Posts Tagged ‘Money’

I think I’ve mentioned before that Mom got deeply involved with psychics. Like a lot of things in her life, it went in cycles – sometimes she’d be very into it, maybe for months or a year. Then she’d decide (seemingly randomly) that they “didn’t know anything” and she’d quit going. But when she was into it…she was into it. Weekly sessions, the whole nine yards.

We were driving through town, and Mom noticed a building with a sign out front: Readings by Ann. She practically pulled the car over right away.

Mom: That’s the psychic from the beach! The one that knew everything!

I was skeptical. The psychic Mom had met so many years ago (see this post) had grown to legendary proportions. Mom had difficulty keeping most conversations straight – she would frequently add stuff that wasn’t said or didn’t happen, citing it as fact. Almost everything that happened since, Mom would nod to herself in affirmation.

Mom: The psychic said this would happen.

Me: Oh, really?

And then I’d hear Mom repeat (supposedly verbatim) a long conversation between her and the psychic – such conversations were usually cryptic and vague. I could often tell when something she was saying had the ring of truth to it – which was rare. The things Mom reiterated to me were not things normal people would say, at least outside of movies or something. Anyway…if you compiled all Mom’s stories from this psychic, you’d probably have easily 3 or 4 hours of material. And the session itself lasted probably 45 minutes. I wasn’t even sure this psychic’s name had been Ann –  I hadn’t paid that much attention, though.

We were met at the door of the office by what I can only describe as a decrepit gypsy woman. She had a head scarf, a cane…the whole works. I remembered the psychic Mom had seen before as being much younger. Still, she was convinced.

We sat down in a sparse room at a small table. This lady was laying on the schtick pretty hard – she even had an accent and a crystal ball. I had researched psychics of course – had read several books about the hustles that are often played on unsuspecting victims (a segment of the population my mother was about to join). She didn’t have to work her game very hard, though…Mom was so open and suggestible it wasn’t even funny. After talking with us some, and gazing into her crystal ball (I almost cracked up here, but somehow I kept a straight face) she sat  back, apparently exhausted by her efforts.

Psychic: No guuut.

Mom was sitting on the edge of her chair.

Mom: What do you see?!

Psychic: I haff berry bad noos.

Mom: Bad news…?

She said something that even I couldn’t follow – it sounded like Foot Woman. I couldn’t imagine what she could be talking about, but with her fake accent, it could have been anything. Mom asked her to repeat it.

Psychic: A Futona. A curse. You haff a curse.

I could see the panic in Mom’s eyes.

Psychic: Is why you no successful. Is why you fail. Someone curse you, you see?

I half expected her to fork her fingers and spit through them. Meanwhile, Mom was practically beside herself.

Mom: What do I do!? How do I get rid of it?

Psychic: Is berry powerful. But I know how to do. But I must meditate. Come back later tonight. I tell you what to do.

The psychic refused payment from Mom – something I was initially impressed by, but which I later learned was just a “hook” in a confidence scam. At home, Mom was practically pacing.

Mom: Do you think she’ll really know what to do? What if the curse is too powerful?

Me: I dunno. I don’t know that we’re cursed, Mom.

Mom: But it explains so much! And didn’t she say…

And then she spun off into a whole part of the conversation that the psychic most definitely did not say. I was sitting right there. Still, I knew better than to argue – she never listened. When we returned after dark, the place was obviously closed. The gypsy lady unlocked the door and led us in.

Psychic: I haff seen what I need to do. You must bring me four white candles. A red scarf. A lock of your hair. And $20, all in 5’s.

I wanted to laugh, but Mom was enraptured and the gypsy lady was so freaking serious. Even I was a little taken in.

Psychic: Bring to me tomorrow, at dusk.

Still, she refused actual payment from Mom – she claimed she was doing this out of good will. We were so bad off, evidently, that she just wanted to help.

When Mom returned the following day, the meeting was short. The gypsy insisted that she had to do her “work” in private. Days passed, and we heard nothing. As per usual, Mom left countless messages on her machine – pleading for an update. Finally, we got a call…she wanted to see us.

