EIGHT REASONS WHY I WANT TO HAVE AN AFFAIR WITH DR. PHIL
1. As a psychologist, Dr. Phil is a trained listener so I’d only have to tell him once to slow down.
2. Bald celebrities are hot (See also Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Jeffrey Tambor).
3. Dr. Phil would be there to help me understand why I sometimes cry after sex.
4. At 6’ 4” Dr. Phil was made for a woman to climb all over him like a kid at a jungle gym.
5. We could incorporate folksy expressions such as, “I didn’t just come in on a load of turnips.”
6. His mustache would exfoliate my skin during vigorous foreplay.
7. He’s worth 200 million dollars.
8. He has really pretty eyes.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the blog. I’ve been preoccupied with my children’s B’nai Mitzvah, which was last month. Even if you regularly watch Jon Stewart, you might not know that a B’nai Mitzvah is when a boy and a girl have their Bar and Bat Mitzvah together. I have twins -- son Elroy Jetson and daughter Princess Leia* -- so for me, it was a double “simcha,” which is Hebrew for “joyous celebration.”
As the B’nai Mitzvah approached, I worried about many things. My son gets the occasional nosebleed when the weather gets dry and cold. Once we attended a friend’s Bat Mitzvah and Elroy’s nose started bleeding in the middle of the service. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the size of the donation we would have to give the temple should my son get a nosebleed during his Torah reading. Is it even possible to clean blood from a Torah scroll? There must be a place in Brooklyn that specializes in such things but I didn’t want to have to find out. Then on the day before the B’nai Mitzvah, I woke up to find I had gotten my period . . . five days early. God was testing me, not unlike when he tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac (which coincidentally happened to be the kids’ Torah reading the following day). And it wasn’t like, “Oh, my period is just beginning.” No. It declared itself as boldly as when Moses turned the Nile to blood.** “Better you than me,” said Princess Leia. I worried it was going to be the first mitzvah service in five thousand years of Jewish history with an intermission. “And to think you were worried that Elroy might bleed on the Torah,” said my husband.
But most of all, I worried about that cringeworthy Jewish tradition--the Horah, which is Jewish for embarrassing chair dance that may cause injury or psychotherapy. From what I learned on the Internet, the Horah has its origins as a Romanian folk dance. It was commandeered by the Jews 100 years ago, then mashed together with the Jewish tradition of lifting a bride and groom on chairs, which probably came from the tradition of carrying royalty on chairs. When my ancestors came to this country from Russia and Poland in the early 20th century, they brought with them the Horah and bagels.*** Since then, the lifting of the honoree on a chair has expanded from brides and grooms, to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah child, to parents and grandparents of the guest of honor.
Generally it goes like this. The band or DJ plays Hava Nagila, the Israeli folk song that accompanies the Horah. As soon as the first few bars of the familiar clarinet riff is heard, like a Pavlovian response inbred from years of living in the shtetl, Jews stampede the dance floor forming giant clumsy circles. The guest of honor is seated on a chair in the center and the chair is lifted up and down in time to the music, more or less. It’s not all that different, really, from riding a mechanical bull in a country western bar.
I didn’t want to be in that chair. I don’t like being the center of attention in that way, which I realize seems ironic coming from someone who blogs about her life. It may have something to do with my own Bat Mitzvah experience over thirty years ago. Suffering from a clinically diagnosed excessive perspiration condition at age 13, the last thing I wanted was to be hoisted on a chair above 100 people with my mother yelling at me to raise my arms for a picture when my armpits were like the day after a tsunami—water everywhere.
But I knew I would be expected to be in that chair. And, it wouldn’t be enough to just submit to the Horah. I had better look like I was enjoying it. I had relatives coming from the old country (Brooklyn) and they expected it. Doing the Horah was viewed as a crucial part of the B’nai Mitzvah on par with the Torah reading, lox spread, and photo booth. And if you think the pressure from my Jewish relatives was bad, the pressure from my gentile friends was worse. Being married to a non-Jew, half the party was going to be non-Jewish and they wanted an authentic mitzvah experience.
