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At 4:30 in the morning, Max texted me.

Are you awake? he asked.

Well, I am now, I said. What’s up?

Turns out that he was T-4 hours from Alaska departure and was freaking out because his airline (Delta if you’d like to boycott them) was going to charge him $400 for the baggage he was taking back to California.

He’d made the trip to Alaska in a car. A very old car. A car so dilapidated, I was convinced it was going to fall apart on some deserted stretch of highway in British Columbia.

(You know that highway. The plat du jour at its one lonely diner is always long pork. There’s a service station that still sells gas for 23⊄ a gallon, and it’s staffed by zombies.)

Somehow, though, the car managed to make it all the way from Berkeley to Anchorage, but there was no way it was up to making a return trip.

There’d been a lot of stuff in that car, and much of it made the trip back to California with Nathan and John after they drove up to visit Max. But a lot of it was being crammed into suitcases in the hours before his flight.

What am I going to do? asked Max.

With more notice, you could mail some stuff to yourself, I said. But I don’t think you have the time to do that now. You’ll just make yourself anxious. If I were you, I’d just go ahead and check the bags – and think of this as a teachable moment. Resolve NEVER to get yourself in this situation ever again. Theoretically, at least, $$$ is a renewable resource.

I thought a few seconds and added, I’ll cover half the cost of the bags.

Am I fuckin’ nuts or what?

Should I feel flattered that my kid reaches out to me in times of need? Or should I feel like I’m being had?


After the plane arrived safely, Max called. “Thanks, Mom!”

“For what? Two hundred bucks is not a huge amount of money – “

“Oh, yeah. Well, that was very generous of you. But I mean, thanks for talking to me. I was really starting to feel anxious and panicky, but communicating with you really helped me calm down.”

Then he told me that one of the suitcases contained 60 pounds of fish on dry ice that he and his father had caught the last week he spent in Alaska when Bill went up to visit him.

Are you kidding me? I paid for Bill’s fish?

Until recently, Bill, please to note, made around $200,000 a year as a research neurophysiologist for Allergan. He has stock options! Why didn’t Max call his father when he was freaking out about luggage overages?

Oh, well.

The only sane reaction to the things that happen to us every day is laughter. Most of the time.


This was the same day I noticed that Ben had removed me from his Facebook flist.

As a matter of fact, I was traveling up to T-burg that very afternoon: Last time we’d seen each other, Ben and I had made a date to watch the Trumansburg Fair Demolition Derby preliminaries together, and tonight was the date.

Ben called to review logistics. “What time are you planning to get here?”

“Around 5pm. I was planning to stop in Roscoe along the way to see if I can talk Donald Trump Jr. out of committing suicide. Supposedly, he hangs out a lot at the town bar.”

Hilarious banter ensued.

“So,” I said. “Facebook. Not that anyone gives a fuck about Facebook, you understand, but why did you unfriend me? Just out of curiosity. Are you mad at me or something?”

“No! I’m not mad at you at all! I just figured that since we’re friends in real life, we don’t have to be friends on Facebook!”


The logic seemed a bit… off. But wotthehell.


But the truth came out when I arrived in T-burg.

“See, Dana and I are negotiating a relationship contract,” Ben told me. “And this book we’re reading says it’s a really bad idea to stay in contact with your exes on social media.”

“Well, we are exes,” I said. “Although frankly, I don’t think of you as an ex. I think of you as an extremely close friend.”

“Well, you and I text all the time. And we talk a lot on the phone. I figure we don’t need to use social media to stay in touch.”

This, of course, is true. Although I imagine the next thing they will be negotiating in their relationship contract is the inadvisability of regularly texting or calling your exes.

Since the new girlfriend lives 3,000 miles away in Sicily, and since, to date, they’ve spent less than two weeks breathing in each other’s carbon dioxide molecules, I think negotiating a “relationship contract” may be a bit… premature. But, hey! Mine is not to judge.

