I lied

What I did: lied at the dentist’s office.

What I did beforehand: took the train to Grand Central. 

What I wore: jeans and sneakers.

Who went with me: 19.

Why I was there: 19 cracked a filling.

Where I sat: the lobby, watching one of those game shows where they ask people harder and harder multiple choice questions.

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How I learned to lie: I was born honest, not knowing how to lie. Forbidden to touch my mother’s sewing machine, I sewed through my finger when I was 4, breaking the needle off and requiring stitches. Twice. 

When I was 5, I stole a decorative cardinal from my mother’s craft supples and inserted the wire on its foot into the hole of an electrical wall socket; I found out what getting shocked feels like. My mother discovered me trying to wash away the terrible burning feeling, and I refused to tell her what happened. 


When I was 9, I was friends with the popular girls in my elementary school class, and my mother pointedly instructed me that if any of them ever ask me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with, I could say that my mother wouldn’t let me.

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Things that were sad: when I was 12, I was sent to a summer camp in Colorado where I went horse camping and did not learn to cinch my girth tight enough and the other girls were extravagantly mean to all newcomers, and if I had known enough to be a malingerer, I would have invented stomachaches. Conveniently, I did not have to invent stomachaches, for I spent days on end in the infirmary with diarrhea.

When I was 13, my family went to a friend’s cabin on a lake in Missouri and my brother and I exaggerated our experience with horses and talked the wranglers into giving us a string of sour trail horses to go ride unsupervised. One horse bolts back to the barn with the youngest of us. Mine bucked me off onto a gravel road. I got stitches but will always have rocks in my head.


When I was 15, my best friend B— who taught me all the right details about wearing preppy clothes– took real English riding lessons and wore a black velvet helmet and tan jodhpurs and I was so jealous I avoided speaking to her for seven years. 


Things that were funny: When I was 17, I was late for French class several times a week because Excusez-moi, Monsieur Masson! Je suis tres désolée parce que je suis en retard. J’ai aidé mon amie Aimee à monter les escaliers. Or even, I am so sorry Mr. Masson, I have terrible cramps today. No matter what my excuse, he reddened, shook his jowly, understanding face and allowed it.

When I was 20, I talked my way into a summer job waiting tables at the Rosebud, promising that I would definitely, positively stay on through the next school year. I was terrible at waiting tables, forgetting orders, dropping huge trays of food, and crying. I made big tips and quit in August. 

When I was 21, I wrote a fake-serious letter to a small brewery in Pennsylvania describing in hyperbolic terms a nearly-disastrous power outage saved only by a six-pack of their delicious cold beer. They sent me two cases, via their distributor, but upon arrival they almost did not give it to me because I did not appear to be of a legal age to drink. 


Things that were not funny: when I was 10, I breathlessly took strangers into my false confidences on a chair lift in Breckenridge, Colorado and said I was an accomplished gymnast hoping to make the U.S. Olympic team and almost never allowed to ski. 

When I was 18, I worked for a family in Wellesley, Massachusetts doing light housework and caring for their young children in the afternoons. The more days they asked me to come, the more I grew to hate them; they gave me migraines. I quit abruptly, concocting a story I no longer remember.

Something I ate: when I was 11, I made decent money babysitting, passing the hours snooping in peoples’ drawers and tasting their food. I spent it on plastic model horses.

What it is: one of the receptionists at the dentist asked after my middle child. I might have had time to be honest if we hadn’t been walking out the door, but it was so awkward to tell the truth. “He’s fine,” said I, invisibly cringing at my laziness.

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Who should lie: I got out of the practice of lying when I got married, though once we had kids I pretended to be both the tooth fairy and Santa. 

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What I saw on the way home: more rain.

Actually, this is a train bound for Grand Central

I saw "Prodigal Son"

What I saw: “Prodigal Son” at the second-most generically named theater I’ve yet been to in New York, the Manhattan Theater Club (also known, even more generically, as New York City Center Stage 1) at 131 W 55th Street, which is off-Broadway.

What I wore: favorite blue Fluevog Guide heels, Hudson jeans that are much too long and puddle annoyingly around my ankles, black no-iron stretch cotton Brooks Brothers blouse, black Eileen Fisher cardigan, gray rag & bone scarf with black dots that for a while I thought the cleaners lost and I cried over it because you can’t buy them anymore but then I found it so I wear a lot and maybe clutch it jealously sometimes, tiny purple Kate Spade purse with a long skinny strap that is really no replacement for women’s clothes having functional pockets but what can you do?

What I did beforehand: When I first moved to New York I complained that you can’t get a decent cup of coffee, but I have since gotten over the general badness of a lot of the coffee in New York and found where to go. Before the theater, I ate a molasses ginger cookie and drank a decaf cappuccino from Blue Bottle coffee (which is a New York outpost of a West Coast chain) and then walked to the subway to catch the uptown E train. I got on the wrong train, hopped off and then got on the right train and got off at the wrong stop. I was supposed to be meeting the Bacon Provider for dinner and had to walk five blocks instead of no blocks.  

