Swearing, Girl Scout Cookies and Gender Inequality

I really liked Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech about equal pay for women. She reminded me of Jane Fonda in the old days, using the Oscars as a platform for her political agenda. And that’s a good thing. If the U.S. falls behind the other civilized nations in happiness, health care, child care, literacy, to mention a few, we still make some of the best movies and people all over the world watch the Oscars.

Gender inequality really is a big issue.

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It’s something I think about especially this time of year when the Girl Scouts are out selling those horrible cookies nobody should be eating. I was a Scout myself, before I was kicked out of the troupe for swearing. I don’t remember the repercussions. My father was already dead, and my mother had a lot to worry about with three kids, her own failing health and a shrinking bank balance. Maybe she just shrugged it off when the scout leader called her and told her I had a “potty mouth.” That’s not why I don’t like girl scout cookies, I don’t like them because the ingredients are awful. If you’re going to eat sugar at least do so in a more salubrious manner, and give girls something better to do than stand on street corners or go door to door selling crap that makes one fat and sluggish. I bet no boy was ever kicked out of scouts for having a potty mouth.

The expression, “potty mouth” is really filthy, isn’t it? Isn’t “saying the “F” word,” a lot cleaner than saying, “you have a potty mouth.” UGH!

My first experience with gender inequality had already happened by the time I was five or six. My brother and I were sitting on this grassy slope in front of the house, spitting and swearing. We were having a wonderful time seeing who could lay the wad the farthest and who could devise the most complicated litany of swear words. It all came to a halt when I felt this iron fist on my shoulder, and my mother dragged me back to the house and into the little powder room with the tiny sink and actually washed my mouth out with Ivory soap. To my brother she did nothing. Boys got to say what they wanted to say with no nasty consequences. I was too young to understand that this was the way the world treated little girls across the board, even in free, open places. I just thought as usual my brother was getting the preferential treatment.

I didn’t complain. But I didn’t stop swearing either. In fact, I probably started swearing more. And then a few years later I went to convent school. Girls who go to convent school are known to be wild and to swear.

When I read recently, people who swear have higher IQ’s, I felt vindicated, though how in the world can someone measure intelligence in that way?  Does that mean repression lowers IQ? Are people who aren’t swearing, also censoring their inner vocabulary? What if you are so well-trained, you can’t be angry and hostile in the privacy of your own mind? I think this is why girls are taught—more than boys– not to be angry, not to show their hostile feelings, not to swear as boys do. Girls, all the studies show, start out much smarter than boys, but by high school, even now, girls test lower, certainly in math and the sciences. This is, I sense, somehow linked to the swearing issue.

At any rate, the notion of people censoring little girls, makes me f’ing nuts!

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The flu was enlightening. At the height of it, I was actually hallucinating, reminding me of being young and taking all sorts of mind bending drugs. I was trying out the holistic method, which is to let the illness burn itself out and, as a by-product, kill off free radicals. By the time I stumbled over to the Motion Picture Clinic on Day 3, I was at 102 and felt considerably more lucid than the day before, when our old bird Manulita materialized and began talking to me. In my febrile state she was bright green with purple eyes, but I still knew it was Manulita.

cockatiel, bird, pet bird, mary marcus, mary marcus blog, manulitaMy son named her, it was one of those charming made up names children seize on. She was grey with little orange markings, a pointed head and bright bright eyes. Her wings were clipped when we brought her home with special instructions on how to repeat the process (“It’s just like cutting your fingernails!” they said at the pet store, but none of us believed that line). We bought her a huge black cage that cost five times what she did, and parked her in one corner of the dining room.

I took her out first. And I remember this feeling of EEEK, it’s a claw curling around my finger, but soon it was okay. I’d stroke her little grey back and we would walk around the house together. My son, then maybe seven, did the same thing. She was quite responsive. She’d do this bird thing with her little head, bobbing it back and forth, and let out with her crazy piercing shriek, that seemed so big and important coming from such a tiny little thing that weighed in ounces not pounds.

A bird isn’t much of a pet, but a bird is better than no pet at all, and soon she was a member of the household.

We talked to her. We let her fly around the house. We took her back East with us one summer in a special little case we put under the seat and while there she lived in a second hand cage we picked up at the dump.

