“Happy Monsters Day”

In 1, Comedy & Commentary on May 7, 2010 at 10:38 pm

When I was an infant, my mother leaned over my crib while I was sleeping and held a mirror under my nose to see if I was breathing. If she didn’t detect nasal fog, she’d pinch me until I cried. When I was a toddler we lived in Boulder, Colorado. My mommy liked to dress me up like a mini Mae West – complete with false eyelashes, acrylic nails and lipstick.

My perfect blonde hair was shellacked with enough Aquanet to destroy what was left of the ozone layer. I looked like a cracked-out-midget-drag queen. She’d parade me around in trailer trash baby beauty pageants like a sideshow freak.

When we lived in a beautiful home in Brentwood, I found out that I was adopted. What a relief! I was ecstatic that my rage-aholic, movie star mom wasn’t my birth mother. We weren’t a family – we were a publicity stunt. Mommie Dearest used to storm into my room, in the dead of night, screaming like a banshee. Her face was smothered in a thick mask of cold cream. With her shoulder pads and giant red lips, she was a tranny Kabuki shrew-witch.

“No wire hangers in the closets!” she’d bellow. Then she’d rip my beautiful dresses out of the closet and beat me. I thought she was rehearsing to be in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but she wasn’t, because it was the 1940s and that play wasn’t written until 1962. Mommie Dearest was always getting her thong in a knot. But I knew I’d get my revenge someday and when I grew-up, I wrote a tell-all book and Faye Dunaway played her in the movie. Take that, Mildred Pierce.

When Hitler invaded Poland the Gestapo rounded us up and shoved us in a train bound for Auschwitz. I was so scared, but at least I was with my brother and my mother (who looked like a young Meryl Streep).  My first train trip turned out to be my last. I still can’t believe that my own mother handed me over to the Nazis instead of my brother because he was a brat.  I will never, ever, EVER forgive her for making that lousy choice. She could never make up he mind. Father would say, “Sophie, what’ll it be? Spaetzel or sauerkraut?” and she’d say, “Spaetzel… No, sauerkraut! No, spaetzel! Never mind, I’ll have egg salad.” By the end of the war Mother was a bona fide nutbucket, even though she still looked like Meryl Streep with bad caps.

By the time I was a teenager, she was a brand new kind of crazy and was getting her Jesus Freak on – 24/7. She was convinced that I was The Evil Spawn of Satan because I had awesome telekinetic powers. It was cool, except the kids at my high school treated me like I had herpes. Even John Travolta was a douche. And Steven Spielberg’s and Brian DePalma’s future ex-wives were total C. U. Next Tuesdays. Mama was always locking me in my prayer closet – like that’s normal. All Moms lock their daughters in a prayer closet, right? Actually, it was the only time I got a little peace and quiet. My life sucked. When I got my period for the first time in the shower in the girls’ locker room I thought: WTF??? Was I a hemophiliac? I thought maybe it was a stigmata punishment for praying to the Holy Virgin Mother to become an orphan. OM Jesus G. It was like having a brain hemorrhage out of my vagina. And at the prom, when they dumped pig’s blood on me? – I snapped. I’ll never forget what I wrote in my Gratitude Journal that night — nothing.

When we lived in Mexico, we spoke Spanish with subtitles and Mama said, “Tita, the only reason you were born was so you could take care of me for the rest of my life. Now go make like water for chocolate.” I still have no idea what that means. I was not allowed to have a boyfriend, or get married while she was alive. I had to do all the cooking plus breastfeed my sisters’ baby. That’s not even biologically possible. I was on this Earth to be everybody’s bitch. My food was magic, but so what?  I had to wait forever for my mother to die and to finally lose my virginity. I would have preferred to spend my life in the bedroom, not in the kitchen. By the time I got married, my husband was so old, he had a heart attack and died on our wedding night.

I will never forgive her for ruining my Sweet 16. She was drunk, as usual, and danced bare-assed in front of my friends. I’m not kidding! She was giving the boys and girls lap dances. She is a full-blown Narcissist and attention whore and though sometimes I sort of love her, I really hate her. No wonder I do drugs and have my own parking space at rehab.

So, in case you have a Mom who was hung-over the day they handed-out the angel wings –  don’t feel bad. Maybe your mom was never on time to pick you up. Maybe she flirted with your boyfriends. Maybe she called you and your sister “The Slut Sisters of Beverly Hills.” There will always be worse Moms than your mom. There are worse things than your mom telling you that, “You have lousy taste in men.”  Or, “Do something about your hair.” Or, “don’t walk like a duck.” Or, “that top makes you look pregnant.” And you tell her, “Mom, I am pregnant and my due date’s next Wednesday.”

