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Posts from the ‘Dating advice’ Category


Between 1949 and 1979, kids in New York City and New Jersey  threw high-bouncers against concrete walls, sidewalks, bats, and they called them ‘spaldeens.’ My ex-mother-in-law (of the might-have-been-bend-sinister variety) is a spaldeen: every time she lands at  the very edge of life and is about to roll down into the infinite abyss of the beyond, she bounces back, a little lower and a little closer to the edge, but still on what we like to call “terra firma.” I stopped referring to her as the “Chocolate Nana D…a” , which she was called the last 80 plus of her 100 plus years on account of her passion for chocolate (most recently Dove Chocolate was her brand of choice, before that Ghirardelli holding the honor). Now I call her “Rubber Nana D…a” because she’s always bouncing back. Talk to her son, the geriatrician (MD even!) and he’ll give you one version of her life after near death: cracking jokes, poking her nose in everybody’s business, giving” advices” that are now even heavier with the gravitas of experience and the credibility of one who’s seen into the light at the end of the tunnel. Talk to her caretakers  — a band of sturdy Polish women ranging in age between 35 and 65 and in silhouette from tomato to pear — and you’ll find out she’s added to the work load with a new habit.  Maria, the bad-tempered good-hearted matron who holds down the fort five days a week and does not have a kind word to say about anyone or anything (accompanied by the disclaimer:  “I don’t do noting bad. I not kill her. I am Catolik.” ) is of the opinion that Nana D…a is just being contrary for the sake of being contrary. The juice is sour? “NO! Is NOT sour! Dat’s SHE SAY is sour, but NOT sour.” It hurts her to get up? “NO! She not WANT get outta bed. I TELL her,’You not sick. You old. Old notSick. You get out of BED to eat. No eat in bed.”  “She alla time stik finger in nose. Den she rub rub rub eye. All da time: rub eye.”

Last week she had a serious intestinal impaction which her son, the doctor – God bless him — removed digitally. Can you imagine doing that to your own mother?  Flew into town equipped with rubber gloves . Spent the night on the living room couch, sleepless,  steeling himself to do the procedure.The choice was: take mother to hospital and have it done there, which she categorically refused to do. Leave the impaction and watch her die a slow and painful death. Or go spelunking himself.  Good doctor and even better son that he is, promptly at seven a.m., still in his white cotton super expensive pajamas, he put on the thick rubber gloves, laid several layers of towels on the bed, and got to work.

“MOM,” he said. “We’re gonna have to do this together. I’ve done this a hundred times in the ER, so just relax and trust me.” I swear, if I didn’t have respect for the man before, I am on my knees before him right now, every one of my two dozen hats off my head, in a gesture of prayerful and humble adoration.

I won’t even count the number of taboos that man had to overcome to stick his finger up his mom’s rectum, feel for the rock-hard impaction, and chip it out, one bit at a time, for two hours, with her all the time moaning “I wanna die… I wanna die..” But he uncorked the bottle, and now everything’s coming out and she’s set for another spell on this earth, that for her has shrunk to the size of her condominium, two bedrooms, two baths, living-dining room, eat-in-kitchen, and foyer, all of it  filled with gorgeous Scandinavian furniture and Oriental rugs, books, paintings, photographs, menorahs, dozens of vases from years of floral deliveries.

The indignities of old age: high comedy. Slapstick of the grossest sort. Carnivalesque inversion of normal life. What are you going to do? Cry? I

remember my own father, at his worst demented moments, mistaking the tiny sink in his nursing home room for the toilet bowl, and depositing his shit there. I didn’t have to clean it up, mercifully. Didn’t bother him one bit. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. In the geriatric psychiatric ward, where they put him when the  first hauled him after he threatened my mother and sister with a chair for not — in his mind — feeding the dog, he was so heavily drugged that he sagged in a mammoth wheelchair, propped up by a half-dozen pillows, his head flopped to the side, his hair crazy, sticking out in all directions, an old derelict’s beard sprouting on his usually elegant cheeks.

“Professor, Professor,” the Haitian attendant prodded him,” let’s go to the toilet.”

