Jesse had brought a rock-hard, stained futon mattress into the marriage. It took me two years to convince him to buy a new one. In what proved to be a last attempt to save our crumbling marriage, one Saturday morning we found ourselves at one of Bushwick’s few furniture stores. Next to the elevated railroad tracks on Myrtle Avenue, across the street from where the MTA once left 50 poisoned rats to decompose on the sidewalk, royal red polyester couches competed with golden vanity tables and rococo bed frames. As we curved our way past particleboard TV stands, a beer-bellied man with a comb over approached us. The salesman swiftly led us to a mattress adorned with a royal golden pattern against a shiny black background. He praised the mattress as if it were his first-born son. There’s no better quality for the price! It’ll last ten years at least! Maybe 15, he added, sensing my doubt. A special! A real special! Just as I wondered if he was paying for the mattress to go to college, I noticed that it had inner springs.
In Germany, innersprings went out with the Kaiser, or whenever it was that they invented foam. The last time I slept on an inner spring mattress was as a child at my grandmother’s house, and the bed still reeked of mustard gas from World War I. The springs poked my back and my chest was weighed down by a two-foot thick down blanket, so heavy with feathers that I felt like Leda gang-raped by a flock of swans. My Nazi grandmother put me up in her guestroom, a large, dark, wood-paneled space cold as a morgue. After tucking me in under the suffocating blankets, she sang Guten Abend, Gute Nacht, a lullaby based on a German folk poem. Provided with roses / Covered with flowers / Studded with nails / Slip under the blanket / In the morning, God willing / You will wake again.
Despite its funereal overtones, I requested the song frequently. I felt that if I considered the possibility of never waking back up, death might spare me. Catastrophes don’t happen if cautiously considered. If I only continued obsessing about the possibility of death—my own and the death of the people around me—I might be let off the hook.
Twenty years later at the furniture store in Bushwick, Jesse and I helplessly decided on the black innerspring mattress with the golden flower pattern, the one the salesman had called his best. I can’t claim that the mattress hastened the end of my marriage, but it certainly didn’t help.
After only three months the mattress began to sag, and for the two years that followed I slept on an incline with a continuously increasing slope. At first my left leg was wedged against the wall, only one inch higher than my right leg. But over the course of the next few years, the slope’s angle gradually increased to 20 degrees. With the advancing pitch, my marriage declined.
After Jesse finally moved out, I decided to buy a new mattress, opting for a larger one this time. If I got screwed again and the mattress sagged after only a few months, at least I would have enough space to disappear into it with my future boyfriend. But disappear where, exactly? Never again between innersprings. Coils and box springs are for losers. It’s the 21st century! When I think of coils and box springs, I think of straw and fluffy little baby chicks covered with potato sacks; I think of barns and alternating sleeping shifts.
Tempurpedic™ and its Swedish, (but puzzlingly) NASA-designed memory foam technology had caught my attention long before I considered buying a new mattress. Staying up late on my saggy incline while Jesse was out getting drunk, I felt oddly reassured by Tempurpedic’s infomercials. I still felt like hanging myself, but knew that one day in the future, I would be able to rest in peace.
According to Tempurpedic™, the mattress’s visco-elastic foam completely adapts to your body contours, releasing pressure from your spine and the heavier parts of your body. “This phenomenon,” Tempurpedic™ explains, “is similar to pushing your hand into the surface of a bowl of water and feeling the water flow to fill every contour and curve of your hand, then return to its original shape once your hand is removed.” Sounded like a dream to me. Never saggy, never sore! Completely resistant to permanent change! My heavy heart floating in a bowl of water—what could be better?
I knew I couldn’t afford a $2000 Tempurpedic™ mattress, so I tried to satisfy myself by taking the announcer’s advice and calling for an information kit. The package that arrived a few days later contained a video—which I never watched—and a memory foam sample the size of a teeny-tiny pillow, just big enough for my cat to rest her teeny-tiny head on. I briefly considered ordering enough 10 square inch foam samples to build my own mattress, but abandoned the idea after Tempurpedic™ kept bombarding me with intimidating brochures. The envelopes read like little death threats: “Open this envelope right now, Sabine Heinlein! This is your last chance!” What would’ve happened if I had ordered a few hundred samples! (Or if I wouldn’t have opened the envelope.) Covered with flowers, Studded with nails, Slip under the blanket… I wanted to burn those thick brochures, but instead started to use them to line my pet rabbit’s litter box.
Mr. Rabbit has certain preferences when it comes to his litter: It mustn’t be too soft, it has to be highly absorbent, and God forbid if I don’t arrange it neatly. My rabbit and I had both come to appreciate the thickness of the Sunday Times, but we were thankful for the little extra absorbance the generous mailings from the Tempurpedic™ folks provided. That is, until he began acting a little nervous. Was it the aggressive tone of their pitches? Or dreams of drowning in space-age foam? Whatever the case, I went back to using just the Times.
