‘“What is that smell?” I will wonder aloud, my nose wrinkling, as I pass through the hallway outside the kids’ toilet and contemplate whether someone has been careless enough to let an alley cat into our home. Perhaps my sons have somehow regressed to the point at which they feel the need to mark their territory, although the cheery pirate bathroom motif should really suffice.’….
Category Archives: Stories
Although I am not particularly squeamish about using public restrooms that may be described with a list of adjectives that does not necessarily include ‘sterile’, ‘spotless’ or even ‘clean’, I have recently developed a strong aversion to entering a specific bathroom that is right down the hall from where I live. In my own house. And belonging to my own children.
This space, which USED to resemble a bathroom, but now has taken on a certain post-apocalyptic war-ravaged feel, is the only room in the house that appears impervious to the bi-weekly cleanings I pay someone else to do. Like a haunted attic that just won’t stay cobweb-free no matter how many times you dust, my boys’ restroom seems to revert back to its previously characteristic state of horror seemingly within moments of my cleaning lady’s exit through the front door.
“What is that smell?” I will wonder aloud, my nose wrinkling, as I pass through the hallway outside the kids’ toilet, and contemplate whether someone has been careless enough to let an alley cat into our home. Perhaps my sons have somehow regressed to the point at which they feel the need to mark their territory, although the cheery pirate bathroom motif should really suffice.
I’ve tried ignoring the existence of the bathroom and hoping any visiting guests will do the same, but that’s about as difficult as concealing a crack den in an otherwise tidy two-story suburban residence – you’re just bound to notice one room is a bit…off.
So, on occasion, my husband and I will force ourselves through the threshold and survey the damage. Aside from the distinct aroma, we will marvel at the amount of toothpaste that appears to be growing up from the tile on the sink, like an insidious blue-green sparkly mold that has broken out of a science lab petri dish and intends on devouring our home, surface by surface.
Until we look closely, we’ll assume that something has exploded within the basin itself, as tiny white ricochet marks seem to cover the entire expanse of the ceramic. Upon further inspection, we’ll realize it’s a Jackson Pollack pattern of toothpaste, saliva and tiny bits of whatever else happened to be swirled around in someone’s mouth and then shot out in a detonating eruption.
My husband and I stand aghast for about as long as we can muster up the strength (which isn’t very long), before loudly demanding the presence of our sons.
“What is this mess?!” I will bellow.
“What mess? By the way, I got an eight out of ten on my English test,” the older one will rapidly fire out, as he takes on the persona of a diminutive Jedi Master attempting to supernaturally compel our attention from the state of the bathroom to something else entirely.
“I think the toilet is dripping.” My younger son’s approach is to place the blame on anyone else, especially inanimate objects that cannot argue in their own defense.
“Oh, there’s some dripping going on, but not from the toilet…” I remark, while pointing my finger and furrowing my brow in a way that suggests less television and dessert if matters are not attended to immediately.
Painfully, I coerce my children into cleaning the bathroom. Unfortunately, my sons are about as effective at it as I happen to be, which is why I hire someone else to do it in the first place. Sigh. Perhaps she has a free day this week.
Charlotte and Oliver’s romance was rocky from the start.
“Where did you meet this guy again?” Charlotte’s sister Rhonda asked over fajitas and margaritas. “Wasn’t it horseback riding or something weird like that?”
“Rock climbing,” Charlotte answered abruptly. “I joined a Facebook club. It wasn’t weird. My friend Lydia and I did it together.”
Rhonda smirked. “Well, Lydia’s pretty weird, but I won’t say anything else negative if that’s what you’d prefer.” She sawed off a piece of tortilla with her fork, doused it in a glob of salsa on the edge of her plate and shoved it into her mouth.
“Yes, that’s what I’d prefer,” sighed Charlotte. She was 40, and although she felt she looked good, she was getting tired of hearing ‘for your age’ tacked onto the end of every compliment she received lately. She was also sick of conversations with other women who felt the need to interject ‘good for you!’ as a way to express their ‘support’ for her life choices. ‘Never married at 40? Good for you!’ ‘No kids to worry about, eh? Good for you!’ they would smile, as they clutched their own babies slightly tighter on their hips and sashayed down the frozen food aisle to pick up some family –sized bags of tater tots.
