Posts Tagged ‘Mothers’

We were driving in the car with Mom – I think we were coming back from NY or something. I had my book in my lap, my finger in a page. I was terrible at losing bookmarks. It’s funny…I was always so careful with everything else, but I must have had thousands of bookmarks during my lifetime. I read so many books – sometimes several at once – that I’d end up losing them somewhere in the pages (or they’d fall out somewhere, never to be seen again). I had a tradition when I finished a book – I’d take a little while…maybe a few minutes, maybe a day…depending on how the book was – and meditate on it. Just really soak it up. When I was done, I’d turn past the flyleaf and the table of contents and the Author’s Note and stick the book mark in page one. Uncle Richard had book marks too…but he was more prone to mark up his books. He’d underline something interesting, or dog ear a page. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. To mark up a book – any book – would be like defacing a holy site to me. I think I was so protective of them because some part of me knew they were portals to other worlds…a real escape for me, a means of transportation. I took care of my books as well as a car enthusiast would take care of a prized ’65 Mustang. It was a means of travel, but it was special too. I had long talks about this concept with Uncle Richard, who firmly disagreed with my conclusions.

Uncle Richard: I love a messed up book. Creased pages, wear marks on the binding…these are signs of a well loved book. Nothing is more special than that.

Anyway, so I was sitting there taking a break from the book. It must have been good, because I was really dwelling on the characters and the story. I suddenly felt a whap! on my leg. I looked up in shock.

Me: Did you just hit me!?

Mom: You’re damn right I did!

She was pissed – suddenly, and out of nowhere. I had no idea why.

Me: What did I do!?

She turned to me in a fury – it’s a miracle she kept herself on the road.

Mom: Wipe that fucking smirk off your face!

Me: I don’t have a smirk…I’m not smirking!

But now I was starting to. I have a thing…something I always felt was kind of weird…but whenever I’m in a conflict, I have a really hard time suppressing laughter. I don’t know why, it’s just always been that way. I don’t find it particularly funny (though I think people look positively absurd when they’re truly angry). I just can’t help it. It makes the situations much worse, and I know that. I often find myself literally biting the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning like a nut. The worse the conflict, the harder I grin, and the harder it is not to bust out laughing. By now Mom was yelling at me – she had started out pissed and was now even more angry. I was suppressing gales of laughter.

Mom: It’s not FUNNY. Quit LAUGHING. Goddammit quit being SMART!

Each word was punctuated with another closed fist on my knee. It hurt. What actually hurt worse is that I felt Mom and I had a sort of understanding – considering how Dad was, I never thought she’d ever hit me. As hurt as I was, my sides hurt worse from holding in my laughter. I had to close my eyes and think of terrible, horrible, depressing things in order to come back down. Once things had been quiet for a while and I got myself composed, I broached the subject.

Me: What exactly did I do?

Mom: You were being smart.

Me: How?

Mom: You made comments.

Me: I didn’t say a word to you. I was reading.

I gestured to my book – still on my lap with my finger still in it.

Me: What did I supposedly say?

She couldn’t tell me. I knew instantly that she had no idea why she was mad or what exactly I was supposed to have done.

Mom: You were being rebellious.

I raised my eyebrows. I have been many things…but rebellious was never one of them.

Me: I think I deserve to know exactly what I did.

Mom: You know what you did.

Me: No I don’t. And it wasn’t fair of you to hit me.

I had her, and she knew it. She couldn’t explain or describe what I supposedly did. She was full of shit, and we both knew it.

Mom: I’m not going round and round with you, Danny.

She accused me of trying to “outsmart” her by “talking over her head”. She said she “wouldn’t continue a conversation like that”. I dropped it eventually.

I understood none of this. It just seemed like I turned 13 and somehow had magically become a horrible teenager. I didn’t think I was acting differently, or doing anything wrong. I mean, I wasn’t shoplifting or drinking or anything like that. But ultimately, it didn’t matter what I was doing – Mom would decide I had done something. I remember there was some sensationalist news story about “huffing“. Supposedly, during the 90’s a lot of kids would inhale spray bottles – cleaner, bug spray…whatever…to get a high. Mom decided I was doing this. I had never gotten high in my life – let alone drunk – and I certainly valued my brain cells more than to try to get a cheap high off of furniture polish.

Mom: We need to talk about something.

Me: Okay.

Mom: I know.

Me: Okay…you know what?

Mom: I know you’ve been…huffing.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

Me: Huffing?

Mom: Don’t laugh. This is serious. I know you’ve been doing it. I can tell.

I went from amused to perplexed.

