Clowns were never really my thing. Truthfully, when I was a child they scared the beejezus out of me. So when we took the kids to see my dad after 14 years of not seeing him, I had to warn them. He has collected clowns all his life, something I discovered when I visited his office 32 or so years ago and discovered dozens of sad-faced clowns staring at me. Shot glass collections I understand. Spoons? Sure, but unlikely we will be buddies! Sea glass, I applaud. Clowns. Hmmm. Anyway, his house – and maybe this is a generational thing – was a bit like staying overnight in a really clean thrift store. He lives in a very small town in southern Oregon, where the population is pretty darn old and working families can’t see a future. I have to say it’s unnerving to not see youth walking around with that particular immortal attitude they should have. But then the drive up the coast was startlingly beautiful and startlingly sad: too many towns without employment. Lots of people hanging out looking “sketch,” as the kids say. Not my dad’s house, though. “Share with me your sadness and I’ll share with you my joy,” the bathroom doorstop clown head proclaimed. This was next to the life-sized Schnauzer figurine display.
The Son and I took the above Birdie on a little sojourn around the block where we encountered many – wait for it – Pomeranians barking at us from steamy picture windows while their owners parted the drapes and (probably) wondered if we were stealing mail. I respect neighbors like this. I consider myself the Mrs. Kravitz of my block and it made me think they had my dad’s back. We turned the corner only to encounter more of the Pomeranian Mafia further down the block; stomping their paws like fists. Birdie was freaked; we picked her up and scuttled back to Dad’s.
Around 3:30 a.m. I finished Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home and Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. Dad gets up anywhere from 3:30 to 5:00 and he was displaced from his ESPN-watching lounger by Mr. Halfstory and Ramona, curled into sleeping bags by the fireplace. The bedrooms were not heated and at night it drops to a clown-friendly 30 degrees. Wolves isn’t considered a teen book, although it has a teen protagonist. It’s the early 80’s and June’s uncle Finn has died from AIDS. No one understood the disease then; it had insinuated itself, brutal and heartless, into an unsuspecting world. Growing up in San Francisco, I remember listening to people – normal people, people I liked and respected – say they were afraid to be in the same room as someone with AIDS. June deals with all this, an older sister who spends her time both torturing June and depending on her. Finn was an acclaimed artist and the painting he leaves them – of June and her sister Greta – becomes a conduit for communication, for treachery and for redemption. Along the way June has to face her own fringe-dwelling self, and she does this in and around New York City. The setting is important, I think; no other City could absorb or consume all this and spit a person back out, intact.
I would very much like to have my girls read How to be a Woman, because I can describe it as both raunchy and intellectual, but they are probably still too young. Two or three years from now it will make for some laugh-until-you-snort discussions. The book is one of the better series of essays on feminism, and all it’s adjacent issues, right down to ruminations on correct underwear, childbirth and porn (not necessarily in the same essay; don’t be scared!) It was an interesting book to think about while driving down the gorgeous Oregon and Northern California coast, myrtle wood bear sculptures and plaid jackets aside. I concluded I would happily take a road trip with Ms. Moran; she would have juicy opinions about the 100-foot-tall Paul Bunyan and Babe statues we had the pleasure to see.