that others did not is a really hard one. Medical decisions for someone you love suck eggs. You can’t win. Nothing is the right choice.

My daughter, Lenore, (you probably already know her,) got herself her first tattoo in her junior year of High School. I assure you she did NOT look 18. It was horrendous. I didn’t see it for at least a year. I talked about it somewhere on TNB, but I forget where. It looked like a map of her ovary on the skin on top of her actual ovary. It was hideous. She had it changed into a quite beautiful hummingbird which is actually about 16 times life size. We call her tattoo girl now, for the sheer number of her tattoos.

Did you have any problems with getting yours in your basement? It doesn’t sound like the most sanitary of places for such an undertaking. Who did it? (Don’t say a friend, please.)

My lists are sort of amorphous blotches in my head. I don’t know what’s there until I start to write. (There’s probably a psychiatric term for that.)

Pets are universally treated better than kids. There’s a reason for that. Pets are WAY nicer. Ask anyone with both.

Comment by Dana |Edit This
2008-11-06 08:09:32

Wow. What a cantankerous old crank. But it makes for a great story! (I love your stories, even if I do tend to get a bit queasy at times.) What IS it with old people pilfering stuff from restaurants? I know a lot of people attribute it to living through the depression, but that’s true of a lot of people who don’t line their pockets with free napkins and condiments.
My now deceased mother-in-law never saw a jam display or Equal packet that she didn’t want to shove in her pocket. When we helped clean out her closets we found a little treasure in every pocket. )

I’m sorry your mom was mean. My grandfather was a monster and my mom is a saint. You and she are living proof that these cycles can be broken.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:16:01

Dana, I am so proud to have made you queasy! That’s a first for me and I think I should get some kind of award. GO ME!

Did your Mother-in-Law wrap leaky food up in napkins too and put it in her purse? That always got to me. Usually she actually carried around a baggie to put the napkin-wrapped food in, so her purse didn’t get all wet. Creepy behavior.

Tell your Mom today that you think she’s a Saint! Better still, write it in a little note and mail it to her. I swear she will cry and keep it forever. Trust me on this, Dana.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-07 17:09:05

Hey, Ma

You remember how she used to get all her money in singles and carry around a huge wad of cash?

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 18:29:44

Yeah, I forgot that. Tim! It always made her feel like she had more money when the roll was thicker. HA! I like ones too. (uh oh for you guys!)

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:41:28

As described here, oh yes, the tattoo was done by a friend:


It was an eyesore, and while my mother thinks “tattoo” is short-hand for “stupid ugly thing you did to ruin your perfectly pretty body and one day you and all your tattooed friends are gonna regret what you’ve done to yourselves”, she grudgingly prefers the cover-up to the original.

As for the fridge-scaling, well, in our house, all the “good” stuff was hidden in the cupboard above the fridge. Getting on top of it was the quickest route to raiding the supplies of candy, ribbons, scotch, elastics for pinging, cake decorations and loose coins (depending on the age of the climber, their interests and goals upon reaching the cupboard varied). The ban on actually getting right up there and rooting around, well, this was clearly unfair to those family members too short to reach the cupboard by any other way.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:00:37

I love your beetles, Amanda!
I believe I used those same words to my daughter, Lenore. Mother’s speak from the same handbook.

I can’t imagine a category to explain the range of strange things hidden above your fridge. Why would rubber bands be with the scotch? Why ribbons with the candy? This is stumping me. Did your mother just hide anything you guys wanted but couldn’t have up there? That would make sense.

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:44:00

Although my parents have moved house several times since we were small, there is STILL a cupboard that contains: a carton of wooden matches; three bottles of Johnnie Walker; sandwich bags; the scissors and pens; a sushi and sake service; massive sacks of potato chips; and some swizzle sticks.

Sometimes, when I am home visiting, I just stand there on a chair, gazing at that crazy top shelf. There is no explanation, none whatsoever, for this mingling of household goods.

The jar of rubber bands has been moved, to the cupboard that contains all the drinking glasses.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:30:26

Amanda, I love the way your mother thinks. It’s so unconventional. Now I’m going to puzzle over why the far of rubber bands moved to the cupboard with the drinking glasses. Why would you possibly need a glass and a rubber band at the same time? If the glass is broken, you can’t hold it together with a rubber band; it’ll still leak. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to think on this mystery. It’s good to have a mysterious mother!