The truth was that Charlotte desperately wanted to buy the family-sized bags of tater tots, rather than the individual portions of Lean Cuisine that filled her supermarket cart week after week. A successful CFO at an up-and-coming architectural firm, she’d put certain things on the back burner as she focused on her career. She bought a house at 35, by herself, and filled it with art and Faberge eggs – not real ones, but very high-quality facsimiles. She was certain a marriage and family would follow eventually, but woke up one morning on her 39th birthday in a panic. She downloaded a book titled ‘Find Mr. Right, Right Now!’, which was recommended by four out of the five urban sophisticate bloggers she followed and read about how best to catch up on achieving the domestic bliss she suddenly sensed was overdue.
Quickly, and with the fastidious type-A personality that had allowed her as a child to out-sell every other roadside lemonade stand within three miles of her house through an ingenious marketing campaign involving a rented pony named Mellow Yellow, Charlotte began restructuring her life in order to best acquire a husband. She replaced her yoga classes with kickboxing. She joined several dating web sites connecting local white-collar singles based on a unique algorithm combining astrological data and Goodreads recommendations . She studied micro-brewery and watched Martin Scorsese films. She replaced her signature raspberry champagne cocktail with a vodka tonic and grew out her hair from a sensible bob to a long and layered mane of come hither curls.
Charlotte gave herself 12 months to meet someone suitable and it was almost to the day of that self-imposed deadline that she met Oliver. The Facebook group through which they connected called itself ‘Adventures in Romance’ and boasted a 45% successful marriage rate amongst the ten or so couples who had met online in the group and eventually gone on to exclusively date one another. Charlotte was dragged along on a rock-climbing expedition by her friend Lydia, who promptly tripped over a loose harness on the ground and twisted her ankle before even getting to the cliff.
It was this fortuitous accident that allowed Charlotte to find herself strapped to a tall, dark-haired replacement climbing partner with piercing blue eyes who introduced himself as Oliver. He seemed as charming in person as he was satisfactory on paper, which she had already ascertained when she Googled every member of the group weeks earlier. Her online investigative skills had led to the following knowledge: she knew he was a cardiologist with a healthy Instagram following. She also knew how much his old house had sold for three years ago. She had not known he collected ukuleles, volunteered at a food bank and wrote poetry, but discovered it over the course of the three hour cliff climbing expedition. She also didn’t know he was engaged twice, and had his heart broken each time, a solemn confession Oliver delivered in hushed tones while holding her hands delicately in his own, over fried calamari and martinis on their third date.
“So, what’s wrong with him?” Rhonda swiped her finger around the inside of her margarita glass and licked off the salt.
“There’s nothing wrong with him….” Charlotte paused. “Except. I think he lives with his mother.”
Rhonda shrugged. “I dated a musician last year who lived with his mother.”
Charlotte grimaced. “That musician was 19!”
“Oh, right…” Rhonda grinned. “Well, have you met the old battle axe, yet?”
“Tomorrow for brunch.” Charlotte sighed. “They are coming over for crepes.”
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you,” Rhonda said, holding and twisting them together as she spoke. She noticed a grain of salt on her index finger and licked it off.
“I thought we were having pancakes.” Eunice stared at her plate, which Charlotte had delicately garnished with three layers of home-made crepes and an assortment of fillings.
“They are crepes,” Charlotte said brightly, “Kind of like pancakes, but more upscale.” She smiled and looked at Oliver, who nodded his approval at her little joke.
Eunice looked at Charlotte blankly for a minute, and then turned her eyes back to the plate. “Ollie, where’s the Mrs. Butterworth?”
Ollie? Charlotte winced at the nickname, but Oliver looked pleadingly as if to say ‘just indulge her, please…’
Charlotte pulled the syrup out of the fridge and handed it over, sitting back down to study Eunice. With a figure Charlotte would refer to as ‘squat’, she had a typical post-menopause look; choppy short haircut with obvious streaky highlights. She wore too much powder on her face which had fallen into a layer of dust around her turtleneck collar. Her thin lips were a gash of garish red lipstick, and with every sip of her coffee, she left another ring of it on Charlotte’s stone white china. She seemed as coarse and unrefined as Oliver seemed stylish and graceful, and Charlotte briefly thought to ask whether he’d been adopted.
