As its title suggests, May We Shed These Human Bodies (Curbside Splendor) by Amber Sparks is a collection of stories that is grounded in reality, but often has a hint of the surreal, the supernatural, woven into its fabric. The power in these stories comes from the awareness that a life is at a tipping point, and the assignment of emotional weight to everyday events we typically ignore. Just out of sight, behind the curtain, in the shadows, strange things are happening—dark moments that echo our secrets and lies.

I was watching the Mets play the Phillies on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball when the broadcaster announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Immediately, I flipped to CNN for more details and watched Wolf Blitzer juggle numerous correspondents as details of the event poured in. I stayed tuned for about 20 minutes, and during that time the crowd gathering on the White House lawn grew from dozens to hundreds to thousands. They waved American flags and climbed atop each others’ shoulders, chanting “USA! USA!” Their celebratory uproar reached a volume that made it difficult for one reporter on the scene to be heard. The surreal spectacle looked like the tail end of a debauched 4th of July barbecue.

Writing non-fiction used to be hard.  Journalists would spend months researching a topic, pulling their hair out with the devastating thought that their careers might be over if they got the story wrong.  Memoirists would contact the subjects in their books, haunted with the idea that getting the facts wrong might damage someone’s life or career.

Mickey was talking, and when Mickey was talking, his hands spoke with him. They were childlike and stubby-fingered, so out of proportion to the dense fat of his forearms and the rest of his bulk they may as well have been the product of an amputation. In jerks and flutters they flew above the arcs of his speech, soaring on the volume of a voice that always bordered on too loud.

Family Truth

By Summer Block

Humor

Occasionally, I am Jewish. I am Jewish when watching Woody Allen movies. I am Jewish at delis and bar mitzvahs and seders and synagogues. I am Jewish when talking to a good-looking Jewish man. But I am never Jewish at Christmas.

What do I mean? It’s simple: my father is Jewish; my mother is not. By any reasonable standard then that means that I, along with my younger sister, am half Jewish. But somewhere along the way, my family simply decided that a mixed marriage meant that half of the children would be Jewish and half not. In other words, I am Jew, and my sister is a Gentile. The most remarkable thing about this conclusion was the ease with which it was accepted by everyone.

The origins of this strange myth are easy enough to trace.  My sister is the less “Jewish-looking” of the pair, with blue eyes that inspired envy in my childhood, fair freckled skin, and a charming Muppet nose. Growing up, her hair was a glittery translucent blonde above near-invisible eyebrows. Though no one would likely mistake me for Middle Eastern, as often happens with my dark-complected father, I do bear some traces of the Semitic – darker, curlier hair, brown eyes, and a nose that, if not prominent, would still be a challenge to fashion out of felt. In temperament, too, I have always been said to favor my father, and as a young child I consciously patterned my behavior on his amiable reserve and dispassionate intellectualism, while my sister shared my mother’s open heart, ready emotions, and inexplicable comfort with hugging. Does all that mean, then, that I am Jewish and my sister is not? Of course not: obviously none of us thinks this is actually true, but still, it’s an amusing thing to believe.

As an adult, I’ve adopted a dubious new schema. Instead of representing the Jewish half of my family, I have simply decided to be Jewish about half the time.When that handsome man asks me if I’m of the tribe, I usually respond by saying “Well, my father is Jewish,” a statement that is technically true but intentionally misleading when spoken by someone who was in fact baptized as a child. In fact, I grew up attending Christian churches—albeit progressive L.A. churches, laid-back, friendly, non-judgmental places that were a lot more about acoustic guitars and drum circles and scruffy beards and singing “Kumbaya” than sending anyone to hell–but churches just the same.

So why do I lie? Some of it, no doubt, is just the desire to appear different, or interesting, or ethnic, probably stemming from my time as the only non-Latino white person in my elementary school, who when everyone else brought tamales and kimchi on Diversity Day had to content herself with scones, a weak alimentary link to a long-ago English past.

But also, I like Judaism, I find it interesting. I like reading about whether or not giraffe meat is kosher, or about mechirah, the part during Passover when you pretend to sell all your dogs to Gentiles. Now I don’t keep kosher or pretend to sell dogs personally, of course, but it’s a great concept just the same.

About ten years ago, my father began listening to the late-night radio hosts Art Bell and George Noory on the 10pm-2am show “Coast to Coast AM” and Whitley Streiber on the weekly “Dreamland” podcast. On these shows, callers report their direct experiences with the dreadful and the fabulous, while self-appointed experts (including a panoply of UFOlogists) opine on the hollow earth, alien implants, reptoids, astral projection, the Planet X, and the “coming global superstorm.” Over time, this harmless habit became a veritable obsession. My father now listens almost every night, then rises the next morning to fill my inbox with emailed links to sites advertising time machines and powerful magnetic healing devices.

Through it all, though, my father has remained as I’ve always known him to be—intelligent, rational, and bemusedly skeptical—but these traits are hard to square with his newfound enthusiasm for the Freedom of Information Act and its promised disclosure of the government’s secret Roswell files.

“Look, Dad,” I said, “I know you think all this alien stuff is funny, but do you actually believe it?”

“I believe it because it’s funny,” he said.

“Yeah, I know, but seriously, do you think all this stuff is true?”

My father looked at me and said, “You know, truth just isn’t that important to me.”

Apparently it’s not all that important to me either.  Anyone who has seen me nod appreciatively at a klezmer concert in July would be surprised to visit my home in December. Because despite any Jewish proclivities, I love Christmas. I love Christmas as much as I’ve ever loved anything, and I love every part of it, from the carols to the gingerbread. I have five labeled tubs of Christmas decorations in storage, and every year I drag them all out, then go buy a tree, design cards, hang wreaths and stockings and mistletoe, bake cookies, and make gifts by hand. I love Christmas—yes—even more than I love pretending to be Jewish.

This year my eighteen-month-old daughter is just beginning to get in on the action; she takes candy out of the Advent calendar, says the word “tree” on command, and kisses all of the Christmas ornaments individually every morning.

Recently one of my friends, a scientist, asked me whether I would tell Beatrice about Santa Claus and flying reindeer and elves at the North Pole when she was older.

Now we are a family that believes in science, in progress, in telling it as it is. We don’t use baby words for bodily functions or tell confusing bird-based myths about sexual practices – but Santa? Hell yes we’ll do Santa. We’ll do Santa like you’ve never seen.

“You don’t think it would be better to tell her the truth?” my friend asked.

“You know,” I told him, “the truth just isn’t that important to me.”

Writing should speak for itself. Good writing does. But with this piece, I feel a brief primer is in order.

I recently undertook the Sisyphean task of typing up a collection of journal entries that encompasses the nearly ten months I lived and traveled in southern Africa. This is a task made difficult not only by the sheer volume of words (close to 200,000, I suspect), but by the at-times illegible, roughly-hewn writing, which as often as not was written on the road, in a chemically-altered state, or some combination of the two.

Jack Kerouac wrote by the principle “first thought, best thought,” although even the master of the road manuscript learned that he was not above editing. In putting together this piece, I sought to retain the raw, visceral reflections that poured out of me while encountering such a spectacular and challenging part of the world.At the same time, I was fully cognizant of the fact that in its original form, much of what I wrote made sense only to me (and sometimes, not even to me). In order to form a more cohesive narrative, I moved individual passages around, inserted punctuation, and changed the odd word for the sake of clarity. But otherwise, what you read is straight from the heart, the gut, the ass, or whatever part of me it is that demands the words be written.

February 13, 2009

All of life is a waiting game—a preparation for the grand tomorrow on which day all demons shall be banished…

…There are many tomorrows on a trans-continental flight, but scarcely any todays.This pilgrimage at 32,000 feet is indicative of the human condition: the cramped and bored masses, wishing the moment away.And what awaits but uncertainty, unknown joys and terrors…every man yearns for a prophet, a taste of the supernatural, because it relieves the angst of making choices…

…At 32,000 feet all conversations feel a bit forced.Why am I going to South Africa?Where to begin…

…Every man at some point looks upon his life with the eyes of a distant stranger.What could be: the twisted half life of what is, always shimmering on the horizon, briefly igniting a spark to throw it all away and embark on some damn fool’s errand.It is a rebuke of the sensibilities we harness each day, those bricks out of which we’ve built our personal empires, the bedrock of those things that fill our lives…

…For all of the wisdom of our fathers they never once said to us, “You will build a life and afterwards always wonder what could have been.”…

…How can I hope to explain to a stranger in business casual what I have trouble myself understanding?What words will I string together to describe all the passion that’s been put aside, the yearnings that have been marginalized, a mental tickle that says things should be different?Instead I use language he can understand: I tell him I fell in love, which is true, only not the whole truth.In loving her I have merely recaptured the ability to love—and a man in love believes all things are possible—he is a glutton, eating everything before him but never full—he belches; defecates and rolls in it.To be in love is to have boundless energy.I love her madly, but not only her—I want to make love to the world, lay back with a sigh, satisfied, but thinking always of more, more, more…

…What awaits as I step off this plane and walk into her arms?Is it love I feel or love I seek?Infidelity already lurks in my heart, for it is Africa that I truly lust for… a place where beasts and chaos reign supreme…

… Oh Africa!How I long for you!Oh Africa!I lust for thee!Oh Africa!Give me a reprieve! …

…Let me hear the sounds of lions at night and roam among the sun-bleached bones of those fate did not favor in the morning…

…..I want to be surrounded by the possibility of death, because living in a cage of logic is already dying…

…I seek mayhem…upheaval…bring on earthquakes and hurricanes…sweep my old life away into the sea…leave me naked on the ruins of what I’ve built…

…It’s not often that one can see a new chapter of their life unfolding, but that is precisely the view before me as the plane makes its descent into Johannesburg. The African continent comes into view, conjuring up a wealth of imagery as varied and twisted as the mind that tries to make sense of it.Of all the places to start over, Africa seems to be the best …

… The Africa of my mind is a picture of an old, faded map with an unfolding line marking my travels.I will make it to Kilimanjaro, stand atop the roof of Africa, stare out across the continent and have a view similar to what God must have had when his work was at last done and he could rest…

…Starting over…what is it like?At 10,000 feet and descending, I know not, but I know the pure adrenaline in my gut is enough. If this ecstatic doubt is an indicator, then I’ve been living my whole life asleep.To start over, in Africa, in love…

…Love and Africa.Now, this is all I know.The plane touches down.I pass through the required checkpoints and collect my bags.I step into a lobby, baggage in tow.She rises to greet me.I am in her arms again.Love and Africa.Now, this is all I need…

…I am better than fate.I am stronger than the universe.I am a man.

