mother knows best

*that* doesn't look like a butt.

*that* doesn’t look like a butt.

Mama had her notions. Yes, she did. She was a smart lady, a world-class violinist, a Barnard-educated philosophy student, a voracious reader, an expansive thinker, a sharp-as-a-tack witness to human behavior. And she was always spouting opinions ON EVERYTHING. Many of these opinions made sense to me, if not at first, eventually. As in: “There’s such a thing as being so open-minded that your brains fall out.” And: “Every teenage boy has a hollow leg. He fills up his stomach and just keeps going,” which, now that I am responsible for the housing and feeding of one such person, I have learned to be true. She also said a few things that still strike me as somewhat harsh: “When your kids enter puberty, you just want to take them out back and shoot them,” and I’m profoundly grateful she never carried this out herself.

And then there were her mega-mondo-bizarro opinions, her beautifully wacky theses based on either A) questionable science, B) outright quack science; C) science she swore to be mainstream but could never actually cite when questioned; and D) her own rather stunningly insightful observations. Included the last category, which I’ve mentioned before in print and will never tire of repeating, was her First Theory of Faces governing the waning careers of certain regional TV newscasters: according to Mama, these people never hit the big time because their faces came, in the course of aging, to resemble buttocks. For all I know, she was right. I had no better theory.

Also included in category D) were a couple of hypotheses that (I am flabbergasted to now report) I found to be correct. Among other things, Mama SWORE that earlobes kept growing into old age, and yes, it turns out they do, although I must note that she was wrong when she claimed they grew after death, too. I was also a  little skeptical of her theories governing malice and human physiognomy — her Second Theory of Faces — which postulated evil in the upside-down portraits of famous people. According to this one, you could see the despotic malevolence in someone’s eyes if you just flipped the photo on its head. (Try it with Hitler. Or don’t. He’s pretty ugly either way.) So far, science has not backed her up on this one. You see anything that supports her, please send me the link.

But Mama also SWORE that early homo sapiens must have had sex with Neanderthals at some point, and this one always made me laugh. HA HA HA MAMA, THAT’S HILARIOUS, I’d say, at which point Mama would cock her head, jut her chin in her saucy little way, mention someone we both knew with prominent eyebrows and pronounce: “Come on. X has a brow ridge. X is proof. One of X‘s ancestors mated with a Neanderthal!”

Sure, Mama! Ha ha ha! Your Third Theory of Faces! Whatever you say!

And then, holy human evolution, it turned out she was right. Time for me to check the mirror. Could be my face looks like an ass.

correction: that was the wig that *wasn’t*


I learned something new, people! I learned that mufflers, ON THEIR OWN, grow hair like Donald Trump’s! They do! And then, when they get too old to drive, they spit it out their undercarriage in shiny, regurgitated whorls of toupee-like ejecta! Yup.

Thanks to one of my children’s former band teachers, who corrected me politely on Facebook, I now comprehend that, in fact, it’s just this hirsuite internal wrapping of fiberglass that makes modern mufflers muffle.

Apparently, mufflers puke up wigs when they get all holey. And apparently I need a new one.

You don’t believe it, just click here for a disturbing array of hairy automotive strangeness.

Be warned: that’s some scary shit. I’m surprised such aberrant muffler behavior hasn’t inspired a horror flick of some kind. If they can make a movie about a serial-killing car tire, which I was lucky enough to review in my former life as a critic, why not muffler hair? You see my point? Imagine the combovers!

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll write it.

ORIGINAL WEIRD POST (i.e., that was the wig that was):

Okay, so this is weird.

The other day, after pulling up in front of my house in the way-way-older of my two blue Hondas, I casually glanced at the rear end and spied something gray and hairy, kind of like my head, draped from a hole in the muffler. It looked like the fur from the belly of a long-haired cat. Or maybe a luxuriously pelted fox. Or a raccoon. Or a grandmother. Shit! Was that a ponytail dangling out of my rear? Had I actually run over a sentient being unawares and sucked it up my exhaust?wig

I got down on my knees and examined the bushy extrusion, first with my eyeballs and then, tentatively, with my fingers. I took a deep breath. THANK GOD it wasn’t human, or even mammalian; it was some cheapo plasticky silver fright wig streaked with pinkish highlights. The ensuing twin revelations (Yay! I didn’t kill anyone! and What a vile thing to put on someone’s head!) were quickly followed by a third, more inquisitive thought (What the fork was that doing in the road?), which led to my fourth and final conclusion (Shit! I better get that thing outta my muffler before it spontaneously combusts and I’m consumed by a rolling fireball!).

