Me with Mom in Summer 2011 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the LA County Bar Association Shattuck-Price Award
Summer has come to West LA. Happily, summer here bears very little relation to summer in most of the country, which tends to be obscenely humid or so hot–115 in Arizona or Palm Springs–you don’t care whether the heat is dry or hot. Summer by the beach in LA is almost always nice, though my parents installed central air in 2005 to the tune of $25,000 on a house built in 1962 because one month a year it really is warm and they no longer had the boat in the Marina to escape.
Mom and Dad redid the heat at the same time and I knew it cost a fortune before I asked Dad, but $25,000 was more than I would have guessed. I was not talking to them in those years and shocked the first summer I came to the house I grew up and to find blissfully cool. Yesterday I was groggy and didn’t want to fall asleep at the closing night of David Mamet’s 1975 American Buffalo. The water looked so delicious, I decided to see just how cold it really was and determined that I wouldn’t freeze. It was perfect! For some reason the picture won’t upload but you can see it here: 1962 pool.
I’m so excited to start swimming daily when in LA. I don’t belong to a gym in LA anymore and while I can usually sweet-talk my way into SCLA for 25 dollars (SBAC is an IHRSA gym but Equinox in NYC doesn’t observe the reciprocity most elite gyms do and SCLA has gotten fussy of late), I don’t want to spend 25 just to swim unless I plan to do other stuff there. I recently discovered (through Facebook) the Santa Monica Swim Center.
At just 6.50 per use for an immaculate Olympic-sized pool, it’s a real deal but my parents’ pool is large enough for laps and it’s beautiful with all the trees visible from the neighbors’ yards. They just don’t build residential pools like they used to in Los Angeles, sadly, and my parents’ pool is quite unusual for a modest ranch house. When I dipped my hand into the pool, it felt okay so while my parents and brother were at the New West Symphony’s stellar rendering of Beethoven’s 9th, I jumped in the water and it was simply glorious.
For the last two years my father–who had no problem with my living alone on weekends at the house in the Palisades while they lived on the boat in the Marina from 14.5 on–has decided that no one, including his extremely strong swimmer daughter of 41 years old, must swim without supervision. Dad is frailer now than he was a year ago after three bouts with bronchitis for which he was hospitalized at Saint John’s for a few days each and he naps a lot more, so he won’t know the difference if I swim before he wakes up in the morning or when he’s napping on the living room couch he now prefers to his bed. This is particularly true because his macular degeneration requires the shutting of the ridiculous yellow mini-blinds from the 1980s (early 1980s) which block what is now the lovely view to the backyard, much redone in the wake of the brush clearance mandated by the LAFD.
It’s never been nicer back there, largely due to my Aunt Suzy’s efforts and the fire sale at Berk’s, the best patio store on the Westside for a half-century, into which my mother would never venture if they weren’t selling pieces at 85% off . Dad and I did get two chaises when I was in college, funnily the same ones at Jennifer Aniston’s parents’ house in Ed Burns’ She’s the One. I don’t think it did as well, certainly not critically, as his semi-autobiographical and lower budget Brothers McMullen, but I really liked the film with John Mahoney, Cameron Diaz, which I actually prefer to the excellent first movie.
Mother’s Day Eve, we ate at Osteria Latini, a newish Italian in Brentwood on San Vicente. I loved my lobster pasta and Caesar salad but Dad’s osso buco was extremely tough–”inedible” as he put it to the server–but they handled it right by taking it off the bill so Dad will be back. Outside, there is a little merry-go-round for toddlers and as it was Mother’s Day Eve, the darling Brentwood munchkins were out in full force.
