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Posts Tagged ‘parents’

Pimped for a Part

January 11, 2016 | by

My mother makes a match.

Image via New York Public Library.

My mother was open-minded about the boys I brought home. She was, in fact, oblivious to any of their flaws. In high school, in Philadelphia, my platinum-haired boyfriend, Billy, who walked with a strut and stole cars, OD’d in our basement under my black-light poster of Jimi Hendrix; Mom was fine about my visits to him in the locked ward in the Quaker mental hospital across the street from us on Roosevelt Boulevard. My next boyfriend, Randy, a whimsical outpatient with a genius IQ at the same hospital—we met on the bus; he was coming from prep school—got permission to have dinner with us one evening and afterward played with my gerbil. Randy blurted that he hallucinated perpetually because of all the LSD he’d taken and that now he was on Thorazine, Elavil, and a third prescription I can’t recall. My mother’s only comment: he should trim his nails.

She did seem to cotton on to my Mormon suitor in college (my only vice was tea) but criticized his piano playing as “stiff.” She did not seem disturbed when four years later I had a “dancer/artist” boyfriend in sex therapy (“You’re sexually repulsive to me,” he’d confided, “but don’t take it personally, all women are”), and she said nothing disparaging about his successor, an alcoholic Columbia University student/construction worker who accidentally burned, hoping to keep warm during a cold snap, all the savings he’d hidden in his never-used oven. He once showed up drunk at four A.M. with a lipstick-swished cheek and confessed he’d kissed another woman who’d bought him a cabbage, but it was me he really loved, he said, and then punched a hole in my door. Mom remained mute when I confided I’d met, in Egypt, a much younger French Algerian paratrooper named Karim, even when I revealed that he would call me long distance from Marseilles and never talk—simply whisper my name and breathe for twenty minutes, or play a tape of music he’d written. My bass-player roommate at that time, Sara, once quipped, “Karim’s mother’s not going to be very happy when she sees that phone bill.” Read More »

Mother Approved

October 6, 2015 | by

Only the best for my boy: the actress Helen Twelvetrees and her son, Jack Woody, in Sydney circa 1936.

I used to have a superpower. I never told anyone, of course—that’s the rule with powers—and in the grand tradition, it was a mixed blessing. It was this: mothers loved me.

It’s true. Mothers of all kinds wanted me to date their sons. Hell, they wanted me to marry them. Not shockingly, the actual sons in question were less jazzed about the prospect. It seemed like the very qualities that rendered me totally unsuitable to boys my own age—my good manners, my bookishness, my lack of any adult sexiness, even my runty size—were the same things that drew their mothers like catnip. Read More »

New Tricks

September 11, 2015 | by

From Popular Science, 1896.

Last November, my brother and I went out with my mother for her birthday dinner. It was a special birthday—she was becoming a senior citizen—so we went somewhere nice, where the waiter told us that it was the start of scallop season and the sweet local bay scallops were a special. My mother ordered them and, after the waiter had left the table, informed us, “I’m going to get my scalloping license this winter.”

“No you’re not,” scoffed my brother. Which is the sort of thing he can get away with, and which in any case was tinged with affection. He and I were thinking of other abandoned schemes: the metal detector, the archery set, the very brief period when our parents walked quarantined dogs at the local shelter. Read More »

Dress Code

July 17, 2015 | by

Kenneth_1962

From a 1962 Clairol ad.

My mother called me to ask how much to tip on a haircut. “A normal haircut,” she said.

“I usually tip upwards of 20 percent,” I said, “but of course it’s at your discretion.”

“That seems awfully high.”

“I don’t know, not for something you wear every day. And if you have a relationship with your hairdresser—” Read More »

Slow News

July 15, 2015 | by

T.H._Spence_(Manufacturer_and_Proprietor)_(3093755254)

From an ad for White Beaver’s Cough Cream, ca. 1900.

I phoned my dad. I was eager to discuss the recent cover story on a New York City tabloid. It featured a homeless man who lives in my neighborhood, and I was indignant on his behalf. I knew my dad would have read the piece closely and would have strong opinions.

“Did you see that cover story?” I demanded, rhetorically.

“No,” said my dad. “We’re not reading any newspapers these days. Or watching any news.”

“Oh,” I said. “Why?” Read More »

Obstacle Course

January 16, 2015 | by

The perils of growing up surrounded by books.

books

Illustration: Mark Fearing

This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of The Threepenny Review. They’re celebrating with Table Talk from the Threepenny Review, a new book collecting a hundred essays from their Table Talk column—a casual, intellectually curious series first launched by Leonard Michaels in 1990, with subjects ranging from Emily Dickinson and rats to prominent holes in Kansas. This piece, by Javier Marías, appeared in their Winter 2011 issue.

Like all the other apartments I’ve ever lived in, the apartment in which I spent my childhood was full of books. However, the word full doesn’t really come near the truth; neither do the words crammed or crowded, because not only was every wall covered with shelves (each of which was packed with volumes from every imaginable century), but the books also sometimes served as rugs, tables, sofas, chairs, and even, almost, beds. I don’t mean that there was no furniture in the apartment and that we sat on piles of books or ate from other still taller piles—with a consequent disquieting sensation of constant instability—but that the rugs, tables, sofas, seats, and even beds were often buried beneath vast tomes: for example, the complete and very abundant works of the late-Renaissance philosopher Francisco Suárez. I remember those in particular because, on one occasion, I had to wrestle for hours with the philosophers Suárez and Condillac in order to make a large enough space on the floor to play with my toy soldiers. Bear in mind that my size at the time (I was seven or eight) didn’t really equip me for the easy removal of those large seventeenth- or eighteenth-century volumes obstructing my innocent games.

In fact, for myself and my three brothers, the house was one long obstacle course, almost two hundred yards long, the obstacles always taking the form of books. That is why, from an early age, I became used to negotiating the words of the great philosophers and writers, with the inevitable result that I have a deep-rooted lack of respect for anyone who writes, myself included. It still surprises me when I see how other people (especially politicians and commentators) kowtow to writers or else fight to appear in photos accompanied by some scribe or other, or when the state rushes to give succor to ailing, ruined poets, privileging them with a treatment that only heaps humiliation on equally ruined or ailing street cleaners, businessmen, waiters, lawyers, and cobblers. My scant respect for the trade to which I belong (from the most ancient of academicians to the most youthful of libelists) derives from a childhood home in which, as I have said, I grew used to mistreating and misusing almost all the seminal texts from the history of culture. Having too much respect for the kind of individuals who partially soured my childhood and invaded the territory occupied by my thrilling games of bottle-top soccer would seem to me masochistic in the extreme. Read More »

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