False Gods

Justin Bieber Arrested2You hear a lot these days about our young people: How they don’t know much. How they can’t name the last three Presidents, say, never mind the first three. 

I read a survey of youth designed to reveal what they wanted in life – lots of money, they said, fast cars, fame – and It has me remembering the time a 13-year-old I’ll call Jenny came to my house and said it outright: 

“I don’t want to be known for any one thing,” she said cheerfully. “I just want to be famous.”

“You know Jenny,” I  remember saying back.  “You could say that I’m so-called ‘famous’ in every town that runs a picture of me alongside my column in the paper but.. it’s nothing. I mean it doesn’t help. Mostly it just means strangers stare at you and think you don’t have feelings.”

“Listen to this,” I went on: ‘One day an older woman beckoned to me from a group of women she was standing with. ’My friends wanted to know who Terry Marotta was,’ she said. They looked at me. Nobody spoke. ’That’s all,’ she finally added. ‘They just wanted to see what you looked like.’

 “So see what I mean? It’s not helpful. And sometimes, it hurts. And seeking it can be a kind of addiction.

Years ago, I went to a wedding where the father of the bride was so famous he had to sit in a chair the whole night wearing an expression that said,  “Please. It’s my daughter’s day.” People respected that – until the second or third drink. Then they surrounded him, and his smiled was forced and tired.

“No, don’t wish for fame, Jenny, I ended by saying. “The Queen of England has fame and who are her close friends do you think? The serving woman who helps dress her? The serving man who brings her her breakfast tray?”

The survey also cited the famous people the kids said they wanted to be like: Entertainment figures and athletes to a one. There were no political or spiritual leaders on the list. No humanitarians. No inventors.

But the kids aren’t to blame here. If they worship money it’s because we worship it. If they crave gadgets and fast cars it’s because we do too. If they covet fame and the big life is may be because they think it can protect them from a rising sense that the small life is not enough.

One day, I was driving  with a 15-year-old I I’ll call James, who needed a ride to a place where he could take some standardized tests, because he wondered if he should go to a new school.

He had had a bad year, and was at a loss. Three months before, a fire destroyed his home. His mother was severely burned. His little stepsister perished, as did the younger brother, who he had always said was his best friend in this world.

But on this day we didn’t speak of that. We spoke instead of the survey, for he had seen it too, and it bothered him.

“Entertainers,” he said.

“Fame,” I said.

“Money,” he said. “Cars.”

“Is that what we’re here for?” I asked rhetorically.

He paused. He looked out the car window.

“I always thought we were here to serve God.”

No, fame and money don’t help – and they appear to have done very little to ease the troubled young heart of a Lindsay Lohan, say, or a Justin Bieber, who is  running widely afoul of the law right now.

Let’s hope more of us can learn to be like James, who gave me permission to tell his story here; and who, in trying hard to do well and find his path is surely  serving God.

The Give and the Get

It’s not hard to love the people who live in your house. They’re right there in your house, so you really SEE them,  almost from inside their very own eyes!

I mean here’s this one’s toothbrush, and comb, for example and the towel he uses each day for his shower, tokens of the daily care-of-the-body tasks we all must perform each day.

Here’s the book that one reads when sleep eludes him. He has left it on the porch, thinking maybe to pack it on his bike and take it to work to read at the lunch hour.

And here, under the bureau: here is a balled-up sock where it has landed after being taken off and tossed away some weary midnight.

You can never be annoyed at a person once you have seen these things.

I should say I don’t do actual maid service around here- not unless my houseguests are the ages of the two little ones I wrote about yesterday – so I see socks and such only sometimes, when these guys would be away for a week or two and I stripped their beds to washed their linens, just because everyone deserves clean linens….

But why don’t I back up a little here and explain this better: We have had four different young people staying in our house this summer, all part of the National Program for a Better Chance, all young men of on the cusp of college life.  No shower has gone forth without the muted boom of hip-hop pulsing from the bathroom. No golden summer afternoon has billowed into evening without the sound of their happy voices in the kitchen.

Two of them had jobs in this the first summer before heading off to Bard College RPI. That’s Cam and Tristan at the top here. Then a third, now a high school Senior, worked as a tech for a computer repair company, leaving for a two-week stint at Brown where he took a course in the computer operating system known as Linux . And a fourth, a high school Junior did a college tour, took a Neurobiology course at Emory and spent just a week with us, doing an SAT-prep boot camp at a great place called Chyten.  Boy Three did the same course and both came home each day at 5:00, brimming with news about all the English words derived from Latin.

