Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Cocktail Hour - Pt 4 (Angels and Demons)

(Continued from The Cocktail Hour Pt. 3)

As much as I, with the vengeful encouragement of missing and presumably dead Sylvia wanted to plunge the gleaming ice pick into my husband's drunk, flushed face - in doing so, I would most certainly be arrested and charged with some kind of 'crime.' (Naturally, I would insist I acted in self defense, but I'm not confident the surly Los Angeles County District Attorney would accept my-husband-was-being-a-total-asshole defense) I calmly and resolutely approached my intoxicated husband and hissed under my breath "George dear, may I please see you in the kitchen - we need to talk."

I could go into the cursing, the screaming, the recriminations - but why bother?! Anyone who's had the misfortune of being in a relationship for longer than 5 minutes has undoubtedly participated in this same, retarded argument. I stomped upstairs, packed my gayer than gay, overpriced Louis Vuitton overnight bag and raced out of the house. George, the determined entertainer that he is, wiped a small tear from his eye, smoothed the surface of his 2005 cinnabar hued Williams Sonoma apron, and bravely marched out to the pool deck to inform his drunk, oblivious guests that dinner was served.

In my zeal to avoid murdering my husband, I realized I had no plan. I couldn't escape to our Palm Springs weekend house as I had stupidly rented it to a family of pasty faced Norwegians, who despite the blinding sun and scalding 115 degree heat, seemed to possess an insatiable, 'tanorexic' desire for heat stroke. Fuming, I sat in my car with nothing to do and no place to go. Missing and presumably dead Sylvia soothingly suggested I visit Home Depot, pick up an ax, return home and murder the entire group - but as my desire for vengeance had somewhat abated, I found that plan unworkable. Disappointed, Sylvia labeled me a 'fucking Puta' and like a wounded, dangerous El Chupacabra slunk back into the darkest recesses of my cluttered mind.

As D-I-V-O-R-C-E was a near certainty, I decided to cut and run to the ONLY place where for a mere $500-700 a night, you can take out your petty personal problems on someone else. A place so refined, so accustomed to indulging entertainment industry dickheads, they almost beg you to treat them like shit - and still gratefully put a delicately wrapped chocolate on your snow white pillow. I am referring to my little slice of divorce heaven - The L'Hermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills. Crammed into the stifling cabin of my Toyota Prius, I telephoned Heaven. I had no need to telephone 411 to connect to The L'Hermitage - they were in the number 1 position on my Blackberry's speed dial. (I have a very low tolerance for pain) The phone rang only once before my personal angel perkily answered.

"Thank you for calling the L'Hermitage, Gretchen Speaking - how may I assist and serve you today?"

"Hello Gretchen, It's Tod Abrams calling." I blubbered. "I may need my old room back."

(To Be Continued)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Cocktail Hour Pt 3

(Continued from The Cocktail Hour Pt 2)

One steamy afternoon last summer, I trudged home from a particularly grueling and frustrating day of work to find my husband and several of his Botox and Restylane obsessed lady friends enjoying an impromptu after school pool party/cocktail soiree. What a cool and breezy idea they all must have thought - what better way to while away a muggy and dirty Los Angeles afternoon than by sipping Magic Margaritas, getting buzzed and nonchalantly checking on their screeching children who were dangerously racing around and diving into our wildly unsafe pool?

When George and I conceived our swimming pool design, safety was not at the top of our 'must have' list. Like many of the over sized, stage set looking vintage homes built in our area of Los Angeles in the 20's and 30's, the imposing front facade of our house promises an 'estate-like' setting that the greedy developers did not feel compelled to deliver. Our backyard is surprisingly small and required a great deal of planning in order to accommodate my selfish, wanton desire to own a swimming pool. In the end, George and I designed and built a pool that serves beautifully as a backdrop for a an intimate afternoon of adult conversation, cocktails and quiet introspection aboard a rubber raft. It never occurred to us that our aesthetic choices of highly fashionable, yet insane razor sharp glass liner tile, quicksand-like pool plaster, in addition to a veritable minefield of cement channels, fountains, and extraneous 'water features' might at all be hazardous. George and I often marvel that even to this day, not a single child or adult has seriously injured themselves cavorting in our sparkling, dangerous pool. Even the youngest, most inexperienced child intuitively knows that our viper-like pool, while beautiful and alluring can also give you a nasty bite if you run too fast or have the hubris to violate the 11th commandment: "Thou shall not go swimming less than 30 minutes after eating."

Upon my arrival, the boisterous party was already in full swing. My husband George was dutifully manning our blender and was in the midst of drunkenly and cavalierly regaling the guests with the rather sordid tale of how he and I originally met. Like many gay men of the time, George and I met under less than ideal circumstances. Let it suffice to say that at our first 'introduction' our real names were not exchanged and it was REALLY, REALLY, dark. Already three-sheets-to-the-wind, the guests were already on their fourth round of Magic Margaritas when I made my angry entrance. Not a single attendee glanced in my direction, acknowledged my presence or daned to offer me a Magic Margarita. When my presence was finally acknowledged by my drunken husband, I was offhandidly asked to scoot over to the 7-11 and pick up some ice as he had just run out.

