My Father vs. All Those Mothers Out There

Husband whispered something solicitous in my slumbering ear when he came to bed last night.

After almost 30 years of marriage, solicitous interest is almost as sexy as the salacious stuff.  Caring enough to offer a favorite ratty old blanket can be as loving as tearing the blankets off, although there’s certainly a place for that, too.

He laughed at me this morning, since I apparently replied, “That information is posted on the bulletin board.”  He said it was my professional voice, carefully and patiently modulated, full of thinly-masked irritation.  He said I seemed to be waiting for a response, so he answered, “OK!  Thank you very much!” whereupon I rolled back over and started snoring again.

It is high time for summer vacation.

This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet. (2.2.127-8), Juliet
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
(2.2.127-8), Juliet

So there’s an earnest young couple sitting opposite me — he’s in the high school orchestra, and is wearing a tuxedo today.  She’s got his suit jacket over her slender shoulders.  They both have long hair in ponytails and that Tortured Poet look.  Clearly, they are the first people ever to be in love. They are gazing at each other soulfully.  He has just lifted her hand and kissed the palm tenderly.  And rather noisily, I might add, a little wet for my taste.  But he’s young.  He’ll learn.  His instincts are good.

I was going to give them a Mom Look over my counter, but decided that I might perhaps be feeling over half a century old and a bit jealous.

My father always says that youth is wasted on the young.  I used to roll my eyes at such pronouncements.  I suppose I should let him know that he is Right (again, as always, except when we differ slightly over the politics of gun control or certain tenets of Catholicism or whether or not Rose’s Lime Juice should be refrigerated).  A wise and wondrous man, my father.  He taught me how to replace an electrical outlet and how important it is to treat others with respect and dignity.  He taught me to waltz.  He taught me algebra, when I was flunking out during the “learn at your own pace” DIY education craze of the early ‘70s.  He coached me through a year of algebra in a few short weeks, right before the New York State Board of Regents’ exams (which I then passed respectably).  He managed this despite my resentful scowling lack of cooperation or appreciation.  I approached learning to drive with the same grace, and hear his voice to this day when someone is tailgating me and making me nervous:  “HE is not driving this car, Missy!  YOU are driving this car!”


Thank you, Dad.  I can talk to just about anybody and fix just about anything – you passed along some rather wonderful life skills.

Mr. Bryan Kuegler of Williamson, IL, did not have a father like mine. This in no way excuses him – there are few fathers like mine, but the principles he stands for stand tall even in two-bit towns like Williamson, which boasted 230 people in the 2010 census. So, there in the god-fearing American heartland this last week, Kuegler rushes in to courageously assist a fellow bar patron who has clutched his chest and collapsed to the floor.  Kneeling over the ostensibly dying man, Kuegler sneaks a look around and adroitly swipes the man’s wallet, stuffing it into his own pocket with one hand while motioning over the EMTs with the other.  It’s all captured for posterity on the bar’s surveillance video.  The smooth self-serving heartlessness of it takes my breath away.

Whatever happened to human decency?  I’ve always known that people are no damned good (my seemingly sweet little maternal grandmother had a cross-stitched sampler to that effect in her kitchen, and it’s long been one of my father’s mantras), but most of them at least used to try to fake it.  Is there no shame?

I’m even sounding like my father, now.  Good for me!

Here’s another:  A Canadian woman who killed a teen and injured two others after running them over with her SUV is now suing the dead boy’s family for emotional distress, to the tune of $1.3 million. Ms. Sharlene Simon is, yes, taking Brandon Majewski, the child she killed, and his family, including a brother who consequently committed suicide, to court. She hopes to collect for personal damages due to depression, anxiety, irritability and post-traumatic stress.

My heart bleeds for her.

”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” says Dick the Butcher in HENRY VI, first performed in March of 1600.  Some say that that line has always been misinterpreted.  They say Shakespeare meant it as a compliment to attorneys and judges, who uphold justice and save civilization.  They say Dick the Butcher backed a rebel who planned to overthrow the king by butchering law and order in the land.

What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet.
What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other word
would smell as sweet
— except when moldy,
and stored at room temp.

Fie upon that! I say.  The bard knew damned well what he was saying.  Four hundred years later, we still need to kill all the lawyers.

Here’s another:

Mr. Roy Ortiz was miraculously rescued from raging floodwaters in Colorado last September after being trapped in a creek in his overturned car for several hours.  He is now suing the county and his rescuers (yes, the divers who risked their lives on his behalf) for $500,000.  His attorney, Ed Ferszt, says that the rescue took longer than it should have.  “Of course he is thankful because those divers did have a major role to play in saving his life that day,” says Ferszt. “That doesn’t negate the fact that a mistake may have been made.”   Ortiz is also suing two other drivers who hit the washed-out road after he did, pushing his vehicle further into danger.  He apparently has shoulder pain and trouble sleeping.  My heart bleeds for him, too.