The one bright spot hidden away amongst Eunice’s overall tackiness was an elegant diamond ring she wore on her stubby left hand. It was in a simple setting of platinum filigree and stood out from the rest of Eunice like a white rose in a field of crabgrass. Charlotte’s eyes were immediately drawn to the size of the stone and even from across the table, she could see its quality. The thing had to be at least 2 karats.
“Never married?” Eunice jolted Charlotte out of her reflections. “What’s that?” Charlotte asked.
“I said – have you ever been married?,” Eunice’s nasal tone was amplified as she wrapped a yellowed handkerchief around her nose and milked it a few times.
“Not yet!” Charlotte grinned and shot another look in Oliver’s direction. He smiled and winked in response.
Eunice noticed the exchange and wrinkled her face in disapproval. She checked her watch. “Ollie, don’t forget you’re driving me to the podiatrist this afternoon.” She looked at Charlotte. “I’m getting my calluses shaved,” she added unnecessarily.
Charlotte reluctantly swallowed a piece of crepe she had just placed in her mouth and pushed her plate away. “Well, don’t let me keep you two,” she smiled coldly.
Oliver gathered his mother’s things and gave Charlotte a quick peck on the cheek as they exited. “The crepes were delicious,” he almost whispered as he followed his mother out the door.
“40 year old women who have never been married are desperate,” she heard Eunice’s nasal-y voice trail off as she shoved herself into the car.
Charlotte watched them drive off and reconsidered Oliver’s suitability. She would give him three months, she decided, before going back to square one.
Over the course of the next several weeks, Eunice proved herself to be a major obstacle in Charlotte’s short-term trajectory towards matrimony. Mostly because she was always there. Oliver seemed incapable of refusing her constant suggestions that she invite herself along on any number of hopeful romantic occasions, quickly turning them into errand runs, as Eunice had a habit of suddenly remembering she needed more Epsom salts or hemorrhoid cream. It was always a product that created an awkward air of embarrassing silence amongst the three of them, which certainly seemed by Eunice’s design, as she sat smugly in the front seat of the car.
The few times they were able to be alone, Eunice would call or text at a rate that was well past intrusive.
“Just call her back,” Charlotte pleaded, as her gazpacho soup actually warmed while she waited for Oliver to finish directing his mother through the simple process of setting up an online Zoc Doc appointment.
“Just one more minute,” Oliver promised, “She’s got a rash.”
Despite the meddling, Charlotte found herself increasingly drawn to Oliver’s quiet, almost passive behaviors. As she projected into their future lives, she saw herself easily taking the reins and guiding him into the marriage and family she coveted. Oliver seemed quite willing to acquiesce to any decision she decreed; he was born to play a supporting role and Charlotte was eager to star in his show. There was only one problem. Someone else was already the star.
“God, I really wish she would just disappear!” Charlotte violently stabbed her fork into a piece of grilled chicken in her Caesar salad over lunch with Rhonda.
“I know a guy,” Rhonda winked. She slowly sawed through her eggplant parmesan with her butter knife for effect.
“Ugh, I wish it were that easy,” Charlotte smiled.
“If he’s such a momma’s boy, why are you hanging around?” Rhonda spoke through a mouthful of eggplant.
Charlotte sighed. “I don’t know….” She trailed off. “I hate losing,” she gritted her teeth.
“You might lose this one, kiddo,” Rhonda intoned sagely, “You know, a boy’s best friend is his mother….” She did her best Norman Bates voice.
Charlotte groaned and ordered a glass of Chardonnay.
A week later, Charlotte had what she would later describe to her sister as a show-down with Eunice. She had arrived several minutes early to pick up Oliver for an art gallery opening and found herself sitting on the couch picking individual black cat hairs off her velvet pant suit. Eunice’s cat’s hairs. Charlotte made a mental note never to own a pet.
“I know what you’re thinking about,” Eunice’s nasal-ey voice drifted through the front room as she descended the stairs in a housecoat with the cat in her arms. She looked like a frumpier version of a James Bond villain.
Charlotte rose from her seat and smiled. “You couldn’t possibly,” she said warmly.
“You think you can replace me,” Eunice accused darkly, glaring down from her vantage point two steps above the floor.
“Eunice, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’ll never have my Ollie,” Eunice said defiantly, “Or this, either.” She gesticulated wildly into the air with the hand that wore the diamond ring.
“As God is my witness,” Eunice trumpeted dramatically, “I won’t let you replace me!”
One week later, there was an answer from above.
