For a society and culture that seems to be obsessed with sexuality — and why does the word sexuality sound so much less dirty than the word sex? — we sure are squeamish when it comes to talking about it.
As the mother of four, I was always squeamish when it came to having The Talk with The Kids.
Girl First and Only was always shy and soft-spoken and would turn red if I even mentioned s-e-x. Son No. 1 , who was four years younger than his sis, would wait until we were at the dinner table and ask matter-of-factly, “What is masturbation?” or “What is oral sex?” while his sister groaned loudly and buried her head in the mashed potatoes and peas.
I would answer Son No. 1’s questions the best I could and sneak into Girl First and Only’s bedroom and leave pamphlets with titles like, “Why does Alexandria’s Changing Body Need Supportive Underwear?”
I think it worked. They both had children after they married.
My two youngest sons were born 16 years after Girl First and Only and were 9 and 11 when I decided we would have The Talk in the middle of an Italian feast I had prepared for the occasion.
I explained that pasta should always be cooked al dente´ and that parmesan was always better when freshly grated while casually peppering the conversation with words like “condiments,” “penal code,” “Uranus,” “hoagie buns,” “gesticulate” and “titmouse.”
Both boys got that panicked-deer-in-the-headlights look, jammed their fingers in their ears, jumped up from the table and ran screaming from the kitchen — just as I was about to embark on a lively debate of the virtues of mascerating versus marinating.
Several times after that, I again tried to have The Talk with the boys, to no avail.
I resorted to leaving copies of books like, “What’s Up With Alexander’s Suddenly Hairy, Pimply Body?” on their unmade bunk beds and hoped for the best.
A few years later, Son No. 2 fell in love (insert tired sigh) and it became obvious that I had missed the window on having The Talk or taking them on those field trips to Intercourse, Pennsylvania and Bangkok, Thailand.
One day, I nonchalantly walked into the living room while Son No. 2 and The Girl were supposedly watching TV. The Girl – a pretty, coquettish thing – was reclining on the sofa and arranged across my son’s lap like an after-church all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.
My son gave me a sheepish grin.
Remaining very calm, I wedged in next to them, forcing The Girl to sit up.
A few awkward minutes later, they got up and headed for the upstairs.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To my room to watch a movie,” Son No. 2 replied.
Visions of tiny, eager swimming sperm and coquettish, seductive eggs that I had seen in a grainy cartoon-version of “Health and Human Reproduction” in tenth grade flashed through my head.
The Baby — aka Son No. 3 — who was standing nearby, snickered.
“I prefer you watch it down here, in the living room,” I said oh-so-sweetly.
“Yeah, not in your BEDroom,” The Baby sang while leering and moving his prepubescent pelvis suggestively.
Son No. 2 punched The Baby, who punched him back while The Girl giggled.
The next weekend The Girl was back. When I peeked into the living room on my every-four-minute-sex-check-watch, they were locked in a lip embrace.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked, because that’s the only thing I could think of to ask.
Girl First and Only and No. 2 Son — unlike Son No. 1 and The Baby — had never quite mastered the art of a well-executed lie.
“Kissing. What did you think?”
Geesh. What did I think?
I thought The Girl’s cute, little belly button was hanging out of her too-short shirt and too-low pants and showing a little too much skin.
I thought that her mother had also missed the window on having The Talk.
I thought that Alexander’s book should have included a warning about young, limber girls who practice yoga in the smorgasbord position.
I thought I should at least pretend to trust him.
But not too much.
I forced myself to go to another room, but not before slipping The Baby, almost 13, a crisp five-dollar bill with whispered orders that he was to stay in the living room and keep an eye on his brother and The Girl.
Later, The Baby came to update me on The Situation.
“What are they doing?” I asked.
“Just watching TV,” he said, then added, “Boy, is she hot! When they break up, she’s mine.”
I’m not a great writer, mediocre at best. But, I think that might be a good thing, as many of the great writers I hold in high esteem were suicidal alcoholics.
Take Dorothy Parker for instance. She was a poet, writer, critic and satirist and best known for her witty observations and her civil rights work in the 1920s and 1930s – a time when campaigning for minorities and the downtrodden while spouting wisecracks about the rich and powerful would have been downright dangerous. And to add insult to the injuries of many – it was a woman uttering the unutterable.
“Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words,” Parker liked to say. She had the ability to see through the thin veneer of rich and powerful hypocrites and bigots, and thought nothing of publicly commenting on those foibles.
Parker was well-known as a writer for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, the first female drama critic on Broadway and as a founding member of the famous Algonquin Round Table in New York City in 1920. In 1929, when Parker’s caustic wit offended one too many people in high places, she was fired by Vanity Fair. When the Round Table broke up, Parker moved to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. She was twice nominated for an Academy award, but was soon blacklisted in Hollywood after speaking out and becoming an activist for left-wing politics.
The marker at Parker’s birthplace in West End, a village in Long Branch, some sixty miles south of New York City, notes that Parker was a tireless fighter for social justice, civil rights and left-wing causes.
In 1988, the NAACP claimed Parker’s remains and designed a memorial garden for them outside their Baltimore headquarters. The plaque reads: Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested, ‘Excuse my dust’. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people.
Despite her successes, Parker — who was married three times, twice to the same man — was never convinced of her worth. She grew increasingly dependent on alcohol and attempted suicide more than once. Parker died in 1967 in New York.
Twice, while visiting NYC, I just had to have a drink in the Algonquin Hotel, made famous for the Algonquin Round Table.
I sat in the dark, smoky wood-paneled bar and — as an ardent fan of both Parker and her close friend, Robert Benchley — ordered a martini and raised a silent toast to the duo.
And, then — in true Parker style — I ordered another cocktail, and another … then slid under the table and later, my host.
Dorothy Parker on alcohol:
I wish I could drink like a lady.
I can take one or two at the most.
Three and I’m under the table.
Four and I’m under the host.
I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.
A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.
By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Lady make note of this —
One of you is lying.
There’s little in taking or giving
There’s little in water or wine
This living, this living, this living
was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
the gain of the one at the top
for art is a form of catharsis
and love is a permanent flop
and work is the province of cattle
and rest’s for a clam in a shell
so I’m thinking of throwing the battle
would you kindly direct me to hell?
I’m never going to accomplish anything; that’s perfectly clear to me. I’m never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don’t do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don’t even do that any more.
“I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.” (Dorothy Parker to Samuel Goldwyn while working as a screenwriter in Hollywood.)
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide,
If cool my heart and high my head
I think ‘How lucky are the dead.’
If all the girls at Vassar were laid end to end, I shouldn’t be at all surprised.
Women and elephants never forget.
Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman’s moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?
It turns out that, at social gatherings, as a source of entertainment, conviviality, and good fun, I rank somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice-skate.
All I need is room enough to lay a hat and a few friends.
A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.
It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
“So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.'”
(Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, ‘fug,’ in his 1948 book, “The Naked and the Dead.”)
If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.
I am not sick, I am not well.
My quondam dreams are shot to hell.
My soul is crushed, my spirit sore;
I do not like me any more.
I cavil, quarrel, grumble, grouse.
I ponder on the narrow house.
I shudder at the thought of men …
I’m due to fall in love again.
Time doth flit; oh shit.
Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.
That woman speaks eighteen languages, and she can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.
You can lead a whore to water, but you can’t make her drink.
The Algonquin Round Table – dubbed the “Vicious Circle” of 1919-1929 — was a celebrated group of NYC writers, critics, actors and wits who met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC from 1919 until roughly 1929. At these luncheons they engaged in wisecracks, wordplay and witticisms that, through the newspaper columns of Round Table members, were disseminated across the country.
While their individual creativity was stimulated by their daily get-togethers, both at the well-lubricated luncheons and outside of them, the entire group worked together rarely on group projects. The only collaborative effort resulted in the production of No Sirree! which helped launch a Hollywood career for Round Tabler, Robert Benchley, who was best friends with Dorothy Parker.
Some thought the Round Tablers not to be taken seriously.
Groucho Marx, brother of Round Table associate Harpo, was never comfortable amidst the viciousness of the Vicious Circle. “The price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto,” he said.
Some members of the Round Table criticized it later in life, including Dorothy Parker, who said, “These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days – Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. A bunch of loudmouths, showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them; there was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth.”