In honor of Mother’s Day and Dad’s extremely challenging Jewish mother, we wanted to see Woody Allen’s contribution to New York Stories, “Oedipus Wrecks.” But the DVD was fluky so we watched League of Their Own instead, and by the first song (Carly Simon’s “Now and Forever”), I was a blubbering mess. I must have cried half a dozen times at the film I first saw in the theater with Mom on a summer vacation from Yale. Never have I cried harder at the recruitment scene with Marla, the motherless, unattractive and awkward ballplayer whose father “raised her like [he] would a boy.” The father pleads with Jon Lovitz, in his memorable role as scout for the AAGPBL, not to “punish [his] girl for what [he] did wrong.” He played the henchman in Sneakers, a great and underrated movie with Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, Sydney Poitier, and River Phoenix.
I love the defiant dropping of the suitcases by Geena Davis and Lori Petty upon learning that Lovitz intends to pass on Marla due to her unfortunate resemblance to General Omar Bradley. “You mean you ain’t takin’ her because she ain’t pretty?” asks Kit (Petty) incredulously. Lovitz has many memorable lines but none more than this: “See how it works is, the train moves not the station.” His retort to the chatty salesman who proudly reports his booming profits is mean but hilarious–”If I had your life, I’d kill myself”–and I confess I think the same thing to myself weekly hearing about the messy divorces, failed marriages, pressure-cooker careers to which I am privy in my role as amateur FB analyst and compassionate shoulder to many people (few of which I would have time to chat with at such length if I worked (or had to work)).
The Westlake School for Girls lunch was marvelous though small. It is impossible not to be struck by the school’s grandeur even if the new construction lacks the charm of the traditional Spanish architecture pre-merger (the first coed class of Harvard-Westlake graduated in 1992, two years after I did). Here are 25 pictures (four of dinner with my parents) from the reunion which I collected in a public album rather than downloading them individually (a tedious and cumbersome task on WordPress): Pictures of the gorgeous Harvard-Westlake Middle School in Holmby Hills (Bel Air).
I didn’t chat with any students except the little girls working the event. They seem so young and innocent, however precocious and smart. They always ask where you went to school and there is the invariable “oohing and aahing” about Yale because admission both to Ivies, Stanford, Chicago, the flagship publics and top liberal arts colleges has gotten so competitive, in part due to the increase in international students. It doesn’t help matters that in order to combat perceptions of elitism–good luck with that by the way–Ivies admit fewer and fewer private school kids as a percentage of the total incoming class. Of course the numbers are fake on one level because people apply, via universal application, who have no business applying. Yale took 1 out of 15 this last application season but probably it’s not that different from the 1 in 12 in my generation.
This is why if your only reason to shell out 30-38K for private school is to get your kid onto a big name campus, you’re better off having him or her be the star of a great public school (or moving to the middle of nowhere, frankly, because even allowing for the higher numbers of kids from cities admitted to the top schools, “GD” or “geographical distribution” exists).
Private school has many virtues but even the top boarding schools–Andover, Exeter and Deerfield and so on-have ceased to be feeders. I met a guy at Gotham Bar and Grill friends with a Westlake girl who left after 9th grade to go to Andover. He is class of 1989 and went to Colgate, one of his reach schools. Now Colgate is a reach school for many even at the most elite private or boarding schools. He works for Price Waterhouse and lives in Boston with his wife and two children, whom he recently took to Paris (he missed his flight to Logan out of the city so I met him while eating dinner alone at the bar and saw all the pictures on his iPad last year). He seems very happy and successful and doesn’t regret a thing. But at the time, Colgate was not his dream school.
Only one girl from my year and none from the year ahead or behind me showed. As it was the 25th reunion for the class of 1988, I expected a bigger turnout and none of the girls from that year were friends of mine through debate or anything else so I hung out with Sue Jackson, a math teacher with whom I was very close (and the only math teacher who ever made me like math, albeit for one short here in a life of hating the subject, at least post-6th grade), Dr Craig Deutch, my physics teacher in 12th grade (and class of Yale 1960), Mme Bruner, a riotously funny French woman I never studied with but knew from friends who did, and finally Barbara Jacobson, a wonderful British math teacher I didn’t have but knew because she is close to Sue.
With Dr. Deutch and Mme. Bruner.
