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MIDWEST, USA-

Dear L:

Before I left Madrid this past June, you had sent me a correspondence which had this as its final paragraph:

Please write. Write sometime and tell me things about your crazy country, full of enormous highways, tall cities, weird people, strange drinks (like Dr.Pepper, the most disgusting drink ever made after cicuta, I guess), blonde girls, cute dogs, creepy perfect neighbourhoods [sic], great writers, great musicians, great…and a long etcetera of lights and shadows of that hard to understand country you come from.

That’s quite poetic L, right there at the end with the lights and shadows etceterrata. You must be something of a writer yourself and-being Spanish-you write quite well in English. I know because I try to write in Spanish and it is widely considered to be the final and most difficult faculty to master in any second language.

Tomorrow I return to your country.


I’ve kept a numbered list of things that have caught my attention over the past 10 weeks.

Many of these things have occurred over the past five years since I’ve been gone so what I’m observing are not necessarily changes that have occurred overnight.

I hope this suffices to recap my summer sojourn back in Freedomland**.

1. Flags.

This country is so jam-packed full of flags, it’s alarming.

I relate this because your country is virtually flag free compared to the US.

Many other countries I’ve visited don’t seem to have this flag fetish.

What gives?

After 911, the flag industry raked in so much cash over the course of several years that even the steady descent into widespread unpopularity that the president has experienced hasn’t even really affected their presence.

I offer a personal example: My mom spent around 1000 dollars erecting a flagpole replete with a brand new red-white-and-blue flag atop and the accompanying lights.

Not actually my parents' house




Some say freedom isn’t free; I agree, it–or at least the symbol of it–appears to cost about a grand.

I took pictures whenever I could over a 10 week period.

Without even really trying, I took over 50 photos.

My assumption is this: Many US citizens feel that the USA is–without question–the best goddamn country on earth, and in order to announce their pride to every other citizen they see, they pump flags like fists at rock concerts.

I read once that given your country’s history of dictators and royal tyrants, Spanish people inherently despise and distrust any institution that governs their lives.

So showing national pride isn’t something you want to do that readily.

Maybe in a few decades (if we’re all still collectively kicking), when America’s self-asserted world dominance in the world has been weakened, its citizens won’t be so quick to sport flags that to many in the world mean the complete opposite to what they mean to US citizens.

(If you don’t understand what the above statement means L–and I assume you probably already do– read a little bit of Noam Chomsky, peruse Zmag.org or even just listen to any Rage Against the Machine song.)

2. Automatically foaming soap.

(I call it autofoap or even just foap.) All over this land in both the public and private spaces I visited, autofoap has taken the US by storm (por huevos).

Somewhere in the course of the past five years (most acutely in the past two or three) regular liquid hand soap was replaced with autofoap. Apparently, it removes the burden caused by non-foaming soap.

It’s lather-free.

I wonder what this means, if anything.

It could mean we’ve reached new levels of laziness or that the general public was extremely jaded on the old liquid hand soap, so much so that this subtle and clever move has us entranced. Will the US ever go back to non-foaming hand soap or is this foap here to stay?

A good question.

Answer: probably.

What’s next, L?

Sustainable energy?

Self-driving cars?

Water bottles that automatically unscrew their lids, crawl up your arm and pour their contents down your throat for you?

3. Coca Cola with vitamins. This is actually somewhat of a spin off caused by Red Bull’s steam-rolling of the energy drink market. When I was here a few years ago, I remember there being the normal variety of soft drinks along with Pepsi and Coca-cola drinking waters. Now there is virtually no end to what’s on offer.

Actually, that’s not true: There are two kinds offered. One offers vitamins and minerals and one offers only antioxidants. Of course the vitamins are rather sparse (only 25% of the daily recommended value of B6 and B12 and niacin – what the hell is niacin anyway?). The other one is mixed with green tea. Now if they could only find a way to fit a burrito in these cans, I’d consume them like Spaniards do olive oil and cigarettes.


4. Pharmacies have overtaken the corners of many cities throughout the Midwest (and presumably the rest of the nation).

Farmacias in Spain are everywhere as well, but they seem to only sell drugs that are purport to improving health or allaying pain.

Pharmacies in the US have a small back corner section where you can fill your prescriptions and a capacious mini-supermarket design of row after row of generally useless shit…

OR shit you can buy at any general store or supermarket.

When I left five years ago, these pharmacies were in existence, now they are taking over street corners all over this great land.

It’s good to know that when you’re getting low on your anti-depressants you can also pick up some stationary, cigarettes and any other last-minute school supplies.

5. On July 5th, 2008, the temperature was oppressively hellish around the mid 90s with heavy humidity.

Every public place I entered today – the library, supermarket, pharmacy and a restaurant – were all frigid.

In the restaurant, I actually looked down to find my nipples hard.

I should have brought a sweater with me in the dead of summer.

So, L, why is the temperature of American air conditioning so high, you ask? I used to think it was so people would eat or shop as quickly as possible and then get the hell out so someone else could do the same thing quickly. Maybe not. Maybe an obese population requires unusually high temperatures indoor.

This temperature extremity is alarming for a reason I wrote in my first TNB piece and which I don’t think I can restate any more clearly:

The largest source of greenhouse gases is electric power generation.

Air conditioners use around 1/6th of the electricity in the US and on doggishly hot summer days, they can use up to 43% of the peak power load.

So as the environment gets hotter, we’re going to need a lot more air conditioners to keep the indoors cool.

This will, in turn, make the outdoors even hotter.

If you love air conditioning, this is definitely the place for you.

6. 99% of Americans constantly confuse Spanish culture with Mexican culture. Stephen Colbert, famed American satirist for his hilarious fake news show The Colbert Report, devastatingly revealed his own ignorance one night (but was safe because only 1% of the country knows about this) by putting Spain on the new terror list watch.

Since Iraq and North Korea are no longer on the Axis of Evil, he said, we’re going to have to pick another country to put on it. He started reading some headlines, found that Spain extended legal rights to Apes. (This is a true story.) After lashing into the mere idea of it, he blurted out, “Taco Shells? Freedom Shells!” The crowd roared with laughter.

I mentioned this to some friends who watch him and they immediately said that he knew what he was saying and that the joke was kind of double joke, referring to US backlash against France’s rejection of supporting the US’s invasion of Iraq. It was also, they pointed out, a joke making fun of people who think taco shells come from Spain.

There is no doubt in my mind that Colbert is one smart guy. Satire at this level is rare and very welcomed. But he really didn’t seem to be making fun of people who think tacos come from Spain AND people who supported banning the word french with fries. It felt like–at least in the moment–he really thought tacos came from Spain.

And this is unsettling because it has been my experience with pretty much every other American who hasn’t been to Spain.

Currently, in pretty much every way minus the language, Spanish culture is very distinct from all countries in Latin America. This means that your people don’t eat Burritos every day because it is not Spanish cuisine; it means that you, L, or your countryfolk don’t wear Pepé Gonzalez sombreros or play mariachi music, that “Oh, no I haven’t been to Spain but I have been to Cozumel” means nothing; Tortillas are not made of flour or corn but eggs and potatoes and Jennifer Lopez only speaks Spanish, is not Spanish.

I’m not positive about this L but I think this is a cumulative effect of American’s general ignorance of world geography largely caused by their own bloated and unjustified sense of self-importance, Mexico’s adjacent placement and that the language spoken throughout all Hispanic America (i.e. all countries south of the USA minus Brazil and the French colonies) is the same language spoken in Spain. Oh yeah, it’ also used as an adjective for anything that comes from Spain, as in Spanish wine. This trifecta of reasons has even America’s foremost satirist confused.

7. American politics = Hollywood spectacle.

It’s unfortunate but true. It’s less about what you say or what you mean and mostly about image and perception.

I’m afraid we are doomed for the rest of our lives to have to endure corruption on such a widespread level.

I am very willing to lay down my keyboard, get grassroots and take up arms in front of the white house, demanding the power be given back to us, the American people.

But only if many other people are.

Do you think anyone is with me, L?

No, me either.

Let’s hurry up and wrap up this correspondence so I can get back to checking my email and sharpening my cynicism.

8.** Why I call the USA Freedomland? I call the USA Freedomland because it’s virtually impossible to listen to any of its politicians speak without overusing the word freedom. In fact, they speak in vast excesses of loaded terminology like democracy, freedom, terrorism, etc. If you check out Publicrhetoric.US, you’ll see an analysis one of Bush’s last speeches on Veterans Day. Freedom outnumbered the second most common word, security, by more than 2:1.

Freedom was used 21 times while security only reached 10.

It has become such a loaded word in the USA that it has essentially become meaningless. If all I did was listen to its political speeches, I would have to draw the conclusion that the USA invented freedom.




Not only did they invent it, but they are coveting it like Tokein’s ring.

They will let other countries have it, but only if those countries allow Starbucks and McDonalds in.

These companies are icons of freedom, or free or open (American-friendly) markets.

When I visit the USA, I don’t see freedom so much as excessiveness and apathy.

Compared to most European societies, it seems like a immature and jovial population that is dedicated firmly to its football (or sports in general), driving, working, gas, fast food, being the best, buying in bulk, celebrity worship, reality television and its disposable and iconic to-go coffee cups.

Every one has these.

Recycling is optional.

We are hellbent on freedom at all costs.

Whatever that means.

And we want to make sure that you and everyone you know is aware of this.

America, with all its faults, is at once the best and worst this world has to offer.

I highly recommend you visit someday.

All the best.

K

Dating’s a bitch.

And this is the time of year when it’s easier to plop in front of the TV with a bottle of Veuve and watch a House marathon rather than suffer through, as the only single person* in the room, the forced jollity of holiday events.  You start to miss the days when your mother pestered you about your dating life. Anymore, she just slaps on her Colorform smile, tells hyper-enthusiastic tales of others – who got married even older than you – and passes the twice-baked potatoes with a heavy sigh; resigned to the fact that the children born to your siblings are going to be the only grands she’s going to get.

(*For the record, no, my widowed grandmother does NOT count, thank you very much and besides, evenshe has a boyfriend, so suck it!)

But it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been “out there”.  I’ve tried.  Honest I have.  I’ve just gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop more times than I care to count.

For example:

An Evangelical jazz drummer proposed marriage twice, only to break off the engagement. Twice. Both times as dictated by God who audibly spoke to him on the bank of a lake in Texas. A scientist told me the morning after our first night spent together, that, while I looked ‘just fine’, my BMI still indicated that I was technically obese. There was a chef who would only have outercourse, even though the relationship had progressed to the apartment-shopping phase. And let’s not forget the lawyer whose break-up speech proclaimed that I was comfortable to be around, and made every event an adventure, but I just wasn’t ‘thunderbolts and lightening’.

Ahem.

Despite all of that, I persist. I am a hopeful romantic. I cling desperately to the knowledge that, in the words of Fivel Mousekewitz, “Somewhere, out there … someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight”.

Bolstered by this ridiculous ongoing fantasy, I recently joined an internet dating website.

(I know… Please don’t judge me.)

Truth be told, however, that lawyer was wrong. am ‘thunderbolts and lightening’. I’m no gentle summer shower – I’m a torrential downpour.  I’m outspoken. Bossy. Tact isn’t always my forté. I’m a career gal. A broad. I’m definitely more Yentl and less Hadass.  Fanny Brice. K-k-k-k-k-katie. (Pick a Streisand character… any Streisand character…)

But knowing that Barbra, for all her chutzpah, is a certifiable bitch, I got to thinking maybe this time around, I should soften things a little.  Resolve to e-volve and use the internet for its Powers of Good: To help me finally find my Avigdor.