Initially, Oliver seemed inconsolable over the death of his mother, which apparently happened during an overly strenuous Jane Fonda work-out session. The doctor explained that one of her leg-warmers got caught on a nearby lamp during a scissor-kick, flipping her head over and onto the smooth marble floor. “She probably never felt a thing,” the doctor assured Oliver, “besides the impression that she looked great in her leotard.”
Charlotte remained by Oliver’s side throughout the funeral and bided her time during an appropriate grieving period. She felt the months she had invested may have finally paid off when Oliver asked her to join him for dinner at very expensive and exclusive restaurant for what he deemed ‘a special occasion.’
It was between the soup course and the mini egg roll appetizers when Oliver pulled a small box from his pocket and placed it on the table. Charlotte’s heart leapt and she pictured Eunice’s ring on her own slender finger. Getting my cake and eating it too, she smirked to herself.
“Charlotte, you should know, my mother was everything to me,” Oliver began, and Charlotte looked down quickly to conceal her eye-roll. “…Until you came into my life,” Oliver finished. “I was hoping to keep both of you in it, but when my moth-“ he stopped himself for a moment, choking back a sob.
Charlotte patted his hand and urged him to go on with a carefully constructed facial expression of concern and support.
“Well,” Oliver continued, “I think I have found a way to hold onto both of you.”
He pushed the box toward Charlotte, who tried not to rip it apart with her impatience.
Inside was a diamond ring, but not THE diamond ring. In fact, for a moment, in the dim light of the restaurant, the shape of the gem looked off. She couldn’t quite make out the cut. Was it an emerald cut? Or a pear-shaped? As she squinted harder, the diamond almost looked…..squat.
“What is this?” Charlotte’s voice lowered a full octave. “This is not your mother’s diamond ring.”
Oliver waved away her question. “Of course not. My mother was cremated in her ring, per her will.”
“This gem is much more special….” Oliver took a deep breath. “Charlotte. I wanted the spirit of my mother in something we could hold and admire for our entire lives. Something I could put on your hand and marry you with, so that a part of my mother would always be there on your finger. Every single second of every single day, with you….with US, forever.”
“Charlotte,” Oliver smiled, “This diamond isn’t my mother’s…..this diamond IS my mother!”
“The thing about Lean Cuisine,” Charlotte said to her sister Rhonda on the phone as she walked briskly through the frozen food aisle, and pulled several individually-sized portions off the shelf and into her cart, “Is that it tastes best while watching a marathon session of John Hughes movies while wearing sweatpants, comfortable slippers and a Snuggie and followed by a large tub of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream….by myself.”
Mrs. Sally Hober was quite positive that her upstairs neighbors had bought an elephant. She had not seen it yet, but she had heard it. Every night before she closed her eyes, she heard the thumping and clumping of the elephant walking around above her head. There was no way she could fall asleep with an elephant on the next floor. Suppose the weight of the animal caused the floor to give way above her? Then the elephant would come crashing down through the ceiling and probably brain her as she slept.
“Frank?” Sally Hober said that morning at breakfast. She was cooking eggs, but not very well. She had been cooking eggs poorly every morning for the past thirty years.
“Frank?” she said again, since he had ignored her the first time. Frank Hober read the Metro section of the New York Times every weekday morning and Sally had learned not to speak during this ritual.
“Sally,” he had said at the beginning of their marriage, “Knowledge is very important to me. When I am reading, if you have anything to say, just write it down on a scrap of paper, and we’ll discuss it after I’ve finished. That would be the efficient way to handle the situation. Okay?”
It had not been okay with Sally, but she had nodded and remembered to keep track of little scraps of paper around the kitchen. She had actually written things down for a couple of years, but then would either lose the piece of paper, or forget it entirely. After a while, she had decided it was easier not to talk during breakfast at all. She liked the morning talk shows better anyway.
But an elephant living in the upstairs apartment was something that couldn’t wait.
“Frank!” she said for the third time, with an edge to her voice. It was almost a shout. Not quite, but almost. She hated to shout, especially so early in the morning, but she was feeling a little desperate and her voice had been louder than she expected. She scrambled around the kitchen for something to get his attention. Finally, she grabbed a spoon, scooped up one of her runny eggs from the pan and flung the mess at her husband’s face.
