Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mom, Dog, Me

In memory of Barbara Lee Owen Weir, 11 May 1931 - 23 February 2018, sun in Taurus, Virgo rising, everything else in Aries, of course: Barbara's conversations with her dog Sukie Tawdry, a Whippet, and her son John, posted to Facebook, 2014-2018.

3 June 2014

I played Boggle tonight with four women in their eighties, one of them my mother. I was wearing a clean blue Brooks Brothers shirt.

Boggle is a word game. You put a bunch of dice-like cubes, marked with letters, not numbers, in a small box, and shake the box, and when the letters land - fall into little squares - you write down the words you can make out of the letters that show.

There's a tiny hour glass that someone turns over, and when the pink sand runs out - about three minutes - you stop making words, and then you read your list of words, and if anybody else has your words, you both have to cross them out. And the one with the most words left, wins.

I lost over and over.

The woman who organized the game was Marie. Marie was more competitive than she said. "We don't keep score," she said. "We don't play for prizes." And then she read her list of 50 words. I never came up with more than five words.

"This is my son the English professor," my mother said. "He knows a lot of words."

I said, "No I don't." I said, "I'm no good at games."

My mother said, "I only know foreign words. Do you want to know a foreign word? 'Strega,'" she said. "In Italian, it means, 'bitch.'"

"Oh, my," Marie said. Marie had just apologized to everyone for saying the phrase, "pissed off."

"Bitch crossed with witch," my mother said. "We had a cat named Strega once. She lived outside, but she always showed up for dinner."

"I have the words 'nary' and 'aviatrix,'" Marie said.

My mother said, "I've got 'hag.'"

"Where do you see an 'h?'" one of the other women asked. I think her name was Estelle. "Is there an 'h?'"

"I got 'pox,'" my mother said.

The word "fag" was clearly spelled out in the letters in the box, and I thought, "Please God, don't let any of them say they got 'fag.'" It was staring right at me.

No one said they got "fag."

Estelle got "box" and "max," but so did Marie. The third woman was Ellen, and she never got any words at all.

I didn't know what to call my mother in front of the other three women. I don't call her "Mom," in real life. I don't call her "Mother." Mostly, I call her "Barbara Weir," but I didn't think I could call my mother "Barbara Weir" in front of these nice ladies. So I called her "champ."

"You need to make the words out of the letters on the board," I said. "Right, champ?"

"I know how to play games," my mother said, annoyed.

"How long have you lived here?" Marie asked my mother, meaning, how long had she been at this retirement community?

"Five miserable years," my mother said.

"Oh," Estelle said.

"Look at how the rain and wind are blowing the trees around," Marie said, looking out the window.

"We moved here in August," my mother said, "and then my husband dropped dead, and I broke my hip, and had it replaced, and then I had a stroke, and a half naked man wandered out of his apartment and down the hall through my front door, and the dog ran off and hid in the bed."

"Not all in the same week," I said.

"Let's hear your words, Mr. English Professor," my mother said. "Do what you do at parties," she said. "He's supposed to be very funny," she said to her lady friends. "I mean, my son. Say something funny," she told me. "We're waiting."


24 July 2014

My mother called this afternoon - she never calls, she sends emails that I don't read - to tell me that Marie-from-upstairs the Boggle queen, who is in denial about how ruthlessly competitive she is at word games, left a note under my mother's door that said, "Bring your son to Boggle, Thursday, 6 PM," and my mother said, "They don't like me, they like you, the dog likes you, everyone likes you, what scam, exactly, are you running?" By which I understood her to mean I better show up at 6 PM for Boggle.


24 July 2014

"Is this Barbara Weir?" I say.

"Yes. Who's this?" she says.

"Barbara Weir," I say, "this is your son John Weir."

"Oh, hello, John Weir. Where are you?"

"On the street."

"What street?"

"I'm in Manhattan," I say.

"Collecting parking tickets?"

"Calling you. I don't have any parking tickets. Not today. I'm calling to say sorry I have to miss your Boggle game tonight."

"Oh, you're missing Boggle."

"I'm sorry. I meant to get out of the city in time. But it's a two-hour drive down there at 80 miles an hour even at six in the morning, and it's four p.m. right now, which is rush hour - "

“I know when rush hour is. Why are you driving my car so fast? And you missed my *New Yorker* club meeting this afternoon."

"You had your *New Yorker* club meeting."

"Yes. Eight women and the *New Yorker*. No men. Men don't read. They certainly don't read *The New Yorker*."

"They read *Somebody Up There Likes Me*," I say, which is a joke that only my mother would get. A longstanding joke she told about my father. "The only book Jack's ever read is *Somebody Up There Likes Me*," she would say at parties, and my father would drop his voice an octave and say, "Barbara, it's time to go," and she would say, "And he didn't even finish it."

"Yes," my mother says. "*Somebody Up There Likes Me* and *The Dead Sea Scrolls*. You remember your father reading *The Dead Sea Scrolls*. For fifteen years."

"It's a long book."

"Eight women and me and *The New Yorker*."

"So how did that go?"

"It went all right."

"What did you talk about?"

"We talked about *The New Yorker*. Don't you listen? Men don't listen."

"Men don't read, and they don't listen. What *do* they do?"

"Pass bad laws. Wait until rush hour to leave the city, when they know perfectly well it will make them too late for Boggle."

"I'm sorry I'm not showing up for Boggle."

"I'll tell Marie you're sorry. I'll tell her you can't spell, and that's why you're not playing Boggle. When are you bringing my car back?"

"I'm - "

"If someone cut off your legs, would you not want them back?"

"It's - "

"Bring back the car and learn to spell."

"In that order?"

"And if you get any more parking tickets - "

"I'll lie about it," I say.

"It doesn't matter if you lie or tell the truth or sing an aria," my mother says, "as long as you *pay them on time*. When you *pay things on time*, your mother doesn't get a notice in the *mail* saying that her son, who is clearly driving her car all day every day up and down the length of New Jersey and touring Philadelphia, and who do you know in Philadelphia?"

"I told you. Some people."

"If you pay your bills on time, they don't send dunning notices to your mother, and she never has to know that you were ever in Philadelphia, or anywhere near Philadelphia. Didn't your father teach you that?"

"No, he didn't. He was too busy reading *The Dead Sea Scrolls*."

"Or not," my mother says.


6 September 2014

“I have never met a man who's smarter than me," my mother says, and don't correct her grammar, she knows what rules she's breaking. We're having Italian food at a restaurant in a mini-mall on County Line Road, the best place around, and I've looked. Warminster, PA. "Never met one man smarter than me," she says, "not one."

I pour more wine in her glass. I'm paying for dinner.

"Well, maybe you," she says, for a second, before she backtracks. "You might be smarter," she says.

"Oh, well," I say.

"I said maybe," she says. "Maybe you and your brother," she says. "Just maybe."


19 October 2014

My mother wakes me at 5 AM. I'm asleep on the living room floor. There's a pull-out couch, but you have to move a coffee table that weighs 700 pounds, and the furniture has to go back *exactly* where it belongs the next day, and in general it's just easier to get pillows off the couch and line them up on the floor and sleep there.

Which is where I am, passed-out on my back at 5 AM and dreaming of something, when I feel a tap tap tap on the sole of my foot with a cane, my mother's cane, and she's standing up there above me, tapping my foot with her cane, and she says, "Sukie doesn't believe you're still here."

I turn to my right, there's Sukie, standing by my head.

"She got me up," my mother tells me, "And I said, 'Go wake John,' but she said she didn't think you were here. Are you here?"

It's still dark. I fell asleep at 1 AM because my heart would not stop beating. It does that, it beats, and my mother says, "She wants to go out," and she says, "See, Sukie, I told you he was here," and now she wants to tell me the plot of *The Four Feathers*, which was on TCM this morning, and here is the plot of *The Four Feathers*:

"Ralph Richardson is in the desert, and he gets shot and blinded, and then he spends the rest of the movie running into things."

That's the plot. I say, "Huh," and she says, "Are you taking Sukie out?"

Sukie barks at my head, and I say, "Yes," and she says, "They don't treat women very well in the movies." "No," I say, "I guess they don't," and she says, "I've been paying attention. In the '30s and '40s. And I love movies, I'm a movie person, but it has come to my attention, watching movies on TCM for months at a time, that in most of the '30s and '40s movies I have always loved, they treat black people badly, and they treat women badly."

Sukie is licking my ear.

"Yes," I say. "Yes, that's true."

"Especially in westerns," she says. "First of all, the men in westerns. The men in westerns, when something goes wrong, the first thing they do is lean forward, and their hat falls off. Then they bend down and put their hat back on. That is what men do in westerns. Most men in movies are stupid. They care about their hats. And the third thing men are mean to in movies is horses. That's why I hate westerns. All the men have terrible hands. They haul on their reins. John Wayne. Ugh. You can tell he hates horses. He hauls on their reins. All I can think is I would not want John Wayne pulling on my mouth like that. Are you taking Sukie out?"

"Yes, I'm taking Sukie out."

"You see, Sukie? He's here and he's taking you out. You're taking her out, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am."

"And I will go get slowly dressed for the day."


"There is always one woman in a western," she says. "Only one. And the men are all trying to get her in bed, which most of them do. And then in the end if she's smart, she shoots them. When? When are you taking Sukie out?"


26 November 2014

"You'd better leave Brooklyn early, if the weather is bad."

"Yeah, I know."

"If you're going to get here on time."


"How early do you think you'll leave?"

"I was just thinking, you know, 'early.'"

"Five? Six? Sukie wakes up at five."

"I know when Sukie wakes up."

"She is very clear about what she means by 'early.'"

"I'm aware of that."

"Why aren't *you* clear?"

"I'll get there by noon."

"Sukie will wait by the window."

"I know."

"If I tell her you're coming, she will wait by the window."

"Don't tell her."

"I just did."

"You didn't say my name."

"She knew what I meant."

"Sukie seems to know a lot of stuff."

"And she doesn't have a college degree, like you do, Mr. English Professor."

"I never said I knew a lot of stuff."

"Good thing you didn't. Because you don't even know what 'early' is. Early is not 11 a.m."

"If the roads are bad, it could take three hours to get there. Four. Longer, maybe."

"All the more reason to know what you mean by 'early.' What most people mean by 'early' is five."

"I'm not leaving here at five."

"Maybe six. *Possibly* six. 'Early' is no later than six. All right, six-thirty."

"Tell Sukie I'll be there by noon."

"She waits by the window."

"Tell her no matter when I leave, I'll get there by noon."

"If you drive too fast and wreck my car - "

"I won't wreck your car."

"If you leave early, you can drive slow, and you won't wreck my car."

"Tell Sukie I won't wreck your car."

"And bring cheese."

"I got cheese. I already bought cheese."

"And wine."

"And wine."

"Just don't bring anything with pumpkin in it. If I hear one more word about 'pumpkin' - "

"I won't bring anything pumpkin."

