I’m lollygagging since I awoke at 4 AM with the the bright moon shining like a laser beam through the windows of J’s master bedroom. I was already coughing a bit on and off but once the light pierced me, I just couldn’t get back to sleep.
I hate to cough in LA around Dad, who becomes extremely heavy-handed about smoking but never nags. Dad hates nagging. He doesn’t understand husbands who put up with nagging wives. His first marriage was not a happy one but the woman never nagged for the simple reason that he would have walked out the door, only to return to pick up the kids for visitation weekends and dinners.
In fact, when that “pain in the ass broad” comes on in Mom’s Acura when Dad takes his seatbelt off prematurely, he yells at her, “Oh shut up! If I wanted a nagging broad in my life I would have gotten one!” So Dad is not a nag. I know many people with mothers, in particular, who never stop with the nagging. Sometimes it’s a ceaseless barrage of reminders about trivial shit, while other times it’s an equally incessant stream of comments about more foundational dynamics (“You don’t respect my opinion about anything” or “You still blame me for the past”).
Dad says nothing for months and then I will cough and he will get very aggressive, demanding to know why I “persist in engaging in self-destructive conduct” and refusing to take any answer I provide. There is no good , logical reason other than this: I am not ready to quit and I love to smoke and I have no dependents and it’s only been 4 years.
I was reminded, talking to J last night before dinner at the local Thai hole-in-the-wall which ended up being a very long dinner as I went through very intricate and often humorous details about my various analysts, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists/bodyworkers, psychotherapists during college, just how bizarre my story is.
I had him laughing consistently for 30 minutes, particularly when I got to part about “circulation training.” During my senior year at Westlake, I was seeing a short, muscular Jewish man with crazy curly Jewish hair, for a painful and intense form of bodywork to address the hip pain which had begun to develop in tenth grade. He claimed that I had “blocked meridians” and had a degree in anatomy and kinesiology from a UC campus so he wasn’t a complete moron or quack.
Some rational people (not crunchy granola woo woo vegans who like the India portion of Eat Pray Love) believe in chakras and meridians, even people who also subscribe to basic tenets of Western medicine. So Anthony Hirschman got me to join a gym–Sports Connection (often referred to at the time in LA as the Sports Erection, for obvious reasons). It was the gym featured the quintessential 1980s LA aerobics craze film, Perfect, with John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis at her absolute hottest, just after Trading Places. (I loved the film in 8th grade and still consider it a kind of guilty pleasure though it’s been years since I’ve seen it; my VHS cassette from the 1980s is surely gone from my parents’ house now.)
Curtis looked great in True Lies and Dad adores Trading Places (along with both 48 Hours) but Jamie Lee Curtis circa 1994 wasn’t Jamie Lee Curtis circa 1984 with those long legs, rock hard body, and thong leotard with high crew neck on the aerobics stage in front a huge class of gyrating hips. I had a ton of those leotards both in pastel cotton and black spandex, cheap ones from Shelley’s on Westwood Boulevard but he Westside Pavilion and the great discount fragrance store.
We saw her in the Palisades the other day, Dad and I, with her white hair. She refuses to color and I don’t care how great your skin and body are; you look old with white/gray hair unless you are Judge Lourdes Baird, Mom’s very dear old friend who became Bush I’s US Attorney for the Central District of CA and went white–not gray–in her 30s. Dad seemed utterly unimpressed but it was because he forgot who she was and then when he realized it was “Inga” with the great knockers, he seemed just slightly less uninterested, “Oh, okay.”
I started Jane Fonda videos in 8th grade and I was just a maniac all my life until 2010, moving from dance to stretch and tone/low impact aerobics, then cardio machines, yoga, swimming, beach walks and other floor work in my apartment. And in junior and senior year of high school, I also did the famous stairs in the Santa Monica Canyon. I did them for the first time in oh, 13 years a couple months ago and by “them” I mean I went up and down once. Jesus, those things are steeper than I recall. But in high school, I sort of got off on the pain and my lower body was literally steel between stairs, long speed walks, low impact aerobics and body sculpting. I took no time between the years of dance and the segue to an easier form of exercise. Dance is brutal.
My best friend from 1989 to 1996, a project coordinator at Century West Development on Ocean (same building as Ocean Avenue Seafood) which built much of the Third Street Promenade, used to call me the “queen of self-mutilation.” She was 18 years older and a student of mine at Main Street Dance and Exercise Studio, now Yogaworks on Main Street but I would never take a class there. It would be too weird and disjunctive for me on some level, plus Montana Avenue Yogaworks is just much nicer all around.