Back in LA at the end of the summer, she began circling the horrible fixture (a combo of ye old lantern festooned with fake plastic crystals) that hung above the dining room table. My first week there, I removed the plastic crystals but when our landlord, old Bud Riley, spied on us (which he was always doing) he made me put them back.

Then, one evening, during a miraculous reprieve from the cutting room, while we were having a rare family dinner, she flew out of her cage and up to the lantern thing, and took a dump on the table below.

My son and I exchanged glances. Since I was the taller of the two back then, I got on a chair, reached up and urged the little grey creature on my finger, put her back in the cage, and shut the door.

My husband began muttering about psittacosis and other bird transmitted plagues.

But of course, as soon as my son would arrive home from school, he’d open Manulita’s cage door and once again she’d be flying around the house and shrieking.

My husband found some bird shit somewhere else.

Around this time, his mother came for her yearly visit. She left the front door open one sunny morning and Manulita flew away.

I have fond memories of my mother-in-law who was in her way, quite a bird too. She felt, “perfectly ghastly” about leaving the door open, and offered to go with me to the pet store and get another grey thing with feathers before her grandson came home from school.

I didn’t think that was such a good idea given the current power struggle. I was still hoping we were going to get out of there and find a place where we could get a dog.

We walked to the corner; my mother-in-law wanted some cash. When we drew closer to the machine, I heard a familiar cry. And there she was, Manulita, waiting for me at the cash machine on 20th and Wilshire. She hopped up on my finger and we walked home.

I thought this momentous finding of the bird must mean money. Why would she be waiting at the cash machine?

But as the days and weeks passed, the hope for windfall did not appear. What did appear was more bird shit.

It’s hard to live with a prisoner behind bars in your own house. But my husband had a point. Bird shit was unaesthetic—not to mention unhygienic—we decided not to clip her wings but to keep her shut up in her cage. We bought her toys, we bought her snacks to hang on the side of the cage, but she didn’t like being shut up, she kept losing feathers, and she wasn’t shrieking her mad, whacked out bird cry. Clearly she was depressed.

My son turned nine. His feet were already bigger than my feet. He and my husband began to squabble in a way that was new.

One day when there was no school, after breakfast he went to Manulita’s cage, opened the door, put her on his finger and walked outside.

Manulita fluttered a little on his finger, but stayed there.

Fascinated, I stood at the open door and watched them. “You can go,” my son told her. “You have wings and you can fly away.”

She didn’t do anything at all except to flutter her wings a little. Finally, he took her over to the bush in front of the living room window and put her in one of its branches.

I was afraid to go anywhere in case Manulita needed something. My son didn’t go anywhere either, but once in a while he’d go outside and check to see if she had left her perch in the bush.

Around dusk, a visiting delegation of birds arrived. One dozen, two dozen even. They seemed to know what they were doing when they surrounded Manulita and all flew away together.

My husband was really upset when he found out what happened. “How could you do that?” he said. “You should have stopped him!”

Should I have?

Better free or behind bars?

Free! Definitely free. We were both outside and saw her fly away without a backward glance at Riley-ville, or at us.

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The Heart Is Not A Lonely Shopper

I have that dreadful flu that’s plaguing so many innocent victims with racking coughs, high fever, and at one point I was hallucinating. So I’ll be in bed for Valentines Day, in the guest room, with a box of tissues popping Tamiflu. And it promised to be the most eventful Valentines Day in years.

It was to begin at dawn with the opening of the Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock house that’s been closed for forty years and is now open for 24 hours to certain cognoscenti, my friend Kady being one of those. Then home to do the normal Farmer’s Market shopping, and then out again, like a mad person, to the 11 o’ clock showing for the opening of the dirty grey movie. The minute I said “Yes”–to my friend who adored the books and had to be there for the movie–part of me said, “No.” Why did I say “Yes?” I’ll miss Carolina’s yoga class. But, I like pleasing my friends. I’ve never been to a porn flick, and someone else–I forget who–told me creative types are supposed to do one new thing a week. This was my new thing! D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller wrote the dirtiest books I’ve ever read, so I’m not exactly a spokeswoman for the prevailing zeitgeist. And since I’m trying to tell the truth here, I skipped over most of Tropic of Capricorn. The same thing happened with that book about phone sex that had the great opening line, “What are you wearing?” The book was very well written, but I didn’t want to spoil my admiration for the writer by getting to the hard core. I still love DH Lawrence, but dear DH was never about porno but love. And feeling and sensation. Porno is tiring and effortful.