Joanie Parker, founder of Women’s Studies at Westlake and also longtime English teacher (when not advocating for women’s and particularly reproductive rights as former president both of CARAL, the California Abortion Rights Action League, and also California NOW), delivered a moving lecture about Adrienne Rich’s “Phantasia for Elivra Shatayev.”
I like Rich but never studied her. I confess other than 18th and some 19th-century novelists and poets, I’m a Dead White Males kinda gal. I wish I had studied Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer but aside from Chaucer and Spenser, I’m a Milton to Henry James girl. I believe in the core. I believe that someone with a B.A. in English should actually have a clue about the British canon. A concise articulation of my take on Cultural Studies can be found, improbably (given my background and parentage) in the Weekly Standard in a piece about a lecture about Edith Wharton by a CUNY professor, which took up Edith Wharton’s ambivalent relationship with New York (and America more generally though for her America was New York): Edith Wharton article in Weekly Standard.
Ms. Parker was never my teacher as I didn’t take Women’s Studies in high school (or college) and never got assigned to her English classes. Friends who know me through Facebook or Victorian Chick if not real life know that while I revere Gloria Steinem, I have little use for Second Wave feminism of the Naomi “Vagina” Wolf strain. I loathe Phyllis Schafly as much as the average sane woman of my background but if I had to choose between Camille Paglia and Naomi Wolf, in spite of Paglia’s obsession with conservative talk radio, I will take Paglia every time.
(And I don’t believe Wolf for a minute about Harold Bloom. For one thing, Bloom and Chris Christie have similar builds and I don’t think Bloom could chase a matzoh ball, much less a fit-enough college student around an office. Wolf is no waif now but she was a normal weight as a student. Later, Wolf claimed he really just put his hand on her thigh, thus creating a hostile learning environment or some such nonsense. I really want to get to the Lake District in 2014: for 50 bucks (maybe 75), I’ll volunteer my thigh in jeans to any brilliant male scholar of literature who wants to feel my toned, dancer quadriceps as long as I get to listen to him give me a lecture over a decent lunch–for which he has of course to pay. And even it he did, who gives a shit? If a Yale girl with her brains can’t figure out how to handle some old, extremely large man’s hand on her leg, she’s got bigger problems in life. A quid pro quo for grades is one thing: an old man’s hand on your thigh is not a federal crime.)
More to the point, I was pointedly not a feminist critic and every bit of feminist theory I had to endure for my Masters field exam in General Theory I count as among the greatest literary torture of my life next to the grim and interminable Grapes of Wrath. Donna Haraway at the borderline commie UCSC History of Consciousness program writes books I think we should force prisoners to read. Her famous book on cyborgs is particularly insufferable. Throw in a little Irigaray, some Cixous, Andrea Dworkin, and Naomi Wolf and you’d have women (and men) begging for mercy and promising to avoid all actions which would result in a repetition of this punishment. (I’d add some Dinah Shore and Barbra Streisand for really hardened criminals.)
My dissertation about George Eliot made nothing either of her gender or “the woman question,” as it was known in Victorian England, beyond the basic biographical facts of her pseudonymity and the “Liggins” controversy after the wild success of her first full novel in 1856, Adam Bede. Nothing irks me more than when feminist critics ascribe a feminist perspective to female writer who pointedly rejected the label (or the thoughts the label came to describe).
Equally intolerable is the feminist critic who reduces a masterpiece by a first-tier writer to a political statement about gender (or anything else). Obviously, there were writers in the 18th and 19th centuries for whom the “woman question” was primary. But Eliot, deeply invested in German philosophy as the translator of David Strauss’ Life of Jesus and Ludwig Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, wasn’t one of them. My first year of graduate school, I wrote 20 pages about Aurora Leigh, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s epic poem conceived by her and others as a female (and feminist) answer to Wordworth’s Prelude. The class was Victorian Poetry, a grad seminar with just five girls, taught by Daniel Karlin, one of the world’s foremost Browning scholars then at University College London, and it was one of my few joyous experiences at UCSB.