I was not a masochist in any traditional sense, and certainly did not like the pain in my legs and shoulders, but the courseload I took on, plus debate and the workouts/dance had me driving myself pretty hard and I sort of did get off on the discipline and rush of running myself into the ground both mentally and physically. So it wasn’t the sort of “self-mutilation” Meg Ryan mentions in (I think) When a Man Loves a Woman. I liked feeling as if I was “maximizing my potential,” a phrase I’d heard Dad use (mostly when he felt that someone else he knew wasn’t, though that term was never applied to me as I had to be reminded to ease up, not hunker down). And I liked feeling powerful and succeeding at things.
So my body, by early senior year, was in pain and the whole college application thing, APs, just stressful. Anthony, aka Mr. Circulation Training who diagnosed me with blocked meridians, told me to join a gym with a steam room and drink Ky-O Green with Emercen-C packets and then tilt my head back (IN the steam room) and arch my back and then with violent force throw my head forward and exhale. It was intended to “increase circulation” but last night at dinner J told me that the body doesn’t produce oxygen. I have a very vague recollection of that whole photosynthesis business from biology but I hated biology, took it over the summer between 9th and 10th grade so I could have a free period in 10th grade. So you know, oxygen, carbon dioxide, close enough for government work.
It was pretty funny though and women would look at me a bit askance. I cannot begin to imagine why. Sometimes that green powder would sort of come out my nose and that was unpleasant but the real thing is that I nearly hyperventilated a number of times before I figured that this back arching/contracting regimen in the steam room might be less than prudent. Still, I remember coming back from New Haven for Thanksgiving and driving my 1988 Toyota Tercel straight to Ocean Park and Bundy or wherever it was by the Santa Monica Airport (for non-LA people, this is not commercial, just private planes). Hilma, my nanny/caregiver who was still full-time through my college years, kept many gallons of Arrowhead in the house and I would always have a full one in the backseat for my steam room regime.
And that was just one of many stories I told J last night. At the height of it all, post-breakdown at Christmas in 1990, I was going to analysis four days a week, plus one session of chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage (various sorts, including Hellerwork, an offshoot of Rolfing), plus four meetings a week. Before I found Al-Anon I went to OA just because it was nice to be around people working on themselves and experiencee some form of community, as I was wrenched away from Yale after only four months and living at home during analysis (I do not recommend this, by the way), while my new college friends were busy in college and my high school friends were off at their respective colleges far away.
It amazes me that I stuck with it for so many years–never got a sponsor, never worked the steps but made some nice friends and quite frankly just wanted to get the hell out of the house the nights my best friend and I weren’t going out to eat or see a movie–given it is a much shallower program psychologically than Al-Anon. One day in 1994, a very pretty sweet Jewish girl named Judy who worked in the music industry in a great Beverly Hills office and toying with Buddhism, took me aside and said, “You don’t seem to belong here. You don’t throw up, you love to eat and do, and you’re really skinny. All you ever talk about in pitches is your family and occasionally, the fact that you hate your ass. Why don’t you come to an Al-Anon meeting with me?”
That was it. I went to the meeting I imagine is still going strong at St. Alban’s Church on Hilgard, across from UCLA in Holmby Hills, among the most expensive real estate on the Westside and never went back to OA. It’s a crowd not unlike the people at the Brentwood Presbyterian 12 Step meetings. There were quite a few well-known actors there, but the Westwood meetings brought in a good crowd from the West Hollywood meeting circuit and it was a great meeting with veteran speakers and people with real personality and comedic talent even if no longer working in Hollywood. You also got younger women and moms and I loved that meeting instantly. The men were all smart, good looking and in their 30s and 40s, mostly sober, as it is common to start in AA and realize that you’re a drunk because your parents or other relatives were or are. They call such people “Double Winners.”
The point is, there is a lot of territory to cover in the memoir and I’m not even going through the Dr. Schave to Dr. Westley to Dr Linker to Dr Nagy to Dr. Leffert trajectory of Victorian Chick’s trials and tribulations with the gamut of mental health professionals in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. I was never in intensive therapy in SB and not in therapy at all my first 3 years here. I went to check in with my shrink (post-2008, whom I never saw more than once every three weeks) about 5 times in 2011. In early 2000, I went to this person in Montecito (a Ph.D. not shrink or analyst) who spoke far too slowly for my taste. He also had a peculiar habit of leaving his mouth open when it really wasn’t necessary. I saw him twice a week just for 7 months to get my prospectus revitalized and my incompletes from the year I taught Writing 2 handled. By the fall of 2000, I fired him and saw a normal shrink once a week for several years after that.