February 14, 2009

I have scarcely a night to dream big African dreams before we are on the road. Up by 4:00, casting a shadow on the still-cool tarmac by 6:00…

…nothing is set or decided, but for now we set a rough course down to Cape Town and from there up to Namibia, where we shall be swept up and away into The Heart of Africa…

…She holds my hand as she drives and I love her. We are together, our lives condensed down to a small white Toyota…

…driving through the Cradle of Humankind we pass a lone hitchhiker, his dark features reflecting under the bright sun—in his single, outstretched thumb I see the history of humanity laid bare—starting here, wending its way northward to new lands—the growth of many races from one—he still in the birthplace of man and I, returning in an automobile—here, in the plains of Southern Africa, history has formed a strange circle…

…We stop to refuel in the kinds of small towns that make ghosts out of men. A worker finishes pumping dinosaur bones into the tank and I tell him to have a nice day, but what I really mean is, “I’m sorry.I don’t know how things came to be like this either.”…

…We drive all day and make the town of Nieu Bethesda just as dusk is beginning to break.To get there we follow a long, winding dirt road that picks its way through the rocky, crumbling remains of mountains…

…The first day of the journey calls for a bottle of wine and we share it in the common room of the hostel with a Canadian woman who says she has come to Africa to save the lions, but who I suspect has really come to save herself.No 35 year old insurance salesman from Calgary sits up in the dead of night knowing her mission in life is to protect a creature 10,000 miles away.Lions are a symbol of her discontent, of a longing for something more out of life than cold-calling strangers and trying to get them to buy a new policy…

February 16, 2009

The sun is nearly down when we reach the town of Uniondale.We find the name of a youth hostel and head there.She is scorched and exhausted, wants to go to bed.I, in a similar state, oblige.But as I lay there, the desert night calls to me.Restless, I rise to sit alone outside….

…The proprietor, a man of about 60, sits on the stoop, smoking slowly, each long inhale seeming to encompass a universe of silent rumination. He at first seems aloof and rude but turns out to be the type of man who finds no value in senseless chatter.He offers me a cigarette.I don’t smoke but I accept.We puff away in silence; the sound of the paper burning is clearly audible among the cricket chirps and nighttime rustling of unseen creatures….

…He is a counterpoint to my youthful restlessness; where I flounder he is fixed; where nothing ahead is known for me he lives in this familiar world…

…He rises wordlessly and enters the house, reappearing with a fiddle.The case opens with a click that resounds in the darkness.The instrument is old but the strings look fresh and strong.He raises it to his shoulder and draws back the bow.I lay back, smoking, propped up on one elbow in the cool grass.I imagine he plays for me, but this is not the truth.He plays for himself.I am merely a witness to his strange blues. He stops occasionally to take a drag off of the cigarette that lies smoldering at his side.Several of them burn down to the filter…

… He finishes, packs the fiddle away, rises and enters the house.I remain, in silence, but I can still hear the music, telling me everything I need to know, filing the spaces between my thoughts with a wordless chorus…

…He has killed me softly with his strange blues.His song speaks to the road ahead.

February 17, 2009

We drive downtown to the main church.The Boer Farmers who migrated north from the Cape to escape the rule of the English built their newly-founded towns around these places of worship, the detailed craftsmanship of this building reflecting their ambitions for a good life, a beautiful life, a peaceful life…

…I walk around it, snapping pictures.I’ve not had any use for God since I refused to return to Sunday school at the age of nine, but churches always instill in me the sense that without myth, the world would be a very ugly place…

…I look at the small white car, the steed that carries me and Emily through the wasteland—we are together against the world, but also separate; horribly alone in our own quests…

… Everybody needs their own church, squat, solid and beautiful, built in the center of the vast, perilous wilderness of their own mind….

…I gaze through the fence at the well-kept grass and handsome stone work.A woman approaches from behind and says something in Afrikaans. She is the cleaning lady, old and toothless, her hair in a handkerchief.I beg her pardon that I only speak English.

“Would you like to have a look inside?” she translates.

“Yes, very much so,” I say….

…She unlocks a back door and I climb a set of stairs up past the bell to the very height of the church.From there it is a tentative walk up a ladder that is leaned against a shuddered window.I push it open and step down onto a circular terrace that surrounds the tower…

… A church is built to make people feel humble.The towering roof, the detailed craftwork, the stern-faced biblical figures, all are bent towards reminding people of a higher power in whose presence we are hopelessly small. To that end, I say let the people of Uniondale congregate up here on Sundays, rather than suffer under the heaviness of stone and wood…

… Let them be accompanied up the rickety staircase by the cleaning lady who has spent decades inside this hallowed building and has nothing to show for it but stubborn pride and arthritic fingers…

… Let them climb the wobbling stairs past the cobwebbed gears and levers of a massive bell, the booming metallic voice of god, which summons them to worship each Sunday….

…Let them stand on this terrace where with one glance they can size up their entire sleepy town, where they live and will die, where the great expanse of the Karoo is overtaken by mountains to the south and where beyond that, mountains fall into the sea.The view from here can make one feel smaller than any preacher’s words…

…Let the people see pigeons perched on stone crosses, roosting in the eaves of the highest point of the holiest building, defecating wherever they please, years of shit accumulated upon the House of God.Then, they will be humbled, truly.

I consider myself an exceptionally honest person.  Occasionally, honest to a fault.

Honest about what I think, feel, believe, etc.  At least at any given moment.

I shy away from using the term “truth” as a player in any description of character, since that invites a whole host of objections that I’m not energetic enough to expose myself to today.

It is possible to be honest and still be mistaken, for example.   It is only one example, though.  The line between honesty and falsehood isn’t always totally clear.

I am honest at least insofar as I will answer any sincere, serious, unloaded, and un-ridiculous question with a sincere, serious, unloaded, and un-ridiculous answer–to the best of my ability.

But I am honest now because I was not always that way.  Or I was.  Or I wasn’t.

Technically, as a child, I was a pathological liar.

Well, check that.

I don’t know if I was pathological, really, because I never lied out of compulsion alone.  My lies always had some purpose, but it didn’t take much for something to count as a purpose, and in many cases, the purpose of the lie didn’t become apparent until many years later.

There are a small few of these lies whose stories stick with me because of their consequences, their geneses, or, in one case, because the lie actually turned out to be a premonition.  Here are three of them:


1.  The Beach Towel Fabrication:  In which Grandpa reaches across double-wide generation gap to remind me who I’m fucking with.

When I was a young, school-aged child, both of my parents worked–my mother in politics and my father as a land surveyor.  Unlike school, work doesn’t let out for the summer, so for many years, I went to summer day camp at the YMCA.  Even day camp, though, let out before my parents’ jobs did, so my grandfather would often pick me up, and I would hang out with him and Grandma at their house until my mom got off of work and could come retrieve me.  My grandpa was a North Dakota farm boy who was in his late teens, just getting ready to enter the world, when the stock market crashed in 1929.  He had been led home by a horse in a white-out blizzard once, which was my favorite story of his, and he lived a young life that most of us would consider third-world from our contemporary, relatively affluent perspectives.  His own grandparents (or was it his parents?) were Swedish immigrants.  He walked with a cane even when I was still very young.  In true Scandinavian fashion, he was reserved, slow to (exhibit) anger, and, really, the epitome of the patient grandfather stereotype.  He had glasses with thick black rims, a dry, clever sense of humor, and liked kids with “spunk.”  His eldest daughter, my mother, was one of them.

One day at day camp, I lost my towel.  There was a pool at the YMCA, and it had been swimming day (as opposed to nature day or field trip day or arts and crafts day).  When Grandpa picked me up, he rifled through my bag, as was customary, to make sure I hadn’t lost or forgotten anything and discovered no towel.

“Where is your towel?”

For reasons not entirely clear to me but that may have been related to my current fear of ever making or admitting mistakes, especially to people who I want to think that I’m awesome, I lied.  I didn’t say I lost it.

“I’m not telling you.”

“Did you lose it?  Should we go in and look for it?”

This is where I should have said, “Yes.  Let’s.”

Instead I said, “I didn’t lose it.  But I’m not telling you where it is.”

Now I was in for the haul.  Committed to the lie.  No turning back.

“Don’t you sass me.”

“I don’t have to tell you.”

I may have laughed the snotty laugh.  I may have stuck out my tongue.

This went on longer than most men of his generation would have allowed.  Finally, out of space, out of thin air, a bolt of paper-skinned lightning struck me on the cheek, immediately setting the whole left side of my head on fire.

When I finally realized that I had been slapped in the face for–perhaps amazingly–the first time in my young, snotty life, he was already behind me, holding the truck door open.  In a stern but controlled voice, he ordered me to get in.  I could explain the towel to my mother, he said.  He had “had it.”  I sulked the whole way back to his house.

At this point, you’d think I’d have learned something about who was the boss of my situation, but no.  When we got home, I refused to get out of the truck.