Look at the bright side. You could have a Mom who handed you over to the Nazis, or locked you in a prayer closet, or told the authorities that you were stolen by wild dingoes. And who wants a Mom like that? Daughters don’t torture their moms – because that’s a mother’s job. Sons murder their moms – because it’s man’s work.  It’s time to celebrate the woman who gave you life and made you the woman you are today. And remember – someday,  you’ll be able to write a book about your mom and there’s nothing she can do about it – except give all her jewelry, including your grandma’s diamond bracelet, to the maid.

“Frankly, My Dear — Don’t Call Me My Dear”

In Comedy & Commentary on March 17, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I’ve been called a lot of things – Elizabeth , Lisa, Liddabit, Liz, Lizzy, Lisi, Leese, Mimi, Mommy, Mom, Yomamma, Mamacita, Honey, Honey Bun, Honey Pie, Sweetheart, Baby, Miss, Mrs., Ms., Ma’am, Lady, Girlfriend, Darling, Cutie, Cookie, a pistol, a caution and a pain-in-the-ass. My mother is the only person who’s ever called me a bitch – to my face. Actually she called me “Little Bitch,” which I assumed was like being called “Little Joe” in BONANZA.

My real name is Elizabeth, so it was easy for her to slide into “Little Bitch” — it’s  like an abusive dipthong. When she was feeling playful, she called me “Lousybeth,” which did wonders for my self-esteem when I was six.

I don’t mind being called “Bitch.” Bitch has muscle. If you are very still and place your ear close to “Bitch,” you’ll hear “Warrior Queen.”  99% of the time, when someone calls you a bitch, they don’t know you. That’s why you hear it in places like traffic. It’s a release, emitted by bad drivers who are texting while they’re running a red light and cutting you off.

According to the DSM- IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) “Bitch” is considered a psychiatric disorder. Okay, fine. They don’t use the word “Bitch.”  They’re the American Psychiatric Association, after all. They use high-brow-schnitzy-shrink terms like: Grandiose, Histrionic, Narcissistic Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and Impulse Control Disorder.  Translation: Bitch. The greatest thing about being called a “Bitch” is that the Bitch who calls you a “Bitch” really is a bitch.

I’ll answer to almost anything but PUHLEEZE, I beg of you!!!  — Don’t call me “Dear.” The only thing worse than “Dear” is “My Dear.” “My Dear” is like Lee Press-on Nails scraping along the 405 at 110 MPH.

Blame Margaret Mitchell. When Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, My Dear, I don’t give a damn,”  he was lying. Of course Rhett gave a damn. But like everyone who calls anyone “My Dear,” Rhett was angry. “My Dear” – was code for: “Damn you, Scarlett O’Hara — you gorgeous, headstrong bitch: I can’t control you!”

Bile, hate and vitriol oozes out of “My Dear.” “My Dear” is condescending. It’s passive-aggressive. Nobody is smiling when they say, “My Dear.” When they call you, their “Dear,” they’re annoyed.  “My Dear” is hostile. There is nothing dear about “Dear” and “My” is stifling and possessive with a noxious whiff of faux-superiority.

Charles Dickens knew the power of “My Dear.” In OLIVER TWIST, Fagin calls his band of protégée pickpockets “My Dears.” In PRIDE & PREJUDICE, Lady Catherine de Bourg looks down her nose at Elizabeth Bennett and calls her “My Dear.” Beware of the phony bitches and controlling bastards who call you “My Dear.”

In classic sitcoms, husbands and wives called one other “Dear” — Lucy & Ricky, Fred & Ethel, Ozzie & Harriet, Ward & June, Lovey & Thurston Howell III, Archie & Edith Bunker. There was something sweet about a husband who wore a suit and tie at the breakfast table and called his wife, “Dear.” It sounds stuffy, now, in an Eisenhower-Cold War way. In the 80s and 90s when Peg & Al Bundy and Roseanne & Dan Conner called one another “Dear” it was laced with rat poison.

“Hon” is awful. “Hon” is trailer parks and Wal-Mart. “Hon” is what the waitress at DuPars calls you when she asks you if you want more pie.

“Darling” is pure fabulous — very Auntie Mame, Holly Golightly and Zsa Zsa Gabor. “Darling” is gay. “Darling” is darling.

My favorite term of endearment is “Cookie.”  Cookie is funny. It has a “K” in it. It’s poodle skirts, saddle shoes and malt shops. “Cookie” is the best friend. “Cookie” is a good girl – sweet, bright, and a little crunchy. My Uncle Buddy calls me “Cookie.”

