Thanks to all of you who wrote me incredibly warm and intriguing emails in response to my search for a dinner and theater companion for August 4. I've gone with another creative writer. I have a passion for men who know how to use a pen!
Thanks to all of you who wrote me incredibly warm and intriguing emails in response to my search for a dinner and theater companion for August 4. I've gone with another creative writer. I have a passion for men who know how to use a pen!
When I was a very young lad of three, bathing costumes hadn't yet been invented. This suited me just fine, but it also gave me much to ponder. As we would frolic in the North Atlantic undertow, I quickly came to realize that wee wees came in many different sizes, colors and shapes. I also came to realize that those creatures called girls didn't have wee wees and that seemed unfair and sad. Touching your wee wee was great fun. Girls had nothing to touch.
But one boy in particular, twice my age, not only had a wee wee, but one that was twice the size of my own and black. His name was Duane and he was black. I became attached to Duane and would deliberately allow the undertow to knock me off my feet so that I could reach for Duane's big black lifeline; and Duane never seemed to mind. In fact, he would smile and his lifeline would even get a little larger. Fascinating.
Instinctively, I understood that Duane's dark wee wee was far superior to my own and not just because of the size. I remembered how the men in my family would fight over the dark meat at Thanksgiving. Dark meat, I understood, was far more tasty and desirable than white meat. I envied Duane but was very happy to be in his company. And then there was that other difference.
As my mother was drying me off one day, I asked the question that would change my life forever. "Mommy, my wee wee is missing a piece and is smaller than Duane's." My mother explained that I'm Jewish and when I was eight days old my family had a big party and cut off half of my penis.
I was horrified. "Can I get it back? Can it be glued back on? Where is the missing half?" My mother laughed and delivered the bad news. But having noticed that a few tugs would make Duane's wee wee grow, I started tugging furiously on my own wee wee. My mother slapped my hand, but I protested and went back to work explaining to my disapproving mother that as I was playing in the surf I had discovered the stroking and tugging makes a wee wee grow.
My mother turned to my father and they exchanged one of those knowing adult looks. "Ricky," she said. "You're may only be three but it's time to choose."
"Choose what?" I screamed. "I choose to get the rest of my penis back."
"No," she said, "It's time to choose if you want to be heterosexual or homosexual."
I decided to listen carefully for fear that my parents would make another really stupid choice for me and cut off the rest of my wee wee as they had done when I was a helpless baby.
"We've seen you comparing boys and girls," my father intoned. "And it's time for you to choose.
"I'd like to make an informed choice," I responded. "Please provide the pros and cons, the options and then I'll take this all under consideration and make a choice; something I wish I had been able to do on the eighth day after my birth."
"Well," my mother began, "if you choose homosexual you can look forward to a life of marginalization, persecution, second class civil rights, a lower salary in your chosen career, no spousal benefits, an AIDS epidemic in the 80s, serious flatulence after sex--assuming you choose bottom, an increased threat of violence, being bullied in school, labeled an abomination by most of your fellow citizens and an increased risk of teen suicide, depression and substance abuse."
"And if I choose heterosexual?"
My father smile broadly and explained, "As a wealthy white American male? The keys to the kingdom and dominion over the world."
"What about Duane's dark meat?" I asked.
"No, no more dark meat, no more meat at all," Daddy said. "But you can have all the pussy you want."
By the age of three I already hated cats and was much more of a dog man, so the pussy thing was not a plus for heterosexuality.
And then I asked the most important question of all. "Mommy, Daddy, are you heterosexuals?"
"Of course," they simultaneously declared.
"And it was your decision to cut my penis in half?" They laughed as if this was a joke.
I grabbed my mutilated penis, looked across the beach to Duane's magnificent drumstick, drooled and made my decision. "Homosexual, absolutely and completely homosexual." And I haven't regretted the decision for even one second in all of my 59 years. And neither did Duane.
I was three, Duane was six. Nature vs nurture? It may be the stupidest question ever posed.
Is sainting a gay man's apartment a lost art form? I recently purchased an outrageous shower curtain, an ordinary household item that would not customarily raise any eyebrows. But as I installed it, I realized that under certain circumstances I would have to go through the annoying and tedious process of taking it down and then putting it back up--but then I thought why and when? Who do I know who shouldn't or couldn't see this and might want to use my bathroom? Sure, the shower curtain is in incredibly bad taste and "sexual" in nature but it made me laugh and I had to have it--at least for a few months. Changing shower curtains is a royal pain in the ass so the idea of having to take it down for company was annoying. And then I sat down on the toilet and started to quietly cry. Old people do that. Memories triggered, eyes water up. Awash in sentimentality.
Five months after losing my gay virginity in August of 1989, I made my first gay friend, Michael Burnett.
Michael and I shared three things: we were both in public relations, we were both born in 1948 and we were both gay. After that we parted company in every imaginable way.
I had grown up in New York. Michael had grown up in a suburb of Little Rock, Arkansas. I couldn't imagine that Little Rock was big enough to have suburbs, but it did.
I was Jewish, Michael was Southern Baptist.
I didn't know what rimming meant. Michael had put himself through Columbia University working as a male escort. My idea of kinky in those day had to do with hair. Michael's idea of kinky was...well...read on.
Our friendship was amazing and Michael's gay mentorship was invaluable. But Michael had two huge secrets that he had never shared with naive little old me. We would go clubbing and Michael would disappear from time to time; and sometimes I would find him passed out in a lounge. I stupidly thought it was drugs or post back room coital bliss. It was neither, it was exhaustion due to failing health.
Very early one morning in the Spring of 1991, I was rudely awakened by the phone. The room was still dark. It was 5:30. "Richard, I've fallen on the floor and I can't get up. Can you come over?"
"You idiot," I laughed. "What crap did you take last night." Michael had never said he was using recreational drugs but he had never denied it.
"No, this is serious," he responded. "Something is very wrong and I can't lift myself off the floor."
"I don't understand. What do you mean?"
"Richard. I have AIDS."
"Oh, I'm on my way."
"Don't call an ambulance, please just come alone."
In 1991 AIDS was a death sentence. I was destroyed. But in a crisis, I become very cool and clearheaded, very focused; saving the vomiting for well after the fact.
Within 15 minutes I was at Michael's side, having bribed the cab driver to run every light between our apartments.
I won't go into the horrid details and Michael would be dead some six months later, but this story is about shower curtains.
Michael's apartment was like one of those paintings or photographs that is full of hidden visuals and if you just keep staring long enough you'll see things that at first were not at all apparent. For starters, Michael was obsessed with seriously ostentatious antiques. His small studio apartment looked like the entire contents of a Vlad Tepes castle had been crammed into one Manhattan room.
A glittering collection of silver candelabra towered over every inch of massive nd ancient oak chests, breakfronts, secretaries and tables. Great thrones and carved high back chairs were tucked in every corner and niche. And at the center of it all was a huge four poster canopy bed with hand carved pillars swarming with all sorts of satanic flora and fauna. But clutter wasn't the half of it. Everything always seem slightly askew--and that was the hint. An advocate of Feng Shui would likely have committed suicide in this space. The placement of chandeliers, paintings, chairs, nothing quite made sense--until you realized that the real layout of Michael's apartment was a configuration designed for convenient and almost instantaneous conversion into an elaborate S&M dungeon.