Rather than purchasing the Tempurpedic™ with funds I clearly don’t have, I decided to follow a more modest route and visit Sleepy’s. I entered my first Sleepy’s in Midtown Manhattan through an elevator that took me up to the show room on the second floor. Strangely, the worst thing about buying a new mattress isn’t the wealth of choices; it is the mattress salesmen.
Of all the salesmen I encountered on my mattress crusade, I liked this first one the very best. He did the store’s name some credit for he was actually asleep when I arrived. If he had been peacefully snoozing on one of the memory foam mattresses it would have clenched my choice. Unfortunately it was his office chair he was snoring on. Being a considerate shopper, I sneaked back out of the store on tippy toes. From there I went to another Sleepy’s just a few blocks down.
“Welcome to Sleepy’s! My name is Steve,” a wide-awake young professional greeted me. He asked what I was looking for and swiftly led me to one of his cheaper memory foam mattresses. He urged me to lie down. But naptime was over when I told him that I didn’t need a foundation because I already had one. “How high is your foundation?” he wanted to know. I pointed about three feet off the ground. His eyes widened with incredulity
“Noooo! That’s too high!”
“It’s worked for me so far,” I responded.
“But how you gonna get up there?” What did he mean by that? I’m not obese, I wasn’t using crutches. My feet and hands are beautifully shaped, if I may say so.
“I jump,” I said. He shook his head in disbelief and asked what I was keeping under my bed, a question I found a bit inappropriate. Who knows what some people keep underneath their mattresses? The space under one’s bed is nobody’s business. It is reserved for nightmarish creatures, undeclared earnings, useless crap and sometimes bunny rabbits. Before I could respond he added, “Drawers?”
“No drawers,” I said. “It is a hollow wooden structure. I store things underneath. Anything I don’t need on a daily basis. Suitcases, my ironing board, a surfboard.” I lied. I don’t have an ironing board or a surfboard, but I wanted to say something that made me sound neat and athletic. I also wanted to spare him the details about a rabbit who considers that space his own kingdom and turns into a monster if anyone reaches under the bed without knocking first. I proudly added: “I built it myself,” which clearly had the opposite effect I intended. I detected pity and deep sympathy in his eyes.
I quickly realized that it was hard to endure any mattress salesman for more than 10 minutes at a time. I decided to expand my research territory. After all, like 7-11’s in the rest of the country, Sleepy’s lurks on every corner in New York.
But before I moved on I noted down the first three conclusions as follows:
1. There are numerous companies producing memory foam mattresses for less than $2000, and they all have slightly incestuous names like Posturepedic, Therapedic, Posturetemp, etc. etc.
2. What the memory foam does is always the same; what varies is its thickness and the thickness of the supporting conventional foam layer underneath.
3. Mattress salesmen are curious people, sometimes asleep, sometimes awake.
The next Sleepy’s was located only a couple of blocks west. Again, a clean-cut gentleman rushed towards. “Welcome to Sleepy’s. My name is Jerry. How can I help you?” I briefly explained my situation, and he unexpectedly informed me that it was Father’s Day. “Really?” I said wondering what that had to do with my choice of mattress. He continued, “For our Father’s Day Sale everything is 30% off.” Father’s Day Sale! Noticing my skepticism, Jerry added, “And since you are my first customer today, you can get this mattress here for—” He punched the big keys of his old-fashioned calculator. “For $750, taxes and delivery included.” He looked up from his calculations with the eagerness of a child at Christmas. His excitement lessened when he saw that I was still not completely convinced. Where was I? On a souk in Marrakech? I was once forced to buy a carpet on a street market there. What started as a friendly negotiation ended with a knife on my ex-boyfriend’s neck. Ever since then, special, special offers make me very, very suspicious. But the mattress salesman had another trick up his sleeve: “If you leave a $25 deposit today, we will hold this offer for you for 60 days. Your $25 are fully refundable if you decide not to buy the mattress.”
Every day is Father’s Day for a measly $25! Or at least for the next 60 days. And of course after that there will be Easter, then Chanukah, then Labor Day, then Christmas, then Memorial Day, then Mother’s Day, then Kwanza and then, once again, Father’s Day (not necessarily in that order, though). What it boils down to is that you could be getting your fucking mattress any day for a reasonable price; and on those rare days that celebrate no special occasion you would be paying far too much.
After some fretting from me and some reassuring talk from Jerry, I laid down the deposit and decided to sleep on it. My old coils and the mattress salesmen had worn me out, and I simply didn’t have the patience left to make a choice. The next day I returned to Sleepy’s, where I encountered yet another mattress salesman. Where did Jerry go? “I laid down a deposit for a mattress, but I have one more question…” I started. “Yeah, what is it?” the new salesman growled as he pulled up my file. “Oh, nothing.” I gave up and handed my credit card over. The man, who never introduced himself, continued to sigh and moan.
I felt appropriately sleepy when I got back home.
