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goats


Once again, the goats are back at the Vanderbilt Mansion.

And once again, I did absolutely nothing of any substance all weekend long.

Oh, to live in a world inhabited solely by sentient goats, cats, dogs, bunnies and elephants!

(My father was an alcoholic child molester, which kinda puts a damper on Father’s Day celebrations, no?)

BB, stumbling across Internet access from somewhere along the Appalachian Trail, posted that he had hiked 15.5 miles that day in 95-degree heat, which fuckin’ shamed me (‘cause I have a hard time stumbling out of the house when the temp is much above 82.)

The last man I was kinda, sorta, maybe attracted to (at least on alternate Thursdays) apparently quoted me at length somewhere and then sent me a long flattering email apologizing. A quote from his email: It's a completely unrelated sentiment by you that just happens to support everything I am doing professionally. I am too lazy to track down the actual quote.

Jeanna called to say that she was getting married and that she was buying another house so that I could come live with her. I gathered all this from her phone message. I haven’t yet called her back. I don't actually want to call her back. Although, naturally, I must.

If she gives me a month lead-in time, of course I’ll come to her wedding. Even though it sounds like a hideous ordeal.

###

Max is second chairing his first trial.

“Wait!” I said. “You’re only a second year law student.”

“Uh-huh-h-h-h-h-h…”

“And they let you…?”

“In Alaska and Colorado, yes.”

“Oh, is that why you wanted to do an internship in Alaska?””

“Right!”

Max likes trials.

Max is very good at trials.

Max has always been a very compelling speaker and a relentless arguer.

I’m inclined to think this is a rare talent even among those who are attracted to practicing law. He is winning awards at UCB Law School for his oracular proficiency, too, which makes me think he doesn’t need to be in the top 10% of his class to snag a career that will be fulfilling for him.

We spent half an hour or so on the phone batting around the particulars of the Michelle Carter case.

“Is it likely to set precedent?” I asked.

“In a juvenile court? Do you mean a precedent that could apply to principals who are over the age of 21?”

“Right.”

“Doubtful that it could be an authoritative precedent. Maybe if it goes to appeal.”

We talked for a while about the case’s implications for assisted suicide.

I doubt very much that the authors of any of the assisted suicide measures currently working their ways through state legislatures ever envisioned the facts of a case like Carter/Roy when they were formulating their statutes, but in a very literal sense, this is an assisted suicide case.

And one of the reasons why I personally have never been a fan of assisted suicide legislation.

Assisted suicide is a very slippery slope to my way of thinking.

kristen


Else? I watched a very strange film called Personal Shopper from the same director who made Clouds of Sils Maria.

I regretted I did not have the opportunity to watch it in a theater – Personal Shopper is filled with caesuras, prolonged intervals during which absolutely nothing happens except that Kristen Stewart progressively grows more freaked. These types of scenes often work in theaters where audiences understand that their job is to channel the protagonist, but they seldom if ever work on a home screen where the tendency – when nothing is happening on the screen – is to check your phone and think, Huh! Maybe I should fast-forward to the scene where Kristen Steward masturbates –

Stewart is an intriguing screen presence. Absolutely beautiful and, at the same time, a complete and total physical mess. The film, which is ostensibly about her character’s search for the ghost of a dead twin brother, seems more to me to be about the character’s obsession with social media. The character is completely oblivious to the physical world she inhabits.

It’s one of those films that would benefit from being seen twice.

But I have no intention of watching it again.
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Third day in a row of sweltering temps.

If I was truly virtuous, I’d be out the door at 7:30am when temps – still in the 70s – are manageable. Since I’m deeply flawed, I don’t manage to get out till 8:30am when the mercury is up over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. And I berate myself throughout the entire course of my run/fast tromp/crawl/whatever you want to call it. I cut the run/fast tromp/crawl/whatever you want to call it short. From three miles to a mile and a half. ‘Cause I don’t want to die of heat stroke.

Of course, if I was mentally healthy, I’d be congratulating myself for getting out the door at all.

‘Cause it’s not as though I like exercise. When I was younger, I liked it. Now? The best I can say is that I don’t mind it. Now, it’s something I do – like brushing my teeth, like drinking lots of water – to stay healthy.

###

On Friday, B sent me an email. LOL read the subject line. Ran into strangers in Catania today, he’d written.

With this snapshot:

unnamed-3


###

On the train ride back from Chicago, I amused myself by looking out the window, by chatting animatedly with a portly but attractive lawyer, and by reading Matthew Desmond’s exceedingly brilliant book, Evicted.

The lawyer was the spitting image of Godwin. No, not Godwin as he’s likely to be now – although truthfully, who the hell knows what Godwin looks like now? If I had to guess I’d say that he’s grizzled and that he has wiry grey hairs sprouting unattractively from his ears.

No the lawyer looks like Godwin looked approximately 35 years ago when he was as pink and plump and creaseless as a newborn baby, and I was flirting with him. This was odd because I reckon the lawyer and Godwin are approximately the same age.

The lawyer was extremely well spoken. Good with puns. Good with banter. At some point after we had wrung all the humor out of our mutual dislike of airports and TSA, and our speculations about how Amish men managed to keep their hats on when they fall asleep on trains, the lawyer tapped my book lightly: “What are you reading?”

Evicted,” I said. “Excellent investigation into one of the leading factors that keeps poor people poor in this country. Did you know that most poor working families are living unassisted in the private rental market and are spending half to three-quarters of their income on housing costs?”

“I did know that, as a matter of fact,” the lawyer said. “I used to be chief counsel for the NYC Housing Authority. At the point in time when housing projects had fallen into massive disfavor so we were shutting them down. And, of course, theoretically, many people who were eligible for public housing in projects should have been eligible for housing vouchers. Except at that particular point in time, we were gutting the welfare system. So…” He shrugged.

“You must read this book!” I screeched. “I should be finished with it by the time I get off in Poughkeepsie –“

“Well, then, we’ll trade books!” cried the lawyer.

Except I wasn’t finished with Evicted by the time I got off the train.

The lawyer insisted on giving me his book anyway – a first edition omnibus of three Flashman novels. It had obviously occupied a place of pride in somebody’s library for many years.

“Oh, you shouldn’t,” I said.

“Oh, I should,” he said.

He also gave me his card.