She hauled him out of the wheeled throne and set him on his feet, where he wobbled for a moment, fumbling with the skirts of his faded gown, tied loosely in the back and hoisted up over the giant diaper covering his butt, and then, leaning heavily on her arm, shuffled with her  to the doorless toilet in the sunroom, where the entire ward, equally stoned and delusional, idly watched him expel the day’s waste products. The big, shiny Haitian woman gently  wiped off his ass and snapped on a fresh diaper.

The horror of witnessing the degradation of a parent by incontinence and public defecation.  Spaldeen. Scenes like that turn you into a spaldeen. You hit the ground. Hard. And then you bounce back. What choice do you have?

You can always laugh.

Like right now, my daughter’s NYC apartment is infested with bedbugs and my sister has somebody’s escaped Black Brazilian tarantula crawling up her bedroom walls and across the ceiling.


Small pleasures

Before I get to the question – “Who would I consider being and why?” — I need to remember the  wild turkeys. I am crossing the neighbor’s lawn and  a very ugly squirrel looks up from  the bird feeder, craning its neck, and then it morphs  into a huge tom turkey, and the  patches of shade become four hens and after a moment’s hesitation, turned and  softly picked their way  into the tall grass, unhurried and dignified and silent.

Four bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) patrolled the sky all morning and though they came close several times, paid no attention to the poodles that we kept on leashes, as a precaution, when we strolled across the meadows and through the woods to the spring-fed pond.

We disturbed a white-tailed deer  drinking at the water’s edge.

The air was alive with damselflies and dragon flies, which in Slovene are called “snake shepherds,” and midges and  exceptionally cranky wasps. One of them zinged me for no reason at all (though my sister claimed it was my “strong” perfume that got to him) and left a black stinger sticking out of my right elbow. It did come  out easily and did no damage,  which is more than I can say for the wasp that had squandered its weapon — and maybe  its life — on a totally gratuitous attack. Idiot.

A  fly that last night had joined me at yoga practice was  turning up all day, either landing on my shoulder or my knee, or circling the watercolor I was painting, or dodging my fingers on the iPad.  There was some speculation that it might be the incarnation of my dead father, come to check up on “his girls” and join the fun. My grandmother put that idea in my head. I remember one of the times I went along with her to the cemetery, a fly followed us  home, a distance of maybe two miles, and Grandmother talked to it the whole way  as though it were Grandfather.

The  sun burned hot and clear.  My dog burrowed into the tall grass at the foot of the cottonwood.  We sat in the shade, my mother on the Adirondack chair, her dog on her lap.  The occasional frog croaked and dropped  into the water with a soft plop. Fathead minnows  flitted in the shallows feeding on algae. Water striders skated from lily pad to lily pad. Midges swarmed. Time stopped.

The frog’s croak sounded like a broken cello string, and that turned the conversation to Chekhov’s  The Seagull and Turgenev’s Nest of Gentlefolk . My mother sang songs from her childhood. I painted. My sister studied the colors and shapes of the grasses, speculating on which trileaf plants might be poison ivy, and which ragged, grayish looking weeds might be nettles.

We passed around the small treasures picked up on the morning walk: six fossils and a piece of quartz with what looked like gold specks; a falcon feather; and three hickory nuts.

Our  talk flowed idly, companionable and free: three women reuniting, related by blood and memories and shared experiences, pausing in life’s rush to cherish each other, to take pleasure in the rare gift of a perfect summer day, and to draw strength from  the harmony of reciprocal love.

It’s night, again. The temperature dropped to a cool 68 degrees F. The moon is even fuller than it was last night. I hear the song of the  long-horned owl above the waves of cricket calls.

Which brings me back to the question: “Who would I want to be if I could be anyone in the whole wide world?”

Maria Callas. So I could sing Norma and Astrofiammante, Mozart’s Queen of the Night.

Fra Angelico. So I could paint luminous landscapes and radiant saints in colors stolen from heaven.

Ovid. So I could write poetry about metamorphoses that changes men’s hearts and minds.

Lauren Bacall. So I could smirk and sashay and talk in a voice dripping with the sexy smoke of Laphroaig scotch.


I’ve just endured the episode of Bachelorette in which Ashley goes to Fiji to weed out her suitors. High comedy! A satire on American mating rituals! Test drive  your potential life partner on the basis of the following  criteria:: 1. really great time; 2. really comfortable being together; 3 really open up to each other; 4. really attractive; 5. feel really close; 6. really good at trading clichés. The dialogue between the poor girl and each spousal candidate is limited to the vocabulary contained in those six propositions.