He offered me the “easy way ” or “hard way” option.  Ever the warrior, I told him he couldn’t carry me anywhere because he was “just an old man with a cane.”

He came around to my door, leaned his cane against the truck, pried me out, and threw me, flailing and screaming, over his shoulder.  He picked up his cane in the other hand, parallel to the ground, and hauled me into the house without ever letting the cane touch down.


2.  The Incredible Tale of Crusher, the Wolf-Dog:  In which my susceptibility to fantasy is revealed in a lie I almost started to believe was true.

I was always obsessive, even as a child.  I would watch the same movies, over and over, until my parents had to disallow them as options on video rental night because they simply could not stand to watch them again.  Among these movies were The Neverending Story, Emerald Forest, Better Off Dead, and The Journey of Natty Gann. (My John Cusack obsession started early, too.)

For those who are unfamiliar, Natty Gann is about a Great Depression-era girl with a dead mother who goes in search of her father after he leaves her in the care of an unsavory guardian so he can do logging work some 2,000 miles away in the Pacific Northwest (or was it Alaska?).  Anyway.  She wants her dad.  She takes off across the North American wilds trying to get to where he is, having many adventures and, at some point, befriending a wolf (known only as “Wolf”), who becomes her constant companion and guardian throughout her travels.

After seeing this movie for the tenth or fifteenth time, I began telling kids at school that I had a half-wolf, half-dog named Crusher (Bad.  Ass.  Name.), who was my best friend.  Crusher was pretty incredible.  He lived in the woods by my house, could sense when I was in trouble, came when called from up to 5 miles away, attacked bad guys, AND did all the normal tricks dogs do, like sit, roll over, shake, speak, and play fetch.

In reality, I had a grumpy Pekingese with an underbite who all my friends were afraid of because he was dreadfully ugly. And he bit.  His name was “Oscar,” after the Sesame Street grouch.

I told the other kids I met Crusher when he saved me from drowning in the river.

Crusher was an imaginary friend of sorts, but I don’t think I ever told my parents about him, and I knew he wasn’t actually real, most of the time.

I have one particularly vivid memory of telling this lie on the school bus as it made its way towards my day care, going down 3rd St. on the north hill of my hometown.

If what I was saying were true, I was dared, I should call him and he should show up.

I said fine, I would, but he might be busy doing some other bidding of mine.  I remember looking down towards the river and seeing, in my mind’s eye, a gray streak barreling up the hill to come get me.  I stopped telling that lie, I think, when he never showed up and when I realized that, sooner or later, friends who came to my house would begin to ask why they never saw Crusher.  I told them I sent him back into the wild to be with the wolves.  This, unsurprisingly, is exactly what Natty Gann did with Wolf.


3.  The Completely True Fairy Tale of Neverland Summer Camp:  In which I describe in great detail a place I didn’t yet know existed and events that had yet to take place.

Thriller-era Michael Jackson was cool.  Way cool.  I was a huge fan and even had a red leather belt (a la his jacket in the Thriller video) with MJ’s Billy Jean facade as the belt buckle.  Michael Jackson bought Neverland Ranch in 1988, when I was ten.  When I was nine, a new kid came to day care.  He was from a wealthy family with Hollywood connections, and he told incredible stories about meeting famous people.  They were like my stories, in a way, but his were true.  We knew they were true because he brought pictures to show-and-tell.  One of the people he’d met was Michael Jackson.  He was wildly popular almost immediately.  No tale of an invisible wolf-dog could trump an actual Polaroid of Cool Kid standing next to a squatting, beaming, still-black Michael Jackson.

So I did the only thing I could think to do:  I fabricated a story so awesome that nothing anyone else could say could possibly be cooler.  It was easily the most elaborate and vivid lie I have ever told in my life.  It was about how–not only had I met Michael Jackson–I hung out with Michael Jackson on an annual basis, in the summer, every summer.  It was basically summer camp; a bunch of other kids and I would go to Michael Jackson’s house, where he had rides and video games and threw parades every day.  Michael Jackson loved kids, which is why he let us come to his awesome house.  We played with Bubbles, had slumber parties every night, and he slept in the same room with us (in bunk beds, though, because even my premonitions, I guess, were naive).  We’d stay up late telling ghost stories and get up early to go swimming and ride elephants.

He’d give me rides on his shoulders because he liked me best, and no, sorry.  No other kids could come with me because it was invitation-only.  But if they were really nice to me, I might be willing to give Michael a call and ask.

When the more elaborate details of Michael’s time at Neverland Ranch began to surface in the late 90s and after, I enthusiastically and with terrible desperation told people how, when I was 9, I had described this very scenario in shocking detail to a group of playground kids in semi-rural suburban Minnesota.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one believed me.





I don’t like to brag, but you ought to know that I received a 760 on my American History SAT II.  A 760 out of 800.

Like I said: I don’t like to brag.  Even so, you ought to know that a 760 is a very good score.

The Kaplan SAT Prep website says that “a score of 600 is considered very solid.”

If I’d gotten a 600, I probably would have cried.

600, as Kaplan suggests, is a respectable score.  But that was the kind of kid I was.  A perfectionist.  Also, a crier.

But more than that, I was an eager student of American History.  In some ways, it’s my birthright.  I was born the same as the Boston Tea Party.  To which I’ve long attributed my distaste for taxation without representation and beverages involving bags.

Moreover, one of the first books my father ever read to me was the Esther Forbes novel about the American Revolution, Johnny Tremain. I cried when Johnny disfigured his hand in a tragic silversmithing accident.  I  cried more when Rab died at the Battle of Lexington.

I loved historical fiction.  Was, in fact, nuts about it.  For most of my elementary school years, I was obsessed with Ann Rinaldi’s Danielle Steel-ish take on our country’s past.  I even cribbed large parts of the plot of The Last Silk Dress when writing my piece for the 4th grade Young Authors Symposium.  Plus, it was largely due to Ann that I always remembered the date of the Boston Massacre: the 5th of March.

Did I mention that I have a well-worn VHS tape of the 1972 historical movie musical “1776”?  That, to this day, I can sing along with Blythe Danner (a.k.a. Mrs. Thomas Jefferson) as she waxes rhapsodic about her husband and his prodigious violin skills?

I can.  It’s true.

This is a long way of saying that it was with much consternation that I watched these past weeks as the Texas Board of Education dismantled and distorted our country’s past.

* * *

Not content with promoting creationism, last week, Christian conservatives on the Texas Board of Education won a major victory, passing curriculum changes that left historians scratching their heads.  Board Members sought to stress the Christianity of the Founding Fathers and the genius of American capitalism.  They also sought to deify Ronald Reagan, legitimize Phyllis Schafly, and erase separation of Church and State.

In a stunning example of whitewashing, the Board moved to downplay Martin Luther King Jr. and instead focus on the Republicans in Congress who supported civil rights legislation.

“Republicans need a little credit for that,” Board Member Don McLeroy said.  “I think it’s going to surprise some students.”

‘Surprise” is one word for it.  “Enrage” is another.

McLeroy, a dentist by training and erstwhile college cheerleader, also pushed to soften history’s take on Joseph McCarthy.  “Read the latest on McCarthy,” he insisted.  “He was basically vindicated.”

O rly?  LOL, Mr. McLeroy.  ROTFL.

The Texas Board of Education is, apparently, a place where “facts” mean very little.  Where reason can’t be found.

When Mavis Knight, a Dallas Democrat, introduced an amendment that would require students be taught that “the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others,” she was roundly defeated.  And when, time after time, Board Members voted against including more Latino figures into the curriculum, Mary Helen Berlanga had had enough.  She left the meeting saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America, and Hispanics don’t exist.”

They certainly can pretend that, it turns out.  If the Texas Board of Education had its way, school children would never know that this country included ethnic and religious minorities.  That “white” and “Christian” are not synonymous with “American.”

As it stands, Texan students can forget about Thomas Jefferson.  Turns out he’s totally overrated.

* * *

Barbara Cargill loves Jesus.  She just hates everyone else.

From her position on the Board, Cargill objected to a standard for a sociology course that defined the difference between sex and gender.  She was fearful, she said, that such distinctions would bring students into the frightening world of “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else.”

Cargill, it turns out, is also not a fan of crime victims or the mentally ill.  She won passage of an amendment that would teach sociology students about “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices.”  Life choices like rape, eating disorders, teen suicide, and dating violence.

“The topic of sociology,” Ms. Cargill noted, “tends to blame society for everything.”

If only I’d be taught about personal responsibility.  Maybe then I wouldn’t have chosen to starve my way through 11th grade.

Then again, I’m no victim.  Barbara Cargill’s absolutely right.  I chose my choice and I only have myself to blame.

* * *

I am, on some level, the enemy.  I realize that.  I’m a left-wing Jewess with a degree from Vassar in Women’s Studies.  I use words like “heteronormativity” on a semi-regular basis.  I’ve taken workshops on white privilege and rallied for abortion rights.  I’ve volunteered for Planned Parenthood and donated to gay rights groups.  I’m like Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were.”  Nose and all.

I have an agenda.  Of course I do.  But I’m not on the Texas Board of Education.  I’m not a decision-maker.  I’m just standing on the sidelines, slack-jawed, as fundamentalists pervert the beautiful, awful history of this country.

* * *

I’ve been watching Henry Louis Gates’ series, “Faces of America,” on PBS this week.  It’s a fascinating look at the varied backgrounds of twelve high-profile Americans.  Uber-WASP Stephen Colbert is one, as well as Meryl Streep.  Also biracial journalist Malcolm Gladwell, Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

I reveled in the diversity Gates exposed.  Diversity of ethnicity, obviously, but also experience.  It’s the diversity of this country that makes it so unique.  The tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The “wretched refuse.”  It sounds cheesy, I know, but these people are the backbone of America.