Who went with me: The Bacon Provider and The Graduate (who we should have invited to join us for dinner) 

How I got tickets: online, full price, in two batches because I thought The Bacon Provider was going to be out of town and when I found out he wasn’t going to be out of town I bought one more ticket, in the back row

Why I saw this show: recommended by a friend at the barn who has a friend who is an actor and the friend recommended it

Where I sat: Row B, Seat 5

Is your phone off?


Things that were sad: Sometimes, I miss teaching. Sometimes, I think the wrong people get into teaching. 

Things that were funny: I did not like the rambly, new-agey incidental guitar-and-sometimes-piano music used in the show. It was correctly engineered, but I just didn’t like it. File this under #myunpopularopinion; it was composed and performed by Paul Simon. Also, when the lights came up, just before the actor spoke his first line, the woman next to me said aloud, “I like the set!”

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Things that were not funny: how many prep-school coming-of-age stories are there left to be told? But if you want me to sit on the edge of my seat, tell me a story of redemption. Because, you see, I, too, was a liar once, and know well what liars can do.

What it is: the best written play I’ve seen this year; the script is for sale for $17 at the coat check afterwards, and they may not have change, so buyers will have to choose, as I did, between paying $20 for it or waiting for change.

Who should see it: fans of the wildly gifted young actor, Timothée Chalamet; people who think about Socrates, Nazis, T.S. Eliot, and Jesus Christ

What I saw on the way home: Before the play begins there is a book lying on the stage. If you go to see the play, and you should, check to see what book it is.  Also, check to see what book is left on the stage at the end.

Budapest #3: The Synagogue, The Elgin Marbles, and the China Syndrome

Let me tell you straight off, we did not make it into the synagogue in Budapest. Yes, it was on the short list of things we were told we had to do. Yes, we went and found it twice. But on the day we found it and had actually set aside the morning to see the inside of it, we arrived after several hundred other people had the idea to see the inside of it, and got there before us, and stood, in a great scrum, with their shit together a bit more ours.
Crowd outside the synagogue, Budapest

When I was in high school a friend and I went to London to visit another friend whose family had moved there. We dutifully tried to do every touristy thing imaginable, as if filling out a Bingo card, including two whole days at the Victoria and Albert Museum looking at spoons and armor, and getting on the wrong train to what ended up being my favorite museum in London (the Imperial War Museum) and being heckled by a crusty old guy who cackled about us being from Shepherd’s Bush. But try as we might we never made it to see the Elgin Marbles, and it became the thing we giggled about the most. Nothing’s more hilarious to teenaged girls than an inside joke.
I also never saw The China Syndrome. The China Syndrome came out in 1979, starring Jane Fonda, who I thought was generally ok in movies, and Jack Lemmon, who I thought was pretty awesome, and I think it was playing at the Esquire Theater, or maybe the Shady Oak, and though I made a big show of saying that I was going to see it, reasoning that it was a movie I might have actually wanted to see, checking the movie times and everything, I used the excuse to go get stoned with someone. I no longer remember who it was. Back then, I did not make up weird specific lies about what I was up to, usually, because I had very good grades and reasonably nice friends and my mother’s attitude was we could do what we wanted as long as we stayed out of trouble, which really meant, fundamentally, that we didn’t get caught. Probably, there was a family thing that I was avoiding going to by inventing the seeing of a movie I never intended to see.
The time I didn’t see The China Syndrome was not the only time I smoked pot in high school, but I have no memory of how I obtained it on any occasion. It seems unlikely I would have known who to get it from. Also, no way would I have spent money on it when there were sweaters to buy. Anyway, The China Syndrome came to stand for lying to your parents so you could go do dumb stuff.
To this day I have not seen The China Syndrome. I did not even know what it was about until I looked it up.
When we meant to go to the big synagogue in Budapest, but didn’t, it was not an Elgin Marbles thing (just not getting around to it), or a China Syndrome thing (saying we would when we never intended to). We had a morning plan and it was seeing the synagogue. We also had an afternoon plan, so the collapse of the morning plan meant immediate implementation of the afternoon plan.

On the tram


Our consolation for missing the synagogue was taking the tram up to the yellow bridge, known as Margit Híd. The people who put streetcars in cities back in the day knew what they were doing; the people of Budapest who have fought to keep their clunky old electric trams know what they are doing.  The afternoon plan, now the primary plan was to walk back over to the Buda side of Budapest to find the Tomb of Gül Baba, an Ottoman dervish and Islamic poet who died in 1541. It is said to be the northernmost Muslim holy place and the oldest historic landmark in all of Budapest. Hungary has been overrun many times in its history, and the Turks had their turn under Suleiman I back in the 1500s.
It is marked not by a fading sign in Hungarian but with one of those man-sized bronze statues they have of all the great men of Hungary, all over the city. There he is: Gül Baba standing at the entrance, on a smallish plinth, and there, just around the bend, the backdrop: a closed and padlocked gate, flanked with an old Budweiser sign and a smaller one for the now-closed café. 
I heard the crow before I saw him

This quiet hilltop was guarded by a single crow, solemnly serving in his uniform of a dark gray jacket and black, black wings, and he cawed and bobbed in genuinely surprise at our arrival.

