Sometimes love is not enough . . .

A couple of friends think I’ve been a little harsh in my disgust with Whitney Houston. Yes, I may have referred to her as a “crack whore.” And that was not nice, and probably not even true. So for that, I am sorry.

The media coverage is the thing that has probably disturbed me the most, with her funeral being shown live in so many TV markets and her photo gracing the cover of many magazines and newspapers. Was it news? Yes. But did it deserve as much coverage as it received? I guess that’s a subjective call.

She was not a hero, although I know a number of young black performers saw her as an icon. Was she talented? Very. But like Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and many, many other talented performers, her addictions ultimately led to her death.

And she has left behind a young daughter who needs her mother. That’s what I have the most difficulty with. For the rest of her life, Whitney Houston’s daughter will wonder, “Why wasn’t I enough reason for her to get sober and clean? Why didn’t she love me enough to do that? If she’d really loved me, she would have overcome it and not left me.”

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Yes, she will wonder those things, because every spouse and child of an addict or alcoholic wonders those things. Whether we are in program or counseling or not, even if we know better deep down inside — that an addiction cannot always be overcome for others but must be battled because the addict has reached the point of wanting to overcome it — there is always a tiny voice inside the head of everyone who’s loved an addict that is saying, “He/she didn’t love me enough to give it up.”

More than 35 years after my own father gained sobriety (when I was 15), I can still remember that voice. And I can still remember how incredibly horrible it made me feel.

We were a lucky family. Dad got sober and stayed sober. The emotional scars stayed with all of us, but they faded. And even though he didn’t need to, my father spent the rest of his remaining years trying to atone to our family and others for his actions during his years as an active alcoholic.

With Whitney’s death, her daughter will never have the relief of a truly clean and sober parent or the years to come to the realization that her mother’s love could not be measured by sobriety.

Because sometimes love is not enough to make an addict get clean. It’s a harsh reality in our world. All the love and support a family can offer still doesn’t help an addict gain sobriety in every case. I was lucky, but a lot of friends I grew up with were not as lucky.

As a college student I sometimes passed the local OTB (Off-Track Betting) parlor while switching buses en route to campus. On occasion I saw a man sprawled outside, passed out drunk, sometimes lying in his own urine. It was the father of a girl I’d known all my life. Our mothers went to Al-Anon together; she and I attended Alateen together. My father got sober. Hers did not. Today she battles with her own sobriety, having been in and out of detox several times. Two young girls, a 50-50 outcome.

If a parent can’t get sober for the sake of a child, they may not ever be able to get sober; most parents I know would willingly throw themselves in the path of a speeding train to save their children.  But time and again we see that some addicts just can’t do it.

If I’ve been a little harsh in my judgment of Whitney, I do apologize. I don’t like to be judgmental. I appreciated actor Kevin Costner’s eulogy: yes, Whitney, you were good enough to sing and perform and act. And maybe if you’d truly believed that you could have overcome your demon addictions. But the problem is: We’ll never know, and there’s an 18-year-old motherless girl out there today who now has a whole new heap of doubt and insecurity to deal with.

Countless children throughout the world struggle with their parents’ addictions every day, and celebrity will not make it any easier or difficult for Bobbi Kristina. Counseling, if she gets it, will help. But there will always be a voice inside her head saying, “I wasn’t enough reason for my mom to get clean and sober.”

It’s not true, but she may never, ever believe that.

Grr, argh.

