Pictured here is my amazing cousin Martine, as featured in a lengthy New York Magazine profile. Ironically, though she shares my suspicion of DNA bonds, she’s a new millennium incarnation of our outlaw grandmother Masha Rubenfire. A Polish Jewish immigrant who ran a successful Salem, Mass, brothel, Rubenfire made it all happen when her schnorrer husband ditched her with two small kids and no language skills. Martine–who looks more like Rubenfire than anyone else in our family does–has constructed a gender reality, a financial reality, a relationship reality, a technological reality, and a spiritual reality not only for herself but for others, including me. Say what we will but the blood is fierce in our line. Rubenfire helps from beyond the grave.
It’s not a complaint. I come from people who have a hard time finding employment–let alone employment they dig–and it never ceases to amaze me that I get paid for what I’ve dreamed of doing since I was small. Not to mention the tremendous satisfaction I feel as a woman, even in this day and age, that I have earned every cent in my bank account (though I wish it were more). Sometimes I want a time machine just to travel back to the ’70s and assure the worried girl I was that she’s going to pull it all off.
So the look of pity my reply evokes always makes me feel both misunderstood and a strange reciprocal pity. I could never exactly articulate why until I read this passage in a Werner Herzog interview: I’m no workaholic but a holiday is only a necessity for someone whose work is an unchanged daily routine. For me everything is constantly fresh and constantly new. I love what I do, and my life feels like one long vacation.
Maybe next time someone asks about my summer, I should just sing this quote.
To get to downtown Boston from suburban Newton without a car was a real pain in the mid-70s–to get anywhere from Newton without a car was a pain, really–but my father Bernie told my mother Sari that a second car was wasteful and on this point, as on so many others, he would not budge. His disdain for waste was also the reason he initially fought having the second child she was now carrying. Overpopulation was a real problem, he’d told her, and he’d stuck to that policy until he read a bunch of articles arguing for the superior adjustment of children with siblings. Then, he set about impregnating my mother with a zeal that was more clinical than impassioned. Or so she suggested to her best girlfriend Miriam later while I listened, “all big eyes and big ears,” as my mother always said when she realized she’d said something taboo in front of the kid.
Now every morning he zipped off to his assistant professor job in his used Toyota (so fuel-efficient he’d crowed when she’d protested its drabness), and left her high and dry with the kid and her swelling stomach.
Even on her birthday, as it turned out. This morning she’d awoke to his daily note and, of course, no car. He’d left early for work and had “fixed his own breakfast to give her a break,” as he’d written in his spidery block letters. “Happy birthday, sweetie!!” Well. The two exclamation points mollified her until she scanned the day’s list. Every day he gave her a list—go to bank, get groceries, take Lisa to park—and every day she completed it with a plodding resignation. Today she saw he’d scheduled a biannual physical for the kid. Continue Reading →