"Don't come at all, if you're bringing anything pumpkin."

"I won't."

"Won't come? Or won't - ?"

"Won't not come, won't come with pumpkin, won't get there later than noon, won't - "

"Won't keep Sukie waiting. She's a witch, you know. She's a witch who waits in the window, and when she sees a red car, she gets excited, and if my red car with you in it is not here by noon, I can't make any promises about what Sukie might do to your future."

"Okay. I'll get there by noon."

"She just told me what 'early' is."


"She just said, 'Tell John that 'early' is not what he thinks.'"


18 May 2015

Because Mercury is retrograde, my mother calls to tell me she got notice of three parking tickets I accumulated on her car in NYC last month.

"Three," she says.

"Oh, damn."


"I keep meaning to pay - "


" - them online."

"And now I am going to have. To send. A check. To Church Street."

"I can pay them online."

"Let me read you the address of each ticket. The address of each ticket you got. The address where you got them. Three tickets. With my car. Last month. In Brooklyn."

"I remember where I got them."

"Union Street."

"That's my street."

"If it's your street, it could not have been difficult to walk out the door and move the car and not get a ticket that got sent in the mail to your mother."

"I'll go online right now."

"Another one on Union Street. In front of a fire hydrant."


"Who raised you, that you don't know not to park in front of fire hydrants."

"It was a judgement call. It was not directly in front of the fire hydrant. I've parked there before. I was maybe an inch too close to the fire hydrant, that one time."

"Do. Not. Park. Anyway near. A fire hydrant."

"I'm calling up the site online."

"No one ever parks in front of fire hydrants."

"I took a chance. It didn't pay off."

"You took a chance with my car."

"Here's the site. I'm paying it now."

"If you don't pay it now, they will add ten dollars. Every day. Until you pay it."

"I know. I know about parking tickets."

"Clearly, you do not know about parking tickets. Otherwise, why would you get them? Who puts you on the bus in the morning?"

"I don't take the bus. I take your car."

"Who let you take my car?"

"It was a joke. I don't take your car. Anywhere. Except to see you."

"That's a lie. You car-jacked my car. Call it what it is."

"I didn't car-jack your car."

"You car-jacked. My car. And parked it in front of a fire hydrant."

"I'm paying them now. The tickets, I've got them now."

"Bring back my car."

"Right now?"

"Pay the tickets first. And then bring back the car. I have a parking lot. Out front. Of my apartment complex. As I'm sure you know."

"Yes, I know."

"So you won't have to go looking all over Pennsylvania for a fire hydrant to park in front of."

"Yes, okay."

"We can go looking for fire hydrants when you bring the car back. If that's what interests you. There are plenty of them here. We can learn about how not to park in front of them. When you bring the car back."


"It's easy. You see them. And you drive up to them. And then you don't park there."


27 July 2015

"You missed Boggle," my mother says.  "Again."

"Yes, I did," I say. "I missed Boggle."

"Thursday night."

"*Every* Thursday night?"

"No, not every. Once in a while. You missed it."

"I'm sorry I missed it."

"Marie who runs it - "

"I know Marie."

"Marie who runs Boggle asked where you were. Thursday night."

"What did you tell her?"

"What was I supposed to tell her? 'He lives in Brooklyn,' I said. It was sort of a conversation stopper."

"No one here has ever heard of Brooklyn?"

"No one here has heard of *anything*. Except Boggle."

"So you told Marie that I was in Brooklyn, and that's why I couldn't play Boggle."

"No. I told Marie you were embarrassed to play Boggle."

"I *am* embarrassed."

"I told her you were a college professor, and you were ashamed by Boggle."

"Because I'm not any good at it."

"Neither am I. I'm getting worse."

"Marie is the most competitive person I've ever met."

"She *is*!"

"She says she plays just for the fun, there's no keeping score - "

"And then she has a list of 50 words down the page. And I have 3."


"I hit my peak last month with 'sauté.' It's been downhill ever since."

"Marie is a monster."

"I told her you were an English professor. I said, 'It's even worse. He's an English professor,' I said, 'and he can't play Boggle.'"


"She says hello. Marie. She said to say hello."


25 August 2015

"Did you just call?" my mother says.

"No, I didn't call."

"Someone just called. The phone rang several times. It takes me a minute to get to the phone! These days. And I got to the phone, and no one was there."

"Probably a telemarketer."


"Or somebody wanting money for Donald Trump."

"Donald Trump already has money. I thought that was the point of Donald Trump."

"Or, you know, whoever."

"Whoever," she says. "All of them assholes. It's Virginia Bruce day."

"Virginia Bruce has a day?"

"On TCM."

"When else in history has Virginia Bruce ever had a day?"

"Not since at least 1940."

"What movie's on now?"

"I don't know. Something with George Brent."

"Speaking of missing since about 1940."

"This movie's about lawyers."

"I don't think I can even picture Virginia Bruce."

"Yesterday was Warren Oates day. Who the hell is Warren Oates?"

"He was in a sort of LSD western with Peter Fonda."

"He was also somebody's father in *Badlands*. For about ten minutes. Until Martin Sheen shot him. Who knew Martin Sheen would grow up to be President?"

"On TV, you mean."

"I know what I mean. And I would *vote* for Martin Sheen in a minute, if my other choices were all Donald Trump."

"Donald Trump's not going to be President."

"Neither is Hillary. They are never going to let Hillary be President. They will find something. It doesn't matter what. They'll find out she shot Warren Oates. Something. It won't have to be true. She will never be President. And not because of anything she did or didn't do. Because she's a woman. And they will never let a woman be President. Not in my lifetime."

"You're going to live to be a hundred-and-ten."

"That's what I mean."

"I'm sure it was a telemarketer. Somebody wanting money for Ted Cruz."

"Not in my lifetime. Not if she said she hated Mexicans. Not if she said she hated gays. Not if she wore the Confederate Flag on Fox News. They will never, never - "

"Whose day is tomorrow?"

"I don't know. John Wayne, probably. When in doubt, make it John Wayne's day. That's why no woman will ever be President. It's always John Wayne's day."


21 December 2015

I tell my mother I've been reading the Bible.

"I have never read the Bible," she says. "And I never read *Moby-Dick*."

"The Bible is weird."

"The *Bible*," she says, in the contemptuous tone in which she might say "Walmart," "is wrong. Most of it. Is. Wrong. Made up! Don't you know it's made up? Who raised you?"

"I didn't say it wasn't made up. I said I was reading it. I've never - "

"I believe," my mother says, "maybe I believe that there was a poor guy once, and his put-upon wife, who had a baby. There was no 'immaculate conception!' Are you kidding? A poor guy and his wife, who was probably too young for him, had a baby, who grew up to be a nice young man who fed the poor and did nice things. That's it. That's all that happened, if *anything* happened. He was no more the son of God than my dog."

"Your dog would be the daughter of God."


"Don't misgender Sukie Tawdry."

"That is all that happened, if anything ever really happened. As for the rest, nobody knows the truth. Nobody knows. Except Cecil B. DeMille. And he's dead."


27 February 2016

"There's no such thing as penis envy," my mother says. It's her "Good morning."

"I haven't had coffee yet," I say.

"There is only uterus envy. That's what there is. It's all there is."

"Okay," I say.

"Men can't get pregnant," she says. "And it. Drives. Them. Bananas. They want to control the world. But they cannot make a child in their uterus."

"I've never been able to make a child in my uterus."

"Pay attention," she says.

"I was agreeing with you!"

"They. Want. *Control*. And it enrages them that they cannot control childbirth. Makes. Them. Crazy."

"That's an ableist word," I say.

"All men," she says.

"I'm not going to argue with you!"

"Uterus envy," she says. "That's all it is."


18 March 2016

"You watch," my mother says. "They're gonna put Nancy Reagan on the twenty-dollar bill."

"Why would they do that?"

"She's a saint, now."

"I can't stand Nancy Reagan."

"Who can? Terrible actress, too. Nancy Davis."

"What was she ever in?"

"She was never in *anything*. She never was."

"So you think they'll put her on the twenty-dollar bill?"

"You watch."

"I hope not."

"They should put Ella Fitzgerald on the twenty-dollar bill. It should be someone who sings. Beautiful, talented, black woman who sings."

"Sarah Vaughan?"

"Her, too. Ella on the front, Sassy on the back."

"I'd vote for that."

"They won't, though. You watch. They never want women on anything."
"Nancy Reagan isn't a woman?"

"Cover your ears, and I'll tell you what Nancy Reagan is."


6 April 2016

My mother and I were talking on the phone about the sibling rivalry between Olivia de Haviland and Joan Fontaine, as one does ("Never cared for either of them," my mother said, "both wimps"), when the conversation turned to politics.

"Ted Cruz is headed for New York," my mother said. "You better watch out. He's a Trojan horse."

"Ted Cruz is a Trojan horse? Full of what?"

"You don't want me to say what Ted Cruz is full of."

"Greek warriors?"

"He's going to roll into New York and let them all out."

"Let who out?"

"His people. Whoever. Whomever. How should I know? They're climbing out of his horse and running around New York. You better watch out."

"I'll be on guard."

"You better be. He's very bad."

"He is very bad."

"The media is worse. I've been watching MSNBC. It is making me crazy. Donald Trump says he wants to nuke Iran and jail women. That's what he wants. Then he back-pedaled and said he meant, Give the bomb to China, and, Put doctors in prison. That's better? He thinks he made it better?"

"I don't understand how any woman could vote for him."

"Any woman who votes for him should be in jail. That's who should be in jail. Not doctors performing a *legal medical procedure* on people who *have the right to ask for it*."

"Anyway. I don't think either of them can beat the Democrat."

"Don't be so sure. The Democrats are busy shooting themselves in the foot. On MSNBC. Who puts them on the bus in the morning? All of them, all of them, including Hillary, the media and all of them, are completely full of shit. Every. Single. One. When are you coming to visit? I'm running out of Raisin Bran."

"I don't like any of our candidates, either."

"Nobody likes them. That's why they're in politics. They are unlikable people. Nobody likable would ever want to be *President* of the *United States*. Likable people want to be on television. Except for the people on MSNBC. Will you be here Friday?"

"I can be there Friday."

"Don't keep me waiting three hours like last time. The dog paces. And I'm out of wine."

"Don't tell the dog I'm coming."

"I won't."

"It'll be a surprise."

"It's always a surprise when you show up within three hours of your stated time of arrival."

"I'll see you Friday."

"Watch out for those Cruz people, running around, from their Trojan horse. Better get the wine now, before you're mugged."


9 April 2016

"I have bad news," my mother says. It's her "Hello." I just opened the sliding glass door from her small patio into her living room. I'm an hour late. The dog, Sukie Tawdry, is spinning and barking. My mother is sitting on the couch.

"What bad news?" I say.

"Bernie is visiting the Pope," she says.

"Bernie is visiting the Pope?”

"He has an *audience* with the *Pope*."

