My Gratitude List

1. I am extremely grateful to the turkey. It’s the one time of year I eat meat. After Thanksgiving is over, I always take the carcass and make the soup. I eat that with gusto, too. As well as a sandwich or two in between. Then the rest of the year I go back to being a pain-in-the-ass crypto vegetarian.

I learned how to cook turkey when one year Aline, my mother’s housekeeper, went AWOL on Thanksgiving. And my mother was running around screaming that company was coming and she didn’t know how to deal with the dead white bird.

Mary Marcus, Turkey, Thanksgivng

I’m grateful I rose to the occasion, stuffed the turkey, cooked it according to what it said in the cookbook, and that it came out well. I made the gravy too because Aline taught me how. She had a little jar, like a leftover peanut butter jar, she put flour and water in. She’d dump a little in the pan drippings, and with her spoon (I use a whisk) she transformed the juices into gravy. Too greasy? She’d throw in a little lemon, a toss of Tabasco, some bottled sauce, and voila! gravy. I do a variation on this theme to this day.

2. I am grateful to the New York Times for putting out the word that washing the turkey just spreads the germs. I hated washing the turkey.

3. I am grateful to Joe Lubart, a very good cook who taught me the Madeira trick with stuffing. Most people moisten stuffing with water, maybe canned broth; I moisten with a good bottle of Madeira or Sherry a la Joe Lubart.

4. I am also grateful to my friend Valerie Prager who told me you don’t have to squeeze every fucking piece of the dried bread as I was brought up to do. Just dump a judicious amount of the liquid on the dry bread and vegetables.

This saves hours. And many scratches on the hand.

5. I am grateful to the French for their bottled chestnuts—extremely expensive—but truly marvelous and also saves me from scoring the fresh chestnuts, roasting them and peeling them. Vive la France!

6. Finally, I am grateful for a very fond memory from my family of origin. It was Shreveport, Louisiana. We were having Thanksgiving. The table was really pretty. My mother had invited new friends—Christians—whom she wanted to impress—and she had on some hostess gown. I can see her to this second in her hostess gown. My sister is there, my grandma is there and so is my brother. We’ve all just sat down.

My mother’s new friends are smiling. Everybody is still, and the afternoon light is filtering through the sheer curtains in the dining room.

“Ruth,” says one of our guests, “will you lead us in prayer.”

My mother’s mouth drops. I can hear her going, ah, shit… Any second I expect her to swoon and have to be carried off to the emergency room.

Clever Ma though passes the buck. She turns to me. “Mary always says the prayer in our family.”

Everyone looks at me. I have never prayed aloud in my life. But I say something. Whatever comes to mind. I’m quite young. I don’t have much poise; I certainly have no religious poise. But I come up with something.

And like my first turkey, I hit the ball out of the park.

My family is so excited that I’ve pulled this off, they start clapping. The Christians are looking astonished. Is this something the Jews do, clap after praying?

They clap and they clap. It is the one pristine memory I have of my family’s absolute approbation.

One of the Christians said, “Amen!”

Then we ate and that was that.

7. My son isn’t coming home for thanksgiving as he usually does. He hasn’t said where he’s going and I haven’t asked. He’s on jury duty in Riverhead, New York and they don’t give the jurors the Wednesday or Friday off. It makes me immeasurably sad and ungrateful that he won’t be here to eat my stuffing that he loves, and admonish me as he always does, that I should have gotten the heritage turkey the one with more dark meat.

Nor, am I grateful that we live in a world where there are so many people who are hungry, Homeless, country less. Etc. etc. etc.

Let’s all try to do something to remedy the above by next Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Happy 2015 Thanksgiving!

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The Nice Jewish Man Who Wasn’t

A friend of mine whom I will call “A” fell in love with a man she met on J date. And they began their fine romance the old fashioned way, by talking to one another. Getting to know each other they never Skyped, or did Facetime –this was old-fashioned talking. With the added zest of texting. I was too polite to ask if they had phone sex, so I can only vouch for the fact that she seemed smooth, serene and her smile was pure Mona Lisa.

Mary Marcus, JDate, Online Dating

Being the long married person I am, (I was married in another century!) virtual love affairs interest me. I’m also, I have to confess, writing a novel on this very subject of love in the age of connectivity.

Anyway, he lived in the Midwest. A lives in LA. He claimed to be an investment person. And she was able to do a search (one of those paid ones) that showed a very impressive earner.

And he called her every morning before he went to work and she went to work. And he called her every evening before they went to bed in their different time zones. They said “goodnight, I love you.” This went on for weeks and weeks!

She showed me his picture. And wow, was he cute. He was a grey haired middle-aged guy with a lantern jaw and an Hermes belt buckle. He looked like an ad for Ralph Lauren clothing. The kind with the chic fatherly person impeccably turned out and a white white smile. He was widowed. (Though I didn’t tell her, I’ve always been suspicious of men whose wives died first. Murder, I always think, actual or figurative.) Anyway, no ugly divorce. No unrelenting alimony payments. And even better: No children. He was an only child as she was. It sounded like a match made in internet heaven. She was so happy my friend. In fact I’d never seen her this happy! Certainly not with her last two flesh and blood relationships.