Psychic: Is difficult to break, this ting. I try very hard, but I no can yet. Is more difficult than I ever imagine.

Mom: What do we do?

Psychic: Is another way. Give me again four white candles, a red scarf, and $40, in 10’s.

This hit a bit of a nerve with Mom – spending money usually did. I don’t think she picked up on the fact that she was being had, exactly, but I think she understood that the price for fixing the “curse” had gone up.

Mom: Why did the price go up?

Psychic: Is not price. You must understand, I give as offering. I do not keep.

Mom: Why can’t it be $20, like before?

Psychic: Because the denomination must increase, to show our sincerity.

Somehow, this washed with Mom. I had no illusions that this woman was sacrificing the money or giving it to charity.  We left to buy some candles and a scarf, and Mom forked over the money. This time, the psychic asked for payment.

Psychic: Is berry difficult, dis work I do. I giff you all my attention, no time for other clients.

Mom peeled off another $20, and handed it to her. The gypsy gratefully accepted it.

We had to wait, but not as long this time. The gypsy needed to see us urgently – could we come right away? Mom, of course dropped everything and booked it to this lady’s office.

Psychic: I haff good news. I am almost done. There are only a few more steps to complete. But things are getting more serious…

I knew where this was going, even if Mom didn’t. Four white candles, a red scarf…

Psychic: …and $80, in 20s.

Mom wasn’t terribly happy, but after further assurances that this would break the curse – along with a generous donation to the gypsy herself, of course – Mom went along.

I could bore you with details, but it was all so similar – the same thing happened again and again, until we started to hit the $400 mark. Mom was getting visibly agitated, and the psychic asked to see her immediately – urgent news from the spirit world.

Mom: I’m not doing this. This is too much.

Psychic: It must be done! We are so close…

Mom: How much more expensive is this going to get?

Psychic: I only do vat spirits tell me. Close, berry close.

Mom: Isn’t there some cheaper way to do this?

Psychic: It is berry powerful curse. It takes great sacrifice to undo.

Mom reluctantly forked over the cash.

Mom: This is it. That’s all there is. I want it broken this time.

The psychic nodded, and then had the cajones to ask for another “donation”. Mom angrily refused, which started a minor shouting match between the two of them (mostly it was Mom yelling, and she quickly quieted down and apologized. Evidently she didn’t think it was wise to piss off the person who held your spiritual well being in her hands).

We got absolutely no word from the gypsy lady, and Mom was getting nervous and pissed. She started staking out the office, looking for a chance to talk to her. When it finally came, the results were unsurprising – the psychic wanted yet more money. This was the worst and most difficult curse she had seen in her long and illustrious career. For a mere $1,000 (and a generous donation) she was sure – absolutely sure – it would be broken for good. Mom practically burst a vein. I feel the need to reiterate that it wasn’t that she didn’t think this stuff was real – she most definitely did – but she felt it ought to be able to be done cheaper, if not more efficiently. Mom refused to fork over the money. They shouted at each other, but I did my best to extract myself from the situation. I walked out of the office into a small living room, where I waited for it to be over. I noticed that the gypsy’s accent disappeared when she started yelling. I can’t say I was surprised. She probably wasn’t even as old as she pretended to be.

For months, Mom brought up things that I am positive the psychic never said. In fact, she insisted that the psychic cursed her for not giving her more money.

Mom: She said she would trade places with us! She said she would become successful and we would become poor! Is that even possible?

Me: I doubt it, Mom.

I wasn’t sure I even believed in curses – at least not ones delivered by fake gypsies. But Mom fretted, and the conversation that they supposedly had elongated like taffy. We eventually returned to the office, but it was closed. We discovered that she owed taxes or something, possibly even had committed some crimes. We also heard conflicting stories regarding her fate – she was either arrested or skipped town. My money was on the latter.

Mom: She said that the only way to undo it would be to find her again. And she said I’d never find her!

She scoured the phone book, and even went driving to different towns, hoping to find a sign with this woman’s name on it. I pointed out that “Ann” may not even have been her real name (I was convinced now that this person was a criminal) and besides…how many people in the world are named Ann?