Me: I haven’t been doing any of that. I have no idea what you’re even talking about.

Mom: If I catch you doing it…you’re done.

Me: …okay…

Done meant a lot of things (depending on the subject) – done as in, going to live with my Dad, or her not taking me back and forth to NY anymore, or even kicking me out of the house, I suppose. She was always fantasizing that I was doing something or another wrong – usually drugs. She once went through my entire room, looking for weed. She was kind of pissed when she didn’t find it – she was so sure I was smoking it. I swore up and down that I wasn’t…and as far as I know, I never smelled of weed. Actually, there’s no possible way I could have, because I didn’t have any. One time, when I went away to college, I talked to her over the phone. Within 5 minutes after we hung up, Tim called me.

Tim: Are you high?

I laughed.

Me: Dude, what do you think?

Tim laughed too.

Tim: Mom said “I just got off the phone with your brother, and he was higher than a kite!”

We got a good laugh. At least in college it would have been theoretically possible for me to obtain and use drugs (up to and including anything in mt mother’s fevered imagination). I didn’t, though, but it wouldn’t have mattered – she had decided for whatever reason that I was “bad”. That I was rebelling. That I was a “typical awful teenager”. To be fair, I was probably a bit moody. I was reclusive (from her) and with good reason. But I wasn’t a punk who knocked over liquor stores. I wasn’t stealing the copper pipes in the house to sell for drug money. But I realized that none of that mattered because what happened in Mom’s mind was completely independent of reality. If she were to wake up one day and decide I was a Russian spy, I’d be a fucking Russian spy and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. If I argued with her, I’d be accused of “getting smart”. If I proved her wrong, she’d throw up her hands and end the conversation – she wasn’t going to go “round and round” with me, like a lawyer. The irony of it all was that if I was some kind of drug addled junkie, I wouldn’t have the presence of mind to argue like I did. But, in my mother’s imagination – I did it all. Meth? Yep. Home made drugs? Yep. Pot, of course. Probably over the counter pharmaceuticals, too. Out of nowhere, she’d look at me and yell that I was ruining my life. I had no idea what the fuck she was talking about.

This made it easy to tune her out – to stop taking her seriously. I saw behind the curtain a bit more and realized that if her fears about me were so completely unfounded, there was a good chance she was wrong about everything else. I saw, though, that I would never be able to win her approval. Nothing I did would be good enough, and my behavior could never be compliant enough – she had decided I was a dirtbag teenager. She did (eventually) grow out of accusing me of being on drugs, which I think had more to do with the fact that I got older than anything else. The closer I got to leaving my teenage years, the more quiet her paranoid fantasies about my drug use became. It didn’t stop her from accusing me of other things, though – being lazy and shiftless (despite the fact that I worked hard at my craft and was successful). I think everyone wants at least a nod from their parents. I never got one from my Dad, and likely never will. I may never get one from my Mom either – her perception of reality is just too warped.

Let me leave you with a final thought – a picture of a teenage rebel. Thick glasses, button down shirt, and dorky haircut. A teenager who goes through several books a week and has little time for friends (and few friends, at that). Somewhat of an introvert. A guy who works his ass off writing songs (sometimes 2-3 a day), recording, playing piano, and carving out his acting career. Never done a thing illegal in his life – paranoid, in fact, of getting in trouble in general. Not who you’d picture hanging out at 7-11, smoking cigarettes and committing petty acts of vandalism. But that was me…the rebellious, ungrateful and shiftless youth.

 

 

 

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I don’t know what got me started on the subject, but I was thinking today about how paranoid I am about bugs crawling into my ears. Whenever I go out to a park in the summer and get those gnats flying around, I start to inwardly freak out that they’ll find their way into my ears or something. To illustrate how much this bothers me, I’ll give you an example. Nothing wakes me up from a sound slumber – sometimes not even an alarm. I can sleep wherever – on a train, in a car, beneath a blaring fog horn. It’s largely the product of having a commuter childhood, I think – a great portion of my life was spent in a moving vehicle. Anyway…nothing will snap me awake faster than feeling like there’s something in my ears. I start to worry it’s a bug, and then rub it or whatever until I’m satisfied it’s not. When my anxiety about this is particularly bad, I actually get up and clean out my ears in the middle of the night. I know it’s a relatively irrational fear – my conscious mind is fully aware of this. I just can’t shake it though.

