Suffering the Consequences

FeaturedSuffering the Consequences

In late summer 1962, I ran away from home; away from my mother, away from my three sisters, and away from our year-round Jersey Shore beach house. My mother had left my father a few years before, after we were evicted from a mid-century-modern in the Chicago suburbs.

I loved moving close to the Atlantic Ocean but not even the beloved beach down the block could keep me from escaping from my mother’s uncontrollable, screeching, violent rampages. I fled to my father, two hours away in Manhattan. He’d moved there to be close to us and to try, once again, to stay sober. My mother suspended her hatred long enough to allow a few visits between us, but when he moved into a new girlfriend’s suite in the Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue, my mother cut off all communication with him.

When I arrived, he checked me into my own hotel room, across the hall from his and the girlfriend’s suite. I enrolled in the sophomore class at Marymount Fifth Avenue Catholic girls school, where I became fast friends with another girl who lived in a hotel—her father managed the Waldorf-Astoria. I was no stranger to hotel living. My family had lived in the Meridian Hotel in Indianapolis for a year when my parents were drinking round-the-clock and couldn’t pull it together to find a family home. At 8-years-old, I had learned to run a tab for grilled cheese sandwiches and Coca-Colas in the hotel coffee shop. I relied on the doorman to report my whereabouts to my parents when I went out to play, since they weren’t always available to ask permission. I loved that part.

In early December at the Delmonico, I woke to a fiery, closed throat and vice-gripping headache. I went by ambulance to the emergency room of New York Presbyterian Hospital and was diagnosed with mononucleosis, hepatitis and migraine. The doctor explained that mononucleosis is called the kissing disease because it’s transmitted by mouth. Oh shit. Shame ran in my veins alongside the debilitating virus. I was afraid everyone would find out I was kissing a lot of boys and having sex.

Treatment included nausea-producing morphine injections and steroids. To heal my inflamed liver I lay flat on my back for 30 days— through Christmas and New Year’s. Classmates from Marymount brought homework; friends from the Jersey Shore sneaked in beer; my Boston boyfriend came with a stuffed Wiley Coyote; a case of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups showed up from my cousin,Therese. My mother never visited nor called.

Central-Park-New-York-city-NY-6While I was in  the hospital my father rented a furnished 3-bedroom apartment
overlooking the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park. Prolonged bedrest in the new home led to my recovery. The compulsory homework necessary for me to move on to my junior year slipped from my hands and onto the floor as I slept off my diseases. I returned to school after four months and failed that year with a final average grade of a humiliating 34.

The Tragedy of 11/9

Calling All Predators

Zoophagous and silver spooned.
Queens street smart.
Boys school ass-slapping
name-calling. Winning

at all costs no
matter how you get there. Win

Win. Win. High school lying and cheating
to win doesn’t count in the real

world but forms and shapes
the real man. Get away with it to
win. Say anything to
win. Break laws to
win. Make money to break
laws to buy lawyers and courts not

to prove but to
win.

Won and now
What?

Win more. My way.
My family. My hair. My plane.
My gold faucets. My servants. My
Mine. Yours?

Not so fast. I get mine. You
get yours. You say I need.
I say you get
it
yourself.

You cheat. You lie. You break laws.
You don’t play that way? Then
you are a loser. You lose.
You will
lose.
Again.

Weak Women care about
others. Take care of
others. Spend money on
others. Help
others.
Church. Soup kitchens. Volunteer. Weak. Soft. Losers.
I’ll keep them

that way. Don’t you
worry.

I’ll make
the world smaller. Our women. Our world. Our goods. Our military.

They will ask and ask and ask. No more mercy. No more
giveaways. Humanitarianism
– over. Negotiation is now. What do I
get for what I’m giving? Strength.

Boys. Men. White. This is your
world. What you want

I know. Have always
known. Since Queens.

Where ARE You, Mary Riley?

Where ARE You, Mary Riley?