In order to do so though, I would need to get back to some basics. Take a refresher course and revisit some fundamental Junior League principles.  Try and be a lady

… for once.

So I turned to one of the classics:

Let’s see what advice Betty has that can help me in 2009…

1. Shut up and dance. Got it.  Moving on…

2. Note to self:  Wait 24 hours (or until sober) to e-mail, text or tweet.

3. The girl should make the move??? What??? Clearly Betty’s never read The Rules.

4. Good plan. Don’t let the guys know that you’re seeing more than one at a time. That’ll be our little secret…

5. If I don’t speak to men I’ve never met, how the hell is this internet dating thing going to work???  I think Betty needs to rethink things for the next edition.

6. Call me a cynic, but I think I’m going to be hard-pressed to find a Yankee who will perform his ‘manly chore’ for this nice Southern transplant…

7. So I suppose I shouldn’t keep ruling out those guys from Staten Island, eh?  You never know. Underneath those velour tracksuits, they might be swell.

8. Listen, Betty. If the guy doesn’t like me for who I am, then he can go fuc— (Deep breath…) Manners… manners…

9. Then how is he going to know I like him???

10. See #9.

Thank you for reading. I had a lovely time. So glad you came. I do hope you’ll call again soon!

– – – – –
Images (used without permission) from Your Manners Are Showing © 1946

Everyone in Germany talks constantly of illness.  It is a country of hypochondriacs and a country of contradictions.  The same person afraid of a drafty house will sit outside in winter, wrapped in a blanket and drink beer.  Fresh air is good for you, you see.   The person who rides his bike for exercise will do so while smoking a cigarette.  Explain that one.  And while a healthy lifestyle includes ample exercise, vegetables and bio-grown food, that exercise is tempered with plenty of smoking and drinking and veggies that are more often than not deep-fried and/or covered in cheese.  The aversion to actual medicine seems to come from a real distrust of the unnatural.  Herbs rule the day and are always the first line of attack.  No wonder everyone’s sick all the time!

My brain feels like one of those toys you have to push to make little bright objects bounce around in a clear dome over a loud grating noise.  Or a bingo dispenser, lots of stuff cluttering around and occasionally something comes out.  Or a garbage can at a rich person’s house or in a knick-knack store that’s going out of business.  You can see some good stuff in there but when you reach in you have to cringe past some gross gunk like banana peels and uneaten noodles and worse and you feel your way in the dark to find the valuable bits that can be wiped off, de-grossified, salvaged for future use.

Not to be dramatic.  I just can’t sleep so I’ll see what I can find in here (pointing to head.)

1.  At some point in middle school I went to a party where you could have your photo put on a drinking cup.  My friend Steph and I had two photos taken of us, and then each one put on a cup.  In one photo I looked really good and Steph looked okay.  In the other photo Steph looked really good and I looked okay.  I wanted the photo where I looked better but Steph said she wanted that one- why would she want to have a good photo of herself rather than one of her friend?

I forget what we decided on, but I felt vain and still do since if I were in the same situation today I’m pretty sure I would still want the better photo of myself.

2.  A few weeks ago I took a road trip to New Orleans with my friends Charlotte and Wilmot.  To pass the time in the car we played what turned into a sort of game- “Who Would You Rather Hook Up With?”  It was usually hit or miss, with many questions getting the answer – “Duh, of course (so and so).”

The fun was in thinking about the preferences of the person you were asking, and coming up with the perfectly balanced pair, balanced in either desirability or repulsiveness, and eliciting a “Hmmmmmm” or an “Ew!”

One of us wondered wether you could take all of someone’s answers and put them into a computer program that would figure out the perfect match.  Wilmot began, “But wait!  Rebecca, you said…” and I was somewhat skeptical of whatever he was about to say since he doesn’t know me as well as Charlotte and so had asked me a lot of “Who Would You Rather” questions where my choice had been obvious to me and Charlotte.

But he continued, “You said before that you would rather hook up with C over H, right?”  Yeah.  “And I’m pretty sure you picked H over G right?”  Uh huh.  “But didn’t you also pick G over C?  You’ve created a circle!  Or a triangle.”

Wait a minute.  I thought about it and he was right!   I don’t know how Wilmot had stored all of that information over the past several hours.  But I kept going over it in my head and it was true.  The answers had to do with the real-life context for each choice but it still blew my mind- and Wilmot said that my triangle would definitely be an obstacle for our computer program.

It’s really slim pickins in here today…what else?

3.  I first heard the phrase “slim pickins” in the movie “Lady and the Tramp.”

For years I thought the word “Buick” was a synonym for car, just like automobile, rather than a brand.  This is because when I was around five I was watching “Annie Hall” with my family and during the scene where Alvie is trying to kill a spider with a tennis racket and says the spider is the size of a Buick, I asked, “What’s a Buick?”

My mom said “It’s a car.”

So, be very careful what you say to your children.

I saw the movie “Murder by Death” for the first time last week and decided I want to start using the word “malarkey.”

That’s it for now.  Goodnight, sweet Internet.

Emery and Me

By Peter Gajdics

Memoir

When I was thirty-three years old I interviewed several gay men as part of a sex research project being conducted through the AIDS Organization where I’d started working as a “Public Sex Environment Outreach Worker.” Most of the men met me at my downtown office. First names were all I knew. I asked them a series of questions about their life, their sexuality, their coming out process, then let them talk. Some went on for hours. An opportunity to tell their story, to be heard, was all that many of the men needed. ,I listened to them as I’d always wanted, when I was a teenager, someone to listen to me.

One mid-50’s man asked that I interview him in his home. Emery lived on the main floor of an old, three-story walk-up near the outskirts of the city. The long, dimly lit corridor inside his building smelled of cigarettes and fried food. I knocked on Emery’s door and when he opened it, the first thing I noticed were his eyes, their kind, youthful glint that seemed to contrast against his lined face, like cracks in the earth of his age-toned skin. He smiled and invited me into his sparsely furnished room, the room of his life, with a single bed pushed up against one wall, and a mini fridge and hot plate on a blue laminate counter against the other. Next to his bed were a stack of yellow egg cartons upon which were several paperbacks, a framed black and white photograph, and a nightlight. We took a seat at a small foldout table in front of the window where we began our conversation almost immediately.

In 1960, when Emery was twenty-five years old, the Canadian Public Service “purged” him from his job for being a “practicing homosexual.” Soon after, his parents sent him to Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute, the Psychiatric Department of the Royal Victoria Hospital, which had been at the forefront in Canadian psychiatric education and research. Emery spoke openly about his involvement with the Institute, and about its Director, Dr. Ewen Cameron, a former head of the Word Psychiatric Association, who had been awarded funds from a CIA front-organization to conduct brainwashing experiments on innocent civilians, both Canadian and American.

“Can I ask you a question?” Emery said, interrupting his own story.

“Of course.”

“You’re gay, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re okay with that? With who you are?”

“Now I am, yes.”

“You’re lucky.”

“How so?”

“Growing up in a different time and place the way you have. Back then we were all considered mentally ill. Cameron thought he knew how the human mind was wired and what he needed to do to fix it. He hooked us up to electrodes, gave us drugs like LSD or sleeping pills. Massive electroconvulsive shock treatments, sensory isolation, insulin-induced comas that lasted months on end.”

“Why? What was he trying to do?”

“Wipe our brains clean of all thought, and identity, including what he thought was our neurosis. Break us down so that he could build us back up again, his own way. Imprint a new, healthy identity on top of our blank minds. Depatterning: that’s what he called it. Most of what happened to me personally I only read about years later, when I finally got a hold of my hospital file. I have no real memory of any of it. I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s like to have gaps in your life. Years, literally stolen from you.”

I wanted to tell him that I did know what it’s like, but I listened as he continued.

“For months we were confined to the Institute’s ‘sleep rooms,’ not just homosexuals but married woman, straight men, all of us wearing headphones and listening to taped messages, endless taped messages, sometimes sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. Everyone’s tape was different, depending on what your problem was. I thought I was a homosexual: that was my illness. Cameron’s goal was to erase my brain of all association with homosexuality, and replace it with my innate heterosexuality. So his theory went. We became like children. Grown men and women: incontinent, with no past life. By the time they released me in 1962, I was a shadow of my former self. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t process information, or make decisions. My memory of the 50’s and early 60’s, well, of my life–it was gone. Wiped clean, like a chalkboard. Everything, I had to reconstruct everything, my entire personal history, from pictures or slides, from stories people told me, or from letters that I wrote or received from family and friends. Everything about my former self was a mystery. Erased. Except for my homosexuality. I was still attracted to men.”

So reflective of my life was Emery’s description of his that it took all my effort not to sink back into my past. Nine years earlier I’d started therapy with psychiatrist, Dr. Alfonzo, after my family rejected me for being gay. Within months, Alfonzo presented me with conflicting causation theories, including that an incident of childhood sexual abuse had “created” my attraction for men. Believing that my homosexuality was based in anger and driven by pain, Alfonzo said that by releasing my anger and by feeling my pain, I could undo the knot of what he termed the error of my misguided way of thinking: the erroneous belief that I was homosexual. To facilitate treatment, various antidepressants, sedatives and an anti-psychotic, even though I’d never been psychotic, were prescribed. Doses increased rapidly. So too did the medications’ side effects: dry mouth, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, involuntary twitching, constipation, urinary retention, weight gain of over forty pounds. Weekly injections of Ketamine hydrochloride, an animal anesthetic, soon followed, which were administered before reparenting sessions with a surrogate mother who, according to Alfonzo, would imprint a new, “healthy” identity onto my child self.

When it became clear, after four years of therapy, that my attraction for men wasn’t diminishing, Alfonzo ordered me to bottle and to sniff my feces whenever I saw a man I found attractive. Then he threatened to hook my genitals up to electrodes in order to “retain” my penis, and added a fourth tricyclic antidepressant to my regime of now over 600 milligrams of daily medications. Any light that had remained alive in me was switched off, as if the fire in the furnace of my body were being extinguished by medication: erections were eliminated, fantasy and arousal, eradicated.

Another two years of so-called therapy would elapse before I’d stand naked in front of my bedroom mirror, staring at a sad and pale reflection of my former self–at my body, bloated from years of overmedication, and into my thirty year old eyes: dark and sunken and unhappy. There would never be a heterosexual in me waiting to emerge; instead, I became more like a shell that had had its innards scooped out.

Thirty years separated Emery’s experiences from mine, but the similarities between what he went through with Cameron, and what I had with Alfonzo, were shocking. The psychiatric community may have ceased classifying homosexuality as an illness in 1973, but beneath the banner of gay liberation and political progressiveness, as I had learned all too well, beat the hearts of some of its practitioners that still treated it like one.

Emery walked to his egg carton bookshelf, picked up a picture of a young man with greased black hair, sea-blue eyes and a dimpled smile.

“His name was Jim,” he said, displaying the framed photograph with pride. “Such a handsome man, don’t you think? His parents sent him to the Institute. To help cure him. By the time he left he was physically and mentally impaired. Like a vegetable. They killed him, but left him alive. Two years later he killed himself.”

Emery dusted the frame with his shirtsleeve and replaced it back on the egg cartons. “There’s more than one way to murder a fag,” he said. “Cameron was an architect for genocide.”

