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Monthly Archives: July 2009


(Dood alert! From time to time, the Dood, who was introduced to the general populace in Sex, Jugs, And Rock and Roll, will make his hirsute appearance. As he did today.)

As a general rule, Mama doesn’t watch too much TV. She sees an awful lot of documentaries, a few select movies, and the running commentary of BBC World and CNN. Lately, though – I’ve been worried about her. She’s had her nose stuck in a book with the ominous title “The Climax of Rome” for days. You wonder what the word “climax” has to do with coin issues and the escalating inflation of the third century AD, but she’s not telling and I sure as hell won’t ask. I can just hear it now. “Aw, fuck. YOU again!”

Yesterday, she was watching a program on the Beeb called “Click”, a user-friendly tech show about everything new and happening in geek paradise, the kind that makes its viewers feel as if they, too can be on top of all the bleeding-edge stuff – for at least the next 20 minutes or so.

Well, wouldn’t you know, she came to find out there was this iPhone app out called Chastity 2.0. It keeps track if you’re one of those poor souls who’ve been hoodwinked into saving your “purity” for marriage. But this one, man – it’s for the iPhone your dad gave in exchange for signing one of those stupid contracts and getting a purity ring, so everyone else knows about it, too. It pays to advertise, right?

That was IT, I’m tellin’ ya. I mean, that was IT! I’ve been languishing in some mental Siberian gulag for months, but a Dood can only take so much, ya know what I’m sayin’?

She’s written about these people before, a long time ago, in the post “A cross to bear“. So if you’ve read it, and even if you haven’t, you might suspect that Mama was never, ever, some goody-two-shoes nice girl, who saved her cherry for her wedding night with Her One and Only. She made sure to lose it at 15 to some lucky guy she never saw again, and considered it a stepping stone to becoming well and truly bad.

In 1978, at the height of punk, this was thought of as cool.

If she had waited until her wedding night, she would have been 37, with a six year old daughter from a previous relationship, which kinda blows the whole purity thing up, wouldn’t you say? Hubby would not have approved, being a slightly shady Gemini who wouldn’t go near Virgos or virgins for love or money.

But now, all these years later, there are things like teenaged daughters to think about. The idea of her tender lookalike daughter waiting for a moment that might never happen makes her Mommy blood run cold.

A moot point anyway, since that teenager is no longer a virgin.

So that got me thinking. The Internet is full of places for the virtuously inclined. They’re even on Facebook, for God’s sake!

But what about the likes of us, who encourage young, impressionable girls wo really, truly want to know ALL there is to know about that phenomenon called womanhood? How do you learn to crack the proverbial whip in a room full of testosterone bombs? Is there an Emily Post etiquette guide for spontaneous orgies? Kate Perry kissed a girl, but what would happen if you did? (Hint – it might be more fun than you could possibly imagine!) Can you find categories like “How to give the perfect blowjob” on eHow? Will Vogue ever run an article in their beauty pages on “Multiple orgasms and mascara – the truth!”?

Maybe when hell freezes over or Anna Wintour retires, but not one second before!

Did you even know that there’s a lipstick out there called “Afterglow”?

Well, here’s another little factoid out there for all you US readers. Of the 50 US states, 49 have opted out of sex education for high school students. Only California refused, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, given that the higher goal of any school is to prepare their students for adult life.

As for the rest of them, there’s the Purity Pledge 2.0 iPhone app. This will do wonders to ameliorate any confusion over things like contraception, teenaged pregnancy, homosexuality or bisexuality or even the simple, distasteful and – fess up! – indisputable fact that when the Great Beast Libido raises its not altogether pretty head, a kid is dealing with one of the two most powerful biological urges he or she will ever encounter. Then again, an iPhone can vibrate, or so I’ve heard…

I therefore propose an education in debauchery. Call it Debauchery 2.0 Beta. (Debauchery will always be a work in progress!)

Let’s teach those poor girls the really important stuff, all wrapped in a nifty little iPhone app with everything you wanted to know but your Mom would blush to tell you! There would be things like “How to give a blow job without throwing up – and why you should learn”, “Responsible sex and YOU, yes, YOU”, “Etiquette for orgies” and “Out of the closet? Bring it ON!”. “You want me to WHAT?” “Pain and pleasure – a love story!” “Fuck me shoes and how to wield them!” “Not an Irish Airline.” “O solo mio! Oh! Oh! Oh!”

Once you’re past the baby stuff and over the age of 18, we could build on extras. We could call it Depravity Rules! Keep track of your one-knight stands, and which of them you accidentally sent a dirty text message one night you landed in a vat of mojitos. It would feature things like a handy one-stop store for things like Trojans and Astro-Glide, that would be delivered to your door, in discreet packaging, of course.