"That's bad news?"

"*I* have met the Pope," my mother says.

"I know you met the Pope."

"Not this Pope. Did you bring wine?"

"I did not bring wine."

"Why didn't you bring wine?"

"I'm broke."

"How are you broke?"

"Little by little, and then all at once."

"I'm broke, too."

"You are not broke."

"He would not look me in the eye."

"Who wouldn't look you in the eye?"

"The Pope. He would not look me - "

"Not Bernie's Pope."

"A different *Pope*. Yes."

"The one you met."

"Was a different *Pope*. Yes."

"Which Pope was it?"

"I don't know, *John*. Some Pope."

"John Paul."

"One of those, yes."

"The dog wants a treat."

"The dog has been waiting since *noon*. At the window. Pacing. For you to show up."

"What's wrong with Bernie meeting the Pope?"

"In Rome. We were at the Vatican in Rome. With your father. And all the NBC brass. Meeting the Pope."

"I know the story about you meeting the Pope with the NBC brass."

"The picture's on the wall."

"The dog wants a treat."

"Give her a *treat*!"

"I don't know why Bernie can't meet the Pope."

"He. Would. Not. Look. Me. In. The. Eye. With the men, he shook hands. He shook hands with the men! With me, he looked at my feet. The Pope. He stared down at my feet. That's what he did. With all the women. Stared. Down. At. Their. Feet."

"Maybe it's dogma, or something."

"Don't say 'dogma' in front of Sukie."

"Sukie's dogma is treats."

"I bet he looks Bernie in the eye," my mother says.


17 April 2016

"Have you heard about the stupid things they're doing?" my mother says.

"Stupid things?"

"They passed a law that says you can take your gun to church."


"One of those places where they've been doing stupid things."

"Tennessee? Mississippi?"

"All those places. Places where you can now go to church with a gun, but you can't go to the bathroom."

"Oh. Yeah."

"I thought the Lord protected you at church. I thought that's what church was for. Isn't taking a gun to church sort of redundant?"

"Redundant or dangerous."

"Yes, dangerous. Especially if they won't let you pee."

"Have you heard about the stupid things they're doing?" my mother says.

"Stupid things?"

"They passed a law that says you can take your gun to church."


"One of those places where they've been doing stupid things."

"Tennessee? Mississippi?"

"All those places. Places where you can now go to church with a gun, but you can't go to the bathroom."

"Oh. Yeah."

"I thought the Lord protected you at church. I thought that's what church was for. Isn't taking a gun to church sort of redundant?"

"Redundant or dangerous."

"Yes, dangerous. Especially if they won't let you pee."


24 April 2016

My mother likes to tell people at her retirement condo that her dog Sukie Tawdry is named for the madam of a London whorehouse, her words, and I say, "*18th century* London whorehouse," as if that makes a difference, and my mother says, "Don't be a smartass, Mr. English Major, it doesn't matter what century, they've never heard of Sukie Tawdry," and I say, "Do you hum a few bars of 'Mack the Knife?'", and she says, "They've never heard of 'Mack the Knife,'" and I say, "It was the #1 pop hit the year I was born!" and she says, "Doesn't matter," and I say, "Bobby Darin?" and she says, "No one here has heard of Bobby Darin," and I say, "Louis Armstrong?" and she says, "Do I have to spell it for you? Word by word? No one. Here. Has ever heard. Or heard *of*. 'Mack the Knife.'" And I say, "Then what do you figure they think you're talking about when you say your dog is a whorehouse madam?" "Named for." "Named for, sorry." And she says, "They're not thinking, they're voting for Donald Trump. When you come down Thursday to take Sukie and me to the vet, afterwards, I am taking my car back, and Sukie and I are driving to Mexico, and we will stay there until Donald Trump is gone." "Can I come?" "Maybe." "What if Donald Trump is never gone?" "Anyway, there'll be a wall by the time we want to come back, and Sukie is part Chihuahua, she's 1/18th Chihuahua, and they probably won't let us back in." And then I told her Sukie Tawdry had a fan page on Facebook, and she said, in her deadpannest Elaine Stritch delivery, "Huzzah."


26 April 2016

"I don't mean to hurt your feelings, John," my mother says, "but I do not now, nor have I ever, nor will I ever, know or have known or plan to know, anything about Prince."

"You know he died."

"I have never listened to a note."

"He won an Oscar. Maybe you saw him on the Oscars."

"Barbara *Stanwyck* doesn't have an Oscar. Fred *Astaire* never won an Oscar. Cary Grant! Thelma Ritter. Ethel Waters. Why should Prince have an Oscar?"

"He had bad hips, like you."

"Bad what?"

"Hips. Hips. You broke your hip."

"Lots of people break their hip."

"I mean you have that in common. Just, stay away from the Percocet."

"The what?"

"Opiates. Drug store opiates."

"I have never taken opiates."

"Remember when you had your hip replaced? And you had morphine? They gave you that button to push, after surgery, and you could self-administer morphine? Like, only every fifteen minutes, or something?"

"Oh, *that*. Yes, I remember that. That. Was. Great."


26 April 2016

Sukie Tawdry says don't worry about Trump. "That dog don't hunt," she said, & I said, "Are you quoting Dr. Phil?", and she said, "You just worry about those Goldman Sachs transcripts, and leave Trump to me."


9 May 2016

My mother says she likes Bernie okay, but he doesn't lie enough.

I say, Isn't the point about Bernie that he doesn't lie?

My mother says, They all lie, and if Bernie wanted to be President, he'd lie too. You need to lie, she says. Three hundred million people in the country, you'd have to lie to *some* of them.

I say, Not all of them vote.

She says, Too many of them vote. Too many are going to vote for Donald Trump. Donald Trump is saying it's Hillary's fault that Bill slept around. What President doesn't sleep around? Maybe Carter didn't. He lusted in his heart, that's as far as he got. The rest of them, though. Eisenhower. I knew Eisenhower! He was friends with my father. He married a drunk.

Your father married a drunk?

Eisenhower, my mother says. Don't be smart. Mamie Doud. She lived in Denver. A family of drunks. Down the street from us in Denver. Everybody knew. Eisenhower had a girlfriend, who wouldn't? Kennedy, of course. He slept with everyone for five minutes. Johnson. All right? We know what he was up to. Who cares? Bill Clinton was charming. I liked Bill Clinton. Don't blame Hillary for that. If you're President, people want to sleep with you. Why else be President? Except Nixon.

Nixon what?

Nixon, she says, like it's a swear word. No one. Would ever. Sleep. With Nixon.

He had two daughters!

God knows how.

Bebe Rebozo was his boyfriend. That's the rumor.

What gay man would sleep with Nixon? Gay men are supposed to have taste.

Maybe they weren't gay. Maybe they just -

Bernie had better start lying. He's not running to be President of a high school glee club. It's America. He wants to be President of *America*. What does he think America is?

Nixon lied.

Nixon lied because he was Nixon. He didn't lie for America. He lied because he woke up every single day still Nixon. You'd lie too.


30 May 2016

Yesterday Sukie Tawdry was a wood nymph, and a water sprite, she was a beast of the forest on the banks of Neshaminy Creek, in and out of the water, stalking frogs and dragging me along, while my mother drank wine and listened to Sinatra on my iPhone and sat on a chair in the grass and ate the guacamole I made earlier in her living room while she read me the *NYTimes* and told me what Bill Maher said Friday night and signed the checks I wrote to Verizon and Comcast and yelled to get the dog off the couch and told me the story of her goat on David Letterman and said, "Look up Robert Ryan on your machine, I want to know about Robert Ryan," and sent me to her bedroom for another pair of shoes and explained why Oscar Hammerstein was under-rated and said, when I asked if she was voting for Trump, "Are you kidding? You're kidding. I'm voting for Hillary, if she's not in jail."

"I thought you were Bernie or Bust," I said.

"I like Bernie. But he's toast! Why doesn't he know he's toast?"

"Hillary lies."

"They all lie."

"So it's okay if Hillary lies, as long as they all lie?"

"Women aren't allowed to lie."

"You lie."

"I have never lied. Never. In my life. Have I ever lied."

“You said there was Santa Claus."

"I. Do. Not. Lie."

"So tell the truth: you don't see a difference between Trump and Clinton. Right?"

"Hillary lies once a week," she said. "Trump lies every five minutes. That's the difference. It's a big difference. If people can't see that, they deserve what they get."


31 May 2016

What dervish sent me home from Philly with my mother's credit card in my pocket? I blame neoliberalism!


18 June 2016

"Van Johnson was gay," my mother says. "You knew that, didn't you?"

"I'm pretty sure I knew that."

"My mother told me that."

"Your mother? How did she know?"

"Dore Schary told her."

"Dore Schary told your mother that Van Johnson was gay?"

"She had dinner with Dore Schary in Colorado Springs in 1947."

"What was Dore Schary doing with your mother in Colorado Springs?"

"Dore Schary was the head of MGM."

"I know who Dore Schary is. Why was your mother - "


"Drinking. With Dore Schary."

"I don't know, *John*. All I know is, he told her Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn were gay."

"Was that the word she used? 'Gay?'"

"I don't know the word she used."


"I don't *know*."

"Were you crushed? To find out Van Johnson was gay?"

"He was not my type."

"Maybe she said 'queer.'"

"I don't remember what she said."

"Probably not 'gay.'"

"Why do you care what she called it? Who cares what anyone ever called it? Who cares who does what with whom? I lived in New York in the '50s, and everybody did whatever they wanted with anybody, and nobody cared."


"*I* didn't care. Nobody I knew cared. Everybody did what they wanted. We didn't go on Oprah and talk about it, that's all. And nobody cared."

"Joe McCarthy didn't care?"

"Oh. Well. That."


2 July 2016

Sukie Tawdry says, Independence for whom? And she says, Here's to life, liberty, and the pursuit of squirrels!


3 July 2016

Never buy wine made from vineyards in Allentown, Pennsylvania.


17 July 2016

"Hillary better get it together," my mother says. "She better lock up Bill. She better not send any more emails to anyone ever."

"Trump won't win," I say.


"How can he possibly win? There aren't enough angry white guys in America."

"I have two words for you," my mother says. "Ronald. Reagan."

"I refuse to believe that Trump can win. I can't even conceive of it."

"You better start conceiving."

"How would it be possible?"

"How it would be possible is I'm packing for New Zealand. Starting now. When Trump wins - "


"Have you been listening? Why don't men listen? *When* he wins. When he wins, I'm going to New Zealand with Ruth Bader Ginsburg."

"Can Sukie go to New Zealand?"

"It was Sukie's idea."

"Sukie'd think Trump's hair was a rabbit."

"Sukie's a Whippet. Whippets are trained to catch rats."

"This is my point."

"You are not. Taking. My dog. To one of your activist things. So she can bite. Donald Trump. She is coming to New Zealand."


"With Ruth Bader Ginsburg and me."

"I said okay."


