Tuesday, March 22, 2011


"Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn"

About, above, across, after, against, among, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beside, between, beyond, but, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, into, near, of, off, on, over, through, to, towards, under, up, with.
          If your chest just tightened because you recognize those words are prepositions, then there’s a good chance you had Sister Lawrence in the fifth grade at Holy Trinity School in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee. And if you had Sr. Lawrence, you will not only be able to diagram every sentence in this entire column, but you will also have been through, or are in desperate need of, deep psychoanalysis or rehab. The emotional scars she inflicted for your inability to retain and repeat the memorization of said prepositions as she paced up and down the standing line of your class in an exercise of terror makes the stories of  Guantanamo Bay seem to pale in comparison.  
          For me, as well as the many others whose older siblings brought home the horror of experiencing the fifth grade, entering Sister Lawrence’s class was a ritual akin to moving from the general population to death row. The actual physical move from the fourth grade classroom to the fifth grade classroom required that you relocate to a new corridor and enter a world known as the “upper grades” with the eighth grade standing at the very end like a winning spot on a game board.  
Sister Lawrence’s philosophy was to strip you down forgetting about the building up side, which many of us found through alcohol or drugs in the ‘80’s. The result of her reign of terror was that you became bonded to your classmates in a way that only those who are in a hostage situation understand. There was no “cool,” “jock,” “weird.” We were all equally capable of incurring her wrath.  
The only thing that gave anyone joy was the wall of windows that looked out across the front yard of a rogue house that came before the building of the school and onto the curve of road that leads cars from 9W to Linwood. I used to spend entire mornings staring out those windows imagining a life without fear. My best friend Rosie used to stare out the windows dreaming of becoming a truck driver as she envied the18-wheelers as they tipped around the bend of road.  
That year was also the year that my mother became the school secretary. This tidbit of vital information came directly from a disliked classmate who took great glee in informing me of this during the summer before entering fifth grade. I nearly started a fist fight with her for telling such a lie, but when my mother confirmed it to be true, but had not yet told me, I knew it was a portentous beginning to an already discouraging year.
          As luck would have it, my mother became very good friends with Sister Lawrence, much to my horror. I not only had to suffer through the school day with her, but off-hour visits to the convent and more-than-the-once-in-a-while-occasional drop-ins at my house. The first time my mother dragged me to the convent and I saw Sister Lawrence out of her habit, wearing a snappy housecoat and slippers it was like seeing porn. I couldn’t look, but I also couldn’t look away. There was something so unholy about it, yet oddly fascinating. Add to that her terse conversation informing me she was intentionally harder on me because of her friendship with my mother and didn’t want the appearance of playing favorites. Fantastic!
          So each day in school I had to balance the horror of withstanding her class with the uncertainty of when our social circles would intersect and I had to pretend I didn’t want to run screaming. 
Which brings me back to prepositions. As she stopped in front of me and barked the order to recite, my mind went blank. I could feel the discomfort of my classmates who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me on the line before the window. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, she screamed, “Idioms are a dime a dozen, but idiots appear to be free in this class!”     
           If you’d like to take a trip down prepositional memory lane, Holy Trinity is having reunion for all classes at the school on April 30th at 8pm following an alumni mass at the church at 7pm that will be celebrated by Father Dominic Lenoci, class of ’78.  If you know of an alumni, please pass it on and contact me for more information.

Friday, March 18, 2011


          The other day, while our family was playing Mad Libs, that timeless word game where you fill in the template with specified nouns, verbs, adjectives, places, body parts and other grammatical phrases in order to create a comically absurd story, I realized that Jim and I were engaging in the most effective communication we’ve had in years.
It’s funny how a word game made me think back to the early years of our marriage. As a newlywed I used to write cute little erotic notes and stick them between the bread in Jim’s sandwich. I knew if I put the note into the lunch bag he’d never see it so I stuck it between the bread and cold cuts. I’ll tell you, the notes became an instant hit with the boys in the construction yard. They loved to see him pull the chewed paper remnants from his mouth and try to piece together words that he hadn’t swallowed in an absurd game of Porno Jumble. But then came kids, and no privacy, and the notes began to change; at least the messages did. “Guess what I’m going to do to you tonight!!!!” turned into “Guess what I’m going to do to you tonight if you don’t get that goddamn (fill in the blank) out of my dining room, now!!!!” Yes, the passion of the papyrus fell by the wayside as so much often does when we get distracted. Anyway, if I stuck a note between his sandwich at this point in our marriage, the only thing I’d arouse is his indigestion.
I joked with Jim that maybe Mad Libs was the perfect communication tool for us—we can leave templates around the house and fill them in quickly to spark the spontaneous flames of passion (and humor) that playing the role of responsible adults and parents has dulled.
          So here’s my Mad-Love to Jim. As of printing, he’s still working on his to me.
Dear ­Jim:
Because we have so little ­­­money to spend together, I thought I'd pour my ­bladder out to you since after all these years my body still breaks down every time you come near me. Still, what we lack in the bank we make up for in unpaid bills.  Remember when we first met and you couldn’t keep your seatbelt buckled? And here we are 20 years later and your seatbelt is still unbuckled every time I slink into the driver’s seat.  Since we’ve had children our relationship has only been tested in ways I never thought imaginable. Parenting children together has brought out the gray hairs, bald spots, and frown lines in us. I couldn’t parent without lots and lots of wine and drugs. Nor would I want to.
Every time I look at you all I see is your father staring back at me. It makes me want to wrap my head in a noose and give you a big box of Grecian Formula 44. If I knew 20 years ago that in 20 years I would be married to my father-in-law’s twin I would have still kept in touch with that 20 year old indie drummer from the East Village.  And let me not forget to add that opportunity I passed up with the lesbian lawyer with a summer home on Fire Island.  Sometimes I have to kick myself to make sure this is really our life.
Though children have stripped us of any and all carnal desire and made us into the cranky sexless people we swore we’d never become we must pray to God everyday that their real parents will come and get them soon.  
Remember when we were dating and we’d sit in the back row of the movie theater where I would gently nibble on your popcorn with extra butter and you would unzip my wallet?   Now when we escape to a movie alone you still can’t help but fall asleep and snore and I can’t refrain from sticking my elbow into your rib cage to wake you up every five minutes.
Your talent for not hearing a single word I say continues to amaze me. Remember all those cheap motels with hourly rates we used to go to for fun when it was just the two of us? I never thought then that those would be our vacation destinations and the only places we’d be able to afford 20 years later.  But, if I had to do it all over again I would still be connected to that East Village indie drummer because after all these years real estate in the East Village is worth a mint. After all, if I never met you I would be absolutely and completely drinking margaritas at happy hour on South Beach with my gay hairdresser and his buff bff’s without you.       
Love, Ann          

