Good Girl Genes & Literary Links

igiveandgive taintor

This afternoon my good girl gene kicked in.  We visited a Very Old Relative in the hospital.

We talked about duplicate bridge (which I’d never heard of), and I reminded him/her that my mom and her best friend used to belong to a court whist club.

“She’s an idiot,” the relative said of Mom’s friend.

“She was nice,” I say.

My husband affirms that she was nice.

It’s unclear if the Relative knows the friend is dead.  We didn’t want to share Too Much Upsetting Information.

On the other hand, the Relative said so many inappropriate things in one hour that it probably didn’t matter.

Such as:  the Relative can’t stand to sleep in the same room as his/her spouse anymore;  he/she is cheating on said spouse; and he/she is expecting the cheatee to visit any minute.


“It’s part of life.”

“What?”  Maybe if you’re immoral…

We don’t want to meet the cheatee, so we get out of there.

He/she is very old and needs to get back together with his spouse.  (I can’t arrange that!)

And how have your Holidays been going?


1. There are many Best Books of the Year lists, but I especially loved this article in The Guardian, in which publishers name the book that made their year; the book that deserved to do better; and the book they wished they’d published. 

Richard Beswick, publisher of Little, Brown and Abacus Books, speaks of the brilliance of Tom Holland’s “magnificently erudite and entertaining Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar.”

I agree.  It is gossipy, witty, spicy, and as fast-paced as a novel!

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2. Tom Cunliffe’s great blog, A Common Reader, is back in business!  I enjoyed his fascinating post, “All Hail Wikipedia.”  

He writes:

wikipedia Nohat-wiki-logoI get tired of people complaining about Wikipedia and saying how inaccurate it is. If a politician or a celebrity is accused of sneaking through an edit in their favour (almost invariably to be found out later) some journalist will make some clever comment about “of course, Wikipedia is full of this sort of thing”. They ignore (or are ignorant of) how much effort Wikipedia put into monitoring edits to the pages of people in the public eye.

3 In the latest issue of the TLS (Dec. 18, 2015), Lesley Chamberlain reviews Wendy Pollard’s Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her life, works and times. Unfortunately, the TLS article is not online, but you can read my interview with Wendy here.

wendy pollard Pamela-hansford-Johnson-web4 Joyce Maynard has an article in the New York Times magazine (Dec. 16, 2015) about visiting Pablo Neruda’s three homes in ChileLa Chascona, La Sebastiana and Isla Negra.

Enjoy the links!

Holly Jolly Voicemail

feliznavidadAll across America, we are psyched for the Jolly Holiday Competition  of Who Has the Worst Family!   Ever played it?  It’s so much fun. There’s drinking and “Truth or Dare.” We were going to skip it this year, but we just recovered the dysfunctional spirit!

A message from an elderly relative arrived in voicemail:  “I’m in the hospital, Kat, and call me if you feel like it.”

Oh, good. It’s been a few years since we spoke.

There were some very bad scenes with this relative when I was growing up.  He/she once beat me up for going on a  25-mile Hike for Hunger with hundreds of others on a Sunday. The brilliant theory was that I had been out with a boy. Very brilliant, since I walked all 25 miles and had blisters on my feet and was hanging out with my usual group of giggling girlfriends.  I was so upset by my relative’s violence that I never collected the money for the charity from my sponsors.

Torn between duty and a 10 on the Richter Scale of dysfunction, I maturely decide to do my duty.  He/she is old now.  You have to assess his/her health.  He/she has alienated a lot of people.  You care because…he/she has no one else.

The problem is we have no idea where he is.  He/she didn’t leave much information.   We don’t know the name of the hospital. We don’t know if it’s here or in “Snowbird country,” i.e., Florida, where he/she sometimes winters.   We don’t have his/her cell phone number and he/she doesn’t have  a landline.

So we begin the comedy of errors. We call an area hospital.  No, there is no patient of that name. The switchboard volunteer kindly gives me the number of the other hospital.   No, he/she is not there either.

Then we call a relative who might know his/her number, but her voicemail is full!

