Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cautionary Tails

Every day I look for her obituary. But now I fully expect there will be none.  It has been a month and one half since her death yet I can’t forget it.

She was my academic rival in grammar school. We had first met when she moved into my neighborhood, actually across the street.  We were kindergarten friends with her even attending my fifth birthday party held in the back room of my parents apartment. We started first grade together, sharing Sr. Barbara’s kind words to encourage reading and third grade listening to  Mrs. Gizzi’s war stories of her various surgeries.  She even showed me her glass eye in the palm of her hand. ( She had a retinoblastoma as an infant) Either she or I were the last ones standing after Sr. Gabriel’s “Math Games” where girls were called to stand in the front of the class by a frail old nun with a wicked laugh. “How do you spell “ISOSCELES” L?  “What is a PARALLELOGRAM” J?  “ The formula for the area of a RHOMBUS”? The questions only stopped with the last man standing.

While I enjoyed it, I never quite sensed the terror in my fellow students eyes. 

L went onto the corresponding high school of my grammar school.  She had won the coveted scholarship by scoring 0.2 higher on the qualifying exam.  I in turn went to another slightly more traditional high school just four blocks away. We had nonetheless kept in touch through mutual friends and going to school dances at local boys high schools.

She stayed local after high school whereas I left to find the midwest and the world.

She stayed even more local following the tradition of young adults in my city, living in NJ while working in NY, not unlike previous generations. 

She experienced privilege.  Her parents won a Million dollar lottery in NJ.  Yet like most lottery winners, their fate was far from luck.  Her father died soon thereafter and she and her mother fought viciously over the money, eventually suing each other. 

I remember going to a mutual friend’s wedding and seeing L for the first time in years.  Her face was hardened, steely and her attitude cold. She was stick thin. She was a bridesmaid and her walk up the aisle a swagger and her glaze daggers. She didn’t even glance at her mother seated alone in the back row, but if she had, her stare would have cut deeply.

Year went by.  Marriages, children, houses, etc.  L and I went our ways.  I was still living in Chicago when I heard of her diagnosis. Hearing someone had AIDS in 1992 was not a good thing.  It didn’t hold the promise of a chronic manageable disease it does now. Some hot shot stock trading boyfriend she had. A Bright Lights, Big City story that was a typical as moussed big hair in the late 1980’s. I remember mourning in a way. I would send her Christmas cards from that point on.  I guess I was trying to say that I was out there still thinking of her.  They were never reciprocated.

I would hear about her from time to time.  Her mother had passed away.  She bought a 5 bedroom house in a tony suburb.  Friends had helped her with that house, but she never helped them. There is only so much giving and not receiving a friendship can take.

I contacted her in earnest in 2010 for a mini Grammar school reunion.  I went to see her.  Words could not describe her condition.  Her house was in shambles, her dog, a large bull dog was as obese as she was thin.  My heart sank in disbelief. 

I tried to be encouraging.  I tried to help her understand that there were programs out there for her and her medical needs.  That she should reconnect with others, especially at the reunion.  People understand.  People generally like to help. Hope is allowed.

I left her with the blunt words “Please L, you need to come.”

She never showed.  I got the drunkest I have been in a while, a combination of not eating and enjoying reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in 35 years. 

I called her the following week. “You missed a good show, L, I was plastered and even threw up the next morning. AM was mortified.”  She laughed but never fully explained why she didn’t show.

I saw her once more in 2012.  I was stuck on the NJ turnpike, near the exit for her suburb.  I was alone and for many reasons didn't want to rush home.  “Hey L I am in the area, mind if I stop in?”  I arrived at the house that was even in more disarray that the previous year.  “L you need help.”  When I am nervous I am even more blunt than usual: “You need to get out of here.”  She explained that she was unemployed now, not getting her meds and had trouble with her remaining vision.  Her words were punctuated by her now obsession with her dog who had grown even more obese.

She was concerned about her house. I tried to console, help and encourage as best I can, yet it doesn’t always come out that way: my parting words:  “Fuck this house, burn it down, for chrissakes, it’s just a house.”

