Wednesday, April 28, 2010

They Laugh, Lest They . . .

Lest they cry, I think is how it goes.

My son, 21 years old, is starting to think about marriage. He asks,
"What do I look for in a girl? I want someone who thinks, who's got a brain, but too serious isn't good, right? And she's got to have a sense of humor."
A sunny disposition, would be nice, too, I tell him. We all get dark, eventually. Into every life, a little rain must fall. Fine, I'll stop.

But it's true, isn't it? If you have a choice going into it, why not look for happy?

Too bad Niecy Nash is taken.

I knew absolutely nothing about this comedienne until the postman dropped off my People magazine last week. It's for the waiting room so no one gets too tired of waiting for me,* although the cleaning staff throws them away, prefers Russian newspapers. I don't know why.

The April 26 issue is the one with Phoebe Prince on the cover. Phoebe, only 15, killed herself because she couldn't tolerate being bullied at her high school. Nobody told her you have to be really thick-skinned to get through life. Or maybe nobody's skin is that thick.

You're supposed to outgrow this in middle school, we tell the kids, bullying.

But let's talk about Niecy. She's host and producer of Clean House and is known as no-nonsense Officer Raineesha Williams on Comedy Central's Reno 911. My mom loves her on Dancing with the Stars.

The comedienne's story is powerful.
At age 15 she watched as her mother's boyfriend shot her mom, "like a dog in the street." Her mom survived, but eight years later, younger brother Michael, 17, was shot to death at his high school over a love triangle.

"My mother said, 'I give up,'" says Nash, who refused to let her do that. Instead, she stood at the foot of her mom's bed every day telling jokes until she finally cheered up. "that's when I realized comedy was a gift."
It sure is. If you can make 'em laugh, it's a gift. Try to make a sad person laugh and chances are, you won't succeed. But you can try, and as Ms. Nash discovered, if you persevere, you might succeed. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.

Most of us have a friend who forwards jokes. Mine is Sarelle. Either she's up late looking for them online, or people send them to her, but she emails them to everyone she knows. When my father was hardly breathing, we got him to gasp until he liked it with jokes from Sarelle. Try them on a sad friend. Nothing to lose.
A rabbi was walking down the street when, suddenly, a strong gust of wind blew his streimel (fur hat) off his head. The rabbi ran after his hat but the wind was so strong it kept blowing his hat farther and farther away. He just couldn"t catch up with it.

A young gentile man, witnessing this event and being more fit than the rabbi, ran after the hat and caught it. The young gentile man handed the hat over to the rabbi. The rabbi was so pleased and grateful that he gave the man twenty dollars, put his hand on the man"s head and blessed him. The young man was very excited about both the tip and the blessing.

The young gentile decided to take his new found wealth to the racetrack. He bet the entire $20 on the first race that he could.

After the races the young man returned home and recounted his very exciting day at the races to his father.

"I arrived at the fifth race," said the young man. "I looked at the racing program and saw a horse by the name of Top Hat was running. The odds on this horse were 100-to-1. It was the longest shot in the field."

After saving the rabbi"s hat, having received the rabbi"s blessing, gotten the $20, and seeing Top Hat in the fifth race, I thought this was a message from God. So, I bet the entire 20 dollars on Top Hat. An amazing thing happened. The horse that was the longest shot and who did not have the slightest chance to even show, came in first by 5 lengths.

"You must have made a fortune," said the father.

"Well yes, $2000. But wait, it gets better," replied the son.

"In the following race, a horse by the name of Stetson was running. The odds on the horse were 30 to 1" Stetson being some kind of hat and again thinking of the rabbi"s blessing and his hat, I decided to bet all my winnings on this horse."

"What happened?" asked the excited father.

"Stetson came in like a rocket. Now I had $60,000!"

"Are you telling me you brought home all this money?" asked his excited father.

"No," said the son.

"I lost it all on the next race. There was a horse in this race named Chateau, which is French for hat. So I decided to bet all the money on Chateau. But the horse broke down and came in last."

"Hat in French is "Chapeau" not "Chateau" you moron," said the father.

"You lost all of the money because of your ignorance. Tell me, what horse won the race?"