I tried to imagine how the classiest people I could think of would do the Horah. How would the great Meryl Streep hold herself while being lifted in the chair?
I asked my older sister Lisa Simpson* for advice. We combed the Internet looking for inspiration. From our research, we determined that a strong straight posture is important or you risk looking like you’re seated on the toilet. Women must also keep their ankles crossed to avoid flashing Uncle Mordecai while he’s grasping a chair leg. And above all, you must look like you’re having fun. I can’t stress this last requirement enough. You need to convincingly show you’re capable of celebrating appropriately or cousins you haven’t seen in 10 years will gossip that you’re too uptight to enjoy the moment, and for all the success you’ve achieved in your life you haven’t learned what’s truly important, which makes you a terrible mother and role model to boot.
At the luncheon, as soon as Hava Nagila started playing, the crowed grabbed Princess Leia. So petite, she floated up on that chair like a helium balloon. Then came Elroy Jetson. He wore the same expression as when he rode the Frog Hopper at the amusement park last summer, saying it was fun, but not scary. My husband said he never believed he was in any danger of falling when he was in the chair, but from all eyewitness accounts, it looked like a real possibility.
My brother grabbed me when it was my turn. Within seconds I was above the crowd. My friend snapped a photo with his phone and I’ve been studying it like Torah ever since. I was sitting straight up with my back away from the chair, grasping the sides of the seat, my ankles crossed. My eyes were closed and mouth open. I don’t remember much during my 20 seconds in the chair except making one loud continuous noise somewhere between screaming and laughing. Lisa Simpson said my form was perfection.
*Not my children’s or sister’s real names.
**The first of ten plagues Moses brought upon Egypt in an effort to convince Pharaoh to release the Jews from slavery in ancient times.
***I realize they brought over other more important things too, but I’m not focusing on those right now.
Have you heard the latest out of Harvard? Our body language affects not only how others view us, but how we view ourselves. From the research of social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy,* how we pose can affect our brain chemistry. Pose in a power pose for two minutes -- think hands on your hips like Superman or Wonder Woman -- and you will increase your testosterone and decrease your cortisol levels (the stress hormone), making you feel more powerful and less stressed out. In her research, Cuddy and her team applied power posing to real-world scenarios. She found that job candidates who held power poses for two minutes prior to a job interview scored significantly higher in the interviews than those candidates who did not power pose.
After I read this on the front page of the New York Times style section a few weeks back, I at once locked myself in my bathroom, put my hands on my hips, and started timing. It felt awkward and unnatural. Sad really. My body had spent forty plus years tacitly speaking the language of anxiety and passive-aggressiveness. This new language of power was so foreign to me. It was like when I tried to learn calculus in twelfth grade. Ridiculous, it can’t be done.
“Where’s mom?” I heard my son ask.
“She’s in the bathroom. Give her some privacy,” answered my husband.
“No, no. It’s not that. I’ll be out in exactly 52 seconds,” I yelled through the door.
The second minute was easier. My body adjusted slightly. I emerged from the bathroom feeling, if not exactly powerful, then freshened up some, like when you use those steaming hot washcloths on a red-eye flight.
After my power pose experiment, I wondered what effects other poses might have. If I stood in pee pose for two minutes, would I suddenly have the urge to pee? The pee pose, popular among starlets photographed on the red carpet, is when you cross your legs while standing to make your body appear more narrow. Your silhouette tapers from your hips to a single leg, if you will; it’s like doing ballet’s fifth position when you’ve never taken a ballet class in your life. Put another way, think of a four-year old girl telling her mother she has to go to the bathroom and her mother responds “in a minute” but the checkout line at Marshall’s is taking forever. I stood in pee pose for two minutes. Afterwards I detected a vague desire to empty my bladder but I can’t be certain that’s from the posing. I’ve been that way ever since childbirth.