Did you see below that Marcia had a friend whose mother padlocked all the food? At least you could move a chair and sneak up there when your mom was on the other side of the house. It was hard, but you still had a fighting chance.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:05:28

mothers! Where did that damn apostrophe come from? (Must learn to proof read!)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 16:04:16

and jar, not far. I MUST LEARN TO PROOF READ!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Autumn |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:12:47

I enjoyed the story. That being said, I tend to lean toward misery when I choose my reading material. Not sure why that is.

My family would have done the same thing. My grandmother will turn 99 in December and she has become very bitter at times. But she still lives in her home (with hired help) and she never drove in her entire life so we never had to worry about that. She dotes on the great grandchildren now, as she once doted on us. That’s something anyway. She reserves most of her nastiness for my mother, who after years of spending AT LEAST two or three days a week with her, finally found someone to spend her time with. Since my mother has had a boyfriend, the last 6 years or so, my grandmother treats her as though she has abandoned her completely and is pretty mean to her most of the time. This despite the fact that my mother still makes it over there at least once a week to bathe her, fill her pillbox, etc. My uncle, whose home you can get to through my grams back yard, rarely sees her. Gram is much more understanding of him. The reason you ask? He is a man. That’s all it takes in my grandmother’s mind to absolve you of her disdain. Just have the right genitalia and you are off the hook. (although he has his hands full at home, but that’s another story)

Anyway, blah blah blah. Sorry, this is your story time, not mine. I want to know more.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:10:13

Oh Autumn, your poor Mom! The ungrateful ones can pierce your heart. I also have a brother. Ask me how much help he was to me for ten years. No, don’t. I can’t bear to start another draining story. I’ll write that sometime later. The story of the only child my mother wanted. Oh yes. Another time.

Tell your mother how wonderful she is. (Or just read advice I’ve written twice because I’m obsessed with this topic.)

Comment by Autumn |Edit This
2008-11-06 15:42:27

I try to make a point to remind my mom of how much I appreciate her so I hope she knows it. Phone calls, the occasional card in the mail for no reason. I’m sure she has her faults but to me, she’s pretty much achieved sainthood. I have nothing but adoration for her.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain about my grandmother since it wasn’t until her early 90’s that her attitude change went into effect. Even still she’s mostly pleasant as long as you have one of her great grandchildren in tow. I don’t have children so I tend to limit my visits to when my sister is heading over there too.

Whenever family members get to talking about her mean moments we sort of chalk it up to the fact that she has earned it by being wonderful all her life and making it as far as she has. If she’s bitter in her old age I suppose that I might be too. Most of her friends have died and her family is spread out and her husband has been gone for over 30 years. Really she’s just lonely, and that I can understand.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 17:15:00

Old is hard. So many of the people you love are dead and you feel like shit. Everything hurts and you can’t hear or see well. I think I’ll be pretty cranky if I get into my 90s. Since she was warm and kind for decades, she’s due a little slack. Borrow a friend’s kid and bring him over and say he’s yours. She’ll probably think she forgot and get all happy. How can it hurt?

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:16:43

It’s a compliment but I was tired after I read this.

We flew two million miles to get to Israel.

The old rabbi told me once that everywhere Torah says Israel you can insert your own name.
Israel is symbolic for God’s relationship with us.
Israel means,
One who struggles with God.


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:18:36

jmb, thank you.
I was emptied out when I wrote it, and it’s only the beginning of this particular story. I’ll need some sort of break. I’ll write about the worms in the Amazon or something. Something that doesn’t grab my stomach and pull it forcibly out.

I didn’t know about what the Rabbi told you. We have a Torah. I will try to read it that way and see what happens.

My relationship with God is a struggle.
So many questions unanswered.
and yet
and yet

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:36:10

And yet.

That’s what faith is, right? The and yet?

what’s that Leonard Cohen said?
love is not a victory march,
its a cold and its a broken Hallelujah….

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:47:03

Whoa. That’s beautiful.

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-06 19:59:26

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 20:10:46

Wow, Josie, that was stunningly beautiful. Thank you.

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:22:36

When my mom was a child, she had a friend whose mom kept a padlock on the food cupboard in the kitchen. There was no between meal snacking in that house! I can’t even imagine living with someone like that. You need to tell the story about Nana visiting the in-laws in England. I have forgotten what happened but I know it was funny.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:20:48

A PADLOCK? That woman had control issues, Marcia!

Marcia how can you remember a story I forgot? Now I’ll have to get in touch with my brother.

Comment by ben |Edit This
2008-11-06 14:40:15

I remember thinking that summer camp was required of us, like school. I thought the federal government mandated that I be without air conditioning and surrounded by suburban Chicago Jews for 8 weeks out of the summer.

That does not make much sense, but I was pretty little.

