We’ll Always Have Paris: On Hanging In

T&D happy in parisWhat Mindy Kaling says about her parents’ marriage is all well and good but are WE pals, the many rest-of-us coupled up and marching together in life? Based on my experience, here’s how you can tell:

You’re pals if you started married life thinking it was funny to throw cups of cold water from the bathroom sink over the shower curtain and onto your spouse, all nice and toasty and soaped up in there.

You’re pals if, even decades later, you both still laugh when one of you reaches for the drinking cup while the other is just stepping into the shower

The two of you are pals if you say nothing about the fact that a CERTAIN PERSON in the marriage never, ever wipes off the sink after shaving, leaving puddles that drip down to leave white marks on that nice wooden vanity you had to really stretch to buy.  (You used to say plenty about this habit, but your remarks had no effect so you gave up. “Pick your battles,” wise older souls have told you all along and now you get what that means.

You’re pals if that person says nothing about the fact that for some reason you can no longer cook a meal without opening all the doors to the kitchen cabinets and then leaving them open. (It’s a mystery why you do this. “Creative ferment?” you try telling your spouse, who just gives you that studiedly neutral look on seeing them and before quietly going around shutting them all.

You’re pals – and you can stay pals – if you can master this neutral look, as it is far safer than a smile, which can be seen as a smirk, or a gloat, or what it usually is: the ill-fitting mask for a scowl.

In fact in the name of marital accord you must ban many looks, from the I-Told-You-So look to the I’m-a-Saint-For Putting-Up-With-You look. Facial expressions like these send malevolent veils out into air that twist and curl and choke off all good will in a marriage.

Kaling says no, she never did see her parents gazing into one another’s faces – unless perhaps her mom was administering drops to her dad’s eyes. She says gazing isn’t necessary when you are pals and I think she’s right. If you hang in long enough to become pals you can tell how the other one’s day has been, just at a glance.

When I first got married, my mom started referring to my husband as ‘Silent Sam,’ as a joke, just because, unlike the rest of us in the family, he didn’t feel the need to talk until his listeners all lapsed into comas. Maybe I too wished he talked more at first, but after a time I began to ‘get’ him.

I remember thinking he didn’t care that much for our little cat – until after she went missing for several days. Then one morning she suddenly popped out of the bushes. “Here she is!” he cried from where he stood in our driveway and just for a second I saw his knees buckle with relief.

I think Mindy’s exactly right: Spend enough time living right close to people and you can’t help starting to love them . And gazing and pretty speeches hardly come in to it at all.

Oh and that’s us, above . November of 2004, Paris. Gooood time!

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C’mon Married People

mindy kalingI just finished reading Mindy Kaling’s 2012 book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns, a part-memoir, and part-general-musings-kind of a book that dances right on the edge of the funny and the moving.

Mindy stars in The Mindy Project on FOX, but for many seasons prior she has also played the inimitable Kelly Kapoor on NBC’s blockbuster hit, The Office. She has, in also written, directed and co-produced many episodes of both shows. No flies on this girl!

One short section of the book shows what I mean about her ability to both amuse us and touch us. It’s about marriage, and her parents’ marriage in particular. She says her parents get along because they are pals. They like to talk about the same things.

“In my parents’ case, they can spend and entire day together talking nonstop about rhododendrons and Men of A Certain Age, watch Piers Morgan, drink a vanilla milkshake and go to bed.”

I should point out that the name of this section is “C’mon Married People” and in it she talking directly to us wedded folk.

She begins by saying she doesn’t want to hear about the endless struggles to keep the ‘spark’ in marriage or about the work it takes to plan date night.

Instead,

“I want to hear that you guys watch every episode of The Bachelorette together in secret shame, or that one got the other hooked on Breaking Bad and if either watches without the other, they’re dead meat….

I want to see you guys high-five each other like teammates on a recreational softball team you both do for fun. I want to hear about it because I know it’s possible, and because I want it for myself.”