I tried to assure her that it was bullshit, but it was like sticking my finger in a leaky dam. I knew that my words had no effect on whatever waves were boiling inside her brain. And I knew that, eventually, she’d get caught up in another psychic – or at the very least pursue another exhaustive search. I had to address the issue on and off with her for quite a while before she dropped it. I was hopeful that it was over, but I knew that could never actually be the case. That’s the thing about being right in a case like this – when your suspicions are confirmed, it’s neither a surprise nor a cause for smug celebration. It’s like a doctor trying to find a cure for a disease, and he’s all too aware that what he’s working on is definitely not it. He hopes, yes, because hope keeps you going. But when the results come back as another failure, he meets it with a wry smile and takes cold comfort in having his theory validated after all.

Special thanks to Bad Books for inspiring the title.

Advertisements

Mom was sitting at the kitchen table, head in her hands, and reading a letter. She wasn’t freaking out, which I thought was odd – freaking out was a fairly typical reaction for her. But from her body language, and the body language of Grandma (who was reading the letter over her shoulder) I knew that the letter did not bear good news. I asked what was up. Mom got up…I could see she was shaking a little.

Mom: I’m calling the accountant.

Me: Mom…whats up?

Grandma gestured to the letter, and I picked it up. A quick scan told me everything I needed to know – we were being audited. I listened while Mom flipped the fuck out on the phone to Patrick (our accountant). I would credit her with being initially calm, but I don’t think she was – I honestly think she was shell shocked.

As I may have mentioned before, the finances were a complete disaster. Aside from somehow gaining the interest of federal tax agents, we rarely had any money to speak of. All the funds – mine, Tim’s and mom’s were co-mingled. No savings accounts, nothing set aside in a CD or a mutual fund. Everything in checking, everything together, and nothing tracked appropriately. Obviously, I didn’t have my own checking out – something Mom insisted that the bank refused to do for me since I was under age. I bought that for a while, but then I started to realize I knew plenty of people who had junior savings accounts. Didn’t matter, I suppose…I never pushed too hard, and the subject inevitably got dropped. On a slightly unrelated note, I didn’t get my own checking account till I was 18 and legally able to do so. I not only had to fight tooth and nail to get that accomplished, I had to do it behind Mom’s back because she refused to allow it. I was proud of that little checking account – proud when I put $25 in to open it, and proud of that little stab at independence. But that came later. For now, the routine was this: If I got a check in, I signed it over to her. If Tim got a check in, he signed it over to her, and it all went in the communal account. I didn’t know I was signing over money – nobody explained what was going on, Mom least of all – all I knew is “that’s the way it’s supposed to be done”. Looking back and knowing I could have refused to sign the checks over at any time, taken them to a new account and had my own money…well. It leaves me a bit dismayed. I could have managed my money better as a kid than my mother did as an adult. I probably would have kept more of it too. But I digress.

The accountant we had hired had been our family accountant for years – when Grandma worked at the courthouse, she met his mother on a bus. He took care of our finances ever since, and we were probably one of his bigger (and more complicated) clients. We made a lot of money in New York, so that meant a New York tax return in addition to the state we lived in. Plus, if I flew somewhere and did a commercial in ,say, CA…another tax return. Not counting Federal, of course.  Anyway. Mom spent the next few weeks flipping out.

Mom: Someone tipped them off! Someone sent the IRS after us!

Me: Who?

Mom: I don’t know. Maybe someone who wants to keep us from Russ! Or maybe Bob.

Me: Would Dad really call the IRS? Why?

Mom: I don’t know.
There were several meetings – we met with Patrick and the IRS agents in his office. They asked lots of questions, most of which Patrick answered. They seemed actually pretty nice, considering. You don’t imagine IRS agents to be nice…maybe sort of like Agent Smith from the Matrix. But these guys struck me as just people doing their job. Anyway, as they were wrapping up, they sort of looked at each other – the agents, I mean – and I could tell there was something in that look.