Vehicles on Ridge Road held landowners and families, deliverymen, trash collectors, handymen, maids, sheep and no others because the country road rolling along the distant end of our north shore Chicago suburb past big old generational homes like yours, one modern (mine) and one sheep farm disinvited disturbances to the quiet outside while inside Meet the Press murmured on Sunday mornings before Mass and the nightly news narrated the evenings before dinner, but you, Mary Riley, clomped 5 miles down Ridge Road on your horse and brought another to me so we could trailblaze in the sheep fields and eat wild raspberries in season then ride through the back brush to your barn spying on your mysterious brothers and their polo ponies, making the best of memories in a time that held the worst for me inside my family’s rented mid-century modern that reeked of cigarettes, Scotch and Budweiser—outside, chlorine rose from the pool my mother cleaned for us so we could swim after horseback riding in the summer—then in the fall Sacred Heart Academy took us in navy blue blazers for French and Religion, The Mikado and recess and lunch with the nuns and Cuban girls from the revolution; after school I avoided the shame of the empty ice box and food cabinets and met you on Ridge Road to ride our bikes with my baby sister Stacy on the handle bars past the sheep farm to the seven-kid Burns family compound for softball and ping pong, joking around and drinking cokes in the Burns family kitchen watching horses in the fields and chickens in the coop, a respite from my house down the road where talking was dangerous and lies took over and my father was absent for long stretches, commuting to the city and flying to Mexico on extended business trips, and my mother drank all day and night and I wondered if she was still alive in the morning because she didn’t wake to wrap peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in wax paper and boil soft eggs— what about yours? she had something wrong with her, did she drink too? was she sick?— then learning to drive on the macadam driveway in the white station wagon when my little sister Erin ran over her kitten, splat! hysterics all around except me—I went numb, wise to parents not giving a damn behind the flat walnut door to the Mies-like architecture where danger lurked and drunks stumbled but where, once, pointing out the bathroom window at eye-level with a tree limb, my mother showed me a robin’s nest holding blue eggs, and when I told you, you said, my father told me your phone is disconnected because you didn’t pay the bill, and Boom! that was the end of our friendship, right there at the lunch table in front of the muchachas who didn’t speak English and the Cuban girls who did and the French nuns Mon Dieu! alarmed but inept at how to reprimand you, you double-crossing rat bastard—whatever happened to you?

Thank you, Kevin Coval, for the brief but spectacular teaching.

I Love Lucy: Meditation on Funny

I Love Lucy: Meditation on Funny

I Love Lucy. The weekly television show from October 1951 to May 1957 starred Lucille Ball as Lucy and her husband, Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo. The naïve, curious, ambitious th-3and untalented I-Love-Lucy sought love and approval through show business and schemed her way into hapless situations that led to trouble for the couple and their friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz. At the end of each half-hour black-and-white show, I-Love-Lucy was forgiven and everyone hugged. From the age of five through eleven I never missed an episode.

 

F    U    N    N    Y


amily. Imperfections aside, I-Love-Lucy had everything I wished for my mother – vitality, ambition, curiosity, best friends, fun costumes and love for her family. In 1954 my mother drove past the 1600-seat Indiana Theater on Wabash Avenue in Terre Haute with my 8-year-old eyes peering out the open window from the backseat. Parked curbside, an oversized flamingo-pink tractor trailer emblazoned with the words, Long, Long Trailer promoted the new Lucille Ball-Desni Arnaz movie. “No, you are NOT going to that movie.” My mother and her sister insisted it was not their job to provide entertainment for their children.

nyielding. My mother’s sister, Jean Renehan, was the exact opposite of I-Love-Lucy. Whip-smart, well-informed and organized, her only ambition—to connect to Jersey Shore high society—led her to marry a charming, well-turned-out blue blood alcoholic with a dowry. Always the strongest, most graceful and best-dressed woman in the room, she wasn’t prone to bumbling mishaps—until each cocktail hour separated her from grace. She laughed with others but the only lines she delivered herself were opinionated sarcastic put-downs of those who didn’t meet her standards.

onsense. Rick Steves has recorded three different videos of the Iberian Peninsula’s Rock of Gibraltar with its infamous native monkeys. Like I-Love-Lucy, the monkeys’ obsessions get them in trouble and make people laugh. Tourists move in to pet the comical wild animals and in the blink of an eye the monkeys snatch hats, purses, lunch, keys – anything to engage the unsuspecting humans in a game of hide and seek.

incompoop. Donald Trump is the I-Love-Lucy of American politics. He announces thpreposterous schemes, gets himself in trouble and we create punch lines to make ourselves laugh. When TrumpCare passed the House of Representatives, he tweeted, “ObamaCare is dead,” and threw a victory party at the White House. It looked like he actually believed the nascent bill became law. Late-night comics played Schoolhouse
Rock’s “Just a Bill” to show the fabulist President how a bill becomes law. Unlike I Love Lucy, this is not a TV series we can turn off.