And I suppose if the goal of a romantic relationship is the formation of an impenetrable dyad that’s orthogonal to any other intimate relationship with a member of one’s sexual gender preference, then it makes perfect sense to cut off communications with me. Ben and I are definitely emotionally intimate (though I no longer feel the slightest degree of physical attraction toward him.) And any emotional intimacy that takes place outside the dyad is a form of emotional infidelity, right?

Thing is that’s just such conventional thinking.

And I’ve always given Ben credit for thinking outside the box.

But Ben has always been what I describe as an emotional hermit crab. He crawls into the preconstructed lives of his inamoratas. He’s very chameleon-like. He adapts and adopts.

And for a guy with such an excellent sense of humor, he’s strangely attracted to humorless women. I think I’m the only woman he was ever with who actually bantered along with his riffs. Dana is a therapist – of course! – and so far as I can tell, a hipper, more international reboot of the basic dour Jayne LeGros model. Humorless in other words.

Kinda like Ben's mother. I mean -- since we're pretending to be therapists here!


Apparently, they spend 20 hours a week on average Skyping.

“What do you talk about?” I asked.

“Everything. Anything,” he said.

But from the little snippets he let drop, it mostly seems like they talk about his problems. “When I first told Dana, I’d been a junkie, she said, ‘But that’s not your dirty little secret, is it? Your dirty little secret is really something quite different.’”

“Like what?” I asked. Ever hopeful for some fresh hot gossip!

He shook his head. “Oh, you know. The usual crap. The traumas that go on in everyone’s childhood.”

The intimation of secret knowledge that penetrates through his usual lies and manipulations is like Spanish fly to Ben!

My feelings are hurt but whatever. He seems really happy right now, and he has a right to that happiness, and I understand why he wants to do whatever it takes to help ensure that happiness.

If I can’t draft anyone beside Ben to be the other voice in my own inner dialogue, it's on me.


The Demo Derby turned out to be great fun, and tonight Ben, RTT, and I will be teaming up again for Trivia Night at Atlas Bowl.

Tomorrow I take off, and I’m not sure when or if I’ll be up this way again.

“I think that fuckin’ sucks that Dad took you off his friends’ list,” RTT said. He said it many times. He meant it, too.

“Oh, I don’t care, honey,” I said. “I mean Facebook is hardly the psychic roundtable at which all true emotions are arbitrated, right? People do what they need to do to make themselves happy. And anyway, the only two people on this planet who aren’t entirely replaceable for me are you and Max.”
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This may be one of my favorite pictures of Max ev-uh:


“Saudi Arabia is set to execute some kid today,” said B. “A Shiite kid. Eighteen years old. You know what his crime was? Two years ago, when he was going to school in Michigan, he attended a rally that was critical of the Saudi government.”

“And the moral of that story is: Never go to school in Michigan,” I said. “That is just insanely barbaric. And stupid.”

“Humans have been executing other humans for insanely barbaric and stupid reasons for thousands of years,” B said.

“Yeah. Right. Well. That’s why I never get too bent out of shape whenever I’m confronted by the prospect of human extinction,” I said. “Human beings are obviously a failed experiment. Sometimes I wake up, and I think, It’s all just too beautiful – this sky, these trees, these wonderful sunsets. And then I remind myself: This is sentimentality wished on you by the limitations of your sensory receptors. If you could perceive these phenomena as they really are, you wouldn’t think they were beautiful, you wouldn’t think they were horrible. They would just be. Frankly I think it would be a good thing if some Stephen King mutation virus wiped out the human race.”

“Not me,” said B. “I think it would be a good thing if the aliens invaded. And the human race learned to work together against a common enemy.”


On Thursday, I took RTT out driving. And he did reasonably well. Although clearly, he didn’t like it much.

After that, I chauffeured him around on various errands and slowly watched his mood darken for no appreciable reason – much as my own mood occasionally darkens for no appreciable reason.

We are very much alike, RTT and I. Although he is much more charismatic and therefore extroverted than I am.


In the evening, B and I went to the Zerbini Family Circus at the T-burg Fairgrounds. Quite the nostalgic little circus, and one does wish all those animal rights protestors and PETA people would go fuck themselves. I traveled with a circus for seven months; I’m in a position to know. Circus people don’t mistreat their animals: For one thing, they’re tied to those animals by strong bonds of affection; for another, those animals are their livelihood, which for practical reasons, they’re not going to undermine.