As the color drained from my face and the hair on the back of my neck rose in fury, the ghost of missing and presumably dead Sylvia cackled maniacally in my ear. It was certainly she who encouraged me to murder my intoxicated husband with the ice pick that he had just been using to chip the ice for HER particular brand of Magic Margarita.

(To be Continued)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Cocktail Hour Pt 2

(Continued from The Cocktail Hour)

Holy Guacamole - the burgeoning avocado conglomerate whose products figuratively (and probably literally) are derived from the ashes of m
y husband's missing and presumably dead nanny are a resounding success and can be purchased at many of southern California's most popular farmer's markets. My in laws graciously employ their underage relatives to act as 'Brand Ambassadors' for the company and suspiciously overpay them to meander through these markets shrieking the company mantra 'Holy Guacamole - God is it good!' while accosting shoppers with golf ball size samples of the green goop. Each sample of Holy Guacamole is perched on a single tortilla chip and like communion is administered by shoving the entire thing, chip and all into the gaping mouth of hungry shoppers. Like crack or heroin, once you've tasted Holy Guacamole there's no going back. You're hooked.

During her all-to-short life, poor missing and presumably dead Sylvia could never have known that her priceless family legacy, the recipes for Magic Margaritas and Holy Guacamole would be passed to a family of greedy gringos who would unscrupulously exploit her secrets for their own selfish means. While George and I poor pitcher after pitcher of a stolen recipe for Magic Margaritas into the glasses of our fucked-up friends, and thousands of organic-obsessed Los Angeles housewives devour plastic tubs full of outrageously fattening Holy Guacamole, Sylvia's bones mildew under the eaves of the San Diego Avocado trees that ironically became her undoing. Poor missing and presumably dead Sylvia, the tragic and mysterious nanny who gave her own life so that we may happily compromise our livers and clog our arteries would have the last laugh. Her diembodied, vengeful spirit lingering patiently while her murderous previous employers frollicked carelessly at their festive barbecues, pool parties, and caucasian-only Cinco De Mayo celebrations. We would soon come to know her wrath!

To Be Continued

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Cocktail Hour

My husband George makes the most amazing, blended Margaritas. As a matter of fact, I rarely need to consult the calendar to know when summer is upon us. Like Yosemite's grizzly bears, our Williams Sonoma blender suddenly emerges from it's winter hibernation - crammed in the cupboard of our butler's pantry to make it's much anticipated seasonal appearance on the wet bar by our swimming pool. Like a trusted friend, it will remain there all summer. Loyal and unwavering, our blender sees us through Memorial day weekend, the doggiest of summer's dog days, and even into Indian summer, which in LA lasts until Halloween. Now, I've had a TON of Margaritas in my life - but none can hold a candle to the magic Margarita turned out by my spouse. George is not a more-is-better Margarita type of guy. As gay as we are - we don't 'do' strawberry, peach, watermelon or chocolate (heaven forbid) Margaritas. We are old school - straight blended Margarita with our without salt - if any of our friends have the audacity to request fruit in their drinks, we kindly but firmly suggest they visit their nearest El Torito.

Many of our drunk and aggresive friends have pressed George for the recipe. Like a secret elixir - he guards the recipe jealously. I have been married to the man for 14 years, and have yet to learn the components. One night, shitfaced, George became unusually vocal regarding the origin of the magic Margarita recipe. While not disclosing the recipe itself, I came to learn that my husband's secret recipe wasn't actually his - but was gleaned from his nanny - a mysterious woman named Sylvia. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me, as I had heard Sylvia's name mentioned (in the hushest of hush tones) several times by my husband's family. When I innocently inquired after Sylvia's last name, country of origin, household duties and present whereabouts, nervous looks were exchanged and the subject was quickly changed. I concluded that Sylvia was either unceremoniously fired for some petty household pilfering, or George's family had strangled her for the magic Margarita recipe and had been haphazardly buried in the lush Avocado orchard that abutted their San Diego home. Not only did Sylvia bequeath (I intentionally use this term, as I'm relatively certain my in-laws murdered this woman) her magic Margarita recipe - but also passed along an outstanding recipe for Guacamole that my enterprising in-laws have turned into a successful avocado empire ironically named Holy Guacamole.

