23 November 2010

Someone Will Be With You Shortly - Lisa Kogan (excerpt)

I'm reading Lisa Kogan's Someone Will Be With You Shortly, and I'm trying not to ROFL, so that I don't do further damage to my already creaky and achy bones!! Let me tell you, she is seriously funny! 
Note: I'm reading it for free - yes! Absolutely for FREE! - on Daily Lit
After I'm done with the book, I'll tell you about how good it was. Right now, I just want to share this gem with you...

"Chapter 5. What to Expect When You're Not Expecting

ABOUT THREE WEEKS AFTER my daughter, Julia, was born, I was standing in line at Russ & Daughters, a lovely little shoebox of a shop that's been serving the most exquisite Jewish delicacies ever since Mr. Russ loaded up his pushcart and headed for the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1908. I was ordering smoked butterfish and nova, sliced thinner than angel wings, as the guys behind the counter plied me with samples of apricot strudel and raspberry rugelach. It was spring, my baby was healthy, Russ & Daughters had just put out their marble nut halvah, and all was right with the world.

I was experiencing what the late, great Spalding Gray used to call “a perfect moment.” Please note, Mr. Gray didn't talk about perfect days, he didn't even refer to a perfect half-hour stretch. Nope, he only suggested that there are moments when life is inexorably sweet, but those moments are few and far between—and generally over before you can capture them on the teeny camera in your ridiculously tricked-out cell phone.

The little old lady to my left decided to strike up a conversation. “So, how long have you been coming here, dear?” She smelled like Pond's cold cream and cinnamon, and I liked her immediately. “Well, ma'am, my aunt Bernice first brought me here when I was just a kid,” I answered between bites. She smiled warmly and told me she grew up right around the corner, on Orchard Street, and had shopped here since the 1920s. “I raised five children on this food,” she said, pointing to the baked blueberry farmer's cheese. We were soul mates in sable, partners in pickled herring; we spoke the language of lox. And that's when it happened.

My new buddy suddenly reached out her bony little liver-spotted hand, patted my baby-free middle, and asked the one question nobody should ever ask: “When are you due?”

I toyed with the possibility that she had some sort of death wish. Perhaps the question was actually a thinly veiled plea. I mean, isn't it plausible that what she was really saying was “I want to go out on a high note, so I'll just have a taste of chopped liver, and then do something so heinous that it drives this perfectly reasonable woman to club me to death with a side of salmon”?

You see, there are certain questions that must never be asked:

1. Has your surprise party happened yet?

2. How did you first learn that your husband is cheating?

And, above all:

3. When are you due?

I don't care if the woman you're asking is wearing a T-shirt with a giant rhinestone-encrusted arrow that points to her belly and reads BABY ON BOARD. I don't care if she's writhing on a gurney in the birthing room of Mount Sinai Hospital, screaming for an epidural as an obstetrician announces, “One more push and the baby will be out!” You never, let me repeat, never, ever, under any circumstances, ask a woman when she's due.

“June,” I replied.

Some people collect coins, some prowl the Internet for vintage guitars; I know a woman with a closet full of antique Kewpie-doll heads. I'm not totally clear what turned her against everything from the neck down—she may have been frightened by a Barbie breast as a child. But I'm nobody to judge, because I, too, am a collector. What I collect are slights, digs, withering remarks, and the occasional mean-girl glare. I examine a good when-are-you-due story from every angle, I trade them with friends, I commit them to memory, I savor them for eternity.

Here are a few of my favorite insults:

    * My old friend Alison remembers the first time she had her Hungarian husband's family over. She cooked for three straight days. The woman goulashed and paprikashed and even put her tomato sauce through a food mill, for God's sake. At the end of the meal, her new mother-in-law took Ali's hands in hers, looked her straight in the eye, and said: “I'm so glad you feel you can practice on us.” Ouch.
    * My former roommate Laurie came home with an A+ on her test and proudly handed the paper to her father. “Jesus,” he said. “I always thought you had to be really smart to get this kind of grade.” Kaboom.
    * My pal Faye tells the story of spending an entire evening with a guy she met when they both reached for the same stuffed zucchini blossom at a fancy fundraiser. He suggested they get together the very next day for a picnic in Central Park, and she was delighted to take charge of the fried chicken and potato salad. The next day she waited and waited. Nearly two hours, one drumstick, half a pound of red bliss potatoes, and five weeks of dieting down the drain later, Faye picked up the phone: “What happened?” His reply: “Well, I honked ... but you didn't come out.” Yikes.
    * I bring Jules to the pediatrician for her annual checkup. “Would you say she's unusually tall?” I ask, hoping that she'll someday be able to reach all the stuff her five-foot two-inch mother cannot. “No, she's average,” he replies, quick and to the point. “Are you sure?” I persist. “My friends all tell me that she's really quite tall.” The good doctor peers down his bifocals. “Maybe your friends don't want to tell you that she's really quite average.” Touché.

Forget about kids; grown-ups say the darnedest things. Sometimes they mean well, sometimes they mean to lacerate, sometimes they're just clueless. The challenge (at least for me) is not to take any of it personally ... even when it's meant to be taken personally. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, unless of course I decide to let them.

I've decided to stop letting them. I don't want to lock and load when a nasty comment comes my way, but I also refuse to duck and cover. Instead, I am going to answer clumsiness with equanimity, bitchiness with compassion, and verbal violence with disengagement."


Karen Xavier said...

She's good! I like her descriptions 'thinner than angel wings' it seems... reminds me of this book I read by Robert Fulghum- 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten'. He just writes you know, simply tells you stuff bout leaves or a neighbour, and its interesting, enlightening...

Jane Hamilton said...

Yeah, she is so humorous - self-deprecating sense of humor is the best kind! And gotta read that book you're talking about! Sounds interesting! :)

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