Question after question raced through me. I wanted to ask Emery about his road to recovery, whether he’d ever found love, or forgiveness, somehow reconciled himself with his past. I wanted him to tell me what I could not figure out for myself. But before I knew it our interview was over and Emery, visibly shaken, was ushering me out his front door.

I was scheduled to hand out condoms in the park that night–the “public sex environment outreach” part of my job. It was also the part of my job I liked the least, that seemed the least productive. At least it would have been for me, had someone handed me a condom through all the years, as a teenager, that I’d had sex in parks. Not to mention all the sex I’d had in cars, and public toilets, bathhouses, parkades. Condoms, I knew, would not have saved me from my self, my use of sex to fill a void, the hole inside my heart that became, with every passing year after the year I was sexually abused as a child, like a crater in my soul. But part of our funding at the AIDS Organization depended on the number of condoms distributed, so I distributed as many condoms, as many “safe sex packets,” as possible. At least the men liked the flavored lube.

The park seemed busier than usual. Nighttime brought with it the need for sex, the need for something, and everywhere I looked, once my eyes adjusted, shadows of men, like hunters, roamed back and forth between trees. My routine had always been to wait until a man approached me along the trail, then to tell him that I wasn’t there to “play,” but as an outreach worker–would he like to talk instead? That night, however, all I thought about was Emery, the years he’d lost to ignorance, to hatred, years that he would never get back. His words “There’s more than one way to murder a fag” echoed through me as outside, all around I heard the sounds of ravaged, hungry souls, breeding in the dark. The memory of Alfonzo was with me too, as was the knowledge that whatever he did to me I did to myself. Six years of trying to change myself had taught me that I could not change, and yet I’d tried. And tried. Like stabbing myself, I’d tried to kill that part of me, and in the process, almost killed myself. I had been both the written word and the eraser erasing itself. If Alfonzo was a monster, then when I met him there were monstrous demons inside of me just waiting to emerge. I was Pandora’s box.

I left the forest before distributing my quota of condoms. Back home, alone, naked and in bed, Emery’s phrase “an architect for genocide” haunted me to sleep. And before I opened my eyes the next morning, not yet awake but not still asleep, balanced liminally in between, for a moment I thought I heard someone next to me in bed crying, sobbing.

I awoke to realize it was me.

In the last two weeks, two TNB writers have written about masturbation (thank you Smibst and Marni Grossman). Why not make it a threesome? Tis the season, right?

Specifically, I’d like to focus on the vibrator.

I was 29 when I visited my first actual sex toy shop. I went with a couple of girlfriends from my kung fu class to look for Valentine’s Day gifts for our men. Together, we were trouble.

First, there was V, the dark-haired Filipina-American who had spent 8 years in the army and who could arm-wrestle any man stupid enough to challenge her under the table. I have broken up fights between her and overzealous guys at dance clubs on more than one occasion. Second, there was M, the ample-chested knockout who never failed to turn a head with her screaming feminine vibe. She has also been the cause of a few scuffles at dance clubs – but perhaps for less confrontational reasons. Third, there was me, their plump friend, Bess.

So there we were, marching into Ye Old Sex Shoppe on 28th Street (otherwise known as “Fascinations”), and winking boldly at the pre-adults working the counter as if we had just stopped in to get a bag of chips and a vanilla Frappucino out of the refrigerator case.

“Can I help you with anything?” asked a zit-faced attendant somewhat ambiguously.

“Oh, sure,” replied V with a firm nod, “just looking for a sex toy.”

“Do you guys carry those?” joined in M.

“For sex,” I added, late as usual on the scene.

The attendant smiled a crooked “I have just the thing” smile and led us through the store. Past the lotions and games. Past the sticky videos. Not quite to the fake pussies. He stopped at a table filled with a menagerie of items. Aside from the obvious “penis” theme, the collection was comprised of all sorts of dangly, delicate things. Flowers. Fairies. Hearts. Like something I would find under glass at Gramma’s house.

 

“The latest in vibrators,” he said, grabbing one by the shaft and holding it up for our examination. It was pale green and coated in a soft rubber. A hummingbird emerging from a flower was poised in mid-flight, its beak at the ready.

“It’s for your clit,” he explained.

I raised my eyebrows at V and repeated what he’d said very seriously, “It’s for your clit.”

Our personal shopper then proceeded to turn it on for us. Handed it to M like a pair of size 7 black pumps.

“Good God,” she said. “That beak isn’t getting anywhere near my clit.”

She handed it back to him, pinched between two vibrating fingers. He turned it off, visibly hurt. Excused himself to help a customer wearing a black trench over combat boots and bearing multiple facial piercings.

After that, we headed over to the lotion section. Contemplated edible undies. French maid costumes. Chocolate body paint. Didn’t bring the vibrators back up for a good 15 minutes. When the subject finally did come up, it was touched on with a derisive humor. The pale green. The beak. Was that an orchid from which it was emerging or a Black-eyed Susan?

Touchy subject, vibrators. Kind of embarrassing. Got one? Sure. A whole collection. I got them from your mom. Right.

According to one study, however, this has not always been the case. In 1999, Rachel Maines published an eye opening study called “THE TECHNOLOGY OF ORGASM; “HYSTERIA,” THE VIBRATOR, AND WOMEN’S SEXUAL SATISFACTION.”

In a nutshell, for centuries – possibly millennia – women have been assumed to not be able to reach orgasm during normal intercourse. As a matter of fact, women were thought to not be able to reach orgasm at all.

What women were subject to, on the other hand, was a disease called “hysteria.” This disease involved a variety of symptoms, including “excitability, mood swings, insomnia, and restlessness.”

Once diagnosed with hysteria, women were then prescribed a treatment from doctors, which involved genital massage in order to effect a “paroxysm.”

I had to read that part twice when I first came across it, so here it is again. Women went to their family doctors or midwives in order to receive genital massage to help bring them to a paroxysm.

Not an orgasm – women don’t have orgasms – paroxysm.

Women would go into the doctor’s office, hike up their skirts, remove pantaloons, and allow the doctor to rub their clitoris until they cried Mother Mary.

Nuns and unmarried women in particular were encouraged to go for regular treatment. They used aromatic oils. There was no shame attached. It was a medical condition. Many doctors of the day believed that nearly 70% of the female population suffered from this affliction.

Naturally, this epidemic was becoming a bit of a problem. Think about it. The ugly spinster comes in once a week for her paroxysm. She is awfully slow about it. Sometimes it takes the doctor nearly an hour to effect her paroxysm. The doctor is losing time and money. Other tragically afflicted (hotter) patients need his attention. Something needed to be done.

Thus was born the first of the automated vibrators (Cleopatra and her “calabash of bees” doesn’t count). There is evidence that shows that vibrators were used as early as 1860 – run by water or foot pedal.


But when the Chattanooga arrived on the scene, the history of the vibrator would change forever. Here is a lovely description of the device:

The Chattanooga…stood nearly 2m tall and required a couple of men to operate it. Being steam-powered, the engine of the machine was located in a small room and two men shoveled coal into the furnace and monitored the steam temperature, pressure, and thrust required to drive the Chattanooga. The engine room was separated from the doctor’s room by a wall which had a hole in it. A mechanical arm extended from the engine through the wall and into the consulting room where the doctor controlled it and used the vibrating arm to administer the appropriate genital massage to the grateful patient.”


By the turn of the century, the vibrator was battery operated and was the fifth household appliance ever to be electrified.


Toaster? Check! Sewing machine? Check. Vibrator? You better believe it. Electrified before the vacuum; before the iron. The vibrator had even become a popular gift – touted as a great muscle relaxer, of course.

So what happened?

Porn, for one thing. As soon as movie producers realized they could make money by selling sex, it was only a matter of time before the vibrator made its first appearances on the big screen and smuttied up the whole vibrator industry. By the 1920s, a vibrator could scarcely be found on the shelves. It wasn’t until the 1960s when they made a reappearance and were suddenly viewed as a power symbol.

As for the “disease” of hysteria, well, it was finally recognized in 1952 by the American Psychiatric Association for what it really was – sexual frustration and not something pathological.

And as for my little visit to the sex shop, it ended as can be reasonably expected. I became pregnant with my first child. Actually – funny story – so did M. Which leads me to the moral of my little story:

Whether it’s pale green, pink, pocket sized, comes with hanging daisies and emerging hummingbirds – buy the damn vibrator.

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a maleficent ex-Vegas lounge singer with an overactive middle finger that ultimately caused him to get kicked off SurvivorProject Runway, and Dancing With The Stars all in the same day.

“The boys and girls are one tonight.

They unbutton blouses.  They unzip flies.

They take off shoes.  They turn off the light.

The glimmering creatures are full of lies.

They are eating each other.  They are overfed.

Tonight, alone, I marry the bed.”

-“The Ballad of a Lonely Masturbator” by Anne Sexton

There’s a masturbator in the preschool class my friend Kat teaches.  She fondles herself at nap time and sometimes at the little round table where the class eats graham crackers and sips apple juice.  The child’s two-and-a-half and she’s getting it regular.  She’s taking matters into her own hands and she’s getting the job done.  Satisfaction?  Absolutely.

Color me impressed.

Kat has promised to ask the masturbator for some tips.  I wait with bated breath.

* * *

I like masturbation in theory.  It’s efficient.  It’s self-sufficient.  No messy interpersonal drama.  No emotional entanglement.  Just good aerobic fun.  And there’s opportunity to accessorize.  To dress up your pleasure with a vibrator or a dildo.  The choices!  Silicone, latex, pastels, neon: the kinky catalog of possibilities is endless.

The thing is, I’ve never quite gotten the hang of it.  Orgasm- clitoral, vaginal, mental- has remained tantalizingly out-of-reach.

And believe me, I’ve reached.

* * *

Jay knew that I was orgasmically challenged and he took it upon himself to rectify the situation.  It was a vanity project.  He would be the man to break through my defenses.  He’d be the man to storm the castle.  And so he poked.  He prodded, he sucked, he licked.  He bobbed up and down like a seal at Sea World.  For my part, I made what I hoped were sexy, satisfied moans.  “Oh.  O-oh.  Oh!”  I tried to arrange my face in a simulacrum of blissed-out beauty.  I sucked in my stomach.  I worried that I had not waxed enough.  I noted with displeasure the dark little patch of hair I’d neglected on my thigh.  Jay fingered.  Jay rubbed.  Jay stroked and Jay dug his stubby fingers deeper into my unyielding spinster’s vagina.

I appreciated his efforts.  Really I did.  I showed my gratitude with half a blow job and a complimentary appraisal of his manhood.  “I’m no expert,” I said, “but it looks big to me.”

I wanted to please him.  My pleasure was secondary.  An afterthought.

* * *

Freud would have things to say about me.  Krafft-Ebbing, too.  I’d be pronounced frigid and my unnaturalness would be studied and written up.  Cosmo would suggest 97 fail-safe tips.

But the problem- for me anyway- can be found in Woody Allen’s famous pronouncement on the subject: “Don’t knock masturbation.  It’s sex with someone I love.”   What happens if masturbation is sex with someone you loathe?  Can you ever make love to yourself if you don’t even like yourself?  Or do your ladyparts wither and die on the vine?  Are you left always wanting?