(To Be Continued)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Seperate But Equal

My young son Ethan is a very stylish six year old. He is acutely and at times annoyingly aware of what style of sneaker, shirt or pant is 'cool' or 'dorky.' He has developed a slavish devotion to French made 'skinny jeans,' vintage t-shirts, and hard-to-find European, suede sneakers that fall to pieces the moment any kind of inclement weather hits them. This doesn't come as as total shock to me, being who he is - not to mention the company he keeps. My gorgeous son Ethan (who I'm sadly convinced is as straight as an arrow) lives with a pair of shallow, style-obsessed, fashion-victim gay men who are as queer as three dollar bills. While other fathers agonize over their son's batting average, George and I fret that our son's most recent and supposedly hip haircut doesn't do proper justice to his strong Nordic features.

When our surrogate Irma became pregnant with our son, I immediately concluded we were having a girl. With glee, I anticipated all the fun, girly stuff little Taylor/Lindsey/Donatella and I would do together. We would shop for frilly party dresses at Nordstrum, eat dainty little finger sandwiches at The Plaza Hotel in New York City and throw the most lavish, and enviable tea parties. My exquisite daughter would soon be fluent in 8 languages, attend Julliard, and be the first Suma Cum Laude graduate of Princeton to dance the leading role of GISELLE at Lincoln Center. Seated 4th row, center, tears of exquisite joy course down my face when in the 2nd act my darling daughter plunges the dagger into her breast, relinquishing her life as GISELLE and assuming her tragic and immortal Sylph identity. The audience convulses in ecstasy and to the astonishment of the management, orchestra and assembled critics have the audacity to give Taylor/Lindsey/Donatella Abrams an-unheard-of standing ovation before the velvet curtain has even fallen on the her grand finale! After her 10th encore, my daughter would humbly motion for me to join her on stage. As the crowd roars it's approval, Taylor/Lindsey/Donatella magnanimously takes my hand, curtsies deeply, and hands me a single red rose from the magnificent bouquet sent to her by Mikael Baryshnikov. (He is still smarting over her impulsive decision to join New York City ballet, but faced with the tidal wave of publicity she is receiving, he has no choice but to kiss her emaciated ass) Though I am nearly blinded by Lincoln Center's luminous spotlight, I lovingly bow towards my supplicating daughter, give her a knowing wink, and then while facing OUR adoring public, hands earnestly clasped together at my lips, give a simple, mouthed 'Thank You.' The crowd goes wild and while ferociously cheering and clapping, shower my Prima Ballerina daughter and I in a cascade of fragrant rose petals.

After our Triumph at Lincoln Center Taylor/Lindsey/Donatella and I retire to our lavish suite at the Sherry Netherlands Hotel and spread the glowing newspaper reviews all over the lush carpeting. As is her custom, my daughter never reads her own reviews – she considers it gauche. I on the other hand, pour over every syllable, anguished by these moronic ‘journalists’ who have the nerve to condescendingly refer to her performance as ‘sparking,’ ‘inspired,’ and ‘novel.’ Are they blind? Are these critics so accustomed to mediocrity that they can’t recognize true genius when they see it? I am about to lose my faith in the media altogether when my eye comes to rest on a New York Times black and white photograph of my daughter soaring through the air in a miraculous grand jete′. I've seen this shot dozens of times (New York City Ballet uses it on every dreary program, press kit, and playbill) but this time the photo is accompanied by a headline that screams RAPTUROUS DANCE MIRACLE – ABRAMS TRIUMPHS AGAIN! Elated, I race down the hall to share the happy news with my daughter. I find her casually seated at her vanity, brushing her long auburn hair and inspecting her patrician features.

“Kitten, have you seen? The Times is calling your performance transcendent – a miracle!” I exclaim.

My daughter continues to brush her hair. “Now daddy, you know I don’t read my reviews – it’s bad form.“

“Oh darling, I know – but I just couldn't resist. Do you forgive?”

My daughter suddenly stops brushing her luxurious hair, turns and regards me with the most plaintive look. “Daddy, I would forgive you ANYTHING. Besides, the only real critic whose opinion matters is yours. I could have never gotten here without your unconditional love and support.”

I am undone. I hurry to her and place my head in her lap. Like a child, I sit on the floor of our plush suite, tears again coursing down my ruddy cheeks. All the years of work and sacrifice by George and I come rushing to the surface. Taylor/Lindsey/Donatella holds my head firmly, stroking my glorious silver hair, and due to her strict Bolshoi training, offers me kind words in fluent Russian. Though I don't understand a single syllable, I'm comforted nonetheless.

"I hate Target." Ethan reminds me in the car. "Their clothes are boring."

"Tough, we're in a depression, so get used to it buddy!" I respond. Ethan gives me a contemptuous look and decides to scowl for the rest of the ride.

I am now as far from my glittering 'future' at Lincoln Center and the Sherry Netherlands as I can get. As we join the throngs of bargain hunters scavenging the sale racks at our local Burbank Target Store, my six year old fashionista turns up his nose at every Cherokee shirt, Osh Kosh B' Gosh jean, and Mossimo cargo short. After 30 minutes of fruitless arguing, Ethan and I are finally overcome by the noxious stench of polyester, ghastly florescent lighting, and oppressive screeching of illegal aliens. I throw in the towel, and head to our favorite, over-priced kid's boutique in Silver Lake.

