Thursday, June 23, 2011

21 Years

Today is the anniversary of my father's death. In his memory, I am reposting a piece I wrote last year on this date.

My father died 20 years ago today.

I still miss him.

Colon cancer killed him at 58. When they first found the tumor in his colon, he had surgery to remove it. During the operation I sat in the waiting room at New Rochelle Hospital with my mother. All I remember is that the surgeon came out when he was finished, and said: "It was very big. The size of a grapefruit. But I think I got it all."

The tumor had grown so large because my father didn't get himself checked for years. He had misdiagnosed the pain in his back. I remember him always having back problems. When I was 13 he was in traction, and to pass the time, he hand-hooked rugs. I still have a lovely floral rug that he made for me in my guest room. Sometimes he said his back problem was caused by an injury he got playing Gaelic football; other times, as I recall, it seemed to be related to a fall from a telephone pole. My father used to repair telephone wires for a living.

Finally they found the source of this particular pain, and so he had the surgery, and chemo, which seemed to cure him for a while, until it didn't.

He died right after Father's Day. I don't know why, but I bought him a large mahogany wall clock that year. He was so frail, and when he opened it, he sobbed a heart breaking sob. Why had I bought him such a gift?

Very near the end, he was thin as a rail, and he wanted a cigarette. My brother Robert could not deny him. I watched him smoking it, and he seemed a corpse already, but I knew that Robert had done the right thing.

I spent the night before he died at my parents' house, and I was able to tell him that I loved him, and he heard me. My family of origin is not big on "I Love You." It is so rarely spoken amongst us that I can barely choke it out, and if I do say it, it seems like some sort of breach of etiquette. People avert their eyes, then make jokes. We don't say it, but we know it.

The afternoon of June 23, 1990, it was sunny and beautiful, and my brother took a few of us, me and some cousins, out in the little motor boat that my father had recently insisted on buying for him. (For me, he had thoughtfully purchased an air conditioner for my stifling New York apartment.) The sun glittered on the water. We were quietly waiting.

When we returned a few hours later, my mother and my parents' closest friends sat around the dining room table. I glanced their way as I went directly to my father's bedside.

"Chris..." It was Mr. Maye, my father's lifelong best friend. He didn't need to say anything else.

My father's hands were folded on his chest.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What the Kids are Doing: Bearded Edition

As previously established, I live in the suburbs and work at home in sweaty yoga clothes. Thus my trips into NYC are rare, and filled with unfamiliar sights. I have learned that all women now wear towering heels with many thick straps holding them to their feet, for example. And every time I come into Manhattan, (when I am not worrying that I have a neon sign on me that screams "Suburban Mother!") I am struck by the large percentage of guys under 40 with scruffy-looking beards much different than the trimmed goatees of my youth. We're talking super long, kind of disgusting facial hair, like Rip Van Winkle.

I'm old, so I can't help being a little mystified by the young. Why do the men of this generation have faces that look more like vaginas than the waxed-clean genitalia of its women? Razor blades are obscenely expensive, but I don’t think it is fair that men can let their facial hair run rampant, while woman have to be hyper-conscious of their pubic hair.

I sought insight from a really nice bearded man, a friend of a friend. He was sweet enough to answer all my questions about beards, and now I feel a little bad for being judgmental. His name is Alexander Yerks, and he is a photographer.

So, Alex, when did you first grow your beard?

I believe the first time I grew my beard was around August 2007.


People ask me this all the time. They also say "I've always wanted to, but..." My easiest answer is that it's just easy to grow one. You don't have to do anything! At all! Just let it grow!

Did you see someone or something that inspired you?

I think what made me really want to grow one was how most people usually frown upon beards. Which is strange, since it's in our genes to grow them. We did evolve this way for a reason! I always wondered why it's looked down upon, but now I think it is just the way modern society has shaped the way people look and dress. It seems like from the beginning of mankind, men grew beards to distinguish themselves from the rest. Most noblemen, religious figures, gods, or other powerful men had a signature bearded look. For example: George Harrison, Jesus, Fidel, Socrates, Merlin, Van Gogh, Darwin, Freud, and Papa Smurf. In the past, having a beard was almost a sign of wisdom that only came with age and experiences. It's actually interesting that only a few US presidents had beards. Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Lincoln, and Harrison.

Allrighty. How would you describe your look with the beard, v.s. before?

I don't think my look changed at all. Although it did add an extra 8 inches to my chin.

Any difference in how you seem to be perceived?

I do feel like I get more respect from the everyday person now that I have a beard, but it's not always positive respect. Some people don't get it. But some people dig it.

What is the best part of having a beard?

Saving money on razors, etc. Keeps your face and neck warm without a scarf. Less people on the street will mess with you. Having lived in Bushwick for two years with the beard definitely helped keep the street confrontations down.

The worst part?

It does weird some people out. This is probably the result of the last handful of generations having grown up with this GQ mentality of clean faces, men using cosmetics, and worrying way too much about how to dress. Actually now that I think of it, the worst part of having a beard was when Joaquin grew one. I think that made more people look at beards in a negative light.

Are there any beard maintenance issues?

Sometimes you can get "bedhead". Eating was a major challenge at first. Especially when you have a moustache. A handkerchief is your best friend.

Any beard mishaps? Or negatives to having a beard?

The TSA and airport security will give you multiple pat-downs and screenings. Smoking is a hazard. Trimming can be a nightmare. One wrong move and bye bye beard.

