SPRING CLEANING IN AUGUST…Away With You, Dusty Motes !

| August 29, 2012 | Comments (0)


(My notebook is filling up with bits and pieces, “motes” of thought, not significant enough in themselves for a single article, but still – to me – interesting and  sufficiently thought-provoking  to warrant an appearance on these pages. So let’s sweep away these items and bring them to light before they become forgotten cobwebs, too hoary and remote to be of interest to anybody!)

I start with a topic that is both repulsive and frightening; also perhaps “normal” and all in the nature of things, as Dr. Freud might say. I refer to inappropriate touching between parents and children, specifically fathers touching daughters in what I feel is a decidedly WRONG manner.

We read and we are told that humans, like other animals, are sexual beings with attractions and repulsions that start at birth or even before then. And it all begins in the family, it seems; children are attracted to their parents in innocent, but decidedly sexual ways. Daughters – and sometime sons – to fathers; sons and daughters to their mothers. And vice versa. From the perspective of the parent, these urges or attractions are controlled or suppressed in the name of decency and morality. Call it what you will, the “no fly zones” of human inter-action, the taboo territory where one should never tread.

And yet. People will be people, won’t they. I hope it will not be considered disrespectful or mean-spirited if I tell that you my mother hit on me when I was a teenager and she was a middle-aged, neglected spouse. This sad behavior is a rather recognized and not uncommon phenomenon and is reported on by no less than the composer Stephen Sondheim in his biography where he details such behavior towards himself by his mother, “Foxy” Sondheim also a neglected wife. In my case it all started under the guise of dancing lessons. My mother was quite a dancer in her day and, learning that I was somewhat of a wall flower at high school proms (the fact that I wasn’t really interested in dancing with girls, but wanted desperately to dance with the captain of the baseball team had not, at that time, crossed her radar screen, or mine either for that matter!), she suggested that I needed some lessons in Fox-trot, Jitter Bug and the Charleston. Mother was a flapper till the day she died having been born in 1908, reaching her young prime at the peak of the Jazz Age in the late 20’s. Nothing pleased her more than to get out on the dance floor and shake a leg, to be young again.

Not having yet reached that fatal, nihilistic stage of adolescence where I was interested in NOTHING – that happened soon enough, around fifteen as I recall – I eagerly accepted mother’s offer to dance – or prance as she liked to call it. We cleared the floor of carpets and cranked up the Victrola. I took to  the Jitter Bug and the Charleston like a duck to water. The Fox-trot was another matter. It involved “close dancing” which I found off-putting in the extreme, probably one of the manifestations of that shyness syndrome that grips some homely adolescents who wouldn’t be caught nude in the high school locker room and who wait till everybody has gone home before entering the communal showers after a sports event. In any case, I found sudden, forced physical intimacy with a person of the opposite sex more than I could cope with.

Strangely, this reticence on my part seemed to spur my mother to more aggressive behavior. She insisted that we dance with our bodies pressed tightly against each other. “You can’t dance well with your partner, you can’t glide across the floor and look good unless your two bodies are one!”, she told me, breathing rapidly, dragging me close to her. “Yuck !” I replied and pulled away. Thus ended the dance lessons  with my mother in tears  telling me I didn’t love her and my running out of the house, hot-boxing a Camel cigarette as I nervously tried to forget what had just happened. No mention was ever made again of our dance lessons by either of us.

As an introvert who was never accepted into the group as I was growing up – think of that sociology  textbook diagram illustrating the concept of “ostracization” that shows a cluster of little circles in one corner  and a single, lone little square all by itself in an opposing corner; that was me, the little square – I spent my time observing, not interacting; thus, by life-long habit of watching rather than participating, I tend to see more than most people see and certainly notice what others are doing in a way that is undetectable to them. I have developed a technique for watching people without their knowing they are being observed. People with my skill see a lot.

For example, on a crowded subway recently I watched as a youngish, stockbroker father – he must have been such a person with his three-piece suit, his power briefcase and his Wall Street Journal – cradled his three-year old daughter in his arms as they entered the subway at Grand Central Station. As the train pulled away from the station, the father began kissing his daughter. Nice and normal enough, you’d say. But wait, this man was kissing this infant on the lips with full open-mouth kisses. As I watched this untoward display of affection, I noticed that nobody else on the train seemed to be giving the slightest attention to this strange parent-child “bonding.” The repulsive smooching continued and increased in intensity. Being no stranger to “sucking face” myself (but not with my daughter; I don’t have one), it was obvious to me that what was going was very sexual and that the father was reaching an advanced a state of arousal, his tongue busy with eager thrusts into the tiny, young mouth.

I wondered if this man was actually aware of what he was doing and I struggled with myself, having a hard time not tapping him on the shoulder and asking WHAT was going on. “It takes a village” and all that, we are responsible for the behavior of our fellow humans, but I was not about to challenge somebody bigger, stronger and younger than myself. And what if he were a lawyer !! This twisted display of affection continued without surcease until the train pulled into 86th Street with father and daughter exiting the train. Ten minutes non-stop smooching. Was what I saw “normal” ? Was it “sick” ? Am I sick for watching them and drawing the conclusions I drew? Who is to say. But I think what I think…so THERE! I just KNOW in my bones that what I was witnessing was WRONG ! But what can one do? Nothing !