As many times as I had been in Michael's apartment sipping a Cote de Beaune by the light of a dozen 19th and 18th Century silver candelabra, I had never realized the true purpose of the room. Until that fateful morning.
As I gently helped Michael off the floor and back into his bed, he said, "I need you to saint my apartment. After you take me to the hospital you must come back here, bring some friends and saint my apartment." I had no idea what he meant.
Michael understood that he would never return to this place and that it would be his evangelical mother and sisters who would fly up from Arkansas, pack it all up and ship it back to their home in Stuttgart. And they didn't know he was gay, a secret soon to be revealed, but they must never know, he begged me, that he was also a world class one man sexual Mardi Gras of pain and discipline.
So before we could call the ambulance, Michael provided me with a road map to sainting. When you turn that table top over it becomes...and when you remove those drapes you'll find...under the bed....in that drawer...behind that closet door...don't worry, you can call The Leatherman on Christopher Street and they will help you remove the cage in what used to be my walk in closet, over there...and see those hooks in the ceiling behind the lights, they need to come down...
I took copious notes, drew diagrams, wrote down phone numbers of accomplices who would be thrilled to cart away the imported torture and bondage devices from Germany and Japan...oh...and he said, if you see anything you like, it's yours. I cringed, but kept my closet door ever so slightly opened on the possibility.
OK, can we call 911 now, please? No. "First you have to saint me," he said. I was truly confused. "Help me out of my pajamas." Oh dear, I was very new to the gay world and had no idea that one could pierce oneself is so many ways. Michael did not want homophobic hospital workers judging and condemning him any more than necessary. AIDS was enough. The collection of "jewelry" needed to go, including the rubies that were dangling from his nipples. The most challenging personal sainting moment for me was the array of stainless steel that began at the frenum. And then we climbed down Jacob's Ladder and ended up somewhere behind the scrotum. Talk about a crash course in body art. By the way, Apadravya is not a Hindu God.
The most challenging moment, however, was Pandora's Box, a 17th Century Oak chest from the Balkans that was to the glass counters at even the most dedicated Christopher Street sex shop what Costco is to Seven Eleven. I did find a couple items that intrigued me and would later travel home to the dark recesses of my own libido.
Returning from the emergency room at Saint Vincent's, I dove into my first sainting. It would not be my last. By 1992 I had made many gay friends of my own generation. By 2002, I had lost all of them and had sainted several of their homes.
I only had a few hours. Michael predicted, and rightfully so, that upon receiving word that he was in the hospital, his mother and sisters would fly in from Arkansas that evening or at the very latest the following morning. And they would stay in Michael's apartment, a beautifully decorated treasure trove of magnificent antiques that Michael had collected over the years during his many vacations in Europe. After all, what does any gay man do when he's not shackled in a black leather sling with electrodes embracing his corona? He goes antiquing, of course.
At first, the task seemed daunting. But thanks to Michael's little black book and a few strategic phone calls, I mostly spent the day watching a fascinating diversity of gay men carting away toys, devices, leather goods and stuff I couldn't begin to name. I made some new friends, learned some new tricks and by the time the Burnett women arrived, the apartment was thoroughly and exhaustively sainted. As it turned it, Michael's mother already knew that her son was gay but she was shocked to discover what sophisticated taste he had in home decor.
Oh, and did I mention that I bought a new shower curtain the other day?
I was recently asked to explain the editorial philosophy of PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. I had thought the answer was rather obvious since this is, after all, a blog, a personal web journal, the daily raving and ranting of me--what rattles my cage and arouses my senses.
Around the blogosphere, I've been described as a crazy gay grandpa, a fanatical homosexual blogger, a truly inspired photographer with a gift for talking men out of their pants, left wing, outrageous, progressive, liberal, unstable, crazy, embarrassing, iconoclastic, too intense and satanic. I very much disagree with satanic. As for crazy gay grandpa, I will admit that I do aspire to the title of the blogosphere's most inspired dirty old gay man; in fact my ultimate goal is to die of sudden heart failure at my 100th birthday party orgy, during an orgasm in a Congressional conference room. All the other descriptives are right on the money.
But to be very clear, this blog is who I am: Political, passionate, secular, sexual, sarcastic, ironic, contradictory and blunt; always blunt. And I am unwaveringly committed to speaking the truth as I see it, no matter how politically incorrect and HRC disloyal it may seem--and the more that inspires others to examine themselves and this world with honesty and intelligence, the happier I will be.
One of the reasons this blog rattles some cages is the aggressive daily juxtaposition of hard issues and hard men, a very un-American posture. In some ways American politics and the Roman Catholic Church are profoundly similar. Both institutions require men and women to be absolutely committed to their cause and celibate. Exceptions are made for procreation within the confines of "holy" matrimony. That policy leads to pervasive corruption and sexual dysfunction in both institutions.
Americans demand that politicians deny the existence of their own human sexuality. When Russian President Putin was photographed in a Speedo, the American press went insane. Our political pundits linked this display of sexual bravado to political irresponsibility and possible perversion. When Al and Tipper Gore kissed on national TV, the nation took a week to recover its equilibrium. When the new President of France was photographed kissing his new girlfriend, in a bathing suit while on vacation, the American media reviled him for forgetting that he had just been elected to his nation's highest office. The logic in that one is too bizarre to fathom.
Solomon had 700 official wives and 300 concubines and was judged the wisest ruler in history. Over the centuries, English and French kings have not only openly maintained both heterosexual and homosexual extra-marital relationships, but have elevated their illegal children to positions of power and influence. And before the world went religion crazy, many great Muslim leaders proudly enjoyed vast harems of beautiful women and beautiful young boys. Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were celebrated sexual rogues. But then something went terribly wrong and 200 some odd years later, President William Jefferson Clinton was impeached for an trifling blow job.
It is inhuman, inhumane and downright silly that we require our politicians to hide or bury their sexuality; not to mention the obvious fact that repression and skulking about make for very bad politics, very bad governance and very fucked up people. There is nothing wrong with a happy penis or a singing vagina; but pretending that cock and pussy don't exist is a contaminant that has turned the American political system rancid.
I don't think of this blog as sexually or politically radical, I think of it as perfectly normal and human. Last time I checked--hold on, I'll check again--yup, my penis and my brain are both alive and well and prominent players on this hulking thing I call my corpus delicti. And the only difference between this blog and all the other political blogs is an open and honest acceptance of the wholeness of what it is to be human. I think, I question, I laugh, I shit, I cum; therefore I am.
Happy New Year!
Having missed out on an openly queer youth and normal sexual relations for the first 40 years of my life (in case you're new to my life, I came out at 40 which is also when I first experienced the pleasures of normal gay sex) I find myself observing and experiencing uber gay moments and events on a number of levels beyond the purely entertaining and sexually arousing.
Intensely and exclusively gay situations provide a measure for me of who I've become and how far I've progressed as a work-in-progress on the way to being a complete human being. And as far as I've come, part of me--the writer in particular--will always observe and consider as much as I participate and engage.
New York's Gay Erotic Expo is a very good case in point. How far have I come? At the age of 40, I couldn't stand in front of a mirror and admit to myself in complete privacy that I'm a homosexual. At the age of 59 (send in those cards and gifts...my birthday was just this past Monday), I found myself applauding a young man pulling a deluxe set of Ben Wa balls out of his ass in front of an audience of 200 gay men and assorted drag queens. After that I stood on line to publicly lick a hairy naked ass at the uber gay version of a state fair kissing booth--for a good cause, of course. Now that's what I call progress.