As we enter the store's elegant grand salon, an attentive sales lady offers me a soy latte and begs me to have a seat on the spotless, velvet divan while she takes Ethan through 'the collection.' Ethan who is tall and thin and looks frighteningly fabulous in EVERYTHING he tries on models an astonishing variety of expensive, imported
children's wear. A agree to buy him two pairs of imported french jeans which happen to be on sale for 40 bucks each - but draw the line at a $98 t-shirt with Lenny Kravitz emblazoned on the front in garish silver.

Incredulous, Ethan cannot understand why he cannot have the t-shirt. "But Daddy, I look so good in it." He complains.

"I don't care - take it off."

"But I want it."

"Take it off, it's too expensive. I'm not buying a six year old a $98 t-shirt."

"But you buy yourself $98 t-shirts." He says snidely.

I was horrified. My young son had come to believe that not only were he and I intellectual equals, but financial partners as well. Were I to stab him where he stood, he would bleed entitlement. He continues modeling the shirt and flirting shamelessly with the overly attentive sales lady.

Outraged, I take him by the arm and hiss in his ear "I can assure you we are not equals. Now, take the Goddamn shirt off, before I rip it off your back!" Ethan's eyes grow large, he knows that I mean business. He dresses quickly and we leave the store empty handed, even forgoing his deeply discounted French 'skinny' jeans.

In the car ride home, Ethan and I are both pensive. I reflect on Taylor/Lindsey/Donatella and the alternate universe I will never reside. I silently mourn the glittery New York City Ballet events I will not attend, the standing ovations I will miss, and the crowds of adoring fans who will never seek my autograph. I reluctantly resign myself to the task at hand of driving a recalcitrant straight boy around town looking for discount jeans. In the midst of feeling completely sorry for myself, I glance at the small blond boy seated in the rear of my car who tunelessly hums the theme from STAR WARS. I catch his eye in my rear view mirror and we exchange a smile.

"Dad, I don't want any clothes - let's just go home and draw together."

'Ok, I would like that." I say. My voice breaks slightly as in that moment I realize that I have never been nor will I ever be his equal.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eye Of The Storm

Pink eye. My son Ethan had pink eye. I knew the second he entered my bedroom and demanded I make him a bowl of Trader Joe’s Leapin’ Lemurs cereal he had it. His bloodshot right eye looked swollen and a small glob of greenish mucus rested in the corner of the eye close to his nose.

It is a well known fact that at my child’s school, pink eye is treated with the same scorched-Earth policy I’m certain the CDC reserves for an Ebola outbreak. Once identified with the shameful condition, your child is immediately quarantined from the ‘normal’ population and is confined to a trailer-like ‘holding area.’ The offending child’s work surface, pencils, crayons, and cubbyhole are then sanitized with the zeal and determination an atomic worker reserves for mopping up spilled plutonium.
The neglectful parent is telephoned and the ‘seriously ill’ child discharged to their custody. I’m convinced that peasants dying from plague in the middle ages were treated with more deference and civility then my 1st grader would be were I to send him to school in his present condition.

“You better take him to the doctor.” My husband George suggested already dressed for work, and downing his repugnant peanut butter, banana and low-fat vanilla yogurt breakfast smoothie as he headed out the front door. “They won’t let him in class with Pink Eye – it’s contagious you know.”

“Is that your final diagnosis, doctor?” I responded sarcastically as he passed.


“What do you mean I have to take him?” I called.

My husband George, the former stay-at-home dad who had recently returned to his highly paid, soul-sapping career in film production was half way down our front steps and stopped suddenly. He turned, and with a knowing grin on his face replied “It is now your responsibility to take our child to doctor appointments. Those joyful, primary care responsibilities that used to mine, are now yours." He bounded down the remaining steps, hopped into the 'mom car' SUV I bought him and gunned the engine. As he pulled away, I could see his reflection in the rear view mirror -his knowing grin had turned into full-fledged laugh riot. The prick.

Our son Ethan joined me on the landing and witnessed George gleefully zoom off. "Get dressed. We have to go to the doctor." I said to Ethan wearily.
He peered at me now with the same sad expression usually reserved for those frightening Margaret Keane 'Big Eye' paintings. A single tear fell from his puffy, red rimmed eye.

"I don't need to go to the doctor."

"Yes, you do."

"No really, Dad - I don't need to go to the doctor. I just rubbed my eye funny."

"You're going to the doctor."

"I really don't want to go."

"I insist."

"I'm not going."

