I’ve been rereading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for a week now–I need to revisit it for the majorly druggy section of my bildungsRosman–and it’s so intense and so intensely racistsexisthomophobic that I have to put it down periodically and read something cooling and smart like this 90s interview with Toni Morrison. The biggest conclusion I have drawn (and it’s a fucking embarrassing one) is that next to Edmund White and Eve Babitz Tom Wolfe most influenced my writing style and methodology. I forgot how many times as a teen I read this book and all of his other books to boot. I even called myself the girl with the brown lipstick after a minor character in Bonfire. Oy, they say people don’t really change but the woman I am now can barely stand Wolfe’s status-quo-reinforcing jive. But his in-the-flow, in-the-glow, hyper-italicized, hyper-hyphenated, hyper-dimensional stream-of-consciousness self-possession? I guess it’s in my blood for good. Notice what you notice, he bellows in 24-point type, and I always have.
I woke with the following paragraph in my head. So I transcribed it and wrote the rest–a post about watching kids from my hometown fall in love happily-unhappily ever after. Now I’m smiling on this screened-in porch in Hudson, a beautifully rural region in which I’ll never have any roots. Because once again spirit gave me an answer when I asked. The question, desperately phrased last night, was: Why the fuck am I writing a book about my hometown?
What I remember most about those school dances was the shock of watching two people find each other. The music wasn’t cheesy to us. It was full of hope and longing and sweet discovery. Which is why, I think, 80s ballads boast such a strong appeal some three decades later.
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind.
Sleep alone tonight
Sending all my love
Along the wire
Watching a boy take a deep breath, shove his hands in his pockets, and stride across the great divide of the gymnasium to ask a girl to dance. She quiet, while her friends gossiped and chewed gum, flipped hair. The boy saying something super small– yawannadance, probably. She saying something even smaller, a barely perceptible nod.
And then the two step into that light–strobe, disco, maybe just a stage-crew spotlight. In my memory there was always something glowing on the dance floor, the miraculous inception of an ancestral line. For in that light I saw the first dances of humans who went on to marry and have children, buy houses, share private jokes and tired smiles for 30-odd years. Also beat each other to a bloody pulp of infidelities and defaulted mortgages and sometimes actual bloody pulps. All those births and holidays and deaths spinning out from that moment, spinning like a clown. Continue Reading →
I’ve been thinking a lot about Nathan, my father’s father. I often do when pretty weather makes me regret my solitude.
Nathan was a survivor and he never let you forget it. He also didn’t like to think of himself that way.
He was born in Poland to a determined woman with a schnorrer of a husband. That Yiddish word isn’t in the kind of rotation that other ones are–schmuck, for one. But it should be because schnorrers are everywhere. They’re hustlers who aren’t good at hustling, people (men mostly) who drain your resources without profiting from them. They’re what my grandmother Basha, my grandfather’s wife, called losahs without their mezuzahs.
She was a pissah, that one. Mean, judgmental, super clever.
When my grandfather was alive we didn’t exactly get on because he was funny about women, especially big blondes. When his mother arrived in America with him and his little sister, his father already had found a better-off wife, and here was my great-grandmother not speaking English with nowhere to live, nothing in her pocket. But with two small children in tow she wasn’t about to fall on her face, not while she was young and had spring in her step. So she started going by Mary Banks and turning tricks and well–
My grandfather didn’t understand shall-we-say normal sexual boundaries.
Any sexual boundaries. Continue Reading →