Then I tried the smoking pose. I held a pen between two fingers like a cigarette and pretended to smoke. I brought it to my mouth, took a drag, exhaled an imaginary cloud, and flicked pretend ashes into a pretend ashtray. I played with my hair while holding the pen, careful not to singe my ends like that one time in high school. I became instantly more glamorous, more like a writer. I hadn’t done any of those gestures in over twenty years. It was like riding a bicycle. I didn’t miss the taste and smells of smoking but by God, I missed the posing. I was channeling J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck and Virginia Woolf—all the greats smoked. I’m not going to start smoking again, but I’m giving serious consideration to pretending to smoke in an effort to improve my craft.
Asshole pose was next. I lifted both hands in the air and raised my middle fingers straight up, facing an imaginary foe. Like a reflex, my mouth went into an angry smirk. I tried talking my mouth out of its outrage, reminding it that my hands were just posing. But the mere act of raising my middle fingers agitated my brain into a state normally associated with talking on the phone with my health insurance company. I needed a loving pose quick to realign myself.
Wrapping my arms around my body to give myself a hug wouldn’t be right. Cuddy says that making our bodies small is the opposite of a power pose. Small makes us feel weak and subservient. I remembered the “facehold” pose. As predictable as the ocean tides and August back-to-school sales, the pose for love in Hollywood is a man cupping a woman’s face in his hands and gazing into her eyes with a look that says, Despite the obstacles of your disapproving parents, crazy ex-boyfriend/husband, high-powered career, death of my former wife/child, and the tsunami/tornado, it was you all along. How could I have been so blind?”
I executed the pose on myself, assuming the Home Alone position, hands on cheeks, chin tucked into the base of my palms. I was overcome with, not love, but the need to rest my elbows on my desk and shut my eyes. I had inadvertently recreated my favorite napping position from college.
Still needing to do something, I laid my hands over my heart chakra (or heart for those of you who don’t believe in such things). My hands rose and fell with each breath. The rhythmic movement soothed me. After two minutes, I had completely erased any lingering effects of acting like an asshole. Who would have guessed it could be that easy?
*Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk, with over four million views:
Is it only me or does it seem like Angelina Jolie does not care one iota what we think of her? Just to be clear, I’ve never met Angelina Jolie. Nor do I suffer from one of those celebrity fantasies where I think if Angelina and I did meet, we’d become instant BFFs bonding over how much we both wear black. No. In fact, it’s the opposite. I think if Angelina met me, within five minutes she’d slap me hard across the face exclaiming, Stop caring about what everyone else thinks all the time!
This is a woman who gushed about being in love with her brother at the 2000 Academy Awards and kissed him on the lips. A woman who, in 2005, stole another woman’s husband. And before the moving van finished delivering Brad Pitt’s architecturally important furniture to their new manse, W magazine published a photo spread of the two of them with five children entitled “Domestic Bliss,” three months before Brad’s divorce to Jennifer Aniston would be finalized. No mere celebrity mortal could survive the whiff of adultery and incest but these things do not cling to the transcendent Ms. Jolie.
She does not spend her time shopping. She writes and directs. She flies planes and rides motorcycles. She gets her lover a tattoo while attending Davos. And of course, there’s her charitable activities, too varied and numerous to mention, like her children. And throughout all her life in the public eye, Angelina Jolie has never asked us to like her. She does not do cutesy self-deprecating shtick (my standard fallback). There have been no People magazine What I Learned cover stories, hinting if she could do it all again, she’d do it differently. She has never aspired to be the girl next door, your BFF—this makes her the coolest girl in school.
And I haven’t yet mentioned the cancer thing. She turned her double prophylactic mastectomy into a public call to women to take control of their health. How she managed to have the surgery in New York City without word leaking to the press shows sly and cunning worthy of Jason Bourne.
This former wild-child/cancer-avoider/humanitarian extraordinaire floats through the world’s airports with six kids and The Sexiest Man Alive circa 1995 and 2000, all holding hands as if in a game of Red Rover Red Rover, and I become a believer of the Church of Angelina Jolie.