uck. The sloth is named after the human vice because it is the very definition of inactive and lethargic, two characteristics totally foreign to I-Love-Lucy. Sloths spendUnknown-2 most of their lives hanging upside down in trees. Their fur houses moths, beetles, cockroaches, fungi and algae. I recently heard about a service that will deliver a sloth to people who want to hug them. Eww. Do they know about the fur? God bless the sloth-huggers who embrace these imperfect funny creatures as I did with I-Love-Lucy.

Conquering High Rise Nature

Conquering High Rise Nature

I threw down the Sunday Real Estate section, flew out the door and sped toward the city to catch the last minutes of the 1-3 pm Open House in a Lake Shore Drive condominium. View of Lake Michigan, one-bedroom, 900 square feet, 24-hour doorman, close to everything, dogs allowed, balcony.

Balcony? During the hour drive to downtown Chicago from temporary quarters in my son’s suburban home, I fantasized sitting on the as-yet-unseen balcony overlooking the Lake, tending my garden.

“I’ll take it,” I said to the agent as I moved across the living room of the third-floor apartment and saw old-growth trees fully dressed in their summer clothes. Outside the wall-to-wall windows a flickering in the trees revealed a red-headed house finch flitting from limb to limb. And then, there was the balcony.

Before light bulbs, blinds or a shower curtain, I bought clay pots and flowering plants for my new home. Young lime-green sweet potato vines and purple morning glories would grow up hugging each other, curling around the railings, stretching toward the sun, competing for space on the top rail, then spilling over the top, and finally hanging down in a graceful cascade of tangled color.

I laid the pots of soil on the balcony overnight to let the dirt cure before planting, leaving the door open – inviting the overnight breeze to bring on a soft sleep. In the morning I strolled into the living room to find dirt tracked all over the floor. My terrier, Usher—legs splayed out on the balcony floor, muddy nose, dirty paws—held his head high with half-closed eyes basking in the light wind. What do you suppose dogs think? Was he grateful IOzzy Gardening 5-4-12 gave him the opportunity to dig up our new backyard?

Off to Home Depot I went for another bag of soil and over-the-railing brackets to hold the pots up and away from those ancient canine instincts. I planted and watered. Perfect.

My north-facing home juts out just enough on a curve of Lake Shore Drive to have a tree-filled lake view. In fact only the trees stand between my balcony and the North Pole – no buildings, no mountain ranges, not much to break the full force of prevailing winds barreling down the Great Lakes, slamming into my building and battering the sweet potato vines and morning glories. They didn’t last the week.

For three years I tried all manner of perennials and annuals praying for wind resistance. The gardeners at Gethsemane Garden Center finally told me I was in a losing battle. Abandoning the outdoor garden, I still delighted in my tree-filled panoramic view full of IMG_1778sparrows, chickadees and one squirrel that sat on a parallel branch, squeaking and shaking his tail, tormenting the dog.

Eventually the emerald ash borer brought down most of the old trees, allowing more
light to fall on the indoor geraniums that are spread across the window sills and bloom all year. Conquering nature in a high-rise requires unwavering love of God’s creatures and a solid commitment to the game.

The Russians: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

The Russians: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

I was three years old in 1949 when the Soviet Union started the Cold War by detonating their first atomic bomb, blockading Berlin and pushing their way into Poland and Eastern Europe. The voices I heard swirling above my toddler head at cocktail hour told me the Russians wanted to rule the world and they were coming for us.

By the time I entered the first grade in 1952, the US government had created the National Civil Defense Administration and devised a plan to protect people from incoming A-bombs. Teachers were required to conduct air raid drills, shouting, “Drop!” and school children dropped under their desks, fell over their knees and covered their heads. The nuns at my schools added the instruction to recite Hail Marys aloud while on the floor. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. 

As first, second and third graders, my two sisters and I made our own breakfasts and school lunches because my mother’s alcohol intake rendered her unconscious in the mornings. We often gathered around her bed trying to figure out if she was alive. Holy Mary, Mother of God… One of us would place a finger under her nostrils to feel her breath until, with one exhale, she confirmed the worst that could happen hadn’t—and we’d be off to knock on neighbors’ doors scrounging rides to school.

