Thursday, August 25, 2011

Playboy Bunnies! Make it Stop!

It’s impossible to not notice all the signs, billboards and ads for the upcoming show featuring Playboy Bunnies. This has caused me a great deal of stress, not just because it seems the entire world is going backwards, but because it dredges up memories I really would rather forget.

Walking to my local village yesterday, there it was, the shiny bus ad, with scantily clad girls wearing onesies, bunny ears and poofy rear-end tales, smiling like it was fun being pawed by sinister, alcohol-fueled men. As a child from a splintered home, with a very young, pretty mother who had to make ends meet for her six kids, she took a job as a “bunny.” These clubs were all over the high-end areas of cities, though we lived on the fringes of such wealth.

When she landed the job, she was quite excited, after having toiled as a secretary, housekeeper, babysitter, factory worker, and possibly a prostitute but that was never confirmed. We kids looked after ourselves, and I raised the younger ones.
She saw the Playboy opportunity as her ticket out, and was desperate to make the right impression. She already had the youth, (26) the shiny white teeth, pretty face, long, luscious hair, the appealing figure, despite the kids, and an incredibly outgoing personality I can only now chalk up to her being bipolar. My mother raised me to believe in myself, never be put in a cage by a man, and educated me in patriarchal history.

Prior to her first day, one thing was missing. Balance. It was essential, in fact number one on the Playboy Bunny Cocktail Waitress list of instructions. Night after night, after I finished my homework, and the little kids were sleeping and my older sisters were out shooting heroin somewhere, we trained. She would walk on sofa pillows, carrying a laundry basket over her shoulder filled with water glasses, in impossibly high heels. We broke all the glassware, but we had stolen it anyway, so in didn’t really count.

My mother lifted glasses all the time from her housekeeping jobs, be it a motel, hotel or house. Because we had very little, sometimes she’d also bring home plates, spoons, cloth napkins, canned goods and oil paintings of ballet dancers.
We would practice for two hours a night until she got down to only breaking one glass, then she felt ready. Next up; a trip to the local drugstore to steal eye make-up, false lashes, push-up bras, fake tanning crèmes and four pair of high heels.

“They will never suspect a ten-year old. I will cause a distraction.” And that she did.

“HELP! SOMEONE! I’m having a stroke!” There would be a rush of people gathered around, and I would slip out. My mother would calmly rise, “Oh, never mind, I think it was gas.”

My mother suffered from this delusion she would meet Hugh Hefner. We lived in Detroit. Not likely, but there was a chance she would meet a rich man who would finally marry her, and get us all squared away someplace in say, Carmel, preferably on the beach overlooking the ocean.

Forget she had six kids all under the age of 13, two heroin addicts; a toddler still in diapers, one Canadian goose she had dragged home, a litter of Siamese cats, and a couple warrants out for her arrest for speeding tickets. It was during her stint being a bunny she also picked up a strong affliction for wine spritzers.
But she needed fantasy. And the reason I write this is so do I. Somehow this ridiculous TV show brought all this back.

When in doubt, or I should say riding some kind of mini-breakdown, I call my mother. Over the years I have figured out perfect timing before she goes in for the kill--"utter disappointment" is her nickname for me after say, five minutes on the phone. But until that point I find a kind of comfort, the imaginary mommy/cookies kind. Not that she was ever that person.

Despite my own delusional 15 years of wanting to live in a lovely Cape Cod, cliff-dwelling home with a white, minimalistic pristine interior, the grand piano overlooking the pacific, along with a personal chef, an assistant, a few nannies and an on-call masseuse, instead I have lived those years in a crowded, unkempt home, albeit a nice one, though meant to be five years, add to that three kids, two dogs, 25 fish, half a dozen reptiles, a challenging job, low funds and no help.

Now and again I toy with the idea of driving off a cliff, but it's another fleeting fantasy, more like a default, since I don't drink, smoke, have affairs, gamble, or shop. Basically there is no escape.

“We all have our bad decades, honey.” Is the best advice I ever received from my mother. That and never marry a pretty man.

After accomplishing some difficult work, "top-notch" per client, instead of taking any kind of pride, I focused on how I still needed to go to the grocery story, make five complicated meals since everyone has an allergy to something, draw pictures of dancing lizards with the girly-girl twins, help with their homework, bath them, blow-dry their precious hair, read stories, tuck them into bed, speed-clean the entire house, spend ten minutes with my eldest boy child, and catch up with my husband which kind of goes like this.