I never saw her again.  Phone calls were never returned. Christmas cards were sent but never reciprocated.  Facebook birthday wishes were only answered with  thumbs up message.  She only posted about lost dogs on Facebook. They were cautionary tails. They were not the only ones who were lost.

She died alone.  She was found after four days.  Her dog was with her. I last heard her veterinarian had taken him in.

She had the world at her feet.  She was bright. She had loving parents.  She had good friends. She was educated. She had money.  But it was never enough.  In the end she reaped nothing because she sowed nothing.

Holidays are supposed to be festive, colorful and a family time.  I can not help but to think of L today now that Christmas is over.

Every year for the past 20+ or so I send a mutual friend of L’s and I a Christmas ornament.  I am not even sure how it started.  I try to be relevant.  The year she took her family for a European tour, I sent an glass ornament of multiple suitcases. It’s a silly tradition but it became more necessary this year.  Her friendship is one I never want to forget.  I send the crappy ornaments to connect, to remember and to be remembered.I have also known her since kindergarten.

My friend understands. 

L never did.

May she finally rest in peace.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Gong Show 101

As a child I was a television addict.  There was no “I Love Lucy”, “I Dream of Jeannie” or “Little Rascal” rerun that I didn’t watch.  Summer Time and the TV was easy….   My parents were not financially set enough nor insightful enough to compulsively plan day camps, internships, sleep away camps or classes for us.  My urban neighborhood was my camp and don’t come home until the street lamps were lit.

One of those shows was The Gong Show- an outrageous, slapstick of a contest where contestants vied for ridiculous prizes.  Hosted by Chuck Barris, a dry, short ethnic guy who was the antithesis of the plastic Mitt Romney –type TV game show hosts.

Whenever my Mother saw us watching that show she would yell, “Get that crap off.” “I don’t want you to watch that.”  “He’s dirty.” “I don’t get this.”  You knew she was serious when she would get up ( no remote in those days), leaving the ever present burning cigarette behind, and physically turn off the TV.

It was one of those things that you knew would irk your mother so you did it anyway.  There were many things in my armamentarium and The Gong Show was just one.

But what I did to circumvent her was a valuable lesson in growing up.  She was my obstacle in watching something I really thought was funny. 

I simply went upstairs to watch it in my sister’s room.

No harm no foul.  My mom was not always right.  An early lesson for an adolescent.

Children need to disobey their parents.  In a way, parents want them too.  In small steps.  Baby steps.  When there is still a safety net. Children need to know they can step out of bounds and still play the game safely.

Some would argue vehemently that The Gong Show was obscene.  Morally corrupt. 

I though it was just funny.  Even the episode when Jaye P. Morgan pulled up her shirt.  Your couldn’t get more outrageous on 1970’s daytime TV than that.

But I survived.  Laughed.  Mimicked Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. Made a paper bag to ape the Unknown Comic. Did “The Worm.” But then turned the TV off and went outside to catch butterflies with my best friend Melanie.

It was just TV. 

Rest in peace Gene Patton. You are the Dancing Machine.  Thank you for reminding me NGC.  And please take a lesson from this AHB. But baby steps, please. You will always have a safety net if you ask, but sometimes you have to ask. I am not always a mind reader.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Reeducation of J*

*Or some things highly competitive or Ivy League institutions do not teach you AND you were afraid to ask.

1. Children do not come with instructions.

2.  Depend on men soul-ly not solely.

3.  Trust your gut flora.

4.  Never, never borrow money from friends -and it’s corollary -never let friends borrow money from you.

5. Children are your biggest joy and biggest headache.

6.  Dogs are 8th wonders of the world.

7.  Common sense and IQ are inversely proportional.

8.  A kind word, a smile and a box of chocolate chip cookies are all worth their weight in gold.

9.  Yelling is to anxiety as expletives are to Paxil.

10.  Analogies are no longer on the SAT’s.

11.  Clothes and dishes do not wash themselves.

12.  A perfect house is the sign of a diseased mind or a really good cleaning person.

13.   Die before you get old.

14.  Never pass up a trip to New York City or Tijuana.

15.   Things can't be so bad if you can still laugh.