I didn’t read comic books as a kid, other than the stray “Archie and Veronica” that the man at the shoestore used to give us with every purchase. So I’m not an expert, not even a dabbler. I never saw the Dark Horse Comics “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series that appeared after the popular television show ended its highly lauded seven-year run. I was content to let Buffy remain in my mind as she was in the final scene, standing with her loyal pals watching the smoldering debris of Spike’s world-saving martyrdom. Fade to cut.
If you followed the poorly contrived spinoff series, “Angel,” Spike apparently wasn’t really a dead immortal, and he bounced back (just when ratings were slipping, of course). And he’s now apparently Buffy’s main life consultant.
According to news stories, comic-book Buffy today finds herself pregnant and has decided, after consultation with Spike, moral authority that he is, to have an abortion.
Why, Joss Whedon, why? What possible agenda is at work here? The slayer didn’t have enough to worry about that you had to throw in a controversial moral issue?
What I loved about BTVS was that the ugly, overacting villains weren’t real. I’ve got enough real in my life, you know? If I want real, I read newspapers. When I want escape, I watch Buffy kick vampire ass.
Vampires, Egyptian mummies, werewolves and other mystic mutants often served as metaphors for other issues in the world, but you could chuckle at some of the over-the-topness of Buffy, even in the grimmer episodes. It was always escapism at its snarky best.
But this ain’t no metaphor. Abortion and Buffy’s decision to have one brings an unwelcome element of reality into a show we enjoyed for its very lack of the same. It also interjects an unwelcome moral issue that will lead to divisiveness.
Grr, Joss. You have made it very difficult for me to watch by BTVS boxed sets over and over again, knowing now that this is ultimately where you would take the character and her darkness.  Argh.

 

Welcome to married life; the weather is likely to be unpredictable.

My very beautiful niece, Meighan, got married on Saturday in Rye, NY. She and her new husband, Ralph, planned a late fall wedding with an autumnal menu, leaves and sunflowers in the decor, and the venue, an elegant old mansion attached to a Greek Orthodox Church, offered a picture-perfect stone patio where the vows would be pronounced at dusk.

What they got was 8-10 inches of slushy, heavy snow, downed trees everywhere, a few empty tables because relatives and friends had tree branches fallen on their cars, power outages or impassable roads, a leaky tent on slippery wet stone for their vows, accompanied by the sound of cracking branches and cascades of rain into the tent during cocktails, and a temperature that put the kibosh on any outdoor strolls or photos.

I think it was great. Welcome to marriage, you two. This is kind of what it will be like.

Plans will go astray, and once you have children, in particular, most planning is futile. Your control over your lives is limited. The sooner you accept that, the better married life will be. Things will be crazy. A sense of humor is vital.

John Lennon noted that “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” After 23 years of marriage, some of it tough, most of it amazing, I can tell you that’s very true. So go with the flow. Accept the things you cannot change. Laugh about it all — even when it’s gallows humor. (Because sometimes it will be.)

Always try to remember how much your eyes shone  — and why — when you said your vows to each other on Saturday, when you danced together for the first time as husband and wife. 

My gift to you is that advice, and also, as you may have discovered if you opened your gifts, another reminder of the day: a watercolor painting of some of Meggie’s favorite flowers atop your wedding invitation. My own mother-in-law gave me a similar gift when your Uncle Gary and I got married, and it was undoubtedly my favorite gift. It was one of the few that stood out from the china and stemware and towels.

And every time I look at the rose-covered cottage painted on the yellowing invitation vellum, I remember exactly how I felt going down that aisle, smelling the scent of lily of the valley, hearing Grandpa chuckle as we saw Uncle Gary’s nervous face and looking at the smiles of all those people filling the church. People who loved us. A lot of them are no longer with us, at least not physically. But somehow, I know they’re watching out for us even today.

Remember that we’ll all be here for you in the years to come. Call us if you need us. And enjoy the crazy ride that is marriage. You never know what’s coming around the bend. The weather may be sunny, it may be unexpectedly snowy. You just have to learn to build snowmen and make hot chocolate when it is . . .

How long, o Lord, must we put up with Pat Robertson?

My mother went through a phase in the 1970s of watching “The 700 Club.” She and my dad had gotten involved with the charismatic movement taking off in the Catholic Church at the time, and when they weren’t attending or hosting prayer meetings, they were listening to Christian music and watching “The Hour of Power,” “700” and even the late, crazy ass Tammy Faye Baker and her smarmy white-suited spouse, Jim.

Yeah, my teenage years were something. You haven’t lived until you’ve come home from a Friday night date to find a house full of people speaking in tongues.

Mom’s defense of televangelists like Baker and Robertson waned as financial and other scandals erupted. She still probably identifies more with the Christian righter-than-right, but she now tunes in to EWTN rather than Pat Robertson.

