The Adler Christmas Dinner: What a Shitshow

Ugh.  Where to begin…?

I got through Christmas okay, but things got ugly over dinner…

We’re sitting there eating the ham and scalloped potatoes, and the male dickheads in my family decided to get into a heated “debate” (re: fight) about gun control.

Why…?  Why at dinner…?  Why do some people not understand that the best thing to do at holiday functions is be polite, on your best behavior, and avoid any potentially incendiary topics of conversation? 

So the rest of us–myself, my mother, the non-dickhead male friend of my mother’s, and my brother’s spouse–had to endure this bullshit.

You can’t dissuade these men with feminine appeals to mind their manners at the dinner table: one’s an ex-cop and the other one, my brother, kills animals as frequently as possible, which says it all. They don’t scream or yell (nobody in my family raises their voice much–stoical Teutonic upbringing, I guess), but they are dominant and feel entitled (re: inconsiderate) in the household.

So they hijacked the entire dinner.

We have my brother, whom I love fiercely but who has become a Republican gun nut.  I honestly don’t know how it happened.  Our family isn’t “liberal” by New York or San Francisco standards, but we’re old-school Roosevelt Democrats.  Very pro-Labor, progressive tax and redistribution, and basically against military intervention (even though every man has served in the military).  I’m much further to the Left, it’s true, but my political preferences have zero chance for realization, so they are not a source of discord except within my mind.

I don’t understand what happened to my brother.  He started hunting and then got sucked into the MINORITY/subculture within that (most hunters are not dingbats).  It’s the only thing I can think of.

Now he gets his news from conservative talk radio and he has at least 12 guns.  He is also mad at black people, despite not knowing any in private or professional life.  If he interacts with a single African-American on a daily basis, I’d be surprised.  I sure don’t, when I live here.  Even when I was teaching at the local university, I didn’t.

What did black people ever do to you, brother…?

Then we have my ex-cop uncle.  He is highly opinionated…and he knows EXACTLY what gun violence means, having dealt with its repercussions for many years.  He’s getting old and still made out of metal.  Still looks like a Marine.  When he wasn’t a cop, he was working, physically, all his life.  His hands are like sheet rock and his body is an engine.  He’s fearless and a sexist.  He’s very macho (but he votes Democrat and actually likes Bernie).

The topic of recent mass shootings came up, and my uncle opined that the general public does not need access to all these fucking guns.

My brother was, insecurely, incensed by this, and spoke up.

Then we were off the the races.

Soon, nobody was eating anything.  The food was getting cold.

I had to learn more about my brother’s irrational and paranoid ideas than I would have liked.  I love him.  What accounts for this needless, toxic masculinity…?  He kills hundreds of animals a year, including things like badgers (in snare traps) that are outside of town and don’t hurt anyone.

Is he trying to compensate for not having a father….?

Because, believe me, things could have been worse: he could have had mine.


How to Clean a Bathtub

      Things in this household run on time.  If my mother was a man and went into the Army, I would have been the daughter of a drill sergeant.  

       Like her predecessor, Henri Fayol, she believes there is one best way of doing things.  Cleaning the bathtub, for instance.

       The bathtubs and sinks in the house have to be replaced about every seven years.  

        Because of the way they are cleaned.

        This is the way that it goes:

        After you bathe, you dry yourself off in the shower so that you don’t track water everywhere.

          Then you take the squeegee thing and squeegee the moisture off of the inside of the shower doors and the tiles.  Moisture creates mildew.

              Then you take the soap out of the dish and put it back in its cardboard container, to be placed outside of the shower beside the towel rack.  If the soap is left in water, it will leave gummy soap deposits in the soap dish.

          Get the special soap rag.  Clean the soap dish with the rag.  Rag goes back under the sink.

          Fetch the bleach.  Spray down the inside of the bathtub with bleach solution.  Let it sit for a minute.  

          (Be sure to crack the window first, too.  The fumes get a little intense.) 

          Turn on the hot water and scrub the bathtub with the brush.  Then rinse all the bleach out.

           Return bleach and brush under the sink.

           Check.  Make sure there is no hair in bathtub.

           Put toiletries back in place.  Put the cap back on the safety razor.  

           Wipe the chrome with a soft cloth so that it is shiny and there are no water spots.  Put the cloth away.

             Hang up the bath mat.  Must be hung lengthwise and it must be perfectly even.

             Hang up bath towel.  Ditto.

             Now you can leave the bathroom.  Leave the door open so that the mirror unfogs and you can use it to apply your makeup or put in your contact lenses or whatever.  You can’t use a towel to wipe off the fog because it leaves streaks. 

              This is done every time you take a shower.  You have to ration your time correctly, because it must be done, even if you’re in a hurry to leave the house.

              The good news is, once you get the system down, you can execute this chore in about five minutes.  