How can these worthless GD fools even look at themselves in the mirror?

I grew up thinking that “GD” was a curse unto itself –my father never swears in front of women or children (although Husband has picked up a wondrously colorful colloquial vocabulary from him – I could feel gypped, if I thought about it).   He’ll shout Son of a B! on occasion, when falling off the roof or dropping a refrigerator or building a garage too short for the truck he planned to park in it (“Of course I measured!”).  But no gratuitous public cussing .  He has an unwavering personal code of ethics and honor.

This GD Son of a B of a world needs more of that.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!

Escape from Mediocrity

That is the title of a professional development class I am obliged to attend recently: “Breaking Out of Self-Imposed Prisons.”  Good thing I attend a lecture on “Stamping Out Stress” right beforehand — having to admit that I’m mired in mediocrity makes me remarkably tense.  Who but the mediocre would sign up for such a course?

I may have found a way out of here.

I do love a good self-help motivational speaker talking down to me and mouthing platitudes in toothy cheerleader tones.  It’s the sort of perfect prison I impose upon myself.  I figure purgatory will work the same way – an eternity of carefully customized half-hearted tedious mind-numbing dull-knife punishments.  It’ll be an incessant corporate team-building getting-to-know-you exercise, or an endless plane flight stuck between a crying baby and a foul-smelling weirdo who wants to be my friend, or an interminable wait for the bathroom while some chicklet is camped in there curling her eyelashes and practicing pouty mouths in the mirror.

I know I’m not good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell;  for me, there is no escape from mediocrity.  But hope springs eternal in the human breast, and fruit flies like a banana (that’s for you, Mark).

Theocritus, 3rd century BC

Presenter Babe exudes pity tinged with scorn and condescends to speak to us as though we are her children or doddering elders.

OK, OK, so my impression might be influenced by a bit of hostility and resentment – I don’t want to be sitting there.  Why must I be objective?  We only ever pretend to that, anyway.  And it’s my blog!  I don’t have to be fair and even-handed.  I don’t have to bite my tongue and suffer fools.  I don’t even have to be nice.  I do have to try and keep from embarrassing my mother, but that’s not a bad general rule of behavior.  Writing a blog is pretty pedestrian, as secret lives go.  I could be sneaking out at night to be a pole dancer at that seedy bar out by the interstate.

Husband might just enjoy that.

To escape mediocrity, we are told we must HOLD ON TO OUR DREAMS.  Presenter Babe shakes her fist in the air like Scarlett O’Hara holding up that muddy turnip at sunset and vowing never to go hungry again.

Presenter Babe will certainly never go hungry again.  She’s figured out how to get money for nothing (cue Dire Straits).

“Thank God that’s over!” said my father, standing up to leave the theater.  But it was only intermission.
“Thank God that’s over!” said my father, standing up to leave the theater. But it was only intermission.

She tells us all  to write that down:  HOLD ON TO DREAMS.  She speaks in capital letters.  She waits and watches  to make sure each of us does this.  I write, “What a load of crap.”  I can do better than that, but I have nagging fears of exposure.

Anyone over the age of ten has outgrown a few dreams.  Surely, that’s a good thing.  I knew in 3rd grade that I’d never be a famous ballet dancer.  I had no grace, no balance, no athleticism, and no flowing beauty of movement.  Even The Lorraine and Shirley School of Dance couldn’t help.  Lorraine and Shirley drove over from a neighboring town once a week and set up shop at the American Legion Hall down the street from my house, teaching tap and ballet to flocks of fledgling swans.

Me?  I want to study dance in a studio – I’ve always been a purist.  I want a barre and a wall of mirrors and polished wood floors and a high ceiling and tall windows brimming with natural light.  I want a French woman with high cheekbones and hair pulled into a severe bun, wearing a black leotard and demanding that I call her Madame.  Instead, I get Lorraine and Shirley, old women (probably my age) with tight curly perms and tight smoking lines around their mouths, wearing polyester pants with creases sewn into the front.  I get the veteran’s old meeting hall, dark and dirty and rank with the lingering hopeless smell of Bingo games and cheap beer and cigarettes.  There is indeed a bar – loaded with gray pickled eggs and red sausages in big gallon jars.  How is one to pursue one’s art under such circumstances?  With Lorraine (or maybe Shirley – I never could keep them straight) pounding out the tempo and shouting, “Heel! Heel! Toe! Toe!”

happy talk
Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk —
and what impossible dream might he be dreaming?