I didn’t quite believe the entire story, that he hadn’t had the urge to go out on a date in the ten-year interregnum period between the death of his wife and when he spotted my friend on J date. My friend is a good-looking fifty something woman. He claimed to be exactly her age. He claimed to want to a woman exactly his age. He wanted commitment. And he demanded right away she remove her JDate profile so no one else could have her.

When she told him it was her birthday, he sent a present. One of those trendy gold watches that weigh the whole arm down.

She wanted love. And he wanted love. They shared love too.
She felt like he understood her in a way that on one ever had before.
She wanted the fairy tale we all want.
I wanted it for her.
And, of course,
I feel badly that I encouraged her in this. When we walked the dogs, she would tell me all about it; I’d sing some stupid songs, the dogs were jumping around, excited because we were excited…

And then a couple of weeks later, he asked her to borrow money, he was stranded somewhere. This supposed rich guy, stockbroker, and his credit cards weren’t working for some reason.

And he turned mean on her.

It took her a while to get it. She was so attached to this picture she had painted of her ideal man in such loving detail, she was loath to give it up.

“If he’s a criminal, I could love a criminal. I went out with an investment banker for years. Isn’t he a criminal? Aren’t we all criminals?”

“Yes, yes, I said, because I got it. “Just don’t’ send him money.”

“I was thinking not the whole amount (he had asked for 5 grand) but maybe 500. I mean this could be a relationship worth keeping. I’d hate to lose it over 500 dollars.”

“Ok,” but it is not going to stop there.”

And so after much soul searching, she didn’t send him a dime.

And he called her some names and never called her again.

And now she’s at a loss. And she misses him the way she would miss a real boyfriend, perhaps more. Mr. X was her very own creation one she had designed (with the help of a con artist) in such loving detail.

If I were writing this as a short story, I’d do it a la Chekov where the con man falls in love with his prey.

Is there a moral to the actual story? Sure beware of con artists you meet online.

But beware of your own ability to create “The One.”

The One is related to mommy and daddy and what they didn’t give you.
The One is related to you and the childish part of you that still believes the world is going to cooperate with your desires.

A lot of men are doing on line sex.
And a lot of women, like my friend, are doing on line fantasy.

Are they two sides of the same coin? Or just the same old battle of the sexes, 21st Century style?

P.S. she sold the watch on EBay and made a couple of hundred bucks.

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There are quite a few little old ladies in my ‘hood who attended high school at Manzanar. Bambi, who lives across the street from me, who is about four foot eleven and reminds me so much of my grandmother, was even named Bambi while she was attending high school behind the barbed wire fence.

Bambi the Disney movie premiered in 1942. The same year Manzanar was opened. Bambi says she doesn’t remember what her real name is.

Little Osaka is what our neighborhood is called because its denizens, as opposed to those in Little Tokyo, fared from Osaka. You get to know your neighbors in Little Osaka; many of us have dogs, many of us are walking either East (toward Sawtelle and the restaurants and Japanese market) or West toward Ralph’s, the big supermarket chain that’s two blocks away.

The first time I met Bambi we got in a fight. She was struggling with her Ralph’s shopping bags at the corner light and wouldn’t let me help her. I pleaded with her. It made me nuts watching her lug, then place down her heavy bags every few steps.

“You’ll get home a lot faster, if you let me help you!”

“No,” she smiled stubbornly with her very prominent teeth. “I’m in no rush.”

I’m guessing Bambi is ninety. Her skin is a little wizened but basically un-lined. Her hair is silvery grey-blue and she wears a cardigan that’s almost exactly the same color, no matter how hot it is. She’s, as I mentioned, strong enough to carry shopping bags. And as I found out today she even has a part-time job three days a week. She does paperwork of some sort for a plumbing company on Sawtelle where she has worked for years.

She has four children and she can’t remember how many grandchildren. But nobody ever seems to come around. They live in different states, different time zones. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember their names. Is there something wrong that a little old lady lives so alone? Without apparent need for very much except to live in her own manner?

Empty Wheelchair - Bambi/Grandma

“Do you miss your children?” I asked her recently. “Do you wish they lived near?”

“No,” she answered. And I believe her.

Every day at about five o’ clock (she’ll start earlier now, I’m guessing with the very short days) Bambi walks the three blocks to Ralph’s for a chocolate doughnut–one she takes home and has with a glass of milk. This is, she explains, her little treat to herself for making it through the day.

With all the non-stop haranguing about what to eat to achieve healthy old age, you find out the secret is a daily dose of fried dough in hydrogenated fat.

The truth is Bambi’s longevity and physical strength have to do with the fact that, even in L.A., she has never driven a car. She walks or takes the bus. In fact my own grandma was the same.

Grandma lived on chocolate, cheap sherry and ground round she made the butcher grind in front of her. She lived across the street from us in a little studio and wasn’t invited to dinner all that often.

