May 21 2015

All this #TBT, Endings, and Something for my Daughter



Ever since the season finale of Mad Men and the use of the Paul Anka (fun fact: Paul Anka sang his hit  song Diana to me, at my table in the Riviera Showroom in Las Vegas, when I was twelve!) song that I’ve not heard since I was a teenager, Times of Your Life, set to flashbacks from the show’s 7 seasons, that there’s been a slide show of flashbacks of my own life in my mind, each slide no longer than a nanosecond each.

Mad Men series finale trailer

On top of that, this was the last week of David Letterman. THE David Letterman, for whom I cut classes at SUNY Stony Brook  in the spring of 1983 to take the LIRR to see him tape an early episode of Late Night (just a few months before the most pivotal moment of my life (read on to learn what that was). Late Night with David Letterman my talk show, not my parent’s (Johnny Carson’s) talk show — and now, moments after Mad Men abandoned me,  it was retiring.  Time. It’s all going by suddenly so fast…

But back to me.

It all started with a diary. Like most young girls, I confided in one. All my secrets, desires, rants, what I really thought about __________. Next came the scrapbook. When I was old enough to start attending events that left me with ticket stubs in my back pocket; proof that I was there for that incredible concert/show/movie premiere. Then came the photo albums that were my own, not my parents, and the books and the music that showed me new worlds I couldn’t wait to discover for myself. And the magazine picture clippings of the guys who gave me my first hormonal surges, matchbooks from the bars I was able to sneak into and drink and smoke underage, secret classroom notes from friends, letters from boyfriends…

At some point, I needed a chest for all of this stuff.

(side note: would someone growing up today even have a diary/ticket stub/scrapbook/photo album/magazine clipping — or have we lost all of those things to the digital age and cloud-based storage?)

Then I went to college and forgot about collecting stuff. There was barely enough room in my SUNY Stony Brook door room for a 2nd towel, let alone keepsakes. Besides, I was too busy actually having new experiences and meeting exciting new people — not just reading about them in books or hearing about them in songs — to care about ticket stubs or a picture of Bucky Dent in Cosmopolitan.


And then my mother died, rather suddenly, when I was 19. I was just at that age where the relationship was segueing from mother-daughter to friends. She was beginning to tell me things about herself she couldn’t tell me when I was a child: that she had been married before my father (his Greek family thought it somewhat scandalous to marry a divorcee, so that never got talked about), and how she first went to Las Vegas to get her divorce (which no doubt had some influence on my parents decision to move there when we were young children).


The author, age 19.

The author, age 19.

We were just scratching the surface of her past when she died, and now there were so many unanswered questions. And I had no one to ask.


I knew I’d have a daughter one day. I didn’t have a strong desire for children, no biological clock ticking away, that’s just what you did, right? Had children? And I was going to have a daughter because that’s what my mother had, and that’s the relationship I wanted, what she and I had. Don’t question my logic, I was young I and I knew this was what was to be.


But now I had to prepare: What if I had a daughter, and then I too, died suddenly? I didn’t want to leave my daughter with unanswered questions about me, who I was before I started wearing the labels of wife and mother, as my mother had left me. I wanted her to know me at her age, whatever age she started having such thoughts. What were my dreams, my goals, my favorite songs and books; who were my crushes? So I started saving things again. The magazines that covered important events of my time (Curt Cobain’s death), the ticket stubs (U2), the matchbooks and trinkets from my travels. I would leave her with no unanswered questions.


But she never came, my daughter. For various reasons, I never had children.  And now, I have this trunk of me. My youth and young adulthood. And I don’t know what to do with all this stuff. I used to think that if I got famous or did something remotely noteworthy, my biographer might harvest this trove of insight into my life, my heart. But I’m beginning to suspect there may be no biographer. True, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. But let’s be realistic.


So what to do with all of it? Every ten or fifteen years or so I pop it open and pop out maybe one or two things, a photo or my sash of Girl Scout badges (some still yet to be sewn on); but I have never –and have no desire to – spend time with it and really explore all that’s there. Honestly, I don’t even know what I’ll find, beside what’s in plain sight on top. I already spend more time thinking about the past that I care to; better to think about the future and live in the present.


But the past, the contents of this trunk– it’s what makes me who I am now. I feel like I’m looking at a young me, when I glance in there: pre-setbacks, divorce, doubt, death, disappoint, rejection, disappoint, doubt, etc. I want to be her again. Me, before The Fight (aka Life). When it never dawned on me that there was anything I could not do.


I’m realizing as I write this that I need to keep that trunk for now. Because I am her. And The Fight, I need to reevaluate that – because it didn’t kill me, did it? And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, doesn’t it?

Dec 17 2008

The moment I realized: There were some things my parents were never going to tell me.