Agent: We’re just about wrapped up. We just have a couple questions for you…

I had a feeling I knew what was coming – Mom had coached me extensively. She didn’t seem to be worried about anything else, just this one specific thing.

Mom: If they ask you if you signed those checks, you tell them yes.

Me: But I did sign them. So, just tell them the truth. Right?

Mom looked a little uncomfortable.

Mom: Don’t give them a big speech. Don’t say anything. Just tell them that you signed them if they ask you. That’s all. Do you understand?

I told her I did.

Mom: If you say something wrong…if you tell them anything but that you signed the checks, I will get taken away and sent to jail. Then you’ll have to live with your Father.

This was her Ace card, and she knew it – still, she dropped it way too often. Despite that, it still had a dizzying effect on me. I certainly didn’t want my mother in prison. Besides, I had actually signed the checks…I was telling the truth.  It was all just the way things were supposed to be done. Right?

Anyway. The moment of truth.

Agent: Dan…did you sign this?

He handed me a copy from the back of a check. It was stamped from the bank – my signature, Mom’s signature, and our account numbers.

Me: Yeah. That’s my signature.

He seemed perplexed. It almost seemed like he thought he hadn’t heard me right.

Agent: You signed this?

Me: Yes.

Again, the agents exchanged a glance. And all at once…the meeting was over. They were packing up their briefcases. They said they’d call.

Some time later, they did – turns out we took off more deductions than were allowed, or something like that – and they hosed us to the tune of about $6k. Based on what I was making – which was in the hundreds of thousands – this was a pittance. Still. Mom called the agent at his office and visited her wrath upon him. I only heard her side of the conversation, but based on that alone I can’t imagine the agent said much.

Mom: WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!? I’LL TELL YOU WHAT THIS IS – IT’S EXTORTION! EXTORTION FROM THE GOVERNMENT. WHAT YOU PEOPLE ARE DOING IS ILLEGAL!

I could have pointed out that, technically, anything the government does isn’t illegal – since they make the laws – but the point would have been lost on her. Regardless, I don’t even think she took one breath during that phone call. Her propensity for epic fits is truly astounding.

Mom: HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO EAT? HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO LIVE?

Eventually, he managed to calm her down. I can’t imagine her explosion helped the situation at all. Most people in that position understand that you can’t fight City Hall. I think she knew that too, but she wanted to make damn sure they came away with the imprint of her hand on their face (verbally speaking, at least).

As in all times of trouble, we turned to Uncle Richard. He was furious, but he didn’t think Mom’s screaming fit was a great idea either.

Uncle Richard: They’re bullying you. You know what you do with bullies?

Mom sat forward.

Mom: Bully them back?

Uncle Richard shook his head.

Uncle Richard: Tell everyone what they’ve done. Tell them everything.

He turned to me.

Uncle Richard: Write a book, Danny. I bet they leave you alone if you bring their actions to light.

I liked the idea, though I thought the subject matter was a little dry.

Mom: He can’t write a book about that. He doesn’t understand what’s going on.

Uncle Richard: He can read, can’t he? Just have him look over the files.

Mom shifted in her chair.

Mom: I don’t think anyone would want to read it…

Uncle Richard: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter if it gets published. The threat is there. If the public sees the IRS beating up on a kid, it’s all over. And they know that.

I went home that night, and fired up my computer – a trusty Compudyne 486. As in 66 mHz. As in 3 1/4″ floppy drive. As in, for the early 90’s…it rocked pretty hard. I spent a couple hours on the word processor – I started with the title page, of course: THE IRS vs A 12 YEAR OLD KID. I had what I felt were good few pages, and showed them to Mom. She hated them.

Mom: It’s…not very good.

Me: I kinda liked it.

Mom: You’ve written better. You should probably stick to music. This book isn’t going to go anywhere.