* * *

I envy that masturbating moppet.  I envy her lack of inhibitions and I envy her unabashed embrace of pleasure.  More, I envy her innocence.  At two, she hasn’t yet learned that she’s fat and ugly and wrong.  She hasn’t learned to pluck and tweeze and groom herself into someone else.  She doesn’t yet know that, if she knows what’s good for her, she’ll play dumb and act coy.  That boys don’t like girls who talk too much.  Who have opinions.  Wants.  Need.s  She doesn’t know to say that math is hard and sure, we can do it on my parents’ bed.  She has no idea that she’ll fake it to spare his feelings.

She is joyful and she is free.  Tickle me Elmo?  You bet your ass.

Neurosyphilis. Recently, in an attempt to keep my brain occupied (read: prevent utter mental paralysis) while my agent shops my novel, I decided to begin researching my next project. So now, instead of lying awake in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, pondering the terrible economy and my dumb luck to finish writing my book this of all Novembers, I am lying awake in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, pondering my awesome luck at being born in twenty-first-century America where no one ever gets neurosyphilis.1

That’s right. Neurosyphilis. I teach early British literature at the local college, and after another semester of teaching Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, for some reason I’m finding myself inexplicably fascinated with the darker side of Tudor England. Picture it. Turn-of-the-seventeenth-century London. A place without antibiotics. Southwark, the red light district.  Where a man strolling out of one of Shakespeare’s plays could walk into a brothel and purchase a woman’s attentions, along with the disease which was known at this time in London as the “French welcome” for the low low price of (that’s right, sir, step right up, sir, she can be yours for) only ten shillings.

Dear Wine Guys,

While I can honestly say I have few regrets about leaving New York City, in all sincerity the loss of you is one of them.  German wine sellers don’t understand me.  This is a culture centered around thin, white wines, perhaps dictated by the Berlin demographic.  But as you well know, I am a red-blooded, robust American woman, complex and full-bodied with hints of sweetness largely overshadowed by my dry sense of humor.  You seemed to sense all of that immediately and I felt a kinship with you that has never been equaled the world around.  Oh Wine Guys, don’t at least one of you have a desire to learn German?

I so fondly remember the bygone days when I strolled in after work and with but a look, one of you accurately assessed my mood and began collecting bottles you knew without a doubt I would enjoy.  So rarely were you mistaken and each visit promised something fresh and exciting or simply comforting when I returned home, ever a reminder of your careful attention to detail and knowledge of my innermost self.

It has been a trail of tears for me here in Berlin traversing from one store to the next, ever hoping for the connection I felt with you.  I have tried every wine dealer in my district, daily venturing farther and farther afield, ever hoping for that certain something.  Time and again I am disappointed.  Each night I return home with wine described to my liking on the label and yet lacking in flavor, body and levels.  I am a coloratura soprano, after all; I need as many notes in my wine as my music.  Thus far, it is not to be.

Tonight was the worst of all.  The storefront showed promise.  Inside a wine tasting was in progress.  The clientele seemed by all outward appearances to be educated, cultured, and true wine lovers.  The wine selection was displayed beautifully and the patroness, ah, the patroness, she was like a beacon in a storm.  We spoke of colors; she used words like Kraftig and Trocken, music to my ears.  I felt a spark, something I haven’t felt in months, not since you.  I was certain she could be what I had been searching for, the connection, the understanding, the chemistry.  I followed her through the shop in a haze, nodding and smiling as she expounded on the large, round flavor contained in this bottle, yes only a little more than I wanted to pay but it would be well worth the expense.  I admit, I may have been too easily swayed. Can you blame me, after such a drought?

I rushed home, bottle in hand and a smile playing at my mouth.  This was certainly the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  The corkscrew, the perfect wine glass, the pop as the cork came free, 10 minutes to breath although I was finding it difficult, the pour, the swish and finally the sniff.  I knew immediately something was wrong.  Where was the assault on my nose?  Where was the flowery beginning, the tobacco, the raisin, the smoke, the oak?  I swished again only hoping I had not been aggressive enough.  Another sniff and the following sip with the bouquet, if you can call it that, still in my nose.  I rolled it over the tongue front to back and nearly spit it back out, it tasting bitter with my disappointment rather than what it was, simple and boring, far too thin to be interesting and singing John Cage instead of the Rachmaninoff I needed.  And with that, the earlier ember that burned only moments before, died.

And so dearest Wine Guys, it is with a heavy heart and a bland palate that I sit down to write you this futile letter.  I feel a fool hanging on to what cannot be and wish so fervently that I might be writing in victory rather than defeat.  It is always most difficult to be the one left holding a candle as others move forward and ever farther away.  I wish you no ill, certainly.  Our parting was void of malice, after all.  And I hope desperately you will welcome me back into your loving embrace when next I am home.  I can only hope that by that time I have found again what I lost not so very long ago and can appear in your doorway head held high, carrying a bottle you don’t recognize.  A gift from a thin, bland, white woman you no longer recognize.  Ah well, at least I’ll be thin!

All my love,
C


Okay, so when I wrote the story of the suckling pig that I cooked in 1973, many of my kids said they wish they could have been there.  I took this to mean that surprising them with a whole Miami-Cuban Pig Dinner for Thanksgiving would be a terrific idea. Since the Cuban Pig Dinner is traditionally a Christmas feast, I had some trouble finding a place that supplied them.  I asked my friend Keiko Fernandez who is half Japanese and half Cuban and lived in Miami most of her life, if she could find out for me.  She called her uncle.  He gave her a number of the very best place of all.  I called them and they were very nice.  There was a bit of a language problem since I learned French and Latin in High School and my attempts at learning Spanish have been disappointing.   Yes they had Cuban pigs, but the smallest one was 45 pounds.  There were 8 for dinner that night, so I thought a minute. Well,  since we need leftovers for the next day I thought it would work.

“Do you provide any sides?” I asked.

“Sides?” he said.

“Like black beans and rice and plantains?”  I explained.

“Lady, this is a pig farm.  We just have pigs,” he explained.
“Do you have a truck?” he asked.

“I have a station wagon,” I said.

“Lady, do you understand that you are buying a live pig?” he asked.

“You don’t cook the pig?” I asked.

“We could slaughter it for you, if you want,” he said.

“Oh, wait. Stop. I made a mistake. I am very sorry to trouble you,” I said.  “I don’t want to bring a live pig home.  Even if you do the slaughtering, I have no way of cooking a 45 pound pig. Do you know of where they actually cook the pigs for you?”  I asked.

He gave me a few numbers.

I had almost given my Mastercard number to a man who was going to load a live pig onto the back of my station wagon. That was a close call.  If I had actually bought a live pig, it would have to live in the back yard.  We would have to name it.  It would be another pet. I know my Goldens, Brooklyn and Kimchee would love it, but would he love them? Would the pig eat our Koi? I don’t know how Miami Beach authorities take to a live pig in your back yard. I’m pretty sure Victor wouldn’t want a pig for a pet.  They get pretty big.

I finally found a place that made Cuban Pig Feasts.  I asked several times to make sure that the pig would be cooked.  No one can say I don’t learn a lesson. Again, the smallest pig was 45 pounds.  Still a bit on the large size for 8 people. The only problem was that the Cuban place was closed on Thanksgiving, so we would have to have the official Thanksgiving on Wednesday, leftovers on Thursday and the usual sushi feast on Friday.  Everyone would be here on time so the great surprise was on. The kids did not know what the surprise was, but they knew Thanksgiving was moved up a day.

I have to say that Timothy and Victor and I really enjoyed the meal.

Kate, the sushi-vegetarian, was a really good sport and ate mac and cheese and vegetarian black beans and rice from the dinner.  Never a word of complaint.  Sara, Lonny’s girlfriend, likewise, seemed to enjoy the meal without a word.  Then there were my other children.  Ben announced he didn’t like Cuban food.  Lenore made  a variety of faces implying disgust all during the meal and basically did not eat.  Lonny said nothing, but he did make some faces also.  Understand, there was a beautifully cooked, 45 pound pig, rice, and black beans, sweet plantains and Caesar salad.  Lots of it.

Except for Tim and the girls who are not blood relatives, all the kids acted as though the meat that they usually eat comes from a plant, not an animal.  They were all squeamish and offended that the whole body of the pig was on the table: legs, tail, and especially the head.  They wanted pork, not pig.  I learned that day that none of my children would be carnivores if they were forced to kill their own food or, even see the dead body of their food.  I raised, for the most part, weenies.

Then it was Thursday.  Lonny was the first to say it:

“When are you going to start to cook the turkey, Mom?” he asked.

“Lonny, there isn’t going to be a turkey this year, remember?” I answered.

“But. But, it’s Thanksgiving!”  he insisted.  “We have to have turkey and two stuffings and mac and cheese and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and Kate’s green bean casserole,” he said.  “And apple pie that is cold.  You know I don’t eat warm fruit,” he added.

“Well, I guess you’re out of luck, because it’s leftovers today,” I answered.

I left the kitchen and saw Lenore.

“Lonny expected to have a full regular Thanksgiving today,” I complained.

“Well, Mom, we all expected to have a full Thanksgiving dinner today.  It’s Thursday,” she said.   “Thanksgiving,” she emphasized.

So next year the kids agreed we would have an almost traditional Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving day, with the caveat that no one really likes turkey, so we’ll have a huge rib roast instead, two stuffings, mac and cheese, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, Kate’s green bean casserole and cold apple pie.

No more surprises.  Traditions should not be fooled with.



117 Comments »

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2008-12-06 09:46:46

Oh Irene,,, I told you about the half a pig that my neighbors tried to put in my oven. That I turned all shades of green. You could have had half a pig and a turkey.

Melissa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 10:11:59

Melissa, that’s a good idea, but you can’t buy half a pig. Only a whole one. Mine didn’t turn green. What happened to yours?

Comment by Melissa (Irene’s friend) |Edit This
2008-12-06 11:01:32

Irene, I turned green. I could see you making a pet out of the piggie though. I bet there is no therapy pig at the hospital.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 13:58:14

That would be a good idea! (I wonder who certifies therapy pigs?) I misread your comment, I thought the pig turned green, Melissa.

2009-01-04 14:59:31

A purkey. You could put the turkey inside the pig and make it a holiday surprise.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-01-05 15:33:43

Christine! You are always full of great ideas! I will think on it and see if anyone in the family would eat it….

Comment by Pamela Norinsky |Edit This
2009-04-02 01:43:58

I am soooo jealous of your family. Next time you make porky pig I wish you’d invite me for dinner. Just give me some advance warning, as I have to purchase plane tickets to Miami.

My family gets very upset when I deviate from the traditional holiday meals, therefore I have stopped being clever and changing up the menus.

Comment by kate |Edit This
2008-12-06 09:47:00

i was afraid the sushi feast would be mentioned in greater detail. phew!

the only thing that bothered me about the pig was when everyone kept talking about eating the hair. i’m not comfortable with that.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 10:13:37

Kate I really was surprised that they left the tufts of bristly hair on it in certain spots. After all, the skin is supposed to be the best part!

Why were you afraid of my talking further about the sushi feast? That part went really well.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:07:47

Oh. Wait. Now I remember. You caught Ben’s flu, Kate. That’s all. Then it went through the rest of us. It’s all Ben’s fault.

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Comment by Ben |Edit This
2008-12-06 09:51:40

I don’t think Robert Burns had a whole, roasted pig in mind when he wrote “To a Mouse”.