He kept touching my hand when I said goodbye to him. Our farewell, in fact, had the feel of two old lovers who’d been meeting once a year for a day of hot sex in a hotel for decades and decades.

And now I’m gonna have to read the book. Even though I have absolutely no interest in George MacDonald Fraser. Because when someone gives you a book, it’s like a bookclub selection from God.

###

It wasn’t just my white liberal guilt that made me respond to Evicted so deeply.

Long-time readers may remember that a mere five years ago I was living in absolute squalor in the Cement Bungalow 10 miles outside of Ithaca in a town called Freeville, then as now the capital of Tompkins County’s thriving methamphetamine industry.

I had to maintain a house.

After vanishing completely off the face of the planet for four weeks, Ben had magically reappeared with a new girlfriend who was so in-LUV that she was willing to let him crawl into her life like a hermit crab. She was footing all the bills. And Ben had decided to take me to court for custody of Robin. Now that he had a girlfriend that could afford Robin’s standard of living.

This could have been a joke.

Except that it wasn’t.

There was no fucking way I was gonna let Ben have custody of Robin.

Because I was determined that Robin was gonna graduate from high school, and I didn’t trust Ben to see that through.

So, I took Ben to mediation and I won. Lucky me! A surly teenager! All mine except for visitation.

I snagged a horrible minimum wage job that paid $850 a month.

And the rent on the Cement Bungalow was $650 a month.

Yes, yes, yes – I certainly had the qualifications and the resume to snag a better job although at that point in time, I was so broken in mind and spirit that I think any interviewer would have called Security to have me forcibly ejected from his/her office after the first round of questions. (And what do you think you have to contribute to [Corporate Name Goes Here]?)

Everything I owned on the planet was in storage in Monterey.

And storage costs money – which eventually, after I used up my small savings, I could no longer pay.

The role that storage facilities play in homelessness is one of the scenarios discussed at some length in Evicted.

Long story short – my friend Susan (Max’s godmother) who owns a lot of real estate in West Oakland told me she would take my stuff and store it for me in the basement of one of the properties she owned.

Except that she didn’t.

She and her husband Jeff (whom I do not like), and Marybeth and her husband Kim (the perps in the photo above) and Max went through the stuff, loaded up a small part of it. Max put that small part in storage in San Francisco where it remains to this day.

The rest got auctioned off. I assume.

I could just imagine their conversation while they were doing it –

“Poor Patty! Why did she ever start that business in the first place? I could have told her it was doomed to failure –“

“It’s not that she’s stupid. She’s smart. But she’s got no common sense –“

“And what the hell is this? Why did she put this into storage? Why didn’t she just get rid of it?”

"Why didn't she have a rainy day fund?"

Etcetera, ad nauseam.

Oh, I tortured myself pretending to be a fly on that wall.

The utter humiliation of it. The shame.

Sort of as though your closest friends had all of a sudden decided to conduct a colonoscopy on you. For kicks.

There was really nothing I could do. I didn’t have any money.

Money is really the only thing that protects you. Don't have it? Better convince yourself that you like the feeling of free fall.

Susan and Marybeth were actually doing me a favor.

I knew that.

And yet I felt so betrayed.

Reading Evicted was very healing because it made me realize that this horrifying experience that had shamed me to my very marrow wasn’t unique but evidence of a pattern of systemic societal failure. In my case, when a bunch of Wall Street bankers decided to get rich by loaning money to people who didn’t have any and selling that debt – bam! Twenty percent of the American economy had to be surgically amputated. I was part of that 20%.

The families described in Evicted just had the misfortune to be born poor.

Don’t kid yourself: There’s plenty of bank to be made exploiting the poor.

###

Anyway, I have made it up into the middle class again. By dint of a lot of hard work.

But I will never speak to either Susan or Marybeth again.

Never.

Max tells me they are somewhat mystified by this.

Fuck ‘em.

Seeing that photo of Marybeth and Kim did make me cry, though.
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telegraph


After dreaming about it, I was moved to Google-streetview the old apartment on Telegraph Avenue. It’s still there! And it’s still got the adult bookstore on its ground floor. So funny!

Those bay windows on the second floor are the ones Danny jumps out of. The tree, though, was the merest sapling when I lived there.

###

Dreamed that Max (my oldest son) and I were running around on the subway. And I was in an odd, petulant, resentful mood – Max was not paying enough attention to me! So at some point when he was running to catch a train, I deliberately dawdled behind so that I missed the train. And then it occurred to me that I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was. That the subway system had changed dramatically since the last time I’d been on it. I was now quite lost.

In the dream, Max was very excited because he’d just adopted Justin. (Robin’s high school best friend who committed suicide his first year in college.) “It’s a weird thing to do, I know,” he told me. “But I’m absolutely convinced I can save him.”

###

Weather has turned spectacular, so I’ve been spending as much time as I can outside, soaking up that Vitamin D.

The Goddess of Smartphones has got her fountain back:

unnamed


She really is the Goddess of Smartphones, as you can see from this highly pixilated close-up:

unnamed-2


Smartphones would not be invented for another 100 years when this statue was created, so credit those Vanderbilts with prescience as well as with obscene amounts of money.

###

RTT is a bit disturbed by the fact that his father hasn’t contacted him since his father has been in Europe.

What if that woman murdered dad? he texted.

This was the first I’d heard that Ben was flying off to Europe to meet a woman.

I found it pretty amusing that he would keep that info from me. Honestly, B – after all this time, do you think I really care?

B’s always had the capacity to get completely caught up in the adventure of the moment to the exclusion of everything else – particularly when the moment has a female costar.

I’ve seen this numerous times, but this is the first time RTT has experienced it.

I debated explaining it to him: This is the way your father reinvents himself when he finds his present reality too constraining. Likely he’s telling the woman – whoever she is – a complicated series of lies. He’s a bestselling novelist in the States! Or maybe a ghostwriter for a bestselling novelist. Or maybe a lion tamer with a traveling circus.

Avowals of grand passion will be exchanged: I never thought I would feel this way again! I don’t see how I can live without you.

At my present remove, I find this behavior almost endearing.

It wasn’t always.

But then I realized it benefits Robin in no way whatsoever to learn these truths about his father. So I texted him back, Trips are really ABSORBING as you know. I’m sure he’s fine. He’s living a life that’s outside his daily routine and reveling in it, you know?