The movie Boogie Nights gave me the absolute willies. I don’t know what’s creepier, a movie like Boogie Nights that’s cloaked in ART with a capital F, as my husband would say; (those huge, sinister phalluses came to me in nightmares for weeks!) or a movie like the dirty grey thing, that I don’t somehow think is going to be portrayed as art, but I’m sure would also give me the willies. I think it’s a romance novel with whips and chains, which is pretty scary in my book.

Sylvia Plath, Plath, Plath Quote, Valentines Day, Love, 50 Shades of GreyPlath hit the nail on the head when she proclaimed, “Every woman adores a fascist, the boot in the face…” I think she killed herself not long after she wrote Daddy. Sure she was crazy, she had the flu in fact, or was getting over the flu and it was a bad one that year too. But she zeroed in on something so basic, so absolutely true about the nature of being a woman and it killed her. But she didn’t dress it up with fancy camera angles and consumer goods. And from what I have read, the dirty movie opening on Saturday and the books, are as much about consumer goods as they are about anything else.

I’m thinking too of the very early Bond movies, the real Bond movies with Sean Connery, who is unbelievably offensive not to mention sadistic. And women were panting over it—my very young self included. When my husband gave our son the movies and he and his friends would sit in the living room watching Connery slapping around Pussy Galore, my grown up self was absolutely horrified, but God the boys loved it! Someone pointed out that the James Bond series were the first consumer goods driven novels.

Today we are so used to the constant interplay between expensive goods and sex we don’t think about it anymore. Sex and Italian high heels are one and the same; Sex and diamond rings are one and the same; Sex and real estate are one and the same.

Sex and consumer items are not the same. They are as different from each other as night is from day. Or pure lust is from pure love.

I have to go back to bed now. I’d love to hear from fans of the movie-telling me I am so wrong, and I don’t get it. Really, I would. In the meantime, Happy Valentines Day.

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In The Absence of Fred Segal

nail polish, polish, perfume, lady, feminine, women, Fred SegalIt’s getting on Valentines Day and I miss Fred Segal. While I’m not a fashionista, much of a shopper, or even a lover of bastions of the rich and stylish, it was my go-to place for Valentines and everything else too. Fred Segal was two and a half blocks from my psychotherapist’s office, five blocks from the ocean and three blocks from the movie theater. Talk about location, location, location!

There’s still the Fred Segal Annex across the street, with the healthy restaurant, some three hundred dollar  T-shirts, and jeans that costs even more. The real Fred Segal was across the street, and it’s been gone since the summer. The owners of the property sold the land and sold out all the small merchants who had boutiques in the cool and wacky bazaar in Santa Monica that was unlike any store I’ve ever been to. The storeowners had exactly one month’s notice.

Not that one couldn’t find the same overpriced stuff at Barney’s or Neiman Marcus–one can, and more of it. But Fred Segal was a strange and wonderful place that had among other things, the best women’s pajamas, the best women’s hats and scarves and the nicest men’s shirts—and the best sale that went on for days where you could always find the aforementioned stuff at 75% off if you waited long enough and were just a little bit lucky.

My husband knew I liked Fred Segal and every birthday there it would be, the familiar box from Fred Segal containing the nearly-same nightgown that was too big in the bust and skintight everywhere else. I’m rather thin and I have no idea who could fit into the nightgowns he’d bring home and smilingly present other than a life size Barbie Doll. Still, I will miss the yearly ritual of taking Barbie’s nightgown back and getting a fresh new pair of Fred Segal PJs.powder, lipstick, fashionista, fred segal, makeup, red lipstick, red

Fred Segal as I mentioned is still there. I bought a birthday present there a couple of months ago, and got a vegetable juice on the way out. But it is by no means what it used to be.

When my friend Lisa would come to town, she would always say, “Let’s go to George Segal.” And we would.

It had eye glasses, lingerie, men’s stuff, girlie girl stuff, necklaces, earrings and you could always go and get a make-over from one of the cosmetic people. I used to plop myself on one of the stools and say, “Ok, do me over and sell me a bunch of crap. Are you sure your brushes are clean?” They’d reassure me. And a half an hour later I’d be a different person, or so I thought.