Still, I think the best response is the next line of the poem:

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”

Of course since I managed to catch a 24 hour flu half an hour after eating the pig, I am a bit biased against it.

-Ben

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 10:16:33

Plus, Benjamin, you gave the 24 hour flu to everyone else, one at a time! I pity those on the plane with you on the way to Miami!

I sort of feel that both lines are appropriate, since I was so excited about the big surprise and thought everyone would be so happy. It was “nought but grief an’ pain” indeed.

Comment by kate |Edit This
2008-12-06 09:52:33

also, the technical term for me is pescatarian, though sushi-vegetarian is pretty accurate, too. really it should be sushi/fried fish/crustacean-vegetarian.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 10:17:41

Oh, but I thought you didn’t eat cooked fish, only raw. Learn something new every day. Should have known that, though. My bad.

2008-12-06 10:19:56

Can’t… stop… laughing…

But goddamn, that pig head in a bucket totally grossed me out.

I mean, seriously. I almost puked right on my keyboard.

Blech.

2008-12-06 10:21:10

Also. I think Keiko Fernandez is one of the best names I’ve ever heard.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 10:33:26

It’s cute, huh? She’s really beautiful. She trained as a ballerina, but realized you can’t make a living at it so she got her masters in physical therapy. She’s like one of our extra children.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 10:31:54

Kimberly, That was a pig head in Tupperwear! It was a perfect fit after Tim and Victor ate the cheeks, (where most of the bristly hair was.) My kids said they will never eat anything out of that particular Tupperwear again.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 10:36:25

Kimberly, where did I go wrong to produce such weenies? The daughter who is a vegetarian with her two vegetarian children weren’t even there. These were the carnivores. HA! Not when they wee the animal, huh?

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2008-12-06 11:00:12

I’m sure it was delicious, but after seeing that pig head, I can feel your children’s pain.

Going back to an earlier discussion about eating fish eyes – ew.

I’m not normally squeamish, but something about eating heads and anything involved with the head (eyes, brains, etc) really does a number on me.

Tim and Victor are brave for braving the bristly cheeks.

OK – now I have to go make cereal out of double-stuff oreos to cleanse my palate.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 13:48:04

Oh Kimberly, I don’t let anyone eat brains on account of my fear of prions. Everything else is fair game.
Cereal out of double-stuff oreos sounds exceedingly good!

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-12-07 13:07:24

It wasn’t Tupperware. It was the container that you put sugar in our whole lives. It was just a weird change. Know what else, it’s strange to see dishwasher detergent in our childhood apple juice container.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 15:22:06

Tim, those were both different kinds of Tupperware. The one the pig head was in didn’t hold the sugar. Honestly. Sugar comes in 5 pound bags and we needed a bigger one. It looked exactly the same, but it was bigger. That particular kind of Tupperware came in three sizes. (I think the smallest one would hold a little lamb’s head.)

The dishwasher detergent was in the apple juice Tupperware because it is really humid in Florida and if you leave the detergent in the box it turns into a solid box of concrete detergent. Plus, the top was broken off and it wasn’t a reliable liquid container anymore. In addition, we didn’t use apple juice anymore. There are reasons for everything, Tim. You just have to ask!

Comment by Keiko |Edit This
2008-12-06 11:17:17

I love that my full name is in your story. God that pig was huge. I had a feeling that everyone, but Victor, would find the pig revolting. I learned to just deal with big, nasty, hairy dead pigs with mutilated faces since my Cuban family had one at every holiday party since I was 4 years old or maybe even younger.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 13:50:09

Well, Keiko, why didn’t you TELL me that when I was asking you for help in finding it? Lot of help YOU are! You eat fish heads too, don’t you? That’s the Japanese side of you. By rights you should have been my actual daughter.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 08:09:12

Keiko, I was told the BEST Cuban Pig was a Caja China. This is a pig cooked in a box in the ground, or something. I don’t exactly know. When I tried to order one they said the smallest pig they could use for a Caja China was 100 pounds. That seemed too big, even with the leftovers the next day.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-12-07 12:53:08

I say fie on those non-pig-eating jerks! It was damn good! Next year, we ought to get the Caja.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 15:28:43

Tim, we would need so many more people and the actual siblings won’t eat it. Seems like a waste. We should eat the Hawaiian kind before you leave Hawaii. I really liked the pig also. It was the most tender pork I ever tasted! This was the reaction I thought I would get from all the kids, minus the vegetarians. Refer back to the poem by Robert Burns. Lucky we have you, Tim!

Comment by Autumn |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:09:17

Irene, I would have happily eaten your pig. I had three Thanksgivings this year, one at my place with my boyfriend, sisters, brother-in-law and nephews and one close friend. It was my first time cooking a turkey. It was a hit, lucky for me. The second was on Thanksgiving day at my grandmother’s. She didn’t cook, we just had it there so it would seem like old times. My cousin made a huge prime rib roast. It was DELICIOUS. On Saturday we rounded out the weekend with a dinner at my moms. Back to the turkey on that one. No pig though. Not even ham, which we usually have.

I do have one question. Did you have a pan that size to fit the pig on, or did the pig providers provide the pan?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:15:40

Autumn you are officially invited to whatever we have next year! Good for you for not being a weenie!

As a matter of fact, we had to put down a $60.00 deposit on that pan, which we were to get back upon returning it. The funny thing is that there was a label on the side of the pan which said $19.99. HA! I’ll bet they make a tidy profit on those people who are too lazy to return the pan.

Three Thanksgivings is a lot of Thankfulness. You must be a very lucky person.

Comment by Autumn |Edit This
2008-12-08 08:37:11

Perhaps if I’m in West Palm visiting my brother I’ll come by with some Lamb. Lamb is a good holiday meal. That’s what we do for Christmas.

Of course, I grew up in a household where if you were given something to eat, you at least tried it. Not to say that it’s the most effective method of creating adventurous eaters. Out of all my siblings I’m probably the least picky when it comes to food. But my father hunted, as did my brothers (one of them still does) so I sort of developed a taste for a lot of different things. Also, for anyone who is curious, frog legs do kind of taste like chicken. From what I remember anyway, that was twenty years ago or so.

$60.00 is a hefty deposit for a piece of metal with sides.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 09:57:05

You know, Autumn, I thought that everyone ate lamb. Then we moved to the Midwest and I made a leg of lamb for company and many of the guests wouldn’t eat it. Too many had been brought up on farms and fallen in love with the little lambs. I myself grew up in Brooklyn where the only wildlife were rats.
My parents were the picky eaters. We essentially had 7 meals that were just repeated every week. the exception was for holidays when we’d have special stuff like leg of lamb or turkey or roast beef.
When I went away to college I was astounded at the variety of foods available. I had never even tasted Chinese food!

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:09:31

hey now. i didn’t want pork as opposed to pig.

i don’t like either.

it tastes funky. funky isn’t my favorite taste.

maybe i don’t like to eat carrion, but i’m curing fucking AIDS. take that.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:18:31

You just don’t eat period, you anorexic! First birds taste like feathers, and now pork tastes funky. Admit it. You just don’t like to eat.

Running in an AIDS marathon is really admirable, but it’s not exactly curing AIDS. (I hate to break it to you.)

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2008-12-06 15:19:24

curing AIDS.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 15:21:09

living in a fantasy.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-12-07 12:54:52

Cure your fucking attitude first.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 15:09:26

I hope you aren’t speaking to me!

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Comment by Kyndra |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:14:21

Never a dull moment at the Zion house-hold!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:20:37

You know, Kyndra, I could really USE a dull moment! Seriously. Nothing ever goes the way you plan with a big family. High hopes repeatedly dashed. (Poor, poor, pitiful me!)

Comment by Brad Listi |Edit This
2008-12-06 14:34:34

That picture of the pig head did me in. This is why I have trouble eating meat.

*shivers*

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 15:05:49

Brad, oh Brad, and here I thought you were a manly man. Just another weenie like most of my children. If you are vegetarian, I understand. If you eat meat covered in cellophane, well then, my friend, you are officially a weenie.

Comment by Brad Listi |Edit This
2008-12-08 16:14:53

I’m, like, 90 percent vegetarian. It’s how I prefer to eat, how I usually eat. But if I’m in some foreign country or I’m at someone’s house, I try to be flexible.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 18:37:23

Sheeze, Brad, What? Are you like perfect or something? There is no better answer. The thing is, although you are a great writer, I actually believe you. You are going to be absolutely NO FUN to tease now. Bummer.

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Comment by lonny |Edit This
2008-12-06 16:00:36

i dont like being misrepresented
i never have

i did say nothing about the meal during the meal
and i did make faces – i find it hard not to make faces as i have a face

however i had one of the pigs cheeks cut off and put on my plate
i then picked out the meat ate it and gave my brother the skin
after that i ate two piles of more traditional body meat
(one of the piles was given to me by a mystery guest to avoid offending)

i liked it
i ate a meal full of meat beans n rice

my mother writes:

“But. But, it’s Thanksgiving!” he insisted. “We have to have turkey and two stuffings and mac and cheese and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and Kate’s green bean casserole,” he said. “And apple pie that is cold. You know I don’t eat warm fruit,” he added.

i have some issues

i dont eat the following things – mac and cheese, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, or Kate’s green bean casserole (by the way – ew – mushroom soup as a base – eeeck)
i also dont like pie either warm, for the reasons stated, or cold

i did however want to have thanksgiving

i like your stories
they are often funny

but they sometimes they should start with:

THE FOLLOWING IS BASED ON A TRUE STORY

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 17:34:32

Lonny, I adore you, but we remember things differently. You have to admit that you were upset at not having a traditional Thanksgiving on Thursday. Maybe Sara should chime in here….

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2008-12-06 20:08:29

lonny loves coffee pie. loves.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 06:27:58

Lenore, I know. Lonny loves anything that has a coffee flavor. Don’t you, Lonny?

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Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-12-07 12:57:08

I don’t know about you guys, but I could go for some body meat right about now.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 15:10:11

Exactly what kind of body meat, Tim?

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Comment by Cayt |Edit This
2008-12-06 16:27:38

I’m a vegetarian, Irene. I’m sorry, I feel like I’ve let you down. But on the inside, I’m a carnivore. I have cooked Kangaroo steaks for my family before, and rabbit, and I think squid or some weird thing like that. So I don’t mind meat. I’d be honoured to be presented with a full pig, even though I can’t eat it. I hope I’m not a Weenie.

(I wish I was curing AIDS, too)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 17:38:38

Cayt, You could NEVER be a weenie. If you choose not to eat meat, but cook it for the carnivores in your family, you totally pass the test. There was plenty of vegetarian things to eat, you know. The grinches just focused on the carcass of the pig.

(I wish I were curing AIDS also, but running a marathon, though arduous, will not actually cure AIDS, although the money raised might actually help.)

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2008-12-06 19:27:24

Considering the fact I have eaten roasted pig just like that before I would have no problem eating it again. It is soooo good! Maybe you should have laid a towel over the pigs head so the others wouldn’t realize what they were really eating.

As a kid we raised chickens in our garage (of all places). I know that at some point they disappeared and we did eat chicken during that time. We also ate the neighbors rabbits once. They raised them for 4H and sold them, so they did give them to us. I knew what I was eating and remember it tasting really good!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-06 19:36:53

Amy,
I got baby chicks once for Easter. They grew up to be chickens, (duh,) and we lived in Brooklyn. My parents told me that the chickens went to live with the old sailors at the old sailors home. I totally bought it. I thought they were living a life of leisure on the grass around the old sailors home down by the sea. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case, now that I think about it.