The “give” By David and me was that they slept here and ate a little, though not very much I must say. They packed their own lunches so I just had to buy deli stuff , and it’s amazing how far a teen male can go on Pop Tarts and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Puffs, foods I have never before stoked in this house. It’s true they like meat at night but hey so do we and if you’re grilling two nice fat burgers you might just as well grill six. I guess I also gave them rides to the Y so they could work out but again, I was going to the Y myself to catch those cardio classes I love so much.

So that was pretty much the ‘give.’ Not such a long list.

The ‘get’  list for me is much longer. I personally got:

  • Much more motivation to get to the Y than I would normally have.
  • Help putting away the groceries
  • Companionship in buying the groceries
  • All the emergency help I could ever have wanted with my PC, my i-Pad and i-Phone and even  my i-Pod when I dropped it in the sink that time
  • Help hanging drapes on extra-wide windows (Number Three has a six-foot wingspan) and..
  • A million laughs.

Here are House guest Numbers Three and Four, Rayvoughn and Hazees, helping me tote stuff in June.

Ray was with us almost the whole summer. He helped me, he teased David, he backed down from an arm-wrestle challenge from David (more than once) and he played with our little grandsons.

It’s  time now for him to start the long grind of applying to colleges.

He’s equal to the task I think. He’s a smart as a whip and hurdles just don’t scare him. even if he doesn’t always ZIP the life jacket even tough he put its mostly on, and maybe THAT’s the lesson he taught me this summer: Strike a humorous pose, look like you’re equal to any challenge and you might just pull it off!

Used

Deliver me,  not only from this fool but from all the writers and producers of Two and a Half Men, that insinuating show where a child is put in the middle while a world of salacious talk sails over his head. I can’t tell you how mad I get seeing the purported grownups on this show making their sly references to various expressions of sexuality. The kids watching don’t need to hear all that and you know some of them are just First and Second Graders. It damages children when adults don’t act like adults, and then go on to engage in all this wink-wink behind-the-hand innuendo.

For signs of the damage think of Katie Couric’s 2005 special on teen sex. I give her credit for doing that show, Oprah too when she shone a light on ‘rainbow parties.’  And don’t try telling tell me ‘Oh the reporting was off on all that stuff and young girls really don’t know about such things.’

In this tainted culture? They know all right. A girl n my Sunday school class once confided to me that she thought she might actually be done getting drunk and hooking up on weekends. She was 13 years old. Then two years later, a girl 15 told me she figured it didn’t matter who she slept with anymore because she had lost her ‘purity.’ I wanted to weep hearing that.

I tell you who I pity: I pity that poor skinny girl on Charlie Sheen’s knee, one of his many ‘goddesses’ as he calls these young women. Would he help any one of them if her car broke down and she needed a ride? Would he listen if she wept or hold her hair back if she got sick? I don’t think so.

I watch these interviews the media are doing with him. The people conducting them have these looks of faint distaste on their faces, looks of contempt almost, unless…. What’s that you say? They love doing these interviews which push ratings up through the roof and bring the big bucks to all the key players? But if that’s the case then who might be  the REAL targets of their contempt?

Who but you and me, babe. Who but you and me.

Now here’s Katie getting the scoop from a roomful of teens in that 2005 special. Click here and see what you think. Sex is no big deal? Now in what universe is that?


Weekend Report

First I see True Grit Friday night. Love it. Eat out after, also lovin’ that little-girl lobster swimmin’ in the tank five minutes before. Saturday go to play Laser Tag, then don’t actually play because remember am probably not that great in large dark room teeming with teens, stoked dads and galloping ten-year-olds. Also, wearing suede boots with pointy toes. Also, three weeks away from getting into the movies for half price. Instead, watch the guys I’ve brought go in, come out, brag, tease, sneer, gloat, hoot and go back in. Testosterone rules! Burger King after.

Then right to the Coco Key Indoor Water Resort in Crowne Plaza Hotel, due for an update bigtime, cinder block walls, no curtain on windows but wait! Is this that federal prison at Danbury? Did I committee some white-collar crime I’ve forgotten about?  Or is this Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and I’m boarding school headmistress Jean Harris who killed that diet doc and if so where are my pearls?  No no. I’m just my same old self in a swimsuit now and getting ready to see what 600 winter-weary people DO in a place heated to 90 degrees with tubs, falls, lagoons and whirlpools. Put yoga togs over swimsuit and head on down.

