Of Moms, daughters and showtunes

58053_478240036596_4588631_nThankfully, my Mom was never one of those Moms who commented on weight or personal appearance, other than to say things like, “Stop slouching. Stand up straight.” Or, “Are you sure there’s enough room in the crotch?”

I count myself lucky for that.

Both my Mom and Dad taught us from an early age that the world was not fair, that it didn’t owe us anything: a job, a car, or even love. It was, after all, up to us to learn everything we could; to be good people, good friends, good citizens in order to secure these things. As a result, my childhood was often like an ongoing lecture series in self-sufficiency, entitled: Here’s How, starring my mother.

“Here’s how to hold the potato when you peel it…”

“This is how to make a hospital corner…”

“How on earth have you gotten through life this far without knowing how to ____?”

“Ask the doctor questions. It’s your body.”

“Look it up.”

When my sister and I were young, Mom kept our hair short.

famShe says she kept it short because we screamed whenever she touched our hair, although I have no recollection of this. I do, however, remember her scorching the tips of our ears with the curling iron as she curled our short, Dorothy Hamill hairdos under.

Me, screeching: “You’re burning me! You’re burning me!”

Mom, flatly: “Don’t be silly. That’s just my finger.”

Really?

Because I had short hair and dressed in jeans and t-shirts, I was often mistaken for a boy.

This pained Mom to no end.

One might think a nifty solution to this problem might be say…grow the child’s hair out. Put it in pigtails. With ribbons even.

But if you did that, you’d miss the magic that is my Mother.

Rather than let my hair grow out, she decided it was a better idea to sew white eyelet lace around the back panel of my jean jacket.

My jean jacket.

It looked as horrific as you are imagining.

Even at six, I knew it was awful.

I refused to wear the jacket.

I joke with her now and again that white eyelet lace is the reason I’m gay.

She laughs. Most of the time.

Actually, she and I were folding underwear in her bedroom when I came out to her.

I chose neither the venue nor the timing of this discussion, but when she specifically asks me if the bar where I’m going that evening is a gay bar, I say yes.

I wait.

She says nothing.

I fold and refold a pair of Dad’s underwear three times and realize this is the moment.

I say, “Is there anything else you want to ask me?”

She says no, and I am certain she means it.

Something inside me clenches with fear so fiercely that rather than come out, I tiptoe forward.

I say, “Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m gay.”

She stops folding and says, “I’ll go get your Father.”

Also not in the plan.

The other night I went to see a friend perform in a production of Oklahoma! She was amazing, and the bunch of us that attended were very proud. Also, we sat in the second row which is really not the best idea for a musical. The truth is, you need a little physical distance from people who burst into song every few moments.

At any rate, there’s a scene in which the “bad guy,” Jud, sings a song that turns into a monotone dirge about his own death. The line he sings is: “Poor Jud is dead. A candle lights his head.”

This is the very line my Mom would sing to us when she woke us when we were kids, or if she caught us dozing off somewhere, or if we were being overly dramatic teenagers who might “die” if we didn’t get to [insert the thing we wanted to do here]. So here I am at the play the other night, laughing uncontrollably at a scene which is decidedly not funny, all because my Mom sang that bit to me at least a thousand times.

I am certain that using that line to wake her slumbering babes was never part of her plan. I mean, at least I hope it wasn’t, because talk about dark…However, it is for just this reason and a thousand others that I love her, that I find her maddening and irreplaceable and funny and frustrating and perfectly mine. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama, there’s simply no one quite like you.

Love,

Jenny

My sister’s sweater

This poem was inspired by a story my friend Penny told me about the sweater she attempted to buy for her sister many Christmases ago.

NOT the sweater in question.

Now. As you know, I’m a writer.

I sell. I market. It’s part of what I do.

This poem is a wee slap in the face to all that.

My Sister’s Sweater

My sister wants this sweater from The Gap.
You probably know which one it is.
It’s the one in all the commercials.

