It was hard to be the Epitome of Cool growing up with my mother who has red hair, a formidable temper and a plangent voice that once caused her to be shushed by record company executives taping a steel band live at a Barbados nightspot.She never achieved the career she wanted in the theater so she turned our house into her own stage, going off sometimes on long hand-wringing soliloquies that enumberated each of her five children's egregious drawbacks.
I was the oldest and she had a way of skewering my youthful embarassments and sharing them with somewhat bewildered players like the mailmen and the meter readers and the manager at the supermarket who would smirk at me, and still do, as if to say, "I know who your mother is."
Once a precocious junior high pal declined my invitation to bunk over telling me my mother was "too Kafkaesque." I didn't know what he was talking about but I knew he was right. My friends would whisper, "It's his mother, amscray!" Mom would feel the back of the television to see if the tubes were hot. "You've been watching tv! go to YOUR ROOM IMMEDIATELY!!" My only question for the creator was "Why me?"
My mother had a surveillance network set up that surely rivaled the covert intelligence arms of major governments. It was called simply, "The Mothers." It enabled her to always know what I had been doing, especially if I had been mooning at girls. "I know where you've been, don't try to fool me," she'd say when I tried to tell her I had stayed late at school to listen to Madame Butterfly, which I knew was the sort of after-hours activity she would approve."The mothers saw you on the corner mooning at that stupid girl again."
When I threw Phiso-Hex bottles at the wall she said, "It's only a phase, I keep telling myself it's only a phase. He'll grow out of it soon." These lines came to me like an off-stage voice. Sometimes I felt like an audience at my own adolescent crisis.
Luckily she grew out of her desire to dress me in Bermuda shorts everywhere I went. I wore the baggy plaid things the first time I went to church.I looked like a complete jerk and the Italian kids in the congregation beat me up and poured Holy Water on my knee socks.
I brought a dark-haired woman from college who had a thoughtful manner and a faint shadow of black hair you couldn't help but notice on her upper lip. a"She seemed like a very nice person," Mom said after she had left. "But can't she do something about that mustache?"
I suppose there are some permanent side-effects from the two decades I spent in my mom's administration. A friend recently said "Cool and you will always be strangers."
But there was one thing my mother taught me. She always said, "Wait until you have children. You'll see what it's like."
I don't have any kids yet, but I think I already know what she means. CAPTION: Illustrations 1 through 3, no caption, O. Soglow; Copyright (c) 1932, 1960 The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.