“I’m home!”

“Don’t forget to clean out the dishwasher,” then retreat to my bedroom/sanctuary to read, my greatest pleasure, and also a way to avoid a potential rabbit hole that is my "desk" filled with bills, papers, unfinished writing projects, pictures and artwork never framed, thank you cards never sent, a call sheet that is two weeks old and forget the calendar, all skyscrapers of tedium and unresolved issues.

Back to walking through my village, burdened with Rite-Aid plastic shame-bags (I never bring my own,) I look up and see that Playboy ad, and am hit with my own tsunami wave of grief.

Naturally, my immediate impulse is to call my mom. It was good timing because she hadn't hit the NyQuil yet. She in fact has the life I want; lives on a remote island, white house, white gorgeous furniture, writes, paints, and has 2 PHD’s in poetry, despite her poetry bringing, well bad, hence a shift in our normal greeting.

"Oh, Dr. Judy, I'm falling apart, this is not fun; my life is over! I mean I love my kids, but the crocheting, knitting, reading books I already read, the homework, emails from school I ignore, hiding from the other parents who want to chat about the school lunch program.”

I am sobbing now, sitting on a curb, sandwiched between two Prius', and staring at the bus stop Playboy ad.

"Sweetie...I understand. But you need to change your attitude. You've accomplished so much, have beautiful children and a husband that does so much. The girls adore him. As you know, I'm not a big fan but you can't afford to lose him. You certainly couldn't do this on your own! I know all about four point restraints. You don't want that. Where is your gratitude?"

"Oh, yeah. Well, not feeling it.”

She went on, ticking off all the good things in my life, like my bathroom tile carpet. Her pep talk helped, or maybe not, perhaps just sitting down and taking a break for five minutes was what I needed; thus I forgot my time limitation as she rattled on about how great she was, her faaabulous life, yet another brilliant dissertation she was writing, so I wasn't prepared for the gut shank twisting.

"What the hell were you thinking having more kids? Yunno, for being bright, you are so stupid. And the way you dress them! They look like Bosnian refugees. And you have a sense of style, I made sure of that, you also could have married a very rich man, what were you thinking?" And on....and on...

"Look here sister, you have 20 more years of hard labor, there is no escaping it, you have to see those girls through until they are at least 28, then you can have your house on the beach. You have to earn it. I certainly did. You wanted more children so now no playing little miss victim!"

"I'm not being a victim, I just wanted to talk. 20 years?" I was stuck on this 20 year comment.

"20 years!”

"Stop being a baby. I didn't raise you that way. I did it! And I had six kids and NO husband, that rotten good for nothing ogre."

Here, of course, she never elaborates. Yes, she had six kids starting at age 15, done by 26, left the ogre and doled the kids out to various strangers, one to my father, the others, well, just people, names long forgotten. I am the only one that stayed with her, mostly out of fear. At 12, I felt she needed someone to take care of her, given she was drunk most of the time and would often disappear for a few days. I worried, constantly. This is when my insomnia kicked in.

My mother and I did indeed move to Marin County shortly after her Playboy gig, (not Carmel and by ourselves since the others disappeared into various state appointed facilities.) I eventually left at age 15, determined to make something out of my life. I had grown tired of being her drinking buddy, bailing her out of jail, being late for class.

My mother is quite different now, stopped drinking, but still hits the NyQuil at night, her solution to the bipolar medical condition she refuses to treat as she hates doctors.

After I emancipated myself, she changed. Maybe she merely got too old for her insane Marin County life style, falling off of bar stools, going home with complete strangers, jumping naked out of sailboats, getting arrested for drunk walking. After I left for college, she started number of successful businesses, all of her kids somehow got out of Detroit alive, intact and found lives of their own.

“Did you know they are made a series out of the Playboy Club? I mean, how lame is that?”

“Oh, I saw, they play ads on TV all day. It’s the Madmen syndrome. Anything 60’s or 70’s surely has to be interesting. I think there is one about Pan Am stewards too. I applied there as well, but they didn’t think I was tall enough.”

I glanced up and saw a pretty mom, laughing and enjoying her two small children. I did that once...and still do with my girls, on a good day, but her carefree attitude was something that had become foreign to me. Her children were well groomed, hair clean, faces washed. They were all having so much damn fun, I had known that life.

