Tuesday, May 10, 2016


So said my step-father, Saul Schwamm, affectionately or sneeringly known as 'Puggy,' because of the wonder of his lower jaw, protruding into the conversation.  Asserting itself, as he usually did in business but rarely, after time went by with my mother, with whom he had been crazily in love in the beginning, but gradually, I would imagine, came to dislike, despise, and ultimately fear.  As I remember, and memory is something that is still working on more than a few occasions, she came to wake him for work, bringing him a glass of juice or coffee, while telling him she didn't know why he bothered to get out of bed in the morning, he was such a loser.  Kindness was not her best suit, though Elizabeth Taylor wanted to play her, so it must have been an impressive role.
   But when I wanted to quit Bryn Mawr, because Freddie Sadoff, at that moment a force at the Actor's Studio, wanted me to write a play, or I had already written one, probably in a few hours, that he wanted to put on, and my mother locked me in my room at their apartment, shrieking: "They told me this would happen at the Beauty Parlor!" Puggy came in.  "It's okay," I said. "I wanted to quit because I had no reason to stay.  Now I have a reason.  You won't let me quit." "No, Gwenny," he said. "There's your reason." He pointed to the painting on the wall above my bed.  "All art will show itself in its time.  Don't rush the calendar."
     Well, I certainly haven't.   Tomorrow is my birthday, and I won't tell you how old I am because I don't want you to get scared.  I certainly did, until I went back to Bryn Mawr yesterday and saw that I could still think.  And even better, feel.
    Then today I heard from the social worker on the case of poor Jessica, my mother's child with Puggy, my mad half-sister.  So sad, from the era when the over-valued and in-the-long-run insidious Reagan had the mentally ill turned out of hospitals.  Jessica had had her nose fixed again, "back the way it was," she'd said, an implant put in to make it look Jewish. Not long after she'd ripped it off, saying "Jesus didn't like it and Mary didn't like it."  Some years later, she'd crashed my mother's funeral, in morbid not-quite-in-imitation of my mother's crashing parties, as the family was afraid and hadn't invited her.  Since then she has been holed up in a house in the desert and they just went in and found fifteen cats, some of them dead, and took Jessica to the hospital.  
    This is stuff I can't make up, but had, not having actually experienced it, made into a comedy.  That's the one Elizabeth wanted to play.
    So very sad.  Especially now that Elizabeth, as well as my mother, is dead.
    But I am especially remembering the painting on the wall.  It was a Jackson Pollock.  8 by 12, The Blue Unconscious.  Clement Greenberg, the art critic who discovered Pollock was Puggy's good friend, and he'd urged Puggy to buy it because he was the only one with money, and Pollock didn't have money to eat.  So Puggy had bought it.  My mother had turned it on its side, saying "What difference does it make?"
      I don't think you can say the same about human lives.  Or the country.