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Yesterday, the BoyZ were both at work, so I went exploring. Well. Not New World exploring. I drove to Montour Falls where I hadn’t been for at least 20 years.


See this house? Twenty years ago, I wanted to buy it. Twenty years ago, I was actually in a position to buy it. The problem, though, is that it was in Montour Falls! What the hell do you do in Montour Falls?

The falls after which the town is named are directly in back of the house:


Twenty years later, the town is slowly, slowly gaining a little prosperity on account of its proximity to Ithaca, which has become a hot real estate market.

The Montour Falls library has real Tiffany windows:


In the evening, RTT’s girlfriend came to town, specifically to accept my invitation to take them out to dinner.

(I’m afraid I couldn’t take them out anywhere fancy since that asshole still hasn’t paid me my money, and it’s looking like Small Claims Court is in my future.)

The RTT gf is extremely beautiful and extremely thin, so thin, in fact, that I wondered about anorexia. But no – I saw her put actual food in her mouth and chew it. And her teeth are flawless, so no bulimia.

Her name is Marissa, and she seems very sophisticated! She just got back from a month in France studying at the Sorbonne – she and RTT Skyped for hours every day! I like her, and, of course, I love RTT. Still, watching them last night – RTT had invited several members of the crew over, so the house was like the set of Entourage – I wondered how she could put up with this: RTT was forcing her to watch multiple episodes of Wet Hot American Summer as a testament of LUV.

“Don’t you think Marissa would rather be watching the original Breathless with Jean-Paul Belmondo?” I asked.

“Nah, she is loving this!” said RTT, and Marissa laughed. Of course, she’s only 20. Maybe she doesn’t know what she’d rather be doing yet.

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And lets hear it for Too Much Pressure – second place winners in Atlas Bowl’s Wednesday Trivia Night!

We didn’t get the one hour of free bowling. But we did get to take home a shitload of designer beer!


I was very saddened by the news that a grassfire is threatening to take out Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley.

All throughout the 70s and the early 80s, this was my stomping grounds. Back then, I rode my bicycle something like 150 miles a week: I’d start out on Spruce Street, cut south on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, come down from the Berkeley Hills on Claremont, and then peddle home on the city streets.

In my mind, this time in my life is suffused in a golden haze – although if I think about it unsentimentally, this was not a golden moment: I had a serious drug problem and the angst, which is always a constant in my psyche, had not yet been shown its seat at one of the tables farthest from the podium.

But in my golden sentimental memories, the Grizzly Peak Boulevard parkland I sped through, hunched over my handlebars, is a place out of time. I just know if I close my eyes and squeeze them hard enough, I can go back there. Bibbit will be beside me, it will be a glorious summer day, and the two of us will be singing, Someday My Prince Will Come and laughing hysterically.
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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:



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.


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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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:


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


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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I’d forgotten the way that writing something in a single swoop feels exactly like doing cocaine. A cheap high!

Finished the piece around midnight. Texted it to B who turned out to be awake and so was able to spare me the hideous public embarrassment that comes when you confuse the Indy 500 with the Daytona 500.

Here’s the piece:

In the end, I went with three Trump Insurgency blogs simply because I could not force myself to read five. Piece could probably use some cleaning up, but hey! It’s fuckin’ Medium. It’s not like I’m getting paid or anything.

Overall, I’m not entirely displeased with it. My favorite line? He equates homosexuality with the types of developmental challenges that I believe only the March of Dimes is still referring to as “birth defects.”


B and I texted for an hour. The crassest, most politically incorrect jokes you can possibly imagine! That’s one of our secret bonds. Macron’s wife was his high school teacher, B noted. In America, that would have led to a multi-state manhunt!

The way God intended! I said.

Didn’t you interview Scott Adams once when you worked for People? he asked.

I did.

Damn, he said. It’s like missing a chance to kill Hitler.