With this last, forceful imperative in mind, I yanked at the first draping lock of hideous faux hair. Out it came. Out more came. Out came so much that I started to worry that the neighbors would emerge from their homes, watch me surgically extracting hair from my car’s underbelly, and call the police. But this worry did not stop me on my quest to de-wig my aged Honda. I pulled, and I pulled, and I pulled, tugging at that fibrous mass until I had, on the pavement beside me, a giant, swirling barf-up of wiggy plastic filaments.

I must say, it creeped me out. It looked like it might be a sentient being unto itself. Would this puzzling vortex of hair start talking to me? Would it demand to be fed, like the Audrey 2 in “Little Shop of Horrors?” Would it sprout legs, put on a tie and run for president?

Naturally, I whipped out my iPhone and snapped a picture.

I have no great wisdom to offer, here. This is not going to be one of those blog posts where I reflect oozily on life, death, mental illness, grief after suicide or some fun combo of all four. I’m not even going to try to draw profound conclusions about the weirdness and mystery of life,  the peculiar and surprising happenstance that dots our daily progress. Nope. This is only a post about THE WIG THAT GOT STUCK IN MY MUFFLER THAT DAY, and that is all.

I swear that’s it. Nothing more. No deeper meaning anywhere.

Besides, I threw it out.


i’ll drive, thanks

I’ve never liked cars. They aren’t my friends. Often they’re my enemies. I can admire them from afar and even nurse crushes on them, especially all those hunky and muscular sports cars that never sat next to me in the middle-school lunchroom, and I often fantasize (chin on hand, eyes gazing at the clouds) about my vehicular ideal: a manual-transmission, four-wheel-drive Prius station wagon with a roof rack and a collapsible third row that gets 60 miles to the gallon, laughs mockingly at the snow and costs $20,000 brand frickin’ new. You find me that car, I will not only buy it, I will marry it.

My ideal car does not drive itself. I don’t care what Google says or does. You know how you want your spouse or lover to be independent and fine without you, but not THAT independent and fine without you? You want him or her to follow your express directions, at least in theory. You don’t want him to possess total autonomy and happiness in your absence, like, say, given a choice between you and a bloomin’ onion, the onion might just win out.

Well, I don’t want my car to be totally autonomous, either. I want it to NEED me. What’s more, I want to make some of the driving decisions on my own, such as: when to determine that a child on a sidewalk is about to chase into the street after a ball; when to downshift from third to second and second to first instead of braking, because it’s snowing, I’m driving toward a stop sign, and I can see a shiny slippery schmear of shit on the road some 30 feet ahead; when to wave another car ahead of me in a traffic jam, because someone just waved me in, and, you know, The Golden Rule; when to determine, if only from the tint in his window or the narcissistic gleam in his eye, that some fathead is about to cut me off.

Should I give him the finger? Probably not. That’s my decision, too.

One more thing. I DON’T TRUST COMPUTERS. Motherboards crash. On everything. Including cars. Someday, if you’re unlucky, I’ll tell you about the Mazda that broke my heart and my bank account. Also, even when they’re working well, computers are testy, moody, evil and capricious things that wish me ill and will not be persuaded. You want to know how well I get along with them at work? Just roll down your window next time you’re near Albany-Shaker Road around 4 pm on any given workday, and you’ll hear my faint but audible howls of pain and supplication — my PLEASE PLEASE PLEASEs and NO NO NOs and SHIT SHIT SHITs and then COMPUTER, I BEG YOU, I BEG YOU and finally OKAY, LISTEN, THIS IS WHAT WE’LL DO: IF YOU LET ME FILE THIS ONE STORY, I PROMISE YOU A LIFE OF SERVITUDE.

And then, thank goodness, I drive myself home.



my sister’s voice

lucy coma typeface

You never really lose the people you love. When my sister Lucy killed herself in a psych-med overdose at the age of 31 in 1992, I feared forgetting her. I needn’t have worried. She was unforgettable, the most complete human being I’ve ever known: her kindness matched her brilliance matched her humor. She was my big sister. I was the “twerp,” her kid sister Aiminolde, the less-gifted one, the klutzier one, the one always struggling to find her place in that family of geniuses. She understood my many foibles, and she never treated me with anything but enveloping compassion and hilarious wit. Despite her intellect, which whizzed her through tests and off to Harvard, I never felt stupid around her. I only felt loved.