At seven, I didn’t understand the difference between a drill and the real event so I went to my death every time I huddled under that desk. “This is it,” I’d pray, “this is the day I’m going to see Jesus.” I believed Mary would grab me in her arms like she did baby Jesus and take me to heaven. Why did we practice so desperately to avoid such ecstasy?

By the time third grade rolled around, I got used to not dying under the desk. Images of children who lived after their exposure to the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki appeared on our small black and white television and I began to realize why those air raid drills were so ominous — there were worse things than death.

Our parochial school teachers taught us Communists were going to hell because they prevented Catholics from going to Mass, which was one of the worst things that could ever happen. Words from the TV news — Stalin, USSR, Iron Curtain, the Red Army, the Berlin Airlift, NATO, the CIA — put worry on my parents’ faces and terrified me.

Throughout my childhood, I had reasons to think the worst was going to happen every day. But the worst never happened and over time these early worst-that-could-happen fears immunized me against pessimistic eruptions the way a bout of the measles inoculates against future outbreaks of inflamed skin . For instance, my mother’s alcoholic dementia killed her at 70, but it was not the worst thing to happen, rather relief to her and to those around her.

Today’s words —Trump, FBI, emoluments, North Korea, hacking, Putin, charter schools and my old friend Russia — needle me with foreboding, but history is on my side. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

A Gucci-Loving Spiritual Seeker Gets It in est

In the late 1970’s, my father attended the Erhard Seminar Training, est, a large-group self-awareness retreat founded by modern-day American guru, Werner Erhard, and known today as The Landmark Forum.

After 15 years of estrangement, I became re-acquainted with my father in 1975 when I had overdosed on drugs and alcohol at twenty-four. He visited me in a New Jersey psychiatric institution to tell me about his own downfall and recovery from alcoholism.

A year later, I took my 9-year-old son Joe for his first visit to his grandfather’s home in Chicago’s Lake Point Tower. He ran his coal-mining business from a 6th floor office overlooking Navy Pier, and lived on the 57th floor with a girlfriend whose name I’ve forgotten.

I found comfort in our common interests. We attended AA meetings together, ate according to Dr. Atkins, and searched for meaning in the writings of American buddhists Alan Watts and Ram Dass. Over the years, his Kool-Aid obsession with the est Training led him to attend more exclusive retreats, outdoor survival excursions and seminars that would have led to his becoming an est Trainer himself. He relentlessly pursued fellow AAers, the doormen, his girlfriends, passers-by, my sisters and me to hop on the est bandwagon.

Joe loved and admired his athletic, yoga-practicing, Gucci-loafered, new-age grandfather. After my two failed marriages, I thought my father would make a good role model so we moved to Chicago. Before long, I capitulated and went to the est Training. The Trainer coerced me into confronting all the bad decisions I’d made in my life, which tore my soul to shreds and kept it tattered for years afterwards. I helplessly allowed my father to enroll Joe in the Training at age 14, and silently cheered when Joe walked out the first hour of the 60-hour course.

With est’s emphasis on the Self, my father drifted far away from his Jesuit-educated God-centered roots. His spiritual life ballooned into a reliance on his interpretation of the “god within” — that we are all our own gods and are capable of directing our own lives with no outside help. He preached at AA meetings to accept ourselves as we are in the present with no thought of what we’ve done in the past or what we will become in the future. People in AA tell me to this day his greatest influence on them was his constant reminder that no human power could relieve their alcoholism, that dependence on a higher power was essential to recovery. I never knew anyone to challenge him on his illogical, conflicting philosophies.

In October,1979, Pope John Paul II waved to my father as he flew by his 57th floor living room window in an open-door helicopter, his white robes flapping. The Pope landed in Grant Park to perform an outdoor Mass for 200,000 congregants. We watched the ritual on television and my father claimed that day as his reawakening to Catholicism. He didn’t return to Sunday Mass until the est organization dissolved in 1984. About that time I started noticing a slow disintegration in his character. His live-in girlfriends changed more frequently; he concocted fraudulent business deals, pitted my sisters and I against each other, sold his business and exaggerated his wealth.

In the end, he acted like he was his own god, unencumbered by moral obligations or the consequences of his actions. Perhaps he was like that all along.