That makes me happy for myriad reasons, not the least of which is Robertson’s (latest) craziness, the statement in which he offered up to his viewers an allegedly Christian rationale for divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s or other dementia/neuro issues. He likened Alzheimer’s to “a kind of death,” which apparently justifies dumping a spouse for some new booty and companionship, as long as you make sure the sick spouse is being cared for. 

Wow. Where in Scripture or Christian traditions would you find justification for that?

As one Twitter user noted: “Shorter Pat Robertson: If you love someone, set them free. If they can’t find their way back, you’re free to leave.”

Despite a marriage full of illnesses, family crises and other issues, my parents were married for 56 years. For the last two years of that time, my dad suffered from dementia. My mother cared for him tirelessly —  feeding, bathing, clothing and jollying him along. When doctors forced the issue of skilled nursing care for the last three months of his life, she visited him daily, often more than once a day.  He referred to her as “the nice lady,” which had to hurt after all she’d endured and been to him. But there was never any thought of not being there for him.

We used to tease her when she’d insist on maintaining his bland, salt-free, fat-free diet that she ought to just load him up with sausage and bacon and pie and let him die a well-fed and contented man. Why she wanted to prolong the life he had in his final years was beyond his children’s ken. But it was her decision to make (and yes, I slipped him extra cookies and pie and ice cream when she wasn’t around. Not to hasten things, but just to see him smile with delight).

The final years wore my mother out physically and emotionally. After his death, she was a mess. And she still misses him, despite years of bitching about him!

My kids witnessed a great example of self-giving in my dad’s final years. They saw what a marriage commitment is intended to be. They understood the “for better, for worse; in sickness and in health” component of wedding vows. They saw that when the going gets tough, yadda yadda. My husband and I had a bittersweet taste of what things could become like with his parents, and eventually, with us. But the memories, even of those final months and days, are good ones.

Yeah, the kids now joke about dumping us in a nursing home and letting someone else change our diapers. But I suspect there’s no real truth in their words.

Pat Robertson’s “Christian” viewpoint is not like any I’ve ever encountered. It’s a moral view I can’t countenance. Thankfully, leaders of many denominations have acted quickly to denounce his words. But the public platform he is able to cling to should be removed. It should have been removed long ago. The man should not have a presence on the airwaves, where he can offer such horrid advice to his minions and the gullible.

If Alzheimer’s can be a “kind of death,” perhaps overwhelming stupidity and ignorance can be as well. The Christian Broadcasting Network needs to divorce his ass from their programming.

And while I’m not one to look for big signs from God,  I’d love to see the Big Guy serve Robertson a big helping of shut the #$%* up. On television.

Please, strike him dumb.

I mean mute — he’s already pretty dumb.

‘A great disturbance in the Force’

In the first “Star Wars” (or the fourth, depending upon how you look at it, although it will always be the first to me), Obi-Wan Kenobi falters and grabs at something to hold himself up. When asked what’s wrong, he says, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force. As if a million souls cried out in torment and were silenced at once.” As moviegoers knew, the evil Empire has just obliterated Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan.

There are a lot of famous lines from the “Star Wars” saga, but that one has stayed with me since the very first time I saw the movie on the big screen in the summer of 1977.

Alec Guinness’ utterance came back to me on a cold December morning 30 years later as I was walking  the perimeter of an area I’d once known as a workplace. Most people today know it best as “Ground Zero,” but during the summer of 1981, the 72nd floor of one of the Twin Towers (north, south? I can’t remember) was where I could be found several days a week in the offices of the state counterpart of the city agency of New York I was interning with. I would walk over from our Worth Street offices and spend segments of the day attending meetings there as part of my three-month internship.

My train arrived from the Bronx  into the WTC station in the mornings, and I grabbed coffee and the newspaper at one of the stores and kiosks in the underground city that existed between the subway station and the lobby of the towers. You could shop, eat or drink without ever coming outside onto Chambers or Liberty Street, and the air-conditioned retail area was a refuge from the summer heat at lunchtime.

The elevator system at the WTC was complex, and it took this then-college student some time to figure it out. There were no direct elevators to the floor I needed to be on. Large elevator banks all went to different areas of the building. Depending upon how high you needed to be, you would take an express to the closest floor and then a local up or down accordingly.