With my son, my entire life existed around him while maintaining high profile jobs. I even enjoyed building Lego rockets, using all 14,000 pieces.

My mother was still talking. "Take your head out of your ass. You think you have it bad! I made sure all of you kids went to great schools, ate well balanced meals. I taught you piano, we listened to great composers, went to incredible museums. ALL ALONE, no help from a supportive father...libraries, dance, we were cultured!!! And I loved every minute of it. Sure we sometimes slept in the car, in community parks, in someone’s attic. But I paid a mighty price.”

"Yeah. I know. I was there."

"So stop complaining. I did not raise you that way! Who cares what you are feeling." She slammed down the phone.

I looked around at my village and knew I was blessed, even though I wasn’t feeling it. My mother’s rants, although sometimes painful, typically hold some kernel of wisdom. I would never have to jiggle my boobs and wear a bunny tail to make money, or work in a factory or clean toilets, so despite my mother’s unique style of child-rearing, she also in her way, paved the way, along with so many others. Sometimes I just need a reminder.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Something About Einstein...

When I was eight-years-old, my young mother handed me a slip of paper with an Einstein quote, “He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned by contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”

Why she gave this to me and not her other five children remains unclear. Perhaps she saw in me my disillusionment with the rat a tat, airless echo of school, the Catholic Church, the Sunday roast dinners, our predicable life.

I had been punished a number of times for staring out the school window day-dreaming, maybe about stink bugs, who knows? Then thwack goes the ruler, held by a tightfisted, chalky nun, who sent me off to kneel on the concrete hallway floor for two hours. I would later go home and draw pictures of nuns being kidnapped, held in dark closets being starved to death, begging for mercy, often choking on their own wimples. I hid the stories under my bed, accompanying the other stacks, all stories concerning some level of inequality.

It was during this time, music and freedom were calling my mother to another place, another life, one where she wouldn’t be a “wife,” a more hopeful existence. She was a “hippy” to my father’s buttoned- up businessman.

By the early 70's, she had had enough. My mother did not have many heroes, as they were fleeting and then dead; Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the Kennedy's, she herself became disillusioned.

But there was something about Einstein that settled into her very core, then mine.

A few days later she confided in me. “We are leaving. Tell no one, your sisters won’t understand. Thor (my father) will be at work and return to an empty house, to compliment his empty existence.”

Then: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” She added, “Don’t forget that. Ever.”

Thus began my own obsession with Einstein. I tucked these quotes into my grandmother’s jewelry box she had given me just prior to her death.

Legions of people remain enamored by this brilliant man, Albert Einstein, not just for what he discovered, accomplished and how he radically changed the world, but because of his childlike innocence, his unlimited curiosity, his great humility, and a legacy of words that continue to endure.

He was a rascal, those wild eyes, the mop of hair, his crumpled clothes, the rumors of his flirtatious encounters. This made him real for the rest of us. He has permeated our culture from the Three Stooges to the bobble heads in the film Night at the Museum.

When you ask a complete stranger to define genius, they often replay casually, “Oh, Einstein.”

I began to collect quotes and read about him in libraries, his humour brought me tremendous comfort. He wasn’t some impervious man one couldn’t access. Quite the opposite. He didn’t believe in separating himself from others and in fact, loved sharing his ideas, while helping others expand on their own. He was approachable. Both alive and dead.

To this day, I keep a tip sheet of quotes tacked up near my computer, and read one every day. It really doesn’t matter which one, as I come away with yet another interpretation.

Born with a kind of eternal intelligence, his curiosity about all “things” began to emerge at age four. While examining his father’s pocket compass, Einstein was baffled. What was causing the needle to move? The empty space made no sense to him so he began to build models and mechanical devices. He wanted answers.  All that empty space! 

Why Einstein? Among so many brilliant minds, he continues to inspire. What of DaVinci, Tesla, Newton, Hawking, Aristotle, Edison, Cervantes. The list goes on. They too share not just powerful minds, but an endless pursuit through curiosity and instinct. They knew knowledge was important, had to be learned, but could only get them so far. The rest is mystery.

My belief is Einstein embodies the mystery. He thought through images and sensations. Something we can all understand. His quotes alone speak volumes and one quote could be expounded into an entire book. “Keep things simple---this requires patience, perseverance, allowing room for empty spaces.” 