For the dedicated, there would be the Total Dissipation app. “Perfect perversity”. “Corruption Central” “Erudite Erotica”. Maybe you’re an astrology nut? Virgos too clean for you? Darling, if you really want to surf the Dark SIde of the Force, find a Pisces black metal fan. Scorpios have nothing on them, trust me! I suspect they were taught by a Pisces, in fact. “The Beginner’s Guide to Fetishes.” “Ping-pong to plaited leather – a use and abuse manual.”

That, darlings, would be responsible parenting. To teach your children – boys and girls both! – how to tread the minefield of adulthood and find out for themselves what works for them and what doesn’t – without fear, without shame but with an open mind and an insatiable – curiosity.

Those apps would certainly teach them more than any stupid ring ever could! I rest my case. But I’ll be back.

Just as soon as she gets her nose out of that effing Roman climax!

Image: Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, 1503/04 (detail)
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It’s all over the US papers today that Walter Cronkite, Mr. News himself, has died at 92. Enough is being and has been said elsewhere about his importance in defining how to communicate current events within a television format, his authority on screen and so on, that I won’t bother adding my own brand of blather. But in honor of a man I had the good luck to meet in unusual circumstances, I’ll share a true story with you.

In March of 1973, my mother, for what reasons I never knew, went nuts. She was bipolar, and it soon became all too apparent that she needed some kind of hospitalization. My stepfather was the total workaholic, with the hours to match. So that begged the question – what to do with the kid?

It was decided to pack the kid off to her maternal grandmother in Denmark for an extended stay. Since neither mother nor father would be travelling with me, they rolled out the red carpet.

I was packed off with a suitcase full of new clothes and a purple toy bull to keep me company. I was assured that a bevy of stewardesses would be waiting in transfer airports to make sure I got on the plane. This was in the bad old days before air travel had become all cattle herding, all the time, and travellers, especially well-behaved nine-year-old girls toting purple bulls, could expect to be treated like human beings. I dubbed the bull Ferdinand, because I was told it went with being a bull. I had never heard the story.

I was treated royally, on my way from Florida to Copenhagen. I was transferred from Newark to JFK by helicopter, and the pilot thought he’d give me a kick I’d never forget – by flying over Manhattan at sunset on a flawless day.

Wow.

At JFK, the stewardess was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with me. There was time to kill before my flight, and not many options for nine-year-olds. So she took me to the VIP departure lounge, where I sat quietly, dazed and confused, clutching Ferdinand. Ferdinand would look after me. He was a bull. I was a Taurus. We bovines should stick together.

After a while, there was a lot of hustle and bustle when a Very Important Person indeed arrived. It was Walter Cronkite, the men himself, as I remember, also on his way to Copenhagen to cover a fire at a luxury hotel where someone else important had died.

Now, I can’t claim I had any passionate relationship with news as a nine-year-old, but faces from TV, I knew. So I knew exactly who he was. What happened soon after was a surprise.

In a lull in those conversations that very important grown-ups have, he saw me, sitting there on my own, hanging on to Ferdinand for dear life. He walked over, looking precisely like himself.

“You’re Walter Cronkite,” I stated. In person, he looked like the kind of man any intelligent nine-year-old would wish for a grandfather. He kneeled down, so we were at eye level. “Who are you?”

I introduced myself. “And this is Ferdinand. He’s a bull, like me.”

“Have you ever heard the story of Ferdinand the Bull?” he asked.

“No.”

He sat down next to me on the Danish sofa, acting like the best kind of grandfather, the kind that had all the time in the world.

“Once upon a time, there lived a bull named Ferdinand in Spain.” he began.

HIs entourage was looking distinctly put out. He ignored them.

So I heard the story of Ferdinand the bull, and how he was stung out of his complacency and his pasture by a bee.

“Never forget the bee,” Mr. Cronkite admonished me. “If you don’t watch out, every flower has one!”

Words of the wise.

Ferdinand had, in the space of that half hour or so, grown infinitely more precious.

Once on the plane, I was spoiled rotten. (Those were the days!). I was given a tour of the cockpit, plied with food and sodas and whatever else I wanted, and every so often, my ideal grandfather came to check on me to see that I was OK.

He even came to tuck me in, and make sure that Ferdinand was close by.

We said goodbye in customs in Copenhagen, and I never saw him again. But I never forgot.

And now, yet another little chain link in my childhood has broken and passed on, leaving all sorts of obituaries and memories behind, great and small, and above all else, the memory of an exceptional man and an exceptional human being.

And the kind of grandfather I wished I had, but never did.

“That’s the way it is.”

That’s the way it was, for a rather frightened nine-year-old girl, who with the help of a purple bull and a fairy tale and a VIP with time to kill, overcame just a little of her fear of the unknown ahead.

Thank you, Mr. Cronkite.

May you rest in peace.