7 September 2016

I am at my mother's house. My mother watches MSNBC compulsively - when she is not watching *The Yearling* again on TCM for the 17th time - but even the dog left the room when Donald Trump came on.


24 September 2016

The buzzing in his head, the doctors said, was not a sign of anything but that he had a head, and there was buzzing in it. His ears were fine. His brain, they said, had a nice shape. He had never before been praised for the shape of his brain. A compliment that cost him $800. Expensive praise. His head buzzed, was the symptom and the diagnosis. What triggered it? Sometimes red wine. Sometimes not. Sometimes too much sleep, sometimes lack of sleep. Pennsylvania, sometimes. Also Brooklyn. He remembered a pamphlet he had picked up in a bar once in San Francisco. An ad for a 12-step program, with a list of questions: Are you lonely always? Never? Are you anxious always? Never? Do you cry yourself to sleep always? Never? At the bottom it said that if you answered "Always" or "Never" to any of the questions, you were an addict. There was nowhere to say, "Once in a while."


26 September 2016

My mother called me at one in the morning. I had my phone turned off! She called my brother to tell him she called me. He sent me a message. She called my sister and my sister-in-law. Sometime in the night. To tell them there was something she had to tell me. Then at 7 AM, she called me.

"I've been looking for you," she said.

"I heard."

"I figured out how to use the new phone," she said.


"I don't like it."

"But you know how to use it."

"I do."

"And you've been calling everyone I know."

"To find you."

"And now you did."

"I don't like this phone."

"The old one died. The old one was new in 1910."

"Where are you at one in the morning?"

"I was sleeping."


"I turned my phone off."

"Don't ever do that."

"If I left my phone on, you'd call me at one in the morning."

"I called you at three."

"This is my point."

"There was something we were supposed to do," she said.

"Turn the phone off and go to sleep?"

"We were supposed to do something today, together."

"Talk about when it's reasonable to call your children? Set hours? Discuss phone etiquette?"

"We had something to do today. You and me."

"Watch the debate," I said.

"Oh," she said. "Oh, yeah. The debate."

"We were going to watch the debate. But I don't think I want to watch."

"I can't look at his hair anymore."

"I can't stand the thought that there's even a contest between him and anyone else."

"He eats pizza with a knife and fork. Who does that?"

"It's like she's debating Daffy Duck."

"I would vote for Daffy Duck."

"I'm not going to watch the debate."

"We were supposed to do something together. Today."

"We were going to not watch the debate. We can do that together."

"I voted for a Republican once in my life. Only once. Eisenhower. I danced with him - "

" - at the Denver Country Club."

"I danced with Eisenhower at the Denver Country Club."

"The first line of your autobiography."

"'Where is my son at one in the morning' is the first line of my autobiography."

"And three."

"If he's elected, I'm moving to Lisbon."

"If you call me at three from Lisbon, it will actually be eight in my apartment."

"Don't ever turn your phone off," she said. "That's what we were going to do. What you and I were going to never do. And don't make me look at his hair."


19 October 2016

"Have you ever read *Moby-Dick*?" my mother asks me. We're talking about college. She went to Whittier College, which she hated. I went to Kenyon College, and I teach at Queens College. "Mr. English Professor," she likes to call me. Not as praise! "Mr. English Professor," she says, "have you ever read *Moby-Dick*?

"Yes," I say.

"Terrible book," she says.

"What makes it terrible?"

"The way it's written."

"Oh," I say. "How is it written?"

"Terribly," she says. "I've never met anyone who liked *Moby-Dick*."

"You've met a lot of people who read *Moby-Dick*?"

"Enough of them."

"And none of them liked it?"

"None. Of. Them. Liked. *Moby-Dick*. Are you listening? Do you listen to your students? Have you asked them if they like *Moby-Dick*?"

"I have, actually."


"Um. . . "


6 November 2016

The 3 AM guy voted early in several states - he's a shapeshifter & time traveler - but I don't vote until 6 AM Tuesday in my bourgeois pig neighborhood, Park Slope, BKNY, and then I'm jetting down the Jersey Turnpike to take my mother to her polling place in Swing State, PA - not that she asked, but I wanted to be there when she marked her ballot.

My mother was born 11 years after the 19th amendment passed, and her mother was born - the story varied, but: in 1908, I'm pretty sure, twelve years before passage of the 19th amendment.

I'm mindful of course that when the 19th amendment enfranchised women voters, it was still impossible for black women to vote in much of the country, and they would have to wait until 1965, when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, to be fully and effectively enfranchised.

The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, at the same time as they struck down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, and declined to hear an anti-gay-marriage case in California, which effectively legalized samesex marriage in that state.

June 2013 was an upsetting moment when it seemed that LGBTQI Americans were moving towards fair and equal treatment under the law, at the same time that Black Americans were having their rights seriously threatened. And indeed we've seen how states like North Carolina have lately made a special effort to prevent Black Americans from voting - a return to Jim Crow era tactics.

All of this will be on my mind when my mother and I and everyone votes for the first time in our lives in a presidential election where the choice of major party candidates is between one man and one woman. And between a Democrat who believes in fair and equal treatment under the law for all Americans, and a Republican who does not.

My mother - she will tell you! - has had a happy fulfilling life where she's done pretty much whatever she wanted. And she did a lot! But she has never voted for a woman for President, because she has never had that choice.

However you feel about Hillary Clinton as "that woman," it's a profound thing, to have that choice, finally. I feel lucky to be able to go with my mother to her polling place. I'm not sure she likes Clinton! She kind of let on that she'd been rooting for Bernie. But I know how she'll cast her vote Tuesday.


8 November 2016

Two votes in two hours, nearly: fulfilled my civic duty in Brooklyn, 6 AM, sped down the Jersey & a chunk of the PA Turnpikes to take my mother to her polling place in suburban Philly and make sure her vote got registered, 8:30 AM.

I hate the world, but I like to vote! Voting is good for your immune system! It's never true that voting is a waste of your time, which is what I plan to tell my students after I get back on the various Turnpikes and head to Queens to teach my class! We're reading Sarah Schulman's new novel, *The Cosmopolitans*!

Sukie Tawdry could not vote, and was barking "Voter suppression!" as I left Warminster, PA.


9 November 2016

I keep remembering a thing my mother said a couple years back.

"They will never let a woman win. Never."

I'm really really really sad that my mother, who is 85 years old, has to spend the end of her life in a country that just elected not just one more man, but that man.

It's extremely painful.


9 November 2016

I'm with my mother in the waiting room of a dermatologist's office in Fort Washington, PA (nothing major, worry not), and they're showing mournful Tim Kaine on the TV set, introducing Clinton, and I don't think I can watch.


24 November 2016

Did I make it from Park Slope to my mother's door this morning not only just-in-time to walk the dog, but with 12 minutes to spare? One hour forty minutes for a trip that reasonably takes at least 2 hours? Was I not arrested doing 90 mph down the Jersey Turnpike? Did my mother not start calling me on my cellphone every 10 minutes, starting at 30 minutes before my promised time of arrival? Were these my Thanksgiving miracles? Maybe. Now if President Obama would stop the violence against indigenous people & their allies in North Dakota, I wouldn't mind being a thankful American today.


24 November 2016

"Michael Moore says we have to spend Thanksgiving dinner planning Donald Trump's impeachment," my mother says.

It's her hello. I just walked in the door. What my mother wanted for Thanksgiving was "not to cook!" So I've brought hipster food from Brooklyn. Champagne and Brussels sprouts. And salmon. That's our dinner menu. Plus pecan pie. And a tiny expensive jar of caviar. My mother keeps it simple. She can do without the salmon and the Brussels sprouts.

"How are you going to impeach Donald Trump?" she says.

"Wire you car with explosives? Head for - "

"You are not. Wiring. My car. With explosives."

"I'm kidding."

"Is there wine? What kind of wine did you bring? We can't drink champagne at *noon*. If you're driving my car into the Trump Tower, I'm going to need some wine. Now."

"We're probably both going to jail, now. If your apartment is bugged."

"Michael Moore did not say remove Donald Trump from the planet. Impeach. He said, 'Impeach.'"

"How do we do it? The dog can bite him, maybe."

"Sukie Tawdry is not getting anywhere near Donald Trump."

"If you said he was a squirrel."

"My dog. Would not mistake. Donald Trump. For a squirrel."

"His hair?"

"Don't mention his hair. I need to keep my appetite for the pie."

"I have no idea how to impeach Trump. What are *you* going to do to impeach Trump?"

"Impeaching is not my department. My department is, you cook, I eat."

"Maybe he doesn't like Brussels sprouts."

"*I* don't like Brussels sprouts."

"When do you not like Brussels sprouts?"

"When do you not know how to impeach Trump? Isn't that your thing? Isn't that what you do? Bug people? March around?"

"I like Brussels sprouts."

"So cook some. You have two jobs. Cook, and impeach Trump. And pour me some wine."


26 November 2016

All my childhood cats came back to me in a dream: Quagmire, Batman, Angelique, BC (barncat), and BC's two kittens, nameless; and the strays, of whom I most remember the one we found floating in the pond with its head caught in a dog food can it fished from the garbage, and whom my mother laid on a towel on the floor furnace to dry out, which it did not, and it lay there all morning and died; they were all in my dream and they were crying, scolding me? Warning me? Delivering omens like in a Greek tragedy? "Wake up and go move your car, it's 11:15 AM?" (My mother named our cats, don't accuse me of being precious.) (Quagmire and Batman were all black with yellow eyes.) (Also in my dream my mother told me I was all about myself, which: thanks for that, subconscious.)


16 December 2016

"I was hoping there'd be a woman President before you died," I say, and my mother, who is not sentimental about anything but Frank Sinatra and Sondheim and donkeys and dogs, says, "Me, too."

"What if we have eight years of Donald Trump?" I say.

"I won't have eight years of Donald Trump."

"You will if he's President twice."

"He will not be President twice while I'm alive."

"Why not?"

"Because I am getting in my car and driving into the Delaware."

"You can't drive your car."

"I will *drive* my car."

"What about the dog?"

"She''ll come with me. You might as well come, too."

"You want me to come?"

"You told me I couldn't drive."

"You want me to drive us into the Delaware so you don't have to live with eight years of Donald Trump?"

"Otherwise, you'll be in jail."

"I'm going to jail?"

"Donald Trump is sending you to jail."

"How do you know that?"

"You're gay and I'm old. In eight years, I'll be dead and you'll be in jail."

"So we should drive into the Delaware? This afternoon?"

"Is there more wine?"

"There's more wine."

"So not this afternoon. Not if there's still wine."


27 December 2016

Never put your mother's debit card in another bank's ATM machine is my Mercury-retrograde-in-Capricorn year-end advice for you!


31 December 2016

"So do you have a New Year's Eve message for my Facebook friends?" I ask my mother.

"Your who?"

"My Facebook friends."

"Your Facebook friends?"