Robin and Ben have a curiously codependent relationship in which Ben nags Robin relentlessly and continuously.

I’m sure it does feel strange to Robin to have that nagging disappear so suddenly.

But Robin is 22 years old now.

He shouldn’t need to be nagged.
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gm



Spent the first part of Mothers Day in a snit because the offspring were pretty late with those adulatory phone calls plus neither of them appears to have the slightest inclination to tattoo “Mom” in a big heart on their Popeye muscles.

###

Went running – and almost literally ran into Donnelly Paulson, himself running for the Dutchess County Legislature. Although, unfortunately, not from my district.

I suspect Donnelly spends so much time walking his dog on the grounds of the Vanderbilt Estate because he sees it as a way to connect with potential voters. He’s not shy about introducing himself: “Hi! I’m Donnelly Paulson, and I’m running for…”

When I encountered him yesterday, though, he was a bit shaken up.

“I’ve just spent 20 minutes talking to a couple of Trump voters,” he told me. “And they don’t seem to care one whit that Trump has broken practically every one of his campaign promises.”

I shrugged. “Even Nixon after his impeachment managed to maintain a 28% approval rating. You figure Trump’s gonna retain about 30% of his base no matter what. They didn’t vote for him because of his campaign promises. They voted for him because he pisses off the right people. They voted with their middle fingers, you might say.”

Donnelly shook his head. “I just don’t understand it.”

“Well,” I said. “You can’t afford to alienate them. Just because they voted for Trump doesn’t mean they won’t vote for you. In local elections, people tend to vote for candidates they know and like personally. Politics is really secondary. Most people know Jack Shit about local issues.”

Indeed.

Donnelly is waaaaaay hunky. Hunky to the point that were I 15 or 20 years younger, I might seriously entertain a crush. Tall, dark-haired. Did I mention tall? Tall! Looks a bit like George Mallory after whom my LJ is named. A social studies teacher at Poughkeepsie High School, which has got to be one of the noblest and hardest jobs ever invented.

In the evening, Pat and Ed invited me over for dinner. And that was nice, too. Excellent food, stimulating conversation.

So all in all, a good day.

Except at one in the morning, I woke up in a complete panic.

I was actually so freaked that I had to drink myself back to sleep, which is always problematic.

The panic seems to be revolving around my planning for my Memorial Day trip. Except there’s no reason for me to be panicking over my Memorial Day trip. I like Carol; I’m certain I will have a good time hanging out with her. I like Chicago; I’m certain I will have a good time hanging out there. Whistler’s Mother is back at the Chicago Art Institute! Plus Toulouse-Lautrec and Sunday on the Isle of Grant Jatte! And the Thorne dollhouses!

There’s some part of me, though, that’s getting more and more and more reclusive. Like really, I’ve got my living space configured precisely the way I like it, so why should I ever leave?

I suppose that’s the part of me that’s raising all that fuss at one in the morning.
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I’m feeling incredibly cranky. Like if I were Jehovah, Zeus, or Odin, I’d be smiting revenants left and right, and thinking up incredibly inventive plagues to visit upon them.

###

Like yesterday… The last day of taxes, right? Jerry, the administrator at the TaxBwana site at the Dead & Dying Mall, asked me to come in even though I wasn’t on the schedule because he was anticipating that a great hoard of taxpayers who’d put off doing their 1040s till the very last minute would drop in – and he was right.

There’s a certain art to providing services for huge numbers of clients.

You gotta assembly-line them somehow. Those long, personal conversations one enjoys having to establish rapport must be deferred – in the interests of serving as many clients as possible.

Likewise the giving of helpful advice that one knows clients will ignore.

So anyway, one of my first clients was a cook holding down three jobs. He was getting a small refund from the Feds but he owed a shitload of cash to New York State because he wasn’t having enough state taxes withheld from his various paychecks.

True, English was not his first language. However, I think he understood enough English to follow this conversation. I base this deduction on the fact that he was also paying child support, and when I asked him, “Any chance that the mother of your kids would let you declare any of them as dependents?” (since that would be an alternative method of decreasing his tax liability), he snorted and said, “Absolutely not – she hates me.” That’s actually a fairly high level exchange so far as English as a Second Language is concerned.

After I finish crunching the numbers, I always sit down with clients and give them the opportunity to review the form with me and compare it to their 2015 form. During this brief discussion, we’ll talk generally about ways they might be able to reduce their tax liability in the coming year: I am not a financial advisor, but I play one in the world of nonprofits!

About half the time, they’re interested in having this conversation; about half the time, they’re not.

This man was definitely not.

The next step is to trade places with a colleague. I will proceed to reduplicate all the work my colleague did preparing the tax forms, and he or she will reduplicate my work. This is our quality assurance process.

So anyway, the woman who QAs the cook is Little Miss Bleeding Heart Liberal who decides he needs a Spanish interpreter to explain the complexities of the state withholding system. And this proceeds to take up 45 minutes during which time the line of people actually waiting to have their taxes done grows longer and longer.

And frankly, I am wanting to grab Little Miss Bleeding Heart Liberal by the hair, pound her head into the nearest wall, and then invest my life savings in Make America Great Again baseball caps because everything she’s doing is a total waste of time. Plus – and vanity is everything, after all! – she is majorly disrespecting my assessment of what needed to be done in this situation. It isn’t virtue signaling, exactly; I could see she was a helpful sort who goes out of her way to have pleasant conversations with strangers on supermarket lines when said strangers look stressed. She had a good heart.

But it was just so unnecessary.

I would bet $100 – serious bank for me! – that the cook will not march into his HR office this week demanding to fill out a new W-4.

###

From taxes to my intermediate English class. With a brief break to eat bad pizza but helas! not to exercise.

Can you tell I need my exercise?

Because it uses up all that kinetic energy that otherwise gets channeled into fantasies about pounding well-meaning individuals’ heads into walls!

###

Got home and Max called. He’s doing well. We discuss Imane’s latest misadventures –

Max laughs. “It’s so funny the way you keep calling her, ‘My little bad girl.’”

“Well, she is a little bad girl! I mean, I feel an enormous amount of affection for her. But there’s no denying that she’s got that grifter thing going. Of course, most 20-year-olds I know kinda do.”

“Really? You think so?”

“Oh, absolutely. Not in their interactions with other 20-year-olds necessarily. But don’t you remember? I remember very clearly! When I was 20, everyone over the age of 20 was old, and old people really don’t matter very much unless you happen to be related to them.”