The egg hit Frank Hober squarely in the eye and began to dribble down his nose into his mouth. He leaped up with a combination of a scream and a grunt and immediately tripped over the chair he had been sitting on. He fell flatly on his back, knocking the wind out of himself, and he lay sprawling and choking for a full minute. Sally put her hand to her mouth in horror at what she had just done and rushed to her husband’s side with a wash rag. She wiped off most of the mess and tried to pat him comfortingly on the chest while he recovered his breath.
“What the Christ did you do that for?!” he screamed. His face was a vivid magenta and he stared at his wife with wild rolling eyes. He pushed her away crying, “Off! Off! For Christ’s sakes, what is your condition?”
“I’m sorry, so sorry….,” Sally let her apologies run together like her eggs. “I had to get your attention, Frank and you just wouldn’t listen to me.”
Frank Hober dabbed at the remnants of the egg, stood the chair up and sat in it.
“All right then,” he sighed, “What’s so goddamn important anyway?”
Sally stepped back and took a dramatic pause before stating, “Our upstairs neighbors have an elephant.”
Frank Hober sat regarding his wife for what seemed like several minutes. He blinked a few times, but beyond that, didn’t respond. Sally had worried that his reaction would be violent, but he appeared to be too shocked to speak.
“I’m sorry,” he finally murmured, “Could you say that again?”
“Frank, there is an elephant living upstairs from us. The neighbors have obviously bought an elephant for a pet, or for protection……something, and I think it is very dangerous and I want you to go up there and talk to them about it.” Sally finished her speech and folded her arms across her chest firmly.
“An elephant, you say?” Frank grinned widely, “Yes, well, I suppose it would be pretty good protection to have an elephant patrolling your apartment. Do you think they brought it up in the elevator or had a crane lift it in through the window?”
Sally recognized the sarcasm in his voice. “Frank, this is no joke. An elephant is a large and powerful animal. Do you want that thing crashing through the ceiling onto our heads one night while we’re watching T.V.?”
“For chrissakes, Sally, don’t push it.” He glanced at his watch. “Goddamn it, now I’m going to be late.” He grabbed his briefcase off the table and hurried to get his jacket.
“Do I still have egg on my face, Sally? I’ve got a meeting with the board at nine.”
“No, it’s all off,” she lied. “Should I talk to them myself, then? Maybe slip a note under their door?”
Frank rolled his eyes. “Listen, I have a suggestion for you. Why don’t you bring up a house-warming gift to the elephant? Like maybe some peanuts. Oh, and if you see them walking it on the street, make sure they’re cleaning up after it,” he chuckled on his way out the door.
Later that morning Sally heard the elephant moving around above her kitchen. She finished sipping her coffee nervously, expecting at any moment for the huge animal to come crashing down on her. The elephant is especially loud this morning, Sally thought to herself as she raised her eyes to the ceiling in response to each creak or bang. She never heard anyone telling the elephant to be quiet, so she assumed they let it go around where it chose. She didn’t think an elephant would really have enough room. For a moment, she even felt sorry for the beast, being left alone, day after day, cramped in a tiny apartment.
At noon, she phoned her daughter, Sydney.
“Yes, Mother?” Sydney asked briskly, “What seems to be the trouble?”
“You see, Sydney, “ Sally wasn’t exactly sure how to phrase the situation, so that her daughter would not get too hysterical and insist on rushing right over. “You see… dear, there appears to be an elephant living in the apartment above our place and I’m not sure quite what to do about it.”
“I’m sorry, Mother, there was some kind of static on the line. Did you say you had an elephant living above you?” Sally heard her daughter chuckle – a chuckle a lot like her father’s.
“That is precisely what I said, Sydney,” Sally answered, “I know it’s hard to believe, but there you have it.”
“Well, have you actually SEEN the thing, Mom?”
“No, but I have heard it.” Sally faltered a little.
“Did you go up to the apartment and make sure it was actually an elephant and not just a fat man or a noisy dog?”
“Well, no, not yet….In fact, I thought I’d talk to the super first.”
“Okay, why don’t you do that, and then call me back.” Sydney spoke in the same sort of patronizing voice as her father, Sally noticed. “Look, Mom, I’ve got to go. I’ve got a meeting at one. Talk to you later.”
“..Love you..” Sally murmured into the phone as she heard the click of her daughter hanging up. She felt hurt by her daughter’s dismissal. She drearily dialed the super but no one picked up. He’s probably sleeping on the job while there’s African wildlife loose on the eighth floor, she thought. She stood up resolutely. She would go and ring the bell of the upstairs apartment herself and get to the bottom of the matter.