Do you find that there is a particular type that is attracted to guys with beards?

I haven't really had any particular type of women mention that beards are their thing. My girlfriend likes it though.

P.S. I met Alex recently, and he had shaved his beard! He said he missed it , though, and was thinking of growing it back.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What, I should start using hashtags NOW?

The piece on hashtags in yesterday's New York Times Style section was the paper's fourth offering on the little thingy that people like to use in their tweets and whenever they don't feel like writing out a complete thought.

I have never used a hashtag. I was briefly tempted when my highly grammatical colleague Tamara Glenny ran a post about hashtags on her excellent site wwword this past February.

Before that I wasn't quite sure I understood the hashtag. Now that I do comprehend, I feel self-conscious about becoming a late adopter. It seems vaguely age-inappropriate, the literary equivalent of wearing a tacky miniskirt to the market or constantly sprinkling your speech with "like." Or getting a hashtag tattoo.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In Which My Son Teaches Me By Example

My 10-year-old played his first competitive tennis match yesterday. We are lucky to belong to a lovely pool and tennis club, and we all play, with varying degrees of ability. My husband was on the team in high school and is a natural athlete but rarely has the time for tennis now. I am an uncoordinated 49-year-old who learned four years ago. I have no stamina and love the game. Both of the kids have been in tennis clinics for the past 4 springs.

Luckily, Dale seems to take after his dad, so I signed him up for the tennis team and the juniors tournament at our club. For his first match, he was pitted against a 9-year-old. When I told Dale the boy's name, a look of panic crossed his face. "That is so unfair," he said. "What's the problem?" I asked insensitively. "He's nine years old. You're almost 11."

Dale knew this boy from camp. He apparently has played USTA tournaments. Not sure why someone so good was pitted against an inexperienced player, but that's how it works, I guess. As my husband explained, in professional tournaments, the bottom-rated players play the top-rated players in the first round. I don't understand this system, and how anyone ever gets to move up if this is the case, but Dalton has assured me that it does, and that's why we got to see Federer and Nadal in the French Open finals. (Which Dale watched with great attention in preparation for his big match.)

And so it came to pass that my boy was playing his first match at 4pm on a 95 degree day. He lost both sets, but he was spectacular. I was truly impressed. I have never witnessed Dale in a situation like this before. There he was, all by himself, losing point after point. His face and even his arms and legs were beet red, and he was dripping with sweat. I was worried that he was getting overheated.

My son never lost hope once. He got the vast majority of his serves in, and some of the rallies seemed to go on forever. His sportsmanship was excellent. He never seemed angry. I learned by watching this match that my boy is a tenacious person with a strong sense of self. I was bursting with pride. Sorry for the cliche, and for the bragging, but I was just bursting.

Dale knew this better than I do: if you are losing, you don't give up. Just keep on doing the thing, the best that you can.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Deadly Perils of Bounce Houses"?

Really, Lady Who Edits the AOL home page? Or Truly Sinister Man Who Has the Job of Picking Stories that Terrify Parents? Would you let me check my email in peace? (If you don't know what I'm talking about, because you're all hip with your gmail account, please read my post from two days ago.)

A headline like this is a Proustian madeleine for me. Don't take me there. I have long believed that bounce houses are instruments of torture. Once at a nursery school fundraiser, the bounce house came unplugged and started deflating while Violet was inside. I lunged at the thing and pulled her out by the feet, with visions of her suffocating to death if I didn't extricate her in time. Bounce houses are writhing masses of screaming toddlers knocking heads and developing goose eggs.

I'm a lot of fun.

Monday, June 6, 2011

My two cents about reality tv

I hate reality tv. My husband supports our family writing and editing articles about reality tv. This creates conflict in our marriage. Hey, I just had an idea for a sitcom. (Note: I did not say reality show.)

Often I find myself in the living room while Dalton is watching reality tv. Such was the case on a recent night. The Voice was on, and I was waiting for it to be over so we could watch Modern Family. The guy with the huge afro and his singing partner were preparing for their duet-off. (The show operates on the evil premise that the signers have to sing duets, and whoever does best, gets to stay on. Work together, guys, but make sure you make your "partner" look bad.) While I was trying to focus on the Dining section of the New York Times, Big Afro guy was talking about his “strategy” for faking out his singing “partner/competitor.”

That’s what I hate about reality shows. Everything is strategy and subterfuge and being fake. No one is being straight-up. An entire generation is learning that this is the way you should behave to be successful in the world.

I told Dalton my really insightful thought, and he disagreed. He said since he watches more reality tv, he knew more about it. And I said that no, it’s like when you live in a house that smells like cat pee you can’t smell it anymore, but if a guest comes over they can totally notice it.

That’s when he paused The Voice so we could watch my show.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dear AOL: Please stop scaring the crap out of me every time I check my email

If it's not an 11-year-old falling to her death from a ferris wheel, it's a Little Leaguer dropping dead on the baseball field. I get that you need to increase traffic, but I'm not clicking on this terrifying stuff anymore. Quit it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More from Christina "No Such Thing as Too Much Information" Kelly*

Today on xojane, I provide sordid details of my misspent youth. Here are some bonus photos from that era, for FP readers only. That's quite a look I was working. I do realize that one picture is facing the wrong way, but I am too lazy to rescan it. The guy I am with was my boyfriend for the entire weekend that photo was taken. I don't remember his last name. But I hope you don't mind, Ron, wherever you are.

*As I was once identified in Bitch Magazine