“Huh,” said Max. “You could be right.”

“I am right,” I said. “And furthermore, 20-year-olds don’t distinguish between old people. You could be 30 years old; you could be 60 years old. Thing is you’re old, so you don’t count! You should be starting to pick up on some of that yourself since you just turned 30, which makes you officially old –“

“Huh,” Max said again.

###

One of the things Max told me in that conversation was that he was going to delete his Facebook account.

Second person yesterday to announce the imminent deletion of a Facebook account.

Really, I should delete my Facebook account. Facebook is an enormous time sink. Plus it’s a guaranteed method for fanning suicidal thoughts should you happen to log on to it while feeling depressed. Look at all those happy selfies! you'll think. All those people are living rich, rewarding, successful lives! Meanwhile, my most meaningful personal relationship is with Dr. Who. Who never pays any attention to me! And come to think of it, neither do any of those people living rich, rewarding, successful lives on Facebook.

I don’t delete my Facebook account for the following reasons:

1. It is my only way to keep in touch with the scattered DiLucchio Tribe.

2. I communicate regularly with Lois Lane on Facebook.

3. I am an administrator for the Sooper Sekrit Political Group – which is busily gearing up for world domination.

And that means that some day, there will be a big bronze statue of me with an inscription, Mother of the Revolution! Right there on Wall Street, right there between the bull with the big balls and the petulant little girl! But only if I remain on Facebook.

The Sooper Sekrit Political Group, though, is really fucking annoying. Constant thrashes over identity politics.

I loathe identity politics.

Though I’m completely on board with many of the constituent movements commonly filed under the general heading of “identity politics.” I think Black Lives Matter, for example, has an incredibly important agenda, and I thought it was smart of them to hire mega-ad agency J. Walter Thompson: Their message must go mainstream; it’s too important to remain marginalized.

But so far as I'm concerned, the only important battle in a political sense is the battle between the 99 Percenters and the One Percenters.

Everything else is a complete distraction.

What’s called identity in today’s "politics" (sic) is really just an extension of the Starbucks divide-and-sell-more-beverages doctrine, a way to distract people struggling to keep their heads above water from the fact that they have more in common than they have to disagree about.

Identity politics is a reflection of market segments, a methodology that was created to sell ads to television networks. It’s kind of the Left’s replacement for class, but it can only exist under mass market conditions.
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Do you know what this means?

The crux is round the challenge of forming a collective intelligence in a context of exponential technology - when there will be no more paradigms. Paradigms are largely the result of forming coherent collective intelligence (a) using broadcast media (including books, journals, etc.) and (b) in an adaptive landscape that requires a "paradigm change" no more than once or twice every century. The post-paradigmatic mind requires a different form of networking.

Because I sure as hell don’t.

And when I pointed out to the writer – the alpha male in the Sooper Sekrit Political Action Group – that this might as well be written in TRAPPIST-1e-ese, he proceeded to go all huffy and imperious on me.

“Well, let’s take another tactic, shall we?” I said. “What do you mean exactly by ‘collective intelligence.’ This group? A larger group? All mankind connected by technology-mediated telepathy? Because I’m telling you that language like this is exclusionary. There’s a reason why I’m practically the only woman in this group, you know.”

Right.

And that reason isn’t because middle-aged eggheads give me a woody.

###

But never mind the Sooper Sekrit Political Action Group. It’s Spring! Officially. And though the snow banks are still six feet deep on the ground, the sun is bright and the birds are singing.

Some day – possibly within the next century – I will have saved enough to get my balding tires replaced, and then I can start going on roadtrips again! I want to go here:

wharton


In fact, I want somebody to propose to me so that I can get married here.

That’s Edith Wharton’s house. She designed it.

###

Satisfying phone chat with the Numbah One son yesterday. “I’ve found something that actually juices me about law school,” he told me excitedly.

That thing?

Mock trials!

He’s really, really good at them.

Which should come as no surprise: Max is incredibly articulate, and he’s always been able to out-argue practically anyone on the planet – even me, and I’m no slouch at arguing. Also, he has an amazing voice, a deep, mellifluous baritone.

“Well, that’s a specialty,” I said. “Because I daresay at least 50% of your classmates hate and fear mock trials –“

“Oh, that percentage is a lot higher than 50%,” he said. “But the thing is that it’s difficult for me to bond with the other people who are good at mock trials. They were the debate kids in high school! They’re all so hetero-normative!”

“You say ‘hetero-normative’ with the same distain that a Trump supporter might say ‘Moslem,’” I pointed out gently, and to his credit, he was suitably abashed.
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For Christmas I ate chocolate-covered potato chips, drank limoncello, went on multiple invigorating tramps around the snow-covered parklands of various disintegrating Hudson Valley mansions, and tried to figure out why the death of George Michael was causing such an enormous outpouring of collective grief. I mean, c’mon: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go?

I also watched the last few episodes of Season 6 of The Sopranos. I’d missed Season 6 when the series was in regular broadcast.

I have mixed feelings about The Sopranos. Yeah, yeah, it’s brilliant filmmaking. It’s also filled with negative stereotypic clichés about Southern Italians that as a Southern Italian myself, make me furious.

It’s always open season on Southern Italians so far as the entertainment industry is concerned.

I remember going into the break room at SRI back in those bleak Ithaca days and hearing this guy go on and on about how funny Jersey Shore was.

“How can you watch that bigoted tripe?” I said.

“They’re guineas,” he said. “Gumbas. They’re funny.”

This guy, by the way, was black.

I digress.

Much like those chocolate-covered potato chips, I didn’t expect to like those last few episodes of The Sopranos, but I did. They were filled with really subtle touches – as for example, in the brief one-shot where the contractor dumps asbestos into the Jersey marshlands, and you hear the quacking of ducks. Ducks, you will remember from the very first episode, are totemic animals signifying the good side of Tony’s nature, so this brief, throwaway scene is a brilliant thematic summation of just how corrupt Tony has become. Brilliant but not belabored: exquisite art-making.

###

Spoke with the offspring.

Poor RTT’s last paycheck is being held hostage by the simple, sexy, affirmations contractor for whom he worked last summer. The contractor apparently did a substandard job for a roofing client who is the father of one of RTT’s friends. The roofing client refuses to pay him.