Nonetheless I find my mind drifting back and forth between a powerful and wonderful sense of normalcy and the safety and security of the ordinary, and OMG, what would Ward Cleaver make of this?
We do live in a very queer world. There I stand watching a couple of hundred gay men of every size, shape, color, age and style imaginable, politely seated around a stage as a tiny young man with a 14-inch supernatural erection assumes a gymnast's pose, his ass in the air facing the audience, his huge dick in his mouth as he proceeds to slowly pull the worlds longest set of Ben Wa balls out of his ass in time to something Hip Hop--all followed by a standing ovation amid shouts of bravo bravo from a 7 ft. 1-in. self-proclaimed she male on one side and a world-famous drag performer, Jacki Beat, on the other side.
The queer thing is that I'm not shocked. In fact, it all feels quite normal and ordinary. On the other hand, for most of the society in which I live, there's nothing ordinary about it. In fact, I am keenly aware that for most of our society, what is feeling normal and harmless to me would be perceived as scandalous and shocking to most.
I try to imagine how this would play on the evening news, for example a gay hooker hopping on a trampoline--even though it feels no more unusual to me than watching a game of table tennis, albeit slightly more interesting.
What does that say about me? But then I realize that the real issue is what does that say about the rest of the world. It's clear to me as I watch the roped balls pop out one by one that this actually is perfectly normal and in no way controversial or outrageous. It's just plain fun , mostly entertaining, and by the 4th or 5th ball actually starting to get a little boring and repetitious. OK, so he's able to orally pleasure himself during the process--that's to be envied but it's not really queer. For him, it's quite normal and for all of us to enjoy his skill is also normal, harmless and not even close to as shocking and outrageous as Britney's abuse of her children and Ellen's week-long nationally, televised breakdown over a puppy.
I've come to realize and internalize that rude drag queens in Kelly green Afros, men in leather harnesses and scrumptious penises made of chocolate cake and banana cream are all perfectly normal.
Judging them however, condemning them and recoiling from them is just downright perverse and actually, really queer. And that, my friends may be at the heart of homophobia. We're the normal ones and the queers are terrified by us.
Today would have been my father's 83rd birthday, so in commemoration of the day that he entered this world I thought I would share a bit about him--of course in my own inappropriate and somewhat offbeat way. So if inappropriate father/son stories disturb you, I suggest you stop reading now and move on.
Although my relationship with my father was mostly a nightmare, our last nine months together was precious and fulfilling.
For reasons I cannot remember, in 1995, G, my lover invested some effort in pushing me to make contact with my father. I hadn't spoken to the beast in several years and for very good reason.
But even after I detailed a lifetime of abuse, G insisted that it was important for me to do this. Was G psychic? Had he been secretly contacted by one of my sisters and encouraged to influence me? I never really pursued that.
In any case, I caved and contacted the monster, only to discover that he had just been diagnosed with cancer and had but a few months to live.
Our last encounter some year's earlier had been a grand opera over money. Shortly after I came out and divorced my wife, my parents came up with the very creative idea that I should compensate them financially for not having delivered on their expectations: grandchildren, etc. They also wanted a refund for the wedding expenses and the various gifts they had bestowed on their married son and soon to be ex-daughter-in-law.
This lawsuit dragged on for two years and as it became clear that they were going to lose, my father came up with a new tactic: harassment and extortion.
He began faxing hate mail and threats to my office. The hate mail focused on the claim that I had AIDS and would die alone and rejected by life and the world. The threats concerned payments of large sums of money in exchange for movies and photographs of my childhood, my collection of paintings from high school and college and boxes of toys and memorabilia from my childhood.
Since these faxes were all going through the company mail room, my relationship with my father became something of a legend in certain circles and a main topic of company gossip. When asked about it by the more courageous employees, I would mostly shrug my shoulders and just walk away. Occasionally, I would remark that at least my father hass never been boring.
I did not respond to any of these threats and little by little as he imposed deadlines and I missed them, he actually burned almost everything.
So some years later when G encouraged a "reconciliation," I was a tad reluctant to jump back into the snake pit.
But for a variety of reasons, some good, some illogical, some deluded and some sentimental I took the plunge.
Terminal cancer had certainly mellowed my father and turned him into a remarkably interesting and charming man. Of course, for the first time in his adult life he was actually sober--something I had never seen--and for the first time in my life I was able to talk to my father without a bottle of Scotch in the way.
We had nine months, give or take a few brief periods of coma.
Mostly, I promised not to share many of the things he told me about his life. I became his confidant and his confessor. For the first time in our lives we actually came to know each other and to understand many things about each other. I did not walk away from this experience loving my father or even forgiving him, but I did gain understanding, relief and a fair amount of resolution--and that was a great gift.
Each year on his birthday I try to remember different aspects of his life and how they contribute to who and what I am.
During those final nine months, one of the most remarkable subjects we discussed was his sex life. As his son this should have been off limits and seen as hugely inappropriate, but considering our past and the circumstances, it flowed quite naturally. And I was glad of it. I learned so much about myself--more than most men ever have the good fortune to learn about themselves. And one of the things I learned was that kinky sex is a family tradition.
Is it in the genes or is it seeded by some subtle behavioral family dynamic? One of the major reasons my father "strayed" as often as he did was my mother's lack of interest in my father's pursuit of the unusual. In fact, for many years, he blamed me for this. According to him, prior to my birth, my mother was a pistol but after I was born she ceased to be his playmate and totally became my mother. He hated me for that. As a young man, his new son had robbed him of his wild sex life, at least domestically. Having spent the war in India, he claimed to have learned many tricks, positions and sexual combinations that he shared with my mother until she became pregnant avec moi. So my parent's brief foray into the world of the Kama Sutra, group sex, bi-sexuality and kink lasted from 1946 until early 1948; I was born on October 22, 1948.
So starting in 1949, my father started outsourcing his needs and desires, flexing his imaginative libido well into his late 60s.
And for nine months, he downloaded as much about this as he could remember.
So here's the big nature vs. nurture question. As I listened to my father's tales of fantasies fulfilled, I was repeatedly shocked and confused and sometimes embarrassed by the simple fact that many of his antics were identical to my own.
Nature? Nurture? Spooky, for sure.
How is that a father and son who have never discussed sex share very similar and very specific sexual fantasies? Of course, you're wondering how many fathers and sons ever even discuss this enough to learn such a thing.
Well, we did and I learned. I also learned some new tricks.
Since it's my dad's birthday today, I'll share his all time favorite game with you. It's my way of saying Happy Birthday.
When my mother was pregnant with me, my father found his first girlfriend, a sales clerk from the Jonas Department Store on 14th Street, just a short walk from my parent's apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He had met her when he was buying a birthday present for my mother.
My father would meet the girl during her lunch break, take her into an employee bathroom, tie her arms behind her back with her stockings and then perch her on the edge of the small bathroom sink. He would then fill the sink with the hottest water possible while he was fucking her. Her arms tied behind her back and unable to balance herself, she would jerk in response to the pain, faster and faster up and down as she struggled to keep her naked buttocks out of the burning hot water. Each time she made contact with the hot water, she would spasm and pound into my father. The thrill was heightened by the fact that the toilet was off the employee locker room and if she made too much noise they would be discovered and she would be fired.