I recall feeling genuinely annoyed by the famous Margaret Reynolds, who edited a version of the poem, though my recollection is fuzzy of a paper of which I was quite proud. Sadly, that graduate seminar paper went the way of most of the papers on the old 386 laptop lost in the 2006 move from Death Gardens (the hellhole on Hope Avenue I lived–if you can call it that–for ten years) to my current boutique apartment I never sleep but sometimes go to write.
In fact, the reason I keep my apartment in spite of living with my boyfriend the six months a year I’m in Santa Barbara would very much meet with Joanie Parker’s approval: I agree with Virginia Woolf that a (certain sort of) woman needs a “room of her own.” The rent is a good 500 under market at this point and I will need it when I start working more concertedly on my book. And even if my boyfriend didn’t have his son (who has been very well-behaved, engaging and pleasant of late but still, after all, a boy of 9.5 with few common interests) I think it’s a good thing for a woman to have either a casita or home office in a large house shared with her husband or a separate apartment she can go when she wishes to be alone (or watch movies and TV shows her husband cannot bear).
I only saw and liked Sex and the City the first season but this last year in the city, I was up with a cold and watched the last four episodes of the series. Charlotte–Kristin Davis–was such a sniveling, prissy nothing thinks it’s just awful when Big proposes that he and Carrie spend two days a week apart and five days together, I thought it was the only sensible proposal or idea ever to come out of that show. I’m an independent girl (except financially and I have to say it’s far better to be dependent upon your family for money–provided you and they get along–than a man for your lovely lifestyle). It strikes me as pure madness, not to mention a recipe for ennui and disappointment, to think your spouse or partner can be all things to you any more than to think you can be all things to him or her.
Five days a week strikes me as more than enough to spend with another human being and this includes a kid or teen, which is why I have no children. Frankly, I’ve always thought the divorced dads who see their kids five days a month with an option for more if requested have the perfect setup, and while some fathers want more time with their offspring either because the ex is a headcase or because their kids are incredibly cool, plenty of dads who complain about the arrangement are secretly just fine with it.
I am a feminist in that I believe women should have the same opportunities men do, both educationally and professionally. For the identical work, they should get paid the same as men. The equal pay debates are a bit more complex than some on the left want to acknowledge, however, at least at the highest levels. If you talk even to a liberal corporate or Biglaw lawyer who remembers the “soft promotions” of senior associates to junior partner, you will know that even when women worked the same hours, they simply did not bring in the same dollars after they had kids (unless they never saw the kids).
In NYC, for example, a lot of business is transacted at dinner meetings and if a woman goes home by 7PM (as my mother did, which is part of why in the 19 years out of her 46 in law she was in the private sector, she was always the lowest paid partner or lawyer of counsel) to eat with her kids, even if she isn’t cooking, she will simply not bring in the same business. Too, Mom, is a lawyer’s lawyer not a businesswoman and hustling for clients was never her thing. The thought was that a woman with this big a name and such prestige would be a draw for big clients and to some extent that was true, but Mom was never a rainmaker however adored, valued and respected she was a a grande dame and matriarch of the firm.
Mom tells me the era of soft promotions in Biglaw has passed and that with the law profession in dire financial straits, more and more associates aren’t making partner at al, or becoming PINOs (partners in name only). But my friends in their 60s tell me in Manhattan, where so much business is conducted at dinner meetings, this was a real issue. A woman home at 7PM is simply not going to be able to bring in the same business with the biggest clients if she goes home to be with her family and then starts working at 10PM for a few hours on the computer once the kid or kids are in bed.
The woman from Clifford Chance who finally said enough was enough and quit law to raise her two children is a case in point. In fairness, she didn’t have help and was dumping the kids at daycare, which is not nearly as good as having a Hilma, my wonderful caretaker who came when I was 6 and worked 40 hours a week. Mom didn’t cook, shop or clean. You can’t try to do that and maintain any semblance of sanity if you’re a partner in a Biglaw firm or a prosecutor in charge of 100-250 lawyers.
