Monday, October 12, 2009

On what it's like to have a pathetic, cyberstalking relative

I've been wanting to update my blog for some time now (as you can see, I haven't written anything since back in March), and although I have a lot to say, a certain member of my family often leaves bizarre and "hijackish" comments based on my posts, some of which I have had to delete due to their inappropriateness. Lest anyone imagine that no one could be more inappropriate than I am with some of my observations, I don't use ugly and inflammatory words and phrases like this individual chooses. I also don't try to top the words of others by echoing their style in my comments with imagined cleverness.I realize that what I write is out there for the world to see, and believe me, there are certain topics I have chosen to stay away from out of respect for this person and his issues, but also have had no choice but to stay away from because of this person and his issues. This behavior has even extended to following comments I've posted on other people's blogs, and returning here to echo my words (words which I have chosen to delete, but may retain from now on for legal/security purposes).

What isn't so apparent is that I have software that allows me to access the IP address and roughly pinpoint the location of anyone who as much as opens a page here, if even for a split second. It also tells me the pages viewed and how they got there, as well as entry and exit times, among other things. It has been in place for many, many months. I initially decided to use it because I thought it would be interesting to see where some of my readers are coming from and how they happened upon me, and indeed it has been -- from all over the world, in fact, and just as often accidently as intentional. But then it proved to have a higher purpose of sorts, as sad as that is.

I've changed my comment settings to exclude anonymous comments, which is rather regretful, as there are actually people out there who aren't registered but have valuable things to say, and whose observations and experiences I welcome. Of course, there's a chance that this, too, leaves things open for one to comment using a phony and no doubt, inside joke-type web address (which would be so like him), but then again, I'm watching.

If this person wants to write missives based on his own experiences (individual or shared), starting a blog of his own would make way more sense. This blog may be publically accessible, but it isn't meant to be a playground for the manically mentally ill. There are better ways to be heard, and a good place to start would be in a psychiatrist's office.

Believe me, I have been more than kind.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Oracle at Benson

Although I have been acquainted with a number of my husband’s family members for many decades – long before I actually knew even him – it wasn’t until I became a member of the family myself that I began to realize that just as water seeks its own level, the dysfunctional manage to somehow land smack dab among the similarly blessed, despite all clearly illusory attempts to the contrary.

Like many families, his was largely led by a figurehead, in this case a matriarchal font of wisdom – and for some progeny, one of seemingly bottomless pockets -- known as Anna. As my husband’s maternal grandmother, she was always pleasant to me, and I truly enjoyed the times I spent in her expansive and antiques-filled apartment in Brooklyn, a fortress of a building on the corner of Bay 28th Street and Benson Avenue. She raised three daughters – my mother-in-law, along with her twin sister and an older sister – all of whom I had long been familiar with. While their father was an attorney, it seems he wasn’t a particularly successful one due to certain vaguely described aspects of his personality. So Anna always worked, took care of her family, and ran an all-around very tight ship. In her prime, she loved entertaining, and her house (and later, apartment) was always a place where relatives and friends would congregate and enjoy her skillful cooking and baking.

With such a formidable figure at the helm, I suppose it was understandable that she attained something on the order of living-legend status while she was alive, and sainthood (as is usually the case, unfortunately, even with total bastards) when she was no longer. But also as is usually the case, how things appeared weren’t exactly aligned with how things were, and as wonderful as she was, little by little the reality of how she operated was revealed.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing about her; in fact, it was largely good. However, it might have been a case of good gone too far, which further reinforced her matriarchal status, hard-earned as it was. In every family roles are appointed or otherwise settled into and played out, and Anna's was that of both leader and rescuer. She became so accustomed to earning and saving, that she became for some a secondary (or even primary) source of income -- extending even into succeeding generations. My mother-in-law, along with her husband and children, was not among those benefitting from such generosity, which is certainly to her credit. My in-laws were always hard workers, and instilled the same shared ethic in their children. While others were helped along in many ways, from rent paid, to grandchildren’s camp and college tuitions covered or subsidized, to vacations treated to, no such rewards – none at all, in fact -- were accorded to the ones who displayed any measurable amount of independence and success. Although it was clear to those not so munificently anointed, as well as to others (like me) on the outside looking in, her canonization remains intact to this day, a good 16 years after her death.