I started working in television in the 1980s. Practical women weren’t dying to write half-hour specs. “Female Comedy Writer” was an oxymoron. For the first 11 years of my career I was the only girl writer. My bosses were funny and called me “Cookie.” “Cookie” is loving and protective. “Cookie” is Old School –Morrie Ryskind and Ben Hecht.  If Rhett Butler had said, “Frankly, Cookie, I don’t give a damn,” it could have been a whole different story.

“The Clap”

In Comedy & Commentary on January 29, 2010 at 4:16 am

Golden Globes, SAG Awards, State of the Union, Grammys, Super Bowl, the Olympics – it’s time to get our clap on.  Why do we clap?  Applauding is primitive. Cave men clapped when they discovered fire.  They applauded when they invented the wheel.  And the first time a Neanderthal dragged a wooly mammoth back to the cave – he got a Standing O.

We, the people, love to clap. It’s the first thing we teach a baby.  “Clap!  Clap! Clap!” Clappy baby equals happy baby.  Clapping is a universal language.  All you need is a couple of hands.  And who doesn’t love hands?  Hands are special. In the animal kingdom we are distinguished by our awesome opposable thumbs.  Other than seals and primates, only humans clap.

Hands are big business.  We put gloves on them. We wash them and rub them with lotion. We wave them and raise them when we know the answer.  We give them in marriage and place the right one on a bible and swear to tell the truth.  Without a right hand, everyone could be a liar —  if they wanted to. What would Italians and Jews do if they had no hands?  Be Norwegian.

There are 27 bones in the hand.  Hands are fragile like a Faberge egg.  So why don’t we take better care of them?  Why do we abuse them by furiously bashing them together?  They are one of our most useful body parts.

Besides mouths, hands are the only anatomical structure that can hold things.  There are a million ways to use hands.  Hands can be held.  They can hold all the cards and a paintbrush, a bowling ball, a golf club, a bow and arrow, and a gun.  And what about God?  He’s got the whole world in His hands. Hands can play the piano, the guitar and the theremin.

Hands can dunk basketballs, hail cabs, mold clay and pray.  Sign language would be tricky without hands and so would the hula, charades and shadow puppets.  Bob Fosse wouldn’t be as famous without his signature jazz hands.  And what about Senor Wences — he was a hand.  Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater would be half as popular if it had only footprints.

Hands are hard to draw.  You can spot the really good artists because they’re the ones that can draw hands. Why is Michaelangelo famous? – Hands.  He could draw, paint and sculpt them. Hands are a hand model’s fortune.  Pickpockets would be out-of-luck without them.  If we didn’t have hands, how could we give someone a hand-out, or a helping hand, or a hand job?  Face it: we couldn’t.

Without hands we’d be freaks.  Our fingers would grow out of our wrists and we’d all look like Thalidomide babies – and we’d have night terrors and wake up screaming at 3 a.m.  Groping, grabbing and boxing wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have hands.  There would be no second or third base.  Dating wouldn’t be the same.  You’d have to go from making-out directly to fornicating, without fondling.  If we didn’t have hands, sex and baseball would make no sense at all, and “hands-free” would.

When we want to show the world that we like something, we clap.  When we want someone to know how much we love the way they sing a song, act a role, throw a ball, run a race, or run the country — we clap.  We smack our hands together, violently – in a repetitive, manic, masochistic frenzy.

Clapping is contagious. Rarely is it a solitary event. It’s impossible to clap with one hand, unless you’re referring to my last boyfriend.  Being with him was like playing ping pong, alone. Or riding a bicycle built for two, alone.  Or going to couples counseling, alone. It was like singing a duet with myself.

The point is, it’s anatomically impossible to clap with one hand.  Most of us would never treat another person the way we treat our two hands clapping.  We’d be arrested if we smacked somebody the way we slap our hands.

If the violence with which we spank our handflesh isn’t bizarre, enough, we exhibit more aberrant behavior when we stand up while applauding.  The Standing Ovation is the ultimate expression of adoration.  Sometimes the “Standing O” is accompanied by the Tourettesian verbal outburst: “Woo! Woo!” followed by the 2-fingered mouth whistle.

The full-blown human calliope consists of: clapping, standing, yelling and whistling. When in clusters, clans or communities, we applaud what we love.  Maybe it’s how we feel part of the show or the way in which we share the victory.  Or maybe we clap to signal which side we’re on. It’s a secret code to identify our enemies — they’re the ones who aren’t clapping.

We clap because we are grateful that one of our kind is brave enough to do the work, score the point, ski the slope, make the art, win the medal, be the President, the boyfriend, the American Idol.  And when we clap, dying fairies live.

Maybe that’s why we expose our precious hands to the risk of swelling, sprain and fracture. It’s in our DNA – this compulsion to smack our human flippers together, over and over, again and again and again. The percussion of applause brings us together and reminds us that we’re not alone.  Go on — give yourselves a hand. I’m on your side.


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