Now, it’s shuttered up. They are going to tear the place down and put in another Trader Joe’s and a parking garage. Probably a Whole Foods too. What’s the world coming to? Everything is starting to look exactly the same. And Fred Segal, that quirky place with eccentricities, is now like so many other things–just a fond memory.


Images drawn by the most wonderful, Aimee Levy.



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This Little Piggy Went To Santa Monica

pig, rocky, gray pig, fat pig, pork, vegetarian, whole foods, trader joesI can’t stop thinking about this pig I met today at around noon on Montana Avenue as I was heading toward lunchtime yoga.

He’s the same pig I’ve seen ambling down the center on San Vicente that begins at the ocean, and sweeps up with a wide grassy boulevard studded with flaming trees in the Spring, and runners all year long. His owner says it is a commonplace for drivers to screech to a halt, fly toward him and the pig, and he regrets he’s been the cause of several accidents.

His name is Rocky, the pig that is. I was late for class and I didn’t have time to ascertain the name of the guy who was walking this cloven hoof creature (or find out if the pig had pig shoes). Rocky is very beautiful, just plain gorgeous. I’d forgotten my phone, so I don’t have a picture of Rocky either. His owner had him tied around his very thick neck, and he was walking really nicely, like some kind of fat strange looking dog. The owner doled out bits of popcorn to keep him going. I wondered what Henry would have made of him.

He was such an amiable looking creature, all clean and tidy and not in some low, filthy trough waiting to be slaughtered. That’s the kind of pig one usually gets to see. That’s the kind of pig people refer to–as in, “You’re such a pig,” “You’re fat as a pig!” “What a pig you’ve made of yourself!” “He/she is happy as a pig in shit!” And, of course, the Yiddish for pig, “Vat a chazzer!” And so on. Then there are the sexual slurs associated with piggery, as in, “He wanted to pork her,” (she usually doesn’t want to “pork” him). The MPAA doesn’t think “pork” as filthy as the “F” word. And I adamantly disagree. Say the “F” word once and it’s an R rating just for that. I will spare readers a further digression on how much violence is allowed in a movie before the R rating sets in.

The farmer, Salvador Iacono in East Hampton, owned the only other pig I ever met. He was in a trough getting fattened up. Mr. I. raised the pig and slaughtered him after Christmas. Only his select customers were offered the knuckles and the bacon, though never the hams. The hams were for his family.

What I’m thinking about is the troughs and the slurs. In some way, you have to justify this killing of such a beautiful, sentient, obviously intelligent beast. You feed it garbage, you put it in a pile of mud and you make fun of it. Then, if you are not all that fastidious, it isn’t such a terrible thing to eat it, is it? I.B. Singer (my favorite writer a lot of the time), a lifelong vegetarian and someone who lost family and friends in the Holocaust, pointed out, “For the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”

One would never eat a dog, not in this country one wouldn’t. One would have the ASPCA at the front door faster than you can say, ‘doggy for dinner.’ What’s the difference between dog and pig and cow and lamb? Not much. Not in my book anyway.

The copywriter who came up with “The other white meat” referring of course to pig—is brilliant. It belies the fact that pig is really fatty meat. And a big beautiful warm-blooded creature. They make it sound like eating pig is like eating chicken (which when you come down to it, isn’t so benign either).

I haven’t eaten pig in a very long time. It was the first meat I gave up, and the one I think I liked the best. Some Hebrew scholars believe that the admonition against eating pork has to do with the fact that the sweet meat of the pig is the meat that most resembles in its taste, human flesh. That’s not why I gave up eating pork. I can’t remember why; it was just an instinctual move on my part. But now that I think of it, I must have put it together–the pig in the trough at the farm in East Hampton and its knuckle (ham hock in my book) I used in a soup I made. It was a fabulous old-fashioned green split pea soup with carrots and this artisan pig meat. I didn’t have an immersion blender then. It was messier and more time consuming to make soup without the magic wand immersion blender I’ve grown so dependent on.

I’m not going to lie and say that a good ham hock is not the best thing that can happen to a pot of peas or beans. It tastes way better with the pig meat, I remember, all these years later. I also remember that I met that pig and then I ate him. Never again!

Now would my new obsession, Rocky, eat me if he was hungry? Of course he would! Won’t a pig eat anything? Still, I was very glad today when I met this beautiful sweet creature walking down a fancy shopping street, that I long ago lost the desire for pork.

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