It’s OK to stop smoking the pipe dreams.  Despite what the man from La Mancha says, possible dreams are the ones worth having.  Don’t tell a sturdy 55-year-old matron to buy pointe shoes and a tutu and expect to become a ballerina (or a pole dancer).

The folks around me are eagerly raising their hands, vying for the chance to share their sad spent dreams.  We are all of us middle-aged school clerks of various sorts – to escape mediocrity, all we really need to do is quit our jobs.  But there’s that long summer vacation to consider, and those two weeks off at Christmas, and that spring break.  Freedom is a relative thing.

“You know, I’ve always really wanted to be a doctor,” says a grade school health tech, rather timidly.

“Well, what’s stopping you?” bellows the Babe.  “You’re limiting yourself!  It’s totally up to you! Get out there and do it!  You’re not getting any younger!  Nobody to blame but yourself!”

The school health tech has three kids in college, two mortgages, and one shiftless husband who (on good days) is self-employed.  Her job provides health insurance for the family, and much of her modest salary goes to pay for that.  She takes care of her ailing mother.  Waltzing off to med school is quite possibly not an option.  She sits there, silent for a moment. “It’s . . . too late,” she says, with a sudden wrenching sob.

We shift uncomfortably in our seats.  The only man present stands up.  He is a school custodian in his 50s, beefy, balding, and ruddy, who looks like he rides a Harley on the weekends  (without a helmet).  “Me?  I’ve always wanted to be a male model,” says he.

Even Sniffling Failure Woman laughs.  I want to kiss that janitor.  He is a model male, indeed.

Presenter Babe tries to regain control.  She says to Sniffling Failure Woman, “But, hey!  You’re working in the medical field! You’re living your dream, doing it your way!”  She hastens on to her next point, which is DREAM BIG.  She rubs salt in the wounds she has just inflicted.  And so it goes.  We move from bromide to banality until she makes her big finish:  NO NEGATIVITY.

“. . . man’s inhumanity to man
makes countless thousands mourn!”
Robert Burns, 1759 – 1796,
who in lighter moments penned things like
“Nine Inch Will Please a Lady”

To achieve this, on every New Year’s Day she goes through her list of friends, family, and associates and weeds out anyone  who hasn’t contributed to her own personal greater good.  She ticks down the list considering each name and asking, “What have you done for me lately?”  Anyone not up to par gets cut from her acquaintance.  She has no time to waste on “depressing bores or needy losers who drag me down.”

So just be on notice:  You might want to be especially nice to me at the end of the year.  I’ve already warned Husband.  And I’ve got a letter ready to go to my mother.  It’s all about me, you see.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!

Showing Off Your Goodies: “Paybacks are a bitch, Mrs. Gibbs”

Sometimes I feel sorry for men.  Not very often, mind you – but I do have fleeting moments of empathy when I escape my Missyness and actually pay attention to the world around me.

She is sitting on the edge of the stage, a first violinist.  It is dress rehearsal for the Bernstein MASS, a huge funky powerful 1970’s piece of what my grandfather called “long-hair music.”  He’d have hated the Bernstein MASS – no Catholic worth his salt stops abruptly in the middle of the Miserere to chant, “ . . . half of the people are stoned and the other half are waiting for the next election.”  But, hey, why shouldn’t an agnostic liberal NYC Jewish boy celebrate the sacred mysteries of Rome?  It is the era of Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair.  Protest and cynicism hangs heavily in the air, in clouds of marijuana and patchouli.


“How dare you look at me that way? I’m a Serious Athlete.”

Thanks be to God, the choir does not have to fling off its clothing and cavort wildly about the stage.  We’re mostly middle-aged.  Collective sagging nudity would drive the audience from the hall – The horror!  The horror! – even if we put our handful of  handsome youngsters out in front (they’d run from the hall in horror, too).

She is stunning, this violinist – tall and thin, with severe black hair cut in a flappers’ bob.  Most of the players wear jeans and faded T-shirts.  She shines in a royal blue dress, black tights, and discreet black heels.  (Women will understand footwear so described.  Gentlemen need to know that these shoes aren’t what’s quaintly referred to as “Fuck Me Pumps.”  These shoes have class.  There’s a time and place for 4” stilettos, certainly, but this is not it, and that woman knows it.)

The dress is what rivets male attention.  Simply cut and not too short – with a deep narrow V neckline that’s cut about to the navel.  I think she has used double-sided tape or rubber cement to adhere the fabric to her chest and keep her goodies from falling out.  Every time she bends over that violin, you can hear a collective intake of then-held masculine breath.  Or at least I can – I was in Observer Mode.