There was a voicemail waiting for me from Sleepy’s. “Hi!” the salesman said cheerfully. “My name is Paul. I wanted to thank you for shopping with Sleepy’s, the mattress professionals. If you have a moment give me a call back and let me know how you experienced shopping at Sleepy’s.”
I apologize for not calling you back, Paul, but your mattress professionals exhausted me. But if you must know, Paul, I really like my new mattress. It is as comfy as a bowl of water, as a cloud, as… I’m sorry, but I’ve run out of metaphors for the moment. I need to lie down and rest.
Epilogue: Paul wasn’t the only one who made an effort to keep in touch. A few days into my new mattress experience I received more mail from Tempurpedic™. Hesitantly, I opened the envelope. “I hope you’ll understand why I’m so disappointed,” Dany began despairingly. (Dany made it sound like I had promised her love but then, with no warning, kicked her out of bed.) Evidently she is so disappointed because I have not yet bought my Tempurpedic™ mattress. She helpfully lists what might be jeopardizing our once promising relationship:
1. Inadequate description of the advantages of Tempurpedic™ mattresses.
2. Misunderstanding over the money-back-guaranty.
3. Insufficient communication about Tempurpedic™’s real affordability.
A fourth possibility never occurred to her: I had been cuckolding her with some mattress salesmen.
Mattress professionals are eloquent, utterly persistent, yet vulnerable people. Dany, Paul, Jerry and Steve, this is to all of you: Live your life on or under your own mattress, be it visco-elastic, box spring or latex. As for me, I have to go find the right pillow to rest my tired head on.
Everything you write about your youth makes Kate envious. I, on the other hand, thank God every day that I grew up in modern America.
Being born any time before 1970 and being raised anywhere but here just seems like life giving you a really terrible consolation prize.
Better you than me, I always say.
Kate is just romantic about far-away places. It’s sweet! It’s what girls do. Fantasy doesn’t always play out the way you think it might, though. Better to stay with the fantasy and not test it out too much.
I agree with you, Ben. Growing up here is best. Growing up now is best, unless you can figure out how to grow up later when things are even more modern.
you are a true kunte kinte….
Yeah, telling my family history here.
(Victor thought kunte kinte was kaiser sose. HA! That would change things, eh?)
I am so jealous. You have by far the most interest life, Irene. It’s incredible.
I think everyone has an interesting life. Some people notice it and some don’t. Ask your mom some questions and don’t let her wriggle out of the answers. You’ll see.
Excuse me, but you have both flipper people AND spies in your not-too-distant family history? That is by far the coolest thing ever.
The baby still isn’t here so now I need another story to read, please.
I am REALLY trying to forget about the flipper people swimming next to the Mayflower on the way to the new land.
Only Lenore thinks that’s cool. I’m totally weirded out.
Your early years never seemed so interesting when you told it in Champaign. Maybe you were still angry then because your mother never let you in. But it is a great story with the visuals as well. There is a lot more than meets the eye when one meets Irene Zion. Just finished viewing the you tube bit from Chicago. You are by far my most intersting and unpredictable friend.
I was carrying my certifiable mom on my back for ten years in Champaign.
Things just weren’t funny.
Driving with only my mom in the car were the only times in my life when I actually had to fight speeding headlong into the side of the viaduct or a bridge abutment simply to shut her up.
As the opportunity to end her endless bitching arose, I had to have some serious self-control to continue driving on the road instead.
Oh but it was so tempting….
You tell a delightful story, Irene.
I could almost see you flying.
I love the lines that are almost throwaway, like you were ‘invited in for dinner and to go to bed.’ Perfectly rendered!
I’m glad Trixie made it. We had a dog that was sent to live on ‘The Rabbit Farm.’ We really believed there was such a thing.
Molto bene, bella signora!
I BELIEVED I could fly. I felt very happy about it. It made all my friends happy too, since I was so positive we were all getting better every day.
I miss flying.
The Old Sailors really did have lots of land. They just ate my pets instead of letting them run free as I thought. I guess the old sailors have to eat.
Were there really old sailors?
Was there really an “Old Sailors Home?”
Now I don’t know what to believe.
I really enjoyed Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Or maybe I just really enjoyed Falling Down. Probably both.
I’m reasonably convinced that he is the child nearest you in the photo.
That’s what I think. He’s older and he has that Kirk Douglas chin thing going on. (But I can’t be sure.)
I like him in just about every acting role he’s had. Of course, I always thought he was great.
Sion, Zion, What’s In a Name…?