The towers were constructed during my childhood, and we had all heard the stories that the buildings swayed in the wind. I was a little frightened to discover it was true. On a particularly stormy day, the view of the blackened, lightning-filled sky was amazing, and the gentle movement of the building was palpable. Long-time occupants chuckled at my lack of enthusiasm at the sensation.

If I left the WTC in the early evening, I would often walk over toward 1 Police Plaza to catch an uptown city bus to 34th Street and First Avenue. The summer of my internship was also the summer my dad spent in NYU Medical Center. From May until September, my mom and I alternated nights visiting him. Leaving the shadow of the towers behind me and emerging into the brighter summer sunshine of midtown is a memory that remains to this day.

I never went up to the Observation Deck. That was for tourists, not for native New Yorkers. Never ate or drank at Windows on the World. My only relationship with the WTC after that summer was coming out of the subway  to go to my mother’s office at Liberty Street or heading into the subway late at night as my friends and I left Harry’s at Hanover Square, a favorite Wall Street watering hole when we were in our 20s.

After 9/11, I found it impossible to return to New York, even for an annual visit. The thought of flying into the city and not seeing the towers, the idea of coming up out of a subway tunnel in midtown Manhattan and not turning automatically to see where the WTC was located in order to get my sense of north-south direction straight was impossible to bear.

But my dad’s death in 2007 and his subsequent memorial service back in the Bronx forced the issue. We drove through New Jersey and over the Tappan Zee in darkness, and I did not see the changed skyline. The day after his funeral, though, I geared myself up and got on the train. It was time.

When my husband and kids and I emerged at Police Plaza, the difference in the shadows was the first thing I noticed. Gone was the darkness that the WTC had cast over much of the area at different times of the day.

The air was bitingly cold, the sunshine bright. We skirted the edges of what was at that time a large, square hole in the ground. The debris was gone, and cranes and construction equipment filled the area, as did vendors hawking 9/11 shirts, snowglobes, posters and just about anything else on which you you could plaster the image of the towers.

Our kids didn’t have the sense of emptiness, of vastness, that Gary and I did. Unless you had experienced the towers, their absence was just an idea, a photographic image of “now you see it, now you don’t.” It wasn’t until you stood at the site and felt the enormity of what was gone, saw the gaping wound in the cityscape, that you really knew what a BFD these buildings had been. A little ugly, yes, they were. But they had become part of the inescapable landscape of the city, of New Yorkers’ everyday lives. They were a compass of sorts for all of us.

But at the site now best known as Ground Zero, even on a sunny, cold day in December, there was a great disturbance in the Force, as the fictitious Obi-Wan noted.

My family did not feel it. Maybe it’s the Irish, the fey, in me. Or maybe it’s my imagination. But to me, the very air at the site is charged. The oxygen cells, the ions — there is something there. Thousands of voices cried out and were silenced in mere seconds at this place. Life forces halted abruptly. Thousands of souls parted unwillingly from bodies. Such a massive loss of life does not happen without some kind of psychic, spiritual reverberation.  It’s in the dust that still clings to area buildings and street grates. It’s in the soil of the patches of grass and trees found in lower Manhattan. It’s in the air all around. It’s both organic and cosmic.

I’ve heard people talk about the feelings they’ve experienced visiting Pearl Harbor or Civil War battlegrounds. At some of those sites I’ve felt a great somberness. But Ground Zero is charged with something different.

My theory is that the material that separates this life and the next is a little thinner down there, perhaps tattered and filled with tiny holes. If you could just reach through the gossamer veil, you would see them all, hear their voices. There are souls hovering over Ground Zero. No other words describe it.

I won’t be going back to the site; at least, I don’t plan to. Tommy, my childhood pal, and the others lost that day, are memorialized in all our hearts, not in the inscribed stones that ring the reflecting pools. I won’t be watching the endless television programs this weekend aired by stations that profit from showing the horrific images over and over again. I can close my eyes and see the burning, shattered buildings at any time.

But on many clear, sunny days when the sky is a brilliant blue, I say a prayer for all of those souls and the families they did not come home to that September night.

 

867-5309/Nicole

We’ve lived in our current house for 18 years and had the same phone number for that period. But about two years ago, we began to receive frequent (a few a month) phone calls asking for “Nicole Berman.”