Sally climbed the single flight of stairs defiantly at first, but growing more and more wary as she neared the top. Visions of angry neighbors and their wild elephants flitted through her mind. She edged closer to the door. Apartment 8C. She had only met the occupants once. They were a young trendy couple in their early thirties: just the type to buy an elephant. She imagined them buying it on the black market, the husband demonstrating with his arms just how big they wanted it to be. “Big enough to crash through the floor!” the wife probably joked. Sally shivered and rang the doorbell.
There was no answer except silence. She pressed the bell again and waited. Suddenly from the back of the apartment, she heard a distinct crashing sound. She stepped back from the door, half expecting the elephant to come bursting through into the hall. There was still no answer. She heard another crash, this time a little closer, but Sally did not wait around. She took the steps two at a time back to her own door, her heart pounding loudly in her ears.
She’d only been home for a few minutes when the crashing noises started up again. They were coming directly from the expanse above her living room. To Sally, it sounded as if the wooden beams were finally splitting.
She dialed her husband’s office so quickly that she got the wrong number twice. After several frantic minutes of yelling at Frank’s secretary, who insisted he not be disturbed, Frank got on the line.
“I hope this is important, Sally,” Frank said sternly, “I was in a very important meeting and……”
“Frank! Frank! For God’s sake, come home!” Sally shrieked in the receiver. “The elephant, Frank! I can hear it! It’s going to crash through any second, Frank! I swear it!”
Sally heard her husband take a sharp breath. He said to her slowly, “Sally, I think you should just lie down for a little while. Do you have the air conditioner on? It’s very humid today and you should really be taking it easy…”
“You don’t understand!” Sally sobbed at her husband’s ignorance, “I went up there and I rang the bell and I guess it got mad because now it’s trying to stamp its way through the ceiling. You’ve got to come home, Frank! Please!”
“You’re being completely ridiculous, just listen to yourself!” He sounded more annoyed than gentle now. “There is no goddamn elephant upstairs. Now enough already! Really! I don’t know what’s come over you! Did you have more than two cups of coffee today?”
Sally slammed down the phone and screamed. The splitting noises were louder than ever. She looked up at the ceiling and swore she saw the tiniest of cracks appear above the sofa. She screamed again and slammed out of the apartment.
At a quarter to five, Frank Hober rode the elevator up to the seventh floor. He walked down the hallway and paused before the janitor’s closet where he thought he heard the softest of sobs. He opened the door and found his wife red-eyed and shaking, huddled in a mass behind the brooms. He sighed and pulled her out by the shoulders. He hugged her briefly, then led her by the arm down the hall to their apartment. “No, noooo, please no…” Sally moaned as he unlocked the door. He forced her inside and gestured silently, sweeping his arms across the room. Not a single thing was out of place.
“Now,” he asked, smiling widely and trapping her against the wall with his most patronizing look, “Are you quite satisfied?”
Sally sniffed quietly, hating him, wishing for the briefest of moments that she had been right. That there had been an elephant in the apartment above them.
They stood in silence for that moment, and then in the next, a deafening crack resounded through their home, and an avalanche of plaster and wood came crashing down into their living room. Chips of paint and broken furniture rained down. Amid the roar of destruction and flying debris, Sally watched in a mixture of horror and awe as a gigantic elephant came thundering down through the hole on top of husband’s screaming and petrified form. She heard the trumpeting above the din, and recognized the thick grey skin and long agile trunk of the genuine pachyderm. The beast, after landing on her husband and crumpling him to the floor, did not move at all.
Sally stood silently by as the remaining bits of ceiling tumbled down from above. An elephant, she though, exactly what I said it was.
“I told you, Frank.” She spoke to the spot where she assumed he lay. “I told you, but of course you knew better, right? Just like always. You always think you know everything. Well, Ha Ha on you. This time I was right and you were wrong, so Ha Ha on you!”
Sally Hober stood and laughed triumphantly beside the gigantic mess in her living room. After a few minutes, she went to get the vacuum cleaner.
Dear Mr. Sedaris,
You have the dubious honor of being the recipient of the 4th fan letter I’ve ever written in my life.