If I had known it was just to give you two some peace and quiet I would have protested.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 15:24:04

Oh Ben. You can think it was to give us peace and quiet, but, really, what kind of peace and quiet could we ever have being responsible for NANA?
We sent you to camp so you would learn about the outdoors and be with loads of kids and have fun. You lived in a city where there was NOTHING for you to in the Summer at all.
Instead of watching TV or playing video games, in your case, you were playing team sports and learning how to live with others without the interference of your mother. I know your father didn’t interfere, but I was incapable of not interfering. They have a name for that now: helicopter mothers. I know it. I’m sorry. It was impossible for me to be any different.
I hated when you all left. My nest was empty for all camp time. It was a preview of what was to come. If I had it to do over, I would have the kind of kids that never grow up. Best time of my life. Best.
We’ll see what you do when you have kids. Maybe you’ll let them play video games all summer and eat blue candy. I doubt it though. When you grow up and have kids everything changes. (For the better, I might add.)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-07 17:05:26

Yea. No shit, Ben.

Why did we have to hang out in Eagle River? Wasn’t there a closer Jewish-athlete enclave we could’ve spent the summer in? I hate sports. Always have. At least you had the balls to ask to go to Jewish science camp instead.

You always did like going your own way. Shithead.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 18:34:17

You know, you ingrates, your Dad LOVED camp. He wanted you to have the same experience. How could we know you’d be sports-impaired?
That damn Science camp messed up our 21st wedding anniversary. We were going to go to Africa for it, but the Parents’ Weekends were two different weekends because you were in different camps. Spent our 21st anniversary on the worst bed in the smelliest motel in the universe instead.
Sports-impaired losers!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-21 21:40:51

We weren’t all that sports-impaired. We just didn’t like that sort of thing. You know, being outside and so forth.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2008-11-22 05:48:47

I’m pretty sure that not being outside makes you sports-impaired, but correct me if I’m wrong, Tim.

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2008-11-06 17:24:35

Believe it or not I found the time to read this while the baby was sleeping and the hubby is out for the night! I forgot what peace and quiet was like. My grandmother is not as crazy, but still basically not a nice person. I can relate.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 20:00:57

It is absolutely astounding how many crazy grandmothers there are out there!

(What are you doing on the computer? You should be asleep when the baby’s asleep, remember?)

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2008-11-07 07:24:31

Luckily, this was fifteen or twenty years ago.
I don’t remember much and besides, it’s done now.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:54:38

Oh Sara, I’m so sorry that we put you in this position twice. If only we could have known ahead of time, we could have saved you the trauma. Anything you said to us was richly deserved. Luckily there are no more crazy grandparents and besides, I’d never ask you again for anything like that. I promise not to be a crazy old lady. I will never move into your house. You’re safe now.

2008-11-07 07:43:33

Seriously, Irene.

Are you writing these stories down in a larger format? I’d suggest “Running With Nail Scissors”, but that’s been done.

And when you do… I want first dibs on the screen adaptation rights. Pretty please?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:56:43

I never wrote anything before in my life. What you read on TNB is it. I have to thank Brad for inviting me because I am having the time of my life here.

Kimberly, if ever, you got it!

Comment by donald |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:06:50

your mom sounds like…..a….lovely woman…..yup! very nice!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:58:41

Donald, I don’t believe I have ever heard that about my mother. That’s a first.

(I have a feeling you are being facetious, though.)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-07 17:01:47

Man, I sure am glad I wasn’t the one who had to call you guys with that news. Poor Sara. I remember I got arrested for underage drinking when she was watching us one of the other times you people were out of town. I tried to get her to not tell you guys. I was a bit of an asshole.

I got the shits in Israel too.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 18:38:06

You got arrested for underage drinking with Sara in charge? Oh my God, that poor girl!
You know she never told us. She kept your secret and your juvenile delinquent butt out of trouble.

(Thanks for sharing about your bowels, though.)

Comment by Cecile |Edit This
2008-11-08 15:23:47

I was here in USA when when that infamous call came from Israel, crying what should we do?? I believe Ira went to take a look to make sure there were no hallucinations going on. Poor Rose. It was the real deal. Some things things we don’t forget (too bad we can’t remember the good stuff as easily!)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-08 16:47:58

I called you? I don’t even remember that. Ira has always been a prince among men. Yeah. Poor Rose. No one should have to go through that, even a crazy wacko grandmother who hates kids.

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2008-11-08 16:21:47

Again a story well told. It is certainly understandable after two bad experiences with “Nana” that Sara would say “no” to further requests to “help out”, but my feeling is that Sara would have and would do anything for you if you really needed her.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-08 18:13:07

Ursula, you are entirely right. She’s always been dependable. She couldn’t change that if she tried. She’s reliable in spite of everything.