Putting a towel over the pig’s head sees to be cheating. Either you eat meat or you don’t. Even if it’s sliced ham at the deli, there is a head involved there somewhere. Life. Not always pretty.

2008-12-07 06:48:56

Life. Not always pretty.

But very often… delicious!

If God had not intended us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat! )

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 07:04:11

Very well said, Kimberly. I hadn’t thought of that.
(But isn’t that kind of mean of God to set up animals that way? There is a great deal I do not understand.)

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Comment by Lisa |Edit This
2008-12-06 20:29:40

Hi Irene,
I would’ve eaten some of the pig but only to try to impress Tim and Victor. And it would not have worked, so I would’ve eaten pig for nothing.
Bummer,
Lisa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 06:17:51

Actually neither eating it or not eating it would not have impressed Tim or Victor, Lisa. They don’t notice what anyone else is doing when they are feeding.

2008-12-06 21:28:55

This story was not kosher.

I mean, Jesus wept.

But I giggled, just a little, at the uber-obvious picture of Lenore with her Sexual Deviance book out there.

Was that staged?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 06:21:44

James Michael Blaine,

You are correct. This story is not kosher.

That picture was NOT staged. Her doc project is all about sexual deviance. That is the least offensive book she has. You would shudder to see some of the others. (I didn’t think the title of the book was legible in the photo.)

Our life is real, James Michael Blaine, our life is far from staged.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 07:06:27

Seriously, James Michael Blaine, I just looked back at the picture and I can’t see the title of the book. I even used a magnifying glass. You have the super eyes of an advanced being.

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Comment by jmb |Edit This
2008-12-07 15:57:08

Irene Zion,

One must recall that I also have a Master’s in Psychology with a field specialty in deviance. Deviants always know Deviants, Irene Zion.
Just saying.

Pig heads and Sexual Deviance?

Moses rends his garment, Leviticus in ash.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 17:38:48

James Michael Blaine! You must get in touch with Lenore! That is precisely what her doc project is about. Whoa. This is approaching weird. Moses rends his garment, indeed!

Comment by reno |Edit This
2008-12-07 21:17:43

WAIT!

MOSES?

GARMENT?

SEX?

HUH?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 05:34:52

Reno, It makes perfect sense if you start at the beginning. Really.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2008-12-07 06:02:36

it has ALWAYS been my rule to not cook/serve any animal that will be looking at my guests or that can be identified by a foot. Incoming zion women were very respectful ( and brave) If all zions frown on turkey thanksgiving is out at the southern W home 2009. how about tofurkey?caw

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 06:25:04

ksw/caw,

That is a very good rule for most people. It just wouldn’t work in our family.

They LIKE turkey, they just prefer ribroast.

The incoming Zion women WERE very respectful. They totally rock.

If you served tofurkey, Victor would bring his own meat.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 06:31:32

Besides! ksw/caw, you actually had a pet pig. If I had had a pet pig, I would not be able to eat it either. Probably wouldn’t be able to stand looking at it, to boot. I forgot your pig. What was his name?

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2008-12-08 14:46:54

Biff, and as a side he was litter trained and put up his toys much better than 2 of the 3 children. caw

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 18:39:47

AWWW. I would NEVER serve a Cuban pig to you since you had Biff, the litter-trained pig who put his toys away. (How did he put his toys away? I need a visual here.)

Comment by Jack and Laurie |Edit This
2008-12-07 08:32:32

Just another light meal at the Zion’s. Maybe a turkey stuffed with mac and cheese would satisfy everyone.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 08:42:41

Jack and Laurie,

That sounds like a pretty good compromise. I’ll run it by the kids. I think that Kate, ( and Sara and her kids,) vegetarians all, might object to the container holding the vegetarian part.

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2008-12-07 09:58:11

I am so sorry Saul and I weren’t there to feast with you on that roasted pig. It sounds and looks delicious. An adventuresome idea to serve it whole and true, the head could conceivably have been removed before bringing the crunchy sumptuous meat to table. But you were trying to be true to “Cuban” tradition and I admire you for it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 15:14:00

But Ursula, you don’t get it! The head is the best part for Cuban Pig aficionados. It’s the cheeks, you see. I am not the one to defend this. I personally like the ribs. Cheeks are so very part of the face, you know?

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-12-07 12:01:57

ew.

I’m shocked that someone who raised weenies would roast pigs…

And devastated that rib bones don’t conjure the same revulsion in them as hog legs…

I’m a vegetarian. I can’t even eat fish. When I was a kid I asked my mom what that white hollow tough thing in my steak was, “Its a blood vein” she said.

Which takes me back to…

ew.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 15:16:10

Josie, all vegetarians get a total pass here. It’s the carnivores who don’t like to realize their food comes from an animal that annoy me. (Can you see a field of chicken breasts?)

Comment by Indiana Farmish Girl formerly known as Next Door Neighbor in Illinois|Edit This
2008-12-07 16:24:51

Do you have any leftovers? Could you send me some? We made a too-small turkey for Thanksgiving and barely had any leftovers at all. Roast pig is great. When I was a child in Indiana, we ate my brother’s 4-H pig, named Beulah. I wasn’t going to eat any of her, but then I had a taste, and she was really delicious.

Also, who suggested crumbling Oreos to make cereal? That’s brilliant! Why bother pretending cold cereal has any nutritional value, just get down to ingesting tasty carbs with milk.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-07 17:48:27

Oh, Indiana Farmish Girl formerly known as Next door Neighbor in Illinois,
That fabulous idea about crushing up double stuff Oreos was Josie’s idea. She is known around here as quite the genius.
We have a lot of leftovers. You should come to visit and raid the freezer!

I had a fantastic, perfect, wonderful greyhound named Beulah. Except for her brain tumor. But we had a fabulous two years after she was kicked out of racing because she broke a leg. (But I sense that that is neither here nor there.)

I have never found a turkey that was less than 10 pounds. Did you find a smaller one? Hard to believe your family could need more than a 10 pounder.
Ah, 4-H. The Midwest. I adore everything about it except the cold. I can no longer deal with the cold. We are spending Christmas in Chicago. I am hoping for a warm snap.

2008-12-08 19:41:19

Ahem. That idea was mine, thank you very much.

And the Oreo cereal was fucking delicious.

(Not to discredit Josie’s ever-present genius, but I’m just saying…)

Oreo cereal. Best anti-depressant ever.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-09 07:06:41

Oh Kimberly, I do apologize. Of course this was your idea. (Besides, Josie doesn’t eat meat and I think Oreos have beef fat in them or something.) Obviously I’m an idiot.

YOU, KIMBERLY M. WETHERELL ARE THE VISIONARY WHO INVENTED THE ANTI-DEPRESSANT OREO CEREAL!

You should probably patent it or something, since I think a lot of people are depressed lately and you could really sell it. (Who doesn’t need some change on the side?) I know for a fact that my friend from the Midwest has already had a bowl.

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2008-12-09 08:18:46

Sadly, I think they have made a version of my uber-genius is processed form, but it just ain’t the same.

It’s simple, really.

Take as many double-stuff Oreos (or regular if you prefer more chocolatey goodness) as you can muster and mash them with a meat tenderizer. Or a sledge hammer. Depends on how much aggression you need to release.

Then fill a bowl, preferably one used for popcorn on family movie-watching night with the shattered cookies.

Get cold, skim milk (because you don’t want to overload on calories) and douse the suckers.

Get a big ol’ spoon and dig in!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-09 10:13:50

Kimberly,
I would definitely use a sledge hammer. I like your idea for the size of the bowl. But I don’t believe in skim milk. Whole milk for me. When I was growing up I had my cheerios with half and half. Really.

Comment by Marlene |Edit This
2008-12-07 19:24:53

Irene, usually Cubans cut the whole pig into pieces and place it on the table -except the head. I have never seen a pig head on the table…and for eight people…ummmm…too impressive i would add.
Something you for sure learned is second trials are never good ) No wonder your expression of disappointment when i saw you with Brooklyn after Thanksgiving…what a contrast from last year. Maybe is time for you to relax and let them cater to you, sit back and count the blessing.

Love you and thank you for all do,
Marlene

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 05:40:19

Wait, Marlene, I did it wrong? Seriously, you need to tell me these things. I’m from Brooklyn, what do I know? People told me it was served whole with head. (But, AHA!, None of these people were Cuban! I think I see where I went wrong.) From now on any Cuban questions are directed promptly to you!
I don’t think I can ever expect last year’s treatment again. That was a miracle!

Comment by reno |Edit This
2008-12-07 21:11:38

hot damn. another tale from the zion house.

a friggin’ pig, irene? i mean-really? i love your sense of adventure. nice touch. i would have been surprised. that was one hell of a surprise. see, i guess the disappointment (in your peeps) is that you get your mouth ready for some turkey and all the country fixins’ then you get a…pig. one that once oinked. spread eagle. tail. lips. ears.

(but remember: you’re getting points for being clever, thoughtful, etc)

here’s the deal, zion: i would have ATE the meal. only because my mom did a stellar job raising me. and i like pork. love bacon, like a big fat pork chop every once in a while. but the sight of the lips. the sunken eyes. the tiny hairs poking out of its burned skin.

I WOULD HAVE ATE THE PIG.

but i would be scarred for life. i see you guys were drinking wine. i would have drank all the wine then barreled through the meal. i would have needed the guts.

“I raised, for the most part, weenies.”

oh, lord, irene. too funny. weenies! ha! now listen, irene, you have to take that one back. no children, NOT A ONE, wants to be called a weenie by their mama. no one.

who wants to be a weenie (a pork weenie no less!)

ha!

thanks for the story.

have a good week.

black beany-weenies,
reno

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 05:47:49

Well, Reno, you do have several good points here, but the way I see it, my kids have been repeatedly scarred during their entire lives. What’s another one? They’ve been toughened up. Plus, shouldn’t a group of scarred kids be up for some adventure? (Do you see Lenore’s face when she’s helping to hold the pig up?)
Okay. If you think calling them weenies will scar them again, I’ll take it back. I was in the wrong by assuming too much. None of you are weenies, kids.
Traditions will remain traditions from now on.
(No more surprises? Reno, this is going to be hard!)

Comment by reno |Edit This
2008-12-08 13:00:13

you’re right – what’s another scar?

what was i thinking?

lenore’s face tells me the pig farted right when the pic was snapped.

one last shot at humanity.

one for the gipper.

or the ripper.

something like that.

oink, oink.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 13:13:10

Reno, I just think that sometimes traditional is sort of boring, humdrum, tedious, you know? (Dead things that are cooked don’t fart. The insides are gone where the gas would be. Silly.)

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Comment by Rich Ferguson |Edit This
2008-12-08 07:16:05

Irene:

Sorry to be so late in weighing in here. This was a wonderful piece. It would’ve also been pretty amazing had you brought a live pig home. Would’ve loved to have seen Lenore’s face had that happened. Maybe you could’ve put her on Washington Ave. with the pig and she could’ve offered swine rides–3 minutes for 5 bucks. Or something like that.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 08:32:39

But Rich, first you’d have to teach it to heel and sit and stay, you know. I imagine that finding a collar for the pig would be difficult. They have some seriously big necks. Ben and Tim would do it, but Lenore? I think not.
Can you imagine if I never understood that it was alive? I really was about to give my mastercard number. I would have been expecting dinner and gotten a pet instead. What would I cook at the last minute? They would have been even more horrified, and hungry, too.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 13:16:51

Rich, I keep thinking of the “swine rides.” (Great name, by the bye.)