It all started when I was visiting L.A. during a commercial shoot when I was 8. We were out on the town, our pockets fat with per diem (an industry term for “spending money”). A lot of sets will give you some amount of cash to take care of meals or clothes or whatever – it’s usually a generous amount, much more than a typical person might need. Rest assured, you’re not regulated to eating off the dollar menu when you have that kind of cash in your pocket. Anyway, we were sitting in traffic (which is a common practice in L.A.) and there was some sort of preacher on the radio. I’m talking one of the over the top televangelist type guys. And he was telling this story of a “miracle” that had supposedly occurred.

Preacher: Now, I’m telling you brothers and sisters that this little six year old boy – he was no more than six, brothers and sisters – he got a BUG in his EAR. That’s right. A BUG had managed to worm its way into this little child’s ear!

He didn’t say bug. He said BUG. All in caps. It sounded like he was throwing up.

Preacher: Now this little child’s mother and father, they took him to the doctor. And the doctor was perplexed, brothers and sisters, I tell you he was perplexed. You see, there was nothing they could do for this little boy who had a BUG IN HIS EAR.

He was getting wound up. I was fascinated.

Preacher: The doctor, with aaaaaaaaaalll his understanding and modern science, told them that there was simply nothing they could do. This BUUUG had worked its way so far into this child’s EAR that it was making its way to his BRAIN.

His radio audience gasped audibly. I was horrified, but riveted. How the hell did a bug get to someone’s brain?

Preacher: Now, this little child – only a six year old boy, brothers and sisters, just a six year old boy – had only days to live. The doctor informed his parents.

A long, meaningful pause. The crowd waited. I waited. The preacher burst out, suddenly even louder – a fact which seemed impossible.

Preacher: But I TEEEEEELL you, brothas and sistahs, that GAWD performed a MIRACLE on THIS. LITTLE.BOY. Can I get an amen?

It turned out that he could.

Preacher: This little boy was listening to THIS VERY PROGRAM several weeks back. And it is thanks to a miracle of GAAAAAAWD that he is alive toDAY! You see, brothas and sistahs, you see on that day several weeks ago, I was preaching. And the Lord laid it on my heart to reach out with His plan of Salvation-ah. Oh yes He did. Can you say hallelujah?

They could.

Preacher: And this little boy, this little boy that the doctors couldn’t help with all their modern science, he was LISTENING. And he accepted GAWD-AH into his heart that very night.

Cheers and applause.  I just wanted to hear how he got that freaking bug out of his ear.

Preacher: And he laid his tiny little hand on the top of the TV – and he prayed the sinner’s prayer with me, just as many of you may do tonight. And the instant he laid his hand on that TV…

There was a loud POP as he clapped his hands into the microphone.

Preacher: That BUUUUUUUUG dropped over DEAD! It was a MIRACLE OF GAWD! Can I get an amen?

Many amens were had.

Preacher: Now, if you’ll just reach into your heart – think about that little boy now, brothers and sisters – and reach into your heart, and see if the LAWRD isn’t telling you to give something to this ministry toDAY-ah. It could be five dollars. It could be TEN dollars. It could be TEN THOUSAND DOLLAHS CAN YOU SAY AMEN!

Mom shut off the radio. I had heard enough anyway.

Me: Mom, do you think a bug can get into your ear like that?

Mom: Um. I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Me: But what if it could?

Mom: It’s pretty unlikely.

Me: But it could, right? Would I have to go to the doctor?

Mom: I guess you would. It’s just not going to happen, though. That’s not a normal thing.

I could tell she was getting irritated, so I shut up. I was pretty worried, though. Over dinner, the thought that bugs (or BUUUUUUUGS if you prefer) could get into your ear and crawl into your brain really preyed on me. I figured that even if medical science couldn’t cure me, I had a fail-safe. Just find a preacher on TV and lay my hand on the screen. Nevertheless, the idea itself gave me the freakin’ creepy crawlies. I found myself shrugging and shaking my head all night, discouraging imagined bugs from burrowing into my brain.

It stayed with me, right up until a checkup I had some years later. I was having some kind of ear infection, and Doc was checking out my ear. He seemed concerned, and taking an awfully long time looking at this one ear.

Me: What? What is it?

Doc: I thought I saw wings fluttering…

My eyes grew huge.

Me: Like a bug!?

Doc pulled back.

Doc: Yeah, but it must have been my eyes.

The guy was pushing 75 at that point, so I’d bet dollars to donuts it could have been. Nevertheless, no bug was found. But good God did that send me into a fit of panic. It served to further cement an already deep seated fear into my psyche.

And that, brothers and sisters, is how a phobia is born.

Can I get an amen.

From my Grandmother‘s days as a mover and shaker in the courthouse, she learned a lot of things about how to “get ahead”. One of the things that stuck with me the most is one of her pet phrases:

Grandma: Always be nice to the secretary.