Brad Pitt has suggested that being married to Jennifer Aniston was boring. Is that really fair? Breaking the sound barrier, naked, would be boring compared to Angelina Jolie. Even among the world’s most extraordinary people, she’s extraordinary.
I like to imagine Angelina at home calling the shots while Brad flakes out on the sofa, a joint in one hand, while watching SpongeBob with the twins. From now on, whenever I’m feelings doubtful, if I find myself obsessing whether I’ve said or done the right thing, I will ask myself: WWAD--What Would Angie Do? I will evoke it like a mantra, over and over, until she appears like her character Fox from the movie Wanted. She will brush her billowy lips against my ear and in a voice both husky and menacing say: you apologize too much. Then under her tutelage, I will blossom just like James McAvoy did in the movie.
I, for one, cannot wait to see Maleficent this weekend.
Like the mothers who forbid their children from playing violent video games or with toy guns, my mother did not want me to play with baby dolls for the same reason. She was afraid that if I pretended I was a mother, there was a risk I would engage in such behavior in real life. Baby dolls, toy cradles, and plastic kitchen sets were all off limits for the same reason. My mother, a proud feminist, wanted to ensure I avoided the mistakes she had made in her life, namely getting married and having children. “Do as I say, not as I do,” she’d tell me.
While mothering a pretend human infant was objectionable, mothering pretend baby animals were tolerated. I amassed a huge collection of stuffed mammals, reptiles, and arthropods. My older sister sewed a baby sling and coordinating outfit for my teddy bear in her junior high home ec class. For one year I carried that bear everywhere like a Kenyan bush mother.
Barbie dolls were something of a gray area. I found a few dolls in our basement that had once belonged to my older sisters, relics from the era before my mother raised her consciousness. Barbie was a full-grown woman so there was no mothering involved, nor did my mother seem concerned with the doll’s obvious anorexia. However, she did object to Barbie’s lack of professional opportunities, but my mother’s propensity to never throw anything away proved stronger than her feminist principles, so the dolls stayed.
Every year on my birthday my mother liked to give me an educational toy: Simon, Master Mind, Comp IV, Little Professor. It was hard to get excited. I’d get my doll fix from my best friend Michelle who lived down the street. Michelle’s mom was very nice though foolishly unconcerned with Michelle’s future political leanings. At Michelle’s house, I fed Baby Alive food packets mixed with water and waited for the substance to move through her so I could change her diaper. When Michelle and I played with her Barbie dolls and United Airlines Friend Ship, Barbie never demanded to fly the plane herself.
As my seventh birthday approached, Michelle’s mom asked me if there was anything special I wanted. A doll I said unequivocally. On the day of my party, she handed me a huge box. “It’s what you want,” she said when she wished me a happy birthday. Later that night I opened the box. It was a beautiful doll, a doll fit for a princess, the tag said. It was a doll that didn’t eat or go to the bathroom. There was no string on the back of her neck to make her talk. Her hair didn’t grow long and shrink back. There was no airplane sold separately. It was a doll of exquisite artistry that gave its owner pleasure simply by her very existence. Even my anti-doll mother was impressed. “Oh, that’s a beauty!” she said. “What a special gift. But its not a doll to play with—its too expensive.” She took the doll and placed it on the shelf in my bedroom. There it remained untouched for 23 years.
As I’ve gotten older, I feel pretty good about how I’m aging. Except for the lines on my face, the reemergence of acne, the gray hair that never stays completely covered, and the nagging persistent fear that my best days are gone, like a boat that has set sail leaving me stranded on the dock. Alone. Like I said, pretty good.
But there’s one change as I’ve gotten older that has been particularly irksome. Not to get all Are You There God? Its Me, Margaret on you, but lately my periods have become, well . . . kind of obnoxious. They’re longer and heavier now. My gynecologist tells me that’s normal for women my age. Normal or not, they’re acting like a passive-aggressive Jewish grandmother.