Here’s the thing:  She’s showing all but her nipples and offering teasing hints of those, but the men around her aren’t supposed to notice, and if they do, they’re low-brow mouth-breathers who are sexually harassing her.  Mind you, she’s certainly free to show-and-tell her nips if she wishes to – but others are therefore free to look at them.  It has to work both ways.

She’s perfect. He’s got man boobs and weird hair on a weak chin and bad sideburns and a cheap shirt from K-Mart, and he never did a sit-up in his life. Yet look at her adore him! He’s holding a camera, after all.

Then again, I grew up in an era where an exposed bra strap at school meant endless hours of hot mortified shame.  We even wore full slips.

I remember reading some 1970’s sex self-help book back in my babysitting days (plenty of interesting information was available on other people’s bookshelves, rendering my $.50/hour wages tolerable).  To keep your man at a fevered pitch of excitement, you are supposed to whisper on your mutual way out the door that you aren’t wearing any panties.  Such brazen hussydom!

In fifth grade, I win the local Daughters of the American Revolution annual essay contest. I remember sitting on the floor of my grandparents’ living room, shamelessly plagiarizing stuff from their set of encyclopedias.  Grampa O’Brien was very fond of his encyclopedias.  He was self-educated and well-read, and loved nothing better than catching his smart-ass college-student children in errors – casually mentioning Tierra del Fuego at the holiday dinner table, for instance, implying that “she” was a new neighbor, and then crowing with delight when that went over their heads.

So the DAR ladies have a fancy luncheon to honor their essay contest winners.  My mother is invited to accompany me, even though we lack the blue bloodlines allowing us to take personal credit for US independence.  The honor is almost too much.   We are not worthy of those dried-out crustless cream-cheese-and-olive sandwiches.


Decently covered at last,
beneath my Gramma O’Brien’s careful tiny penmanship.

My fifth grade teacher is the Grand Poohbah of the DAR at the time.  I arrive at school the morning of the luncheon all dressed up and excited.  She stands there in her black old-lady lace-up oxfords and peers chinlessly down at me under her steel-rimmed glasses.  She tells me in front of the whole class that I am inappropriately attired.  She sends me home in chagrin to change my clothes.

Here’s the thing:  I am not inappropriately attired.  I am wearing panties.  I am cute as a button.  My mother has made me a new jumper – dark blue corduroy printed with bright 1970’s flowers.  I have a lacy white blouse on beneath it, with a demure tie at the neck, upon which I fasten my special initial pin.  My hair is in pigtails, the better to display my father’s ears.  The jumper is short, as fashion dictates, and I have on orange fishnet stockings.  I feel like a queen.

Queen not even for a day, alas.  I’ve not been able to wear fishnet stockings since.  Husband just doesn’t understand.

The high school where I work has a formal dress code on the books, but enforcing it barely makes the building’s priority list.  We need a tall self-righteous Mrs. Gibbs frowning at the front door, wielding a ruler she isn’t afraid to smack you with.  Mind you, it’s not the adults who arrive half-naked; no Whale Tails are found on faculty (I just learned to identify the Whale Tail:  a fashion refinement wherein one’s jeans are cut so low that the back of one’s thong rises above them.  Ideally, the Whale Tail does not cover the Tramp Stamp tattooed just above it).

The high school is full of maturing young women whose mothers let them leave the house all but naked.  The high school is also full of maturing young men, for whom I as the mother of boys feel sorry.  If the girls have every right to undress, then the boys have every right to notice.  Fair is fair.

Young Missy with Books
Me surrounded by Grampa’s books
— showing a little leg and enthralled with a truck

Don’t be getting your panties in a bunch, here.  I’m not suggesting that males are unable to control their native animal lusts or that females are whores who should be buried in burkas.  I just want to bring back the fig leaf.  For both sexes – the totally cool boys at school slouch around with their pants down below their backsides, belts cupping their butt cheeks.  I can’t imagine what holds their jeans up, unless they’re hooked on the more or less constant erections found in front (see “all but naked girls,” above).  And I don’t care to imagine that.

What’s not seen is so much more interesting than what’s out there on display – that’s the secret lesson of whispered lawless pantylessness.  What we need – besides world peace and a cure for cancer and an end to hunger and poverty – is some elegant trashiness, some refined raunch, and some stately sleaze.  We need the sacred Mass, but we also need Bernstein’s profane take on it.  We need more clothes, worn less formally.  We need Mrs. Gibbs, but we also need that first violinist.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!