"I have 5000 of them."

"You have five *thousand* Facebook friends?"

"And a thousand followers."

"A thousand what?"

"Eleven hundred, actually."

"And this is your big year-end accomplishment?"

"I thought you might have a message for them."

She says something unprintable.

"I can't put that on my Facebook page!"

She quotes: "'Listen: Under my pillow, I left my little bonnet. Perhaps you'd like to keep it, so you have something to remember me by.'"

It's from *La Boheme*. We happen to be listening to *La Boheme*. With Jussi Björling and Victoria de los Ángeles. 1956, NYC. Thomas Beecham conducting. His only recorded *Boheme*.

"Jussi Björling was a terrible drunk," my mother says.

"That's your New Year's Eve message?"

"I've seen a lot of Mimis," she says.

"You want me to write that?"

"'Addio senza rancor,'" she says. She's still quoting. It's a family trait.

"Which means?"

"Farewell without rancor."

"That's your New Year's Eve message?"

"Well, not to 2016, it isn't. But it will have to do."


1 January 2017

“The only ones who knew were my mother and Dore Schary," my mother says.

We'd been talking about opera. Because we're both gay men! Richard Wagner, whom my mother hates. She once stood through a performance of *Tristan und Isolde* at the San Francisco Opera. She won't say when - doesn't remember, or doesn't care to.

"Why do you ask so many *questions*?" she says, as if I had gotten embarrassingly personal.

"1952?" I say.

"I don't know, *John*."


"It had Lauritz Melchior," she says, "and Kirsten Flagstad."

"1954, maybe," I say.

"Lauritz Melchior was a movie star for a while," she says. "He was in a movie with Van Johnson and Esther Williams."

"What was Lauritz Melchior doing in an Esther Williams movie?"


"I guess he wouldn't be swimming."

"He was *not* *swimming*!"

"That's what I said!"

"Why would they hire Lauritz Melchior to swim?"

"Why would they hire Van Johnson to swim? With Esther Williams?"

"I'm sure he would've rather been swimming with Keenan Wynn," my mother says.

"So in 1945," I say, "did anybody know Van Johnson was gay?"

That's when my mother says:

"Only my mother and Dore Schary."

"Okay, I don't know where to start with that. Dore - "

"Dore Schary was Head of Production for MGM."

"I know who Dore Schary is. My question was - "

"Dore Schary told my mother Van Johnson was gay."

"Your mother knew Dore Schary?"

"My mother had drinks with Dore Schary at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs in 1948 and he told her Van Johnson was gay."

"Was your mother Gloria Swanson?"


"What was your mother doing at the Broadmoor Hotel?"

"Having drinks with Dore Schary."

"I mean, I *figured*. What I meant was - "

"I don't know, *John*. I don't know why my mother was at the Broadmoor Hotel. She just *was*."

"She just once in a while took a trip down from Denver to drink with the head of MGM? Who just once in a while took a trip out from LA to have a drink with your mother and tell her who was gay?"

"Yes. That's exactly what happened."

"So who was gay?"

"Van Johnson."

"Yes. I got that. Who else?"

"I don't know, *John*. You'll have to ask my mother."


22 January 2017

“So I went out to that storage place finally and got some of the stuff you didn't want when you moved," I tell my mother on the phone. "With Rob. The stuff you gave me and Rob. We went and got some of it, and now it's in my apartment."

"What stuff? Why are you telling me about stuff I didn't want? If I wanted to hear about that stuff, I wouldn't have given it to you and Rob. That's what 'stuff I didn't want' means."

"The dining room table."

"Oh. That's a nice table."

"It is! Where did you get it?"

"Where did I get it? I bought it."

"I figured you bought it. Where'd you buy it?"

"I don't *remember* where I bought the dining room table, John."

"Maybe you got it out on Route 22."

"I *never* bought *anything* on Route 22."

"One of those stores that were there in the '60s."

"I never got anywhere near Route 22 in the '60s."

"You bought a couch there."

"I did *not*."

"Two couches. One was black Naugahyde, and the other was a sort of green Scotch plaid. And the dogs tore up the green couch - "

"My dogs never tore up any couch."

" - the Wolfhounds, and then you had it recovered in, sort of, beige, and later you just gave it to the dogs."

"I never gave any couch to the dogs."

"Plus, here's a box full of books."

"I don't. Want. Any more books."

"I wasn't saying you did!"

"Don't bring me any more books."

"I'm not bringing you these books. That's why I have them. That's why they're here in my apartment."

"I have books I haven't finished reading from 1982. I'm still reading a biography of Jerome Robbins. Do. Not. Bring. Me. More. Books."

"*East of Eden*, paperback copy, 1952."

"I read that."

"I read it too! This copy. Sitting in front of that furnace, on the stairway up to your bedroom, the furnace that blew hot air like a fan for like ten minutes and then shut off for ten and then blew hot air for ten."

"I remember that furnace."

"I sat there drinking tea and reading *East of Eden*."

"*East of Eden* is not about James Dean. Have you seen the movie?"

"Of course I've seen the movie."

"The movie is about James Dean. It's about the boys. The *book* is not about the boys."

"The book's about their mom!"

"Most of the book is about their mom. Jo Van Fleet. The movie, however, is not about Jo Ann Fleet."

"It's about the brothers."

"The *men*. It's about the *men*. Three-hundred pages in a book, about a woman, the movie is about the men. That is what 'movie' means. It means: This will be about the men."

"And here's, like, a brandy bottle that you covered in macramé."


"A whole bunch of bottles, covered in macramé."

"I did a lot of macramé in 1970."

"Here it all is."

"That's what you did in 1970. You did macramé, and you worried about Nixon. I couldn't do macramé now."

"You don't have to worry about Nixon!"

"You *always* have to worry about Nixon," she said. "That is what we forgot. Nixon is always there. Some kind of Nixon. And you always have to worry about him."


24 February 2017

I put on my American flag T-shirt to go to Pennsylvania - a Trump state! - only to learn that Republicans at CPAC are waving Russian flags!

Here I am in my mother's gender non-binary bathroom, which admits anyone but people who leave the seat up.
Sukie Tawdry, for whom the world is an all-gender bathroom, is at the doggie doctor, getting her annual day-long check-up.

My mother is reading me every word of today's *New York Times*, which she does not think is the enemy of the people.


15 March 2017

"I brought you a pink pussy cat hat," I tell my mother.

"I am not wearing anything *pink*."

"It's for the Resistance!"

"I know what it's *for*."

"Do you not want to be a member of the Resistance?"

"Listen: I've been resisting things my *whole life*. Starting with *most men*. Who do not know how to *back off*."

"Are you fem phobic?"

"Am I what?"

"Pink. What have you got against pink?"

"I am *not* wearing any *hat*. I know perfectly well how to resist without wearing a *hat*."

"It's 22 degrees outside. Are you going to walk out to the car without a coat and hat?"

"Listen: I can resist *you*. That is how I will resist this morning. Not with a coat and not with a hat."


"Donald Trump is not going away if I wear a hat."

"So how do we get him to go away?"

"I sold all my guns," my mother says.

"You did. You sold your guns."

"I had a nice small one with a pearl handle that fits in your stocking like Marlene Dietrich's."

"Why did you sell your guns?"

"I didn't know how stupid America was." She sighs. "And I thought it was pretty stupid."


17 March 2017

"Happy St. Patrick's Day," my mother says. "What are you going to do about Trump?"

"Is that your holiday greeting?"

"You better do something."

"Like what?"

"Don't you know some criminals who can do something? I thought you knew criminals."

"What? I know - what? I mean, maybe I know criminals. Maybe people I know haven't *told* me they're criminals. Do people tell you if they're criminals? I mean - "

"You and your friends get arrested a lot."

"You're talking about activists. People at protests. Lying down in the street."

"Were they arrested?"

"Sometimes some of them were arrested."

"So they're criminals. Can't you get them to do something about Trump?"

"Shouldn't you be drinking Irish Coffee, or something?"

"I'm too old for coffee. I'm too old to do anything about Trump. And I have *never* been arrested. Never. I have never even gotten a parking ticket."

"That's not true."

"I. Have. Never. Even. Gotten. A. Parking. Ticket. You. Have gotten. A lot. Of parking tickets. With my car. I get the notices in the mail. I got another one today. If you are going to break the law, why can't you do something about Trump?"

"I don't know if it would help for me to park illegally in front of the Trump Tower, if that's what you're suggesting."

"Don't be a smartass."

"Are you wearing green?"


"St. Patrick's Day. Are you wearing something green?"

"I. Don't. Own. Anything. Green. Or pink. I'm talking about you doing something about Trump. And don't bring that hat back. Pink! Pink and green are for the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel."
"I'm not wearing green, either."

"Do something about Trump, before he cancels my insurance."


"And find something green, or a Leprechaun will pinch you."


29 March 2017

"John, your dog is biting me," my mother says.

"*My* dog?"

"Is biting me."

"Right now?"

"Not right now."

"Since when is she my dog?"

"She's your dog when she's biting me."

"Why is she biting you?"

"She is biting me when I give her pills."

"You're giving her pills."


"The vet told you to give her pills."


"So she would stop licking."


"She's licking."


"Are the pills making her stop licking?"


"And now she's biting you when you give her the pills."


"And she's still licking."


"Is it 6 AM?"


"Are you calling me at 6 AM?"

"I am."

"To tell me that the dog is licking and biting."

"I put them in a meatball."

"I have been putting the pills in a meatball."

"For fun?"

"So she will eat them."

"But she's still licking."

"Compulsively. Her thigh. It's turning orange. Her hair is turning orange. Where she licks. She licks all night. It keeps me up. The hair on her thigh and down her leg is turning orange. She looks like Donald Trump."

"Maybe she can be his dog."


"He doesn't have a dog. She can be his dog. And then she can bite *him*."

"Sukie would not bite Donald Trump."

"She would if he tried to give her a pill."

"My dog. Would not bite. Donald. Trump."

"So now she's your dog."

"She doesn't want any part of Donald Trump."

"You're calling me at 6 AM to tell me that your dog wants no part of Donald Trump."

"6:10 AM."


"It's now 6:10 AM. Sukie has better taste than to bite Donald Trump."


"Apologize to her."


"She's right here. She's licking. Even though she's getting pills."

"Why don't you stop giving her the pills? So what if she licks?"

"You can apologize to her. She's right here. Sukie," my mother says. "John is sorry he said you'd ever get anywhere near Donald Trump."

"I think you should forget about the pills."

"She said she wants to hear it from you."


"She's right here. Tell her you're sorry."


14 April 2017

“Who's worse," I ask my mother. "Trump or Nixon?"

"No one is worse than Nixon."

"I think Trump is."

"Nixon was a criminal."

"Trump is a criminal."

"*Nixon* gave the commencement address at my college."

"I know."

"Whittier College."

"You told me."

"He was in the middle of harassing Helen Gahagan Douglas."