And then and there, it fizzled out. I hate to say it, but I craved her approval (still do…probably always will). Uncle Richard asked about my progress on the book, and I halfheartedly told him I was working on it. It eventually got dropped. And why was Mom so intent on me not writing the book? I didn’t understand at the time, but I think I do now. I’d have had to research, which meant I would have had to go through the files and finances and figure out exactly what was going on in order to make my case. If I researched, I might find…other things. I might realize that the money was flowing like wine at a medieval feast. It might dawn on me that the funds should not only be handled differently, but actually kept track of and no longer be pooled in a common account. Which might end Mom’s free and easy access to big wads of cash. In short, I might get ideas. Me having ideas was the opposite of what Mom wanted, I think.

I’ve had years to think about this, and I’ve come to some conclusions. I don’t think the IRS was concerned with what my deductions were – I think they were concerned with whether or not my mother was committing fraud with my money. I think someone – I still don’t know who – tipped them off to the idea that embezzlement might be occurring, and lots of it. Based on the reactions of the agents, I think that was the main concern. As for the other stuff – the deductions and whatever – well, they had to find something, didn’t they? They had to justify their efforts. I get that. But what they didn’t count on, and what whoever tipped them off didn’t count on, was the depth and breadth of my naivete and how immersed I was in my mother’s world. Still, whoever was behind this was probably ultimately trying to do a good thing – they just didn’t understand the circumstances. I would have had to have known what was going on with my money (a virtual impossibility, since I was both underage and kept in the dark), and I would have had to lie and say I didn’t sign the checks. Even if both factors were in play, there was no way in hell I was going to send my mother to prison. Or be forced to live with my Dad. Still, the fact that someone knew what was going on (or thought they did) and cared enough to call both puzzles and comforts me. Who they were will probably remain another one of my life’s mysteries.

 

 

It was one of those months – which was basically every month, at least to me – we were either short on cash or Mom was worried we would be. We would have a roof over our heads – Grandma made sure of that. She paid the electric, water, cable, and mortgage herself. Mom paid a pittance in “rent” – due whenever, and usually in the amount of whatever she could afford. As a kid, I just knew I had to work harder – book more things, bigger things – because, as Mom would lecture me repeatedly, “Everything is so expensive”. There were years I made $100,000 (and this was in 90’s money, which went quite a bit further). There were years I made more. And still, we scraped the bottom of the barrel by the time the end of the month came. As a kid, I did not question this – it was a fact of life. Money was finite and fleeting. As an adult, I understand that mistakes were made. The money wasn’t handled improperly; it wasn’t handled at all. Hundred dollar bills slipped through my Mother’s open fist like sand in the hand of a small child. I don’t blame her for this – I blame her mental illness. I have learned that shopping sprees (of which hers were frequent) and the inability to handle and understand money can be indicators that something is seriously wrong. I didn’t know that then, and didn’t much care. I was doing what I wanted to do – acting, music, etc. I understood (vaguely) that money made all this possible. I didn’t much care where it went beyond that it afforded me the opportunities I sought.

Mom would often spend hundreds at the grocery store, and she’d be in there for hours (or what felt to my brother and I like hours). We would wander off to amuse ourselves while she agonized over which brand of peanut butter to buy. We’d wander back some time later, only to find her staring into space – either still agonizing or zoning out completely, we couldn’t tell. Grocery lists were not an option. She could not explain to us exactly what it was she needed most of the time – we offered, in hopes that it would make the grueling trip go faster.

Mom: I don’t know. I need stuff.

Me: But what? Like, eggs? Milk? I can run and get it.

Mom: Just stuff, Danny. Let me think.

And she would wander the grocery store hunched over the cart and think. We’d pass through the same aisles several times before she’d decide she needed something there or abandon the aisle completely. She’d buy whatever was on sale – and way too much of it. By the end of the week, it either went bad or had to be frozen, and she’d have spent several hundred dollars. She would make a return trip the following week, regardless.