There comes a point in almost every negotiation with one's child where you start to feel like the United Nations. My son Ethan had become like the regimes of Iran or North Korea whose defiant, nationalist ideology cause them to shrug off the demands of Washington. On the other hand, I had become like The Bush Doctrine personified - I was far more likely to use
preemptive force, rather than negotiation, to counter threats from his weapons of mass destruction which in this case consisted mainly of tears, whining, and a stubborn and steadfast resolve to piss me off.

"GET DRESSED NOW!" I barked. "It's not my fault you have Pink Eye. NOW MOVE IT!" Like Iran or North Korea, my son slowly and begrudgingly complied, but I suspected that whatever superficial demands he met, I would suffer grave consequences due to the cache of weapons he stored in bunkers deep underground.

As we drove to the doctor, Ethan sat in the back of my car and cried softly.

"Ethan, what's wrong?" I asked. "Why are you crying?"

"I miss papa." He said miserably.

"I miss him, too." I replied.

He paused, and then launched a carefully planned, 'surgical strike' attack of his own.
"I like him better than you, you know." he said provocatively.

"That doesn't surprise me." I countered.

Ethan paused a moment and seeing that this minor attack was not achieving the 'shock and awe' effect that he desired, my son trotted out the big guns. "I wish you would die so that papa and I could be happy."

I should have been decimated, blown-to-bits by my son's 'carry a big stick' assault, but for some reason it just made me laugh inside. I have no doubt that in the event of my premature death, George would find a new husband and stepfather for Ethan at once. Immediately after the pomp and circumstance of my funeral service and the emotional theatrics of my Shiva, George would be introduced to a rakishly handsome man named Geoffri (nobody in LA ever spells their name normally) - Geoff to his friends. By an astonishing coincidence, Geoff would be a respected professor of French film at George's Alma Mater UCLA. Known for his authoritative manner and winning ways Geoff is popular with both students, faculty and the alumni. George and Geoff, or G&G as they would come to be known, would host lively 'salons' in the home of the first Mrs. De Winter better known as 'Tod, the dead guy." The invited guests, the intellectual glitterati of Los Angeles (an oxymoron) would sedately and meditatively discuss the films of Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, and Jacque Rivette. My former son Ethan, who would be sitting on Geoff's lap and hanging on every word, would shed a tear when Geoff expressed his profound sadness that
the French New Wave filmmakers were originally rejected by Hollywood due to their self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic form and their spirit of youthful iconoclasm.

"Daddy Geoff, I feel your pain." Ethan would say bravely.

"Ne vous inquiétez pas, mon amour, papa va bien." Daddy Geoff would say lovingly.

"Je suis tellement heureuse." Ethan would respond with a giggle. Daddy Geoff was adamant that if Ethan were truly to understand the French Avaunt Garde, it was imperative for him to speak fluent French.

"Enough of that you two." George would say playfully. "Ethan it's off to bed now."

"Bonne nuit Papa et Daddy Geoff.
Je t'aime!"

As Ethan scampers off to bed, George perches himself on the arm of the expensive Donghia sofa paid for by his former, dead lover (What's his name?) and places a protective arm around a weary Geoff. George frets that Geoff had yet again exhausted himself with his intellectual pursuits. They had better head out to their sprawling, life insurance-paid-for horse farm in Ojai for some much needed R&R.

After chasing Ethan around the doctors office, pinning him to an examining table and prying his eye open with my bare hands, Ethan's pediatrician and I were able to treat his 'affliction.' Feeling that I had been too 'enemy combatant' in my approach, I extended an olive branch and offered Ethan a Slurpee at 7-11.

"That would be great, thanks, dad."

"No problem."

As we got out of the car, Ethan glanced up at me and said "Dad, You know I don't really want you to die, right?"

"Of course."

As we traversed our way hand-in-hand through a filthy Hollywood 7-11 parking lot, I realized that formal hostilities between my son and I had officially come to an end. The battlefield theater closed and the troops sent home. I was tempted to claim victory loudly, but in that moment remembered Aristotle's famous quote 'We make war so that we may live in peace.' I walked next to my son in contented silence.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Nanny 9-1-1

Like any 'A' personality, overachieving gay couple, George and I know how to get stuff done. Among our friends and acquaintances, we are widely known for our gracious dinner parties, fastidiously over-decorated home, and forceful (some might call controlling) involvement in neighborhood affairs. As a matter of fact, my husband George has become so ensconced in neighborhood goings-on, that he has become the de facto 'go-to-guy' for our lily white, corner of Los Angeles quaintly named Los Feliz Square.

Los Feliz, the larger Los Angeles enclave we reside - which in I'm told in Spanish means 'The Happys, a happy place, or scarily entitled rich people with too big homes built on too small lots depending on which nanny, housekeeper or gardener you ask, was apparently discovered by Madonna. Madonna, pioneer woman that she is, had the 'daring' to purchase a rambling estate here 15 years ago. Suddenly, Los Feliz became fashionable and the nouveau riche (us included) arrived in droves.

