Happy Birthday, Mom

Yesterday I was at a party, a memorial and celebration of the life of the mother of an old friend who died recently at 95. [1]  My friend’s mother was, in fact, almost 96 when she died.  In a glamorously lit photo from more than 70 years ago, she appears as a dreamy beauty from the silver screen.   Her smooth face is illuminated as Rita Hayworth’s was in those gorgeous black and whites taken during the war with Hitler and Tojo.  [2]   When I met his mother, my friend and I figured out, she was 47.   Seems like the blink of an eye.

My own mother, who died in 2010, would be ninety today.  Happy birthday, mom.   There is a book to write about you, someday, if the God it’s hard not to curse just a little allows me the time and focus to write it.   Not that you had much use for that particular fable, the whole God thing, the all-wise, always merciful creator who lets the creatures He made in His image take the fall for every evil thing that is constantly happening in His miraculous world of Free Will. 

There was a blue, leather bound notebook I remember seeing as a kid.  Your poems were in it.  Your gravestone, don’t forget, is inscribed, in Hebrew, “heart of a poet”.   You had such a heart, a heart that would not allow a simple story to be told without a couple of embellishments that would make the story shine a bit more.   I came not here to quibble about truthfulness, not on your birthday.  Not to say you weren’t also essentially a candid and truthful person.   You just always had that artist’s desire to make the thing a little more perfect, in this crooked, cockeyed world.

Funny though, as funny as this conceit of talking to someone dead for eight years tomorrow, I was sitting at your kitchen table in Florida, close to the end of your long battle with cancer.   That twenty-three year ordeal that knocked the shit out of you, and eventually took your last breath.   You were on the phone, talking to your buddy Sophie, also my friend, and she asked you if I had arrived in Florida, as planned.

“No,” you said emphatically, as I watched in amazement, “he got stuck at the airport, in that terrible blizzard they had in New York last night.  He was there for hours, before they finally cancelled his flight.  I don’t know when he’ll get here…”   I said nothing, of course, but as soon as you hung up the phone I asked you what the fuck?! 

“I love to lie!” you said happily.  “I don’t know what it is, but I love to lie.”

A few days later, when we were visiting Sophie, the subject of my being stranded at LaGuardia never came up.  Why would it?   Sophie lived to be 98 by living in the present.  She was happy we were there, happy we were going to your favorite restaurant for lunch, eager to hear all the latest news.

I know, I know, of all the stories, that’s the one I tell on your birthday.  Some fucking son!   Hey, what can I tell you, mom, that’s the way God made me.

Kurt Vonnegut replaced Isaac Asimov as the president of some organization of free-thinking atheists.  In his first address to the group he told them Asimov was looking down from heaven, smiling on them all.   This caused the assembled intellectuals to roar in mirth.  If it had been now, one might have texted ROTFLMAO!    Funny line, Kurt.     

What has that to do with you, mom?   You know very well.  You always loved a good story, especially one with a punchline.   I don’t really have one for this birthday card, as I am feeling almost constantly angry these days, but I’m, you dig, trying to keep it light here for you.   For YOU, mom.  That’s kind of funny right there.   Even as we both know you’re smiling down from heaven right now, thinking of the perfect rejoinder.


[1] I am well-aware, Sekhnet (and mom), that the structure of this sentence is as ridiculous as the one I love from the old Mad Magazine “I was the prisoner of a sadistic hunchback with bad breath named Harold.”   I point out that the ambiguity about who died in that first, dick-fingered sentence, my friend or his mother, was resolved a nano-second later in the sentence that follows.   For what it’s worth, to a caviler with bad breath named Sekhnet…

OK, as I suggested above, I’m too pissed off and impatient at the moment to fix it.  (No, you don’t have bad breath, Sekh, and I’m pretty sure if you did it wouldn’t have the same name that you do).  Peace!

[2] see note above.  Rita never posed with Hitler and Tojo.  No way.

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