When she wasn’t horribly depressed – sleeping or writing letters to the various Russes – she would be extremely energetic and insist on taking us clothes shopping. She’d run out to the store and buy herself (and us) lots of clothes. It didn’t matter what the style was, or if it looked good, or even if it fit properly – if it was on sale, she bought it. I remember her holding up a sweater for me to try on. It was beige, relatively shapeless and had multicolor squiggles and triangles on it. It sort of looked like a Cosby sweater. She decided that it was “only $5” and thus I should get it. I didn’t question her, though I despised the sweater. When she asked me to wear it, I’d tell her I couldn’t find it, even though I knew right where it was. She eventually forgot about it, and other “sale clothes” replaced it. They weren’t all awful, exactly, but they didn’t look right. Let me put it this way: In my teens, I was wearing acid wash black jeans (on sale), a giant blue FUBU sweater (another killer deal) and cowboy boots (she popped for expensive ones, because she thought they made me look tall). From a fashion standpoint, I was a horrific mess. Not that I knew any different. There was also this one shirt that she insisted was “hip and cool” and it made me look like a deep sea diver. It was short sleeve and had sort of a turtle neck and was made of meshy stuff. But it was on sale! My point in all this being, even though she shopped “cheap”, she shopped a lot and bought awful clothes in bulk. So, yes, a sweater might be $5, but if you buy 10 and then some shoes and then a few blouses and then something for Tim…it’s not $5 anymore. I don’t think she ever got that concept.

When things were tight, she’d still go to sales and the grocery store. Grandma would offer to buy groceries, and Mom would get angry. If she was feeling particularly surly, Grandma would also point out we had stuff in the freezer. Fights would ensue, ending with Mom hopping into the car and going to the store. Often, she’d try to take us with her.

Mom: Let’s go, Tim. Let’s go, Danny.

Me: Where are you going?

Mom: Out.

Tim: Out where?

Mom: The store.

Me: Which store?

If it wasn’t a store I was interested in, I would be reluctant to go. Some clothing stores had SNES games or SEGA games in the kid’s department – you could hang out and play the games while the parents shopped. I would happily go to those stores. But I couldn’t endure the long and agonizing bargain hunting as a general rule. Sometimes we’d stay home with Grandma, who would make us a sympathetic sandwich while Mom huffed away, slamming doors as she went. Sometimes we’d go with Mom while she brooded and shopped in utter silence. Tim and I would amuse ourselves, talking about games or comics or whatever.

Despite spending big on groceries and clothes, she got panicked and tight-fisted when the money squeeze was on. In other words, we needed to watch what we ordered at McDonald’s.

Mom: Get it without cheese.

Me: …but I like it with the cheese.

Mom: But if you get it without cheese, it’s forty cents cheaper.

I scowled.

Me: Alright, I guess.

To put a fine point on it, a friend told me once that my Mother was penny wise and pound foolish. That about sums it up.

Regardless, one of those times she was in a total panic – this was nothing unusual in and of itself, but she was actually talking about selling stuff to get through the month. Finally, she turned to Grandma.

Mom: What do you have that we could sell?

Grandma: I don’t know, Donna…

Mom: What about jewelry? Do you have any jewelry?

Grandma sighed.

Mom: We need this. We’re short.

Me: What’s going on?

Mom: Your Grandmother needs to find some jewelry we can sell fast. If she doesn’t, you’ll have to stop going to New York. I’ll have to put you in regular school or send you to be with your father. I can’t afford this. We’re out of money!

Her eyes were bugging out, and spittle was forming at the corners of her mouth. She was in a full on, panicked frenzy.

Mom: What about your diamond?

Grandma: I’m not selling my engagement ring.

Mom: No, the one you got when you were 16!

According to family lore, Grandma had been given a blue chip diamond for her 16th birthday by her uncle. Even then, it was worth a bit of money. Knowing this, Grandma wore it only rarely – she was afraid to lose it. Nevertheless, Mom was able to convince her that my ENTIRE FUTURE was at stake! We couldn’t afford GAS for the CAR! The diamond manifested itself, and we piled into the car.

We drove an hour to a jewelry store that was only a little better than a pawn shop. They promised quick cash for gold on the spot. Mom and Grandma marched up to the counter and offered up Grandma’s ring.

Mom: What’s it worth?

The clerk eyed the ring for a moment.

Clerk: Let me check.

He disappeared into the back where, ostensibly, he was to examine it. When he emerged, he shook his head.