George and I purchased a large, 1930's Georgian demi-manse (ancient, broken-down dump) on a wide street 'south of the boulevard' which in the old days (six years ago) meant shittier part of town. Now of course, all of Los Feliz, including our formally unfashionable street has become in demand. Drawn by the large, relatively unspoiled vintage homes, quiet streets, and 'small town' feel of the place - straight couples with small children snap up the choicest homes, then litter their front lawns with unsightly Razor scooters, plastic sand boxes, tricycles, and other beastly child-related bric-a-brac.

At the time we purchased the house, our surrogate was pregnant with our son Ethan and was but two short months from giving birth. Unfazed by the ticking clock we charged ahead with the house renovations - demolishing our kitchen, ripping out the plumbing and electrical systems and removing the 70's era brick and fiberglass 'water feature' in our astonishingly ugly backyard. We were so busy picking window treatments, re-chroming all the plumbing fixtures and selecting tile, that we glossed over the childcare needs of our yet, unborn son.

"George, don't you think we might need a nurse or nanny when the baby comes?" I asked my husband one day as we were madly polishing the vintage brass handrail on our main staircase. It was almost an afterthought, as we were readying our under-construction house for a small, intimate baby shower of no less than 150 guests. We thought it would be so of-the-moment to invite a group of our friends to a formal party in a house still under construction - it would show how down-to-earth, and unaffected we were. Who can resist eating canapes while plasterboard residue crunches under your feet and you are nearly overcome by the smell of paint thinner - so chic!) In hindsight, that party was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Silly boys that we were, George and I threw caution to the wind due to our firm belief that form is far more important than function. If one of our baby shower guests stepped on a nail or took a brick in the head - it was all part of the Tod & George 'experience' and they would later thank us for giving them such a cherished memory. Besides, unknown to our baby shower guests, the book they all signed which they believed was a 'Best Wishes To Baby' book was really a release of liability form.

"No, I don't think we need a nanny or a baby nurse," my husband responded confidently, "We're gay, we can do anything."

Maybe it was the testosterone induced high I was getting from commanding my own personal army of
decorators, contractors, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, and maids, or maybe the ingestion of too much toxic asbestos from our original don't-build-them-like-this-anymore floors and walls, but this insane logic made a kind of sense to me. After all, George and I did throw some incredible cocktail parties and brunches - wouldn't having a baby be sort of the same thing?

"Tod, I've spoken to all my best girlfriends," George continued. "They all tell me that baby nurses and nannies just get in the way. Trust me, everything is going to be just fine - I"ll take care of everything."

As in most matters pertaining to our home life, I deferred to my very capable husband. However, that nagging feeling kept returning. Like almost every other egocentric Los Angeles couple we know, George and I do very little for ourselves. We have a maid to clean our house, trainers to exercise our bodies, low calorie Zone-style food service delivered to our house, not to mention the scores of masseuses, facialists, hair stylists, and plastic surgeons in our employ - it did seem odd, that we didn't have either a prospective baby nurse or nanny standing by for the impending birth of our son. Our cavalier attitude and gay-is-better hubris would cost us dearly.

Our son Ethan arrived on the evening of July 23rd, 2002. A precursor of things to come, Ethan wasn't born so much as plucked from our surrogate's womb. (He wouldn't come out willingly, the doctor had to place a suction cup on his head and drag him out.) He opened his tiny blue eyes, yawned, looked at George peacefully, then glanced at me as if he'd seen the devil and began screaming. Now, I'm told infants can't really see clearly -they can only make out shapes and colors - but I'm pretty sure my infant son perceived I was a total douche and wanted nothing more than to hop back into our surrogate's vagina and forget this 'bad dream' ever happened.

We took our son home the following day - and what followed (I've repressed much of it) was a nightmare of mismanagement, incompetence, and flat-out terror. Naively, I had been lead to believe that babies slept most of the time, cried only when they were wet or hungry, and would be an adorable, stylish accoutrement to my Prada suits and Gucci shoes. Nothing could have prepared me for the bouts of insomnia, incessant shrieking and inability to be left unattended for a nano second panic attacks exhibited by my son. Five frightful, tortuous days passed with neither George or I sleeping more than 1-2 hours. On the sixth day - I entered our garage, glanced at the big, black Mercedes parked there and contemplated killing myself. My death by carbon monoxide poisoning would be a fitting end, releasing me from the clutches of ROSEMARY'S BABY upstairs who I'd insanely come to call 'El Diablo.'

I had officially entered sleep-deprivation, bat shit crazy land.

I telephoned my shrink, and told her I had suicidal thoughts. Psychologists are apparently trained to identify lethality in a person's suicide threat on a scale of 1 to 10. I was probably a 12. Hysterical, I broke every speed record zooming over to her office. I sat on her sofa and cried for two straight hours. My shrink listened compassionately and determined that I was suffering from a type of neurosis usually exhibited by new moms. That's perfect, I thought, even my insanity is fruity.