At the age of 72, only weeks away from death, wired and tubed, cancer having spread throughout his major organs and lymph system, my father told me that the memory of that fuck still made him horny.
As I said, it was a fascinating and most unusual nine month-long father-son relationship.
Happy Birthday, Dad, wherever you are.
Nevertheless, for the past few day, I've had this strange and somewhat compelling need to commemorate the day on my blog. Among other things, I knew it would touch my sisters; not necessarily in a good way which is why I've hesitated.
But like watching the proverbial train wreck, I just can't not.
My mother was the mother of damaged goods and the goddess of dysfunction. Sure, most of you will think "Ha! If you think your mother was dysfunctional, you should meet my mother." You'd be wrong. Fortunately for you.
In all fairness to the woman, she grew up in brothel that was run by her mother, her father was one of her mother's clients, she was a working girl by the age of 14, had her grandfather as a client and was "rescued" by the dashing member of a violent street gang, my father and married by 16. By the time I was born in 1948, she had already suffered through two abortions
A "normal life" was certainly not in the cards.
Growing up with my parents was like living with the Addams' family but without the sense of humor and amusing theme song.
When my father grew tired or annoyed with one of our dogs, he would run it over. My paternal grandmother believed that children were a cure for certain diseases and had no other purpose in life. Her husband, my grandfather communicated through a Parakeet. And my maternal grandfather lived most of his life in an opium haze before he accidentally set himself on fire. His last words were something like "cool, man." One of my great aunts believed that the Cossacks who had murdered most of her family in the Russia of 1917 were still hunting for her in New York so she would change her name and her apartments every six months in order to avoid capture.
In true Addam's Family style, my mother's hobbies were dark. Her preferred entertainment was attempting suicide. Among her favorite methods: driving her car into gas pumps, perching on window ledges, a pistol in her mouth, overdosing on pills (that one came with benefits: a few hours of quiet,) pretending to drink products with "do not drink" labels, starving herself to death and eating herself to death. Never enough to actually succeed, but always enough to keep my father from actually leaving her permanently and always with enough drama to keep us all on permanent suicide watch, month after month, year after year. Sometimes I would be slow in my rescue efforts, not because I doubted her intentions, but because I occasionally hoped that she would finally succeed.
She lived according to a very simple philosophy: every man would eventually betray her. And my mother always had to be right, so if she suspected that a man in her life, even a neighbor or a plumber, wasn't going to betray her on his own, she would drive him to it. I learned this technique from her which is why I'm single.
For a period of several months in 1963, we had a serious leak in the kitchen and each time my father would hire a plumber, my mother would allow our mean-spirited dog, a nasty little Pekingese to bite the plumber. Eventually, no plumbers would come to the house and my mother blamed this on the unreliability of men. My father finally killed the dog and the leak was fixed.
In all fairness to my mother, her attitude towards men was not without reason.
Her grandfather had sexually and cruelly abused her, even though he paid for it, $20 for the hour in those days. Second only to suicide attempts, another of my mother's hobbies was displaying the scars that her grandfather had burned into her breasts with his cigarettes during their various sessions. She would display her "man wounds" to anyone and everyone who would listen, even with my friends from school. My mother's breasts became something of a legend. I was never teased about this because you didn't fuck with a Rothstein, the same way you didn't fuck with an Addams--except they were fictional characters. We were reality scary.
My father first betrayed my mother in 1948 and then did it over and over again every few months. He scored his first mistress during the time of my residency in her womb. He claimed to have stopped cheating on her somewhere around his 70th birthday. Estimates would place the number of men and women done by bisexual dad between 1948 and 1993 somewhere between 75 and 90. On his death bed, in an attempt to at long last bond with his son, he tried to remember all of them by name so that I could search out some of my half-siblings. Something I didn't share with his wife.
Eventually and inevitably, I also betrayed my mother. Several times. For as long as I can remember, my mother would make me swear to never leave her and never betray her. She would go on and on about how one day I would meet a woman, fall in love, marry and betray my beloved mother.
I can't recall just how many times I swore to my mother that I would never marry and would always be at her side, but I do remember that she began demanding this oath of allegiance as early as my 5th birthday. So I married as soon as I could and the betrayals just started to mount up from that day forward.
My next to last betrayal of my mother occurred when I came to some sort of a reconciliation with my father on his deathbed. Having failed to communicate with each other for our entire lives on any level other than violence or abuse, my father and I finally found common ground and the gift of real communication during the last few months of his life as he lay dying of cancer. My mother was furious. I would leave my father's side and she would pounce the minute we were out of the hospital quiet zone. She was never able to accept the "understanding" that my father and I had achieved in those final days and saw it as yet another betrayal.
Following the fit she threw at my father's funeral when she caught me crying, I never spoke to her again for more than a few minutes and eventually that ended as well.
As a result, I betrayed her one final time by not visiting her in the hospice where she spent the last few months of her own life. I still feel sadness about this, not because I didn't visit her, but because I couldn't. I could never give her what she wanted and demanded, that I share with her the same undying hatred that she felt for life, for all men and for my father in particular. That was the price of admission and I would not pay it.
When my mother finally expired, she did so with panache; I'll give her that. She lived a full six months longer than expected complaining all the way. Actually, the doctors were stunned at how long she endured. But she had a mission. And my mother was at her best when she had a mission. In order to punish her disloyal son, the last man standing in a long line of men who had betrayed her, she determined to die on the day and at the time of my birth so that "his birthdays will be ruined for the rest of his life and he will spend them remembering his mother."
Many if not most of you will find it difficult to believe this, so if it makes it easier for you, know that she failed. My mother breathed her last breath at 10 AM on October 22, 2002. I was born at 10:08 AM on October 22, 1948. So the bitch was off by eight minutes.
But revenge is mine sayeth the Jewish son. I managed to betray her yet again, after her death. Her plan was to make my birthdays a misery. She failed. In fact, the more I thought about her last act of determination and vengeance, the more I came to admire her tenacity and her will.
In fact, I've come to embrace her "curse" with some degree of pride and respect. The curse is a nurturing friend.
So Happy 80 to Frances Freida Riva Abramanova Cohen Rothstein who made my life a living hell but provided a wealth of emotions and stories for my writing and the ability to tolerate, understand and laugh at anything and everything that life tosses our way.
That crazy momma may have been a monster of sorts, but today she's one of my most beloved muses. So don't feel sorry for me or for her. I'm here and doing well and she's in Hell making my father's life...well...hell. Which is what she loved the most. Or maybe she's in heaven, a martyr's reward and my father is following her around dutifully, locked in a male chastity belt.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, I've just been invited to the ultimate and most fabulous family reunion! I'm so excited I could lay a dreidel. Actually, I wonder if Mary and Joseph will attend and if they'll bring their brood? I haven't seen them...well...Christ...since we lost Masada. It's been that long since the Cohanim aka the House of David has gotten together for a little of this and a little of that. So much catching up to do! And such a coincidence since they just found the ruins of our family homestead in East Jerusalem!
OK, you non-Jews are all confused now. It's simple. Thanks to oral traditions and time-honored rituals that are unique to descendants of certain tribes and classes of ancient Israel, most Jews know from whence they came. They generally know of the route of their particular diaspora (or dispersion), Babylonian, Syrian or otherwise. Trust me, we know. And those of us who are Cohanim, well, we know and those Jews who aren't, they know as well. Jesus was Cohanim, Herod was not. My mother was Cohanim, my father was not.