I am fervently pro-choice but in terms of curriculum, I’m definitely more traditional. I said precisely this to Dr. Deutsch, who feigned shock when I said that while I remain a registered Democrat, I’m more conservative when it comes to literary scholarship (and am more moderate on non-social issues than the average Westlake girl my age). Ha. I didn’t know that he knew me that well. Then again, I was a pretty prominent debater and every Monday at assembly, the wins of the weekend would be read along with the sports victories so I suppose I did have a presence of sorts.
Ultimately, I simply believe there are far more interesting things about great literature to discuss–language, philosophical assumptions–than gender. I think gender is interpretively limiting except at the most theoretical and sophisticated levels, where often there is overlap with psychoanalysis and there too, while I am pro-analysis, I lean more toward philosophy of mind than to psychoanalysis as theory (versus praxis, which is another matter entirely.)
I told Dr. Deutch, Mme Bruner, Ms. Jacobson and Sue Jackson that apart from the rumor that I claimed Latina identity at UCSB to receive the top graduate fellowship–I didn’t of course–I just didn’t fit in. The rumor was started by this Alabama kid and New Historicist at UCSB to study with the late, great Richard Helgerson (an incredibly kind man active in recruiting for the Peace Corps, in which he had participated as a young man).
He came from some money, wore a nice Rolex but was broke as his parents didn’t apparently like him all that much, so his UCSB stipend or pay wasn’t being supplemented like mine (and others like me) tended to be. They even forced him to go into the military for a few years–presumably to become less of a dick–as a condition of funding his education. I’m sure he put the not even close to as smart and capable hispanic kid from South Florida who was openly clean and sober up to it.
The Florida kid wasn’t a bad person; he was just insecure and threatened and had the maddening habit of using the word “worry” as verb. “I want to worry this,” he would say in seminar, inducing an urge to wretch. (And I really hate to vomit, which is why bulimia strikes me as profoundly irrational and unappealing apart from the whole 20K for dental work it almost ensures down the line plus the straw hair anorexics and bulimics almost always have after years of starving and puking). He wasn’t a bad guy: he just came from a tough background which included substance abuse, so he had some demons no doubt compounded by finding himself in a school light years better and more prestigious than his undergraduate institution.
My sense of not fitting in at UCSB (and SB) was more about class than politics: I was, after all, voting on the left then as I do now and not even really political after high school. But I didn’t have a roommate which to these people meant I was a trust fund baby. I always joke that these people seem to have had no contact with trust funders if they think a girl driving a Nissan Maxima 1986, a decade old hand-me-down from her mother, paying 715 rather than 350 in rent for a one-bedroom instead of sharing rent on a two-bedroom. Of course I did eat out and somehow people knew this pre-Yelp. I guess I just don’t look like a girl who cooks, then or now. In short, I was the rich bitch from Yale and perhaps a fascist to boot because my I did not conceal my disdain for Cultural Studies.
Dr Deutch joked that when his son went to UC Santa Cruz as an undergraduate, he was considered a fascist and when he attended Georgetown for graduate school, they thought he was a communist. This is funny in itself but if you’ve spent time in the academy, it’s even funnier. Dr. Deutch has written a wonderful oral history you can find on Amazon. He’s incredibly funny and brilliant, originally from Minneapolis, and he received his doctorate from UCLA.
We didn’t have that many Ph.D.s teaching at Westlake and he was one. I learned this weekend that after he decided early on at Yale that he didn’t want to be a doctor, he decided to major in chem. He had intended to major in English, so as to be well-rounded, but when he abandoned his pre-med program, he decided majoring in English would lead only to high school teaching, whereas majoring in chemistry would lead to a university position. Of course, he spent his career teaching high school physics.
