Saturday, October 9, 2010

Middle Ages

Warning: this post risks becoming sentimental.

I woke up middle-aged this morning.

I don’t mean I feel older (I don’t), or look older (I do.) I don’t even mean I am older (I am. See my last post.) However, I feel like I’m turning a bend in the circle of life.

Yesterday my mother got married. Well, re-married. In the office of a town clerk down the block from my sister’s house, on the rainiest day we’ve had in months (not an omen) with my nieces and nephews screaming in the background (also, not an omen), my mother became someone’s wife – or ex-wife – other than my dad’s.

The truth is, my sister and I couldn’t be happier. As of yesterday morning, my mother had been separated from my father for 24½ years – seven years longer than they were married. Divorced, in the mold of second-wave feminism, not necessarily militaristically, but defiantly, she lived as if there was nothing an unmarried woman couldn’t do.

And she was right. She raised two kids, and sent both to college and grad school. She survived cancer, a brain tumor, and a hip replacement. She taught for more than thirty years, got an advanced degree, and became a principal. So who would have guessed, in her retirement, co-habitating with her boyfriend of three years wouldn’t be enough. That she still wanted the brass ring (ahem, diamond wedding band) – marriage.

Perhaps this is another hallmark of second-wave feminism – that the generation from which it spawned still has a vestigial attachment to marriage as an institution. Or maybe it’s the same as the argument I make about my own right to a same-sex marriage: that there is something just different about marriage. Anyway, this isn’t that kind of column. Moving on.

We really like our new step-dad by the way. It’s weird calling him that, though. It’s not like we’re the Brady Bunch.

It is nice that they share so much in common. Like travelling, sitting around, and listening to my mother talk. Plus, now that she has a new last name, I can always deny we’re related.

After the wedding, we went for lunch at the Jolly Fisherman – an old school seafood restaurant. You know the kind of place: the bread basket is a trough filled with breadsticks, saltines and oyster crackers; everything smells like chowder and Lemon Pledge, and the dinner rush is from 4 to 6pm.

I needn’t describe the food, most of you have been somewhere like this on a three-day summer weekend, with a client, or while visiting your grandparents in Florida. However, I do need to mention that, towards the end of the meal, my uncle went sheet-white (almost blue, actually) and rigid (note: this is not the place to make a joke about the ability of an 82 year-old man to go rigid.)

Did you know it can take 15 rings for 911 to answer the phone? I called from my cell, to near disbelief, while the restaurant had the same experience from a standard land line. Note to self: never require medical attention at the Jolly Fisherman.) When they finally answered, and agreed to send an ambulance, more than five minutes passed before I had to call again (better response time) and within two minutes nearly a dozen fire and EMT workers converged on The Jolly Fisherman.

We directed them to my uncle (which, to be honest was pretty necessary. With the lunch crowd that was present, it really could have been anyone. Not surprisingly, the restaurant staff greeted the EMTs like old friends. I think they left with half a dozen friend shrimp each.)

Anyway, he was conscious, but they gave him oxygen, took his vitals, and whisked him off to the hospital where he spent five hours in a hallway before finally getting a room. It was a horrible way to end a beautiful day, but you never know what the experience will do for him. When he had his heart condition 20 years ago, my uncle – a life-long racist – got a black roommate with whom he got along famously. They got on so well, I think he may have voted for Obama (but, probably not.) Maybe this time he’ll get to know a Latino other than those who’ve married into the family.

By the way, I’m sure I’m totally going to piss off at least half the family by writing this (the other half are seriously cracking up.) I got pretty well shunned after the Bar Mitzvah post. Still, as much as some of my relatives would probably wish I’d stop writing about them, they may not realize we’re wishing they’d stop departing our joyous family events ambulances.

Anyway, when the crisis had passed, we headed out to Sag Harbor to finally occupy the house we bought several months ago, but which had been rented until Sept 30. We unloaded a truck full of Costco supplies, as well as the contents of our storage unit, and worked well into the night. And, this morning, Neil and I woke up to a sunny October day.

We walked in to the village and got coffee, strolling past old whaling houses and churches and beautiful homes. After breakfast, I headed out for a run – passing a neighbor walking her dogs as the sun streamed through the trees.

And in those first few minutes of my run, I finally “got” the suburbs. I finally understood why people moved there. It wasn’t just about kids, or schools, or safety. As I ran, I passed porches and lawns and cyclists and kids. The local high school had its Homecoming Parade. I loved the peace and quiet; I loved the feeling of community – even though we’ve lived here all of eight hours. When I came home my husband was walking around the pool picking up leaves, and when he saw me he looked up and told me how happy he was, and how much he loved me.