The tomb is an octagonal little stone building with one door and one window and a domed roof. We were alone there, walking slowly over broken pavement and weeds. Two dogs were having at it, loudly, in a hidden yard, below, their barks piercing the quiet sunshine. A car struggling to get up the narrow, rutted street, bottomed out, scraping violently on the cobblestones. Having been alerted to its presence, we took this to be the right way back down the hill.

Xmas List

Xmas 1963
1. You can get your tree at the last possible minute from that guy, freezing his ass off, with like four lopsided trees left in the lot. You can leave it up for weeks or take it down in just a few days. You can decorate it with heirloom ornaments or condoms or the little envelopes of spare buttons that come with new clothes or things you found in the recycling bin.  You can hang the lights but no ornaments because your kids won’t help. You can totally skip the tree part of the tree and just hang the tangled lights, half-dark, in a knot from the ceiling fixture. You can just not do the tree thing completely, but you’ll certainly regret not taking one of the aluminum trees when you and your brothers went through your mom’s stuff. 
2. You can make a comprehensive list and hand-made gifts for all the people in your life, including your old nanny who feels like family after all these years. You can also stop at 7-11 on the way over Xmas Eve and bring a six-pack. You can forget to get gifts for anyone this year because, you know what? there’s always next year.
3. You can send beautifully printed custom holiday cards with a professional photo of your family and your dog in matching seasonal sweaters. You can send a long, rambling letter to an old friend. You can do a cheery year-end letter with all your children’s fencing team triumphs and your promotion described in charming language.  You can send a cheap drug-store card that will shower microscopic particles of glitter on the recipient too late for Xmas but just in time for New Year’s. You can skip cards this year, because you don’t want to have to think about someone you lost, or can’t find the right way to describe how you struggled working for that asshole.
4. You can leave cookies and 7-Up for Santa on Xmas Eve, when you hang your stockings. You can decide that Uncle Lenin brings the gifts, or that Santa is a black man, or gay, or both. Maybe your gifts come from Rudolf, or Mrs. Claus. Maybe this year you decide to open them on Xmas Eve.
5. You can make the special lavish traditional meals that are expected of you every year, so that you don’t really get to enjoy Xmas day at all, what with the preparations and table-setting with the special dishes. You can go get Chinese food, too, or make chili because everyone likes chili.
6. You can wear your tacky holiday sweater vest that is so bad it’s not even humorous, or just stay in your pajamas all day.  You can opt not to wrap presents this year, extracting them at the appropriate moment from the shopping bags, pulling the tags off as you hand them over.  You can hand a fat wad of cash to the child who never got around to asking you for anything gift-wise.
7. You can hit every party you’re invited to, bringing a very decent bottle of Oregon pinot noir with a gorgeous red velvet bow around it. You can greet the host and hostess by the wrong names and then get drunk in the corner by the ham. You can lie to anyone you meet and claim to be a screenwriter and leave early because you’ve got to get home to your sick hedgehog because if he doesn’t get his meds every four hours he won’t make it to New Year’s.
8. You can refuse to watch sports on Xmas day. You can treat the day as a religious holiday and be really indignant about all the commercialism. You can be grateful for Jesus as a cool idea because even though you’re not sure you even believe in God or religion, you really like the part about forgiveness and loving others.
9. You can decide to give money to your favorite non-profit at year-end, realizing that without that public radio station, your commute would be even more lonely and soul-sucking.  You can stop feeling guilty about not donating to things you care about because even though you support Planned Parenthood, you might have actually had a tougher year than them financially.
10. You can re-gift without guilt, or even acquire white elephant gifts on purpose so there is a game to play on Xmas night, after everyone is full and feeling slightly agitated. A cube-shaped gift box makes a decent improvised die, and you can write “Take one,” “Steal,” “Take Two,” etc. on the various faces of it. You can even steer your sister-in-law towards the perfectly wrapped and beribboned box of dryer lint, not out of meanness but because you simply want to hear her really laugh.

11. You can spend the weeks before Xmas obsessing about your mother who was annoying and intimidating in her love of Xmas.  You can be grumpy about the whole season because you’ll never be as good at Xmas as she was, with her hundred rolls of different wrapping paper and ribbons in every color and tiny gift cards depicting animals in Victorian clothes. You can hate Xmas. Or you can take it or leave it.