Keep yoga gear on. See more bare flesh than you’ll see even in Vegas, possibly even on Riviera. Seas of flesh and on some pretty hefty people. Tubing aplenty, shrieks, water dumping on unsuspecting heads. Pizza Hut right in here with us, full bar too. Six hundred wet heads, six thousand wiggling piggy-toes, waterproof chairs as far as the eye can see.  I offer to hold boys’ towels and mind their flip-flops. Do that. Read my book. Ah!

Then here comes old Dave to take one for the team by sleeping over with us. The hours pass. The lads grow sleepy. Three have varsity basketball practice 10 sharp Sunday morning. Another three wrestled for six hours this day, thus missing all of laser tag and most of water park. 10pm finds us all in our rooms, they curled up in theirs with snack foods and television. Dave and I curled up in ours, out cold before our heads even hit the pillow. Breakfast of fresh fruits and bagels in the morning and back to the old hometown for Sunday homework. I write a column, post to my blog, drive to daughter Annie’s house for yummy indoor barbecue, home-made fries, strawberry shortcake. Old Dave opts out, citing need to recover from all that youthful fun. I home again at 8, lights out at 10, tubing and arcade footage still swimming in head. G-O-O-O-D,  G-O-O-O-D WEEKEND, good weekend! 🙂

our man Hazees, king among high scoring laser-taggers


Prom Night in Grovers Corners

Prom night in our little town, when all kinds of people come to watch the kids get on the buses that will bring them to the big dance. They first started to have this night of public inspection almost 18 years ago when kids used to get really wasted before their proms. This way, where they have to walk 18 inches away from a double line of eagle-eyed grown-ups, they’re not so likely to be ‘impaired’. There’s less drunkenness these days anyway, among people of every age. I mean a kid six knows what substance abuse is, and he knows it isn’t cool A kid eight understand the concept of denial. It’s a new world and I’m not the one prepared to say it’s a worse world.

These days the prom-bound young first go in to the gym where for all I know they get look over, wanded – breathalyzed too maybe. Then they emerge at last, looking new-made in the golden light of evening.

It does take a good hour to get them all on the buses but no one seems to mind. Certainly not the kids, who seem the opposite of bored.  They have it all before them after all, the dancing, the not-dancing, the loosening of the necktie as the ballroom gets hotter, the eternal tugging-up of those lovely strapless gowns….And later the After Party and the Party After That and then The Next Morning at Somebody’s Vacation House…

I pulled out my video camera hoping to catch some of the remarks the waiting crowd was making. For example one woman kept saying “This is retarded, all this waiting!” And at one point a guy said, “I’m waitin’  for the short bus myself.” People are pretty careless in their utterances but what are you gonna do? They’re human. Anyway I didn’t catch any of that on camera. What I did catch seem to be the backs of  heads, dye jobs, bra straps, and somebody’s short gray hair like iron filings — in other words a quick candid pan of all of us onlookers whose night it wasn’t. That was fine by us who  had but one clear goal: to get those shiny kids uploaded and sent on their way. Here’s to them all I say; may they enjoy to the hilt these last moments of unadulterated youth.



shit that im interested in

I wrote a Happy Birthday Terry Sheehy card to myself back last winter, Terry Sheehy being who I was before marriage hunted me down and took my name, my youth, my thick black hair boo hoo.

As I sat down to write that post I thought I’d Google my old name and see if there were any other Terry Sheehys out there who HADN’T experienced Death by Matrimony and sure enough: Terry Sheehy is also a boy from Ireland. I quoted all the lovely nonsense he posted on his My Space page and now suddenly just now the boy’s dad has written to me to say how very interesting it was for his son to find his face on my blog and also to assure me that the lad’s spelling had improved a bit since he wrote what he wrote. If you don’t care to click and read that old post from my birthday month I can quote what he wrote on his profile page.

Hay my name is terry sheehy and im 17 going out with susan browne i love u susan !… i like to play basketball football i also like to watch UFC and figthing sports.. Thanks to my fab sis whoohooo and just want to say befor i go to bed just leve a coment and ill comment u back. i like action films and films that kinda do with shit that im interested in and also comedy and going to the cinema

So hmmm… It looks like words really can last and last, and circle the planet too. And wasn’t Terry’s his dad gracious? ”PS: You should have kept your name,” he even added in wry good humor at the end of his email, but ah Mr. Sheehy it’s just as well. I’ve been Terry Marotta for nigh on to 40 years and have lived into that person. Let the lad have my old name, this handsome lad from Ireland posting a a quick note to the world before jumping into his PJ’s and sleeping the clean blank sleep of the young.