The first letter was sent when I was 10, to Phil Collins of the band ‘Genesis’. It was 1985 and his third solo album, ‘No Jacket Required’ had been released. I had received the LP for my birthday, and although I can’t recall exactly how I felt about the actual music, I became enamored of the picture on the front of the album – an orange-tinted glowing image of Mr. Collins’ head. It floated in the black of the album cover like an orb of light. Perhaps it recalled the comfort of a nightlight I had as a small child, or perhaps the sorrowful look in his round, baby-face features appealed to my sense of Dickensian anguish. Regardless, I was convinced we were meant to be together – with the confidence in romance that only lives in the naïve heart of a bookish and nerdy prepubescent Jewish girl growing up in Westchester, NY.
I composed a letter that detailed my vision for our future together. “I hope one day we can go roller skating together,” I wrote. I even typed it out to be sure he could read every word clearly. This was likely my mistake, for as I neglected to mention my age during the course of the letter, I can only imagine the assumption that it was from an adult. “If you are sad, you can talk to me about it,” is an invitation that sounds worryingly sinister unless being delivered by the soft innocent voice of a 10 year old. Even then, it’s borderline.
Not surprisingly, I never received an answer. A restraining order would have been more likely. Years later, I felt compelled to try again, this time lowering my expectations. Besides, they eventually stopped selling real roller skates.
Letter #2 was an amalgamation of poor timing and an inability to edit my own work in a judicious manner. In 1992, during an espresso-fueled adolescence and while reading a number of Isaac Asimov books, I became convinced that I may be a brain-washed experimental time-traveling space cadet, and in retrospect I realize that my self-diagnosis was at least partially correct. I began to write what became a series of half-completed letters of explanation on the validity of my dilemma to Mr. Asimov, stressing particulars about what the Year 2000 would hold, (coffee mugs would get bigger, jacket lapels smaller)and seeking his advice. Unfortunately, I wavered over certain details and whether to sign the letter with my own name or under the pseudonym ‘I, Superfan’, consequently missing the opportunity for the letter to be delivered to Mr. Asimov while he was still alive. My postmark was only a week off, but it was a decisive week.
I won’t get into the details of my third letter other than to note I learned the hard way that Liza Minnelli does not appreciate fan letters accompanied by a shipment of fresh pineapples carved into the likeness of her mother Judy Garland’s face.
Given my previous fan letter mishaps, I should have learned a hard lesson about the impossibility of a co-mingling between celebrity and obscurity. And, yet here I am again, attempting to connect with an artist whose work I greatly admire. Your latest book is your wittiest, most touching and unyieldingly personal yet, but I have been a fan since ‘The SantaLand Diaries.’
In fact, despite the likely remarkable number of differences in our backgrounds and personalities, you might be surprised to know we come from similar humble beginnings – I also was a Santa Elf. Although I was not 33, I was 15 (perhaps a more conventionally acceptable age for an elf). It was my very first job: taking Polaroid pictures of young children in the middle of the mall as they sat on the lap of Jolly St. Nick, amid animatronic deer and squirrels. I soon learned that the jolliness of one of the Santas was directly related to how many swigs he had taken of the small metal flask he kept in his jacket, but his warm slushiness was preferable to his co-patriot, who growled when we let the children sit on his lap too long. Later, he accidentally revealed a swastika tattoo on the top of his bald head when removing his Santa hat for the day, thus demonstrating the true equal opportunity employment position taken by the Jefferson Valley Mall.
You have gone on to become a highly-respected and iconic voice of your generation and I have relocated six times within the state of Delaware in the past 10 years; both journeys of some consequence.
If you have made it to the end of this letter, I will have finally achieved a level of success in my fan letter writing, not to mention won a bet against my husband. Please feel free to let me know – a dinner at TGI Friday’s is riding on it.
Letter to Woody Allen, (director) from Frances Spector, (housewife).