“What? You’d prefer if I didn’t bother you? Poof. I’m gone. Is that what you want? Listen missy, when I’m gone, you’re going to miss me so much, you won’t be able to see straight! Then who’s going to be sorry you weren’t nicer to me when you had the chance?”
“Yeah right,” I’d scream at my menses before slamming the door in her face. “I hate her, I hate her, I hate her!” I’d cry into my pillow before falling asleep exhausted.
I don’t really hate my period. I just wish there wasn’t so much of it. It’s like I have a reverse period now. I bleed three weeks out of every month. After sex with my husband, my bedroom looks like a crime scene.
The other day I went into my local Apple store. I had a few minutes to spare before I was to meet a friend on the other side of the mall. I was interested in the iPad mini and wanted to compare models. The cellular version was $129 more than the Wi-Fi version and I wondered if it was worth it when factoring in the additional monthly charges as well.
I’m not especially proud of this fact, but there’s a traditional division of labor in my marriage. My husband Mike Brady* takes care of all things related to technology and general infrastructure in the home while I take care of all things related to the children. I know. I totally have the better end of the deal. I’ve seen him wait on hold with the phone company for what seems like an eternity, getting transferred to three different people in just as many countries, all in the effort to figure out why a mysterious monthly charge keeps showing up on our bill, like a persistent weed, even after he calls to get it removed every four weeks. Still, I’m a bit sheepish that until very recently (i.e., last week) I didn’t know who our ISP was or what ISP even stood for. But then again, Mike has no idea what HAGS** or TBH *** means. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled not to have to deal with the phone or cable company, but the downside is that my marriage has turned me into something of an idiot.
So as with all things related to technology, I solicit Mike’s opinion. Standing in the store with my backpack over one shoulder and my handbag hanging off the other, I started texting Mike to ask about the iPads when out of my peripheral vision I noticed an Apple employee approaching. She looked to be in her early thirties, wearing the blue Apple employee t-shirt and an Apple nameplate around her neck. Without bothering to look up from my phone, I said “I’m wondering if you can answer a question for me about the minis?”
The woman jabbed me in the arm. Not exactly hard but definitely forceful. I looked up to see her holding a MacBook Air with the screen facing me. I’m deaf. How can I help you? the screen said. Then she sat the laptop down right in front of me.
Wow. How cool is it that the Apple store had a deaf employee? Fantastic! I totally applaud their Human Resources department. Truly. It was just that at that particular moment . . .for me . . .working with a deaf employee was . . . a tad inconvenient. Don’t judge. This was strictly a timing issue. Between my backpack, handbag, and phone, my hands were already pretty well occupied. Plus, I only had a minute to spare before I was scheduled to meet my friend and on top of all that, I’m just an okay typist as it is. I tend to make a lot of mistakes when rushing.
I was about to type just looking but instantly felt guilty. Children of a Lesser God is one of my favorite movies. Who could say no to Marlee Matlin? Sigh. I plopped down my backpack and handbag, set my phone on the table, and started typing to Marlee. I typed a question about setting up cellular service on the mini. In response, her fingers moved swiftly over the keyboard, sounding like stampeding mice. She wrote that I didn’t have to use my iPhone provider but could use a separate provider for the mini. She showed me how I could sign up right there in the store. Impressed by her knowledge, not to mention her extraordinary typing speed, I decided to ask a follow-up question to challenge her a bit. I don’t believe in pandering. Which did she think was more cost effective: buying the iPad mini with Wi-Fi and utilizing my iPhone as a hotspot or going with the cellular version?
She was not intimated by me. She tapped her temple with her finger, which I interpreted to mean she thought my question was particularly astute and started typing again. She opened the AT&T website and showed me prices for various hotspot plans. The woman clearly knew what she was typing about.
My communication to her was filled with multiple misspellings and bad grammar. If she suspected I didn’t graduate high school, she never let on. In contrast, her communication was as clean and perfect as my eighth-grade typing teacher’s plum frost toenails on the first day of spring.