Clerk: I’m sorry, this is not worth anything. It is costume jewelry.

He plopped the ring unceremoniously back into Grandma’s waiting palm. She examined it.

Grandma: This isn’t my ring.

Mom looked over at it.

Mom: No, it’s not. That’s a ring from a fifty cent machine.

The clerk blanched. Grandma got angry.

Grandma: You took my ring in the back and swapped it out!

The Clerk stammered. Even to me, he looked guilty as hell. I took one glance at the ring and could see it was cheap – it was even bent. Mom roared at the clerk.

Mom: YOU DON’T KNOW WHO YOU’RE DEALING WITH!

Clerk: I swear…I didn’t…

Mom: I COULD HAVE YOU KILLED! I KNOW PEOPLE.

Mom seemed to turn down her wrath from a rolling boil.

Mom: You don’t even have to worry about the police. Because sometimes…you don’t even know who you’re messing with.

If I had been so inclined, I could have tapped the clerk and he would have fallen over. That’s how he looked. We stormed outside, made a big show about making a phone call from a nearby payphone, and debated what to do.

Grandma: Call the police!

Mom: We shouldn’t.

Me: What!? Call the cops, Mom.

Mom: We can’t. It’s just his word against ours.

Me: Yeah, but there’s three of us…

In the end, for whatever reason, it was determined that we should drop the matter, get back into the car, and go home. Grandma mourned her ring for years. And I always felt incredibly angry and bad about what happened. Mom handled it poorly, and I should have taken the reins from her…somehow. I feel like we could have gotten the ring back if we tried – maybe there would have been footage on one of the store cameras. I also felt like it was all my fault, somehow – if I hadn’t been acting and songwriting, Mom wouldn’t have needed the money or had to sell the ring. I mean, ultimately, the ring was being sold for me (at least in theory). But then logic kicks in, and I realize the truth: Mom would have needed money regardless. She would have found a way to twist arms to get what she wanted. And when the money from whatever she sold was gone, she’d try to move on to another pile of cash to blow. That was the problem, I think, that she got used to having money. And in my line of work, there was always more money.

 

I got into more and more conflicts with Dad, but I started getting into them deliberately. I knew a beating was coming, whether I wanted it to or not, so I decided I would at least control when they came. I eventually got so good a provoking him, I could do almost nothing – or at least, nothing that actually warranted such explosive anger. With Mom, I was almost always agreeable – if I was doing something that Dad didn’t like, and he wasn’t in a position to beat me (as in, if he was in public), he would helplessly bleat for Mom.

Dad: Dooooonnna. Help me. Your son is being difficult…

My anger welled whenever I saw him, and I began venting it in secret – I scrawled missives to him on the undersides of tables and furniture. Things like “DAD YOU ARE A SHIT“. It was the best I could come up with between the ages of 6-8, and it summed up my feelings towards him rather precisely. The messages are still there, incidentally – faded a bit with time, but still carved deep.

He rarely ever hit my brother Tim – I was never sure why, but I suspect that Tim was a bit more amiable than I was. He’d pretty much go along with whatever. Perhaps more to the point, he was a bit more of a “guy” than I was – interested in going outdoors, looking at animals, etc. Dad would resentfully leave me to my reading or music, and take Tim outside. I was fine with that, at least I didn’t have to deal with him. I think he ultimately felt that Tim turned out “right” – into all the appropriate things, for example. My suspicions in this regard were only reinforced by his reaction when Tim told him I had gotten married a few years back. He was surprised. I’m still about 90% sure he thought I’d be gay.

And the money, of course, was an issue. Those two morons – Mom and Dad – had no idea what to do with the money I was making. Even when Dad left, Mom still didn’t know what to do with it. But the only time I ever remember hearing a specific conversation about it was when I was 7. They had pulled over to an ATM and were discussing making a withdrawal.

Mom: We shouldn’t take it out. It’s his.

Dad: Well, we need it.

Mom: But Bob…

Dad: He’ll make more.

Mom sat thoughtfully for a moment.

Mom: I guess you’re right. And he is getting a retirement from SAG.