Flowers for Your Dirt Nap?

sullen

Yesterday when I went to buy flowers at the Nursery Where Bargains Don’t Abound the slack-jawed teen behind the register asked me if I’d be using my senior discount again today.


“What?” I yelled. I couldn’t help it.


“Sorry” said this sullen child, only he wasn’t. Sorry, that is. The young never are. “You look like this other lady who comes in all the time,” he said, poker-faced.


I COME IN ALL THE TIME. THAT’S ME! I said in full Jerry Seinfeld holler.


“Whatever,” he sighed with that infuriating look kids sometimes get when they’re seniors in high school. “You losers are already part of my past,” it means.


We completed our transaction. Then “How old are these seniors with their senior discount?” I asked.


“Sixty,” he said.


“Sixty! Do I seem 60 to you?” I yelped again, still channeling Jerry.


Again the expressionless look.


“BECAUSE I WON’T BE SIXTY FOR THREE MORE MONTHS!”


And then, at last, the sun came out: the darn kid smiled and hallelujah I was free to live another day and not wilt on the stem quite yet..

wilted-flowers1

Long as They Don’t Do it in the Street & Frighten the Horses

Today Uncle Ed and I went to our favorite place, the little pond where we both like to watch the ducks dip their heads in the water and show everyone their underpants.  We had just been to his dentist which took forever and made him grumpy (“Who gets fillings at 88”?) and I was fretting generally. I had dashed into the supermarket for some hot barbecue for him and I of course had my sad little soggy salad from the last night’s dinner which looked like somebody’s stomach,  not the nice fat part you can rest your soft drinks on but the organ. (This is what Old Dave does with all leftovers: he shovels them into plastic bags. The man is great with clean-up but I do shudder to see those plastic bags, which really do resemble an array of body parts there in the fridge which sometimes look like they’re pulsing.) Now now here we were there at the pond, Ed all grumpy, me all anxious and blue, my secret favorite Bad Day Combo.

On a whim I asked him if he minded my leaving him here to look at the water while I took a very quick walk to clear my head, and on that walk which lasted all of 18 minutes I saw a sight: A couple on a bench wrapped in a Hollywood-style embrace, lips locked.  HE was ardent; kissed that girl for longer than it takes to asphyxiate someone, and with that whole head-moving-around thing thrown in. SHE was tentatively accepting, if practically bent over backwards by the force of his enthusiasm. After one mad tonsil-assaulting smooch he suddenly stopped, stood up in front of her seated self, knelt down as if to propose, then stood again quick, made his whole body as rigid as a plank and lowered himself like a man doing a push-up to land on her…. chest sort of while the whole time still kissing her and kissing her.

I had only walked past three times in the last 90 seconds while pretending not to look but I bet she felt me. I bet she felt us all, the joggers and the cyclists and the wheezy old guys with cigars.  “Watch it there pal” is what we were saying but we needn’t have worried: Out of the blue the girl suddenly brought her foot down BANG! on the pavement once, twice, three times to get her man’s attention pushed him away and in two seconds excessive adoration was put in its place: they were sitting up nice side by side and once again thanks to Womankind civilization was saved. SAVED I tell you!    



 

Beware the Old Bait-and Switch

 

Hmmmmm….so my grandaddy here always used to say you should never say anything in any forum that you wouldn’t want read aloud in the public square. I know I sure believed him. He knew a lot, that child of Irish immigrants born in Famine-time. He came into the world in the 1870s, raised himself up from poverty and went on to become a lawyer, a judge and the recipient of an Honorary Degree from Harvard.

 

He was also fun and he gave us kids Hershey Bars. My sister Nan and I got to live with him for all of our first decade on the planet. I actually imprinted on him and not just because we looked alike with our black curly hair. We also act alike, I see now that I’m grown: He was always giving uplifting talks for no money at all, at places like the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in Chelsea. I also give talks for no money at all. In fact every good thing I do I do for no money because come on, did Jesus charge admission to the Sermon on the Mount? No he did not. 