"No one talks about Helen Gahagan Douglas anymore."

"That's a good conversation stopper. Try it at dinner. 'No one talks about Helen Gahagan Douglas anymore.'"

"No one here has ever heard of Helen Gahagan Douglas. No one here has even heard of Frank *Sinatra*."

"That's impossible. Everyone has heard of Frank Sinatra."

"Listen to me. You don't listen. No one. Here. Has ever heard. Of *anyone*."

"Nixon? They've never heard of Nixon?"

"I never finished college because of Nixon. He came to the commencement at the end of my sophomore year, and gave a speech. He had gone to Whittier. He was an *asshole*. Anyone could see that. I went immediately back to my room afterwards, got my cowboy boots, and hitchhiked home to Denver. And I never went back to Whittier."

"You hitchhiked all the way to Denver?"

"I stopped in Arizona first and bought a horse."

"And then you rode the horse to Denver?"

"No. John. I did *not* ride the horse to Denver. Have you never been *anywhere*? You couldn't ride a horse from Arizona to Denver. It would take a long time. And the horse had no shoes."
"So how did you get the horse home?"

"He cost thirty-five dollars."

"Nixon did?"

"The horse did. *Nixon* cost me my college education. I ran *straight* out of there and bummed a ride to Arizona and bought a horse."

"Which you rode to - "

"I *didn't take the horse home*. Why don't you listen? This is a story about Nixon. My father came to get me."

"What happened to the horse?"

"I have no idea what happened to the horse. We all know what happened to Nixon."

"Trump's worse."

"They're *all* worse. That's what you find out when you get older. Everyone is worse."


29 April 2017

My mother called me at 5:30 AM on Saturday to make sure I knew that she had been calling me.

"Did you know I was calling you?"

"Yes," I said, "but I'm seeing you later today."

"But did you know I was calling you?"

"Yes, I knew. I am seeing you later today."

"I wasn't sure you knew I was calling you. That's why I'm calling you."

"You're calling to tell me you're calling."

"*Have been* calling," she said.

"You have been calling," I said.

"Yes," she said. "That's why I'm calling."


29 April 2017

Name me ten bands you saw and lie about one of them, I tell my mother, and I'll post it to Facebook.
What? she says.

Tell me ten bands you saw performing live and I will post the list to Facebook, and you have to lie about one of them.

Jesus, John.

You've never seen any bands?

I don't lie. Why would I lie? What are you *talking* about? What the hell does Facebook care what bands I saw?

It's a game.

I don't like games.

You do too like games. 

Name one game I like.

Kick the Can.


You played Kick the Can in Denver in 1943 until it was so dark you couldn't see.

I *never* played Kick the Can in the dark. 

Ten bands.

What do you mean, "Bands?"

You know what a band is.

Are you trying to tell me I ruined your childhood because I never took you to Shea Stadium to see the Beatles? Stop telling me I ruined your childhood.

I didn't say you ruined my childhood!

I have never held my parents responsible for anything.

That's a different conversation altogether. What I asked you was, Can you list ten bands - 


All right, musical performers -

Placido Domingo knew my dogs!

Okay. . .

He was on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera with my dogs.

*Don Carlo*, I know.

Not *Don Carlo*.

I know your dogs were in the opera. I'm your son, remember? I was sort of there. All I'm asking is –
Keely Smith, Anita O'Day, Barbara Cook, Billy Eckstine, Dick Haymes, Blossom Dearie, José Iturbi played my parents' grand piano in Denver all the time, Lena Horne, how many is that?
They're not really bands.

It's my game, follow my rules.

You don't play games!

I never said that.

Eight. Two more.

Jackie and Roy. Ten. Also Charlie DeForrest, Joe Derise -

You're over the limit. And no one on Facebook has ever heard of Joe Derise.

What is the point of Facebook if it's filled with people who have never heard of Joe Derise?

Not one actual band?


Is a band?

I stood on a table to see him. At an NBC affiliates convention. Your father helped me up on the table. All the wives were standing on tables, all the husbands helped them up. And every woman in the room on every table thought Frank Sinatra was singing only and specifically to her.
What were you doing in a room with tables and Frank Sinatra?

I don't *know*, John. It was a big room. They flew him in, in a helicopter, or something, and he sang, and he left, and we stood on the tables and watched.

Is that the lie?


Is that one the lie?
I. Do. Not. Lie.


14 May 2017

My mother is the most certain person I have ever met. She knows what's true and she says it and you had better get it. If you don't, she will say it again. Then she will say, "That's true." "Richard Nixon was a crook," she says. "That's. True." "Sean Spicer is an inferior person," she says. "That's. True." "No one ever liked Nixon," she says. "That. Is. True." My penchant for absolutist statements is as nothing compared to my mother's.

Her birthday was Thursday. She's 86. She would not mind my saying so. I saw her Friday and Saturday, and as I was leaving her place Saturday night, I apologized for Trump.

I said, "People say lots of bad things about Hillary, and she likes bombs like all the liberals do, and the Democrats are no cure for American hegemonic neoliberalism, and identity politics are tricky, and I have lots of friends who would lecture me severely for saying this, but: I'm sorry you've lived your whole life without a woman President."

I said all that.

I don't think I've ever heard my mother use the words "hegemony" or "neoliberal," but she knew what I meant.

She said, "He's worse than Nixon."

I said, "You've always hated Nixon."

She said, "This one is worse."

I said, "My whole childhood was based on your saying no one was ever worse than Nixon."

She said, "Well, grow up."

Then I said I was sorry for Trump. Not *for* him, but *about* him. I said, "I voted for Clinton in Brooklyn, and then I drove all the way down here to make sure you got to vote for Clinton in Warminster, PA. And I'm sorry it didn't work."

"Not as sorry as I am."

"The 19th amendment was passed when your mother was eleven," I said, "almost one hundred years ago, and it benefited white women, mostly, but still: it's been almost a hundred years since then, and the next four-year presidential term starts just a few months short of your 90th birthday, and maybe I wanted this for all the wrong reasons, and certainly Sarah Palin wouldn't do, or Condi Rice, but: I really wanted there to be a woman President here at the end of your life."

And she said, "People are idiots."

And I said, "Happy Mother's Day early," and I patted the dog and got in her car that she does not want me to have, and turned on the radio, and there he still was.


28 May 2017

"There are two squirrels on my patio," my mother says.

"Black? Grey?"



"Republicans," my mother says. "It's Pennsylvania."

"Has Sukie seen them?"

"Sukie doesn't play with Republicans."

"Are there Republican dogs?"

"No. Dog. Has ever been. Republican."

"Your father was Republican."

"My father was a Wendell Wilkie Republican. And not a dog."

"You voted for Eisenhower."

"It was 1952. I was twenty-one years old. Tell me who *you* voted for when you were twenty-one years old."

"Gus Hall."


"And Angela Davis. They were running mates."

"I'm calling you because I got tired of waiting for your 'I'm-just-leaving-now-and-will-be-late-getting-there' call."

"I won't be late getting there."

"So I thought I'd make the call for you."

"I said I'd be there at two. I'll be there at two."

"That means five."

"Shih Tzus."


"Shih Tzus must be Republican."

"No. Dog. Has. Ever. Been - "

"I'm just leaving now."


2 June 2017

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," my mother says.


"Before you go."

"I'm not going."

"Just wait a minute. Can you get that light?"

"*Get* it?"

"Turn it *on*. Jesus, John."

"I know what you meant."

"*That* lamp."

"I know which lamp."

"Turn it on. Can you turn it on?"

"I'm turning it on."

"It's not on."

"I know it's not on. I'm turning it on."

"It's tricky to turn on."

"I know it's tricky."

"There's a trick to it."

"It's not turning on."

"You have to know the trick."

"I *know* there's a trick. I grew up with you, I know your lamps have tricks. The bulb's burned out."
"The bulb is not burned out."

"I have known this lamp as long as I've known you, I am *aware* of the trick, I tried the trick. The bulb's burned out."

"The bulb. Is NOT. Burned out. You don't know the trick. Move."

"I'm unscrewing the bulb."


"Do you have any bulbs? You need a new bulb."

"Get out of the way. You don't know the trick."


"Get the hell out of the way."

"I'm screwing the bulb back in. You don't have to swear."

"I. Will. Turn. On. The. Lamp."

"Let me screw the bulb back in. Okay."

"Like this."


"You have to do this."


". . . "

". . . "

"We need a new bulb."

"I said."

"Don't be a smart ass. 

Get a new bulb. In the cabinet in the - "

"I know where you keep bulbs."

" - living room. Middle drawer."

"I could walk into any house in which you ever lived and know right away where to find bulbs."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute."

"I could lose everything I care about and fall into a depression that left me aphasic and forgetful and I would still be able to walk into wherever you lived, and find the lightbulbs, and the salad forks, and the Phillips head screwdriver."

"Wait a minute."

"Do you think I learned nothing in 58 years? Have you met me? I know where to get bulbs. What?"
"Take this with you," she says, handing me the dead bulb. "Throw it out. In the trash. Which is under the sink. The *kitchen* sink.”


13 June 2017

This is what my mother reminded me to bring when I drive down to PA to visit her this morning: her vacuum cleaner, which I borrowed; and a bottle of white wine. And she called at 6 AM to remind me I was being reminded!


17 June 2017




This is John.

It's your mother.

Yes, I know. I recognized your voice.

Calling you very early.

And the phone flashes your name. So even if I didn't recognize - 


My phone flashes your name.

It does what?


I don't know anything about phones.


. . .

. . .

When can we expect you?


When can I tell Sukie to expect you?

What time did I say?


What time did I tell you I'd be there?

You said noon. That means three.

I'll be there at noon.

Sukie waits by the window.

I know.

If I tell her noon, and you don't get here until five, she sits at the window.

I know.

And paces.

. . .

. . .

Can I call you back in an hour?


Tell Sukie I'll call back in an hour.

She's here.

I guessed.

She's sitting right here. I don't want to tell her you're coming at noon, and then -

You can tell her I'll be there at noon. I need to sleep another hour.

You'll call in an hour?

I'll call in an hour to say I'll be there at noon.

You'll call at noon to say you're just leaving, and then you'll be here at six.

Give me an hour.

All right.

You can tell Sukie.

I won't tell Sukie.

All right.

She paces.

All right.


16 July 2017

This is where I am, age 58, at an all-night Dunkin’ Donuts in Somerville, New Jersey, drinking bad coffee and listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young in my mother's car, thinking, "Tomorrow I'll get up and really make my life happen," but what if this is that life, traffic streaming past on Route 22, 11 PM, two road signs in front of me saying DO NOT ENTER, enough gas to get back to Brooklyn, enough change in my pocket to pay the toll?


2 August 2017

Scaramucci, pfft," my mother says. "Bob *Hope* had the dirtiest mouth of anyone I have ever heard."

"Bob Hope?"

"Bob Hope."

"I refuse that knowledge."