In addition to Parker and Benchley, other members of the Round Table included Heywood Braun, columnist and sportswriter (married to Ruth Hale); Marc Connelly, playwright; Ruth Hale, freelance writer who worked for women’s rights; George S. Kaufman, playwright and director; Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker and his wife, Jane Grant, journalist and feminist; Alexander Woollcott, critic and journalist; Tallulah Bankhead, actress; Edna Ferber, author and playright; Harpo Marx, Robert E. Sherwood, author and playwright and John Peter Toohey, publicist.
(WARNING-ADULT HUMOR: Turn back now if offended by women dunking donuts, Holiday Inn or the implication of the F-word)
I have been divorced and a single parent for most of my adult life.
I have kept my maiden name and my husband and I do not have matching wedding rings.
That’s right. I said it.
If the truth be told, dating – more than unplanned pregnancy – is the real reason people choose marriage.
Coincidentally, I sucked at dating. Figuratively speaking.
I tried to date only on the weekends I did not have my children, but I was not very good at it. It seemed like a lot of work and after working two – sometimes three – jobs, I was tired.
Too exhausted to be playing The Dating Game.
That, plus my personality attributed to my long-time single parent status over the years.
One night, my voluptuous friend and sex siren, Denise, and I went to a bar/restaurant on my “free” weekend.
It was the early 80s. Need I say more?
We drank too much, flirted a lot, thought not at all and made a bet on who could hook up the quickest. Denise won, as usual, but I came in a strong second.
I hooked up with a route driver who delivered donuts and pastries to storefronts every morning. He seemed OK, but then everyone seems nice enough after two gin and tonics.
Because I felt guilty about hanging out with this route driver on a bet — the old Methodist-Catholic-Baptist tentacles clawed at my throat — out of guilt I agreed to go on a legitimate full-fledged “date” with him the next weekend.
Bad idea. I really did not like the guy.
A pity date.
Except maybe if you are the pity date, or if it becomes a pity … well, you get the gist.
I watched from behind a curtain as he walked up the sidewalk to my front door.
Did he have that bizarre combover last weekend? Shouldn’t I have noticed that when we were dancing under the disco ball?
He was very hairy. Thick swatches of untamed hair covered his arms and neck. I tried not to stare at his head. Or arms. Or neck.
We agreed to go to a movie. I love movies. I would have watched a movie with Genghis Khan.
We went to the nearest theater which was in a small city bout 30 miles away.
The Hairy Combover Donut Man talked and griped the entire time, about what a bad movie it was, about how he could not smoke, about how uncomfortable the seats were, about how hippies were a bunch of %$#*@!
I was confused and irritated. What the heck was he talking about?And why the heck was he talking? I had not seen a hippie for almost 14 years and that was in southern California. Plus, I could not hear the dialogue in the movie. I desperately wanted to tell him to shut the hell up, but that seemed a little too, well, too-me-too-soon.
By the middle of the movie, I wanted to slit his raspy-from-smoking throat. Which was definitely too-me-too-soon.
I hated him. He hated me.
And we still had about four hours to go.
After the movie we agreed – through gritted teeth – to go to a local bar for a drink. What the hell? I had gotten absolutely nothing out of it so far. Might as well score a rum and Coke.
We relocated to a nearby Holiday Inn, where a popular bar was located. We tried to talk like reasonable people who actually cared what one another thought.
I wanted to push my cocktail stirrer through his carotid artery. But only after about an hour of merciless torture.
At one point, he asked how my job was going.
At the time, I was a sales representative for 20 counties in northern Indiana during the week while working weekends as a waitress. I was tired; have I mentioned that?
“It’s been a real bitch,” I said.
Which, quite honestly, it had been.
He looked at me as if I had told him females would one day rule the donut route driver industry – and make more money.
“I don’t like it when girls talk that way and say those kind of words,” he said.
Girls? Those kids of words?
I leaned in close and whispered sweetly, “So, I suppose ‘F*** you’ is out of the question?”
That’s when Mr. Donut Man abruptly got up and left me in a city that was about 40 miles from my home.
Luckily, I saw a couple I knew sitting at the bar and begged a ride. They’ve never forgotten it and neither have I.