Turning complexity into simplicity is no easy task.

So many of Einstein’s ideas, beyond his incredible discoveries in the world itself, which would ultimately turn the world on its head, would all contain room, empty space, air to breath.

E=mc2, is thought to be the most famous equation in all of physics eventually setting the stage for the development of the Atomic bomb and nuclear power plants. But had he known where this was going he thought perhaps he should have become a watchmaker. Einstein was very much against war.

He worked on this equation for ten years, never game up, tossed it about until it made perfect sense. Input, criticism, rejection. He embraced all of it. His critics challenged him to work harder. One of the greatest lessons I've learned from Einstein is to embrace criticism, and not take it personally.

To this day, his theories inspire advances, in science, astronomy, physics, philosophers, new-agers!

I’ve been to my fare share of enlightenment lectures, where the self-appointed "gurus" often spout some version of, or direct quote from Einstein. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used in creating them.”

Despite the many great brains, his would be the one cut into 240 pieces, kept in jars, cardboard boxes, often hidden, studied under microscopes. (We must get to the bottom of this!) Bits of his grey matter still remain in the University of Princeton hospital. All those years of cutting and probing and analyzing, really amounted to very little as most was hypothetical.

The irony rattles the very jars into a pulpy mess if only because it contradicts what Einstein tried to impress. Stay curious, questioning, love the mystery. Conventional knowledge, though essential, is finite. Imagination is not. This is what Einstein embraced. Perhaps the lore of his brain in a jar, rather than say Plato‘s helps prolong the iconic myth.

As a boy, his father of course knew little Albert was gifted, and perhaps because the elder Einstein (an engineer) had failed at so many businesses, he insisted his son stay in school. He enrolled him in a school in Munich to pursue engineering, but Albert was frustrated with the educational system and clashed repeatedly with the authorities, resented their teaching style and further still wrote about how schools were essentially killing the creative spirit and curiosity of its students. He was 15.

”The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

When I read this in Junior High School, I could finally relax; a simple statement that brought along a universe of vindication because I simply could not understand the entire educational process of rote learning. It was too easy, too boxed in, too impersonal. I realized I would have to find my own way intellectually alongside the traditional, through books, and by age 12, sitting in on lectures by Rollo May, Erik Fromm, B.F.Skinner, Timothy Leary, and Marshall McLuhan.

I was no genius, simply curious and frankly bored with school and given the number of times my by now gypsy mother moved, staying on track in class made me weary. Another school, another teacher, another set of young people I would somehow have to navigate.

Something Einstein ingrained in me and I hope to never lose is his insistence that we all stay curious, intuitive and of course, maintain our sense of humour.

After countless failed exams at higher learning institutions, and his works of genius being overlooked, he carried on anyway with his writing and exploring; at the Patent Office, the only place he could find a job. Funnier still, he was overlooked for a promotion because he had not "managed to grasp technology!"  Nonetheless, it was here, the now 26-year-old Einstein would develop some of his most radical notions. Unrecognized and working for pennies. Inspirational indeed.

It would be ten more years before he would be awarded the Nobel Prize, (for his discovery of the law of photoelectronic effect) but after he became famous, the world was no longer just a place to study; it had become his stage, the Universe his canvas and he made all of this relatable to us.

Traveling the globe and meeting new cultures was an enormous highlight in his life.

His works, books and various biographies became my anchors during the hard scrabbled years of my life. As though their very weight kept me from floating away into space as my family drifted aimlessly around the country. He was my kite string and I held on tight. He made the crazy seem sane. The insane seem okay.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger; who can no longer pause to wonder and strand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Recently, while driving my own eight- year- old girls to school, I said, “Remember, imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Through the rear view mirror, I watch them both roll their eyes in that “Oh please, Mom, just drive,” kind of way, they said in unison, “Okay, Einstein.”


Quotes I love:
“Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not certain about the universe.”
“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”
“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.”
“I am convinced that he (God) does not play dice.”
“I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”
“Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.”
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
“If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut.” (Particularly fond of this one.)
“In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must, above all, be a sheep.”
"I know not with what weapons WW111 will be fought, but WW1V will be fought with sticks and stones."
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." (This is on the sign hanging in Einstein's office in Princeton.)