              The bad news is: it’s….well, do I really need to tell you why it’s bad…?

           I one bad memory about this from my childhood.   I think I was about eleven, and my brother was eight (he remembers this one too, by the way).

            Bathtime was after dinner, before bed.  Sometimes he’d go first, sometimes I would.  Anyway, we took our baths and went to our rooms and everything was normal until I heard Mom shouting at us to come to the bathroom.

            Someone had left a wet towel on the floor, and she wanted to know who had left it.

          She was pissed.  I remember her standing there and pointing at it, like a cop pointing at a murder weapon and telling the accused that he might as well confess. 

          Well, I wasn’t taking the blame for that one.  Nope.  No siree.

         My brother denied it also. 

          Mom told us that we could just wait there in the bathroom until someone took the blame and then hung up the towel. 

          Oh boy.  

           We both settled down to wait.  She went to take her bath and get ready for bed.  

          My brother and I bickered back and forth a little over whose fault it was.  I continued to insist it was not mine, but here it is, The Awful Truth: I was lying.  I was the one who left the towel.  I’d just forgotten it…but I sure as hell wasn’t going to admit it.  Not when I’d get into trouble.

          This is also The Awful Truth: I was older and stronger, and I knew he’d break first. 

         And he did.  It probably took an hour and a half, judging from the sounds on the television. 

          He started crying and said that he did it, and then Mom let him hang up the towel and go to bed. 

          Many years later, I was drinking at my brother’s house, and I told him that I knew he wasn’t the one who left the towel.

          “Oh, I know,” he said.  “Believe me, I know.”

          I apologized.  He accepted. 

         I told my shrink about that one.  She thought that my mother overreacted.  It was just a towel, she said.

        The bathtubs are replaced because all that bleach destroys the enamel.   Privately, I think this is sort of funny.  We had to destroy the bathtub in order to clean it! 



        The hunter’s speech (or its translation) is poetical…and he gives the eagle a parting gift?  I’m going to cry!

        The landscape looks beautiful and dry like my homeland.  See how clean and pure it is.

        My brother killed a deer and there will be venison steaks to eat for Christmas.  He waited in the tree stand with his rifle.  I can smell the cold air from here, as I write this.  The place where I was born has the best-smelling air on earth and the water is so hard it barely lathers in the bath.  It tastes like quartz and it’s so clear that you can’t tell the depth of the stream.  You could judge it as ten inches deep, and then step into it and find yourself in water up to your hip.

       I said, I hope you didn’t make it suffer.  I am not sentimental and Lord knows I’ve always helped him eat the animals he takes, from chukar to hare to elk to trout, but I have never been entirely comfortable with his hunting.

       (Although really…if I am honest with myself, which of us is the more violent person…?  And why…?)

        I heard him take a drag on his cigarette over the telephone, thousands of miles away.  I pictured his hands.  Everyone in my family has hands as hard and strong as a piece of garden stone from the time we are about fifteen years old (my brother, a lean young man, can crush two walnuts together in his fist).  I am the only exception.  

        “Two shots, Sis.  Not a second apart.  One to the heart and one to the brain.  She didn’t know what hit her.”  

         A bullet to the heart and a bullet to the brain.

        The perfect summation of my childhood. 

Even Hercules Needed Help

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    Update 10:15 PM

     Three AA meetings today and I am home, safe, for the night.  I got through the day, functioned well at my job, called three sober women to report that I was alive and not sucking down Bushmill’s and avoiding my Parrot (the last time I relapsed, I covered Parrot’s cage with a sheet so that she couldn’t see me drink.  Not quite sure who I thought I was trying to protect there, lol).

      Something pretty rad even happened when I walked home from work.  I was walking through a park that had a huge statue of Abraham Lincoln in it.  President Lincoln is my favorite president.  Perched on the statue’s shoulder was a hugeass beautiful hawk.  Lots of people had stopped to admire her.  She definitely looked like a much happier bird than the self-mutilated cockatoo I posted down below.  

      Adler, my surname, is the German word for eagle.  An eagle is not a hawk, but they are both raptors.  

      I would rather be that hawk chillin with Lincoln than the sad hurting cockatoo. 

      Finally, because someone asked, the picture at the bottom of the blog post is the great hero Herakles who retrieved the three-headed monster hound Kerberos from the land of the dead.  It seemed appropriate.

                *                         *                    *                        *

Dammit, you 8 readers!  Why aren’t you voting?  It is imperative that blame be assigned and a culprit publicly shamed.

       Yesterday was a truly crummy day.  I had nightmare that I was counterfeiting money to give to my landlord, which is crazy because I would never do that.  That is a federal fucking offense.  And even if I did do it–which I never would–I wouldn’t do it by downloading the image of a $100 bill off the internet, printing it out on my cheap stupid printer, and then cutting it out with the scalpel the Surgeon sent to me in my Valentine (I keep the scalpel by my desk.  Whenever I miss him, I refer to it).  