This family reunion invitation is probably the closest I've felt to my mother in decades. Growing up, I can't tell you the number of times my mother lorded her heritage over my father. "You fucking goat-herder!," she would shout. "I give birth to Kings and you drink like a gentile!"
Tradition associates descent from David with many Jewish family names such as Cohen and Roth. In fact, you can read a complete list here.
Wow! You're thinking that's really cool! Why didn't I know this? You didn't know "this" because gentiles aren't generally interested in Jews beyond the stereotypes. How many of you know the difference between Purim and Passover, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Of course, you expect us to automatically know the difference between Easter and Christmas. One involves putting cooked egg under the mattress and the other has something to do with some nasty thing called fruit cake that has a shelf life of 20 years? Right? But enough about you, back to Jewish royalty, the Cohanim.
So, the descendants of the House of David, the Cohanim, are planning a family reunion of Biblical proportions. This 2007 three-day event, also known as the Davidic Dynasty Project, has already been booked into Jerusalem's International Convention Center. In addition to the reunion, they plan an "Everything David" merchandise fair, which will be open to the general public. (Has the value of my pubic hair just shot up?)
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this Reunion is the genetic testing of all Cohanim to identify a common DNA signature among those of us who by oral tradition know ourselves to be Cohanim and directly descended from the House of David. (I'd like to see Tom Cruise try to genetically prove that he's descended from some 75 million year old alien!)
This is creating a minor controversy because non-Jews will not be admitted to the festivities. Why is this a problem, you ask? It's a problem, my gentile friends, because millions of men and women who will test as full-blooded Cohanim are not Jewish. David's baby boy, King Solomon, as well as being wealthy and wise is also known for his over active libido (go read the Song of Solomon in the Bible if you have any doubts).
Solomon allegedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines--many of whom were decidedly not Jewish. Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth traces her own ancestry from one of these non-Jewish wives, claiming that the British Royals descend directly from King Solomon and his daddy King David.
Another something that might just stir up the pot will be the fact that the Jewish Royal Family is also the Priestly class, the only legitimate blood line to run the Palace and the Temple. Kind of a Priest-King-Warrior thing. This is likely to generate additional and considerable tension regarding the Temple Mount aka The Dome of the Rock issue and the fact that it is a pet project of the Cohanim to restore Solomon's Temple, the singularly legitimate sacred site of the House of God. And in order to rebuild the Temple, the Dome of the Rock has to be demolished. And isn't that just what we need in the Middle East? A little more Biblically-based zealousness?
Of course, the real issue here is what to wear? Oy! I mean when you haven't seen people in almost 3,000 years what's appropriate? I'm thinking black. But maybe I'd be more comfortable in priestly rainments? Something Royalish?
And what to bring? A nice bottle of wine? Some loaves of fresh-baked bread. You're thinking that there won't be enough to go around? Ha! Think again. We are the Cohanim, the descendants of the House of David, the first born sons among us have a way of making wine and bread last. Bring on the masses. We'll manage. We always do.
I usually portray my mother and father, Fran and Lee, as two wretched, hateful and profoundly mentally ill dysfunctionals. One of my sisters is fond of referring to our mother as The Fran Monster. As for Lee, strangely no one word or phrase in the language seems to capture his essence. I think German was actually created so that people could describe someone like my father. You know how the Germans string together many words to create one new word? Very clever thing. It would work for my father: abusiveviolentdrunkmeancruelunethicalsexoffenderadultererchildbeater. See, that would never work in English and yet in German it would likely make perfect sense.
But life with my parents wasn't all nightmares. In all fairness to them, we had our good times as well. I'm certain that each one of my sisters can recount some wonderful adventure, the occasional abuse-free moment and heart-warmer like when my dying mother would hurl insults at the hospice Nuns, likely driving the sisters of mercy to drink. (How my mother ended up in a Catholic hospice is still a mystery to me even though it does seem like justice was served on both sides of the equation.)
Recently, I was reading an article in the Times about SIENNA, a small and beautiful gem of a city in the Tuscany region of northern Italy. The article reminded me of a peaceful moment with my parents as we stood in the center of the PIAZZA DEL CAMPO, discussing the PALIO and admiring the ancient towers. This moment is chief among my fond memories of our one and only European vacation.
It was the beginning of a talking time. The process of not talking, talking, not talking, talking had begun many years earlier. Our 1971 European Vacation was yet another attempt at reconciliation. It was a talking period, actually one of the longer ones.
Forgive and forget, let's move on, blood is thicker than water...that kind of stuff. Of course, in retrospect that made about as much sense as the ex-gay movement. Nonetheless, it took me many years to accept that my parents could not be changed, I could not train them to be better and loving people, and the family model of Leave it To Beaver and Father Knows Best was not to be a part of my life.
But the MYTH OF SISYPHUS be damned; I persevered for many years. I partly and briefly succeeded with my father during the last nine months of his life. I miserably failed with my mother who stubbornly lived more than four months beyond the time her doctors insisted she would expire so that, she would shout at the nuns each day, she could die on the day and at the time of my birth. Although she missed her exact goal by eight minutes, she basically succeeded so that my birthdays are now the anniversary of my mother's death.
But I digress. We're talking about the European Vacation.
Perhaps the most valiant, stupid and glorious attempt at the "Let's be like a real and normal family" game was our three weeks in
Hell Europe. By 1971, the year of this ill-conceived venture, I had been to Europe several times, my French was moderately fluent and I was comfortable with some basic Italian and German. My parents had never been to Europe, partly because they were very much intimidated by foreign travel but also because they were very much intimidated by people who didn't sound or think like them. In their view, foreign travel even included Connecticut for that very reason. Actually, it even blocked out certain parts of Manhattan, like the Upper East Side which was infested with gentiles.
Many years earlier, we had ventured into Quebec but my parents had mostly hid out in a local cinema watching Jerry Lewis movies (apparently the faux-French of Canada were as perversely in love with this awful comic as the vrai-French of France), slept in late and then went nightclubbing. I don't think they ever saw much of Quebec Province, Montreal or Quebec City other than bed, Jerry Lewis and nightclubs. I was 12 at the time and well-accustomed to being alone, so I made my way around and enjoyed many of the sites. Oddly, it seemed to me that everyone actually spoke English in Quebec, and rather more clearly than my parents. That was probably because I had grown up assuming that English was a shouted language, punctuated by flying plates, dining room chairs and slamming doors.
The other impetus behind our European Vacation was my parents belief that I "owed" them. After all, they had given up their lives to raise me. My father in particular had given up sex with his wife on my behalf. My mother had sacrificed her body and her opportunity to leave my father, earn a high school diploma, attend university and teach history at Columbia University.
So Fran and Lee decided that I should take them to Europe, using my vast knowledge of European geography and strange tongues to guide them around. It would constitute some degree of compensation for all their sacrifices.
My aunt, my father's sister, had just been through a very disagreeable divorce and badly needed an escape, so, my otherwise brilliant aunt decided that accompanying her brother, his wife and her nephew to Europe would be just the cure. I'm not the only family fool with a very high IQ and serious case of the crazies.
If you think Paris Hilton travels heavy, you would think otherwise had you been at JFKInternational Airport on that fateful day. Fortunately, this was a time before terrorism, when airport security consisted of a closeted gay man or a woman who was clearly a prostitute by night who would point you to the appropriate check-in desk.