That right there. That’s the what I mean about the disarming double tone:  “I want to hear about it because I know it’s possible, and because I want it for myself.”

She says, she guesses that “happiness can come in a bunch of forms, and maybe a marriage with tons of work makes people feel happy. But part of me still thinks… is it really so hard to make it work? What happened to being pals?

 “I’m not complaining about Romance Being Dead – I’ve just described a happy marriage based on talking about plants and a canceled Ray Romano show and drinking milkshakes; not exactly rose petals and gazing into each other’s eyes at the top of the Empire State Building. I’m pretty sure my parents have gazed into each other’s eyes maybe once, and that was so my mom could put eye-drops in my dad’s eyes.”

Funny, right?

“I’m not saying that marriage should be easy, but we get so gloomily worked up about it these days.”

And that part’s surely true, is it not?

“Maybe marriage IS work,” she says, “but you may as well pick work that you like.So “Married people it’s up to you. It’s entirely on your shoulders to keep this sinking institution afloat. It’s a stately old ship, and a lot of people, like me, want to get on board. Please by psyched, and convey the psychedness to us.

And always remember, she ends by saying, “so many, many people are envious of what you have. You’re the star at the end of the Shakespearean play, wearing the wreath of flowers in your hair. The rest of us are just the little side characters.

And there it is: a sweet, funny and sage perspective on marriage from a single girl. Next in this space: Companion thoughts on marriage from someone more than 40 (?!) years in.

Buried Alive

Grey Gardens boy: I bet I’ve watched both the HBO dramatization and the original documentary about that sad old story a dozen times. There’s something so haunting about the relationship between Edie the elder and her daughter. Poor Edie Jr., 40 years after this picture was taken, walking around with one skirt functioning as a head scarf to hide her baldness and a second upside-down skirt pinned around her torso. Poor both of them, hiding in that bewitched Sleeping Beauty castle of a house, holed up in a single room on bare filthy mattresses surrounded with cat waste. It’s like some nightmare about the future that could fill you with stark terror as you slept.

At one point in the documentary the two are talking of marriage and Edie Jr.’s unmarried state, she who said she could have married any number of men if she hadn’t been prevented by her various dark forces including her abandoning father; could even have married Joe Kennedy and been First Lady like her beautiful cousin Jacqueline. That abandoning father and husband, that Phelan Beale:  listen to what gets said about him by the two and about marriage in general. This is what I copied down from the 1974 documentary and not HBO’s re-creation. It’s Edie Jr. speaking first, in that hoity-toity accent she assumes when she dwells on lost glories.

“My father believed in ruining his children’s lives,” she says. Then, in an odd non-sequitur, “He wanted me to get a Masters Degree.”

“You were scared of your father,” says Edie Senior who with her wispy hair and her ruined partly nude  body seems much more down-to earth. Back to Edie Jr now: 

“He said the only thing to BE was a professional woman. He did say that, didn’t he, mother? He didn’t want me to get married.”

And the mother says, “I don’t think it’s important for people to get married. I don’t believe that at all. Don’t you want some of this butter pecan?[eating ice cream straight from the carton] “Mmmmm!”

“If you can’t get a man to propose to you you might as well be dead,” says Edie Jr. “These women who don’t marry, what are they proving? I think it’s disgusting! They have to go around with dogs or other women… It’s disgusting!”

But dogs are lovely!” says her mother. “I’ll take a dog any day!” She could have been saying all that in this shot here:

Only the whole time neither is looking at the other, or at the camera. The surviving Maysles brothers says in the commentary on the Grey gardens DVD that they often didn’t seem to be even thinking about what they were saying much less listening to each other. It harrows me. When people get marooned and sealed away as the old and the forgotten often do: the thought just harrows me.


 the real Maysles with their real subjects

and below here, the real Edie I think, and not Drew Barrymore playing her

Thy Will Be Done

“You JOKERS are all out of the will!”  I’ve always wanted to say that the way they do in the movies and I’ll say it to you guys since I finally have one. A Will that is, to replace that Junior Will we made ages ago with its fearful provisions for looking after people still too little to dress themselves.