(Once you were a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild – which I was – a certain portion of what you make gets put into a retirement account for you. A nice little bonus from the union.)

Dad: Exactly. He’ll be set up when he needs it.

I was listening and processing. Finally I piped up.

Me: If you guys need it, it’s fine. I’ll have my retirement from SAG.

Of course, I had no idea what I was talking about in tangible terms – I just knew my parents needed money and I had some. I felt I ought to give them some of mine. I think they had forgotten I was in the car, because they turned and looked at me almost in unison. Mom looked shocked (perhaps that I understood, even in the vaguest terms, what they were discussing), and Dad looked surprised but also kind of pissed. He snatched the ATM card from her hand, leapt out of his Bronco, and slammed the door so hard the car rocked. That was the only serious conversation – then or now – that I ever had with my Mom regarding what to do with the money I was making.

Mom was almost always a coiled spring – everything was a major, major issue. Whether we’re talking about school, or an audition, getting somewhere on time…you name it. Everything, even something as small as losing her keys temporarily evoked a semi-hysterical reaction. Even as a kid, I tried to tell her that running around flipping out isn’t going to help her find her keys – she needed to calm down and think about where they might be. My advice almost always went unheeded, and Tim or I were the ones who ended up getting them for her and calming her down. Sometimes she’d try to return something at a store and run into a problem  and some poor clerk would get nailed with the brute force of her hysterical anger. As I got older and more aware of myself, I started to feel embarrassment at these times – I’d grab Tim by the shoulder and we’d inch away, finding something – anything – else to look at or do. Even today, I’m extremely sensitive to reactions – if someone raises their voice, even imperceptibly – I inwardly think “Oh, shit.” and get ready to duck and cover. Grandma didn’t help matters much – her and Mom didn’t get along so well very often. And Grandma could hold grudges like…well…an old Italian lady. They were both extremely co-dependent…something I had to struggle with myself later in life. Looking back over my family’s history, though, almost everyone ended up living together at some point. What I mean is, my Great-Grandma lived with her parents until they died, Great Grandma lived with Grandma and Grandpa until she died, and so on. It was sort of just expected that everyone would live together under one roof, and everything was community property. I guess it’s a Mediterranean thing, I’m not sure. In the early days, we had a pager – Grandma was supposed to page us if anything was wrong, and we’d stop at a payphone and call her back. If she put “911” at the end of the page, we’d know it was urgent and to find a payphone right away. The problem was, once Grandma realized the code got us to return her calls faster, she used it for everything. This caused no small amount of conflict between her and Mom. I remember once, Mom got a “911” call from Grandma while we were in NY. She fed a meter and hopped onto a payphone with me in tow. It had been tagged with graffiti and smelled like piss.

Mom: What’s wrong?

Grandma: Well…what do you want to do for dinner?

Mom: Goddammit, Mom, I’m busy. I’m in the middle of something in New York and I can’t just drop everything to figure out what’s going on for dinner. YOU figure it out.

Grandma: Well, Donna, I just wanted to know!

Mom: But it’s not an emergency!

Mom usually ended up slamming the phone down on grandma, terminating the call. Mom would usually cool off after a couple hours and call her back.

Money was a constant worry. As I think I said in another post, I made hundreds of thousands of dollars. For several years running, starting when I was about 8, I made a minimum of a $100,000 a year. I haven’t sat down to do the math, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say I made a least a million during my lifetime. Yet we were always short somehow – we needed a loan from Grandma, or Mom had to put something on a credit card, or whatever. We were always holding our breath waiting for the next royalty check to come in. It inevitably would, Mom would be elated, and we’d run off to the bank to deposit it in our communal account. Nothing was ever set aside, no financial planning was done – we just lived hand to mouth, despite the fact that I was making a modest fortune. Financially, at least, mistakes were not learned from – hell, Mom mortgaged everything to the hilt and beyond when she had to. Credit cards were maxed out, and overdraft fees were incurred. I assumed this all was normal, because I had nothing to compare it to – the constant buzz of worry pervaded everything.