I fight the impulse to take Bambi in and feed her and talk to her to make it up to my own grandma for putting her in that nursing home, Virginia Hall, all those years ago. I just did a search and it’s still there. Dementia Assisted Living in Shreveport, Louisiana. Bambi won’t let me help her schlep her bags home from the market, but  Grandma would have let me save her. In fact, she begged me to save her.

True, she was going nuts—an old boyfriend of mine found her wandering around in her nightgown looking for me at some God-awful time of night. And of course, true, I was nineteen, my mother should have taken charge instead of putting me in charge with the explicit instruction to “find a decent home.”

I dutifully went round to all the nursing homes in town with Ralph Nader’s list of red flags: the smell of urine, dopey looks on the patients’ faces, patients strapped in their chairs watching TV.

But the sad truth is I found the best of those places, moved Grandma in, and went back to college. The next time I saw Grandma she didn’t know me. She even went on to pat my head when I put it in her lap, and to tell me that I was such a pretty girl, and why was I crying? I remember that her legs couldn’t move.

My grandma is not Bambi and Bambi isn’t Grandma.

But even if I live to that ripe old age of either one of them, I’ll never forget her blank doped-up eyes or forgive myself for what I did.

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The Curse

Every family has its own myths. One of the longest running narratives in mine growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana was my mother’s early promise as a writer. One that was thwarted, not in the usual way by marriage and having a family, but by not winning a writing competition sponsored by one of the studios while she was at USC. This is roughly how the story went. When she was in college there were two very gifted student writers. One was the novelist and screenwriter Sidney Sheldon, and the other was my mother, Ruth Futernick. According to my mother they were friends and rivals, goaded on by their famous mentor, Professor Baxter. We heard the story every time Professor Baxter hosted the Disney Family Hour. There would be Dr. Baxter on the TV, and then there would be mother’s fond recollections of his classes on literature. And how she and Sidney both vied for his favor. And how she lost and Sidney Sheldon won.

The Curse, Mary Marcus, Mary Marcus Fiction

“You can still write that book!” I would tell my mother. Though we all knew that mother was never going to write her book. The most I ever saw of her writing was a few inflammatory sentences written on an Angel LP cover, in which she seemed to be writing to her boyfriend. I never figured out if the boyfriend was going on when she was married to my father or after he died. We certainly never saw any grown man around the house except Smith, who came to pick up Aline and drive her home. Or one of my father’s three brothers when they came to town to check on the store he’d left behind when he died.

When Mr. Sheldon became a famous and very rich novelist, my mother brought home his first novel, The Other Side of Midnight, forbade all of us to read it because it was so dirty, and continued on with her insistence that she was the superior writer.

I’ve never read The Other Side Of Midnight not because my mother told me not to. But because I guess I secretly knew all along my mother wasn’t telling the truth. Her friend Sidney might have been the lesser writer, but damn he was a writer. I was heartbroken for my mother that her early promise was over; while her rival’s had born such extravagant and lucrative fruit.

My mother died. And that was a long time ago.

And then, many years later, Mr. Sheldon died. His death was duly reported in the obits in the New York Times and I remember taking up the page eagerly with my morning coffee. My son was off in eastern Europe and we were briefly living in a fancy condo near Wilshire Bldv. and I was writing The New Me. I was very interested to read about Sheldon’s early life.

Here’s what I found out:

Mr. Sheldon did not attend USC. He was from the Midwest and didn’t appear in Los Angeles until long after my mother had departed. There was no rivalry. There was no early promise. My mother had made this whole thing up.

But, of course, I didn’t know that. Not when right before she died, I was home in Louisiana visiting. As it happens I was writing one of my early short stories. It was called “First Frost” and was my first experiment in writing from the male point of view. I wrote the story in long hand and typed it on my typewriter at Vogue when I was working there. The typewriters were terrible at Vogue. She was lying in her bed, and I was reading her my story. It wasn’t done. It was almost done, but not quite. I remember being so proud of that particular story. It was by no means my first story, but it was absolutely my best story so far.

“It’s a wonderful story,” she told me, “but you’ll never finish it. You’ll never finish anything!”

I didn’t say, “You’re wrong,” I didn’t say, “Why are you cursing me?” We didn’t have the kind of relationship where I was allowed to do that. Besides, she was sick. Besides, I didn’t really know about projection in those days. Or how you lay the stuff on other people you simply cannot own for yourself.

But I didn’t like it. And she was wrong, I did finish that story. I finished it. And I lost it. I have no idea what happened to it. Maybe I made her curse come true. Children do that all the time. I’m guessing my son will probably find “First Frost” in a box when I die.

Years later, when we moved to L.A., I found an old college friend of my mother’s and learned that Ma lost her college tuition at the race track and whenever she was in trouble she fell ill: migraine, ulcers, mysterious complaints with her back. My mother’s troubles started early. And the solution to those problems started early too. I have almost no memory of her when she wasn’t ill.

After I finished reading Mama the story that night, I went back to my room and I put it away. The next morning I left Louisiana. And the next time I saw my mother, was in her coffin at the funeral home.

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