Okay, he/she is probably in Florida.  There are a lot of hospitals in  Florida.  We call three.  And it’s complicated getting the no’s.  Once I reached some huge complex of hospitals and they wanted to know what building he/she was in.  “Pneumonia?”  I said.  “Pulmonary?”  Was this a game show?  I sounded like a crazy person.  Once I start saying, He left a message and we don’t know what state he’s in, I might just as well have hung up.

Finally my husband found a number on his cell phone with the right area code.  Thank God he never deletes anything!

And it was the right phone number!

And so we chat on the phone.

He/she didn’t go a-snowbirdin’ this year.  He/she got sick when my aunt died, when the cousin who was driving them to the funeral got lost on gravel roads and drove into a ditch.  They  waited an hour and a half for a tow truck.  He/she was coughing and tried to get the hospital to admit him but they would not.

And now I’m hearing for the first time that my aunt died late in November.  The last of the aunts died and I wasn’t notified.  You see, this is true dysfunction.  So I’m damned if I will cry.  (I cry after I get off the phone.)

He/she found a hospital that would take him for a few days.  And so he here’s my over-the-phone diagnosis (with a few tears in my eyes):

  1. bad cold, bronchitis, or walking pneumonia – but possibly doesn’t need hospitalization.
  2. loneliness
  3. depression

Well, let’s hope we can straighten everything out.

Anyway, Merry Christmas!  It is, in fact, just like Christmas!  Feliz Navidad!

TV Sitcoms for the Holidays

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“We’re not doing this for tips.  We are degrading ourselves for the sheer holiday joy of it,” says Roseanne in the ’90s sitcom, Roseanne (Season 6, Episode 12, 1993), in defense of the family’s tacky outdoor Christmas decorations.

When the  neighborhood association singles them out and asks them to tone their display down, they decide, as Roseanne ironically says, to “go for the national title” of tackiness.  Dan (John Goodman)  finds  two mangers, and Roseanne says, “Dueling Saviors–hoo ha!”

Gotta love it. And it is such a joy after watching the frenetic, saccharine Christmas episodes of today’s family sticoms.

The Middle, a pretty good sitcom about a working-class family, can’t compete with Roseanne.  Why?  It’s just no longer real.  This is the seventh season, and the writers are having trouble tying up the plot with a bow.

Tonight, the colorful Heck family missed a Christmas Eve church service because  (a) the clocks are all wrong, (b) Frankie (Patricia Heaton), the mother of the family, can’t get it together, and (c) she decides they will  watch church on TV instead.   The children are reluctant, Frankie asks them to be quiet during “church,” then, during the commercial, daughter Sue asks them  to wear Santa hats in bed  for a Christmas picture (why bed?),  then she accidentally deletes the whole family album on the computer, and then Frankie lies down on the floor and cries and kicks her heels…

Work with me here. What the f…?

Bev (Wendi McClenden-Covery) onf The Goldbergs"

Bev (Wendi McClenden-Covey) on The Goldbergs”

The Goldbergs, a sitcom set in the ’80s, was a tad better.  For one thing, the Goldbergs are Jewish. For another thing, Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Murray (Jeff Garlin) are the most outrageously funny parents on TV.

Bev, who is the ultimate iconic Jewish mother, decides to create a holiday called Super Hanukkah, which is basically a rip-off of Christmas, because her children aren’t on board for Hanukkah, eight nights of presents like underpants.  Now there are lots of decorations, a Hanukkah bush (suspiciously like a Christmas tree), and great presents.  Everybody is happy.

Until Bev’s dad, “Pops” (Geroge Segal), shames them for not honoring Hanukkah. And, wow, he is intense (I’ve never seen that side of him).  Soon Bev is in tears.  Poor Bev!  She didn’t deserve that!  The family was happily hanging out together.

In tonight’s episode there is also a riff on the movie A Christmas Story, but it isn’t as funny as the Super Hanukkah stuff. It’s apparently hell on TV writers to weave the different skits together.

So I’m sticking with Roseanne.  I know all about “White Trash Christmases.”  Believe me, I’ve spent Christmas in a lot of different places.