“Clint says that if I talk to him, then he’ll pay me,” RTT told me gloomily.

“That’s outrageous!” I said. “Don’t get involved!”

“Yeah, well. If I don’t, then he won’t pay me.”

I’ll send you the amount that would have been in that last paycheck!” I said.

Which really, I can’t afford to do. But you know – my kid! So it’s ramen for me and the cats this January!

###

Also had another hour-long conversation with Max. The group he was going to go to Standing Rock with had called off the trip – blizzards and the legal turnaround that tabled the crisis at least until the spring. (Not to worry, though: If you contributed to his GoFundMe – which at least one of you did – the money he collected did go to Standing Rock.)

So the group decided to go camping together in Utah instead.

Max didn’t actually know the members of this group very well, and their dynamics were… well… weird.

“I kept trying to get them to address the group process,” he told me. “To dialogue together!”

“Max, Max, Max. Dialogue is not a verb.”

“I can’t hear you, Mom. What?”

“Never mind.”

We then debated for half an hour or so about the merits of making all process between all human beings transparent – he, using phrases like, “I carry my own privilege –“; me, rolling my eyes.

“You know, Max, I’m of the very Victorian opinion that all conversations between human beings are conversations about process,” I said. “This is why I’m such a big fan of small talk! If you’re at all intuitive, everything you need to know about the dynamics between the conversationalists is there in the vocal inflections, in the interstices between words, and stuff like that. And I’m very intuitive –“

I can’t be sure, but I think he actually snorted!

“Well, I get that you and Robin don’t think I’m intuitive,” I said. “However, I’ve had my intuition confirmed by disinterested panels of outside scientists, so I’m confident about it. Anyway, this was supposed to be a lead-in to something that actually happened –“

“Right! Well, two of the guys decided we should have a solstice celebration. And it was just like very weird energy. So finally I stood up and said, ‘I’m not comfortable with the direction this interaction is moving in. Is anybody else uncomfortable?’ And nobody said anything.”

“What? Did those two guys go all Charles Manson on you?”

“Yes! That was it!”

See, Max? I wanted to preen. One well-aimed cultural referent is worth 50 polysyllabic paragraphs of sociobabble. But I didn’t.

Max continued, “So then I said, ‘That’s cool. I’m interested in discussing my own level of discomfort further, but I also don’t want to derail a collective process, so I’m going to go back to my tent now, and if you all are open to it, we can discuss this more tomorrow –‘ And then people started saying, ‘Well, wait a minute: I’m not really okay with where this is going either –‘ “

At that moment, I realized that Max was actually doing something that I do, too!

Namely, he was speaking out against a potentially negative social interaction that he was witnessing.

Except that when I do it, I always have to work myself up into a state of fulminating rage.

He can do it and remain perfectly genial, which means he doesn’t put people on the defensive. This means that he has the capacity to actually catalyze people to change those negative behaviors. Because he's not attacking them. He's merely pointing out the ways those behaviors are negative.

I realize I’m not articulating this at all well. Blame the effects that yesterday’s chocolate-covered potato chip binge are still having on my brain But this was rather a profound insight.

And I was actually filled with a type of awe for my son, "dialoguing" and polysyllabic process analyses notwithstanding. Creating an environment where people feel okay about changing their minds is quite an accomplishment.
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Later Ben told me, “For three years, I thought I was going to die. And the thing that kept me alive was the thought that I had to be there when Robin graduated from college.”

###

Only Robin didn’t graduate.

He may still graduate.

He probably will graduate. In December.

But we all thought he was going to graduate on Saturday. In fact, we thought he had two graduations: One from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry on Saturday and one from Syracuse University on Sunday. Max flew out here, and he and I drove up to Syracuse. We were just fighting traffic to edge our way into the overcrowded parking lot and figure out where we had to go to make it to the Environmental Science reception – on time! whew! – when Robin texted: Where are you?

On our way to Baker, I texted back.

Wait no. I’m not there. Can you come pick me up

“I just parked!” I said to Max furiously. “Why can’t he walk? It’s less than a mile.”

“C’mon, Mom,” Max said mildly. “Don’t be like that. The weekend is about him, right?”

So we drove to Robin’s house.

Robin has moved three times in three years. Each time to a house that for all intents and purposes was identical to the house he lived in the year before. Syracuse University is surrounded by a student ghetto consisting of acres and acres of two-story A-frames with steeply pitched roofs and rickety porches. It’s an ugly area, and it functions kind of like the Serengeti Plain for the predators who live in the heart of the city a few miles down the hill. I sometimes try to figure out what population these structures were originally designed to house, and I can’t. But then, I’ve never been able to figure out why Syracuse exists – I mean in the economic geographic sense.

Robin was sitting on his rickety porch waiting for us. In a raggedy teeshirt and ratty jeans. Well, okay, I thought. He’s dressing down. Certainly wouldn’t be my choice, but who am I to judge?

He got in the car reeking of stale cigarette smoke.

“I’m not graduating,” he said.

I thought this was a joke. It is, in fact, a typical Robin humor gambit.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “Well, it was awfully nice to see you. Max, you up for the drive back?”

“No,” said Robin. “I’m serious.”

"You're serious." I blinked at him. “What do you mean you’re not graduating? What happened?”

“I stopped going to classes this semester,” he said. “I blew them off. So I flunked out.”

“You stopped going to classes?” I said. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just couldn’t make myself care.”

I looked at him, and I thought, I really should be furious.

But I didn’t feel furious. I didn’t feel anything.

And I knew, intellectually, that not going to classes, not graduating, was not the issue here. The issue was that Robin has profound emotional and psychological issues that he’s never, ever gotten help for – never got counseling after Justin’s suicide; never got counseling after that time that Pat, the one savvy human among Robin’s motley assortment of drinking buddies, got concerned enough after Robin said, “I wish I was dead,” one time too many to call an ambulance and have him carted off to a local psychiatric facility. He was supposed to get counseling. But he never followed up on it.

What would a real mother do in these circumstances? I asked myself. Because I’ve never felt like a real mother. This comes from having been inadequately parented myself. I used to – no shit – watch The Cosby Show for tips on real parenting. (And you can imagine my feelings when Cosby turned out to be a serial rapist only a few degrees short of a necrophiliac.)

A real mother would recognize that her son is in intense pain, I thought.