If the show is meant to be social anthropology, it’s  utterly implausible. Too bad, because I’d “really” like to know how Americans negotiate courtship. I’m at a loss in this area. It looks extremely uncomfortable and tedious and boring and not at all fun. Both Ashley and her paramours appear very ill at ease with having to have such a good time all the time and with having to keep their conversations out of any interesting areas.

The idea of having to be publicly pawed by so many men, and having “intimate” conversations with a dozen suitors is tawdry. I can’t imagine what “proper” man would stand for having to wade his way to a beloved woman through a barnyard of rutting competitors. I express myself crudely in keeping with the crudeness of the program’s assessment of human beings.

Give me a “traditional” man any day: one who insists on reciprocal and exclusive modesty and devotion.

‘night. End of a long day, with much driving, a nap at the DQ, frenzied grocery shopping and a quick drive to the Airport to pick up guests!!!!


Dear Dr. Self,

I seem to be collecting more than my share of “crap” (pardon the naturalism) from old boyfriends and various members of my family: people who feel entitled to sling their opinion about everything from my weight and hair to the way I handle money and time. What can I do to put an end to these intrusive and I think destructive onslaughts of allegedly well-intentioned feedback? I ‘m not so narcissistic as to think that the criticism is not deserved. I’ve managed to mess up my life in various ways over the years. But I’m tired of defending myself and justifying myself to people. I don’t assume to critique their every step, so what gives them the right to assume I need to be constantly set on the straight and narrow? Some days I feel like a green horse in a dressage class: constantly corrected. What am I doing wrong?

Sick of Feedback





Dear Ms Sick,

You know what you’re doing wrong: you’re asking for it, and you’re getting it. Stop asking for feedback already! Sure, you may not be actually sending out questionnaires to your family and ex-s, but your behavior invites feedback. My experience tells me that people who are constantly being corrected are living in ways that cause other people problems or worries. In other words, something about your behavior chronically gets in the way of other people’s ability to function anxiety free, or free of anxieties produced by you. Take care of your own stuff, make sure you are meeting your responsibilities, keeping your word,showing up places on time, paying your bills, and you’ll find there won’t be any more complaints. Ever hear the phrase ” living an irreproachable life?” That’s what you should aim to do. Make a list of all the things and behaviors for which people reproach you and use it to check up on yourself. I’ll bet you within two weeks you’ll have cut down the negative feedback by 85% and within six months, you’ll be wondering why nobody’s on your case. Report back to me in six months: I want to know how it feels to be “beyond reproach!”

Dr. Self

Advice to the single woman

Here’s a concept: let’s try a dialogue between the “in the thick of the fray” self and the “armchair observer” self and see what advice  to myself I can come up with.

Dear Dr. Self,

How do you handle unwanted advances from male friends? I have a very close friend who just can’t seem to hear my body language and my protests. Typically, he’ll grab my butt, yank hard on my pants to give me a super uncomfortable wedgie, and then slap my “cheeks” as hard as he can. He seems to be under the impression that this is a turn on. I laugh when he does this because I don’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him he’s harassing me and acting like a yokel. Or he’ll squeeze me in a bear hug and grind his pelvis into me, front or back. When I recoil or move away, he says I’m frigid.  He “behaved” for a few years, but I’m afraid that now that I’m ‘single’ again, he’ll renew his attentions.

Woman with her Panties in a Bundle


Dear “Bundle,”

There are two reasons men don’t hear “no” from a woman: either she doesn’t say it clearly enough; or he’s deaf. The fact that you laugh (give me a break!!!!!) when he assaults you tells me you’ve got problems setting clear limits. If the guy took your hand and stuck it in a pot of boiling water, would you laugh or smack him one? I think you get the message. My advice: look him straight in the eye, say NO, and tell him to keep his hands and pelvis to himself. Be firm and calm. If that doesn’t do the trick (meaning “he’s deaf”) let him know that if he ever tries this horny puppy routine again, you’ll  knee him in the you know where. His hearing might  be better  “down there.” Let me know how this works.

Dr. Self