To be honest, I don't clearly remember just how many suitcases my mother had packed but I do clearly remember that she had, having scrupulously studied several issues of Vogue, National Geographic and Life Magazine, prepared for the various style and fashion changes that would occur between France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland, as well as packed two large suitcases with the assorted reliable and scientifically sound first aid products that would be necessary should something go awry in third world Europe.
As I recall the "overweight" charges would have broken our entire travel budget before we'd even left the USA, had we had one.
The flight to Paris was delightful. My mother puked three times and was too sick to clean herself. My father wouldn't do it because that's what stewardesses are paid to do. The stewardesses wouldn't do it. My aunt had taken almost as many sleeping pills as she had during her last suicide attempt. Enough on that topic other than to say that my mother loved puking. She puked on the Eiffel Tower (elevator-induced motion sickness). She puked on the vaporreto (water bus) in Venice, but into the canal. She puked in our rented Mercedes on the winding roads in the Swiss Alps. Mom loved to puke. I think the happiest time in her life was when she was pregnant with my twin sisters and had license to puke everywhere and anytime.
Paris, City of Fights
Our first destination: The city of
fights lights, the most elegant and beautiful city in the world. Unfortunately, we hated the French. I don't recall why we hated the French, but we did. My primary responsibility was to run interference between my parents and the hateful French. If I missed a beat it would immediately lead to a fight. A fight between my parents, between my parents and my aunt and between my father and any Frenchman who "refused" to speak English even though my father had personally prevented Hitler from burning down Paris. The fighting was worse in Paris than in any other part of Europe, likely due to jet lag. As our trip progressed and my parents adjusted to the different time zone, their tempers were less volatile. Slightly. By Italy we were being evicted from fewer hotels, restaurants and shops.
Fortunately, I was able to apologize fluently to our assorted victims and casualties. I was able to freely disparage my parents en francais so that our victims would feel sympathy and empathy for me, allowing me to participate in the contempt that the French would express for my parent's behavior. This came in most handy when my mother was almost arrested by a Parisian police officer after she was evicted from a sweater shop on the boulevard St- Germain.
It was half past twelve and the proprietor was in the process of locking the door for lunch. However, my mother had spied the perfect sweater in the window and wanted to purchase it. But it was lunch. The proprietor politely asked my mother to return after lunch. My mother protested that she was on vacation and would not waste her precious vacation time by retracing her steps to return to a shop that she'd already visited. The key turned, my mother shoved the door and forced her way in. She bullied her way behind the counter and started searching for her size. Things turned ugly. You did not stand in the way of my mother in a shopping frenzy. And in 1971 you did not stand in the way of a French person closing shop and heading for the traditional 2 1/2 hour lunch. Napoleon vs. Hurricane Frances. Not pretty. Gendarmes were summoned. Richard explained that his mother was terminally ill and not herself. This was her last wish dream vacation and her sense of urgency sometimes got the better of her.
My aunt wondered what I had said to diffuse the situation. I never told her. I didn't like lying to my aunt and this was to be the first of many elaborate lies I would tell to the French, the Italians, the Swiss, the Austrians and other victims we would abuse along the way.
Fighting aside, the Louvre was certainly the nadir of our Paris experience. Our visit was years before the installation of I. M. Pei's Pyramid and in those days a tour of this colossal, ancient palace turned art museum was confusing, exhausting and overwhelming. Can't we just see the Mona Lisa and leave? Of course, we can, beloved mother and father, of course we can. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Why didn't they put it someplace more convenient? We have to stand on line? Oh, well, it took us so fucking long to get here, we might as well wait. What!? That's it? That little thing? You can't be serious? We walked all this way and waited all this time for that little painting? All this hullabaloo over a fucking postage stamp. And she's not even smiling? Where's the gift shop? Let's go shopping. If the Louvre had a gift shop in 1971, I couldn't find it. We walked and then walked some more and then more and then my mother had to pee...so we walked more and all along the way my father complained that the war had ended some 25 years earlier giving the French more than enough time to have made the Louvre American-friendly. It was the least they could have done. At this point, I'm growing concerned that the mob will find us, forget about Louis and Marie-Antoinette and take us all directly to the Guillotine. We find a toilet and my mother pees but is outraged that some fat old French lady expects a coin in her little basket. My father again reminds us that we saved them from the Nazis and the least they could do is let us pee for free. He pulls my mother out of the loo and stiffs the old French lady. When they aren't looking, which is usually the case, I slip Madame a few francs.
My aunt attempts to change the conversation by expressing her desire to see The Kiss. I explain that The Kiss is housed, quite logically, in the Musee Rodin, not the Louvre. My father made it perfectly clear that we were not going to any more badly designed and over-rated Frog museums that clearly hadn't been cleaned since the Revolution (everything that is now white in Paris was still dark gray and grim in 1971.)
Where's the Galleries Lafayette? I hear it's just like Macy's. Let's go there. Wouldn't you like to see Sainte Chappelle? It's just a short walk from here. It's very beautiful. What is it? One of the most beautiful churches in Paris. Amazing interior. Amazing windows. It's a church. I've been in St. Patricks. How is it different?
It's not. You're right. Every church in Paris looks just like St. Patricks on Fifth Avenue. In fact, every church in Italy does as well. So that saves us a lot of time.
At this point, my aunt informs us that she'll meet us back in the hotel. She spends the rest of the day touring Paris and leaves me alone with Adolf and Eva.
My mother finds a discount bin on the Rue de Rivoli. She buys several shopping bags full of faux espadrilles and bras that she will never wear. But they are French bras and therefore very chic, even if they did come out of a discount bin on the street. My father has disappeared. We 360 until we see the nearest obvious bar. He's found something he really likes about the French. Everyone is chain smoking and drinking simultaneously. He's very happy. He suddenly loves Paris.
The windows are filthy. We've seen better blues in fabric stores on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Never mind that it's raining and dark. Nice shops, though. My mother stocks up on French brand toothpaste. The packaging is very chic. We 360, spot the nearest bar, find my father and leave Chartres.
Chateaux de la Loire
After Chenonceau and Azay-le-Rideau it becomes clear to my parents that every Chateau is empty, too big and essentially the same building repeated over and over and over again. I decide to take them to a famous three star restaurant along the river. The fish and the poultry are served with the heads intact. My mother is appalled and leaves the restaurant, my father demands a steak and my aunt starts to cry. I pay le note and we head back to Paris.
We check into a small charming hotel on the Ile St. Louis for our last night in Paris. The porter is about 100 years old and seems close to a myocardial infarction as he struggles to drag my mother's suitcases up the tiny stone winding staircase. He wryly asks"Madame" if she is transporting gold bullion. Fortunately, he asks this in French, And then, as if on cue, the largest suitcase pops open and about a dozen rolls of toilet paper and a dozen tubes of Crest toothpaste tumble down the stairs and settle around the reception desk and at our feet. The French don't brush their teeth and they use newspapers to wipe their asses. My mother came prepared. My aunt and I snap, gather up all the toilet paper and the toothpaste while my parents argue. With the permission of the proprietor, I donate all the toilet paper and Crest to the hotel. In exchange they allow us to stay the night.
In the morning, we notice that my parents are short two suitcases. My father informs me that during the night he tossed two of my mother's suitcases, the empty one and a second one packed with ointments, creams, bandages, cotton, lotions, lozenges and syrups out of their bedroom window and in to the hotel's courtyard. I suspect they have murdered a bread delivery boy or an old concierge. Before the police can be summonded, we escape France.