Yamaguchi’s family was, I thought, one of the most compelling.  While his family was interned in a camp in Arizona during World War II, Yamaguchi’s maternal grandfather fought for America in Europe.  Most Japanese-Americans served in a segregated unit, but George Doi was part of the 100th Infantry Division, an all-white unit.  In the New York Times, he was declared “unquestionably the company’s best soldier.”

My mother and I watched Gates elucidate all this to an emotional Yamaguchi, tears streaming down our own faces.

This is America, I thought.  Flawed.  Cruel, at times.  But also a place where an immigrant can find redemption.  Something worth fighting for.

This is the America that the Texas Board of Education wants to forget.  Internment camps and the Trail of Tears and immigration quotas and the KKK.  Racism, imperialism, expansionism, Manifest Destiny.  Mexican-Americans and African-Americans.  César Chavez  and Dolores Huerta and Emma Goldman and Bella Abzug.  Stonewall and Selma.  Communists.  Socialists.  Tree-huggers and dolphin-lovers.  Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus and- G-d help us- atheists.

This is the America that the Texas Board of Education would rather you not hear about.

They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  And if we only teach the PG-version of history, we run the risk of making the same mistakes all over again.

Cherry Picking

By Brin Butler

Essay

“What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

There’s a poor orchard town near where my father grew up in the countryside. It’s one of the poorest places in the country. Most people found out about it when it got some attention in the newspapers after a famous serial killer and child rapist named Clifford Olsen passed through and beheaded a child and left the trophy to be discovered by school kids in the river that flows next to the highway that runs through the heart of the town.


We drove through that town on the way to visit our relatives since I was a baby. I remember driving when my parents were together and after they’d parted ways. I think it was one of the first places I used as a marker to measure certain feelings that upset me. When I was very small we nearly always stopped to pick up fruit to bring over for my grandmother to use in baking pies. After she died when I was five, we still stopped to pick up fruit, but usually just enough for the last stretch of the car ride. Memories aren’t photos in an album, they change every time you fondle them. I was getting good marks and then I wasn’t anymore. Holes weren’t filling in with certain things that bothered me. When I was big enough, we pulled off the highway and visited one of my favorite bridges in the world called Red Bridge.

You could climb inside the walls of that one-lane bridge and get up to the top staring a good fifty feet over that icy, glacier-fed river.

At the best of times I’m pretty lousy with heights. I was 21 before I had the courage to jump. I had a boyfriended girl up there with me, originally from the town, who I’d met in the city. She knew the parents of the beheaded kid and we’d been talking about how creepy and exciting the river felt knowing that such an awful thing polluted it.

The first time I stepped into a river when I was two or three my dad told me that you can never put your foot into the same river twice. That was a good fit as far as I was concerned. I almost drowned once floating down a river and after I quit struggling it was the most peaceful feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. You’re caught under something and struggling and struggling to get to the surface and grab some air and then you actually hear another voice ask why?

She’d never had the guts to jump and thought anyone who did was crazy. I wanted to impress her. At first it hadn’t worked out so well. I’d chickened-out over and over again maybe 20 times, but when she gave up on me and went to collect the little blanket we’d spread out up there I went for it. I figured suicide was the biggest decision you can make that you can’t ever regret.

She made a beautiful sound when I jumped over her and off that edge. I could hear that sigh-scream all the way down with my arms flapping like a maniac before plunging into the water and falling so deep I touched down on the pebbly river bottom.

The next time I visited that town I didn’t pass through, we stopped to visit that same girl’s folks.

We stopped by a friend of hers who had an apple orchard. The orchard had a pretty story behind it:

The parents of that friend who owned the orchard had wondered for years why all the pickers went to one particular tree on their lunch break for their own apples to eat. Finally they went over to that tree and tried one of the apples for themselves and discovered that the apples looked and tasted different. They had a distinctive creamy color. As it turned out, it was a new strain of apple which they named Ambrosia apples that became so popular that they became quite wealthy.

I’ve taken nearly every girl I’ve really liked through that town and bought them some of those apples from the roadside fruit stands.

On the flight back from New York with my wife a couple days ago, I was thinking about one of these girls.

On the trip we had together through that town she picked up the slack from my grandmother and used those apples to bake a pie.

I published a story about her in a magazine a while back. I gave some slippery details about her finding out I’d written a novel about her without ever having had a meaningful conversation with her. In the story I’d given myself a first kiss with her. 10 years after high school she’d read it and flew over to be with me. That was what happened.

But I’d left the piece open-ended.

Sometimes I’m interested in people who think leaving out vital material isn’t the same as lying when it achieves the same purpose.

It’s a different feeling getting away with a lie.

Different motivation too, I think.

It’s weird writing the happy part of a story that you know ends badly.

I’d left it optimistic and nostalgic and hopeful between us.

It had ended abruptly, severed with a warning she issued in a shrill tone: “You’ll always regret this. You’ll look back and regret this for the rest of your life.”

Most women I know that complain about their choice in men talk about how unsuccessful they are in finding a good match rather than succeeding in choosing assholes.

Every writer zeros-in on who their best muse is, who they’re really writing to or who they feel is looking over their shoulder. I’m not good with a Thinking Cap on my head. I end up feeling like Whitney Houston when I’m trying to sound like Billie Holiday.

Crack isn’t heroin.

The woman who published that story asked me how the story played out after meeting that girl. Was I still with her? “C’mon, she’d moved from Europe to be with you!”

That wasn’t entirely true. More to the point, she’d moved to be with an idea of us that had nothing to do with me.

I have a considerable mean streak that I try to hold back when I write about women because I know how ugly it is.

Most likely it stems from the fact that I’m scared of women. All varieties. Old, smart, dumb, literate, young, moms, daughters, wives, mistresses, whores, girlfriends, sisters, political leaders, receptionists, dental assistants, nurses, poets, writers, actresses, pornstars, nuns, book club members, lesbians, cocktail waitresses, bus drivers, wrestlers, folk singers, talk show hosts, hobos, models, anorexics, pregnant, career-women, soft, cookie-cutter, snowflake—you name it I’ll raise my hand and bow my head in shame.

I’m scared of women because I’m so drawn to them. I’m obsessed by women in all their roles and sides and facets and devious complexity and radical ambiguity and appetites and narratives and surfaces and depths and noise and silence.

I know less about them as a whole the more I meet.

Punching your weight is a good rule.

I don’t bring much to the table. I like my femininity in the cute and dirty variety, like those first video game fairies with the glittery X-rated eyes despite G-rated roles.

Cuteness is depravity’s defense mechanism: Japan only overdosed on cute after getting nuked.

I think of women emotionally the same as I think of men, only I think of them emotionally as men who are drunk and high. After all, women have purpose.

“Love is blind, but stalkers often have an eye for detail” is how I opened the piece.

Before I started the piece, I had a few pages of notes that included several pretty lines meant to hide other elements I’d left out.

Salinger had this line about “letting all your stars come out” or something. I wonder why this is so scary to do.

When I look at them, relationships seem mostly about addiction. Chemicals. Junk. Power. Submission. Domination.

Even with all the little stuff.

Telescopes and microscopes uncover what you can find.

She’d said she looked forward to baking pies after we got married and had our own family and grandchildren.

I like opening my eyes underwater in a lake or in the ocean when I can’t see anything.

She knew she was going to live to be over a hundred, she assured me.

I love fortune cookies, but not for their wisdom.

She was glad I thought she looked the same as when I’d first met her at 13, but she was most pleased that I loved her eyes, because the rest of her would “perish” into old age and “decay” but “my eyes will always remain.”

It was speeches like these, the chilling inflection and frightening vocabulary, that first broke the spell.

Then there was the preemptive self-flattery: “Everywhere I go others inform me that my breasts are divine.”

Pleasant would have been my choice of words.

“My bottom attracts attention like you wouldn’t believe.”

She was on the mark with that one. I didn’t believe it. And even more so after just breaking up with a Puerto Rican dancer whose ass moved like a wrecking ball down New York streets in terms of the attention from men it commanded.

“Don’t you fancy how quirky I dress?”

From her attire, she looked a girl who proudly lived in a giant shoe.

I left out that I was so nervous before meeting her that about 8 hours prior to picking her up from the airport I accepted the offer of a perfect stranger for a random meeting and presumable “booty call”.

I think it’s the only time I’ve ever been the one not chasing.

This random girl somehow got very turned on discussing books. She was boyfriended also. It didn’t really matter except that he was a very respectful boyfriend, which in all areas except sexually pleased her just fine. “That’s my main problem with this guy. I want a good person who can really demean me. He can’t. We can connect emotionally and intellectually and he’s not intimidated by someone with my education and career and outspokenness. You know what I mean? He just can’t bring himself to really give me what I want sexually.”

“What do you want sexually?” I asked.

“A guy who isn’t afraid to come on my face, you know?”

“Right.”

It’s liberating in a slightly unsettling way to be attracted to a woman yet having no interest in fucking her. It’s not a state you’d like to occupy all that often, but it’s valid somehow too.

“Are you gonna fuck me or what?”

“Nope.”

“So you’re using me?”

We’d met on top of a hill with a really spectacular view. She’d laid out a blanket.

She asked about the girl flying in. She asked how I felt about the circumstances. She gave her point of view. She asked me if I knew who Mr. Darcy was. She asked if I had any intention of contacting her after that night. When I gave her a look, she informed me that she was making a joke.

I told her after that night I would never speak with her again and she saw very clearly that I meant it.

She asked if I was joking.

“There are no jokes, the truth is the funniest joke of all.”