I typed that I needed to think about how I planned to use the mini, whether I wanted it more for surfing the Internet or for reading books and watching movies. She slapped the table hard and then pointed her index finger at me with the thumb raised, like shooting a gun, as if to say Finally! What took you so long?
* Not my husband’s real name, but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for the blog.
**Have a great summer.
***To be honest.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
Exodus 8:16 King James Bible
I know exactly how the Ancient Egyptians felt.
Maybe its because Passover is coming but I’m reminded of the plague of lice that descended upon my home two years ago when my children were in fourth grade.
The day before we discovered my daughter Princess Leia* had lice was an ordinary Friday. There was a Halloween party at school and I was helping out in her classroom. I watched as my daughter stood back-to-back (!) with another child as their classmates wrapped them in toilet paper as some kind of double-sided mummy. The children were laughing, enjoying their respite from schoolwork, blissfully unaware that lice had already invaded their classroom.
The next morning Princess Leia complained that her head was itchy. She had a haircut scheduled that afternoon so I made a note to ask the stylist about dandruff shampoo. Instead I left the salon with $60 worth of natural organic lice remover.
“What’s this all-natural stuff?” Mike Brady* said when we got home. “There are live bugs in her hair. Get the chemicals.”
He had a point. I spent another $60 on a chemical lice shampoo and then $10 on a lice comb on top of that. Monday morning I called the school nurse to let her know about the lice and to assure her I had taken care of the problem. We still have to check anyway, she told me.
“Go ahead. I dare you to find anything,” I replied confident in my lice-removing skills.
But then suddenly, a smidge of doubt. I raced to the school and arrived just as Princess Leia was being called to the nurse’s office. Within two seconds the nurse found a handful of nits that I had missed. I started tearing up immediately. She sent us both home with a pep talk to stay vigilant. That night with a magnifying glass, pin light, and lice comb, Mike and I spent hours pouring over Princess’ hair, strand by painstaking strand.
“If she doesn’t pass the nurse’s test tomorrow, maybe we should wash her hair with gasoline. My father did that when we had lice as kids,” Mike suggested.
The next morning Princess passed the nurse’s lice check and was allowed to stay in school. But I was not lulled into any false sense of security. I continued checking her hair and I continued to find nits and lice. Less of them, but still they were there. I became an expert on the lice lifecycle—how long eggs stay attached to hair before hatching (7 – 10 days), how long newly hatched lice take to mature before they can lay eggs of their own (10 days), how many eggs a single lice lays (8 eggs a day for up to 30 days). YOU DO THE MATH! Then my son got lice as well. Our house was under siege. I made Mike Brady check me every night, cursing his bad eyesight when he said he didn’t see anything. “Are you really looking closely? They’re there, I know it!”
In hindsight, I might have been suffering from Müchausen syndrome brought on by lice hysteria. But whatever. Mike, happy to have thinning hair for the first time in his life, wasn’t concerned about getting lice at all.
Neither the chemicals nor the organic lice treatments proved completely effective. I needed my own solution. I combed the Internet reading mommy blogs and chat rooms to find answers. Finally I came up with an inexpensive integrated approach taken from multiple sites that proved successful once and for all, which I’ve revealed below. Just my way of paying it forward. You're welcome.
Incidentally, during my ordeal, I shared my tale of lice-woe with some of the mothers in Princess Leia’s class. Two of them admitted that their children had lice as well but never notified the school because they were afraid their kids would become stigmatized. Nice. If the teacher knew about the lice, then he could’ve helped prevent the spread by telling students not to share winter hats and avoid back-to-back mummy wrapping games. I was never able to find out if the kid that Princess Leia was back-to-back with during the Halloween party got lice. The mothers here are loathe to admit anything.