The rooftops of Florence are all of the same color. Apparently, this confirms my parents suspicions that other than good food, Italy is going to be boring.
Despite the Italian appreciation for hand gestures and shouting, we are thrown out of two hotels on two consecutive nights as a result of my parent's endless battling. My aunt who never drinks, has started drinking too much wine. I have developed chronic diarrhea and nausea as result of stress, not the food. My mother's son, I have taken to vomiting therapy. It works. After each incident my mood improves immeasurably.
My father is growing impatient with the fact that no one in Europe will admit to speaking English. He knows that they do but won't out of spite. On our second day in Italy, he orders me to stop translating and insists on handling waiters, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and hotel clerks entirely on his own. The worst outcome of this decision is the taxi drivers. Italians are not shy about street fighting. I quickly learn to surreptitiously slip the driver a note with our destination; my father's shouting and and babbling is ignored. Unfortunatley, we always arrive at our destination further confirming my father's suspicions that they "all" speak English.
Dinner on that first night after my father's decision to force Italians to understand him is delightful. My father orders the same pasta for both the appetizer and the main course. He doesn't believe that he has made this mistake and is convinced that it is a deliberate insult on the part of the waiter, likely an old friend of Mussolini. Actually, the waiter protested and tried to make some recommendations. I attempted to intervene. My father shuts us both up. My aunt is crying again and drinks more wine.
In the middle of all of this chaos, my father loses patience with two ridiculous European customs. He wants a proper salad and he wants it before his meal, not after. And a real salad includes tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes and real lettuce (Iceberg). He heads to the kitchen to teach the Florentines how to make a real salad. We end up eating in our hotel via room service. The next morning we are asked to vacate the hotel, our one night stay is refunded. I'm embarrassed, upset and a bit flustered, but I think they gave us more money than we had actually paid in an attempt to bribe us to leave the country. I give the money to my aunt; she buys a flask.
The other custom that thoroughly disturbed my father was the fact that neither the French nor the Italians would serve coffee and dessert together. No matter how slowly my father would sip his coffee, the dessert would not arrive until he was done. He attempted various ploys to overcome this obvious anti-American tactic. In one restaurant he gulped down his coffee and then when his dessert was served, he ordered a second cup. Of course, they wouldn't bring it until he was finished with his gateau. He finally came up with a perfect solution. He would finish his coffee, get his dessert and then steal my mother's coffee (who was told to not drink it.) I proposed another solution. I would simply ask politely for his coffee and dessert to be served together, but as we had already discovered (I missed this moment of discovery but I took my father's word for it) the French and the Italians fully understood English and were deliberately pretending not to understand my father. It was a waiting game, psychological anti-American warfare and he knew that ultimately he would win. So I was not allowed to ask.
Seeking a peaceful afternoon, I took my parents and my aunt up to Fiesole, overlooking Florence, to enjoy the Etruscan ruins. Much to our surprise, the Etruscan ruins were, well, in ruins. We could have gone to the South Bronx if we'd wanted to see ruins. My aunt was crying again. Also, at this point she was getting kind of pungent. She had stopped changing her clothes several days earlier and was even sleeping in this white casual pants suit..not so white after a few days. Mostly, she was doing this for the sense of security it seemed to provide but also because it saved her time when we would be thrown out of hotels. So we kicked around the ruins for a bit, criticized the way the Italians had allowed the place to go to ruin and become overrun by weeds and then we went shopping.
On our third day in Florence, my mother discovered leather. Purses. Shoes. Gloves, Belts. Wallets. Handbags. Leather. My father, somewhat concerned that he would hurt our feelings, suggested that perhaps my aunt and I would like to visit Florence on our own since we seemed partial to churches, art galleries and Renaissance architecture. And now that my father was on to the Italians, he no longer needed me to translate. Furthermore, he pointed out, they were going to spend the next two days shopping and, he assured me, everyone in Italy spoke the language of dollars. I had always thought it was the language of romance, but apparently it was the language of greenbacks.
We didn't see them for almost two days. As much as I'm enjoying our our freedom and seeing my aunt's pleasure grow with each new Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raffaello, I find my anxiety growing as I contemplate all the extra "leather" suitcases that my mother was surely buying to carry the riches of Europe back to New York.
Fortunately, the reproduction paintings, the stone and marble garden fountains, the ceramics and the bolts of fashionable Florentine fabrics were all shipped. Oh, as were a dozen pair of leather gloves in assorted colors and lengths. My mother kept all the handbags because she could pack stuff inside of them inside of the suitcases. So it made sense to take them home with us.
As we prepare to leave Florence, my mother proudly "reveals" that in addition to shopping, and without my help and guidance, they managed to find the Statue of David on their own. They were as interested in art and culture as anyone. However, she was rather disappointed. My father, she explained was far better endowed than David. (She conveniently forgets, as is her habit, that I am well and painfully aware of this fact.)
I guess everything in America is bigger, she says. First the little Mona Lisa and now David's diminutive pecker. Europe seems to be overrated.
Venice smelled. And just looking at the vaporettos and gondolas made my mother seasick. I can learn. I can. We checked into the Danieli and I immediately led mommy and daddy to the Rialto Bridge bypassing the piazzas, the canals, the cathedrals, the whispers, the sighs and the secrets of this marvelous city.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Venice and, more importantly with the Rialto, it is a bridge that is one long jewelry store with a few Murano glass shops to interrupt the monotony of gold. The shopper is treated to an endless array of emeralds, rubies, sapphires and some diamonds (the Italians like color) and happy shiny 18k gold. Back then it was illegal to buy and sell 18k gold in the United States. The best you could buy was 14k gold. I have no recollection of why this was the case, but it was. So not only was this an amazing shopping opportunity, it was almost like buying forbidden goods, almost like stealing which was something very close to the family business, something my parents knew how to do and do well. Furthermore, dripping with all that 18k gold, it would be obvious to everyone that my mother had been to Italy. Could one buy too much Rialto Venetian jewelry? Probably, but there were so many Florentine leather handbags to fill that it seemed unlikely.
We didn't even need to suggest a separation. As my parents drifted into the Rialto jewelry bazaar, like two little children wandering into some fantasy candy land, my aunt and I faded unnoticed into the city to spend several delightful days absorbing the flavor and wonder of Venice. We went swimming on the Lido, took a boat out to Torcello and even spent one afternoon doing nothing but reading and sipping coffee on the terrace of the Danieli overlooking the canal.
My parents ended up loving Venice. And Venice, at least the merchants on the Rialto, ended up loving my parents.
Bellagio, Lake Como (the original, not Vegas)
Our first day in Bellagio was spent hunting for a hotel that was not near a church. My parents hadn't been sleeping well in Italy because the Italians like to ring church bells at all kinds of ungodly hours. My father assumed this was a vestige of fascist anti-semitism. Eventually we found a rather beautiful hotel on a hill. We looked in every direction, circled the streets for a while in our car but could not find a church. As it turned out, this was because the church was hidden behind the hotel on lower ground. But best of all, the church bell tower rose just to the level of guest room windows. At around 530 in the morning, while my aunt and I were rolling on the floor in paroxysms of laughter, Fran and Lee were hanging by their claws from the ceiling like cats, hissing and spitting. When we all met for breakfast, no one spoke. The bags under my parents' eyes told the story. My aunt and I kept giggling through breakfast and for most of the morning.