 

Mostly though, I know I’m like my grandfather because even on my blog, supposedly a much freer forum than a column I still can’t use bad language or say anything I wouldn’t say in front of a Fourth Grade class. I mean pop culture is tacky enough adn I’m freshly nauseated every time I come across the double-entendres in CBS’s Prime time Two-and-a Half Men for example; sickened by the way they have that child repeating phrases which in the storyline he is purported  not to know the meaning of – all so the audience can have that nice in-group feeling of actually getting the  – wink-wink, nudge-nudge naughty – references. It’s one thing if you’re a tired 40-year-old watching the show but you know very well it’s also millions and millions of Second Graders seeing it, and God that makes me mad. If there’s anything more shameful than using a child to sneak your dirty joke under the wire I don’t know what it is.  

 

So….are there any young’uns out there today? You kids on Facebook maybe? If so hear me now and you males especially: If you ever entertained the hope that associating with a woman was going to be like pulling into some big service station in the sky, well I’ve got news for you: That hope is all based on the ol’ Bait-and-Switch and it’s brought to you by people who are trying to sell you stuff: Sneakers and blue jeans. Music and push-up bras. It isn’t real in other words and sure I know there’s that whole pathetic world to whom it may SEEM real – pornography is a growth industry they say – but those are loser-men in the grip of an addiction and do you know what an addiction is? Look at the private life of Bill Clinton over the last 20 years and you tell ME if you think that’s a pretty picture.

 

Anyway all those images of panting women? they’re fake, kids; the women are acting. In the real world you’re going to be dealing with REAL women and let me tell you on the basis of l-o-o-n-g experience: whether they’re 12 or 112, women are interested in three things in their dealings with others: straight talk, mutuality, and respect. Whether they’re 12 or 112, women – and all the good men – and, praise God, a great many young people too – know that we’re all here to do three things: pick up after ourselves, live in a peaceful manner and bring along the little ones to do the same.

 

– and now here he is again, papa to my mother and to four other little ones too. coming home from work and happy to be home, in the quiet summer of 1905.

 

Thy Belly is Like a Sheaf of Wheat

I just joined Facebook. Had to scroll down a million times to get to my birth year. Thought about putting ‘1910’ just for grins as Kevin Bacon keeps saying in the movie Diner and hey you can be old but you can still wear a hat is all I can say, even if it does make you look like Will Rogers.

 (That’s me in my hat up top with Andrea M. who came to Barnes & Noble to see me at a book signing in 2003 and has been a dear friend to me ever since. )

When you wear a hat people think that you’re a nice, jaunty, what-the-hell kind of a person which you have to at least PRETEND to be in life sometimes God knows God knows, especially at book signings when decent people hurry by eyes averted thinking ‘How shameless ! Peddling her wares in public!’

Speaking of public peddling I find it so sad to watch those prostitutes on the HBO series. They look so lonely out on their street corners with who knows what kind of a nut ready to pick them up and treat them to who know what kind of crazy violence… And then there’s all that holding in of their stomachs they have to do all the time.

When I was a girl in my 20s as I believe all female people in their 20s are (girls that is, mere girls and innocent in their hearts no matter what crazy mistakes they have made already and the 20s are the years for mistakes eh?)  Whe I was a girl we wore pants so tight you could hardly swallow, never mind breathe. They had wide Ace bandages for waistbands and they cinched even the ribcage – moved from the solar plexus clear down past the tummy and hips, like corsets of old,  all the way down til you got to the knee when they flared so much the cuffs completely covered your shoes, as well as any apple cores, car keys, small children you may have dropped onto the floor around you.

Now, as I seem to have just written somewhere we get to all wear pants that are actually roomy at the waist because  bellies are all right again <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> and THANK YOU DEAR JESUS FOR THAT or whatever perhaps-female deity is in charge of fashion trends up on the Heavenly runway. The clothes are bigger all around now and today you buy a size 10 pant and by God isn’t it designed for a little tummy! I never thought I would see it but the aesthetic is actually changing back to what it always was. Why? Because women are meant to have curves. Just look at one of the most erotic love poems ever written, that being the Song of Songs Which is Solomon’s: “Thy belly is like a sheaf of wheat,” the lover says to his beloved and he means it as a compliment and there by gosh is a thing that can help us ALL reach for the bread basket because hey it’s Sunday and the summer is just gittin’ started and (I know you can sense it too) hats off to the electoral  process there’s a new time comin’ soon!