"He had the dirtiest mouth in the entire world."

"And you know this how?"

"My father *worked* for him."

"I know."

"He owned the radio station."

"You've told me."

"Where my father worked."


"And he told the dirtiest joke I've ever heard. On the radio. To all of America."

"He told a dirty joke on the radio?"

"There was no time delay thing then, either."

"They didn't cut him off?"

"He. Was. On. The. *Radio*. There was. No. Time delay."

"I believe you."

"It doesn't matter if you believe me. It's true."

"So when did he tell his dirty jokes?"

"He told his dirty jokes from 1941 to 1945."

"He told them over and over?"

"He told them all the time."

"And nobody cared?"

"Nobody. Cared. Are you listening? Do you want to know the joke?"

"What joke?"


"What was the joke."

"It was the dirtiest joke I had ever heard. I was twelve. I listened to the radio in my room. We were only allowed to listen to NBC. NBC owned my father's radio station. Bob Hope and NBC. Don't you know this?"

"Yes, I know this. What was the - "

"My daughter swallowed a safety pin when she was twelve, but she didn't feel a prick until she was seventeen."

" - - "

" - - "

"Oh my God."

"To America."

"That's the dirtiest joke I ever heard."

"I told you."

"He said that on the air?"

"And his wife burned his house down."

"Bob Hope's wife burned his house down?"

"No. Bing Crosby. Bing *Crosby's* wife burned his house down. Burned down Bing Crosby's house. Don't you listen?"


2 August 2017

Sukie Tawdry doesn't get this thing of how not having insurance makes you more free. Sukie Tawdry has insurance, and she feels perfectly free. She also has an inheritance. She's an heiress. Nonetheless, she does not think she should not pay taxes. She approves of taxes and insurance. Today, she read an article in *The Guardian* that said most parents love their dogs more than they love their children. She's fine with that. She loves her giant purple stuffed cloth clam more than she loves you. Her clam's name is Mario Lanza.


5 August 2017

He's in Bedminster, NJ. I know it well. I'm gonna drive out to suburban Philly, get my mother & her attack Whippet, head north on the Dublin Pike to Quakertown and then up Highway 309 to I-78, turn east, drive like hell through PA & across the Delaware to Jersey & the Oldwick Road, where I used to smoke pot in moving cars in high school listening to Jethro Tull - "the tidal destruction, the moral melee" - hang a right on the Lamington Road to the Adversary's golf course, help my mother and her dog out of the car, and bang on his damned door. "Men don't listen," my mother will say, and she'll tell him why, and Sukie Tawdry will think his hair is a squirrel. I'll be Livestreaming. Stay tuned.


6 August 2017

I couldn't talk her into it.

"Do you want to drive to Bedminster?" I asked my mother.


"Do you want to get in the car and drive with me to Bedminster?"

"What on *earth* would I want to drive to Bedminster for?"

"Bedminster, New Jersey."

"I know where Bedminster is."

"Somerset County."

"I *lived* in New Jersey. Fifty years. You might recall."

"Trump's golf course is there."


"Donald Trump. He's on vacation in Bedminster. We hate him."

"Everyone hates Donald Trump."

"Not everyone."

"Everyone in *my house* hates Donald Trump. And when you are *in* my house, you will hate Donald Trump. *Sukie* hates Donald Trump."

"Of course, Sukie. She's an anarcho-syndicalist."


"An anarchist. A fancy anarchist. She was born hating Donald Trump."

"Sukie hates Donald Trump because she's not *stupid*."

"Right, that too."

"Unlike America."

"Yes, that too. I thought maybe you and me and Sukie could drive to his golf course and - I don't know. Throw tomatoes? Yell and honk? I'm guessing we wouldn't get anywhere near - "

"Sukie doesn't want anything to do with Donald Trump."

"Sukie was bred to catch rats. Whippets. They catch rats. That's what they were for, on, like, Welsh farms in 1620, or something."

"Sukie doesn't like rats."

"Or anything that seems like a rat. So: squirrels. Rabbits. Republicans."

"Sukie is not going to catch Donald Trump. I won't have her dragging him into the house."

"We could go drive there and do something offensive."

"Give him the finger?"

"Sure. We could give Donald Trump the finger."



"I'm eighty-five years old - "


"Thank you. I'm eighty-*six* years old, and - "

"And what?"

"Donald Trump eats pizza with a knife and fork."

"He - "

"He eats. His pizza. With a knife. And fork."

"Yeah, and he puts ketchup on his steak."

"New Jersey is the right place for him."

"You lived there fifty years!"

"That was not my idea."

"It was totally your idea! You were the one who drove out to New Jersey from Westchester in your convertible in 1959 with the dog in the back seat - excuse me, with the *baby* in the back seat and the dog in front, eight months pregnant with me, and bought a house, and called your husband and said, 'Guess what I just did?'"

"Who told you that?"

"*You* told me that."

"Well. It's a good story. Donald *Trump* is not a good story. If you want to go to his golf course, go. But not in my car. Sukie and I will be here. Is there wine? If there's wine, we'll be here."


16 August 2017

"There's a Nazi in the White House," I tell my mother.

"Yes," she says.

"What can we do about it?"


"What do you do when there's a Nazi in the White House?"

"It's Elvis day."

"I'm sorry?"

"So am I."

"Elvis has a day?"

"On TCM."

"We were talking about Nazis."

"I like Elvis almost as much as I like Nazis."

"*Viva Las Vegas* is fun. Are they showing *Viva Las Vegas*?"


"But you've fought Nazis!"

"I didn't fight any Nazis. I was 12. I collected scrap metal."

"For the war effort!"

"And we had a victory garden."

"You're the Greatest Generation!"

"So why don't I feel great?"

"Bad knees. You have bad knees. I have them too!"

"You're welcome."

"How do you get rid of Nazis?"

"Send Elvis."

"Elvis is dead. You're the Greatest Generation! You know how to get rid of Nazis! How do you do it?"

"Here's how you get rid of Nazis," she says.

"Don't mention Elvis again."


"Okay okay okay."

"I am going to die without ever watching anything with Elvis."

"Fine fine fine. Now what about the Nazis?"

"You just send them away."

"That's it?"

"That's it."

"It won't involve explosives?"

"You just do with them like dogs. You say, 'Bad dog! Go lie down!'"

"Sounds like an Elvis song."

"'Go lie down!' That's it. Don't waste another minute on them."


2 September 2017

They should have held his head underwater when he was down there," my mother says.

"Whose head?" I say.

"You know whose."

"Do you want to say that out loud?"

"It's my house."

"What if I post it to Facebook?"

"That's your problem."

"I'm posting it to Facebook."


"You don't care?"

"And Mike Pence."

"Here goes."

"Don't forget to say Mike Pence."


3 September 2017

"You lied to me," I tell my mother.


"About Colorado. For fifty-eight years, you lied about Colorado. Because it turns out that a third of Colorado is Kansas."

"Colorado is *not* Kansas."

"It so is. I was just there. With your other son. And his wife. Both of whom will verify my claims. We were driving west through Western Kansas, and I mean there was a border, of course, but Kansas basically never stopped until Aurora, which is the last suburb before - "

"I know where Aurora is."

"Kansas ended at your back door. Basically. In your house in Crestmoor Park. The one your father built in - "

"I know when my *father* built our *house*. What is your point?"

"It's all prairie until Denver."

"I. Did. Not. Grow. Up. On. The. Prairie."

"Ran straight up to your back door."

"I have never been in Kansas."

"Didn't you drive from Denver to New York with your mother and father 'every summer before the war?' I'm quoting you. Do you hear the quotes?"

"Yes, we drove to New York."

"Would you not have had to drive through Kansas?"

"Yes, we drove through Kansas."

"So you *have* been in Kansas."

"I wasn't looking."

"You're a prairie girl."

"*John*. *I have never had anything to do with the prairie.*"

"Didn't the Governor of Colorado call you 'My little prairie flower' in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel in 1949?"


"You say I never listen, but I listen! Dan Thornton."

"He was the Governor."

"That's what I'm saying."

"He and my father were friends."

"And he called you - "

"There was a cow in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver every year in January."

"For the National Western Stock Show. Why do you say I don't listen?"

"Every year. Behind rope. A cow."

"That's why we had steak for dinner every Saturday in New Jersey for eighteen years. Your Denver thing about cows."

"Your father was the son of a butcher."

"That's why you married him! Denver prairie flower of the stockyards marries Connecticut butcher's son!"

"I was not a flower of the *stockyards*. I was a flower of the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel. Which is not in Kansas."

"There were cows in Kansas."

"*I never saw any cows in Kansas!*"

"You weren't looking. You said you weren't looking. You see: I listen."

"We were in the lobby. I was twenty years old. He was my father's friend. I didn't think of him as the Governor. He was just Dan Thornton, my father's friend. Whatever happened to him? Look him up on your machine. He must be dead by now, right? He put his hand under my chin, which is what men do to women in movies. Men in movies. They are always putting their hand on women's chins, and lifting their heads. I never saw anyone do that to a woman in life except when Dan Thornton did it to me. 'You're a prairie flower,' he said."

"The prairie's Kansas."

"I don't give a damn where the prairie is."


25 September 2017

"Take an Emmy with you," my mother says, instead of good-bye. She lives with three Emmys. My father got them for NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics in Seoul, Barcelona, and Atlanta.

"What would I do with an Emmy?" I say. "Bolt it to the hood of my car?"

"*My* car."

"Your car."

"My goddamned car."

"Your car. I'm sorry. I don't want an Emmy."

"Take one."

"I'd wreck it. I wreck things. Maybe you don't know what a slob I am."

"Maybe I do."

"I can't have nice things."

"It's just a cheap piece of tin."

"So much the worse. I'd have it three weeks, the globe at the top would fall off, and then it'd just be a gold thing with those pointy wings."

"You could stab people with it."

"Stab who?"


"What interlopers?"


"I should go around impaling Republicans on my father's Emmy Award?"


"Then I'd be in jail. And who would you give your Emmys to?"



"To whom would I then give my Emmys."

"They're my father's. Jack Weir's. He won them. I don't think it's right to have other people's awards."

"You have my horse show trophies."

"You made me take them!"

"Because they tarnish, and then you have to polish them."

"I told you, I wreck things. I have never polished your trophies. They're on a windowsill in my apartment, going green and covered in cobwebs."

"Cheap sliver plate."

"And some of them are mine, by the way."

"A few of them are yours."

"I won plenty of trophies!"

"Which Emmy do you want?"

"I don't want an Emmy. You gave me your trophies because you were tired of polishing them? What made you think *I'd* polish them?"

"I don't care if you ever polish a bunch of cheap metal trophies with their silver plate flaking off."

"So it wasn't really a gift."

"Take an Emmy."

"I can't have nice things, I told you."

"And I told you they're not that nice."

"Okay, fine," I say, picking an Emmy off the dining room table.

"Not *that* one!" my mother says.