The son answered, "A long shot from Japan named Yamaka.**"
The following aren't as clean, but they would probably still get a PG-13 rating if there were such things. They're wife jokes worthy of Henny Youngman, for those of you who remember him. If you have politically-correct-sensitivity, change the word "wife" to "partner."
My wife sat down on the settee next to me as I was flipping channels. She asked,
'What's on TV?'

I said, 'Dust.'

And then the fight started.
My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary. She
said, 'I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about 3 seconds.'

I bought her a bathroom scale.

And then the fight started.
My wife and I were sitting at a table at my school reunion, and I kept staring
at a drunken lady swigging her drink as she sat alone at a nearby table.

My wife asked, 'Do you know her?'

'Yes,' I sighed, 'She's my old girlfriend. I understand she took to drinking
right after we split up those many years ago, and I hear she hasn't been sober

'My Goodness!' says my wife, 'who would think a person could go on celebrating
that long?'

And then the fight started.

The truth is, probably Ms. Nash has got to be funnier.


* I'm hardly ever late, is the truth.
** A yamaka is a skull cap. Some Jewish people wear these to remind them that there's always something above.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Makes a Kid Want to Kill Somebody?

A scene from Sunday night's Desperate Housewives. A do-gooder neighbor reminds an alcoholic single mom that kids need their mommies home, not out looking for men in bars.

Yeah, there are spoilers.

I suppose it's the stuff of forensics and other fields, and even though I rarely have a murderer telling me his problems, I do hear a kid say, on occasion, "I want to kill someone."

Or it can get specific. "I want to kill so and so."

This is never a good moment, hearing this, because you have to decide who to call, and among the calls is the one that warns the potential victim. That's the law. There are very few situations in which a mental health professional has to break confidentiality, but this is one of them.

So last night, about 8:00 pm, we're eating dinner. I watch as FD reads the paper, fork to mouth, and in another country, the other eater, a biological offspring, is staring at a computer screen, searching for error in his code, reading and rereading hundreds and hundreds of lines of code. He's feeling a little homicidal himself.

I don't feel much like sitting, and as luck would have it, Desperate Housewives is about to begin. I like the show, mainly because I like some of the actors, and I like that the women, the wives, are forced to make quick decisions that will affect just about everything important in family life. And I like that when the story ends, somebody's trying to do something nice for somebody else.

There's always at least one really creepy, dangerous person on the show, which helps me raise my anxiety threshold. I'm reading a slasher novel, too, just to do that.

Anyway, the cringe, the tension in Desperate Housewives is generally well-done, not gratuitous, and the plot keeps my interest, even if I hate some of the story lines. But there are some that I hate to hate. Like last week a teen is working a counter (we like him), pouring a latte. The customer is old enough to be his father. Actually, the guy really is his father, but the son doesn't know this. Mother has made sure to hide this information, ran away with him as an infant, assumed a new identity. She knows bio-dad is a dangerous man.

Bio-dad is befriending his bio-son in the coffee shop, confides the story line of his novel in progress. Now he asks the b0y, "So what should I have him (the spurned father in the novel) do for revenge, now that he's caught up with them? Now that he's found the woman who stole his child, what should he do?"

The kid thinks. It's a long pause.

"To get to the mother," he suggests, "I'd have him get to the kid. Get to her through the son."

"That's what I'm thinking," his father replies.

Cringe stuff. Anyway, this week we get a new plot, a completely new set of characters, one that is going to tie up many of the unsolved, ongoing mysteries on the show. "Epiphany" takes us through the life of a little boy, Eddie, whose father has left him at the age of four. His mother is a verbally abusive woman, addicted to alcohol.

No matter what Eddie does, no matter what he thinks or says, she's contemptuous and ridiculing. Having Eddie has ruined her life. She laughs at him, smirks at him, belittles him. It's so well-done, so real, what we see. And even if it is television, we know it's a fine enactment of exactly what does happen in emotionally, verbally abusive homes. We don't call these homes toxic for nothing.

Eddie searches for nurturing people, and on Wisteria Lane there's no shortage of these. But he makes the mistake of taking the relationships too seriously, thinking older women might really like him, or might like him for their daughters.