My foolproof, all-natural, inexpensive method for lice removal:
1. Slather your hair completely in full fat mayonnaise for 8 hours. Cover with shower cap because the mayo starts to drip after awhile. This will suffocate the lice. You’ll smell like a deli and look like a cafeteria worker. Note: the mayo needs to be full fat to really smother them. This is the one time you don’t want to go low fat or nonfat. Also, I wouldn’t advise sleeping with it, as it can get messy on your pillow.
2. Rinse hair of mayo and towel dry. Then spritz hair thoroughly with white vinegar with 5% acid. Leave on hair for 20 minutes. The acid dissolves the glue that keeps the eggs attached to the hair shaft. You’ll still smell like a deli but more like the salad bar instead of the sandwich area. After 20 minutes, rinse in shower.
3. Comb out hair with a .99 cents flea comb from a pet store. You should learn from my mistakes and forget the $10 lice comb from CVS. By now the glue has dissolved so the eggs should fall out easily.
4. Once hair is dry, flat iron hair using high heat setting in small sections. Be certain to flat iron all the hair. The high heat of the flat iron will singe and kill any eggs that remain on the hair shaft. Those eggs will never hatch – a lice abortion if you will.
Final postscript: Before lice, I never let Princess Leia use product in her hair. After her lice experience, and learning that lice are attracted to clean natural hair, I encourage her every morning to gel, spray, and spike it like Kajagoogoo.
* Not their real names but ones they agreed I could use for this post.
When I was twelve, my best friend “Michelle” got the first Walkman I ever saw. Our mothers were best friends so I expected that once I told my mom that Michelle got a Walkman, she would run out and buy me one too. But my mother was not socially savvy in the ways that are important. She never cared about things like keeping up with the Joneses. She thought the Joneses were idiots. In fact, the more money she and my father made, the worse she insisted we live. Gone went my father’s Cadillac. Why drive a new car with excellent reliability when you can pay $250 for my cousin’s twelve-year-old Chevy Nova with rusted panels that was in the repair shop once a month? She loved trying to shock people by driving a shitbox. “Reverse Chic” my mother called it. “Irrational” was how the neighbors saw it.
My mother wasn’t fooling anyone pretending to be poor. A compulsive shopper by nature, by the time I was in high school she had amassed a fleet of these shitboxes. There was the Nova shitbox that started her collection, then came the Mercury Cougar shitbox, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme shitbox, the Buick Skylark shitbox, and the Pontiac Grand Safari shitbox.
She appeared to have a special fondness for buying the cars of the deceased. I drove to high school each day in the car previously owned by our deceased travel agent who died unexpectedly in her fifties. Another shitbox had been owned by the mother of a good friend who died after a long battle with cancer. No car cost more than a few hundred dollars and none could be described as attractive. They all suffered from rust covered in a lumpy Bondo DIY repair from my father. Not all the panels were the same exact color. Trim might be there. Might not. Matching hubcaps was never a guarantee.
She once bought a BMW shitbox and bragged to my sister about what a fancy car she had gotten, what a steal! she said. My sister replied that she was surprised my mother bought a German car, since she had always declared she would never travel to Germany or buy German products, unlike our Jewish neighbors who had no issue with driving a Mercedes a mere thirty years after the Holocaust. My mother looked at my sister, surprised, and said, “It’s not a German car. It’s a British car. The BMW stands for British Motor Works." “No, Mom,” my sister corrected, “It stands for Bavarian Motor Works. It’s made in Germany.” My mother was stunned silent. That car didn’t last long in her fleet.
At one point my parents had ten of these so-called bargains. “How many people can say they own ten cars?” my mother boasted. But she’d spend 10 times the amount she paid for the shitboxes just to keep them running.
As you would imagine, eventually my parents ran out of room in their driveway to park all their shitboxes so they started parking them on the street, in front of our house and sometimes in front of the neighbors’. There were just too many of them to keep contained. More than once a stranger called the house demanding that my parents take their shitboxes off the street. The cars were just too ugly for the delicate sensibilities of our upper-middle class neighborhood. “Thanks for calling,” my father would genially reply before hanging up. They kept those shitboxes right where they were.