But after we finished texting, I still couldn’t sleep, even though I was dead tired. I watched several back-to-back episodes of Medium on Hulu. Medium is one of my favorite old TV shows. Patricia Arquette as Alison Dubois is a dead ringer for my old Monterey pal Heidi, right down to the blonde bowl cut, the flat blue eyes, and the annoying whiney voice. Joe Dubois is the most perfect husband ever (even though Jake Weber, the actor who plays him – a Brit – does the weirdest American accent you can possibly imagine.)

I still couldn’t fall asleep.

Finally I swiped one of L’s airplane-bottle bonsais of booze, downed it in a single gulp. Spiced rum Ugh! The trick is to find something strong enough to knock you off that plateau of wakefulness. Alcohol works, though it always leaves me feeling disoriented the following morning: I’m not much of a drinker.

Woke up at 7:30 because it is impossible for me to sleep once the morning has lightened.

Now, of course, I feel completely out of it. It was almost too much of an effort to make oatmeal. I know, I thought. I’ll eat stale, tasteless chocolate chip cookies for breakfast!

(It takes three minutes to make oatmeal, and I hate chocolate chip cookies.)

But I must gather my wits together ‘cause the Scut Factory is calling my name. (Cue Tennessee Ernie Ford.)
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Somewhat more chipper today than I have been the past few days, though I still wouldn’t call myself Ms. Happy Song & Dance.

• Yesterday was absolutely paradisiacal here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley, and I spent a pleasant afternoon tromping around the Vanderbilt estate, playing Pokemon Go. Slugmas are spawning!

• I did some desultory paying work, a kind of essay on the Pareto Principle. Somebody should really write an essay on the significance of pea plants to modern science: First Mendel, then Pareto. And who knows? There may be others.

• In the evening, I had a long conversation with B. Asperger-y cousin Doug is pregnant – or rather his wife is. With twins. Doug is 55; the wife is 48. Twins makes me think that they used the family trust fund for IVF.

I can’t imagine anyone in his or her right mind wanting to have children after the age of, say, 45. I mean, I had a kid at 43, but it was a happy accident. And, though in retrospect it seems difficult to believe, I actually didn’t know I was pregnant with RTT until halfway through the pregnancy.

Existence is better than nonexistence, I suppose (though I’m open to arguments on that one) but I worry that RTT got the bad end of that deal. In my 40s, I didn’t have the type of energy you need to be a really proactive parent.

• RTT himself checked in briefly to tell me that with his new learners permit, he is now the Designated Driver of Choice for all his frat buddies.

• I listened to a Freakonomics podcast on the economics of spite. I love it when economics is applied to human emotions!

In the course of the podcast, someone explained the origins of the phrase to cut off your nose to spite your face.

Evidently, in the 9th century, a Saxon abbess named Ebba – later canonized – heard that Vikings were closing in to plunder her convent and rape its inhabitants. Rape was bad because Christ evidently is very picky about His brides and prefers virgins. And even if it’s not your fault that you’re not a virgin, you’re still – not a virgin.

Ebba hit upon a novel solution to impending sexual assault: She decided to mutilate herself in a way that was so horrible that even Vikings would be put off the pussy trail.


The other nuns thought this was a great idea. They did it, too!

The Vikings didn’t think this was such a great idea. They set fire to the convent – with Ebba and the ladies in it.

The 9th Century sounds like it was a long time ago, and, of course, it was a long time ago. But it was approximately the same chronological distance from the birth of Christ as we are from the 9th Century today.

• In the evening, I started rewatching Orphan Black. If you’re gonna write dystopian fantasy, Orphan Black is a fine thing to immerse yourself in.
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RTT has been doing carpentry jobs on and off all summer for Clinton. Clinton has been spending the last few weeks in Cooperstown.

Shortly after I got to Trumansburg on Monday, Clinton texted RTT, asked him to check on a roofing quote – which was somewhere in a notebook Clinton had left in T-burg.

RTT trotted off to do the errand. Returned 15 minutes later with a bemused look on his face.