So, I reached over and just hugged him. “Oh, honey,” I said.

His eyes had that teary, glassy look, but he didn’t cry.

I suppose in addition to all those cigarettes, he’d also been smoking a lot of dope.

###

What to do next?

We drove off to meet Ben who Robin had delivered his announcement to just as Ben was taxiing from the bus station. Ben was standing in front of Starbucks, and my heart just broke to see him – he was wearing his natty straw Panama and his old blue blazer, prepared to be so proud.

I got out to talk to Ben.

“I want to kill that little fucker,” Ben said.

“Well, Ben,” I said. “Understand that I am not saying this to be cruel. But the apple does not fall far from the tree, and you have to understand that he is modeling behavior that he saw in you the whole time he was growing up. I mean, all that obsessive lying stuff. In fact, you’re probably the only one who can reach him because you used to pull shit like this all the time. You know what the motives are. I’m kind of a compulsively blunt and honest person, so I don’t.”

“Never mind that,” said Ben. “Without a degree, in one month he’s going to have to start repaying those school loans. How’s he going to do that with no degree and no job? His life will be ruined. We’ve got to get him reenrolled in school to buy him time. There’s a timeline involved there with the registrar, with financial aid. It may already be too late.”

I shook my head. “I get that, Ben. But this is a kid in crisis. And you have absolutely no guarantee that even if we do manage somehow to smooth is way back to school for a semester so he can get that degree that he’ll follow through with what he needs to do if his mental health is this bad.”

“Well, he’s just got to,” Ben said. “Send him over to me please. I need to talk to him alone.”

I got back in the car. “Robin, your Dad would like to talk to you.”

Robin got out.

Max and I looked at each other.

“Now what?” I said.

“Well, I think we try to keep it as light as possible,” Max said. “We go somewhere, the four of us, and we interact as positively as possible. No drama.”

No drama.

Right.

###

Max ended up spending the night with Robin – the plan all along had been that they would hang out Saturday night. They see each other so seldom.

I carted Ben back to T-Burg where we watched a series of really awful movies – something called The Keeping Room, which appeared to be a remake of Night of the Living Dead except the zombies were Union scouts in the Civil War; something called Dope, which was a black teen exploitation comedy that was supposed to teach us that not all young African Americans aspire to selling dope on corners. I also occupied myself by writing a four-page list of all the things that Robin would have to do if he wanted to get readmitted to school so he could get a degree in December: See registrar. See Academic Dean. Find out if needed classes or equivalents will be given first semester. Talk to mental health person –

You shouldn’t be doing that list,” Ben said. “Robin should be doing that list.”

“I get that,” I said. “And Robin will be doing this list. Then you can compare Robin’s list with my list to make sure he hasn’t missed anything.”

Really, I wanted to get shit-faced drunk, and I don’t even like drinking very much. Ben poured me the last of the expensive single malt Scotch that predated his diagnosis and then gave me a Xanax. I still couldn’t sleep. It’s not as though I was feeling anything. I just Could. Not. Sleep.

###

In the morning, Ben and I drove back up to Syracuse. Loaded Max and Robin into the car. At some point the night before, Robin had wandered over to his girlfriend’s house – not the girlfriend he’d been so smitten with back in January; the girlfriend he believed was out of his class, Daisy to his Gatsby. He’d been so infatuated with her; I’d heard that they’d broken up, but I hadn’t heard any details. I wondered if that breakup had somehow triggered the behavior we were looking at now. I wondered if he felt bad at all since he’d apparently had no qualms about walking out on the brother he hadn't seen in a year, the brother who'd flown 3,500 miles to watch him graduate, leaving that brother in the awful house with the rickety porch.

###

“Did you talk at all?” I asked Max on the drive back to the Hudson Valley.

“We talked some,” Max said.

“Well, I mean – I’m not asking you to betray any confidences. I know full well that Robin loves me, but he doesn’t like me very much. I’ve kind of made my peace with that.”

“Oh, no,” Max said. “In fact, he said some pretty complimentary things about you. He said he would never even have made it through high school except you were on his ass –“

“Well, that is true,” I said. And flashed momentarily on those epic screaming battles back in the Cement Bungalow. Fuckin’ Freeville! Now, apparently the epicenter of Tompkins County’s burgeoning methamphetamine industry.

“I’m sick,” he’d whine.

“You are not sick, and you are going to school if I have to physically drag you out of bed and carry you on my back every inch of the way,” I would snarl.

Ugly, ugly scenes. Day after day.

I may be a complete failure, I thought. My business failed, my husband walked out on me, I'm 3,500 miles from anyone who cares whether I live or die. I'm living in absolute squalor. But by God, I'm going to see to it that this kid graduates from high school.

Bad, bad times.

I quickly willed myself not to think of them.

###

So, Robin. A really brilliant kid. Superhumanly physically attractive, too. But a bird with a broken wing.

What is wrong with him?

Clinical depression?

Bipolar disorder?

Could he possibly be a borderline personality?

My mother was a borderline personality. Is there a biochemical factor to borderline personality syndromes, possibly genetic? Or is it a behavioral dysfunction?

I don’t know.

The other possibility, of course, is that he’s some kind of sociopath. And that would be ironic – to have one child who’s intensely empathetic and another child who feels no empathy at all.

###

I had to get Max back to my place so that he could work on his law review paper. Max is flying back to California tomorrow, leaving for his summer clerkship in Albuquerque on Thursday. The paper's got to get done. No drama.

So, we left Robin with Ben who will hover over him making sure that the things that need to get done to get Robin reenrolled – assuming that Robin can be reenrolled – will get done even if (as likely) Ben has to do them himself. I still think the most pressing issues are (1) Robin’s mental health and (1) Corollary A: Why is Robin turning into such a pathological liar? But I understand that those issues aren’t on as tight a deadline.

The plan is to get those things dealt with and then to dispatch Robin to me here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley.

I’m not sure what I’ll actually do with Robin here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley. Talk to him if he’s up to talking. Cook for him. Give him books to read. Take him on long hikes.

That's assuming, of course, that he actually comes to the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley. I have a feeling he won't. The quaint and scenic Hudson Valley is not filled with amusements that would appeal to him.

“I should never have come to school here!” Robin said in that initial conversation in the car. “I’m not interested at all in this subject matter!”