She recommended thrice weekly visits to probe the depths of my anxiety. I did the calculations in my head - at $300 a session I would be spending $900 a week to figure out why my son hated my guts? That's fucked up. Suddenly, my father's voice clearly rang in my ears. LIke Obi Wan Kenobi who in Star Wars encourages Luke Skywalker to 'trust in the force,' my father's disembodied voice said, "Hey schmuck, what's your problem? Do what I do when facing an insurmountable problem - throw money at it! Jeez, are you a putz or what?!"

Suddenly, a feeling of utter peace and serenity came to me. I politely excused myself from my shrink's office and drove straight to my own office. I emailed absolutely EVERYONE George and I knew. Alarmed by the hysterical tone of my email plea, a friend of a friend of a friend volunteered to send her own baby nurse as she wasn't due for another two weeks. As I drove home to my husband and the newly arrived Antichrist, the old Tod slowly returned. Gone was the weepy, stressed-out, near suicidal maniac suffering from a condition usually reserved for women. This was a powerful, in-control, MAN happily surrendering his parental obligations to an exorbitantly paid WOMAN.

Helen, the opinionated Australian baby nurse arrived right on schedule. She quickly and pragmatically took inventory of our desperate situation and with a tsk-tsk look on her face concluded that George and I were incorrectly feeding, bathing, swaddling, comforting, and/or caring for our baby.

She immediately pried the crying baby from George's grasp and said dryly, "I'm rather surprised, generally gay men are so prepared - so organized. You two are total amateurs."

Defensively, George opened his mouth to speak - but didn't. Resigned, he threw in the towel and allowed our Australian Mary Poppins to take over.

"Well, I'll let you two girls get acquainted." I said and hurriedly left the room.

An hour later, the baby had fallen asleep and Mary Poppins came downstairs to view the wreckage of our home. As she meandered through each of the rooms, her expression changed from curiosity, to concern, to one usually reserved for murderers and rapists. She scolded us for our careless indifference to hidden 'dangers' such as open electrical sockets, sharp edged coffee tables, our lack of childproof latches on toilets, cabinets, and drawers and worst of all, the complete absence of baby gates on every door, staircase, threshold, and landing. She labeled our house a veritable 'deathtrap' and marveled that our son hadn't already died from asphyxiation, electric shock, or worse. Content that that the Australian cavalry had finally arrived, this soldier broke ranks and passed out on the living room sofa. I slept for 28 hours straight.

Mary Poppins stayed and assisted with Ethan for a couple of days. After nearly urinating in my pants due to my inability to unlock any of the newly installed toilet guards, not to mention the relentless barrage of a 'thousand-ways-your-baby-can-die' lectures, George and I decided that Mary Poppins had to go. As I stood on the porch waving goodbye, Ethan snug and quiet (for a change) in his baby sling, Mary Poppins gave me an over the shoulder wave - the usual look of constipation on her face giving way to one of pity. She had clearly drawn the conclusion that our baby was doomed. As she carefully picked her way down the front stairs of our home, nimbly stepping over loose nails, termite infested shingling, razor blades, screwdrivers and discarded bricks, she turned slightly and said, "You know, all this stuff is a hazard, if the baby steps on one of these nails, he could get Tetanus. Do you know where the nearest pediatric hospital is?"

I hadn't the foggiest idea.

"Of course I do." I responded.

Unconvinced, she got into her car and drove away. I glanced down at my sleeping son, kissed him gently on the forehead and thought if he someday stepped on a rusty nail, ate a discarded razor blade, or stuck his finger into an uncovered electrical socket George and I would deal with it. After all, we're gay we can do anything, right?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stage Fright

Several weeks ago, my husband George informed me that due to his very busy work schedule, it would be my sole responsibility to attend the Christmas pageant at at my son's school. As I'm not the greatest observer of my son's schedule, I had no concept to what pageant he was referring. Excitedly, I asked George if our son Ethan was participating in some kind of beauty pageant where he might win a glittery scepter or crown. I was supremely disappointed to learn that Ethan would not be accepting a crown or require me to draft a brilliant acceptance speech, as it wasn't that kind of pageant.

Raised as an agnostic Jew, I had no real experience with Christmas pageants. As a matter of fact, I had no experience with Christmas at all. As a child, my father owned a chain of discount toy stores populated by an army of harried, disenfranchised retail drones whose employee responsibilities seemed to include smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and complaining about the paltry wages my father paid them. The Christmas 'season' for my family commenced in late August as this was when my father had to place orders for the stores. While the other gentile children in our middle class New Jersey neighborhood were visiting the beach, attending barbecues, and frolicking through the clouds of mysterious and presumably toxic mosquito insecticide belched out by the township's lumbering trucks, my sisters and I were forced to listen to lectures about how this Christmas season was my father's 'make or break.'