        Nevertheless, I woke up convinced–convinced!–that I had given my landlord $400 in counterfeit money, and he found out when he tried to deposit it at the bank.  Caught! Busted!

        Guess how much money I earned with the French Fry.  

         Tell me there’s not a connection.

         Feeling a little conflicted about how you make your living, Margo?   Subconsciously?

         My brother injured his back at work.  The doctor says he needs surgery.  He’s been on pain medication for months now.  I am terrified that he’ll get addicted.  If he takes it every day, addiction is inevitable. 

         He has 50% different genes than me.  I pray to a God I don’t believe in that my brother will be spared this affliction.  I know that he doesn’t drink.  He does use tobacco, though, which is a performance indicator.  

         He knows about the anorexia–he saw me at my lowest weight. He doesn’t know about the alcoholism.  I didn’t develop it until I moved away from home–they don’t know how bad it got, or that I’m still struggling with it now.

          Maybe I need to call my brother and have a serious talk with him about this.   A serious, Come To Jesus talk.   He does not want to be where I am now. 

         It will have to be me.  God knows my mother won’t do it–she doesn’t see what she doesn’t want to see.  I could show up for Thanksgiving weighing 80 lbs and drink a bottle of wine by myself at dinner and she wouldn’t say a word.  Denial is my mother’s chief coping mechanism.  It’s not exactly healthy, but at least it is much easier on the liver.   HA!  Watch–she’ll live to be 105 years old, and I’ll be dead by 35.  Self-destruct. 

This Cockatoo did this to herself.  I know why. 

        I’ll make the call this afternoon.  Too early now.   The time zone change.

         I’m going to take a shower and go to an AA meeting before work–regular tutoring job today.  Then I will call my brother.  I love him and I don’t want him to suffer.

         I need friends, and I need help.  I’m scared, for him and for myself.  This killed three of my four grandparents.  I don’t want to die. 

          Even Hercules needed help.  He asked for it and was not ashamed.

         Ask, and you shall receive. 

Cerberus carried off by Heracles | Greek vase, Caeretan black figure hydria

Thanksgiving Holiday

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click to enlarge

     I’m back in NYC.   Thanksgiving was lovely.  My brother’s moved and I got to visit his new house.  He installed new cabinets in the kitchen and a new sink and medicine cabinet in the bathroom.  My brother is good with his hands–he can lay wooden floors, lay tile, fix cars, all kinds of stuff (my mother’s a little handy herself, now that I think of it).  I played with his dog.  Then we went out to the range and passed an afternoon shooting machine guns (quiz: am I joking?). 

“In the mountains, there you feel free.”

       One day I took a drive outside of town–see the photo at the top of this post.  The air smells good there. Clean Remember that scene in Lawrence of Arabia when Lawrence was asked what attracted him to the desert, and he said, “It’s clean.”?   I’ve always loved that description.  When I first moved to NYC, I couldn’t get over how nasty the air smelled, especially in warm weather.  It took many months before I stopped noticing it.

      These are my mother’s flowers:

Miss Margo

African Violet 

      Instead of baking the turkey, this year we decided to fry it.  It turned out perfectly!  I was worried that it would be greasy, like a piece of fried chicken, but that wasn’t the case at all.  The oil was so hot that it crisped the skin and cooked the entire bird in 45 minutes. The meat was moist and flavorful–even the breast!  Yum!  And best of all, we cooked it without catching the house on fire! 

Mom and Dad: An Instructive Comparison

           I don’t spend much time writing about my family on this blog (I think I only gave any specifics here and here) because 1) I’m concerned with my privacy, 2) I’ve worked through all that shit in very expensive therapy and I don’t think there’s anything new to be gleaned from going over it—the land has been mapped, as it were; and most importantly, 3) other peoples’ families are usually boring as hell to read about. 

            However, something concerning my parents happened this week that I think my readers will find both entertaining and insightful. 

            I will return to the faraway, barbaric land of my birth for the Thanksgiving holiday.  In a recent email to my mother and my brother, I included several digital photographs of my neighborhood and me running about town.  They were recent photographs, and a few of them have been published (in edited format, of course) on this blog. 

            Through my own error, I CCd the email to my father (my parents are long, long divorced).  I don’t communicate with the man and haven’t done so in years.  We are quite literally estranged.  If he reared parented controlled your childhood, you would be estranged of him too, gentle reader.  I assure you. (Some people find the notion of terminating contact with a parent to be offensive and appalling under any circumstances.  It is my experience, however, that the only people who get judgmental and angry with you for cutting off a toxic relative are the ones who are too cowardly to do the same thing themselves.  They resent you for liberating yourself).    