Careless moi, I see The Gator playing the Razorbacks in The Swamp, and figured Urban’s Legends would do in Bobby’s Boys toot sweet so deserted the wide screen in the living room to retire to the 27″ “regular” TV (remember when those were pretty big stuff a few scant years ago…???) in the back room, turning the game on to act as background for me to read your latest, which Sally announced after spending some time online before coming back into the living room where I’m madly flipping among the NCAA offerings on an increasingly pleasant Saturday afternoon in The Grove. (1)
I read and thoroughly enjoyed your most recent Nervous contribution, Irene. I was particularly intrigued by many aspects of the story as they coincided with some still starkly etched memories of that era I carry around in my head. In particular, while chuckling at your attempts at flying, and moreso at your sequential incomprehension of Bernoulli’s and Archimedes’ Principles, I was struck that you’d actually not only been ON BOARD the Andrea Doria, but that you’d actually booked -and most surprisingly -MADE! -passage on the ship. I remember vividly the front page headlines and stark black-and-white photos of the collision of the ill-fated bloody-nosed Stockholm and iller-fated Andrea Doria and the riveting story of not only the crash, and the gashed bow section of the Scandanavian ship, and the sorrowful smoking list, roll, and drop of the Italian ship over the course of the next day or so into the grey, cold watersv of the Atlantic off the east coast those many years ago.
What a memory…
And then as I read about you and Victor doing the Trieste trudge, I was intrigued by the sign over the school, especially because you noted that after leaving your old home, you walked to the Convent School with only your memory as your guide, and that while you hadn’t remembered the name of the school, per se, that when you had indeed found it, you were startled and laughed at its prophetic name.
So what was this prophetic name? Not having had the benefit of being raised Italian, or even IN Italy (tho’ I -like you and Victor, weren’t all THAT far from LITTLE Italy) I was obliged to visit several freebie online translation services to derive a logical meaning for those inscribed words upon the old plaque…
“Our Lady of Sion Nursery School”
So why is this startling, amusing, or prophetic? I wasn’t really at all sure, save that you raised a passel of kids, whose sole purpose seems to have given you much interesting/startling/shocking/funny/hilarious/etc. grist for your most creative and interesting mill, and perhaps one could imagine you riding herd on a nursery school of sorts. Buit I rather think not.
So I did a little research… on, as paul Harvey might say, “the REST of the story…!”.
The Sion connection.
Sion, Zion, what’s in a name…? I’ll tell you, and I quote:
“Our Lady of Sion
Founded 1843 at Paris, France, by Reverend Alphonse Ratisbonne
(1814-1884) and his brother Reverend Marie Theodore Ratisbonne
(1802-1884) to promote understanding between Christians and Jews
and to bring about the conversion of the Jews. Ratisbonne experienced
a miraculous conversion (20 January 1842) after a vision of the Blessed
Virgin Mary in the church of Saint Andrea delle Fratte (Rome, italy),
and was baptized two weeks later.26o Alphonse became a Jesuit and
remained in the Society for eleven years until released by a papal brief
allowing him to leave and work with his brother Theodore for the
conversion of Jews through the communities they had founded.
Pax Nostra, a lay group has also developed from this institute. (See
6.1-FRA.852.0.)261 (Generalate: via Garibaldi, 28; 00153 Rome, Italy.)”
So, is this the conclusion and completion of the circle of your Trieste journey & story?
A warm, strange one, Irene, but most entertaining in a nice comfortable way.
(1) Translation: The University of Florida, head coach Urban Meyer (sp?) is contesting an American football game against the University of Arkansas, head coach Bobby Petrino, at the University of Florida stadium and field. Florida is heavily favored -by 13-1/2 points. It’s about the equivalent of giving someone a 60-yard head start in a 100-yard dash. Florida is playing poorly and losing at the half to Arkansas. I scoffed at the idea of Florida folding, Arkansas triumphing. Maybe not so much, now…
What a great story! You continue to be fascinating. Spies? Trieste? Italian? The Andrea Doria? Michael Douglas? Sheesh.
The junk piled in the old building reminded me of “Grey Gardens,” which we just watched. I’m glad that your dog lived a happy life.
I was so happy when I found that out! I burst into tears and probably scared the poor lady to death. I really thought my mom had had her killed. Why my parents didn’t tell me she was going to stay living there, I will never understand. My dad was still always gone in the beginning in Brooklyn, but my mom was there. She knew that I could speak English if I wanted to, but she just ignored me. I really thought they would give in and let me go back to Trieste and my dog. Kids. I guess you never know what they are really thinking.
You remember the Andrea Doria? I didn’t think anyone on TNB would know about it. It wasn’t as big a tragedy as the Titanic and, I guess, they also didn’t make a movie about it. That’s why I hyperlinked it. I hoped people would read the history.
Yeah. My pal Michael Douglas. I don’t even know if his dad was on the trip. I was too young to be impressed by it, or even understand it. He was just one of the kids to play with on the ship. (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember me….)
Irene – this is great stuff. Did your Dad eventually say anything about his spying?
I’m amazed at your finding the pedestal still there. You could see yourself on it, I’m sure.
I remember the Andrea Doria sinking.
My dad never said anything about anything.
On my dad’s side everything was a secret. Even stuff that isn’t remotely secret material.
I think my brother found out at some point.