I knew I would never stop missing Lucy or sensing her near me. I knew I would always know her and call her my sister. But I also knew I had limits, that I couldn’t bring myself to pore over all the sheafs of notes she’d left behind detailing years and years of depression, hallucinations, suicidality, hospitalizations (13 or 14), medications (dozens) and misdiagnoses (countless) that led, finally, to the correct one: Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, a complex neurological disorder compounded by severe psychological fallout.

Lucy was always writing — hypergraphia often goes hand-in-hand with TLE — and churned out poetry, timelines, essays and meticulous accounts of her life and illness. I was aware she’d been working on an autobiography when she died, but I had no urge to track it down and read that or anything else she’d written. The thought of diving headfirst into her pain terrified me as much as the reality of living without her. Someday, maybe, I’d be strong enough and removed enough to go there. Just not yet. Not when my own pain was fresh.

Twenty-three years later, I felt ready. Why did it take me so long? Grief is strange. My own became stranger when I lost my father two months after losing Lucy, when I lost my mother two years after that. Then life took over; there were babies to raise, jobs to do, my own books to write. Near the end of that stretch I lost my husband, my second mother and my best friend, and each loss dredged up the pain of old ones.

My sister was present in these cyclical bouts of grieving, just as she was present in every moment of joy after her death: the births of my children were attended by their Aunt Lucy, whose love resides in my heart and warms theirs, too. They know her through me. They know my parents through me, the ad hoc preserver and channeler of memory. That’s what the Albany Med chaplain promised me, that day when Mama lay dying and I sat in the chapel weeping.

I wrote my first memoir for just that reason.  Still, even as I wrote it, I could not bring myself to dig deep into Lucy’s papers. I got as far as a list of her medications and a description of her seizure-induced hallucinations, and that was it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I started reorganizing the attic storage space, and I found a big cardboard box of Lucy-centric materials. Since then I’ve been poking through it, gingerly at first, more boldly as I dipped in and read and found myself crying, yes, but also grateful to reconnect with this beautiful, tortured, impossibly good creature that I was blessed to call my sister.

The first major piece of writing that startled and moved me was a handwritten autobiography that she produced during one of her numerous, unsuccessful stays at McLean, the leafy and collegiate-looking psych hospital outside Boston. The second discovery, which I happened across just yesterday, is the first few typewritten chapters of her book. She opens with a poem (“. . . this twisted life / why has it been given to me”) and then moves on to describe, with breathtaking honesty and insight, her emergence from a coma after her first suicide attempt in 1990:

I don’t remember going into it; the last thing I remember is Mama screaming to the woman, “No, she’s blacking out already; don’t you see it’s too late for her to vomit?”

I had never read this before. On delving further into Chapter 1, I learned other things that Lucy and Mama had never told me: that she exhibited little neural activity; that the doctors predicted she’d be brain-dead; that she announced mid-coma, “I have asthma” and “I have to pee”; that she’d forgotten she’d tried to kill herself but felt, drifting in and out of nightmares, that she had made a wrong choice.

I cried and read and cried and read and cried and cried and cried. Of course I wondered, as I read, whether Lucy felt this same, floating regret in her last moments in a fetal position two years later. Of course I wondered, as I always do, whether my husband had split-second flashes of remorse on his descent from a roof in 2011. I know my father regretted his suicide attempt in 1974; I found evidence of that in another attic find, though I haven’t found a firsthand account of his own coma.

But mainly, I read Lucy’s narrative with relief, rejoicing to hear again the quirky, radiant soprano that always spoke so gracefully of wanting to live while wanting to die. No one tried harder to make it through this mortal life. She documented that struggle with a transparency, a crystalline brightness, that makes me love and miss her even more.lucy

It’s all so Lucy. She’s all so there. She’s doing what she always did, saying truths that I need to hear, however belatedly, with uncompromising candor and love. And patience: She waited all this time to tell me. For more than two decades, her voice sat mute in a box in my attic, biding time while that fumbling twerp of a sister finally got around to listening.

I’m going to do something with this. I have no idea what. I have no idea where the other chapters are, or if there even are others; probably there were, at one point, but they’re long gone now thanks to my own negligence and fear.

But I’ll keep looking. I’ll keep reading. Lucy’s voice has a story to tell, and I plan to listen, preserve and channel.