For the past five or six years, I’ve felt – sometimes keenly – that I was aging. But it was a restlessness – a feeling of loss or regret – that “never-being-nineteen-again-ness” that makes you realize that you’ll never look a certain way again, or have the luxury of turning your life completely upside down and starting a new direction without significant consequences. But just as the desire and recklessness of my twenties passed into the ambition and restlessness of my thirties, something is coming with the approach of my forties. Some sense of achievement and contentedness – it hasn’t settled in yet, it’s just starting – and there’s still plenty of fight and desire and ambition left in me, but something’s coming.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Birthday Blog

OK, we clearly need to talk about my birthday – and Neil’s – but before we do, there’s something I need to get off my chest.

What the fuck is going on in politics?

I’m sorry, I thought we hit a new low when nine Republicans stood on stage in 2008, seeking their party’s nomination for President, and fully two-thirds of them claimed not to believe in evolution. Seriously – serious people vying for the most powerful leadership position in the world, disclaiming something every third-grader knows, simply to pander to an ignorant population of Republican base voters. Rather than use the moment for leadership, to remind people that they can believe in God, and religion, and science (Darwin did), 6 of the 9 decided, instead, chose the low road.

I never realized I’d look back on that day, nostalgically, with the rise of the Tea Party. Rememebr the Boston Tea Party? That quaint event you learned about in American History – way back in elementary school? How the colonists, outraged by the taxes and injustices wrought upon them by Merry Old England – where they had no representation in Parliament – threw tea into Boston Harbor as a form of protest?

Somehow I’m failing to see the parallel between colonial America and the would-be Senator from Kentucky, who’d like to dismantle the Civil Rights Act. Because the best way to celebrate our heritage of going to great lengths to protect against unfairness and injustice is to let private business discriminate against Blacks. Sounds reasonable to me.

Or the Senate candidate from Nevada, who stands shoulder-to-shoulder in the history books with patriots such as Nathan Hale and Patrick Henry, for her courageous stand to eliminate the Department of Education. Nothing says freedom like ignorance, poverty and an utter lack of opportunity.

I think my favorite, though, has to be the Senate candidate from Delaware, though, Christine O’Donnell. Here was a clear pick-up for the Republicans. Mike Castle – experienced, well-respected, accomplished – would have won by at least 5 points. Instead, they ended up with a nutjob, whose outspoken against masturbation (you just lost men, ages 18-80, and any woman whose ever ridden Space Mountain.) And she may be a witch.

You know how I know.

Because she has a commercial where she starts by saying, “I’m not a witch."

In the Nixonian tradition of “I am not a crook,” the Clintonian recitation of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” we can now add, “I am not a witch” to the political canon of me-thinks-thou-doth-protest-too-much.

If it were just electoral politics, I could chalk it up to the silly season that approaches every other year, to fill the yawning gap between Labor Day and Thanksgiving with something other than Halloween candy and the fall premiere of tv shows, 90 per cent of which won’t exist by Christmas and which all seem to inexplicably include Jenny McCarthy or someone from Friends. But it’s not. It’s also current events – which brings us to: The Mosque At Ground Zero.

Don’t you love the way I wrote that? It sounds like a title for an old Hardy Boys mystery, or maybe a romance novel with some shirtless, swarthy guy on the cover ripping the gown of a lusty, busty maiden. The Mosque At Ground Zero.

Or maybe an attraction or concert venue. The Theater at Madison Square Garden. The Inn at Little Washington. The Mosque At Ground Zero.

But no, The Mosque At Ground Zero, was nothing nearly as fun. It was another ugly, racist, small-minded chapter in our cable-news-driven shout-o-rama.

Let’s set a few things straight.

The Mosque At Ground Zero, was not intended to be a mosque. It was a cultural center, on par with the Jewish Community Center on 76th and Amsterdam. Among the characteristics of this proto-house of worship are a swimming pool, ceramics classes, and a snack bar.

Nothing says God like nachos.

Additionally, the Not-A-Mosque-At-Ground-Zero was NOT AT GROUND ZERO. What is at Ground Zero is a hole in the ground with a future office building and museum under construction. The Not-A-Mosque was located several blocks away, two storefronts over from a “Gentlemen’s Club,” in a former Burlington Coat Factory. Are suddenly finding hallowed ground in places that once hawked 50%-off-underwear? And can we all agree that only in America could people be offended by expressions of free religion, but not the boobs-in-your-face bottle service happening 200 feet west?

I’d like a side order of tits with my self-righteousness.

And so, dear readers, if you’d like to give me a gift this birthday, let’s pledge to end the hyperbole. Can we please end the era of The Mosque At Ground Zero simply because it sounds more inflammatory than The Cultural Center Down the Block from a Strip Joint? Can we stop taking umbrage every time there’s an opportunity to twist the truth into a sound bite, just so poor dumb people in flat state will send a check to Rand Paul or Fox News, or some other entity that needs it a lot less than a steel-worker or nurse with an eighth grade education.

Oh, and whoever got me what I wanted for my last birthday – thank you. I know it came almost a year late, but a Senate candidate who’s an actual witch. Yay. The gift of fodder.