But Ms. Parker, now 84, is an old-school feminist and impossible not to adore. She always speaks passionately about what it was like for women of her, and my mother’s, generation and her energy, grace, wit and warmth overwhelms you year after year. In the best sense, she’s about girl power. My mother has been a mentor both for women and minorities in the law and if you read her retirement tribute–a large scrapbook with effusive notes, letters and pictures–you realize what a woman like my mother means to women just coming up now or even women in their 40s or early 50s just assuming leadership responsibilities in their firms or government jobs.
Ms. Parker adores Emily Dickinson–even wore a pin on her colorful jacket–and made us all laugh when recounting her pet peeve about modern actresses who talk about “I’m Nobody, who are You?” I am going to send her my Emily Dickinson paper which served as my writing sample for graduate school as well as the Mellon Fellowship (like the Rhodes without the sports), which I didn’t get in spite of Yale Dean Brodhead’s glowing recommendation. Apparently eating in restaurants, going to therapy, journalling and working out 90 minutes a day do not count as extracurricular activities.
In New Haven, I did a bit of volunteer work with TIES–Teaching in Elementary School–a volunteer organization which sends Yale students to the inner city to tutor young children, but when I finished my analysis (August 1992) after my nervous breakdown at the end of the first term, I never did any extracurriculars in college. It occurs to me as I’m writing this that I did more volunteer work in that 16 months home from school than many do in college (or ever), but it was apparently not sufficient to convince the Mellon committee of my well-roundedness.
As this blog has already reached 4000 words (my sort of internal writing clock dings at 3000 words generally), I will leave my remarks about American Buffalo for my next blog. I haven’t seen it like this in any show this season but this is Mamet, after all. And however alternately pissed off and perplexed the liberal, artsy WLA crowd is about his jumping ship to the GOP and renouncing his “braindead liberal” roots, it’s still Mamet. He is now of course a real hero to conservatives on FB, even those who couldn’t distinguish between Shaw and Mamet to save their lives prior to the Wall Street Journal piece and then his bestselling memoir or ars politica.
A large percentage of these people have no clue about theater or drama and didn’t even know who David Mamet was, much less who Lindsey Crouse or Rebecca Pidgeon are, his two muse-wives over a lifetime. I remember vividly when Mamet “came out” as a Republican because it was my first year on FB.
It’s fine to come out as gay–in fact Jason Collins is a Harvard-Westlake graduate in the class of 1997–but admitting you’re a Republican, not to mention Jewish (?!) is another matter entirely in moneyed, educated, industry-heavy LA. I have a close friend who refuses to admit he’s a Republican, even to me, and I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I have Tea Party Irish Catholic pro-life friends, one to whom I’m extremely close, and on FB, I don’t really care as long as someone behaves reasonably well. (Of course if someone is pro-life, they have to have overwhelming traits which override the belief I find so repugnant but I do have pro-life FB friends, some of whom have become real life friends and generally they’re Catholic.) If political posts annoy me, I just hide someone rather than unfriend or block. But I despise hypocrisy and if you voted for Bush twice before voting for McCain and Romney, I don’t care if you worked for Democrats on the Hill back in the day: you’re a Republican.
Until FB, I really paid zero attention to politics after four years of intense speech and debate at Westlake. FB made me pay attention a bit but I find when I go back to school–and I have no friends in real life and only two on FB (who also happened to go to Yale) with whom I’m friends on FB. I’m acutely aware of this when I see Westlake girls from 1988, 1989 or 1990 with something like 85 girls from high school on their page. I haven’t spoken to a girl from my high school class I knew then in 15 years. I’m still a Democrat and socially I’m very liberal but I don’t think I would have as broad and diverse a group of friends had I not fallen into a crippling depression, lost ten years, lost my academic career and been forced to re-establish a social life through social media. My friends, outside of family friends, all new to my life in the last three years. I’m grateful for this diversity because people talk about diversity but a lot of them don’t really mean it.
Okay, off for Studio City and dance class before meeting a DC friend from FB I’ve never met in real life at the Biltmore in Downtown LA for a late dinner and drink.