“So, I had to look through the notebook,” RTT said. “Because I didn’t know where the quote was, right? I wasn’t spying on him! But the notebook was the weirdest thing! He kept writing all these weird things in it! Again and again and again.”

“Weird things like what?” I asked.

Simple. Sexy. Rock-hard cock.

Ben and I looked at each other and began to laugh.

“Over and over again!” said RTT.

“It’s an affirmation,” I said. “Like Angela Moss on Mr. Robot. ‘I am confident. I am powerful. My penis assumes the properties of granite whenever it is my wish!’”

“But why?” said RTT.

“Uh. Well… How old is this Clinton?”

“I dunno. Old. Like in his 50s.”

“Hmmm. As your mother, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me to have that conversation with you. Simple! Sexy! Rock-hard cock!”

The three of us explode in laughter.

old men

I like T-burg. In Mississippi, the geezers congregate of a morning in front of the grocery store or a diner. In T-burg, they sit in front of Gimme Coffee, the ubiquitous Ithaca coffeehouse chain. Many of them are musicians or web designers. Often they have bicycles.

T-burg has two Masonic lodges – one of them active – and something called a “philomathic” library. It also has numerous churches, a small fairground, and many 19th century houses built of brick, stone, and wood, in the Victorian Italianate style. Many of the residential streets are still lined with old horse hitching posts.

T-burg is the place where digital music was invented. In the 1960s, an old brick building, just a few doors down from Gimme, was the Moog Factory where the original modular synthesizers were produced. Bob Moog and his family lived just a couple of miles away in an old house off Taughannock Falls (the highest single-drop waterfall in the United States outside Yosemite.) Bob Moog’s invention revolutionized popular music, but he went bankrupt in 1970. Today, the building is occupied by the Venice Cafe – one of five bars within a six-block walking tour of T-burg’s downtown.

Ben lives right on Main Street, right down the street from Gimme and the old Moog Factory. In an old mill that’s been converted into apartments. Frontenac Creek, which used to power the mill, is just a few yards from his porch. In the late fall and the early winter when the steelhead and salmon spawn, the river otters swim down the creek looking for them.


On Tuesday night, Ben and I went to the Trumansburg Fair.

It’s a very tiny event as rural fairs go. RTT thinks it’s dinky.

I like it.

The Tompkins County Fairgrounds once stood in what is now the Big Box Store Ghetto along Meadow Street in Ithaca. It hosted a typical late August country fair with farm animals and produce, a carousel, a racetrack and sideshows. Meadow Street is the flood plain, though, for Fall Creek, Cascadilla Creek and its canal, Six Mile Creek and all the other tributaries that flow into Lake Cayuga. Maybe that factored into the decision to tear the old Fairground down. Or maybe Ithaca got too counter-culture-y. I don’t know.

In the 1990s, 24 acres of Cayuga wetlands were sold to Walmart. It increased the city’s tax revenues but there was a Butterfly Effect from the roadwork and various zoning variances necessary to support a massive superstore. A lot of small local businesses shuttered and closed. You can no longer ride a bicycle from downtown Ithaca up Route 13 to Cayuga Heights.

The Trumansburg Fair, in its 160th plus year, is still going strong, though.

The Trumansburg Fair features harness races – one of the very last country fairs in New York State that does – as well as a demolition derby, a monster truck rally, egg tosses, three-legged races, pie-eating contests, 4-H exhibits of animals and vegetables, and, of course, the midway with its incredibly tacky rides, cotton candy, and fried dough. What’s not to love?

french fries copy

Ten bucks seemed like a lot of money to pay for grandstand tickets when I knew it would all turn into a reflection in a hollow mirror after half an hour or so, so we spied on the demolition derby through a chink in a makeshift wall of tarps.

“You know, I’ve never seen a demolition derby before,” I said.

“Well, your life is about to become complete then,” Ben said.

If you’ve ever wondered who actually buys those old Camrys with 300,000 plus miles that are listed on Craig’s List every now and then, now you know. It was awesome watching them crash into each other, total bloodlust. I couldn’t stop laughing.

“What do you think they’re thinking about when they're behind the wheels of those things whaling on each other?” I asked Ben.