We’re almost positive that he was also a spy for many years before his stroke.
Yet another story….
I’m glad you remember the Andrea Doria. That makes two from TNB. It was really dramatic and many people died and more people were saved. They should make a movie about it.
Sorry, Don, I forgot to mention that I also burst out crying when I saw my flying pedestal. It did get a bit tipped in close to 50 years, but it was still there.
A lot of kids learned to fly on that pedestal!
What’s true is what you believe is true.
Irene, pretty much everything you write makes me want to hug you, but in this sortof odd way that you also want to hug your favorite musicians, and yet you know in the back of your mind that they would find it creepy and uncomfortable. Because they probably have strangers wanting to hug them all the time. Do you have that happen? Like at the grocery store and stuff?
You have it all wrong. I’m always hugging people inappropriately. I virtually want to hug everyone who says anything remotely upsetting. People tell me things that they are no longer upset about, and I start crying. Really, I’m a mess.
Actually I want to hug people who tell me happy things too.
I frequently get the weird “where did you get the idea you could touch me?” look.
My kids are always trying to head me off if they see it coming.
I’m the greatest humiliation to them.
I’m married to the king of the “Hug and Shove” too.
I’m too bowled over to know what to say, so I’m just going to guess on the game.
I say first boy in on the right. Next to you.
Mostly because of the similarity in profile to the 19 year-old Mike Douglas at the link below (scroll down, it’s there) but also because he’s the only one who looks the same age as you–which in boy/girl growing-up patterns means he was probably older.
WOW! I see what you mean, Becky!
How did you find so many young pictures of Michael Douglas? Obviously you are more adept at the internet than I.
I always thought that was MD, but never knew.
I googled “michael douglas young.”
It was harrowing. ;D
(Comments wont nest below this level)
I really should have thought of that!
I tried to make the picture bigger so we could see the kids better, but it didn’t work.
Consensus continues to pile up: Called the husband in here to make a guess; without seeing the 19 year-old Douglas picture and with no prompting from me, he guessed the kid next to you, for the same reasons as everyone else: Chin, nose, age.
HA! This is great.
I’ll have to take out the slanderous part of my description of him and try to send him this story. He’d probably like to see the picture of himself on the Andrea Doria.
I don’t think you can actually get a story to a real star though. They probably get thousands of letters a day.
No harm in trying.
Shouldn’t be too difficult to get his agent and/or publicist’s address, which I suspect would be the appropriate, non-crazy-fan way of doing things. I guess I don’t know. The last famous person I wrote a letter to was God, and I buried that in the back yard. I was also 8 years old.
(Comments wont nest below this level)
I wrote a letter to God at the Wailing Wall.
I also wrote to him in a Croatian church carved out of a rock mountain.
I’ll write to God anywhere.
I’m not proud.
That’s a great story and some adorable pictures, Irene. Really beautiful. I’m jealous that you have a memory capable of recalling these things.
It’s funny that you say that, David. Actually I have a really selective memory. Most of the stuff I should remember I don’t.
Someone says have you seen this or that movie and I say no, but I have just lost it.
We are in a group and a state or city comes up and I say I’d love to go there and then Victor tells me we have been there.
I remember things in pictures in my head, but I don’t know how my brain selects the pictures it wants to save and those it ejects.
What I do remember I remember completely. I see everything there. I can feel the breeze I make pumping on my swing in the yard in Trieste.
I can smell the horse chestnut blooms.
It’s as though I’m there again.
Am I making sense?
What a gem, I need to get the updates to check out the latest.
You should REALLY consider making a podcast out of one of these. Better carbon cost than schlepping to Chicago, etc., NOT that you can’t do that…it would just be more exciting I could most certainly provide some assist…I hear it now, with a bit of piano, maybe a touch of some ambient scene sounds…think of the ultimate, This American Life-style…you should listen to a bit of my friend Lesley…she is actually featured on NPR quite a bit.
http://lesleyspencer.com/CDs.html#moments <PS, you can sample her stuff right on the page
I really enjoyed the windows you open about yourself, I feel inspired And the fact you reference Keyser Soze, you’re alright by me Good evening…
The video came out from Chicago.
My dry mouth makes it look like I have Tourettes with the contortions I go through trying to open my mouth to speak.
It’s cool that you have a friend whose music is featured on NPR. I’ll listen to it when Victor isn’t sitting right here. It’s his birthday and we’re only doing things he wants today.
(I wish I had googled Keyser Soze so I could’ve spelled his name correctly. Lesson learned.)
You know, Mitchell, you have stories. You should tell them. Your kids will be happy to have them one day.
I love your pictures
I love your story
I love you
all dogs wait
on the shores of Jordan
where the daughters of Zion
come let us dance
let us feast
by the River
let us make a joyful
What a lovely comment. You people give me such joy sometimes… I swear.
jmb is both a poet and a muse.
No one doesn’t love him.
