Why do men shout behind the wheel of a car? It is some throwback to the cave? Some nod to the cowboy days when we women were home keeping the fires burning and they were out on the range, whooping it up with guns and ammo?
My son calls my husband a “pioneer of road rage” and it’s true, he’s been cursing and shouting behind the wheel as long as I’ve known him. I just got back from a road trip with this trailblazer and Henry to downtown.
LA is in the midst of an insane Santa Ana. The likes of which I’ve never experienced in my twenty years on this coast. Yesterday, when I was driving back to West LA from Santa Monica, the temperature was 103. Today, as we were heading further east, it was 107. And these geniuses who say they want to run the most powerful country in the world claim there’s no evidence of climate change!
Climate change is all around us. When you live in LA, you see it every time you leave the house. The patches of parched earth where grass used to be. The giant Evergreen trees that are dead roots standing. You see it when you look at the dashboard of your car and read the temperature outside the speeding car. Henry knows climate change: when he hops up in my husband’s Beemer, he goes straight for floor, the coolest place to be in the car. And how about California! We are the first state to make it legal to break a window in a car and save a dog that is about to expire from heat. Sometimes (not today) I love California. We are also the first state to ban assembly line eggs. The chicken gets to move a little. Good for CA!
Going downtown was unavoidable. I knew what was going to happen. By the time we were fifty feet out of the driveway, I was engaged in a deep breathing exercise to release past anger and rage (when I learned about the exercise, it said nothing about present anger and rage) the breathing really did seem to help. In case a gentle reader is interested: the breathing exercise is eight sharp inhales followed by a holding of breath and a long exhale. And even though all the calm male meditation teachers will assure you that the calmer you are, the calmer everyone will be around you, this is not true if you are driving in traffic with my husband, or anybody else’s husband. I was sharply exhaling and my husband was spewing and foaming at the mouth. “Asshole!” he shouted at one car. “Cock bite!” to another. “You f’ing Mother—F-er!” to another. Why I ask, is the term Mother—F‘er the most derogatory in the language? You never hear the phrase, “Father—F’er.” And why is this? Far more men molest their daughters, than mothers molest their sons. But once again, men wrote down the language, not women.
I thought of the debate last night. How cool Hillary was, as the Trump spewed forth with his nonsense. Was she churning inside, listening to this out of control male lose it? And why is it that women are always having to keep the lid on male rage? We do it naturally. To spare ourselves, to spare our children, in the case of the very wise and elegant Mrs. Clinton, to save the world.
“Why are you so angry?” I asked between breaths. “No one is threatening your life. What’s going on that makes you so nuts?”
“These assholes make me nuts!” said he and sat on the horn for several very long seconds.
I thought back to one of the few times I have driven downtown with just females in the car. It was a few years ago. My friend Mae was here in town from New York to give a talk in conjunction with her then new book, The Lucky Ones. Our mutual friend Aimee joined us. I had printed out the directions from Map Quest. And then written my own version of them.
Take street outside of house to Olympic. Then Bundy. Take that to freeway. Get off ——-. I remember being very nervous. But it was a sweet little ride downtown. Traffic was bad but not horrendous. We got to our destination with enough time to go shopping! Afterwards we had dinner with some friends of Mae and we got home without getting lost or anyone screaming. We all remarked about it at the time. How calm it was going downtown with a woman behind the wheel. Even with me, one of the ten worst drivers you’ll ever meet.
My husband was still foaming at the mouth when we got downtown. And parked the car.
Our destination was one of those giant office towers that take up a whole city block. Henry and I walked him there, and we waited downstairs in the lobby on the cool marble floor. Henry being the genius that he is, sprawled out on the white marble, happy to have it against his fur—not the sidewalk. I wished ardently, I could do the same.
Driving home, we got lost a few times, and my husband had a couple more temper tantrums. But there was no traffic–—a miraculous reprieve. It will be a cold day in LA, before I do that again.
I was coming home from my dear friend Mae’s wedding in DC. Such a cosmopolitan affair, her husband wore a kilt, she wore a celadon colored silk gown that made her look like a member of the Chinese royal court during the Ming Dynasty. She looked regal and gorgeous and perhaps unlike a female member of the royal court back then: radiantly happy.