We don’t know anyone by that name. And I’ve told the callers that.

But apparently, Nicole may owe some money to creditors. A variety of them, too, based on the calls, which have come from rent-to-owns, credit card companies and other unidentified 1-877 numbers.

Maybe Nicole once had our phone number. Maybe she accidentally transposed a few digits on an application and it’s subsequently been picked up by other companies desperately seeking Nicole. You would think, though, that if just a digit had been transposed, there would still be someone by her name living in my area code, but there does not seem to be. I’ve checked. I mean, I did want to pass these messages along to her . . .

There are other, more nefarious explanations, I guess. I prefer not to think about those.

So I’m resigned to answering calls for Nicole Berman. They interrupt housecleaning or naps on the occasional day off. They take me away from cooking or laundry, pull me out of the shower too soon, bring me in from weeding, or just make me get up from a good book. At the risk it might actually be someone I want to talk to, I generally answer.

I don’t like getting her calls. But what I really don’t like is when the caller does not believe that he or she has the incorrect phone number for his/her prey.

“Well, do you know Nicole?” last week’s caller asked me, after I’d patiently explained there was no one by that name at our residence, never had been, and that we’d had this phone number for nearly 20 years.

“Are you sure you’re not Nicole Berman and trying to avoid talking to Acme credit?” bullied another. “That never works, you should know.”

Sometimes it’s a tinny electronic voice in our voice mail: “Wee r trying to reach Neecole-eh Berrrrman.”

“If you hear from Nicole,” another creditor sighed, “please give her our message.” Alrigghtty then.

I saw an ad recently for how to deal with creditors that bully and harass. I just don’t know if it applies to you when you’re not actually the debtor . . .

I don’t know Nicole. Really and truly. But I wish she’d pay her damned bills. Or get her credit report data up to date. And if I ever do come across her, she may get a bill from me for administrative costs. My secretarial skills do not come cheaply.

Now, about Ron Smith. We got four — count ’em, FOUR! — calls for him yesterday from Citicard . . . .

When you hope it’s a joke — but it’s not . . .

First read the story of Bongo last week, and I thought it had to be a joke. After all, it was the New York Post, so . . .
But today’s Post reported “a monkey miracle — Bongo has been found!”
No surprise, an “Upper East Side couple” was reported to be “grieving over the loss of a stuffed toy monkey they’ve raised like a son the past decade . . . “
How do you raise a friggin’ stuffed animal? Do you teach it values? Teach it to talk and walk and read? Feed it, change it, bathe it, walk the floor with it night after night? Hug it when it’s both bad and good? Love it no matter what it does? Cry with it when the other stuffed monkeys are mean in the schoolyard?
47-year-old head case Bonni Marcus said she “prayed” for the toy’s return. She and her 58-year-old beau lost the Beanie Baby while they were en route to dinner (at the asylum, one hopes) on Aug. 1. An unemployed man in Brooklyn found it on top of a parking meter and reunited Bongo with his  “parents” (even the Post used quote marks, thank heaven) after they posted fliers and offered a reward. The Post called the reunion “emotional.”

Bongo and his 'mommy'

When you think it can’t really get worse, the story wraps up with the wacko couple and the monkey “headed back to Manhattan to bar hop before returning home so Bongo could again sleep in the bed it shares with them. Bongo will also be reunited with his identical Beanie Baby brothers — named Doe, Ray and Me — who Marcus said, ‘were also suffering.'”
Any parent who has done the real work of parenting should be incensed at this story and the attention the mainstream media (well, ok, the Post) gave it when there are living, human children being abused every minute, going hungry to bed every night, and sleeping in cars, rather than a bed, being dragged up by a biological sperm and/or egg donor. There are living animals put to sleep every  minute of the day because a family could no longer afford to feed them or pay the vet bills, or because an elderly owner died.
Bonni could have helped a couple of breathing mutts or kitties draw a few more breaths with that $500; she could have fed a homeless family for nearly a month on it. Yes, it’s her money to throw away. And there are idiots out there who paid that much and more for Beanie Babies when they were a collector craze.
But you don’t get to say you “raised” it, “prayed” for it and had stuffed animals who “suffered.” That’s just wrong.