            Anyway, I got back a response from my mother.  I can’t quote it here for obvious reasons, but basically the tone of her note was cheerful and she wrote that she was glad to see me looking so happy, healthy, and contented. 

            My father wrote back as well (I opened the email after much hesitation).  His reaction to the photographs?  “Are you eating well?  You look kind of undernourished.”

            Indeed, and it was you who undernourished me, you asshole.  How do you like your blue-eyed girl? I thought, but of course I did not respond to him in any way.  My anger, though intense, was ephemeral.  I am told by my analyst that eventually the man will mean nothing to me, one way or another.  I will be very glad when that happens. 

            (For the record, I do not credit—or “blame”—either one of my parents for the choices I have made in my adult life, or for any of my happiness or lack of it.  My father’s contribution to my life was almost entirely detrimental, but that is only a partial explanation for who I am and what I have done in my life.  It is not an excuse.  The distinction is crucial.)  

            I bring all this up because it perfectly, and hilariously, demonstrates my mother’s chief psychological defense mechanism: denial.  Her capacity for denial is truly exceptional.  If there was a Denial Olympics, she would definitely bring home the Gold medal.  

            My brother—who is different than I, and understands our mother, I think, more astutely than I do—explained to me once, with characteristic frankness: “Mom doesn’t see what Mom doesn’t want to see.” 

            At the time (this was a few years ago) I didn’t understand what he was telling me.  Not see? What do you mean, not see? She is successfully employed for decades in a profession that requires considerable and unrelenting powers of observation.  Nothing escapes her notice. The woman has eagle eyes, I’m telling you. 

            Shortly after that, I embarked on a little experiment.  Mom and I went on a long, long trip together, where we were in each other’s company constantly.  I decided to put my brother’s observation to the test: I decided that I wouldn’t eat, and see how she would react. 

            Of course, I ate something.  I couldn’t not, nobody can.  We shared every meal together.  Just the two of us.  I ordered a salad, dressing on the side (untouched), no protein.  Every time.  Every fucking time.  I kept waiting for her to say something.  Sometimes I would order soup, too.  By the end of the trip, I was practically egging her on—like I’d order the vegetable beef soup, and pick out the chunks of potato in front of her, and put them on the side of the plate and not eat them.  (I was also, incidentally, going out of my mind with hunger by the third day and sneaking candy bars out of the vending machines at the motels at night, wolfing them down in the parking lot.  Pretty funny.)  

            By the end of the road trip, I’d lost six pounds. 

            The first thing my mother did when we got to my apartment was to start cleaning it.  

            The only thing she said about my eating habits?  The result of my little experiment? 

            “Boy, you sure eat a lot of salad!  I’ve never seen anyone eat as much salad as you.” 

            Quite a laugh.  I mean, really.

            A person could die laughing. 

Good Hunting

    After I returned home, I spoke with family over the telephone.  As I’ve said, they live very far away.  My brother had a good weekend, too.  He went with his dogs and his friends north into the mountains and took a deer. 

     “I hope you didn’t torture it,” I said, my voice more shrewish than I intended.  It is hard for me to relate to killing an animal; I’ve never understood his enjoyment of hunting (but to be fair, I’ve never tried it–perhaps I should). 

       He said that he dispatched it quickly and efficiently.  I believe him.  He is a practiced marksman, and serious-minded about guns.  So am I.  We are very different from one another, but not in every way. 

       In my mind’s eye, I picture my young brother folded in the treestand, or sitting in the duck blind with his well-trained dog in the hour before dawn.  He is long-legged and blue-eyed, like me.  He is a man prepared to wait.  He didn’t like college, but there is nothing wrong with his intellect.  My brother is not an aggressive man, but I have to tell you–I wouldn’t fuck with him. 

        We exchanged recent photos.  Sis, he tells me, you’re looking a little bony.  

        You know I don’t drink anymore; I’ve been working out,  I say.

        Nobody likes a quitter, he jokes, but I know that he approves (he doesn’t drink, either).  You’re a rail.  Knock that shit off.  Five more pounds and you’re going (away).  

      That’s not going to happen.  I’m healthy.  Do you remember when (our Mother’s last husband) would bring back a deer and hang it in the garage?

       And it would drive the cat and dog nuts?  Yeah.

       A childhood memory–the deer hanging upside down from the rafters, wrapped in a blanket to its neck.  The huge black eyes, gone blank and dusty, the beautiful face, the mystical antlers almost touching the concrete floor.  To my child’s eye, it looked fantastically wild and incongruous with its setting, surrounded by a car and boxes of Christmas decorations and tools.  It was like he had brought back something exotic and almost fearsome–a shrunken head from Guinea, a monkey’s paw, an African mask–and hung it in the garage.  I was afraid to approach it at first.  It looked like it could spring, suddenly, to life, and it was so much bigger than me. 

      Venison steaks to eat when I go back for Thanksgiving.