My friend Marcia, whose had pigs, said that they bite. So I’d need a muzzle. A swine-sized muzzle. Plus, she tells me a saddle would be hard to find because pigs are really slippery. Additionally, there’s nothing there to really hold on to.

All in all, I think it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Great in concept, though.

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Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-12-08 08:03:33

Totally unrelated: I was home this past weekend and took a photograph of my mother’s kitchen cupboard with the cup or elastic bands hidden behind the drinking glasses. She thought I was insane, until I explained it was because of some lady I’d “met” on the internet who writes stories exposing the intimate details of her family’s life together…and that the cup of elastics and other contents of our cupboard had been a hotly debated topic about a month ago. Now, she just figures I am plain-old mental.

: )

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 08:42:34

Amanda, did you take that opportunity to ask her WHY she always had them there? Surely you did!
You have to e mail me the photo! [email protected] I have to see all that’s up there. Your Mom sounds like a stitch! She thinks YOU are the mental one. HA! She’s pretty excentric herself! You tell her that we all find her very interesting. (And that’s probably who made YOU so interesting!) If I don’t answer right away, don’t worry. I leave Wednesday on a small trip until Sunday.

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-12-08 09:00:52

Indeed, I asked about the cupboard in general, and the elastics in particular. Her answer? That’s where your father has always kept them.

My father!!! Who knew?! All along, Mr. Miller has been boss of the rubber bands. The plot thickens.

: )

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 09:07:26

WELL? Amanda, did you go ask your Dad next? I do understand the concept of “because it’s always been there.” I’m very much afraid that I do that myself. You put something down. It stays there. Then it becomes the place to put similar things down. Sort of a clutter theme. I have a serious clutter problem.

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-12-08 10:10:41

When she said it was my father, the whole thing became clear as air. He is a fiend for order and routine, and loves a good chore now and then. And by “now and then”, I mean several times per day. Chores chores chores. Loves ‘em.

I catch myself doing Dad Things: the method I employ for wiping the counter, the schedule on which I collect garbage from the various bins around my little apartment, the way I rotate the eggs in the fridge…

I, too, have items with “a place where they belong”: a place for the scissors, for the toothpaste, for the extra keys, for the gin flask. Each item occupies its place and no other. As much as there is a right place, there is a wrong place–the scissors, for instance, never go next to the flower pot. Always in the ceramic jug.

So, once I knew my dad was responsible for the elastics jar, I knew the answer: one day, energetically, they were drawn to that spot in the cupboard like a dowsing rod was directing my father’s hand. And henceforth, they have rested in that spot, despite how inconvenient it might be access a rubber band when you really need one.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 14:27:59

Great detective work, Amanda!

Comment by alex d |Edit This
2008-12-08 08:08:24

irene tell all your kids that when the end of the world comes and we wont have publix anymore stay close to me i’ll kill anything and eat it. ps why didnt you bring me any pig ill eat the head.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 08:44:32

I’m really sorry, Alex. I absolutely should have thought of you with the leftovers. I did give most of them away, but Lord knows, there was plenty to go around.
Good to know that you’ll kill our food for us when the apocalypse comes!

Comment by donald |Edit This
2008-12-08 11:37:06

hmmmmm yummmy!!!! sooooo yummmyyyy!!!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-08 13:44:55

THAT’S what I’m talking about!

Comment by Frank |Edit This
2008-12-08 20:01:41

Irene-

What an absolute hoot!

Victor mentioned this feast while we labored poleaxing palms at Fairchild the other day, even to noting the that the cheeks were good. But in no way did he even come within a nanometer of expressing the joy and delight of all the cast and crew at such a fine repast. Victor, how VERY cheeky of you to NOT dish!

I can see I, Zion (kinda like Asimov, eh? -and how appropriate a name for a whole-HOG feast-mistress!) leading the Zion clan (plural, with a nod to the local culture: Los Zionii?) in belting out a rousing rendition of “Tradition” from Fiddler, as they dance whist hoisting a turkey (or would that be a roast?) AND a green-bean casserole -and NOW a roast piglet as well -high in the air above their heads, semi-Broadway conga-lining it out of the kitchen, thru the dining room, once around the living room, then out to the pool… TRADITION!

Well, ma’am, you got yourself one hell of a NEW tradition: that little piggy that went to market (and at the very last minute sure wished he (she?) stayed home!), accompanied by Great and Wondrous If Only They Were Desired leftovers, sibling mudslinging (well, maybe that one ain’t so new), divergent views of history and/or what happened at the scene of the crime (come to think about it, maybe that one ain’t so new, too), and almost making one heckuva mistake in selecting the live, as opposed to the pre-cooked, version.

Personally? Kinda think maybe the latter would’ve resulted in an even better story… And coming from the Great Mid West Corn and Farm Belt, you should certainly know, surrounded by 4-H’ers up the yin-yang, that folks sure do eat their pets! But you from Brooklyn stating that you didin’t, and that the only wold critters you had were rats, I was expecting a tale of rat stew or some such thing. How disappointing…

But back to the matter of Non-Turkey Day: Therapy Piggy to the rescue! And why wouldn’t y’all like a pig around the place? You certainly had a lot of’em “around” in Sham Pain, n’est-ce pas? Sure, they get big -the females -the sows -get huge. compared to the males, the boars; but nowadays, they grow’em lean, and top out at around 240 or so -not all THAT big. They’re supposedly as smart as dogs, so I suspect that given acceptance Chez Zion by Brooklyn and Kimchee, Pig would fit right in -just don’t let Animal Control know, I guess…

It was an engaging story, and the comments made for Great Spice.

Keep up the great work. Next year…?

BTW, did you know that lamb is apparently the only animal not proscribed by any of the World’s Great Religions or Philosophies (other than veggiematicists)?

-Frank

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-09 07:17:38

Frank, Victor is an amazing person, but a story-teller he is not. He barely speaks, in fact.
I’m afraid that I can’t fight tradition with the kids I have now. (Maybe the ones that marry in will be more accepting. So far Sara, the vegetarian daughter, is married to a carnivore, Tushar, who would have loved the feast, had he been there, for instance.)

When it comes to rat stew, Frank, just read my post about the Amazon:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/izion/2008/11/for-a-break-from-freaking-you-out-here-is-a-quick-picture-tour-of-the-amazon-without-genitalia-or-amputations/

Before I’m done everyone will see that NOTHING is sacred.

Comment by Frank |Edit This
2008-12-18 17:01:46

Why, Irene, you should know by now (especially with miscreantly brilliant -or is that brilliantly miscreant?) kids like yours (and Victor’s, I’m sure… …right?) that long before you’re started, let alone DONE, you will have been apocalyptically (sp?) informed that sure as shootin’. nuthinz’ sacred.

Indeed, sacred cow makes the BEST hamburger. Just ask the worthy citizens of South Asia, non?

Read the story, saw the pics of The Rat Stand. Impressive!

BTW, jumped over to the histoire of the stolen Christine. A -Mazin, Gracie!

Heart, butt, balls, dunce… Dunno, but I liked that other big fat butt best!

Dave Barry is indeed tres cool.

KUTGW!

-Frank

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-19 05:53:51

Frank, you got me on “KUTGW”. It’s probably something everyone knows but me.

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Comment by Cecile |Edit This
2008-12-09 13:09:36

I have no doubt that your kids were SLIGHTLY aghast when they knew where and what their next meal would be. You have always been an out of the box person but this is really something. And to think I thought our intro to goose one year was a biggie! I would have loved to be a fly on the wall watching your negotiations purchasing your pig. And no doubt at all that your children STILL wanted a traditional turkey meal for Thanksgiving. I guess you know the best way to keep them coming home.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-09 15:16:37

Cecile, the nicest thing anyone every said to me was that I was an “out of the box person.” Thanks! Now if only my children understood that the extraordinary is special and the mundane is bboorriinngg. (I did luck out on catching on before I got new pet who would grow into the 200 pound range….)
It’s thoroughly exhausting to try to keep these children current. How did I give birth to such STICK-IN-THE- MUDS? It is a mystery to me!

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2008-12-09 20:34:08

Oh my – I’m coming late to the party once again. Great story, Irene. You crack me up.

I became a vegetarian on account of the dead pig I used to pass on the way to the ferry every morning. I think I’ve told you this story… Of course, I never could kick bacon, which never made sense to me. Anyway, my “vegetarianism” lasted only 2 years. But while I may have learned a very important lesson about where my food comes from, I would not do very well if asked to slaughter and butcher a pig. It’s the thought of organ removal. What a project… I watched a man on TV disembowel a camel once. Haunts me, that one. (Ha!)

Anyway, I would have eaten your pig.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-10 03:52:28

Erika Rae, you are mistaken, I have yet to hear about the dead pig you used to pass on the way to the ferry every morning! How long could a dead pig be there? Why was it dead? Why was it left there? Sorry, I have to hear the story. Perhaps you told the story before I came on board here.
I completely understand being a bacon-vegetarian. Bacon is so glorious that it almost counts as dessert. Not in a normal food group at all. Bacon is something you earn for being good. You win bacon for first prize. You get bacon because it’s Sunday. You see where I’m going with this.
There is no way on earth that I could slaughter something, let alone slaughter something and then eat it. uh uh uh. I’m with you there.
(I wish you weren’t so late to the party…you could have been among the few who ate dinner!)

Comment by Adam |Edit This
2008-12-20 00:26:33

Had squirrel spaghetti for breakfast visiting relatives this Thanksgiving. Not on Thanksgiving. Like the Tuesday or Wednesday. It was excellent. Wish I’d thought to post here more promptly.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-12-20 07:29:43

Adam!
What did squirrel taste like? Since Guinea pig tastes like pork, I’m guessing that its taste is similar. Where is this dish served? This is really interesting. I’d like to taste squirrel, just not the ones from my yard on account of we sort of have a relationship.

Comment by Adam |Edit This
2008-12-20 14:21:44

The meat tasted almost spicy, like sausage, but it had been simmering in sauce. I don’t think it’s necessarily a quality original to the animal. The texture was also nice, also sausage-like. I guess pork probably isn’t a bad comparison.

This was served at the home of my mother’s cousin, his wife and kids. My cousins once removed (one in law) and second cousins. The squirrel(s) did come from their copious yard. I think the report was that addition of squirrel was kind of a lark, given that one had been shot and was handy. I guess they have a sort of relationship, too.

It came coarsely cut. My brother was brave/early and served himself up a piece amounting to like a full rack plus whatever leg(s) happened to be attached.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2008-12-20 16:58:51

Adam, we were surprised how tiny the bones were on the guinea pigs. Not unlike Cornish game hens, but pork-tasting. Except for the claws. Cornish game hens don’t have the claws of a guinea pig. Many people were put-off by the claws. They didn’t bother me, though. Were the squirrel claws in there?

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Adam |Edit This
2008-12-20 18:30:51

I’ll have to ask Graham. I tried to serve myself only meat; no bones or shot.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2008-12-21 07:04:28

You know, Adam, you would think there would be a way to find the shot and get rid of it before you cook with teeth breaking pellets. The first time we had meat from a hunter friend, I was not aware of the shot problem. It seemed that every bite had shot in it, sort of like eating a fish with a million bones you can’t see.