“I know,” I said. “Personally, I was shocked when you decided to go here. I always thought SUNY Purchase was the best choice for you. You have artistic talents, you have the artistic temperament. Purchase is a place where artists flourish. But you know, once you’d made up your mind, it was impossible for me to tell you anything.”

###

At home back with my cats, back with people who care about me, I still don’t feel anything. There were errands I had to do this morning that I did because they were on my list of things to do. I made breakfast for Max because that’s the way that mothers should behave.

But I feel numb.

If I could find my “Off” button, I’d definitely hit it.
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My revenue generation has fallen short of my goals but may still be sufficient unto my little gray mouse needs.

Here’s hoping.

It really is not possible to live out in the country without a car.

I’m still thinking brakes don’t suddenly go down to metal without warning, and that therefore the grating sound I heard driving back through the Catskills is somehow connected to the exhaust system, which should still be under labor warranty, but who fucking knows?

I’m still operating under the Big Black Cloud that descended upon me – ulp! – eight years ago when I lost my business, my house, my everything.

It has occurred to me, though, that I’m now past whatever dark stains blotched my credit report since credit reports, like skin cells, magically regenerate every seven years.

If I applied for a credit card, I’d probably get it.

And I probably should. Credit cards were made for putting the costs of car repairs on.

enhanced-buzz-wide-8910-1460142463-7


In other news, I watched the Anderson Cooper/Gloria Vanderbilt documentary Nothing Left Unsaid.

I was prepared to hate it. Gloria Fucking Vanderbilt! The name that crammed a million fat asses into overly tight designer jeans back in my salad days!

But, in fact, I liked it a lot.

She quotes Mary Gordon: A fatherless girl thinks all things possible and nothing safe.

[Waving hand wildly] That would be me!

Although wealth beyond the wildest dreams of avarice and life that turns into a mythology practically the moment it's lived is not me.

I really liked the fact that Vanderbilt’s son, Anderson Cooper, was the person who was interviewing her.

My own kids are utterly uninterested in my life. They love me! Of that, I have no doubt, and Max, at least, is very conscientious about staying in contact with me. We have interesting conversations. But they’re never about my life.

Recently, Max was applying for some sort of… something.

You may consider discussing how your background, life or work experiences, culture, and perspectives would contribute to the diversity of the entering class. You may also describe any adversity that you have overcome, including discrimination, linguistic barriers, or a personal or family history of educational or socioeconomic disadvantage.

“So! Should I go for Deep Springs, growing up in a divorced home, or my relationship with Fletcher*** ?” Max asked me.

*** The privileged bosom pal of Max’s youth who fell into oxycontin abuse, deceit, and ruin, despite the many expensive rehabs his parents were able to place him in.

“You should write about none of those things,” I said. “I’m pretty sure Deep Springs these days is viewed as a bastion of male privilege, and lots of kids grow up in divorced homes. And though Fletcher was your close friend for a long time, ultimately, he passed out of your life.

“I think you should write about what you talked about a couple of weeks ago with your therapist – what we talked about on the phone. That there’s a history of undiagnosed mental illness on my side of the family, and the effects it had on me and subsequently on you. Intergenerational PTSD. That this legacy drew you to social work and ultimately into law school when you realized you wanted more agency.”

He liked the idea, so I emailed him about 20 pages from my journal – keyword: Mother.

But I doubt very much that he’s going to read them.

In fact, I doubt very much that either of my kids is ever going to read my journal, even after I’m dead.

Which makes me start wondering what I should do with my journal. For after I’m dead. Whether I should make any plans for it. I have been keeping it for more than 50 years. Maybe it has some kind of value as a historical document.
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Ca8eafoVIAABAC0-1


The soundtrack to Patrizia: The Lost Years has a lot of Prince on it.

1999, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, the Cyndi Lauper cover of When You Were Mine but also a relatively obscure tune from the 1982 breakthrough album entitled Automatic:

The backup girls – really Prince in falsetto – croon A-U-T-O-matic, just tell me what to do, ooh, A-U-T-O-matic, I'm so in love with you, while the androgynous, insinuating over-voice wails dissonantly:

I remember how you kissed me, not with your lips but with your soul
With you I'm never bored, talk to me some more
I can hear you, I'm going to have to torture you now...


I had a whole little dance routine I’d worked out to that number. The song didn’t get any play in the clubs I went to in between watching people die on the cancer wards or patching them up in the ER, so I practiced my dance routine at home, prancing around in front of the enormous pair of full-length mirrors that were practically the only furniture in my apartment on Derby Street. Dancing by myself was okay. I did a lot of blow in those days. I liked to buy my own blow, and I didn’t like to share.

###

I hardly know how to begin enumerating the many things that made Prince such a unique, extraordinary artist. Guitar virtuoso right up there with Jimi Hendrix (whose style was very similar): Check. Evocative, soul-wrenching, cheeky vocalist: Check. Brilliant lyricist: Check. Pyrotechnic performer (I saw him live twice in the 80s): Check. Maestro of Self-Invention: Check.

I imagine there’s a treatise that could be written on Prince’s insistence on living in Minneapolis even after he got rich as Croesus. Resolved: Prince Rogers Nelson was the quintessential Midwesterner!

But I’m not gonna write it.

###

In other news, one of Max’s pals posted this charming picture of my oldest son on Instagram:

13006687_10207745729534997_5861777377066910882_n


In the caption, he’s saying, "I'd like to think she hates the fact she's doing this...and she'd rather be at home, in sweat pants, watching reruns of 'American Dad'."
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In exciting meine DNA über alles news, Max has now gotten into five law schools and has cracked U.S. News & World Report's much-vaunted Top Ten.

He is going to be able to put me into a very expensive Home For Embarrassing Mothers.
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Continuing in my pissy mood today. Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s good. I guess I’m just one of those people who goes about wanting to randomly smash people’s heads into the wall a certain percentage of the time. Must be my Scorpio moon. The rest of the time I’m a pussycat.

Maybe it’s just autumn.

The Future Mother of My Unborn Grandchildren is coming to visit for a couple of days next week and I’m trying to think of ways I can spoil her without seeming too officious.

Liza’s coming to New York without Max who has a fairly demanding job these days. She and I have never really spent any time together, so I decided to invite her up here to get the opportunity to know her a little. Check out her teeth. Measure her thighs. Administer the Stanford Binet. All those things that prospective mothers-in-law need to do to make sure their sons’ choices are good breeding stock.

