Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ho Ho Ho

This is me:
I am scared out of my mind.  I remember what it felt like: wordless, helpless terror.  A distillation of terror.

The reasons I am scared are:

1) I am three,

2) I am shy,

3) I am Jewish,

4) I do not like funny hats,

5) I have no idea who Santa Claus is, and

6) I know I’m supposed to be happy about all this, but I can’t imagine what planet I would have to be on that would make sitting on this guy’s lap okay.

This picture made my family laugh a lot for many years.  It was not mean laughing, but still.  I pretended to laugh, too, but inside I wasn’t laughing.  I was screaming, WHY IS THIS FUNNY?  HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT TO DO?  I’M THREE AND I’M JEWISH, YOU IDIOTS!  QUIT LAUGHING AT ME!

Now that I’m fifty-four, I can see that it’s sort of funny.

I keep this picture in my office for two reasons.

One is to remind myself that if this is the worst thing that ever happened to me when I was three, I was a pretty lucky little girl.  No one hit me or locked me in a closet or shoved the edge of a dining room table into my chest on purpose.  I had nice clothes, enough to eat, a family, a healthy body.  No one I loved had died.  Lucky.

The other reason I like to look at this picture is to remember that you shouldn’t ever laugh at other people’s fears.  Even if they are afraid of something you think is benign or even wonderful: cats or roller coasters or the out-of-doors or feathers.  (The fear of feathers is called pteronophobia.)  You don’t have to get it.
Just don’t laugh.

And also, don’t make children wear funny hats if they don’t want to.  Be honest.  You’re doing it because you want to laugh—not meanly—at them, and someday they will tell you how really pissed off they were about it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why I Write It Down

Nineteen seventy-seven was a big year for me.  A lot happened.  Some of it was wonderful and some of it wasn’t, which can probably be said about most years.

I was 19 and 20 in 1977, a college student living 3,000 miles away from home most of the year.

These are some of the things that happened to me:

--My father died;

--I fell in love;

--I read Madame Bovary in the original French.  It was the first time I was able to read a “real” book in another language;

--I took my first road trip without my family (from Pennsylvania to Fort Lauderdale for spring break);

--I worked during the summer in a friend’s gift shop.  I remember wearing a beige, knee-length, thin-wale corduroy skirt with an elasticized waist a lot that summer.  Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” always reminds me of that skirt;

--I met the man who would eventually become my husband and who is now my ex-husband (but I didn’t fall in love with him until 1978);

--I learned to do the Hustle.

Nineteen seventy-seven bisects my life, even though I’ve lived far more of my life afterwards.  I do a tally with every memory as it occurs to me, mentally inserting it in the “pre-1977” or “post-1977” slot.  It was the year I grew up, the year I became myself.  Everything that came before is sepia-hazy: fuzzy and ancient.

This is a picture of my mom.  She’s the one on the right.  I think she was in her early twenties when the photo was taken, which would mean that it’s from the early forties, probably snapped on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio.  The woman on the left is her friend Estine.  One of my favorite stories about Estine is that my mother was going to fix her up with a man whose last name was Key.  They figured out that if they got married, Estine’s name would sound like Stinky, so Estine said to forget it.  She never did get married.  The last I heard, she had advanced Alzheimer’s. 

My mother still knows who Estine is, but she doesn’t remember her name anymore.  More and more of her memories have faded, bleached away by age.  If she’s upset by this, she’s doing a good job of pretending she’s not.  But really, I don’t think she’s pretending.  I think something in old age protects you from this particular horror.

I don’t want to lose 1977.  Or anything.  I know that the odds are against this, that if I live long enough, I won’t remember the things I do now.  How the late spring looked that year from my dorm window: the trees lush and green and heavy in a way that California trees aren’t, the air thick with the smell of cut grass, the sun as warm as it is possible to be without slipping over into hot.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What the Hell Am I Doing in Fresno?

Actually, that’s rhetorical.  What I’m doing is taking Robert out for Armenian food for his birthday.  Fresno has a large Armenian presence and several excellent Armenian restaurants

Fresno is the Rodney Dangerfield of California cities.  I have lived in California for all but seven years of my life, and this is what I know about Fresno:

--It’s the city you drive through to get to Yosemite;

--William Saroyan was born here;

--If you have to get out of your car to get gas in the summer, it occurs to you that it is physically impossible for any human to survive for more than seven minutes in this heat;

--Just about anything you like to eat that comes out of the ground is grown here;

--I would not live here under any circumstance.

One of the reasons we are here is that I like to visit places I wouldn’t want to live.  I am curious about who does live here and why (and if) they like it.

Dinner at Diana’s (inauspiciously located in one of a seemingly endless array of strip malls) was wonderful.  Maybe the best hummus I’ve ever eaten.  Lovely chicken and lamb kebabs.

Robert and I have celebrated six of his birthdays together.  The first year, we spent the weekend at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, where we had massages and drank martinis.  Other years, we ate at Plouf in San Francisco, the French Poodle in Carmel, and Picasso, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  I like being able to say that we can now add Diana’s in Fresno to the list.

Tomorrow we’ll poke around a little and see some of the neighborhoods.  We will probably go out for breakfast.  Tonight I realized that I won’t be able to eat a doughnut, which is a treat I always used to allow myself on car trips.  Wheat allergies suck.  

To torture myself, I just googled “Fresno doughnuts” and found several establishments.  Donut Hole, Donut Queen, Christy’s Donuts, Best Boy Donuts, Dough Boy Donuts, Fresno Donuts. 

This is killing me.

On the plus side, tomorrow’s weather forecast calls for showers and a high of 60.