This one feels a lot grander somehow, maybe because the old boathouse is no longer so far downstream.

It comes with ancillary documents, natch – a warm letter to the now-grown children, a ‘living will’ to protects us from too many rib-breakingly ‘heroic’ measures, and, most entertainingly, a document stating our wishes for funeral arrangements. Here’s how the conversation went as we hashed that one over in the lawyer’s office yesterday:

Says my mate David, “Let them take any body parts they want, then cremate me.”

“Whoa, not me!” say I. “I want to leave with everything I arrived with. For me a cardboard box and a plain green burial.”

“I thought you wanted a wake,” says Dave. “You can’t have a wake if you do that.”

“Sure you can! They pack you in ice and hide the ice with that same ruffly velvet they all use. Dab a little blush on and you’re good to go.”

“Okaaay,” goes Dave which means he thinks that sounds gross. I can read the guy like a book.

“And it’s not gross to have them sew your eyes and mouth shut, and carve a big Y on your chest and drain out your blood?”

“They won’t do that to ME,” he goes.

“Why won’t they?”

“Closed casket,” he says, smiling his best victory smile.

That stopped me for just a second. Then I smiled. “What are you, some kind of Protestant?” (Catholics go for wakes more than Protestants do and we still kid each other about our respective religions of origin.)

We both smiled then over this old joke between us, which goes back to when, at age 19m I brought him home to my Irish-on-all-sides family: this 21-year-old with a funny haircut who was not only a – what did they call it? – Congregationalist? – but an Italian too.

We turned back to the lawyer then, both smiling big happy smiles, and signed those documents on the dotted line, babe. The good news is we’re to be put side by side in the end, my honest dust right by his grainy ashes with, we hope, plenty more laughs to be had for us then.

It Could Happen: Elder Stuns Family by Revealing He Has Left Everything to the Cats

Uh Oh Arnold

What do you think happened, did the mother of this love child start things by saying “My what beautiful blue eyes you have Governor!” Or was he the one who crossed line first by casually letting it drop that his wife didn’t really understand him? A guy in his late 30s  said that to me in a pizza shop about ten years ago. To me, this middle-aged person who looks a whole lot more like this Mildred ‘Patty’ Baena than she does like Kim Kardashian I can tell you,  though I did send away for padded underpants once to get the laugh from my family. (They were a bust, it was sad. I just looked double-diapered.)

This guy in the pizza shop anyway: he was worked up that day because the bank down the street had just been robbed and his wife was a bank teller there. She may have been the one the guy pointed his gun at I forget. Anyway he was wired, talking on and on.

I just listened – it’s what I’ve learned to do in life – and maybe my listening created this warm bath for him in which he felt he could get real comfy and just say anything.

“My wife. She doesn’t understand me” is what he said in those very clichéd  words. “Sometime I feel so alone.”    

“Ah that’s just the human condition though, you know that, right?” I said. “Birds don’t feel that way; dogs either. It’s just us. We’re homesick for something we can’t quite remember. Steven Spielberg thinks it’s the past, that we’re homesick for childhood. Others think we’re half-remembering Eden.”

He just looked at me. Then he sighed. “Maybe,” he finally said and picked up his pizza box and headed stoop-shouldered toward the door. “I guess I’ll head back and check on my wife,” he added.

For sure it’s what the ex-Governor should have done. That longing that thinks it will find relief in sex? That’s usually from a deeper place that sex can’t ever touch. Or maybe old ‘Patty’ reminded him of his mom, or the girl that got away. or maybe he really just wanted one more child. We’re mysteries even to ourselves isn’t it so? Sometimes I think especially to ourselves.