Therein lies the problem.

There’s nothing really remarkable about this sweater.
It’s a basic, wool, cable knit sweater that could’ve been knit in 1978.
Perhaps the trouble started with the commercials.And that white background.

Can’t you just picture the marketing people sitting around a table brainstorming?
Let’s just keep it simple.
Yea!
Show the clothes on real people.
Yea!
Just a clean, white background.
It’s genius.
Advertising genius.
Bull.

Let’s not kid ourselves.
These are not real people.
These are actors, models, musicians, dancers—professionals.
They were handpicked for this gig.
The clothes they’re wearing are tailored to fit their bodies.
To look as sassy, sexy and cool as possible.
They’re on screen to make you want that sweater.
Or jacket.
Or button down shirt.
It’s a total conspiracy to get you to buy.

Remember that West Side Story commercial?
You sang ‘When you’re a jet’ all week.
Or how about the one with Carole King and her daughter?
Or the one with Seal?
Or any of the other celebrities stuffed into their jeans and sweaters?
How much does one get paid for a Gap commercial anyway?
Which brings me back to the problem at hand.

This sweater for my sister.

It costs $48 dollars.
This is a lot of money for a basic sweater
This same sweater at Old Navy costs $20 to $30
The sweater is made in Sri Lanka
It probably cost 2 bucks to make because
They’re undoubtedly paying some poor soul slave wages to make this crummy sweater
So not only am I getting rooked for $48, but I’m also oppressing someone
Great.  Happy Holidays.

All of this is on my mind when I walk into the Gap to purchase the aforementioned sweater.
Oppression, marketing, showtunes.

I was hoping the sweater would be on sale.It wasn’t.
One of the Gapettes approached me.
“It’s a great sweater, isn’t it?”
“Is it on sale?”
“Um, it was—last week.  Not now.”
“Why is that do you think?”
“Well, I’m not sure. We don’t have any sales for the 2 weeks before Christmas.”
“Do you know why that is?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I’ll tell you why.”
Because the Gap is committed to gauging the American public.
This sweater has been on t.v. more than Madonna.
It’s on every billboard and in every magazine.
This sweater is hot.
It’s the sweater.
And you know that we all want it.
So you’re holding it hostage.
The ransom is $48.
It’s a small robbery, but a robbery nonetheless.”

“Tell you what,” the Gapette says,
Clearly fearing that I have an automatic weapon.
“We’re running our friends and family discount this week.
Do you know anyone or have any relatives who work for the Gap?”
She smiles.
I look her in the eye.“I know YOU.
Do YOU want to be my Gap friend?”
She looks right back at me and you know what she says?
NO.

I left the store.

I went online where the sweater is on sale.
I click; I purchase.
My sister can be cool.
Which is just the biggest crock, isn’t it?
That stupid little label with the 3 letters.
That label could just as easily say ASS or ICK
Somewhere along the line the decision was made that the Gap is cool
That this sweater, is cool.
Who made this decision?

Because honestly, I’d like to have a word with them.

Remember when the Gap used to sell jeans and t-shirts for reasonable prices?
Fall into the Gap.
It’s no Gap.
They should call it the Abyss.
More accurately the Vapid Abyss of Inane Nonsense—acronym VAIN.
See what I just did?
I marketed.
Ya know what’s funnier?
This f@cking sweater will be worn once by my sister
She will wear it to a bar, drink her face off and possibly puke
On
this sweater
This sweater will end up as an unrecognizable ball on the floor of her room

Take a good look at this sweater
Because by Christmas 2011
That familiar white background will appear on your t.v.
And suddenly Bjork will go singing and dancing across your screen
Wearing a sweater
And it won’t be this sweater
It will not be off white
It will not be cable knit
Because in 2011 this sweater is over
It’s obsolete
It sucks
Bjork’s retro 80s sweater debacle will become the sweater
That my sister will just have to have