—Muhammad Ali






Twenty Dollars

By Ben Loory

Memoir

When I was in fifth grade, I was in love with Shirlene DuJack. We used to draw pictures of TIE fighters together. It was the ideal relationship. The only problem was that the school bully, Wayne DeCourte, was also in love with Shirlene DuJack. A fact which I found annoying. Apparently he felt similarly, because one day he announced that the two of us were going to have to fight after school for the hand of Shirlene DuJack. This made sense to me, so I agreed, with one stipulation: I had piano lessons that day, so could it be tomorrow? Wayne said sure, and we shook on it. It was all very gentlemanly.

It had been more than a month of sitting by her bedside during the day and sleeping in a chair next to her in the nighttime. My mom was purposely starving herself to death. I was surprised just how long it takes to starve your self to death. My brother lived in France and in England and in Hawaii. He had visited a few months before. He told me that he wasn’t busy at the time and could stay and help, if I wanted. I jumped at his offer. I asked him to please stay because my mom really loved my brother to bits and didn’t like me at all. He stayed silent for a few moments and then he told me that he thought that it would actually be better for Mom if she had his next visit to look forward to. Then he went back to England or Hawaii or France.

My brother finally returned to Champaign in the nick of time to see my mom. He took my place at the bedside. I went home for a shower. My brother called and told me to hurry back. I hurried back and my mom was dead. Still warm, so I was close, but no cigar. My mom actually waited for my brother to arrive and for me to leave to finally die. She left me out of it entirely. Go, Mom!

When my mom was still coherent as she ever was, she had spoken to a minister and had him plan a eulogy. I paid for her funeral ahead of time and paid the donations to the church that had been expected. Also the wake was planned and paid for. No one was caught unawares with this particular death.

The wake was held right away in Champaign, IL, where my mom had lived with us for ten years. I picked out a casket. My brother hated it and picked out another. I didn’t care. My brother wanted an open coffin. I put my foot down. Closed coffin, I said, end of story. The compromise we reached is that he got to see her in the open coffin by himself and then the funeral guys closed the coffin and no one else had to look at her dead body, especially my kids.

After my brother went in to see my mom in the open coffin, he came back and told me that I made the right decision. He said that the funeral guys had put someone else’s glasses on her. She was going to be near-sighted for all of eternity. I had no problem with that, and I certainly was not going to go checking out all the other dead bodies in the funeral home and see who got her glasses and switch them.

The wake began. I had told Sara and Lonny just to stay at school and not to come to the wake or the funeral. She wouldn’t know they were there, and they had been with her when it counted. All my friends came. People I worked with when I taught school came. Teachers of my children came. Not one of the people my mom knew from her ritzy retirement home came. Want to know why? The people in retirement homes know that they are just a step away from the grave. They are as close as close can be to each other while they are healthy. As soon as one gets sick though, it is as if they never knew you. They never visit when you’re sick. They don’t attend the funerals. Too. Close. To. Home. I saw this before my mother got sick. Her very best friend ever in the world got sick, and nothing I did or said would move her to visit her. She no longer existed in my mom’s eyes.

Tim, Lenore and Ben came to the wake. The three of them sat on a divan together, giggling. I went over to speak to them several times and asked them to please maintain decorum. We were at their grandmother’s wake and they were attracting attention. They just kept on giggling. For over an hour I alternated shaking people’s hands and thanking them for coming and running over to the kids and begging them to behave. Finally, I just gave up and sent them home. Of course, years later I found out that Tim and Lenore were stoned out of their minds, and poor little Ben just got caught up in the giggling.

The next day it was on to the funeral. All my friends came. None of my mom’s friends came. Tim, Lenore and Ben were not invited. The minister gave a lovely eulogy. The only problem with it was that all of the facts my mother had given the minister were entirely fictional. She had invented a lovely life with lots of motherly love and family time. She had invented friends with fictitious names. She had invented adventures and hobbies she never had. She had invented a life full of good deeds done simply for the good feeling it gave her. The minister said she had been especially proud of her famous pot roast. A surprising number of people asked me for the recipe after the funeral. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my mom ever cooking a pot roast.

My brother wasn’t satisfied with the funeral. He felt there had to be a second funeral in Brooklyn. I told him that I had made my funeral and I was finished. If he wanted to fly her body to Brooklyn and have a second funeral, it was completely his choice. I would not be there.

My brother made the second funeral in Brooklyn. There were flowers galore at the second funeral. There were only a few roses on the coffin at mine. Jews don’t send flowers to funerals. My brother took rolls of pictures of the second funeral. There was virtually no one there. I believe it was just my brother and his wife, our Brooklyn cousin, and yet another minister who had never met my mom. My brother took pictures of all the flowers.

There were two limousines. My mom had one all to herself. She would have liked that. The mourners were in the other. They traveled from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Greenwood Cemetery near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. My parents had a plot there. Brooklyn is a very crowded place. Each plot is designated for three dead people, stacked like cordwood. (Think of a sandwich.) My father’s father was at the bottom. My father was in the center and my mom was slated to be at the top. My brother took lots of pictures of the burial and the headstone and the flowers, oh, the flowers. My brother never misses a funeral, and this time he had one of his own to plan. He was in his element.

 

This is one of the photos of my brother’s funeral for my mom. You can see the headstone did not yet have my mom’s name engraved on it.

 

95 Comments »

Comment by Keiko |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:16:42

I never knew people were stacked in threes in Brooklyn. I like driving by the cemetaries on my Cab rides to the airport and seeing all the crowded stones. It’s like a maze of dead people.

Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:31:32

They’re short on space in Taiwan as well – I was amazed at the number of stones and shrines they could pack into one hillside. I’m also not sure how you can even hike up to some of them. Wow.

(Also, great post, Irene. I keep cringing when I try to write the 1000-word bit….)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:29:26

Keiko,

Now you know it is more than a maze it is a maze in three dimensions!

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:40:04

In Sweden, you don’t own your grave plot, you only rent it. If your descendants don’t continue to pay for it, your headstone is removed, and a new person is put on top of you.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:41:06

Actually, I have no idea how common this practice is in Sweden, but the graveyard where my relatives are buried use it. Maybe its only old graveyards, wherein the bodies in wooden caskets actually decay.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:44:55

Don’t they all decay?
Why would someone want their shriveled up rotten body in a casket that is impervious to the elements? Kind of unseemly, eh, Kate?

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Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-11 09:08:20

All that metal stuff on the modern ones doesn’t decay. It’s kind of creepy, the idea of not disintegrating. That’s why I’ll be cremated.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:36:00

Just so you know, you who are reading the comments, the comments are totally out of order here and that is why they don’t make any sense.
Think of it as a puzzle.
Which answer goes with which comment.
They say puzzles are good for your brain.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:42:27

Whoa, Kate, that’s cold!
On the other hand, if there’s no one left to give a shit, why not use the spot? You and your coffin are all rotted out to ashes anyhow. It’s pretty sensible, when you think about it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:40:42

Aaron,
I understand in some places that they bury people vertically! I don’t see how that would work unless the bodies are all secured inside and tied up. Otherwise, wouldn’t they all fall to the bottom in a heap?
Lenore almost lost it with me last time she was home. I was busily trying to count every word and couldn’t get the same number twice. She showed me that you just click on tools and there is a word count button. Honestly, I’m so the last century!
I think that they cremate the bodies in Taiwan and China and Japan. This would call for much less space and make a small space able to accommodate many more former people.

Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:55:11

Oh, right – I think the sweetheart did tell me about cremation being more of a thing there, probably mostly because of the cost of a plot – they really do them up nice and most are like shrines.

I don’t know how they manage to keep hills from just crumbling into a mess of caskets at the bottom, but the Taiwanese can apparently do just about anything on a hillside. There just isn’t any flat land left.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 04:47:41

The Chinese and Taiwanese and Japanese have a great reverence for old people. Also their ancestors are very important to them and they are treated with reverence. Back here in the USA we too often just dump our old people in nursing homes and after a quick funeral we never visit the grave. It’s pretty sad, actually.

We’ve paid for perpetual care at my Grandfather’s/Father’s/Mother’s grave. My brother visits at least once a year. I’ve never been there. Those people are with me all the time, I don’t need to see where their bodies were placed. My psyche is fragile enough as it is.

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Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:51:50

I wanna get buried in New Orleans. The cemeteries there are unreal. That or shot into space, but that’s gonna cost my poor family, and who wants that?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:10:14

Phat B,

I think the above ground vaults in the cemeteries In New Orleans probably cost more than to send your ashes on a rocket into outer space. Those are some substantial, expensive structures.

They can’t hold a candle to the glorious structures in La Recoleta, in Buenos Aires. That cemetery is worth flying all the way to Argentina to see. If I could, I’d bury myself there for sure! You should Google it or something just to see what it is like!

Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:31:50

You weren’t lying. That place is beautiful. A bit far south for a Parris though. Never go further south than Paraguay. It’s been the family motto for generations.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:35:01

I could spend a week in that place. It has actual streets and everything. It’s still a working cemetery too. Several years ago, our friends couldn’t get in because Eva Peron’s sister was being buried. Most beautiful statuary on earth all mushed together in one spot.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:20:54

The writing-her-own eulogy thing is priceless. Three generations of funny, talented ladies, this means. That I know of. There were almost certainly more.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:25:10

May have been, Greg, but they may not have been in English, so what do I know?

Now that I’m aware of the fact that you can totally fabricate your life for your eulogy, I’m going to start writing it right now. Gotta get some sort of clergy person to write it verbatim. Of course, it can’t be anyone who actually KNOWS me….

Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:35:29

I never thought of that! I’m gonna proposition the Coen Brothers to write mine.

Best. Funeral. Ever.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:37:44

You were such a GREAT man, Phat B!
Who knew how great before?

Comment by oksana marafioti |Edit This
2009-07-10 17:23:02

Parents just don’t realize the impact they leave on their kids…or do they?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 04:52:57

Hi Oksana!