The lake was beautiful, not as beautiful as Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pennsylvania Poconos, but pretty nice. But there really was nothing to buy in Bellagio. It was a shopping wasteland. My Aunt bought a battered old brass trumpet from a street vendor. My mother hated it and thought it was ugly and stupid. But it was an antique and there was nothing else to buy in Bellagio so she offered my aunt twice what she had paid for it. Three times. Four times. My aunt refused. Five times. My aunt still refused. It was an ugly old horn, but my aunt was not going to succumb to my mother's mania. They didn't talk to each other for almost three days. The trumpet remained an issue for almost thirty years.
Fucking Nazis. Why did you bring us here? Ah, but the pastry is really, really good and they give you all the coffee and cake you want, and simultaneously. We're full, let's leave. After all, the only thing to buy in Vienna is Lederhosen, Loden and Lipizzaner souvenirs.
Actually, I had really close friends in Austria who were dying to meet my legendary parents. No one ever believed my family stories until they actually met Fran and Lee; but once my friends did meet them, I would start to receive much more generous Birthday and Christmas presents. The fruits of sympathy. This was one of the few benefits I ever enjoyed from having such parents. This was also the main reason our European Vacation included Nazi Austria. Happily, my parents liked my friends, even though they were Nazis, so they acted very much like themselves. My shocked friends couldn't spend enough on my gifts after that visit.
I wonder what happened to all those watches? My favorite was the gold watch with the peacock feather under the crystal. And that was for my father. I don't remember any of the other watches, but I do remember that my father was especially fond of Seikos and bought several. For some reason, he didn't seem bothered by the fact that he was buying Japanese watches in Switzerland.
Other than shopping, we hated the food in Switzerland and the mountains were way too high. My parents were also very disappointed that there didn't seem to be much of a difference between famous Swiss chocolate and your average Hershey Bar. Of course, alcoholic, chain-smoking dad had long ago lost the use of his taste buds. And mom was too busy shopping to notice what was going into her mouth.
My father was still demanding that everyone speak English and, in fact, the Swiss pretty much did but wouldn't when confronted with Lee's attitude. The exception to this was in the watch shops. Lee was shopping with such a vengence that the Swiss would have spoken anything to please him.
The reason we hated Swiss food was due to our first meal experience. This involved a clear broth with a raw egg floating on the surface. My parents lost their appetites. I wasn't too fond of the raw egg thing either, but I stirred it around and gleefully ate it as my parents' faces turned green. Yum. Yum. Slurp. Slurp. Raw egg on my lips. Following this, my parents decided that if the Swiss ate floating raw eggs, everything else in that little Nazi-loving, Jewish gold stealing country was equally unpalatable.
But Switzerland did have its pleasures. Early on I come to the realization that my father is actually frightened by mountain highways, so I put aside my caution and timidity and quickly learn to drive like a European. After all, there are no speed limits and passing a truck at 120 kph at 10,000 feet with nothing but blue sky on one side, the stone wall of a mountain on the other side and your father pissing his pants and cowering on the floor of the Mercedes is, well, as they say over at MasterCard headquarters, priceless.
Our final two days in Europe are icy at best. It is very, painfully, joyfully clear that my father remains traumatized from Alpine driving; he is not going to forgive me. My punishment is that for our last two days in Europe, in Paris, I am on my own. My aunt attempts to join me in my exile, but she is ordered to join my parents and I am cast out like the evil son I am. I am forced to fend for myself in that dreadful, American-hating city. My banishment is unendurable and I am forced to read books in the Jardin du Luxembourg, wander aimlessly through the Louvre, explore little shops and galleries on the Left Bank, sip hot chocolate on the Ile Sainte-Louis, attend a concert in Notre Dame...it is hell, but I'm strong. I pretend to be French: the Parisians do not kill me.
On her own, my mother has discovered that the Galleries Lafayette will ship anything you purchase directly to your home. She has also discovered that the Samaritaine heavily discounts shit, but the shit is French and therefore much nicer than American shit. On his own, my father has discovered a bar off the Boule Mich, owned by English speaking Greeks. My aunt seems to have disappeared in the Louvre but miraculously reappears in time to make the plane at Orly. Just.
Upon our arrival at Orly, my father has conveniently forgiven me in time to carry the many suitcases stuffed with my mother's booty. Dreading a fight on the flight and imagining being cast off the plane with parachutes mid-Atlantic, I smile and play along knowing that once we're through customs (can I get them arrested, I wonder?) it will be time to "not talk" again and for quite some time.
Confirming for me that life stinks, I am caught at Kennedy with some of my partly-eaten unpasteurized, unhomogenized cheese from the Orly food shop while my parents lie to the customs agent that my mother is personally wearing everything they bought in Europe. My father bought nothing. The solid gold watch on his wrist is "Japanese." My mother pays an extra few dollars in customs for the 18k gold and emerald broach she is wearing on her very ample bosom. The customs agent never asks them to open their suitcases. I hate life. I hate God. I assume that since the good die young, I will likely perish during the cab ride back into Manhattan and my parents will live until the year 3,000.
My aunt goes home to Brooklyn, discards the white pants suit and finally takes a shower.
Out for a geriatric walk with Pablo, my aging Cocker Spaniel, we encountered an escort I'd once hired as part of "show". He and another escort provided some live porn. Little Ricky was overworked and tired, but felt like a little eye candy that went beyond video.
Not that this was the first time I'd run into an escort I knew, outside of my bedroom, but this was the first time I was actually "unpleasantly accosted" in the street. He was "confrontational". It was obvious that this was at least partly due to the same reason I had not rehired him.
"Hey," he shouted. "What's with you?"
"Oh, hi. How are you?" I said this while trying to maintain my composure. He was in serious in-your-face mode. I was also concerned for Pablo, who despite his age and arthritis, is extremely protective and forgets his infirmities when angered.
Escort, will call him Chris (as in crystal methamphetamine), demanded to know why I had never rehired him. "I mean, look at me, I'm gorgeous." I pondered the value and safety of truth in this situation, considered my fight or flight options and then the idiot in me prevailed and I foolishly went for the truth.
"What was wrong with the scene? We gave you exactly what you asked for! It was hot!"
"Why didn't you say something? I could have used a rubber."
"I tried to but...well...you were also both...kind of high and difficult to talk to."
"Yes, like you are right now." Oops. Damn, my PhD in Footinmymouth.
"Fuck you, you dick." Oh! He did remember my name! How sweet. Maybe I misjudged him?
We had been walking and talking and quite deliberately, I am now in front of Rescue Company No. 1. Neighbors of mine and they know me and my puppies so I smiled at one of the firefighters and just strolled into the garage with Pablo. Chris did not follow, glared and then stormed off. He'll probably kill me one day, but for the moment I had successfully escaped.
I've blogged before about how to hire an escort, but I suppose the missing piece in that would be why not to rehire an escort. So, loyal readers, here you go: The Top Ten Reasons to NOT Rehire an Escort. Hmmmm...let me rephrase that. In all fairness to various fetishes and drug habits, The Top Ten Reasons I Won't Rehire an Escort.
There are likely more reasons, but in the interests of the average reader's attention spam, I committed to ten and ten it shall be.
As for Chris, if he bothers me again, I'll just have my good friends at Rescue Co. No. 1 hose him down.