I was trying to get back home to the little house in the woods where I’ve been staying all summer, and which I’ll be leaving, not without regret, day after tomorrow. I landed in the little Islip Airport, and caught a quick cab to the bus stop somewhere on the Long Island Expressway. The bus, a.k.a. the Hampton Jitney, stood me up. I wasn’t surprised—everything had gone so seamlessly well getting to DC and so far, getting back. Nut jobs were blowing up street corners in Chelsea, and the airport security was pretty tight and made me hand over my conditioner and tweezers. Still the plane left on time. And, forty minutes out of Baltimore we were at MacArthur, one of those small town airports that seem so charming to me, since I’m always going between the two behemoths—LAX and JFK.
What do you do for fun on the expressway with two hours to kill and one convenience store and gas station, waiting for the bus? I hadn’t seen TV all summer since there isn’t one here, so I watched The Donald in a baseball cap and his chubby cheeked face telling the cameras what the Saturday night explosion means to us as a country. I watched Hillary do the same. She was infinitely more sane. And while I’m on the subject of Hillary, why do so many women dislike this very accomplished fellow female so much? Women, what’s wrong with us? Her marriage to Bill is not my business, or your business or anybody else’s business. What our business should be is to elect a sane president—enough said.
I bought some nuts at the convenience store, and I looked for something like a big chief tablet and a bic pen. I finally got the guy behind the counter to give me some printer paper, and luckily I did have a pen in my purse. I thought about what this said about us as a country, the convenience store had five aisles full of junk food items: chips, cookies, soda, red bulls, candy, and a full aisle labeled “Children’s Candy.” There were five feet of painkillers, antacids, condoms; even some discreet sex toys, but not a one big chief tablet or pad of paper, or a paltry pen. Yes, I was lost in Long Island, but I was also lost in America.
I thought of Rabbit Angstrom, Updike’s ex-football player and ultimately rich owner of his Toyota dealership; the lyrical descriptions of the chips, the cookies, the candies that he wrote. Updike was talking about an America who has swelled and swelled so much more since he wrote Rabbit at Rest, the last of the books when Angstrom blows up like the frog in the fable, dead of lechery, gluttony and sloth.
I also thought of Nabokov, riding across the country chasing butterflies with Mrs. Nabokov, staying at the muttering retreats of one night cheap hotels, his tongue was traveling across the palette and Lolita was being born right here in America.
I thought too of Albert Brooks and Julie Haggerty getting Lost In America, and the police stopping Brooks and asking him to “step outside the home!” And even though I didn’t want to, I thought about my own childhood in Shreveport, and how lonely and out of it I always felt. But back then, there were tablets of paper. And those had saved me.
By now I was one and a half hours into the experience. Luckily I had a little charge left on my phone. I called the Hampton Jitney a couple of more times.
Pretty soon the bus pulled up, I sat down, drank one of the tiny waters they give out, fell sound asleep and dreamed my parents were still alive. There he was, Big Daddy and even in the dream I knew he couldn’t get me anymore. As usual, he was swigging off his coke bottle, he was smoking a cigarette and there were the dingy patches under his eyes. Mama was young and she was wearing a lace cocktail dress and smoking too. They seemed far, far away, even in my dream.
When I woke up with a start, there were the great big heavy shade trees in front of the Hunting Inn on Main Street, and I wasn’t lost anymore.
Gentle readers: I rejoiced!
My mother-in-law, whom my son called Nia, was buried eleven years ago today, on Labor Day, in the family plot in Queens, one I used in the novel I just finished. It’s an older Jewish graveyard, impossible now to get into, one with a fancy wrought iron gate. The best plots are at the top of the hill with the views—why should the real estate of the dead be any different than the real estate of the living? As you ascend the hill, the burial plots have the names of the big department stores in New York: Macy’s, Gimbels, Saks, and indeed the neoclassical grave markers, look like little department stores. Something I noticed when the limo was going up the hill. I used this too in the novel I just finished.