27 October 2017

"Have you ever met a bear?" I ask my mother. "One of my writing students put a bear in his story last week, and was it a believeable bear? And what *is* a believable bear? And you grew up in Denver, so I figured - "


"You've met a bear?"

"Of course I've met a bear."

"How did you meet a bear?"

"My father."

"Was a bear?"

"My father made me hug a bear."

"He did what?"

"We were in the mountains and there was a bear and he said, 'Go hug the bear.'"

"'Go hug the bear?'"


"A real bear?"

"A cub."

"Where was its mother?"

"It was very cute."

"The cub didn't have a mother?"

"She wasn't around."

"*You* didn't have a mother?"

"She wasn't around."

"So you hugged a bear?"

"A cub."

"And you're alive?"

"It's on film."

"Your father took a picture?"

"He took a movie."

"Your father made you hug a bear and took a movie? With, like, his pre-historic home movie camera?"

"And threw me in the lake."

"Your father threw you in the lake? Because, why?"

"Grand Lake."

"In the Rockies?"


"And your father made you hug a bear and then threw you in the lake?"

"So I could learn to swim."

"Were you scared?"

"I was four."

"And you learned to swim?"

"Of course."

"Is that how you taught *me* to swim?"


"Just: throw 'em in the lake?"

"In the pond. We had a pond."

"And what if you throw your kids in the lake or pond and they drown?"

"Then you don't have kids!”


11 November 2017

"What are your Thanksgiving plans?" I ask my mother.

"I am *not* cooking a turkey," she says.

"Did I ask you to cook a turkey?"

"I don't even *like* turkey."

"What about tofurkey?"

"I AM NOT COOKING ANY KIND OF TURKEY. That part of my life is over."

"The turkey part?"

"If you think I am going to cook - "

"Turducken? Have you ever had turducken?"

"There will be no turkey in my house on Thanksgiving."

"What if I show up with seven friends who all want turkey?"

"Tough ass."

"'Tough ass?' Seriously? What would you rather have? If not turkey? Which, by the way, I never asked you to cook."

"Steak tartare."

"You want uncooked dead cow for turkey dinner?"

"And wine. And fudge."

"Uncooked dead cow, wine - "

"*White* wine."

"Of course white. Do you think I haven't met you?"

"And fudge."

"You don't want pumpkin pie?"


"What if my seven friends like everything pumpkin?"

"Get new friends."


24 November 2017

My mother and her dog are inexhaustible. In. Ex. Haustible. My mother is 86. Her dog in dog years is like 92. My mother *never stops thinking*. She has something swirling in her head every minute, and she doesn't, according to any standard I can identify, sleep. And her dog Sukie Tawdry, who *does* sleep, can nonetheless go from passed-out to leaping and ecstatic in 15 seconds. Me, I need an hour or two just to realize each morning that I'm alive. When I leave my mother's house, after every visit, I sleep for two days. Which of us is old?


28 December 2017

"All my favorite people are dead," my mother said, Xmas Eve, her hello.

"Mine, too," I said, but my mother's pronouncements are not meant to initiate conversation, but to end it. Or win it.

"Keely Smith is dead," she said.

"Yes, alas."

"All my dogs are dead."

"Your dogs are people?"


"Sukie Tawdry isn't dead."

"She will be."

"So will you. So will I. Death and taxes, remember?"

"Not anymore. Now it's just death. The Republicans got rid of taxes."

"They got rid of taxes for themselves. Bob *Corker* doesn't have taxes. Pat Toomey. *Your* Senator."

"Pat Toomey is not my Senator."

"Just because you didn't vote for him, doesn't mean - "

"No Republican has ever been my Senator!"

"Okay. So who else is dead."


"I'm not dead."

"I know *you're* not dead, because I keep getting your parking tickets."


"In the mail."

"I'm sorry."

"Al Franken is dead."

"Al Franken is alive! Just jobless."

"*He* was my Senator."

"Do you live in Minnesota?"

"All my favorite people are dead or sent home to Minnesota."

"So far, we have only: Keely Smith. And Al Franken, who's politically dead. Who else?"


"Everyone is dead?"

"Cary Grant is dead."

"Cary Grant has been dead for a long time."

"So? Is that what I said? Did I say, 'All my favorite people have been dead for a long time?' No. I said they were just dead. That's all."

"Merry Christmas."

"Yeah, right."

"I brought champagne."

"Pour it," she said.

"And caviar."

"Where on earth have you been parking my car that I get tickets from three states? What were you doing in Philadelphia on a Tuesday? Atlantic *City*? You have business in Atlantic City? Are you Donald Trump?"

"Donald Trump's not dead."

"He will be," my mother said. "Pour the champagne. We'll toast to that."


Addendum: John was in Facebook jail January 14th to February 14th 2018; February 13th was the day John's mom went - all unwillingly - to the farkakta suburban hospital she hated (high fever: John figured she'd be out in a day or two, but it took 8 days and all of John's resources and repeated performances of his Shirley MacLaine routine to get her home); & during the time John was in the Facebrig, Sukey Tawdry (her name is/was variably spelled: Sukie, Sukey, Sookey) took messages for him, and posted a few of her own.  Here's one:

20 January 2018

Arf. It's me Sukey Tawdry. Just so you know: I'm a Whippet. Ruff. "Whippet" is 17th century British for "brisk nimble woman." John told me. John has google skills. I do not. I want rabbits! #$@&%*! And rats. And squirrels. Corgis will do, on a slow day. Quick small things. Little odious vermin. Republicans! Call me a ratcatcher, what you're saying is, I bite Republicans.

Here's why I hate landowners and law passers: you've heard of the Forest Laws? In England, long ago? The Forest Laws were made by rich landowners to prevent poor people from hunting harts in the British forests. If Richy Rich caught a poor person's brisk nimble dog in the Albion woods, the mofos cut the tendons in the dog's legs and sent her home to her struggling humans.

Rich people! British earls! Republicans! Grrr.

Whippets are also called "snap up dogs," because we snap up our prey.

That's a warning to Mitch McConnell!

So my long ago poor English humans kept my maimed ancestors close to home until the Forest Laws were repealed; and while they waited, my ancestral matriarchs learned to catch whatever was out there in the barnyard and the sheep meadow: rats, mostly. Anything resembling a rat.

Paul Ryan!

Ruff ruff.

And they also learned to run fast. Whippets have the fastest acceleration time of any dog in the world. John says that's what Wikipedia says, but I don't speak internet.

We're quick. We're sight hounds, we see things! But when we see, we don't say, we just reach down and snap it up.

That's my deep background, in brief. My personal backstory is as follows:

Some clown tied me to a parking meter - or a tree - or a lamppost (the story changes, depending on how much wine John's mom has had in the storytelling moment) either in Brooklyn or Queens (ditto); I was untied and taken in by saviors (I don't believe in saviors! "Save yourself!" is what I tell the mofo squirrels before I snap them up); and next thing I knew I was in the back of a Subaru and headed for New Jersey.

It could happen to you!

That's when I got my name. "Sukey Tawdry" (also spelled "Sukie" and "Suky") is - well, here's what John's mom likes to say:

"My dog is named for an 18th century British whore!"

She says this to strangers - Republicans! - at dinner, in her retirement community, where she and I share a one-bedroom apartment.

I am not named for an 18th century whore.

"A whorehouse madam!" John's mom will clarify, which is, strictly speaking, not true.

Sukey/ie/y Tawdry is fictional, for one thing, not real, but John's mom will not acknowledge this.

"Oh, you have a dog!" the Republicans say, when John's mom sits down with them to dinner. ("Shoe leather is what they serve us," John's mom says. "Shoe leather and bamboo soup.") "What is your dog's name?"

And John's mom says, "Sukey Tawdry."

And they say, "What an unusual name. How'd you come up with it?"

And she says, "Sukey Tawdry was a whorehouse madam in England in the 18th century!"

And then John's mom complains to John that her Republican neighbors and dinner companions don't really get her.

"Why did you move to a place where there weren't any gay men?" John says. "There are no gay men here. No one eating dinner with you is ever a gay man. You need an audience of elderly gay men who get your opera references. What were you thinking?"

"What was I thinking indeed," she says.

"Every time I was ever in your apartment in Manhattan with other people around, the other people were always single gay men in their sixties and seventies, and a couple of women from the costume department at the Metropolitan Opera. Did it not occur to you when you were thinking about moving to this retirement community that no one was gay or making costumes for *Aida*? What *were* you thinking?"

"They've never heard of Sukey Tawdry."

"Of course they haven't."

"She was a whorehouse madam."

"She was not actually a whorehouse madam. Not in real life."


"No. In fiction. She's a character in John Gay's *The Beggar's Opera*."

"I *know* that."

"A fictional character."

"Don't you lecture me about *The Beggar's Opera*."

"And then Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann put her in *Die Dreigroschenoper*."

"Don't swear at me."

"I'm speaking German."

"Aren't you fancy."

"*The Threepenny Opera*."

"I *know*."

"I'm clarifying for Sukey's Facebook friends."

"Sukey has Facebook friends?"


"Ask them if they've heard of her."

"They've heard of her."

"Ask them if they've ever heard of Bobby Darin. No one in this retirement community has ever heard of Bobby Darin."

"Everybody's heard of Bobby Darin."

"No. One. Here. Has. Ever. Heard. Of Bobby Darin."

"Bobby Darin's recording of 'Mack the Knife,' wherein he mentions Sukey Tawdry, was the #2 song the year I was born."

"No. One."

"They heard 'Mack the Knife' on the radio. Surely."

"Don't argue with me."

"I'm not arguing."

"You are *arguing*."


"They have never heard 'Mack the Knife.'"


That's how John and John's mom talk, all the time. While I wait around to be taken outside, where the squirrels are. Or sometimes I grab my clam. I have a big purple clam. Its name is Clam. I like to grab it in my mouth and arch my neck and run around. It's a great clam.

John and John's mom didn't mention that the reason they know about Sukey Tawdry is because John's mom directed a community theater production of *The Threepenny Opera* - Marc Blitzstein translation - in Clinton, New Jersey in like 1974. John was allowed to have a small role. And he had one line. It was this:

"They little suspect that they have *us* to deal with."

Republicans! Grrr!


  1. This was the best tribute. Thank you for compiling and posting.

  2. What a grand dame your mother was!

    Kim McCargo

  3. I can't imagine the hole left in your life. And I'm sorry Sukie Tawdry didn't survive long without your mother. Your mother was indeed a grande dame. She knew how to tell her story on her terms. Thank you so much for sharing her with us.

    "Farewell without rancor."

    "That's your New Year's Eve message?"

    "Well, not to 2016, it isn't. But it will have to do."

  4. Such a great tribute and gift, to have all these in one place. Thank you.
    Lisa Reeves

  5. Barbara was all I went to the Faceschnook for anyway. Nuts to it. If anybody needs me (nobody needs me), this is where I'll be.