To those who benefitted from her financial generosity, she cooked enough for an army; according to my husband and his cousin Saul (son of my mother-in-law’s twin sister, unquestionably the most loving and dutiful of daughters), she served a pound of fish for a dozen guests, exclaiming, “Take, take – there’s plenty for everyone!” To those who made unfortunate choices, she was exceedingly unsparing, resulting in subsequent offspring to expect – and receive – the same. Those who ordinarily neither needed nor expected anything of the sort from her were, however, rebuffed when even a short-term loan of relatively small significance was timidly and respectfully requested. Failure, great or small, was amply rewarded; success of any noticeable degree was punished. Her role as leader of the family was, without question, carved in stone.

A few years ago, shortly after Jeff’s cousin Saul bought a house in our town, our family moved in with him for about a month or so until we transitioned to a temporary apartment, due to unexpectedly having to vacate our home during a large-scale renovation. Our children took up residence in a bedroom housing a lovely maple dresser that had originally been in Anna’s bedroom until she passed away. Like most children (and even some adults), they couldn’t resist peeking in closets and opening drawers. It was in that very dresser that they uncovered a small, robin's egg blue plastic box. Excited at the prospect of what they imagined might be a treasure even Saul himself was not aware of, they opened the box – and found inside a set of false teeth, the sight of which immediately elicited from them a very audible, and in unison, sound of disgust.

Repulsed, and at the same time clearly enchanted by the very personal nature of their discovery, they ran to all three of us – Saul, Jeff and me – to show off their find, with which they made sure not to get too up close and personal. “Are these your teeth?” they asked Saul. “Certainly not; mine are all in my mouth,” he answered. “Those are grandma’s teeth – my grandma, who was your great-grandmother.”

It was a shared moment of absurdity, combined with a certain measure of poignancy, and one I could not let pass without comment. Although she was long gone, a strangely important part of her remained, symbolic as it was. When alive, she dispensed not just money, but her own brand of wisdom; dead, a conduit through which that wisdom was transmitted remained, revealed through the surprising disclosure of her dentures.

“Why in hell would you want to keep something like that?” I asked Saul, laughing. “I don’t know,” he answered. “It’s hard to let some things go; I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them out.” My husband chimed in, “Does she talk to you through them? Give you advice? ‘Saul! Why did you need such a big house – it’s a waste of money!’” he mimicked.

And there it was, the greatest treasure of all, somehow discarded by those who in their frantic scramble grabbed whatever appeared most valuable, leaving behind that which continues to represent Anna’s unending source of knowledge and wisdom. Thanks to the goodness and sentiment of Saul, this relic remains, forever to be regarded by our small cabal with much reverence and joy -- an archaeological find we now refer to as The Oracle at Benson.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Jabba the Schmuck Redux

Picture this, if you will, or if you imagine having the intestinal fortitude to behold such: A man-creature, about 5’8” tall, appearing relatively nondescript from behind, and most certainly from a distance. He turns around, and you find yourself facing the confounding image of a man of a certain age, but with the abdominal distension of a woman nine months gravid. Alone, this would perhaps not be too alarming, but then there’s the attire, at once contradictory on such a figure and, at the same time, almost viscerally and painfully stereotypical, but you have hope. Although he sports a velveteen jogging suit, you try to rationalize the comfort factor of his attire. But then you are confronted with the open shirt and the multiple chains, one sporting a rather large cartouche; the thick gold bracelet and the Black Hills Gold ring. That he has a bald pate is not to be faulted, of course, but it is yet one more element adding up, adding up…

And then he opens his mouth, and the thunderous voice, the expert-on-virtually-everything cadence seals the deal.