"I don't think you three understand," my father would begin, "One tiny miscalculation, one tiny mistake, and we could lose everything. We would lose this fantastic house and we would have to go live in Camden with the colored people."

Colored people? You mean like 'The Jeffersons?' we would ask. Like most young kids of the 70's relegated to the insular, segregated neighborhoods of south Jersey, we had very little personal experience with actual black people. Our entire knowledge of them came from situation comedies like The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son. My sisters and I got really excited at the prospect of living next door to The Jeffersons in their swanky Upper East Side apartment building. Of course, Mr Bentley would have to move as we would be taking his apartment, but Tom and Helen Willis always seemed like such fun!

"No not like The Jeffersons," my father would say "More, our cleaning lady."

My sisters and I were incredulous. Anita...poor? Anita Washington had been our cleaning lady for about two years. Tall and imposing, Anita more or less pushed the dust around, watched her soap opera 'stories' on our color television set, and shared cigarettes and luke warm cups of Sanka with our mother. While my mother complained ceaselessly about Anita's work habits, she was so emotionally invested in the woman that neither of my parents had the audacity to fire her. I would often return home ravenous from school to find Anita and my mother seated at the kitchen table, tears streaming down Anita's face and my mother sympathetically stroking her hand.

"Mom can I have a snack?" I asked.

No response.

"Mom, can I please have a snack?"

No response.


"Goddamn it Tod," my mother would snap "Can't you see that Anita is having a bad day? Can you please try and think about someone else besides yourself for one minute?! Jesus H. Christ! More Sanka, Anita dear?"

On the morning of Ethan's 'performance' I was told that the school Christmas pageant was not going to be a traditional telling of Mary giving birth to Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem. My son would not be starring as Joseph, the baby Jesus, a sheep, cow, camel, or wise man. To my horror I found that the Ethan would be a mere chorus boy in a 'Hooray for Hollywood' Christmas spectacular on his school's playground. NOT EVEN ON A REAL STAGE! It suddenly all came back to me - my son had been listlessly humming WHITE CHRISTMAS for weeks, thrilled I had assumed he had absorbed my gayish affection for Irving Berlin songs.

Haunted by the ghosts of Anita Washington, Tom and Helen Willis, my father's comatose employees and the frightful ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future I arrived at Ethan's school attired in black sunglasses, black jacket, black slacks, and black shoes . I resembled an expensively dressed, clinically depressed pall bearer. I took a seat on an inconspicuous, rickety picnic bench near the rear of the blacktop. The other parents, straining under the weight of their expensive video cameras and tripods fought for positions near the front of the improvised chalk outline that served as a 'stage.' After a lengthy introduction by an attention starved, former-actress parent (Is there any other kind?) the 'Cavalcade' began.

All at once, my son dressed in a smart black suit jacket, beguiling red and green top hat and long green Mardi Gras beads took his position at the front of the improvised stage. He stood perfectly erect and faced the audience with his hat slightly cocked and a sly smile on his face.
I found this slightly shocking as my son's most recent at home 'performance' involved, yet again, burping and farting the entire STAR WARS theme song. He spotted me, and not wanting to 'break character' gave the slightest nod of his head to acknowledge my presence. His classmates followed and mounted the stage with the enthusiasm one reserves for a Tetnus shot.

As Irving Berlin's 'White Christmas' played over the loudspeakers, my son began to sing. His voice, high-pitched and slightly off-key hovered sweetly in the air. He began to sing, dance and more importantly PROJECT his little heart out! Astonished, I rose from my bench as if in slow motion and drifted towards the stage. I pushed past the phalanx of well dressed, put-together Hollywood moms and their whirring video cameras. I no longer noticed the hideous playground setting, the atrocious acoustics, or the lackluster choreography - like Mama Rose, I saw the face of God.

'Sing out, Louise, er... Ethan I mean, sing out!' I yelled.

Encouraged (and probably alarmed) by his scarily attentive, waving and shouting father, Ethan continued his 'White Christmas' performance with gusto. With a showy flourish, 'White Christmas' came to an end and like an old Broadway veteran, my son formally bowed and then tipped his hat to the crowd. All at once, the audience erupted in deafening cheers and then showered my son in glittering Christmas confetti.

As the other children bolted for the dessert table, my very professional son lingered on stage and graciously accepted the congratulations from the crowd. I waited until his 'public' had departed and then gingerly approached.

"Hi Dad."


"Did I do good?" he asked.

"You did fantastic."

"Dad, can I have sugar now?"


And just like that, my son the star took the hand of his crying, black-clad, father over to a table loaded with an insane abundance of Christmas cupcakes, cookies, and candy. As we filled our plates, my son loudly and inexplicably announced to the assembled crowd that his father (me) doesn't believe in God and is probably going to Hell - but should be allowed to eat the Christmas treats anyway. Mortified, I made a mental note to never, ever let that boy talk to the press.