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Hola kids! Since your mom's wearing diapers, isn't it time you got out of yours?

Lately, my ten year old daughter has become obsessed with watching cable news. Her favorite stations are NY1 and News 12 New Jersey. Considering what kids can become obsessed with today, the news seems harmless. And at least with NY1 and News 12 New Jersey she’s not being exposed to the more salacious stories that the network news stations and less censored cable stations are promoting. 
          At least that’s how I was feeling until she became more obsessed with the commercials than the news stories. And here, again, we get into demographics. The demographics of the viewers of these news programs must be seniors since most of the commercials advertise senior products, at least during the times that my daughter is watching.
          Last week, after I stubbed my toe on the end table and I limped my way upstairs, she suggested I look into the Acorn Chair Lift that she saw advertised on T.V. “This way, you can just ride up the stairs instead of limp up them.” After noticing the gray that has begun to populate her father’s hair she announced that he is a senior citizen since all the men who appear on the commercials for NY1 have gray hair and introduce themselves as a senior citizen. The look on Jim’s face was priceless, and laughing, I asked her what that makes me. She replied straight-faced, “A pre-senior citizen, of course.”
          Jim started to laugh, but frankly I could not find the humor in it. A pre-senior citizen? I have 20 years before I can be classified as a senior citizen and they’re an important 20 years! I mean, think about it. 20 years comprises a whole infancy, adolescence and adulthood. It’s an entire generation. In other words, it’s a long, long, long time. And I still need to have my mid-life crisis and act like a teenager all over again, only this time not get grounded. (Although with Jim, I’m not so sure. I think he’d love to tell me I’m grounded. Then again, like my parents when they grounded me as a teenager, he’d be stuck under house arrest with a very petulant me.) However, Katie insists that I am a pre-senior and even produced Jim’s AARP card that had my name listed as “Spouse” to prove to me that if I want to reap the benefits of pre-senior status I have to own up to that status. She even asked if there was a status on Facebook for pre-senior.   
          I’ve always joked that Jim is deaf because he’s always asking, “What?” after I say something. Well, maybe I’m not joking, but now Katie insists he buy the hearing aid she saw on a commercial between news segments. She even left a note on his pillow that showed a picture of a Jim wearing a hearing aid and exclaiming in a bubble over his head, “I can hear you now!”
          But wait! There’s more. She asked if we could buy one of those motorized scooters she saw on T.V. for Jim so that he didn’t always have to take the car when he went to the firehouse. “Look,” she pointed out, “It even comes with an attachable orange flag so that cars can see him.” I had visions of Jim riding up Fort Lee Road with a blue fire light blaring on the handlebar of his sporty red senior scooter with attachable orange flag on his way to the firehouse.
          I guess I shouldn’t complain because last month she was fixated on the fact that I had bald spots. When she first commented that I have bald spots I brushed it off, but then I became paranoid. Holding a mirror in one hand, I’d stand with my back to the bathroom mirror trying to see if there were any bald spots peeking through the back of my head. Even though I couldn’t see any, she had me convinced that I was losing my hair. It took me two weeks to realize it was because she saw a commercial for women with thinning hair and balding.
          Oh how I miss the days of my youth when television was filled with all those cigarette and booze commercials. I’d rather have my daughter announce to the world, “My Mom lights up a Camel and drinks Budweiser all day long!” rather than “She can’t hear, she’s going bald, and she carries adult diapers in her bag. Wanna see?”