And when he risks intimacy, when he tells a female, any female, about his feelings for her, she inevitably laughs, too. Like his mom. Nobody takes him seriously. He just needs someone to love him. You think this is trite? I wish it were.

And wouldn't you know? He's had some very serious anger problems for a long, long, time. He's a good kid, just can't manage his anger very well. And yeah, he's the killer in the neighborhood. One of them.

All I can say is, I liked it, and if I were on the jury, I'd go with the insanity defense. For some reason, my guess is, they'll never pick me for one of these.


Here's the summary from the ABC website, but if you have time, watch the whole show:
We meet Eddie's mom Barbara, a mean, slovenly drunk. She raids his room, looking for a bottle of Scotch, but instead finds his scrapbook with the clippings about the Fairview murders.

We flashback to when Eddie was just four, and his father left his mother -- after loudly proclaiming that he'd never wanted any of this, including Eddie. Mary Alice tries to befriend her, but Barbara isn't interested. Mary Alice stops by one day to give Eddie a teddy bear and finds him home alone while his mom is out drinking. She lectures Barbara about not putting her needs ahead of her son, but the lesson clearly doesn't take.

Gaby first meets Eddie when she moves to Wisteria Lane and finds a lonely Eddie inside her empty house -- he'd been sneaking in to play there since the previous owners moved out. He ends up coming over every day because Barbara has a new boyfriend. When he surprises Carlos and Gaby in the tub, Carlos orders Gaby to "cut him loose" and start making friends with other women, not nine-year-old boys. Gaby wants to go talk to Barbara, but Carlos advises her, "We don't want to be known as the nosy neighbors." After Gaby tells him they can't be friends anymore, Eddie grabs a BB gun and shoots a bird.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Snapshots with No Flash

Rummaging through my parents' basement-- my son salvaged this bag.

I grabbed a thousand of these.

They're not all otters, but there are many Lenox Annual Woodland Issues-- the kind of stuff I'll probably have to sell at a yard sale this summer. It's that or create an e-commerce store for plates.

Plates Used to Be Us
? Plates Was Us?

The Peanuts Mother's Day Plates are going to be a big hit, I can just tell. They're selling for a whopping $9.99 on Replacements., LTD. My mother, always the realist, asks, "Why would anyone want a Peanuts plate from 1972? 1973? 1974?"

"If they don't sell," I say, "I'll start using them. I mean eat on them. I like the expression on Snoopy's face."


One of my kids says to me, "You're really not so into blogging anymore!" But I feel it's not true. I am into it, even wrote a few things, just haven't posted.

"Why not?" -- the question of the day.

Don't know.

Next day we're celebrating my nephew's engagement at my mother's. It's really a day-after-the-party visit, very informal. We all happened to show up at Mom's around the same time to see how she's doing. The engagement is only a day old, so the wedding's on our minds, as is the sheer exhilaration of the proposal, the ring, it's marvelous. I want to be excited, and am, but feel I'm not showing it, push a little to do that. That's wha' cha' do, you know.

The kids are going through some of the junk in the basement, things of my fathers that he would have wanted them to have, golf balls, tools. FD finds a foot massage machine that doesn't work, takes it home to fix it.

Later in the evening I tell him how nice this is, that he has fixed the switch, that the thing works, how proud my father would have been that he even bothered. Maybe it will help my mother's neuropathy.

"The remarkable thing?" he exclaims. "Is that I did it in record time, didn't waste all night on it."

Uh huh.


I'm downtown today at the corner of Michigan and Randolph, watching the people buzz by, note how many tourists we have, maps sticking out of pockets, interesting cameras, big lenses. It's really cold, although the sun is so bright that most Chicagoans aren't dressed for it. A young couple with two kids, probably 5 and 4 are ahead of me at the stoplight. She's holding hands with the little girl, he's holding onto the little boy. She calls to her son, concerned:

"Honey, are you okay? Are you cold?"

The little guy's dad (it's clear this is his dad) sweeps him into his arms and holds him tightly, all I see now is his head on daddy's shoulder, peering down at me.

I kvell. (rhymes with gel, means melt, just how quickly he's in his father's arms. But the kid's not smiling and I think, "He's sick, somehow, not cold." And that felt bad.