Ha ha.

“She’s very nervous about visiting you,” Max told me on the phone last night. Squeals of girlish protest in the background. “She doesn’t want to you to know, of course –"

“Put Liza on the phone,” I said. “Hello, Liza. You should be nervous to meet me. In fact, you should be terrified because I’m going to spend 72 hours judging you –“

This was a joke, of course, but possibly the wrong kind of thing to say because it’s not clear to me that Liza has a sense of humor.

“But seriously, Liza, Max is the one who should be nervous because I’m going to share all his childhood secrets with you –“

This time she laughed.

One of my conceits is that I get along very well with people who are much younger than me. That’s probably a delusion. Older people are really quite irrelevant to younger people. Give us half a chance and we’ll start nattering about the way things used to be.

You didn’t invent it! I want to tell them. We were just like you only we used different technology!

Most of the time, though, I’m successful in shutting myself up, smiling vaguely when they get passionate.
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I've spent much of the last 10 days or so channeling the Red Queen. Running very hard to stay in the same place, but in fact not staying in the same place. In fact, slipping backwards.

"I just feel like somehow the world would be a better place if I weren't in it, you know?" I said to Max. "Like if I wasn't around, Kim Jong Il would immediately open those vast North Korean granaries and feed the people, and the Cardinals would elect a Pope who wasn't a Nazi pedophile, and Mayor Bloomburg would see the wisdom of 72 ounce Super Gulp sodas. I guess I don't have a very strong ego."

Max snorted. "Are you kidding me? That's egoism in the extreme. To think that the presence or absence of you could affect any of those things."

"I suppose that's true," I said.

"It's totally true. That's totally egotistical."

"You know back in the days of the Little Store, in slow days when no tourists were coming to Monterey, I used to make this joke," I mused. "I used to say tourists weren't coming because I was singularly repulsive. Not in the personal sense – although that too, of course – but more like the opposite pole of a magnet. I literally pushed people away. I literally prevented tourists from coming to Monterey through the sheer repulsive force of my character. That was a joke, of course, but part of me believed it –"

"Total egotism," Max said. "In fact, you have no influence whatsoever outside of the a small circle of people who love and cherish you. But you do have that very small people who love and cherish you. Which includes me. So don't talk like that."

###


I'm reading the bestseller Gone Girl. It's pretty entertaining. A very well written chick lit murder mystery. Halfway through the third chapter, I remembered that Gillian Flynn used to work for Ty when I was writing most of my stuff for Entertainment Weekly, and this also gave me an odd feeling. She figured out a way to slip off the conveyor belt and run nimbly ahead, while I stayed on it, running hard, without realizing that the conveyor belt was going in exactly the wrong direction. No wonder I didn't get anywhere.

Not only do I know the Entertainment Weekly pop culture writing scene Flynn writes about extensively, I also know the resignation (and relief) that comes from giving it up and starting a real business, a business with four walls and a counter (in Nick Dunne's case, a bar) behind which you can hide.

I also know Carthage, Missouri.

The circus stopped in Joplin for several days, and I spent several days exploring Carthage, Missouri since I'm totally obsessed with the role Missouri played in the Civil War. Really, Carthage itself probably hasn't changed all that much since the Civil War, at least not the parts I explored.

Could I write a book like Gone Girl?

I could, actually. Not easily exactly. But first person narration always flows for me, which – of course – is why I always write fiction in the third person. Gotta stay on that conveyor belt and run to keep in place, y'know!

Anyway, I pulled out the Steinbeck manuscript last night and started working on it again. I do think it's highly commercial, although the central image – the naked Chinese girl floating face up in a bed of kelp – has to be worked into the plot better.

Alfred Hitchcock worked imagistically. Really! He would come up with a list of compelling visuals, and when that list was long enough, he would devise a plot around them. And it didn't matter how flimsy the plot was, because it basically existed to showcase the images and their effects on the frail human psyches of the protagonists.

###


I've had a few adventures in the last 10 days as well. Wednesday I went to Southhampton to visit a very strange man I know. This guy – we'll call him Frederic March, which fits for all sorts of reasons – is sort of a pastiche of Geoffrey Firmin and the protagonist of the brilliant Elizabeth Hand short story, The Erl King.

Frederick March is a very brilliant, very dismissive and marginally functional alcoholic. I knew I would spend a lot of time being chased around various beds and couches (figuratively, figuratively), which, in fact, I was.

I had no intention of sleeping with him. Oddly enough, despite his constant drinking, he has no problems sustaining an erection. The problem was that he has never found me particularly attractive, being someone who in his heyday was kind of a play-uh who set his sights on status chickies. Was I ever a status chickie? I guess maybe 40 years ago. Anyway, I'm definitely not one now. He was chasing me because a man has his needs and I was there, sitting in his living room, listening to his anecdotes about his Wall Street career (crashed and burned), and his problems now wresting his inheritance from the grasp of various greedy relatives.

Frederic March is very brilliant, so it's always entertaining to talk to him. Really, I wish I could follow him around with a tape recorder for a couple of days. He is that witty.

He lives in the poor part of Southhamton. In a five bedroom house that was designed to be a summer cottage and therefore has no insulation. He spends $800 a month on heating bills.

These days, he makes his living renting out rooms to the summer tourists.

I slept in one of the guest bedrooms. Barricaded the door. Left early the next morning to explore the town. Frederick March only leaves the house to creep to a gas station about a mile down the road to buy cigarettes and Snapple to mix his rum drinks.

I'd never been to Southhampton before, but of course it's like the Holy Land for those of us who are hard core Bravo TV reality fans. Everywhere you can revisit actual scenes that were used as backdrops in the Lives of the Real Housewives. It's like the Stations of the Cross.

There's still one store on Main Street that's not an overpriced restaurant, or an antique shoppe, or a designer dress boutique that's not shuttered up till Memorial Day when the great hordes begin descending upon the town. It's a hardware store, of course. Hardware stores are kind of like the cockroaches of the retail universe. In every gentrification phase change I've ever run across, hardware stores were the very last retail outlets to go froufrou.

###


I also got very drunk with the Crazy Israeli Neighbor last weekend, and extracted her complete life story, which is truly fascinating. But recounting that one will have to wait for another day, because now there is Work To Be Done.

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