Not long after that strange subway ride I happened to be on the cross-town bus when I witnessed an even more shocking example of father-daughter lust, at least lust on the part of the parent. Again, a youngish father and a two to three year-old daughter. This time comforting pats on the bottom became insistent kneading of the child’s genital area by the father’s hand. It continued and continued. The father was obviously aroused. Who was to know ? Who was watching besides me ? Nobody, I would venture to say. It could well be that these fathers are unware of what they are doing, are unconscious, if you will, of the actions they are engaging in. But I doubt it. I think this is a dirty little secret that will forever remain a secret since three-year-olds cannot articulate verbally or mentally what is being done to them by a person they love very much who “protects” them. I think this problem is bigger than we realize. Abuse that will forever remain silent and perhaps even unrecognized by the perpetrator, the father.

But who knows ? With America’s culture of tiny tiara tot beauty queens, those pathetic five year-old Jon Benet Ramsey sex objects, who is to say that father-daughter petting is not the new normal ?

Heavy stuff what I have just written. We need a break so I will entertain you with a funny story told me by my late friend Sal; Salvatore to be more formal to the dearly departed gentleman. First, a word or two about Sal, who was a beautiful human being and a brilliant song writer. At my request, Sal wrote a duet for me and my songbird friend, Laura for a recording we were undertaking. The song was about an old retired couple rocking and grumbling on the porch of their retirement home.  The title of the song is: “Has It Been Good For You?” The words go something like this:

He –  Decades ago when we first met,

She – I scarcely remember HOW!

He – Who would have guessed we’d be here, sitting together now!

How life flies by when you’re having fun.

She -Though it always hasn’t been the case !

He –  We’ve had more of our share of the good years,

The rest I know time will erase !

Together – Sitting and watching  a fire that’s dwindlng,

And, Oh! what a lovely glow !

We’re fresh out of kindling, wouldn’t ya know !

The fire won’t last much longer, but it’s still warm enough for two.

A good fire, a great life, my darling !

Has it been good for you?

Laura and I sang this song with feeling and to great effect and it brought tears to the eyes of everybody who heard it. Or at least tears welled up in MY eyes.

Sal was also a great raconteur. He could regale you about his Sicilian family back in the old country, there were stories about growing up during Prohibition. You name it, he told it. One of the best tales involved his kid brother Joey. Joey, like Sal, was a burly, barrel-chested working-class Wop who worked in construction. Laid bricks, drank beer, went bowling with the guys every Friday night. But unlike his siblings and every other red-blooded Italian male over thirty, Joey was not married. Joey’s mother, Ma to her six sons, began showing signs of concern that her bambino was still single. Joey shrugged off his mother’s niggling, re-assuring her, “Ma, it’ll happen when it happens, don’t worry !”

But something else was  happening with  Joey. Beneath his bullish brick-layer, tattooed hide, Joey was beginning to realize that deep down inside he was really a WOMAN. In  1940’s working-class Italian-American Connecticut Joey’s epiphany was unusual to say the least. At 5 foot ten inches and weighing nearly 200 pounds, with weight-lifter biceps and a neck thick as a buffalo, it was hard even with the  most concerted stretch of the imagination to visualize Joey as a girl.

Undaunted, Joey began to cross-dress on select occasions for a  chosen few friends. Everybody was surprised at the result. Who would have thought this Italian stallion could morph into a lady-like apparition, his ham-handed fists curling into graceful gestures as he swayed across the room in a purple velvet floor-length skirt and billowing white silk blouse ! Joey had wisely chosen a floor-length garment to cover his massive hairy calves and football player’s thighs. The result was pleasing to everybody especially Joey.  Even those who did not share Joey’s enthusiasm for his “transition” bit their tongues and remained silent because Joey was the toughest guy in the neighborhood. Numerous broken noses and black eyes over the years had shown that it did not pay to cross Joey.

Joey was pleased with his new persona, but something was still missing. He needed to share the joy of being a woman with the person closest to him in his life, his mother. His plan to bring the news to his mother was well-thought out and simple. Over dinner when they were alone Joey would tell her that he was no longer a man. To ease the shock to his uneducated, Sicilian peasant mother, he would NOT dress in velvet and silk this first time; he would just tell her. Let it sink in, then see what happened. He would even speak in Sicilian so she would feel more comfortable. But he would tell her his new name that night.  For Joey had become Michelle.

Dinner went well and after he had cleared the dishes for her they sat at the kitchen table with the radio playing and the clock ticking. At what he judged to be the right moment, Joey cleared his throat and announced, “Ma, I wanna tella ya somethin’ important ! Ya lissen good, Ma, CAPISCE !” “OK, Bambino mio, Ima lissen !” “Ma, Ima transvestite !” “I canna hear ya good, my boy! You say you WHAT?!?” “Ima TRANSVESTITE !” ” WHAT ! You gotta da problem widda you  clothes-a ? You vest is too tight ? OK ! No problem, I take it to Giuseppe da tailor domani, va bene ? He have it ready for mass on Sunday for sure. I give-a him dollah extra quick work!”

“No Ma, you don’t understand ! Non capisce niente ! Ima girl and my name is MICHELLE ! Ima Michelle now. Ima not you Joey anymore Ima Michelle !”

“Oh, OK ! I understand. You change-a you name ? OK, va bene ! No problem. I like-a dat new name, MITCHELL.  Isa betta dan Joey. Okay ! Mitchell ! Isa real Americano name dat one !”

“But Ma…isa not Mitchell, isa Michelle.”

“OK, benissimo. Mitchell. I like-a!”

“But Ma…..”



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