The big boss may be who you want in to see, but the secretary can make that a lot easier – or a lot more difficult. I remember watching an episode of a show (I think it might have been Mad Men, but I’m not sure) where the ladies in the phone room didn’t patch through calls of people they didn’t like. I remember thinking to myself “If only he had thought to drop off chocolates.

But, basically, that was her big secret – be nice to everybody. Chat with them. Bring them a home made pie or cake or chocolate or something. It worked wonders for her, because everyone adored her – from the secretaries on up. I remember her telling me a story once where a convict walked into her office and started getting vulgar. He sang her a dirty song about Dr. Pepper (for the record, she couldn’t remember it but I would have given a great deal to hear it – it sounds hilarious), and a judge threw the guy up against the wall and made him apologize. Such is the power of confectionery sugar and a winning personality.

Anyway, I try to apply Grandma’s philosophy in my own life and have had some success. Long story short, it pays to be nice to everyone – not just “important” people. But I tell you the story about secretaries to tell you about one secretary in particular. Russ had a lady named Nancy working for him. She was nice enough, I suppose, but her and Mom did not get along whatsoever. I’m not sure how it started, exactly, but Mom started insisting that Nancy wasn’t putting her through to Russ when she called his studio. She probably directly confronted Nancy about this, and Nancy (not surprisingly) took umbrage at this slur on her character. Whatever the cause, bad blood roiled between them. Mom insisted Nancy said stuff (and let’s be real – there’s a good chance Nancy didn’t actually say it since Mom heard things), Nancy got pissed, Mom complained to Russ, Russ would get irritated. As a kid, I didn’t doubt for one second that Nancy was a snake in the grass – Mom thought she was, and that was the end of it. Mom would insist she would threaten us on a regular basis.

Nancy: I’ll put a stop to you. You’ll never be successful as long as I can help it.

Truly, why would she care? And even if she did, who says she had any power to carry out her threats? Nonetheless, Mom believed Nancy was the fox in the proverbial hen house. If we needed a last minute appointment for a lesson, and we called Nancy, Russ “didn’t have any openings” (a claim which may or may not have been legitimate). Sometimes he wouldn’t show up for lessons, and Mom would insist Nancy had told him we cancelled and didn’t tell us so we would get mad at Russ and stop taking lessons (yes, that was her exact wording). Truthfully, he probably went to the race track and forgot. Although I suppose it is possible Nancy maliciously forgot to tell us when he cancelled.

Although she may not have been the master manipulator Mom insisted she was, she wasn’t exactly someone I was prone to like. She wore very tight (and very short) skirts, lots and lots of makeup, bleached her hair, chewed gum, and was very very snarky. Add in the fact that she was about 15 years too old to dress like she did…and you have a pretty complete picture of her. Mom used to complain to Russ that she dressed like a hooker. Russ didn’t seem to mind very much.

Russ once told us directly that Nancy doesn’t do anything but what she’s told to do.

Russ: She schedules who I tell her to and doesn’t schedule who I tell her not to. You know?

Assuming he could be taken at his word (which is a rather large assumption – Russ ran his mouth pretty much all the time and often said conflicting things), one can see that it’s possible that none of this was Nancy’s fault. Russ may have been telling her that he had this nut whose son was taking lessons and he needed her to never put her messages through or never schedule us for a lesson. Regardless, difficult secretaries are no match for the willpower of a crazy person (I’m convinced that not much is, actually) – Mom got the lessons by hook or by crook. She would call Russ directly, and if he didn’t get back to us she would drop by unannounced and extract a lesson time from him. These trips usually involved getting to Russ’s studio long before he was there and waiting outside for hours. I was quite annoyed with Nancy for the fact that we had to do this. Sometimes, she’d come driving up and see us already there waiting for Russ. She’d roll her eyes, walk in, and sit behind her desk (as an adult, I completely understand this reaction. As a kid, it pissed me off). Mom would inevitably follow her in, and Nancy would tell her that Russ wasn’t coming in today. Mom would not believe her, of course, and we would leave – usually just to go around the block until Nancy left.

It didn’t take long for Nancy to be involved in a wider conspiracy. There were certain other students that Russ had that Mom insisted were “competition”. She picked them apart, analyzed everything about them, and usually decided they were out to get us. She usually determined Nancy was involved with them somehow and they were getting our lesson slots because Nancy favored them. No doubt she was filling Russ’s ears with venom about us and telling him that I wasn’t talented, and that these other students were more worthy of his time (and, ostensibly, his “mafia” connections). Although such situations are few and far between, some things can’t be solved with a box of donuts.