I'm driving home, think about an exchange I heard at work, a common power struggle, the kind of thing any couple's therapist has heard a thousand times.

It's an argument over something that's making both of them very anxious. He wants to solve the problem his way, but his way makes her worse. She says to him,

Do it for me. Can't you just once, do it for me?

"Sure, I can just do it. But it feels like you're cutting off one of my . . . That's what it feels like."

That line, or any other line that refers to a guy's masculinity, usually ends the argument. Most women don't want to castrate their spouses. So the job of the therapist, obviously, is to play devil's advocate, say, maybe,
Did you really want them all for yourself?

A friend listens to me describe some of the latest drama going on in my life. She tells me, slow down, play with your fish. Watch more TV.

I'm ashamed to tell her that I haven't got the patience for teev lately, haven't watched in months. I don't recognize the names of the movies in the theater, either.

And my fish? It's a miracle they're even alive, I haven't attended to them in so long. Usually I change water every two weeks.

I know I have to do it, take a couple of hours, get out the siphon, the salt, begin to stir up an instant ocean, and do this Sunday night.

They look a lot happier, that's all I can say. Now if I could only remember to feed them :)


Friday, April 09, 2010

By Land and By Sea

Even if it is 40 degrees in Chicago in April,
sometimes a boy's gotta' fish

Last week was Passover, so we took a little time off work, hosted a few guests. Something of a family reunion. Although not everyone could make it, attendance was pretty good.

We're at Lincoln Park, here, FD's showing the giraffes our kite. They were impressed.

Once or twice, if you're a regular reader, you've found me depressed after a holiday break like this. The kids come, they go, they take my grandchildren with them. They threaten to leave one or two behind, but the little people somehow find their way to their car seats at the end of the holiday. Although I miss them already, it's okay. It always was.

We played a lot of games, some indoors. This year's indoor Bozo's Grand Prize Game was even more of a hit than last year. I didn't tell the kids that Bozo the Clown has passed on to that big circus in the sky.

There's this idea that children really prefer a good cardboard box to the toy inside, and it has been shown, without a doubt, to be statistically significant. After they all left I spent a bit of time smashing boxes for recycling, and throwing things away. I spent about eight hours getting my house together, and will need another couple of weeks to find things, return them to their proper owners. (Empath Daught, if you're reading this, I found some make-up with the chometz (rhymes with dumb-its, means not for Passover use), and someone's sleeveless tee-shirt is still hanging in the bathroom upstairs.)

What else, what else. The best thing about a family reunion is that the generations divide. Sure, it's great for the grandparents to bond with everyone, but leaving the younger people to talk until 3 a.m., just talk, catch up on their lives, and me and FD not hearing a word of it, is kind of wonderful, if you ask me.

This is the essence, really, of a family therapy, that siblings should have their own relationship with one another, not something based upon their relationship to their parents, although that's obviously okay, too. The closeness is something to shoot for, and the way to shoot for it is to get the parents out of the room.

Same thing, really, with marriage. You have to get your parents out of that relationship, too, although it's surely a good thing that they're there, if they are there, when you need them. Nothing like having a parent around when you need one. Same, too, with kids. I called one of mine yesterday. Conversation went like this:

Uh, honey, are you around tomorrow at noon?
Son: I think so!
Great, the guy is coming to fix the dryer and I'm with patients until 1:00.
Son: No problem. Will there be food?

What else, what else.

You can establish a boundary around your practice, with enough practice. My practice is full and yet I was gone for 10 days and had maybe 2 phone calls while I was off, from new patients. I'm not sure how you do this, but it is worth working at. Using your team, using the patient's resources, this is all in there somewhere, as is encouraging independence. I guess we should talk about it more sometime.

What else, what else. I read a good book by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn. It's a post-war book about a nice kid from Ireland who comes to America, leaves her family behind knowing that at most she will see them once a year, traveling by boat. She's here in America for a better life. It's a wonderful novel, rich in character insight. The whole idea of separating from family for a whole year is mind-boggling, isn't it? And yet people used to do it all the time, and many still do.

And I complain about a few months apart from mine.


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