(Comments wont nest below this level)
the smell of
hope for bliss
hope for bliss
…hope for bliss
t’will be my theme in Glory.
(Comments wont nest below this level)
uh…michael douglas is fucking cool and very sophisticated and he’s a fine looking older gentleman. i would totally marry him and let him take me on vacation. you have terrible taste in men, with the exception of dad.
seriously, i really like michael douglas.
Le no ore!
I like him too. I just thought that all you young people would think of him as too old and maybe a bit creepy for marrying a younger woman. I guess I was wrong. My generation still thinks he’s hot.
You’d go with anyone who would take you on a great vacation, anyhow. That’s no test.
Irene, your mother was crazy and I’m astonished at your mental fortitude that you managed to come through your childhood with her and be a smart functional person.
You’re a survivor!
And I love that you tried to get sent back to be with your dog.
Everyone has things that aren’t perfect in his life.
You learn to deal and overcome.
I’m dyslectic, but it’s never held me back for a minute.
You choose who you want to be with your actions.
No one can choose for you by his actions.
Only if you let him.
I REALLY wanted to go back to FTT to be with Trixie again. I really tried. Finding out 50 years later that she had a good life, even if it was without me in it, removed a long-standing and deep pain in my chest.
“I’m the second girl from the Nun in this photo.”
i didn’t even see the nun until i read that. nuns are scary! it looks like the grim reaper! why don’t religious people wear flowery berets or something? lollipop dresses, big red rubber shoes? the world’s spiritual life would be greatly uplifted.
But people with clown phobias wouldn’t even have God to save them.
I feel the same way.
Now two of us have explained why nuns can’t wear red rubber shoes to Ben.
(Comments wont nest below this level)
what about light blue jumpsuits and orange wizard hats? anyone got a fear of those?
Ben, that would totally work.
The color is just as important as the outfit.
Who wouldn’t believe the advice of a nice woman wearing such clothes?
Well, Ben, at least in this country, Nuns dress like regular people.
They work regular jobs and things are different from how they were.
It may be that in the hyper-Roman Catholic countries they still dress in a habit. I kind of think they do, but I don’t know that.
When I was growing up the Catholic schools all had Nuns dressed in habits.
I like your ideas of flowery berets or lollipop dresses, though.
You’d want to talk to a person dressed like that.
(At least I would.)
Clowns really scare me though, so the big red rubber shoes are out.
We have a lot of prison art that Victor bought that mostly consists of skulls and clowns.
That alone tells me that clowns are not safe if prisoners have them on their minds.
why is victor buying prison art? is i think the next logical question.
(Comments wont nest below this level)
Oh Lordy, Ben, you would never believe the art in our house.
Every square inch is covered on the walls.
We have to warn people who go into the library not to look up unless they have strong hearts.
We have to explain that there is something in the corner of the family room, but it is NOT real.
We have unusual taste.
You should come to see.
I love how you refused to speak anything but Italian when you returned to Brooklyn! What an amazing piece of your life!
I really thought that it would get me sent back to my dog!
It was very disappointing.
My mom didn’t even notice!
God knows what my teachers thought.
When is the hardcover book of your short stories coming out?
I think someone that represents writers has to notice you first.
(Nice of you to say that, though.)
Irene, this is my favorite story OF ALL TIME. I retell it, albeit without your magical and vision-inducing descriptions, but it never fails to bring smiles. I’m going to print this! Love you!
Hi Christine I and Christine II,
Did you decide on which little boy was Michael Douglas?
You should collect your stories and publish them in a book. Perhaps our Lady of Zion will work in the background to help you get them published. They are delightful.
I didn’t think of that, George,
Our Lady of Zion was my first teacher, after all.
If I were, in fact, really good as my dad said, she might give me a hand….
I love your stories, Mama Z.
It’s magical to get a glimpse of your world as a child. And I love that you have all these pictures.
Your life has been so adventurous, I feel like you need wear pirate gear or something.
You know, Megan, if I had been given the opportunity, I would have been a pirate.
But not the kind that hurt people or steal things.
The fantasy kind that is sailing the seas for adventure, finding riches buried under an X on a secret map.
That would’ve been me.
Irene, I loved reading this. What an adventure…. And I can totally see the ways in which Lenore takes after you. Super-smart, full of imagination, and stubborn as hell. I can imagine how heartbreaking it was to leave Trixie behind. At least now you know she lived a good life after you left.
She hates me, but she loves me.
You know how it is.
We’re too much alike, although she would violently disagree.
She’s glorious, eh?
I hate time.
I wish we could have been young together.
Murdered and then risen from the dead.
Ah, what great reading for my Sunday afternoon. Spies and nuns and sinking ships and Cold War Europe; it’s like a Graham Greene novel featuring the mother of someone I know!
Seriously, though, this is a great piece. Really enjoyed it. Like you, I had a flying pedestal. Ecept instead of “pedestal” you would say “roof of our house” and instead of holding out my arms I was wearing a my homemade Superman cape and leaping off. A lot.