Ben laughed. “Simple. Sexy. Rock hard cock,” he said.


unnamed I spent as much one-on-one time with RTT as he would allow. A couple of months of therapy have mellowed him considerably. He no longer seems to be looking for reasons to take umbrage. He’s sophisticated intellectually, but emotionally he’s kinda young for his age. He still expresses affection by roughhousing, which is hard on my knees and elbows, and hard on my physical possessions.

He accidentally broke my phone charger one night, which was certainly No Big Deal – except that it was one of those phone chargers that lights up with different pulsating colors, and I had liked it.

RTT,” Ben said reproachfully.

“Yeah, right. It’s always my fault, isn’t it? I’m always the bad guy, aren’t I?” said RTT.

He’s kind of a master of deflection. He’ll fuck up and somehow, it’s always you that feels bad -- for calling him on it.

I didn’t call him on it, though. I merely excused myself and went off to bed.

Yes, yes: Very stupid to feel miffed over a phone charger that I can easily replace for fifteen bucks at Best Buy – except that I had liked that phone charger, and I didn’t see why I should be made to feel apologetic for liking my things.

Next morning when we awoke, though, it was all forgotten, and that alone was a major breakthrough since Before Therapy, little misunderstandings and miscommunications like this would have been magnified into a feud of epic proportions. He would have taken grave offense at my withdrawal from the social scene; I would have felt self-righteous and indignant because, goddam it, it was my property that had gotten trashed, and it’s natural to feel miffed over things like that. We would have stopped talking. Maybe for months.

I also spent one afternoon brainstorming with RTT on a novel. Well. Mostly, he brainstormed, and I played amanuensis, jotting his ideas down into 20 pages of notes. He has an excellent sense of plotting and story momentum, and he’s one of the most imaginative people I know. A natural writer; very, very talented. So we were able to talk shop about something we’re both passionate about, and that felt like a bonding experience, at least to me.


RTT and I had to drive through Freeville on the way to Syracuse when I dropped him off to start his last semester. A difficult place for me to be, Freeville. I was so very, very miserable the three years I lived there. The present tense was such a trap.

I’m always very interested in why places are where they are. Less interested in how they originally got to be where they are. That almost always has to do with how easily they were to protect from foreign invaders (pre-Industrial Revolution) or how practical they were for the distribution of resources (post-Industrial Revolution.)

But why do some places survive while others die? What’s up with that?

Take Trumansburg and Freeville, for example. Both approximately the same distance from Ithaca, the driving economic engine thereabouts. And Trumansburg is thriving.

Freeville did okay right up till the beginning of the Second World War. Population in the single digit thousands, mills, factories, several newspapers, five grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, even a library along its Main Street, but then whoosh! It didn’t even fall into ruin. It all just seemed to… vanish. There are hardly any buildings left. If a fire or a flood that destroyed them all, there are no records of that event.

One of the old mill dams is still in place, but there’s no sign of the mill. There’s a Factory Street, which I assume is the site of the old cinder block factory that produced 1,500 cinder blocks a day, but the street runs through an empty landscape. The Southern Central Railroad ran through town, but there are no signs of a depot or a roundhouse or a turntable anymore. There’s an old railroad bridge behind a No Trespassing sign just off Johnson Street. I used to ignore the sign and take Milo for long walks along what was once a rail route between Freeville and Dryden, the tracks now long since silted over and overgrown with grass.

If anything, the town is even more decayed and creepy-looking than it was the last time I saw it. The little farm-to-table restaurant that some enterprising soul started the last year I lived there is now shuttered and closed. Though I understand economic development of a sort has returned to Freeville: It’s become Tompkins County’s number one location for meth labs.

I suppose since real estate prices in Ithaca are now so high and growing higher every day, inevitably developers will build houses here and within 10 years, it will become a tract development.


On the drive to Syracuse, RTT and I talked about the latest rape case making headlines – another white college athlete who molested two sleeping girls at a frat party and was let off with a slap on the wrist.

“That’s disgusting,” RTT said. “He should have been punished. He should be put on the sex offenders registry.”