Comment by Henning Koch |Edit This
2008-12-20 09:37:53

Dear Irene,

Thanks for this! I would have eaten that pig like a shot! It looked beautiful. I didn’t know it was a Cuban tradition. They have the same thing here, in Sardinia, at weddings and parties, but not as big as yours. I’d say they go for pigs about half the size. The important thing I reckon is that the pigs have been well fed and allowed to roam outside, otherwise the meat smells like pig. Know what I mean?
One thing I’m not so keen on is calf intestines. They’re big on that in Sardinia. I reluctantly ate sheep’s brains recently and was pleasantly surprised. Also roast calf’s heart, finely sliced. Liked that too.
I read once about this guy rowing across the Atlantic. He said he was always so hungry that whenever he caught a fish he instantly ate its eyes and head. I mean, he went for these first because they’re so full of goodness.

Just some thoughts…

All best, Henning

PS. How does one get one’s picture in the little box above each comment? I joined that Gravatar site Brad told us about but nothing happened.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2008-12-20 13:45:03

Hey, there, Henning Koch!
The one I had in 1973 that I wrote about earlier was much smaller. If you want to see it, it’s here:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/izion/2008/10/my-first-two-children-were-scarred-for-life-in-1973/

For some reason you can’t get a smaller one here in Miami. I think the younger, the more tender, although ours was fantastic.
I’ve had beef intestines, but they don’t taste like much. I’ve had beef heart and I thought it kinda tasted like filet mignon. Never had calf heart, though, or intestines.
I’m afraid of brains because of prions. Unlikely, but really scary prospect. Horrible death. Not worth the risk.
The head is the best part of the fish when the Japanese cook it. I said somewhere, I forget where, that Victor tried to eat the eyes, but he could eat all but the lens. The lens was too tough to chew. I sort of got the idea they were watching me, so I didn’t want to eat them.

Henning, I must have fooled with that gravitar thing for a half hour. I really don’t know how it finally worked for me. Brad gives instructions that most people understand, but I think I’m computer challenged. Just keep trying. If I can do it anyone can!



Author’s Note: In Part 1 of this post I discussed my tumultuous relationship with my father, and how we finally began to bond once he saw my band perform. He became so hooked on the band, in fact, that he toured with us for a brief period of time and ended up at a show in New London, Connecticut. That night the club was paying my band twenty-five bucks and a case of beer to perform three sets. And since we were all sick it was our mission to get rid of the beer, as we’d already had problems with the cops and didn’t want to compound those problems by driving around in a NyQuil haze with a case of beer in tow.

And so we started our first set…


Part 2:

Sure we were sick as dogs. Sure we were strung out on NyQuil, codeine, Sudafed, and God knows what else. But you know what? My band tore it up that night in New London. The crowd was loving us. My dad was loving us.

Between most every song the band asked beer questions. They were easy questions. Questions like “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” questions. Those beers grew wings. They flew away left and right. By the end of the first set we’d already given away nine of them.


During our break, my dad rushed up to me. He was still sporting those huge anime eyes.

 

“This is the best show I’ve seen yet!” he said. “Can I ask a beer question next set?!”

I was already so grateful for his interest in my music, and how that had translated into a happier, healthier relationship between the two of us. But this was the absolute best.

“Sure, dad. No problem. I’d love for you to ask a beer question.”

Just before the band began their second set, I racked my brain, trying to devise a way to get the audience all worked up for my dad. I wanted them rabid and frothing at the mouth when he hit the stage.

Then I got an idea. Once the second set rolled around, I got on the mic, and said:

“Being in a band is pretty cool. Sometimes you get to meet people you’d never get a chance to meet otherwise. For example, we recently played New York City. While there, we got a chance to meet one of our all-time favorite idols. In fact, we hit it off so well that he decided to come on the road with us. Well, without any further adieu I’d like to introduce you to WILLIAMSBURROUGHS!!!

 

Being a college crowd, the place went absolute apeshit. And seeing as the place was packed, it was balls-to-the-wall, quadraphonic, cranked-to-ten apeshit.

I glanced over at my bandmates. They were howling hysterically. In fact, it was all I could do to contain my own laughter. Sure my plan was a bit coyote tricksterish. But at the time it seemed the best way to get the crowd all rowled up. I wanted my dad to receive nothing less than a roaring standing ovation.

As for my tipsy dad, he’d been standing in the wings, oblivious to what I’d said on the mic. But he definitely heard the applause. As the crowd roared, a smile split his face wide open. He looked at me. Those eyes of his had gone triple anime. He’d never heard so much applause in all his life.

And it was all for him. Well, for William S. Burroughs really.

I motioned my dad toward center stage. “C’mon. They’re waiting for you.”

Still sporting that huge grin, he strolled out.

Mind you, my dad has never read William S. Burroughs. And he looks nothing like him either. So as he neared the mic, the massive, wall shaking, bottle-rattling applause diminished to just one person still clapping and cheering.

Besides my dad, I figured that that was the only other person in the club that had never read Naked Lunch.

Once I let my dad and the crowd in on the joke they were all very forgiving. In fact, they were all quite amused. As for the good people of New London, they welcomed my dad with wide-open hearts. And once my dad asked his beer question and left the stage, that fine crowd gave him the same roaring round of applause.

As if my dad had been William S. Burroughs in the flesh.


It was me on drums. Jim on bass. David on guitar. We were three ragtag guys from San Francisco, collectively known as Blue Movie. Our sound was like The Violent Femmes and Husker Du engaged in a threesome with R.E.M.

It was February, the dead of winter. We’d already been touring for two months. We were sick as dogs. We’d chugged so much NyQuil, and had downed so many over-the-counter cold remedies that our stomachs had turned into drug stores.

 

That night we were set to play a small college bar in New London, Connecticut. For three sets of music, the bar was paying us twenty-five bucks and a case of beer.

Seeing as we were all out-of-our minds sick, the band needed to stay sober. One sip of beer added to our already dazed and confused NyQuil haze, and we wouldn’t have been able to pick up our instruments.

So we came up with a plan. We’d simply give away the beer.

But before I tell you about that, I should tell you about my dad.

He and my mom married young. Shortly thereafter, they had my brother and me to take care of. That forced my dad to get very responsible very fast. As I grew older, and became more and more a daydreamer, my personality did not mix well with my father’s ultra-responsible 9-to-5 mentality. For years we simply didn’t get along. Yet when I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Advertising & Public Relations, that’s when my father saw the perfect opportunity for me to finally redeem myself.

The day after graduation, he told me: “Let’s go to J.C. Penney and get you that interview suit so you can get a job in New York City.”

That wasn’t happening. All I wanted to do was to move out to California and play music.

And so I did. And so for a good couple years my father and I rarely spoke. And when we did, our conversations always ended with him saying: “When are you gonna move back east and get serious about life?”

Each and every time, I’d respond: “I am serious about life. I’m in a band. We work hard. And people like us.”

Fast forward to my band recording and going out on tour.

 

My father saw us at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. From the very first song, he couldn’t stop dancing and cheering. Maybe his excitement was due to seeing me on stage for the very first time, or that his own dad had been a musician. Whatever the case, he was hooked. That night my dad became my #1 fan. And the band’s #1 fan, too. He even rearranged his work schedule so that he could follow us as we toured the Northeast. He cheered for us in New York City, Boston, and Providence. Show after show, he’d use his work credit card to buy us meals and hotel rooms.

Now back to that case of beer give away…

My father was at that New London, Connecticut show that night. It was the last show he’d be able to see before having to head back to Jersey.

Just before the band started playing, I got my dad wasted. That wasn’t difficult. He wasn’t a big drinker. Just two beers and he was loopier than a troop of diabetic Girl Scouts in a taffy factory.

After polishing off those beers, my dad looked at me with big shiny anime eyes. “What are you gonna do with the rest of the beer?” he said.

That was a no-brainer. My bandmates and I had already decided to ask the audience beer questions. It was our mission to get rid of the case before we left the club. We’d already had enough problems with cops during our two months on the road. No way did we want to make matters worse by driving around in a NyQuil haze with a bunch of Budweisers in tow.

And so we began our first set…

 

Stay tuned for Part Two:

Just Three Guys On The Road, Playing Music, Chugging NyQuil, and Giving Away Beer (aka: How I Finally Made Peace With My Dad)

Dear Santa,

I’ll start by admitting that I haven’t been very good this year.

I drank too much and did many things that I regret. I wished terrible things on people that I hate. I hated people. I haven’t gone to church. I haven’t given to charity. I haven’t finished my book…four years later. I have cursed and said horrible things to my wife that have made her cry. I’ve lied—many times. I have pissed away way too much money on alcohol and office supplies at Staples. I have considered sending someone a dead cat in the mail (though she did deserve it).

All in all, it’s been a banner year. A real barn burner. And that doesn’t even count my failing to find a job and thus putting all of my financial burdens on my wife.

But I’m trying, Santa. I have seen the error of my ways and I’m trying to make it to the Nice List. Ask my therapist; after $585 in co-pays, she’s seen how hard I’m working. Or at least, how hard I’m thinking about working.

So if good intentions curry any favor with you, big guy, I would like to offer you my Christmas wish list at this time:

First and foremost, I would like a high-paying full-time job: one that’s flexible enough to allow me to write, sleep in some days, have afternoon sex, and keep my present part-time job, which I like because it allows me to have lunch with my friends. I would like this job to be fulfilling and mentally invigorating, and I want to not hate myself at the end of the day when I drive home in non-rush-hour traffic.

Second, I would like a major publisher to offer me a very large advance on my first book, and a fat deal on a second book, which I’ve yet to begin writing. If you could also make both books land on The New York Times’ Bestseller List, that would be very nice of you.

Third, please make that certain someone in my life (who shall remain unnamed, but you know who she is) kick her alcohol addiction problem. Her family would really appreciate it, and at least some of them are on the Nice List.

Fourth (and I realize that I may be treading on God’s territory here, but I figured it can’t hurt to cover all my bases), please make sure that my dad makes it through his surgery and has a full recovery, and that none of the cancer comes back. Make sure my mom is healthy, too, and that both of them live very long and happy lives.

Also, I’d like a black Toyota Prius hybrid for my friend Nicki, houses in Boston and Florida for my parents to retire in, a GPS system for my wife, some new ski equipment for my sister, a spouse who won’t cheat for my friend Ben, and more time off of work (though without less pay) for my brother to spend with his daughter.

Oh, and for me, I’d also like a 24-inch iMac computer with a 3.06 GHz processor and a stable where I can ride horses for free whenever I want.

I don’t usually ask for this much, Santa, but 2008 has been one hell of a year (thus, the excessive drinking). If it helps at all, I’m already planning to leave you extra cookies and a tin of the good nut mix with extra cashews.

If you’re unable to fulfill this request, please simply leave a note in my stocking containing the winning lottery numbers and the date on which I should play said numbers, and I’ll try to take care of this list on my own.

With love to your Kris Kringled Highness,

~ Laura Waldon

 

P.S. – I realize that I forgot to thank you for the Cabbage Patch Kid you gave me in 1986. If the events of 2008 are some sort of karmic retribution for that oversight, please accept my sincerest apologies and my belated thanks.

I wrote this today on line at Chipotle.
The girl in front of me tried to cheer me up.
“It’s okay,” I said, “I’m just working on a story.”
“I guess it’s not a funny one,” she said.