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On a hot September afternoon in 1974, right after school had started again, right after I began that US phenomenon known as “junior high”, right after I had had my first proper music lesson and I was literally bursting to tell my Mom about this monumental discovery of having a musical instrument in my hand to terrorize the world with, I came home from school to a locked up house. There was no key in the usual location, no note taped to the front door. I could go around to the back yard and wait, but it was hot out there under the orange trees, and they were blooming. Anyone who’s ever been in an orange grove in bloom will know that the combination of heat and orange blossom can be almost narcotic.

Instead, I sat under a front lawn coconut tree and sulked. It would be hours before my workaholic Dad came home. Who knew where my mother had gone?

Some time later, a next-door neighbor came home. “Oh, you mean you didn’t know? Your Mom called the school, but I guess they didn’t tell you. She’s in the hospital. She might be having the baby now!”

I felt as if the ground had disappeared from under me, This wasn’t supposed to happen until late October, I knew.

I was promptly sent off to another neighbor and friend of the family to spend the night. And that night, I had a strange and disturbing dream, a dream that later turned out to be prescient and prophetic.

Next morning, I was informed that I had become the big sister to – a sister. A sister who arrived too early – the last time that would happen – and now, everyone came out of the woodwork to congratulate me, and I was not at all sure I needed that.

Commiseration would have been better. From that day on, I’d have to compete with this tiny creature for attention.

Damn it!

So began one of the most significant relationships in my life, and one of the most enduring.

It wasn’t an easy start, because I came to discover that she was indeed an attention hog from babyhood on. For one thing, she was disgustingly cute, whereas I was at that awkward age poised on the brink of puberty, and “cute” did not apply.

When our mother had a sudden fit and decided to leave our Dad in the worst way possible less than three months later, I found myself in another country, dealing with a foreign language, an alien world and a severe sense of dislocation. Once again, the cute and smiling baby hogged all the spotlight, all the time.

She grew and thrived and became an impossibly spoilt and rather bossy little girl. One day, I came home from school to discover she had gotten into my room and had applied Magic Marker to my heavily annotated Latin notebook on Caesar’s “Gallic Wars”. I took Latin very seriously. I promptly chased her through our grandmother’s house with a kitchen knife yelling at the top of my lungs “I will KILL you!”

It took our grandmother a good half hour to persuade me otherwise.

But somewhere along the way, we connected. We both knew our mother was absolutely nuts, and for that realization, you need an ally, a buddy, a friend. When I left home at 17, there were long gaps where we did not see each other, and those gaps made me sad, because by then, I saw just how special she was and was able to appreciate it.

Once she hit puberty, she needed an ally, and for a long time, I was the arbitrator between my mother and my sister. It literally got to the point of “Can you please tell her that..”, since they were not on speaking terms. And always, my sympathy was with my sister.

I have a photo of the two of us, taken on the day she graduated. It shows us both in profile, kissing each other square on the mouth. When it hung in my office in the US, it raised quite a few eyebrows. I always, because of those eyebrows, smirked when I explained to the disbelieving that it was my sister.

I had walked the path of adolescence alone, but my sister had a kinder fate. We celebrated many milestones together – musical discoveries, loss of virginity, great head-exploding moments. I brainwashed her with British Cosmopolitan in the late Eighties, just to make sure she would be aware of things like feminism, and that no one should impose limits on what she could achieve. Like me, she had read from an early age, and like me, she had a penchant for words and a talent for writing, but unlike me, she found out about it much earlier than I did.

When our mother died after a two year battle with breast cancer, we became closer, both of us aware that we were one step further toward our own mortality, We needed each other, and for the first time both admitted it.

One day at the airport three years later, when I was to embark on a Major Quest of my own, I whispered in her ear: “Somebody, stop me!”

She gave me a knowing grin, compounded of love, shared experience, and a palpable wrench of loss that we both could feel between us. “No!”

On the day Damien was born, she held my hand, and Damien, even, before I did. “A boy!” She laughed through tears. “But we don’t have boys in our family!”

Since then, through trials and tribulations and startling insights about each other and ourselves, she has been the one overriding constant in my life. We made a pact, when our mother died, that we would never hold back with each other, never withhold important secrets or information, and never, ever, pull any punches with each other.

I have been lambasted by her, chastised by her, chewn a new one by her. I’ve rarely had to return the favor.

She is the woman I can never be and the woman I sometimes wish I were, even as I know that we now live separate lives, with different dreams and inspirations.

I write a historical novel, she writes a crime novel. I write in English, she in Danish. She’s a journalist, I’m a thwarted archeologist and a big, fat question mark.

When I went to Copenhagen last week, she gave me a postcard. “Sisters”, it said, “are different flowers from the same garden.”

That’s it exactly. There she is in all her resplendent glory, a perfect Damascus rose, deep red, with many petals. And here I stand, a fading Malmaison carnation.

Different. But we bloom just the same. Separately but together.

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