“He should definitely have been fined and jailed,” I said. “I dunno about the sex offenders registry.”

That’s unfeminist of you, Mom,” RTT said.

“The way I see it is that the sex offenders registry was originally set up because certain types of sex crimes have a recidivism rate that’s practically 100%. Those are mostly sex crimes that involve young children. People who do those things are mentally ill. They’re never going to change. They’re predators, and it makes sense to warn parents about them.

“Someone who rapes two girls at a party, though. That’s not a psychological crime; that’s a social crime. It’s symptomatic of a toxic male culture. Toxic masculinity and male privilege.”


“Well, the thing is this kid can change. He can learn to stop acting from a position of male privilege. He can redeem himself. I certainly think he should be punished for his actions and punished severely. But I also think he can learn to be a better person. And if you put him on some kind of permanent list, you’re essentially taking that opportunity for redemption away from him.”

RTT snorted. “Well, you’re just wrong, Mom.”

I shrugged. “Maybe. How do you deal with drunk sex?”

“What do you mean?”

“Would you have sex with someone if you were drunk, and she was drunk?”

“That depends,” said RTT. “If it was the first time I met her, and we were both drunk, then no. But if I already knew her, and we were both drunk…”

“Well, then, you could be setting yourself up for a rape charge,” I told him. “Because she can’t give consent if she’s drunk. And for that matter, neither can you. Do you explicitly ask for consent before you have sex?”


“Do you?”

“No! When you know, you know!”

I shook my head. “Not good enough. No one ever knows what they think they know. Simple. Sexy. Rock-hard cock!”

“Can we please change the subject please?” RTT said.

So we did.
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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.



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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So, I had a perfectly fabulous time in Ithaca.

But then as I was catapulting homeward through the Catskills, my left front brake began making a grinding noise whenever I stepped on the pedal. Came on very suddenly, which was odd. Yes, definitely, new brake pads are in my future, but I’m also wondering whether the heat shield got bent somehow and whether it’s still under warranty since I had the exhaust system replaced just last month. Not that I know a damn thing about auto mechanics.

Anyway, this put me in a baaaaaaad mood. Which is a pity: I was in such a good mood leaving Ithaca.

Oh, well. It’s only money, right? And I have a coupon for 10% off!

But it did serve to underscore something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

For a reasonably intelligent human being, I’ve been singularly bad about accumulating money in my lifetime.

I mean, I did have a stretch there when I was earning in the five zeroes.

But I never quite grokked the essential notion that money is what gives one agency in this human world.

Why did I prefer not having agency? Because I don’t think for a second that I was incapable of earning money.

And money lets you travel, eat delicious food in great restaurants, buy art supplies, get your brakes fixed without turning a simple maintenance and upkeep operation into a cause for existential despair!

I can only suppose it was part of a no-less-concerted for being completely unconscious campaign to make sure I stayed an outsider no matter what. Simply put: I like being the stranger at the party.


Ithaca is changing fast. No longer a counterculture Brigadoon, though it still has its fair share of Cornell and Ithaca College graduates with $150,000 degrees working at the local organic food coop.

Svante Myrick, the idealistic young Millennial elected my second year there, turns out to have been a whiz bang at biz dev deals. Four new deluxe hotels under construction downtown! A complete overhaul of the Commons – they took out all the trees! I think the new Ithaca Commons looks hideous, but apparently the remodel was necessary to modernize the underground utilities so that they’d support all those deluxe new hotels plus several hundred new pricey condominium units. Myrick retains his cred with the aging hippie idealist and student radical crowd that elected him by lobbying hard for marijuana legalization and supervised heroin injection sites, refusing to learn how to drive, and describing himself as “biracial” rather than black.

Trumansburg, in marked contrast, remains sleepy and unchanged:


Ben and I got along fabulously. Three days of banter, watching bad television, intricate conversations about the nature of politics, the economy, and the universe. What could possibly be more fun?

It was very odd driving up there. The weather said Spring! but the trees are all bare. That’s the aftermath of all that snowfall and cold weather earlier this month.


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Every Day Above Ground

September 2017

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