Parenting is really a difficult thing to do well. I think most people try their best. It’s just that sometimes their best really sucks and can warp their kids into shadows of what they could have been.

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-07-10 17:54:46

when i die, i want my body cremated. IMMEDIATELY, right there and then on the spot. burn down the building, too, what the hell. burn the world, who gives a fuck.

pot roast always sounds so delicious. doesn’t it? pot… roast. and yet i can’t remember the last time i had it. maybe never.

i think my dad’s grandparents are buried in greenwood cemetery. it sounds familiar. definitely somewhere in brooklyn. i remember going to it a couple of times when i was little. we stood there and then left them some stones.

stories about your mom always make me laugh. even as i’m shaking my head and saying “oh god, oh god.” where do people like that come from? the world is a very strange place.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:05:41

Hi Ben,

I used to think I wanted to be buried as a whole body, you know. But I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to be cremated in a paper bag or something that doesn’t cost money after the docs take everything off of me that they can use on a living person. Then I want someone to put me in a baggie in a safe deposit box and wait for Victor to die. Then I want them to do the same thing with him and then mix up our ashes and bury them somewhere pretty. They could put a nice rock down, if they wanted.

Did it look like a city of the dead? You actually need directions to get to the plot you’re looking for. You get them at the gate, when you tell them the plot number or the person’s name, if your lucky.

A beat/hippy poet named Lawrence Ferlinghetti (you probably already know this.) has a poem that starts:
“The world is a wonderful place to be born into
If you don’t mind happiness not always being so very much fun.”
It’s been years, that may well be a paraphrasing.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:07:10

If you cook, I could send you a recipe too. Zara wanted one. I got it from Cook’s Magazine though, not my Mother, obviously.

Comment by Elizabeth Collins |Edit This
2009-07-10 18:04:04

interesting story of your always-fascinating family dynamics!

I especially like your insight into the retirement home fair-weather friend syndrome. I saw some of that with my older relatives.

The funeral home also put glasses on my grandmother when she was lying in the coffin…I didn’t understand that. Who wears glasses when the eyes are closed? Plus, she rarely wore glasses. But I don’t think they were the wrong pair.

Your mother’s fictional eulogy (and I didn’t know people even could write their own–what a concept!) is priceless.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:10:49

All of my relatives wore glasses and all of them that have died were buried wearing glasses. My Mom’s was the first time it wasn’t an open-coffin funeral.

I think the theory behind it is that people look different without their glasses. They look different enough being dead and all, so the funeral guys put the glasses on so they look more familiar.

I was so appalled at the way they shunned the sick that they used to eat dinner with and play bridge with. I think it was fear, though. Fear of looking into their own futures and not being strong enough to do it.

My Mom only got away with that because the minister who sat and talked with her for hours didn’t know her from Adam. She got to totally concoct the life she wished she had. It was quite a surprise to hear, I’ll tell you that!

Comment by sara k |Edit This
2009-07-10 18:18:46

interesting. i’ve never understood why caskets are so expensive and fancy. kate’s comment reminded me of that recent story in chicago. did you hear about what happened?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:14:50

SARA K!
I have no idea! You can’t leave me hanging like this. Please comment again and tell me what happened?

I just saw “Departures” yesterday. It’s the movie I wanted to see when Lenore and Victor dragged me to “Drag Me to Hell.” In it they talk about the beauty of the carving and the smell of the fine wood that go into an expensive coffin. Then they say, but the cheap coffins and the expensive ones all make the same ash after they are burned.

(Great movie, by the way. Victor went to Bruno at the same time. Victor isn’t the sensitive type.)

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-11 09:10:50

I didn’t realize that was getting national coverage!

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/11/us/11cemetery.html?_r=1

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:37:34

Jesus, Kate,
Thanks for letting us know what Sara K. was referring to.
That is so beyond horrible!
The same kind of thing happened here in Miami a few years ago, but it was Jews who were supposed to be buried, but they weren’t in their plots and apparently they were warehoused somewhere just rotting away.
I also believe something like that involving an old Black cemetery happened here a couple of weeks ago.
What is going on? eh?

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Comment by sara k |Edit This
2009-07-15 10:47:23

oh yea thats a link about what i was talking about. sry for the delayed response. yea apparently a manager and three employee (who were all afr amer) were scheming to try to make hundreds of thousands of $s.

Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
2009-07-10 20:44:57

Good god! She made up her own life? Complete with fictional friends?? Your mother was a piece of work, Irene. What the hell is pot roast anyway?? I don’t think we have it down here…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:41:45

Hey Zara!

Now that you know you can, isn’t it tempting?
Pot Roast is a way to cook meat that would be ordinarily tough and make it tender and delicious. There are lots of root vegetables involved and wine and broth.
I e mailed you a good recipe.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-07-10 20:54:03

“She was going to be nearsighted for all of eternity.”

I don’t know how you Zions did it. I laughed out loud at the above line, and I laughed out loud at your mother’s fictitious eulogy, and I laughed out loud (for quite some time) at Lenore and Tim and Ben giggling at the wake.

I’m glad now that I didn’t write about death, as I’d been planning, for my thousand words. You, and a few others, including Lenore, did it so much better than I would have managed. My pitiful punk-rock thing is going to be especially pitiful in the book, should it become one, alongside the likes of this.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-07-10 21:17:22

Um, my first line was supposed to read: “I don’t know how you Zions DO it.” Just wanted to clear that up.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:48:42

Duke,

I just started “Banned for Life” and I find it comical to think that you wouldn’t write a better death story any day! But I thank you for the fabulous compliment!
And double thanks for laughing!

(Glad you cleared that up, I was afraid we were done for!)

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Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-07-10 21:09:43

i’m glad you didn’t go to the second funeral. you were there for the whole damn death song. you didn’t need to be there for both encores.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:49:32

Well said, my lovely one, well said.

Comment by Jude |Edit This
2009-07-10 22:23:42

Hi Irene
I have heard it said that the dying wait for the one they are emotionally connected with, to leave the room (or house… or wherever) before they die… so they can die. Maybe she loved you more than you knew…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:52:14

Jude,

Thank you for that. It would be great to think that she actually did appreciate my being with her and caring for her for her last 10 years. It would also feel sort of great in a creepy mean way to think she died on his two second watch to get back at him for never being there.
(Sorry. That was creepy and mean of me.)

2009-07-11 00:48:10

The story of the falsified eulogy is so strangely endearing. And I never knew that about Brooklyn cemeteries, either. As sad as the story and the circumstances were, I love that you wrote this, Irene.

My grandmother died about four years back; due to some inter-familial conflicts and arrangements made by people who shall remain nameless, the service was a bit left of centre. At the point when the minister cracked out his ukelele, things began to border on the absurd.

Unfortunately, this happened to me:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iKjkPgVQcE

It wasn’t out of a lack of respect, or anything like that. It was just the combination of everything that was happening. So I just put my face in my hands and rode it out, feeling like an awful human being all the way.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:01:08

A UKELELE! Holy Shit, Simon! You HAVE to tell us about this. Heck, I named names and, BOYS, am I going to pay for it. In the end I hope it’s worth it. (HA! in the END!)

I cannot imagine how you could have NOT have been caught up in the giggle loop in this situation!

Everyone has to watch that video. It’s really wonderful. Thanks, Simon.

2009-07-11 13:57:18

Now that’s a long, long story – family conflict, strange beliefs, manipulation, deceit, death, lies, senility… Good times, good times. I’ll have to put it on my list of things to blog about.

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2009-07-11 14:01:41

Oh, and Robin – they actually made a US version of Coupling, but I don’t think it lasted more than a couple of episodes.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 15:09:17

Get started on it, Simon!
I want to know ALL of it!
TNB requests it formally.

Comment by Robin Slick |Edit This
2009-07-11 03:48:49

Oh God to all of this…

The fake eulogy is brilliant — if I believed in funerals, and I don’t, I’d begin writing mine now.

“New York Times best selling author Robin Slick…”

He he – I love that Lenore was stoned – there really is no other way to attend something as barbaric as a funeral so good on her.

Awesome essay, Irene! I really was laughing out loud.

And Simon, every time BBC America runs the Coupling series, I watch it…so much better than its American counterpart, Friends. I was in the giggle loop every year at family holiday dinners and was forced to sit at the kiddie table until I was 18. And in the beginning, I wasn’t even stoned.

xo

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:06:51

Thanks, Robin,

Now that I know it’s name I’ll have to buy the “Coupling” series. I want to see more of these people.

I would remind you that Tim was 17 and Lenore was a mere 15 when they decided it was a good idea to be stoned for their grandmother’s Wake. Seriously, isn’t that a bit young and a bit irresponsible to be stoned at that age and at that function?

Ben was only 12. Now I know he was caught up in the giggle loop!

Comment by Robin Slick |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:14:58

Nope, sad to say, I was even younger and I personally think it’s highly appropriate since funerals are always such circuses.

I meant to comment on one very moving part of your piece — where the elderly ignore their friends in sickness and death. That was actually very true and resonating…and very sad. It also brought up one of my demons which is sort of similar. When I was 30, I had a close friend, age 40, who was prematurely going through menopause. She felt compelled to share every detail with me, and she freaked me out and made me so scared to age I ended the friendship…I just didn’t want to know what awaited me in the future.

I should have just told her to shut the hell up, huh.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:23:03

Robin,

I think it’s just being human. Give yourself a break. No one wants to look into the eyes of illness or death and see himself reflected back. It’s horrible. It seems to be inexcusable, but there you are–it’s human.

I think all we can do is try hard to remember and overcome the fear the next time it comes around.

Comment by Sung J. Woo |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:11:58

“A surprising number of people asked me for the recipe after the funeral. Unfortunately, my mom never cooked pot roast once in her entire life.”

This isn’t sort of funny — it is funny! At a time like this, you just gotta love death. What else can you do?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:07:41

Right on the head, Sung. You hit that one right on the head!