Nia died the day the levee burst in New Orleans. While we were making funeral arrangements in Santa Monica before flying to New York, then Secretary Rice was seen buying shoes at Saks in New York, and New Orleans was sinking into the water.
It happened very quickly and unexpectedly. Both the drowning of New Orleans and the drowning of my mother-in-law in East Hampton. Nia had houseguests for the long weekend. She had spoken to my husband on a Thursday morning about some business matter, and mentioned she was going to the beach with her guests. Thirty minutes later she swam out, and the coroner guesses had a heart attack, and minutes later, her body was seen floating in the grey green waters of Louse Point: her favorite place to swim. Someone fished her out, someone else called my son who had just graduated from University of Chicago and was bartending at a local restaurant. He called my husband, my husband called me. And then he said, “I guess I’m coming home from work.”
I said, “That might be a good idea.” Then he said, “Would you get me something to eat, I haven’t had lunch.” I said, “Of course!” hung up and walked over to the nearby Whole Foods and bought all sorts of things to eat.
An hour or so later, my very pale husband came in the door, sat down, at the little table by the kitchen window.
“Have you cried?” I asked.
“I can’t tell.” He replied. “I pulled over and sort of did something. But nothing much came out.”
I had experienced much the same reaction. I had stopped in my walk to the Whole Foods. Leaned against a telephone pole, but nothing much came out.
My husband didn’t eat his lunch. In fact, my husband didn’t eat anything for the next month. Not the lunch I packed for the plane, not any of the funeral food we had at his parent’s apartment on West 77th Street. My husband is a big eater. All of us are, but he’s the one who thinks it’s a sin to think about scrimping on a meal.
Someone called us and said, we had to send a paid obit to the New York Times.
Someone else called and said, she was trying to get a real obit in the New York Times.
I sat down and wrote out a few paragraphs. I found the obit number and began reciting, and somewhere in there, my husband roused himself from his stupor at the end of the little table by the windows with the full plate of food in front of him and gave me the hand signal he gives to a waiter when he wants the check.
I paused. Then asked the man I was talking to on the obit line, “By the way, how much is this costing me?”
He replied, “If you want an obit in the New York Times, you don’t ask price.”
“So how much per word?” I insisted. I was a copywriter for years, and have a pretty good nose for word count. I knew I had just written several hundred words. Several hundred words that translated into between five and ten grand. God knows what it is now. Years later I was talking to a woman whose husband writes obits for the New York Times and she told me, the paid obits are the most profitable division at the paper. I’m not surprised.
I said, “Excuse me,” to the obit man, put the phone down, and held up five fingers, then ten. And whispered thousands.
My husband roused himself and yelled, “Cut! Cut!”
I hung up, cut the obit down to four sentences and we found a friend to stay with the cat and the next day flew to New York.
By now, New Orleans was under water, we weren’t watching TV, but the paper was delivered, the one with the four sentence obit and we saw the pictures of the residents of the ninth ward sitting on the rooftops of their houses, awaiting rescue.
My mother-in-law was literate, idiosyncratic, whimsical and always said she refused to do what her own mother had done: which was to languish for years in bed with paid attendants. She was true to her word.
I’m staying in her little house now fixing it up for rental. I finished my novel here this summer. And I’ve come to love this house very much.
One of my fondest memories of Nia is on the day she saw me after I’d dyed my hair bright red. I’d just gone back to work at an advertising agency, a year or so after my son was born. She took one look at my bright dyed tresses, disappeared into the back of her apartment, and brought back a lock of her own real red hair, one she had presumably been saving for just such an occasion. I’ve forgotten to mention, when she was young, Nia was a raving beauty.
“This is what real red hair looks like, Mary! Mine was Titian colored!” My hair was quite long then and as always very curly. She pulled out one of my curls, and laid her authentic one against my fake one.
I smiled. She smiled. Then she, the baby (my son) and my father-in-law had dinner. As usual, my husband was on the coast working on a project.
Indeed, he’s on the coast working on a project as I write this. I missed him then. And I miss him now.
My dear furry friend Masha recently died. I loved her dearly and used to babysit her. Farewell Masha, may there be lots of green, shady areas to enjoy where you are.