I’m often asked why I had so little sex before age 36, because even apart from 8.5 years of celibacy, I was a virgin till college (literally, the night before I flew to JFK in August of 1990) and in college I had very little sex, often a year between any sort of activity whatsoever. Well, my summer romance in 1992, at the tail end of my 18 months in analysis after the 1990 Christmas breakdown, may help account for what is, to many, my curious lack of sex most of my life.
Matt was a gorgeous–Perry Ellis model gorgeous–guy with a Dad in Bel Air (well, the Bel Air Crest, a lovely housing development off Sepulveda by the 405 so only technically Bel Air) and a mom in Encino. She was the full-time on-set nanny for Full House, specifically the Olsen twins. I met him at Santa Monica Athletic Club, the gym I used to chat with Michael Crichton (after having been his then wife Anne-Marie’s stretch and tone teacher in 1989 and once in while his teacher as well). SMAC closed soon thereafter when the Water Garden (Spectrum) in the Yahoo Center opened. It was a pretty serious racquetball gym and quite large, on Centinela and Olympic.
SMAC wasn’t Sports Club LA or Equinox (which of course did not then exist, at least not in LA) but it was a very significant step above Spectrum Club at the time, though the Howard Hughes in Culver City was pretty nice. But it had a much smaller membership, a higher initiation fee and it was never crowded. Not extravagant, but perfectly pleasant for people who could afford SCLA but didn’t want to deal with the scene (or the drive to Sepulveda and Olympic).
Matt was the towel/desk guy, probably about 15 hours a week, mostly to get a free membership. Also his father was friends with the owner at corporate so it was sort of a “Don’t be a complete bum during the summer on break from Arizona State” kind of job. But he had plenty of spending money and drove a very cute, late model Ford Explorer. I never paid for a dinner or a drink all summer though I offered plenty. He was 21 and I was 20 and we never did have sex but we did hang out all summer and when he got to know me a bit more, he said, “Wow, you have a lot of appointments.” The implication was clear: “You’re very pretty and smart and sweet, but you are quite strange.”
Or as I put it in an instant message to a very intimate friend, “I was too much trouble. Fucking me entailed a far deeper level of psychological awareness and commitment than most boys that age were willing to take on, in part because it likely force them to examine their own psyches and family systems in a way they were not yet prepared to do. One could easily have gotten laid with much less effort.”
Though it’s true, just being honest, that having always been considered attractive in LA, I was considered extremely attractive at Yale: not a lot of girls with bodies like mine and the dancers at Yale did modern and had big legs as a rule. They weren’t ballerinas, let’s just put it that way. So the thought process, I believe, was something along these lines: is the hotness worth the hassle? And most times the answer was no. Then again, I did not exactly give off the “come fuck me vibe,” between my incredible dedication to school, journal-writing and therapy over the phone. I did not like keg parties and I was off campus at the Taft for 3 of my 6 semesters at Yale. So I didn’t even go to many parties in college, none after I moved to the Taft. I generally spent time a few girlfriends and not in conjunction with one another. One year I lived on the Upper East Side on weekends in the duplex on 88th and 2nd of a close family friend.
The way Matt and I met is telling. I was in a hot pink cotton thong leotard with the most beautifully cut thick square straps, just back from analysis with a big red nose, puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks. I learned in analysis, I always had this fantasy about some brilliant, rugged, slightly cocky but also sensitive professional or intellectual man (which generally meant he had to be at least slightly older) seeing my tears and getting mesmerized and pulled in by it. I had this fantasy of the brilliant man rescuing the damsel in distress (he had to be brilliant one way or the other, or just very powerful and self-assured, because I could not be rescued by a dumb and boring person, no matter how sweet, loving and gentle–just didn’t work for me).
I never wanted said fantasy man to fix the problem; I realized I would do that with or without professional help, but I wanted a shoulder to cry on. His emotional response to this girl in a thong and tights with a big red puffy face who looked like she’d been worked over pretty good was all I needed and we began to date. He was neither brilliant nor older (not dumb, just a simple not overly bright guy who could not possibly grasp the meaning of psychoanalysis, surely not at 21 and likely not at all). But Matt had a vibe for sure and he was extremely beautiful, patient, and deeply kind.
As usually my little blog turned into a real blog. I just want to thank you all for reading so much lately and liking the posts. It makes a real difference in applying for work to show people you have a following and J is finally going to do the Analytics this weekend, through Google, which provides more particular information about readership.