Comment by mary |Edit This
2009-07-11 07:41:43

so, i have wondered, why don’t jews send flowers to funerals and why did a minister give your mom’s service and not a rabbi?

where do you think your mom’s soul is now?

m

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:11:56

Okay, No one who can answer the phone on Saturday seems to know for sure. I will try again on Sunday to find out. Basically what everyone who can answer the phone on Saturday thinks is that Jew think a person who dies should live on in people’s memories. One way to achieve this is to send donations in their name to charities, or to plant a tree in their honor. it’s not that flowers are bad. it’s just sort of a waste of money which could go to a cause that is worthy and which would make people think of the deceased loved one.

My Mom was nominally Protestant. But not so good a one as to actually know a minister herself.

I think that G-d fixed her crazy and she is up in heaven with my father and she got to take her foot along, just like in the painting.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-07-17 02:01:34

When Nana was in the hospital for her amputation, she told them she was Episcopalian, so the *astonishingly kind* minister from the local Episcopalian church tended to her during and after the hospitalization. Pastor Phil? Maybe not; it was so long ago. He was about 40, as I remember, white with tidy light brown hair. He was peaceful and warm and welcoming and altogether calming in a ridiculous and awful situation.

Even though he only knew Nana when she was demented and delirious (as if being just plain wacko isn’t enough), there’s no one else who thought of her the same paternalistic way and it had to be comforting to her to believe that someone else was “in charge.” I can’t think of a better person to do the funeral, even if she scripted it herself.

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Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-21 13:41:45

Yup, Sara, that was the Saint! She had never even attended his church. He and his church were complete strangers to her. Yet she said “Episcopal’” and there he was.
He really was the person you would want in such a situation.
I can’t imagine the stress the job entails.
Not for me. Oh, no. Not for me.

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-07-11 08:09:07

Another story well written and you definitely should not have gone to the second funeral, you needed closure after all you went through not prolonging the agony. As to people being buried on top of each other to safe space I have heard about.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:43:17

Thanks, Ursula,
I really could not have taken it.
I simply couldn’t do it again, especially my brother’s way.
I was on my last shredded nerve.
Have you heard of the vertical burials? I only recently heard or read of it and I can’t for the life of me remember where.

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-07-11 17:11:24

I think I mentioned vertical burials to you when I saw you recently. My understanding is that at the VA cemetery in Santa Fe, N.M. they practice this because of the space issue.

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Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:51:19

Thank you Ursula! I was going nuts trying to remember where I heard this.

I did some research on this but I can’t come up with the way the burials are arranged in the ground. Vertical is certainly another way to save space. Weird, though, eh?

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-07-11 09:04:32

Excellent call on the closed coffin.

(You’ve forgiven me haven’t you?)

When my grandpa died, it was awful seeing him there. It just wasn’t him. And now that’s the last memory I have of him.

(I swear I TRIED to tell you.)

And then when Dad died – oof. I hate open coffins. They didn’t get his hair right – and that sort of pissed me off. And his regular sized suit didn’t fit him anymore, as he had died a cancer victim.

(It’s all there in the comments. Truly. It was a birth in real TNB time!)

And what’s worse, we forgot to send underwear with his suit. So he’s buried in that starchy suit without any underpants.

(Baby boy sends love! And he really is cute. Really.)

No underpants forever and ever.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:55:56

I really can’t understand why anyone would want an open coffin.

(I’ve forgiven you, but the next time you have a baby you better tell me before you tell your own mother!)

That’s the point! The person does NOT look like they used to when they are dead. Why make that your last memory of him? You can never get it out of your head!

(I know you tried, it’s probably my own fault cause I missed something VITAL in the comments. Actually, I think I DID see it, but I thought you were kidding!)

They never get the hair right. Also they stuff their mouths up for some reason so that the very shape of their faces is off! The funeral guys should have tucked his suit in the back so it didn’t appear so loose!

(It just never occurred to me that you would keep writing your post while in labor and delivery. What, did you carry your laptop with you while delivering? Therefore, I thought you were kidding.)

Oh your poor Dad getting all chafed for all eternity. That is just not right!

(I would love to see a picture of baby boy. Please tell him I love him back bigger than the humpback whale!)

Maybe you could get some underpants and go to his grave and dig a hole and put them above his coffin and cover them up so he can potentially get them whenever he wants.

Comment by Reno |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:40:28

irene-

you tell great stories. i love you! i get some many laughs (and this is a sad story!) but you…you…i dunno. it’s a style. it’s a tone. it’s so you.

there were too many great lines in this one. but the passage about your mom making up her “life” killed me and i will tell you right now that i will be stealing the “idea” of this. life, people have always been crazier than any writer could muster up in his head. i believe people say: stranger than fiction.

in this case funnier.

i adore you. and your family. and to know that you had to keep going back to your kids to tell them to pipe down floors me. heh. stoned out of their minds. shit. love it. i read this twice.

“She was going to be nearsighted for all of eternity.”

oh, effin, no!

i’m gonna walk around all day with that one in my head.

bye, irene. you and victor have a great weekend.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:18:30

Hi Reno!

I love you back!
You’re pretty famous for writing great stories, so I take that as a high compliment!

I sure wish I could be at the TNB reading in LA to see you and Lenore and the rest! I’ll expect a full accounting. (a REAL one!)

Remember, Ben wasn’t stoned. He was just caught up in the giggle loop!

Can you just imagine me in the dead people room, lifting up coffin lid after coffin lid looking for my Mom’s glasses on other dead people’s faces? I would have done it for my father. Seriously. But not my mother. Let her be nearsighted. Not my worry anymore.

Comment by George |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:20:27

After we die, we all go to the undiscovered country, from where we never return. The funeral is really for the living, not the dead, who have better things to do.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:32:58

George,

You believe such beautiful things. If only I could just get injected with that! What a comfort it would be.

Comment by Ben |Edit This
2009-07-11 12:07:19

http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2009/07/09/morning-buzz-grave-selling-scheme/

Just be glad you didn’t have to do any of this in Chicago, Mom. We can’t even get those right in this Goddamn city.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 13:21:52

Ben,

I’m glad too. When it comes to me and Dad, do what I said above. You don’t need to buy a bogus burial plot, There’s not much left as ashes, Just dig a little hole in a pretty park that can’t be changed into high rises and shake the ashes in and cover them up. Simple. No money involved. Put a pretty rock there. Probably won’t stay, but that’s okay too.

Besides, who wants to spend eternity in Chicago? Too hot in the Summer and too cold in the Winter!

Comment by jmblaine |Edit This
2009-07-11 12:29:21

Sturdy are the gates of Zion.

Are you an absurdist like me?
You seem to be at times.

I’m hoping my the time I expire the US
has the Sweden freezing thing.
Freeze me, shatter me.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 13:25:30

That’s a great idea, jmb!

They could lower us into liquid nitrogen, or liquid oxygen or liquid helium and we’d freeze in an instant. Then the designated hammerer could give us a good whack! There we’d be in a zillion pieces to blow over the universe!

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-07-11 18:26:55

Like Reno, I have decided to adopt your mother’s practice of making up a fictitious life in death. This is sort of an extension of my idea to start exciting rumors about myself.

It must have been awful that your mother’s death came as such a relief, though.

Much love-

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:55:36

Marni,

It really was a shame that her death was a relief to me. But I have no guilt. I did everything that could be expected of a daughter and more. It just was never enough for her.

You see this is all a great idea in principle, but in reality most of us will actually have friends and family who know the truth about us. It really doesn’t work unless you have cut yourself off from society and you don’t even give a thought to what family you have left.

Fun idea, but hard to pull off.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:51:23

I hate stories about death.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:56:51

Okay, ksw, give me a topic.
You are a tough cookie to please.
But I’m game.
Tell me what you DO like to read about.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-07-12 11:49:34

people usually get religion as they get closer to death. As you know when I was little I had lots of death in the family, and my grandfather used to say about death..” it’s a release, it’s an adventure,everyone is doing it” caw ( Being the baby i soo will object to your fictional history}

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 14:21:40

caw,

I’m sorry, but I could totally get away with a fictional history with you. You’d go along with it because you love me.

“It’s a release, it’s an adventure, everyone is doing it?” Damn, you had one screwed up abnormal childhood, kiddo!

Besides being the “baby” gives you NO points with me. It just makes me envious.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-07-12 15:35:42

Jesus, Ma.

Always lifting spirits.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 16:11:33

That’s always been your problem, Tim.
You just can’t look on the bright side of death.
Lighten up.
Sheesh!

2009-07-12 20:09:11

Hey Irene:

Sorry I’m so late in posting here. I was out of town for a few days.

Wonderful post…

My hat thinks so, too.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 05:37:00

Thanks, Rich!
Thanks, Rich’s hat!

Comment by cecile lebenson |Edit This
2009-07-13 04:15:45

Thank goodness you finally told me about Jews and flowers. That is one ritual I never understood except I did have a clue. My Mom hated receiving flowers from my Dad or anyone; thought it was a total waste of money since they died so soon after given. What is the message there??? Anyway, I was at your Mom’s funeral in Champaign and my recollection was that it was quite dignified. No rowdy kids in my memory (but who can count on that??)

Comment by christine w. |Edit This
2009-07-23 13:41:20

I love to send a plant, preferrably a flowering one, to funerals just so the family psycho will snatch it and plant it in their yard, thus pissing off everyone else who wanted it. It then forms a bone of contention for future family meltdowns and serves as a living monument. I’m the electron of doom in a family fission moment. No flowers, just plants.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 05:42:11

Cecile,

There were no giggling kids at the funeral because they were not there.
They were banned from the funeral because of their unseemly behavior at the Wake!

