My husband Jamie’s job as the CEO of a movie studio came with quite a few social, business, and political obligations. While these events were always glamorous, they were usually not a lot of fun. Well, not a lot of fun for me. Jamie networked and schmoozed and worked the room all night while I perched somewhere with a glass of Pellegrino and watched the Beautiful People in their native habitat. People seldom spoke to me; because I wasn’t in The Business I was all but invisible. Oh every once in a while someone would smile benignly or compliment my outfit, but generally I was thoroughly ignored.
The other day I saw the exhibit of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s garden at the Bronx Botanical Garden. It was a perfect day spent in glorious weather with a new friend. She called it a “play date.” I’d call it a good day to go on a pilgrimage, the kind Chaucer wrote of in The Canterbury Tales centuries ago.
I’d been making pilgrimages to shrines of Frida Kahlo for a very long time, more than twenty-five years, from the day when from far across a slushy winter street a Frida Kahlo self-portrait on an Art in America magazine cover bewitched me. I crossed a network of intersections to get to the Out-Of-Town newsstand in Harvard Square to buy the magazine, although it was expensive, and I had never read it before. The subject of the cover story was an exhibit of Frida Kahlo’s work, at the Gray Gallery in New York. Like a magician’s stooge carrying out a post-hypnotic suggestion, I got on a Boston southbound train to see it.
Oh yeah, all right, Are you gonna be in my dreams tonight?
Was it Just a Dream?
I was born in New York City at 6:06pm on January 25th, 1965. John Lennon always said 9s had meaning for him and 6 seems to be my number. My ex-girlfriend said that I have undiagnosed dyslexia, and while I’m not sure if she’s right, 6’s and 9s seem related to me, and it always seems like it’s 6:06 or 6:09 or even 9:09. If six were nine, I don’t mind.
My parents figured I would die. Their first son died, but not before they had two or three years to love and bond with him. Out of fear, they didn’t let too many people touch me. It was okay to look, but don’t touch. If people were going to look at me I had to be entertaining. I had early reinforcement that being able to express myself in a manner in which others were amused brought joy and laughter. I craved this feeling the way a normal person feels when they wake up after a long sleep and the smell of fresh blueberry-banana buckwheat pancakes permeates the air. I know you don’t think buckwheat would be tasty, but you haven’t had mine. Just a small amount of really good maple syrup – the expensive shit you have to buy at the hipster store – really complements the flavor.
It was my twentieth wedding anniversary a few Thursdays ago and my husband Jamie and I went out to dinner. I went with two of his sisters to a restaurant in Manhattan and he joined his cousin and her husband at their house in Santa Monica. He flies home every Friday night and, like a 36-hour clock precisely wound, returns to Los Angeles on Sunday evening.
Sometimes I wonder if the ceramic bride and groom on our wedding cake were accidentally placed facing in opposite directions. While living in the same place at the same time has sometimes proved difficult, our marriage only became a cross-country relay event three years ago, when he became the President and CEO of The Culver Studios, known throughout the movie-going world as the big, white house seen in the introductory frame of every David O. Selznick film.
While living simultaneous lives on opposite coasts can be Hell, it also comes with unexpected moments of incomparable sweetness that I don’t think would be there if we were together all the time. Sometimes these moments are simultaneous. Sometimes they involve snow.
I drive an old car. It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t that I went out looking for an old car as opposed to a new one that purrs with the power of a lawnmower.
I drive an old car because I had an old dog and a Volvo station wagon was the perfect shape for her to stretch out and look at the passing traffic.
The part of me that is British drinks tea every morning. Made in a tea pot, with loose leaf tea, with boiling water from my blue kettle. Whatever time I get up, the first thing I do is trot downstairs and fill the blue kettle with water and put it on the gas flame. The second trot downstairs is to warm the pot and drop in a spoonful of smokey tea, pop on the hand knitted tea cosy and go upstairs to finish with the shoes and the hairbrush and the toothpaste, before coming down to pour the properly steeped tea into a mug and head out into the world.
And this is where I come back to my old Volvo. In 1995, when my Volvo came rolling off the production line in Sweden, people had breakfast in their houses. No one bought water in bottles or double skim lattes in cardboard cups. In my Volvo there is the flimsiest of cup holders, which slides out from the armrest and would be hard pressed to hold an ice cream cone vertically.
My paternal grandmother was Keith Richards, if you take away the looks, the talent, and the British accent. Like Keith, my grama was unkillable. Until she finally died at the age of 95, I was wondering, with a growing sense of horror, whether she would ever die. I was starting to contemplate whether I could, without attracting undue attention, walk through the corridors of her nursing home with a wooden stake and a mallet. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My grandmother married my grandfather when she was sixteen, and had my father when she was nearly seventeen. Oh, how nice, you might be thinking, but you would be wrong. All children are guilt-tripped into visiting more often, but when my grama badgered my dad into promising to see her once a week, it meant a seventy-eight-year-old man was obliged to be on the road for three hours each way, crossing over the Pocono mountains in the dead of winter, to dutifully visit his ninety-four-year-old mother, who would only berate him for not visiting more often. But I’m still getting ahead of myself.
Here’s what you really need to know about my grama: Despite the continuing, and long-suffering presence of my grandfather, my father, the elder of two sons, was the love of her life.