He is Shylock-become-flesh, Streicher’s boilerplate, a Riefenstahlian antithesis, and a plain old embarrassment to the rest of us tribal members who prefer to live their lives in (albeit relatively) quiet dignity: The bald-headed, loudmouthed, jogging suit-wearing, open-shirted, chain-jangling Niewe Yorkus Transplantus. Of the subgenus, Judaicus Embarrassallofus. And lucky, lucky me…he’s my father-in-law.

On the other hand, and equally luckily for me, he lives in Florida (naturally), where he spends his days compacting a particularly forlorn couch cushion while earnestly dividing his attention between all-sports or all-shopping channels. This would not be an issue to me at all -- after all, why would I ordinarily care how someone spends their time? -- but being the armchair expert that he is, the virtually total lack of interest in team sports on the part of my family (which includes his own son and grandchildren) becomes yet another object of his derision. Somehow, I get the feeling that the only sport he ever actively participated in was a rousing game of saluggi, in which he was the unwilling but desperate subject, hoping to rescue his errantly tossed pastrami-and-corned-beef on rye.

His generosity, too, is unparalled. To my husband and our children, he will occasionally grandly distribute largely useless and often age- and gender-inappropriate freebies he acquires from time to time from the travel companies he still does business with (he was a rather successful travel agent in his day, and has remained in the industry on a part-time basis). To me, he gives nothing, but occasionally affords me a tantalizing glimpse of his boxer shorts-clad physique. (Then again, he isn't one to deny anybody in proximity such splendors of the flesh, so perhaps I shouldn't feel so special after all.)

His "cave of wonders" is a spacious, filled-to-the-rafters, two-car garage. In there, off-brand wristwatches, hot dog cookers, vacuum sealers and additional never-removed-from-their-original-packaging small appliances nestle side by side and teetering toward disaster along with countless other precious items, such as those much-sought after, garishly-painted state quarters -- all presumably waiting for Indiana Jones to liberate them and reveal their glory to the world. In the meantime, they remain where they are and in his possession, because one never knows when that portable door alarm disguised as a plush bear will come in handy. And who’ll be the fool then? Clearly, not him.

In an attempt to make room for more treasures, he one day decided to climb up through the trap door leading to the crawlspace above his garage. He successfully sets up the ladder (a feat in itself), climbs through the opening (ditto), and then into the steamy, dark interior of a Florida attic -- not exactly the ideal environment in which to archive such alleged valuables, or materials of any kind, for that matter. In any case, the difficulty of negotiating the narrow joists soon takes its toll, and he spots some boards left behind by work crews during contruction of his residence. He steps onto one of them, and in a split-second realizes that it is, in fact, not attached. It shifts, and he plummets through the sheetrock below. My mother-in-law hears the crash, and comes running into the garage...to find him suspended by his belly, legs dangling through the smashed ceiling, debris scattered everywhere.

What I wouldn't have given to have been a fly on that wall. Or a Suzanne Somers ThighMaster. Mint in box, of course.

Enter the Dick

Although it appeared my husband had read my latest blog entry, Jabba the Schmuck, without incident, it turns out that he had been stewing about it for days.

For those of you who hadn't yet read it, Jabba the Schmuck was a lovingly rendered, bulls-eye accurate depiction of the man whose seed brought forth my husband. (Ugh, the mere thought of it...)

Jeff didn't have a problem with the physical description of his father, nor the fact that the man is a loudmouthed know-it-all, or that he watches sports and shopping channels habitually, or that he buys and stockpiles the largely worthless items purchased through the latter, or that he belittles virtually everyone around him...no, none of those were of concern. The issue, it seems, has to do with the hard, cold fact of his astounding sense of entitlement, and profound lack of generosity in kind. In other words, the kind of truth that hurts.

I will return with a kinder, gentler version of Jabba the Schmuck. The first three or so paragraphs -- the descriptive stuff, with which my husband surprisingly doesn't have his panties in a twist-- will remain exactly the same.

Stay tuned.