I agree with you about the flowers. I don’t like getting them. I hear the same message you do.
“Here’s something beautiful and sweet-smelling which will slowly die and stink, just like you will.”

It was a dignified sham. If you’re going to run a sham, you should really run a dignified one.

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2009-07-13 08:44:07

I don’t like open caskets either. My grandmother didn’t look like my grandmother. They did a horrible job. I too want to be cremated. Don’t understand why you’d want to rot slowly in the ground when you could be instant fertilizer. Spread my ashes and just remember me, I don’t need a stone to tell people I was alive.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 10:03:57

I’m with you there, Amy!

All the funerals I’ve been to also have one person after another talking about how GOOD the dead person looks.
GOOD?
Not only are they DEAD, but they don’t even resemble the person they were when they were alive.

I just don’t get it.

I’ve changed camps to the cremation method, myself. That surprised me. It just has never been done in either of our families.

Breaking new ground. Always breaking new ground, we Zions!

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-07-13 10:38:31

It’s a good idea to hang onto your old friends, no matter how old you get. When my mother was dying in the ICU, her best friend from first grade came and sat with her every day and didn’t seem to find it depressing– just sad. She’s still alive at 94, and I don’t think she’s at all scared of dying. She’s been able to live in her own home, though, which might be the key. I think retirement homes make people crazy. It’s not right to be sitting around waiting to see who will die next. I had 3 elderly cats, and two of them died in the past year or so. It freaked me out to be sitting around waiting for the last one (Patrick is the one left in case the Zion siblings are wondering) to die so I got another, younger cat, and now I don’t feel weird at all even though I know Patrick won’t last much more than another year or two at most. It’s funny how that changed my perspective. It’s not a replacement cat but a reminder not to get obsessed by the inevitability of death.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 12:58:40

Marcia,
I think it must have helped that your mom stayed in the same general area her whole life. Most people nowadays are moving from place to place so that old friends don’t stick. Your mother was lucky to have such a friend and to have such a daughter.
I agree that living in your own home makes a huge difference.
Ben and Kate just did what you said so eloquently in your last sentence. Wrigley died at five unexpecetedly and they just got a kitty, not as a replacement of Wrigley, but as a reminder not to get obsessed by the inevitability of death.

2009-07-13 19:20:48

Wow. This is sort of a comedy that I wasn’t expecting.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-14 02:52:18

WEll, Nick,
I DID warn you in the title….

2009-07-15 08:56:32

God Irene, the stories about your mother never cease to amaze me. She made up a life for herself? From afar it’s really funny to read, but good lord, how you survived her so well is one of the great testaments to “that which doesn’t kill you” thinking.

Really wonderful and I’m sorry all at once.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-16 03:16:10

Thanks for reading, Colleen,

Some of us survive better than others. Turns out I was the lucky one.

2009-07-20 08:54:25

Irene,

Lovely stuff. Beautiful details. Human and hilarious, and, and, and. A wake in Champaign: can things be more depressing? At least there was the option of the Custard Cup afterward– that seasonal pumpkin pie smoothie…

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-21 13:45:55

Matthew Gavin!

If only I had had my wits about me! Everyone would have been invited to the Custard Cup!
Lord, but they have good stuff there!
My brother was busy carting away my mother’s corpse at the time, hurrying to get to the airport. Had plans for her corpse in Brooklyn, he did.
Sort of diverted my wits, so to speak.

Comment by christine w. |Edit This
2009-07-23 13:47:15

I plan to be cremated. I want a Japanese style family ash crypt. I think it’s kinda cool how if someone dies in Japan, everyone in your family congregates on the “family meeting home” and all the ashes go to the same place. I have pictures of my mother on the very same porch of the FMH that I went to when SHE died. I stood in her footsteps to celebrate her life and she actually DID make some delicious pot roast.

Irene, you may have had the most jacked up mother of all time and space, but you have made up for it tenfold with these hilarious stories. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-26 08:14:42

Christine,

Unknowingly, we have a Japanese style ash crypt for our pets. My dog, Lenore’s cat, Lonny’s cat and perhaps soon Ben and Kate will decide to bring their cat’s ashes to be with the family of beloved pets.

I like that idea. I sort of told the kids to save my ashes somewhere in the closet or something and then bury them with those of Victor when he kicks. I want to be together forever.

Hehehe, “Jacked-up mother.” I like that term!


Mr. Gibson requested that he be able to observe me in my natural habitat. Due to the relocation of my family members, and the dissolution of our family compound, this interview took place over two days at Solley’s Deli in Encino, California. A place my family and I inhabited frequently during my most formative years.

Mr. Gibson insisted on a relaxed and casual atmosphere. I showed up on time, but comfortable, in my usual ensemble – an American Apparel zip up hoodie in white, crewneck t-shirt in red, and sweat pants with the gathered ankle in navy blue.

The contents of this interview have been edited. All pauses and blinking removed for the sake of brevity.

==========

CG: Ms. Pollon, I’m going to attempt to pose these questions in an order I believe will be of utmost importance and interest to the American people.

RP: Terrific. I look forward to each and every one of them getting to know me.

CG: Please tell us about the Ticketmaster / U2 concert incident.

RP: Can you be more specific, Charlie?

CG: Regarding Pam Freed in particular.

RP: What aspect of it?

CG: Just after graduating high school, you entered the work force as a clerk at Tower Records in Sherman Oaks, California.

RP: That is correct. I rose from a simple store clerk, to Import Buyer, and then to Shift Manager.

CG: U2 was touring the United States. Your former best friend, Pam Freed, someone you were still in contact with but not as close with as you were the semester previous, knew of your proximity and probable assignment working the Ticketmaster window, and asked you to get her two tickets. You told her you’d try.

RP: That’s right, Charlie.

CG: You didn’t end up getting her those tickets, did you Ms. Pollon?

RP: I didn’t, Charlie.

CG: Why is that?

RP: The tickets were in high demand and Ticketmaster regulations prevented me from being able to make more than one transaction per customer. I did not consider myself above the rules, and so, because I was getting myself tickets, I could not also get her tickets.

CG: Could you not have gotten her tickets bundled along with your tickets? You and your friends could have sat side by side with your former best friend. Everyone would have been happy.

RP: It was against the rules, Charlie.

CG: Were you unable to get Pam Freed tickets or did you simply decide you didn’t want to get her tickets?

RP: I was a Shift Manager, Charlie. There were parameters I was not going to breech.

CG: Our records show you had not been promoted to Shift Manager at that time.

RP: I was on a fast track, Charlie. I wouldn’t allow personal relationships to jeopardize the greater good.

==========

CG: In ninth grade you tripped and fell during Nutrition. You ended up leaving campus and didn’t return until the following Monday. Tell the American people what caused this extreme reaction.

RP: I fainted, Charlie.

CG: You fainted.

RP: Yes, Charlie. People faint.

CG: Is it not also true that on the day in question, you were wearing, for your first time, a pair of high-heeled Kork-Ease?

RP: That is true. But beside the point. You know, if we must go here, in order to clear my record, I’ll let you know that I’m pretty sure on that day I was also in the midst of the glory that is the female reproductive cycle.

CG: Let me get this straight. You were wearing unwieldy high-heeled shoes, may or may not have been suffering from menstrual cramps, and you fainted.

RP: I’m not sure my footwear is an important component in this mix but, yes, I’d just gotten the Kork-Ease, was pretty excited about them, and took them for a spin on the campus quad.

CG: ABC was able to locate your yearbook from that time and found various comments throughout the book seeming to address the incident.

RP: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

CG: Quote: “I’m going to use that ‘fainting’ story next time I embarrass myself. Don’t ever change, Lori Baumbach.”

RP: Kids say the darndest things, Charlie.

CG: Another quote: “You think fast on your feet, even though you can’t walk in your shoes. You are 2 sweet 2 B 4gotten, Seth O’ Shanahan.”

RP: Rumors get started.

CG: Speaking of rumors, it’s been reported that The National Enquirer is delving into this piece of your history. Trying to get to the bottom of it.

RP: I’ve got nothing to hide, Charlie. It’s my word against Lori’s and Seth’s.

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CG: History has shown that you are basically a relationship person. You go on a few dates with someone and they either don’t work out or they end up your boyfriend.

RP: I’m single-minded when it comes to love, Charlie. I like to focus on one man, give him my all. It’s truly a metaphor for how devoted I am to our great country.

CG: However, at one juncture in your life you had an overlap. You were in a relationship with one man, and before you ended it with him, met another man of interest. You couldn’t decide which one was “righter” for you… this according to journal records.

RP: Well, Charlie. Both men had admirable qualities and I needed time to assess which path to take.

CG: What does this say about your loyalty, Ms. Pollon?

RP: The man I was in a relationship had taken to focusing on his heavy metal band to the detriment of our partnership. I had needs. Just like the hard working men and women of this country have needs.

CG: Where did you draw the line, “romantically,” with these men, Ms. Pollon?

RP: Charlie, I don’t think the American people want to be dragged in to smut talk like this.

CG: The question is valid, Ms. Pollon, because according to transcripts taken from your private journal, when “Man X” found out about “Man Z” and confronted you, you admit you “totally evaded answering the question.” What are you hiding?

RP: Charlie, evading does not connote lying. Evading means avoiding. The words even sound alike. I think the American people want someone in charge who can avoid conflict and I have a long history of avoiding conflict. I tell conflict, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

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Preview of The Rachel Pollon Interview – Part 2, with Charlie Gibson:

Lies My Hair Told – The Chemically Straightened Years

Why I Pulled The Leather Waistband Tag Off of My Levi’s 501s – What Size Pant Was I Concealing?

How Often I Listen To Jennifer Lopez On My iPod During Cardio Workouts at the Gym

(Note: At my handlers’ discretion, interviewer Charlie Gibson may be replaced with Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. He seems so nice!)