Comment by alex d |Edit This
2008-11-14 07:00:20

you see thats why vacations suck and if sara wont help you im always around the corner

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-14 15:14:11

Thanks, Alex,
You are the sweetest of the sweet. (However, since NANA is not on the docket, it’s not such a huge offer as it would have been….)

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2008-12-02 05:41:07

as always one should be quite careful about what they wish for, especially for someone else. Is it not strange how we learn so much from our families,even when the method of learning is so regrettable … you are one great friend caw

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2008-12-02 10:45:07

Hello, not really ksw,
As I recall, you’ve learned a thing or two from your family also. (Also, sometimes regrettable….)
Such is life.

Comment by Mary Richert |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:52:17

I don’t know why, but I love Nana. I also think she would be extraordinarily difficult to deal with, but you do such a good job of making her this… just incredible person. I think “incredible” is a word I’m going to overuse in reference to your family. I apologize for that in advance. Your writing makes me feel like the most difficult experiences are the ones most worth having. That may be a silly assumption on my part. But really, I’m so glad you’re telling these stories.

It is election day and I am at home baking Hartford Election Cakes for tonight’s reception at Real Art Ways.

The tradition of baking cakes is as old as the country. In the late 18th century, when people from across the state still had to travel to Hartford to cast their ballots, the women of Hartford would cook Election Cakes to share with those weary voters. I am embracing my status as a woman of Hartford and doing my historic and culinary duty. I love voting and baking, so it’s a good way to spend the morning, really.

Presidential campaigns remind me of middle school.  They are – as engaged and noble as they might seem from time to time – about securing popularity. I really had no hope of securing popularity in middle school; instead, I spent my time concentrating on not being noticed, honing my statements, wardrobe, hair, and whatever else to be as standard as possible. Of course, this was a doomed endeavor from the start, not least because I was the girl who was dropped off at the bottom of a long, unpaved driveway that was, more often than not, flooded and impassable. It’s easy, as an adult, to recognize that no one’s really normal at that age, but any reassurances that adults might have offered me seemed hopelessly out-of-touch.

The best description of my primary character trait is earnest determinism. During the crucible of puberty, this characteristic was exaggerated so that, more than anything, I wanted people to adhere to codes. So, when those gazelles, those Popular Girls, flagrantly employed cuteness to obscure some mean thing they had done, I was indignant.

In her essay “Cuteness and Commodity Aesthetics,” Lori Merish expands on Toni Morrison’s conception of “the cute,” describing it as that which is “an aesthetic category saturated with racial, as well as class, meanings.” She identifies it as a phenomenon as much defined by its attributes – big, wide eyes; a somewhat vacant, smiling expression; unintelligible speech acts; unsuccessful imitation; inexperience, youth, and vulnerability – as by the response it engenders: the desire to cuddle or touch, protect, and save from humiliation. This response has been canonized as normative behavior, so that when one chooses not to take part in it, one announces one’s otherness.

I’ll just come out with it – I think Sarah Palin exploits the cute. Think about it – she’s not so great at sentences, she imitates (unsuccessfully) the standard language of politics, she’s constantly in situations of humiliation, and she styles her hair to make her head appear even larger than it already is. She is trying to use the cute on us.

Watch Shirley Temple and Bojangles

This manipulation is particularly significant during this election. Cuteness is a 19th-century American invention and, as such, it is infused with all the racial bigotry and fears that fill our shared history. Think about the way the cute is presented – those diminutive puti are often paired with mature black men (think of Shirley Temple and Bojangles) or frightening monsters (think of the Smurfs and Gargamel). The role of the cute in these pairings is to make the mature black man impotent and to mollify the sinister monster. So, in this election, during which we’ve been asked to examine our country’s history of racial and gender-based prejudices, positioning Sarah Palin (with all her winking folksiness) against and beside Barack Obama and John McCain primes us to be swayed by the cute.

Totally mollified

This guy is totally mollified.

This last month or so, I’ve been feeling indignation of a similar pitch to that which I felt in middle school. I don’t want to relive the disappointment of those years. And I don’t want my voting peers to be manipulated by the cute. If you feel like you really have to engage the cute somehow, I recommend that you follow my example and get a cat. Cake and disappointment don’t go well together – I want to eat my Hartford Election Cake tonight proud and excited.

Cute pet cats are better than cuteness-exploiting vice presidents

Cute pet cats are better than cuteness-exploiting vice presidents.