Dear Woody Allen,
First, let me apologize for the lateness of this letter. You would have had it in your hands weeks ago were it not for my ongoing wavering about how best to address you in the salutation. Naturally, I started with ‘Dear Mr. Allen’, but that sounded too formal and vague – as if I were writing a letter to my lawyer or the manager of the supermarket down the road from where I live. I actually wrote the latter gentleman a note last week after I discovered four bruised plums in the grocery bag I brought home from his store. The plums were on special which is why I bought them, but obviously were either handled too roughly by the clerks who packed them for me, (I’ve seen them juggling grapefruit in the past) or they were too old and should have been thrown in the trash. Either way, I was out four plums and felt compelled to bring it to the manager’s attention. His name is Mr. Herndon, not Mr. Allen, however. In my letter, I demanded restitution and proposed nectarines. I am awaiting his reply. My husband laughed and suggested I would get more satisfaction from a face to face discussion, but I want a paper trail in case it gets nasty. My friend Bernadette almost got into a fist fight with the woman who owns the nail salon over an infected toenail cuticle – now she’s forced to do her own pedicures. And, believe me, she needs a professional.
My second thought was to address this letter as ‘Dear Woody’, but that felt somewhat too intimate, as well as ambiguously pornographic. Besides, I can’t think of Woody as a first name anymore without calling to mind the cowboy from the ‘Toy Story’ cartoons, which is irritating. How does one acquire a name like Woody? Was it a childhood nickname? I believe I read on Wikipedia that your real first name was Allen, so I’m curious about where the Woody came from. The only childhood nickname I have was one my father gave me – ‘Snooch’, although I can’t recall the etymology of the moniker. I’ve probably blocked it out – it was rather embarrassing to hear the word ‘SNOOCH’ being yelled through the supermarket or drugstore when I was a child and have to answer to it. I certainly wouldn’t incorporate into my professional name if I needed to create one. ‘Snooch’ Spector sounds like a character on a children’s show wearing a trench coat and searching for clues to solve an alphabet mystery.
I settled on ‘Dear Woody Allen’, because I’m used to seeing your name printed as such and ‘Dear Mr. Woody Allen’ was getting a bit long. Truly, the exercise of settling on a salutation took much longer than expected. However, as you were not expecting this letter at a certain time, my apology is probably a moot point, so let me launch into the purpose of my note.
I am writing to you with an idea for a new movie. It’s only really a germ of an idea, but I feel in your capable, creatively genius hands, it could grow into an Cannes Film Festival Special Selection, or whatever that other one is that Robert Redford puts together where everyone is wearing Uggs and pom pom hats.
The movie is about a woman who worries she is turning into her mother – a common enough fear amongst women of a certain age. But the twist is that she actually TURNS INTO HER MOTHER – literally transforms into a duplicate of the same person. I’m imagining a ‘Freaky Friday’ meets ‘Zelig’ type of picture. I’m not quite sure what happens after the transformation – but I suppose there could be a number of scenes in which the two women show up at the same restaurant or store, but are never in the same frame with one another – causing confusion and hilarious consequences. I’m sure you could come up with a few more plot twists using this device. As for the ending – I’d like your thoughts on whether the story is a metaphor for coming to terms with getting older and accepting one’s ongoing struggle to maintain an identity outside of pre-determined genetic or environmental influences – or if the whole thing turns out to be a dream sequence.
Like any good story, this one is in part, autobiographical. I am reaching an age when one begins to take on characteristics of one’s parents, despite one’s initial best intentions. I am beginning to see many aspects of my mother’s behaviors in my own. For instance, never a meticulous person, I have become even less concerned about straightening up around the house. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, when I first mentioned my movie idea to my husband (don’t worry, he’s the only one I’ve told), he suggested the woman turn into something more useful, like a vacuum cleaner.
Despite my husband’s sarcasm, I am confident this film could find an audience among a certain group of devoted movie-goers – most likely females in the 35-55 age bracket who obsess about whether or not to cut bangs in their hair to hide the fine lines on their foreheads. I’d be happy to sign on as an on-set creative consultant as well, to help answer questions about the lead character, such as how many PTA meetings she attends each school year versus how many she claims to attend and whether she’s ever contemplated leaving her husband and children for a life on the road with a traveling theatre troupe.
Please respond at your earliest convenience with your availability for a sit-down meeting. Although I do have an email address, I’ve forgotten my password so many times, I’ve been locked out and haven’t had the desire to call customer service and waste precious moments of my life on hold listening to an acoustic version of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, so phone or snail mail works better for me.
I do hope I will hear from you soon. Sadly, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, the Cohen Brothers, and Sophia Coppola couldn’t see the incredible potential in this idea – but no one does neurotic misanthropes like you anyway.
PS: Although I am open to suggestions, I am thinking Winona Ryder for the lead. She seems to be looking to make a comeback and I feel like she could use the work.