(note: this started out as a proposal for a book on Prince’s 3rd album, “Dirty Mind” in part of a series of  books about albums by 33 1/3). After writing this, I realized there really isn’t much to say about the album; it speaks for itself and gets right to the point. But I did have something to say about how I became aware of the album; one night, alone in my room, as a young girl so so curious about the world out there. And relying almost entirely on tv, movies and radio to serve as my portal.)

Prince performing \”Party Up\” on SNL, 1981

At the time I first saw this clip, I had had sex twice. I thought I knew sex. But all of that changed in three nationally-televised minutes.

One night in February, Prince was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Prince’s only real claim to fame thus far had been I Wanna Be Your Lover. A song that whispered nothing to me and my newly raging hormones. Back in the day, you stopped the party to watch SNL. It was like that. Now I remember very well I was not at a party on this particular airing. I remember so well because… I had a moment.

I don’t think I’d ever actually seen Prince before this performance. If I had it was pretty forgettable. But he comes on: He’s wearing a trench coat. It’s open. He’s shirtless. He’s wearing thigh-high black boots, which I thought were pants until he spun around and the coat twirled to reveal: No Pants . He’s playing a huge (relative to his diminuitive self) guitar. He’s singing a song called Party Up , the perfect marriage of funk and anarchy and sex. This song, this performance… Changed My Life.

(A little backstory: My parents were old-school Rat Pack Fabulous. We moved from New York to Vegas back when Vegas was small and glamorous and mob-related guys like my dad did very well. Seriously, they were straight outta a Scorscese movie. My mom even looked like Sharon Stone. And dad was Greek. Need I say more. I couldn’t wait to grow up. Childhood and its inhabiting children were so banal. Adulthood seemed so much more interesting.)

Now my upbringing was hardly sheltered. I was allowed to tag along my 2 older brothers whenever they’d allow it. And my mother took me to see “Rosemary’s Baby when I was 4; the Exorcist when I was 10 — which may explain my strange dreams to this day. But I digress. Point is, I was aware of a lot of things at an early age. But could it be there were some things perhaps even my parents were unaware of… or decided it best I remain unaware of?

So here was Prince, cracking the door on an adulthood my parents never told me about. It was nasty and sexy and forbidden and it was muthafuckin’ HOT. I knew a little bit about sex at this point, so I understood horniness and desire and lust. Adolesence, hormones, blah blah blah. You get the picture. But in Las Vegas in 1981, neither I – – nor my equally horny girlfriends – had ever considered fucking the lights out of a black man. Or a really short man. Or a man who could hit higher notes that us. Or a man who weighed less than us. Or a man who didn’t wear pants. If there was a “Cause and Effect” here, Prince was the Cause. The Effect was not: Want Sex (I already knew I wanted it). No, the effect was “ Want to Experience Sex”. For in that performance, I understood The Appeal Of The Unknown.  And Prince on that night could not have been any more unknown if he were from fucking Mars. And, again, HOT.

Yeah, that night adulthood got more enticing than I’d ever imagined. The next day, I bought the album on which Party Up appeared. It was called, most appropriately, “Dirty Mind”. There is nothing mysterious or cryptic about the album’s title. It starts with the title song.  Other equally in-your-face titles, such as as Head and Sister, are about, respectively, giving/getting head and fucking your sister.

Even songs with innocent titles had lyrics such as “you didn’t have the decency to change the sheets (When You Were Mine). But I think my favorite memory of listening to this album involves my father, the most conservative old-world Greek on the planet. I was scouting colleges to attend one day, and one of them was SUNY Stony Brook (Long Island, NY). By this time my parents were divorced, my father living with his sister in Queens. I was there to check out the college and we took in a Yankees game. My first and only sports crush (on Bucky Dent) was in full swing. So we go to Yankee Stadium. And during some break in the game, when we go to the concession stand, they play Prince’s song Dirty Mind over the speakers. Now from a distance, the song sounds innocent enough, Prince hitting all the high notes in his falsetto. It’s got a nice, bouncy melody. Until you get to the bridge, where Prince blurts out (rather loudly) the lyrics:

“you just gotta let me lay ya, gotta let me lay ya lay ya, you just gotta let me lay ya, gotta let me lay ya down. In my daddy’s car. It’s you I really wanna drive…”

Anticipating that moment in the song, I didn’t speak to my father for about a minute. And then I let him have it. I have no idea what I said, just made up some tirade so that he wouldn’t hear the words. He’s the type of man who would be so disgusted, and share his disgust, for days. It wouldn’t be worth it. If I tried to defend Prince, he’d only be disgusted with me. No, I had to create a diversion. It worked. Bucky Dent hit a home run. The Yankees lost the game, but who cares? For one bright shining afternoon, I had Prince, and I had Bucky. The future was looking bright.