My Grandmother was terribly funny and I spent as much time with her as she would tolerate, usually three or four hours per visit, after which she would declare that she didn’t spend that much time with anyone, and that she was going to lie down.
But we could cover a lot of ground in an afternoon — first she would take me to a roadside clam shack, the kind of white-clapboard treyf-palace that only exists in New England, where she lived, and insist I order anything and everything I wanted. One giant pile of fried clams (the kind with the bellies intact, the whole clams, like you can never get in New York, served on a piece of white bread, which is not for eating, but just for absorbing the grease) and a buttery lobster role later, she would tell me I eat too much, that I am putting on weight, and then insist I have a milkshake. After that we’d go back to her apartment and sit at her kitchen table and drink coffee and make fun of everyone we knew.
A couple of years ago, before she died and when she was still on fire, we began having our first conversations about politics, something we had never talked about before. I honestly had no idea what she thought about the President — mostly we spent our time making fun of my mother, who is weight-obsessed, and works out all the time and eats only steamed vegetables and melba toast. She is also hugely judgmental, my mother that is, which is not the only reason why I never introduce her to the women I date, but is one of the best. She invariably gives them the once-over, and then makes a face like the cat just pissed on her Gucci bag. No one can be thin enough for my mother. She could make a Pepperidge Farm goldfish feel fat.
My Grandma, like most Jewish grandmothers, liked to see people eat. “You can’t go out to a restaurant with her!” she would complain about my mom. “It’s no fun!” She wasn’t too keen on my mom’s husband, either, whom she called “Mr. Personality.”
But what really put a bee in the Old Trout’s bonnet was George Bush. She HATED him.
And she was appalled that her children — my mother and my uncle — were voting for him.
“WHY??” she wanted to know. “He’s an idiot. Why is your mother voting for him?? Is it because Mr. Personality told her to??” My mother’s new husband is a right-wing kook. “She has a mind of her own. You better talk to her.” I tried to talk to my Mom, but it was pretty useless. You can’t argue with someone who only eats broccoli and low-fat snacks — there is not enough fatty tissue stored up in their brains, which is where the reasoning takes place. Socrates, or so I have been told, lived on pork ribs and chocolate pudding.
Like a lot of old people, Grandma had just seen too much war in her life, and she was sick of it. I know she cried for all the young Americans who were killed in Iraq, and God Bless her, she wept for the Iraqis, too. She knew their kids were dying, and that they all had mothers and children of their own, and that it was just a horrible thing that didn’t make any sense. Besides all of the ugly wars she had seen in her life, she had also heard far too much bullshit, and she was fed up.
And then she died. Well, not so suddenly, she got very sick, and pretty soon after that it was lights out. She was 93 years old and she had seen most of her friends die, and she was very tired.
I miss her terribly. Sometimes I get the urge to call her, but never, ever when I am stoned, because she could always bust me, even long distance. When I was a teenager I could be around my mother when I was tripping on acid and she would say, “Wow! You are in such a good mood!” As an adult, one bong hit, and Grandma would call me on the phone and tell me that I was “out of it.”
I guess kids never listen to their parents, I certainly never did. Then again, even in retrospect, their advice was always shit. Actually, they didn’t offer much of the stuff.
One reason I found the Democratic National Convention so moving was all that talk about “Americans wanting the same thing — for their children to have it better than they did, that their children would know that they could do anything and be anything if they worked hard enough, that in America their were no limits, blah blah.” It moved me because that was never my experience at all. I was always told, “You’ll never make it. Writing isn’t a job.”
I guess it is ridiculous to think that Grandma would have been able to talk her kids out of voting for John McCain and his imbecile running mate. I don’t even know for sure that she would have voted for the black guy. She is a first generation American who grew up in a very segregated town where Jews and blacks lived quite literally on different sides of the tracks, in deep suspicion of each other. She didn’t go to college. She was superstitious.
But she read the paper every day. She was very up on current events. As long as I knew her, it was the one constant in her life. That, and coffee brewing in an electric percolator that was probably the best of its type when she got it in the late 50s. After she died I looked for it in her house but didn’t find it. I got her chopped-liver grinder, though. I am looking at it now, as I write this. It is really heavy and looks like it was hand-tooled at the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Like my Grandma, there is no bullshit about it.
Mike will be performing with his band, featuring Jon Spencer, in a very special evening of "Literary Mayhem and Rock’n’Roll," with special guests Jonathan Ames, Rachel Shukert, and Amanda Stern, Thursday, October 16th,at the incredible Spiegelworld tent at the South Street Seaport inManhattan. For info, free MP3s and videos (including the infamous BongGuitar video) and much more, please visit www.rockettrain.com