Holy mackerel, Matt,
How high was your roof?
Did you get hurt?
Did you have followers?
Did it work?
I never thought of a cape.
I had never read a comic book, so I didn’t know about super heroes.
I’ll bet a lot of kids tried to fly.
We should take a poll.
I’m pretty sure I never *thought* I could fly, I just liked the leaping off of stuff. Our house at the time was only a single-storey, so it wasn’t that high up, but I seem to remember that moment of being suspended in the air before the drop as just a little bit of magic. My school friends and I used to get our swings up as high as they’d go and then launch ourselves into the air, landing in all sorts of positions. And this was when schoolyards were covered in actual asphalt blacktop, not that namby-pamby rubbery stuff they have now. Somehow, despite doing things like this, I have made it 30 years on the planet without ever breaking a bone.
And alas, I remain without my well-deserved cult of followers.
(Comments wont nest below this level)
I was a swing aficionado myself, but I never, ever thought of jumping off.
My goal was to stand and swing so hard that I would swing around the pole 360 degrees.
I tried forever, but, alas, was never able to do it.
We had asphalt too.
Wasn’t so bad.
Only broke my arm once as a kid and that wasn’t at the park.
It was skating in the street and avoiding getting hit by a car.
It WAS Brooklyn.
Drivers didn’t much like kids skating in the street.
But there was nowhere else to skate or ride your bike then.
am not sure which is the clearer picture when you paint or write! Thank you for sharing the BV (before Victor) time. I never attempted to fly but did talk my brother into it.( however fearing trouble from my grandmother I did tie a rope around him first love you caw P.S. Michael Douglas was the boy staring at the camera DUH!
With the checkered shirt? No one has guessed him yet.
The other one staring at the camera on the left is my brother.
He was never a Hollywood star.
I can’t believe you did that to your brother! It’s not like you at all!
Where did you have him try to fly?
What good would a rope do, with little you holding onto the end?
There was a good deal of BV time.
A lot of stories.
I also thought the boy sitting next to you is Michael Douglas before I even read what everyone else wrote. It’s amazing to see how we each interpret our childhood, good or bad, it’s all fascinating! Each story I read reveals more about you that surprises me, flying, what were you thinking!
Well, Amy, I was thinking I would be able to fly if I practiced hard enough.
(I never said I was rational.)
Irene, was your dad Ian Fleming?
I think Ian Fleming was a tall guy. My dad was just as dapper, but short. My dad was from a poor family and didn’t have the nutrition to grow tall when he was growing up.
I’ve been wondering about my grandfather now. He was in the same marine engineer line of work. I wonder if he started the spying thing and passed his contacts down to my dad, who then passed them down to my brother.
I hate to fixate on the first part of this story when the rest of the story is captivating, but…sometimes I think that the only reason those gigantic jets take off is because most or all of the people in the plane BELIEVE they will take off. Belief is powerful. Excellent post!
I completely agree with you.
I actually think that when I’m on a plane taking off.
What if not enough people believe in this plane’s ability to fly?
What if it is a plane full of doubters like me?
I think that Michael Douglas is the first boy on the left. I’d be willing to swear to it.
But you! You are too adorable for words! And Stephanie’s right. You have had- thus far- the most incredible life. And you tell it so well. Matter-of-factly. As though everyone lived at a villa in Trieste for a while while their father engaged in espionage.
I think I see a hint of Lenore in that story about flying…
Oh, Irene. You’re the best!
Oh, now Marni, now I’m blushing!
You are too sweet.
You are the first to guess the first boy on the left. The only problem is that that kid is my brother.
So he, and the girls, are the only ones excluded from the game.
I wish we could get the real MD to chime in and just tell us which kid he was.
Everyone’s life is matter-of-fact because it is what is normal to him.
Yeah, we’re related, Lenore and I.
Sorry I’m so late in weighing in here, Irene. Such a wonderful life you have, and as always, such amazing photos to document the experience.
If you could only put it to rhyme….
What a story, Irene! I love the flying pedestal and I love this line:
She wasn’t allowed in the house, but then, neither was I most of the time.
It made me laugh and want to cry.
Your pictures make me almost smell the vegetation in them. What vivid memories you must have.
Yeah, Erika Rae,
Things were a bit off at my house, but I still had a great childhood that I made for myself.
Victor and I have that in common. We are both the creators of what we are. No parents involved.
As I said above, although I have seriously vivid memories of some things, other things are gone from my brain. I don’t know how my brain decides what to keep and what to flush.
I like that immensely. You are the creators of what you are.
I posted you to Face Stories today:
(Comments wont nest below this level)
Did your mother put the I.M.? Seems like something she’d do.
And I’m with Ben: Other countries suck.
No, my mom would only be interested in recording my brother.
That was my dad who wrote that.
You know, there’s a funny thing about that.
My dad only printed and only in capital letters.
He never, ever wrote anything in cursive or used lower case printed letters.
Neat as a pin, his writing was.
You two are just comfortable being where you are. there’s a whole world of wonderous things to see and experience out there. When you get more “mature,” you’ll get the wanderlust. I guarantee.
Another great story. So much for growing up in middle America.
Thanks for reading, Ed.
My kids grew up in middle America.
When I got back from FTT, I was a Brooklyn girl through and through.
where do i get a couch like kirk douglas’s????
Ben, I KNOW! It’s like a huge red teddy bear just ready to hug you!
Speaking of the streets of San Francisco, I just returned from the very same — sick. That’s why it’s taken me a while to comment, and after I do, I’m going to lie on the sofa and die, thanks very much.
At any rate:
Like you, as a child, I had a dog named Trixie. There was never any guessing as to what became of her, however; she died in my arms. I also owned two rabbits, but neither was eaten by sailors; they expired of natural causes and were buried in my yard. I trust that someone will do something similar for me after I die on the sofa.
Didn’t Lenore also have designs of flight as a child? Or did she simply propose to grow wings? No matter; it’s a lovely post, Irene, and I’m glad to have read it as I prepare to die on the sofa.
Why does the cold virus love me so? Ah, well. I suppose it’s nice to be loved by something.
Oh poor Duke!
I’m so sorry you’re so sick. You need to drink lots of liquids and get lots of sleep.
Tell Lenore to buy some home-made chicken soup and bring it over.
I’d tell you to have her make it, but she refuses to learn how to cook.
I’d make it for you, but I’m 3,000 miles away.
Wow. You had a dog named Trixie too. That’s cool.
Is your sofa as comfy as Kirk Douglas’?
I hope so.
I’m so happy about your dog. I’m thinking your dad maybe didn’t know what happened to her and was afraid to bring up the subject just in case it was bad. I think it’s creepy that you sailed on the Andrea Doria, even with Michael Douglas. You ought to take an Italian class and see what comes back to you. I bet it’s a lot!
Forgot to say– the printing is an old (pre-computer for you younger folks) engineering/drafting thing. My dad did it, too, except when he wrote checks. How many of you know what a slide rule is? How many of you can actually use one?
I didn’t know that was an engineering thing. I never knew why before. It is so great to finally learn that. Thanks!
I can answer the last couple of questions.
Probably no one under 40 knows what a slide rule is and probably no one under 65 knows how to use one.
(I have a collection here of my dad’s and Victor’s dad’s.)
As to the first comment: I remember being really scared when the Andrea Doria sank. It didn’t ever occur to me that they could sink. I think over 400 people died in that tragedy. On the other hand, many hundreds were saved, which was a pretty big difference from the Titanic.
I do wish I had realized how cool it was to have Michael Douglas as a playmate. I don’t even know if his dad was on board.
I don’t think that thing you are holding looks like a stuffed tazmanian devil, just a cat, but not a very cute one.
I don’t actually remember it, Keiko. I would rather it were a Tazmanian Devil, though.
Hi my famous friend! We watched you on youtube, you were great, a natural comedic actress reading your own material, congratulations.
As to your story, what is so amazing is that it is based on your real experiences. I wonder if Michael Douglas might have the same photograph of the children around the table on the Andrea Doria. Your knowledge of Italian might be stored somewhere in the crevices of your brain and a refresher course might bring it all back to you. Also going back to the villa were you lived, what memories must have come back to you and how sad to see the deterioration of the place. Did you try to fly off the “pedestal” again?
I look like I have Tourettes in that video! I couldn’t open my mouth to speak, it was so dry from anxiety!
I didn’t try to fly when I went back. I was crying too hard. I tend to be kind of emotional.
beautiful story! i love to go back to such places, and to hear about others who have had success going back to old childhood memory spots.
do you still give flying lessons? i’m game for a lesson. i have had no real success on my own. but i keep trying. lately i have tried using my bike like the old wright brothers did. there were two of them and just one of me…..i remain on terra firma.
Don’t give up.
It just takes stick-to-itiveness!
Loved the photos –glad you found Michael!
Thanks for reading.
Yeah, after all these years I finally found out which one he was!
Irene, I love your stories……it’s so weird how they help me remember things about my childhood because I don’t remember much!!
I can’t believe you were sitting next to MD and didn’t know it. His dad was hot too…..any memories of Kirk running around without a shirt on? I saw him (Kirk) at a book signing in Chicago
25 years ago and he was HOT. But we all know I like old men…..ha…..
Thanks for sharing!!!
I find the same thing happens to me, Kathy. I read something about someone else and it sparks a memory in me.
I KNEW I played with him on the Andrea Doria, I just didn’t remember which one he was.
Unfortunately, his father just would have been any ordinary father to me. I didn’t have the knowledge I needed to be impressed at the time. I don’t even know if his parents were on board, although I assume at least on of them was there.
Yeah, old men. I have one of my own!