THE CURSED SCRIPT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I wrote a script for our audio theater group a few years ago about a serial killer – and it has nearly killed us. We have had numerous trials related to this script and have yet to finalize it or perform it.

We were supposed to perform it, in its original form, at an Audio Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. However, teenagers were performing there too so we were told that our content had to be ‘family friendly’, which apparently meant no serial killers. Guess what the piece the teenagers wrote and performed was about? You guessed it!

A serial killer!

Tom and me in 2016

The next snafu with this script came when we tried to record it, as we do with all our pieces. We take the actors’ track and add music and sound effects as necessary and put the finished recording up on our website.

The recording also gives the actors a chance to hear a fully produced version as the audience hears it. We usually all get together in our basement studio and read through the piece exactly as it will be performed.

Barbara Rosenblat recording in our studio

However, with this script, there were scheduling problems with the actors so we had to record it piecemeal – with one or two actors recording their individual parts with someone just feeding them cues. This is how they record voices for animated movies but not how we work.

The piece never fully came together as a dramatic play because the actors weren’t acting with each other as they would be on stage. Acting ‘against’ each other adds dimension and depth to each actor’s performance and to the scene as a whole.

Sande Sherr performing at our house

It also made it exponentially harder for Tom to edit together a cohesive piece from everyone’s multiple, solo takes. It took Tom six months to pull the individual performances together into a finished, albeit inferior, product.

Tom recording in our basement studio

A year later, the group finally revisited the audio version of the piece and decided that it needed to be shortened and rewritten in parts. At this point, Tom and I were pretty much ‘over’ this script and couldn’t see how to improve it.

But we mulled it over and suddenly a light bulb went off. We cut out a few scenes at the start, shortened a very long scene at the end, and toned down an over-the-top main character. Once we tweak some of the dialogue and create an interesting montage for the beginning of the play, we’ll be ready to present it to the group. Again.

First page of the cursed script

We have no idea whether we will ever perform this piece or whether we will just shelve it along with other not ready for prime time scripts we’ve written over the years.

Tom and I are so jaundiced about this script that we won’t be too upset if we end up scrapping it. After all, we’ve been through with this one, I think our attitude would be R.I.P. Some things are just not meant to be. But you never know.

DINNER TABLE CONVERSATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was raised by well-educated, well-read, New York City intellectuals. My mother was a psychologist and my father was a psychoanalyst. In addition to seeing patients, my father wrote books and articles in the inter-disciplinary fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

From the time I was old enough to sit at the dining room table, I remember lively intellectual discussions. Like most families, we’d talk about our day and share personal news. But we always eventually got around to current events or what my father was currently writing about.

Me, Larry, David, and Sarah. Sarah was eight. David was thirteen

My parents talked about the social trends of the day with my father’s unique inter-disciplinary approach and talked about the day’s news through a historical perspective. We’d talk about everything from science and history to the current trends in the arts, movies, and TV. Our conversations took on a life of their own.

A conversation about child rearing practices might morph into a discussion about parenting in other periods of history or in other cultures. A discussion about the growing Feminist movement might end up about the social and psychological effects of changes in gender roles on individuals and on the family.

Me and my parents when I was about eight years old

I was always included in these talks. If I had something to say, no matter my age, I was respectfully listened to and all of my questions were taken seriously and answered.

When I was in high school, I regularly had friends over for dinner. They always commented on the fact that a famous psychoanalyst and a published author like my father, always asked their opinions. They were included, as I was, in all conversations.

This made a huge impression on my friends. At my 40th High School reunion, an old friend told me she still remembered the conversations at my house and the respect she was shown by my parents, who were both genuinely interested in what she had to say.

Me and my dad when I was about eighteen

Dinner time was also when my parents shared stories and asked for advice about their patients of the day. My parents openly talked about their patients’ lives, relationships, and problems, though no names were ever used to conform to doctor-patient confidentiality. Because of this, I learned early what not to do in relationships. This knowledge served me well when I started dating and after I married.

When talking about patients, my parents didn’t shy away from talking about sex. When I was young, much of what they said went over my head. But I joke that I learned about sexual perversions before I knew how ‘normal’ sex was performed. I knew the man was not supposed to do ‘it’ in a shoe, but I wasn’t quite sure what ‘it’ was or how or where ‘it’ was supposed to be done.

My mother continued this openness about sex as a grandmother. I remember her talking about AIDS and anal sex at a Passover dinner, sitting next to my eight-year-old daughter and my thirteen-year-old son. I think it was highly inappropriate, but totally in character for my mother.

Grandmothers rule the Passover table. Really. They do.

My ex, Larry, and I were both lawyers. So our discussions about Larry’s work revolved around the law. We made a point of teaching our kids how to analyze problems and argue their positions clearly and persuasively.

My daughter, Sarah, remembers that if she wanted to do something or wanted not to do something and we objected, she could get us to change our minds if she presented a good enough argument.

Sarah was always asking questions, like most young children and Larry and I made a conscious decision to answer all of her questions. None of her questions were considered stupid or irrelevant. If she asked why we never just said ‘because.’ We always gave her the best answer we could.

Me, Larry and the kids when Sarah was eleven and David was sixteen

We also continued the open discussion policy with my kids when they were growing up. So Sarah too remembers being included in ‘grown-up’ conversations from an early age. Her contributions were heard and commented on. She and her brother grew up to have inquisitive and analytical minds. Sarah also has an immense curiosity about a wide range of topics and approaches them with a similar perspective to mine.

So the tradition of including children in sophisticated conversations has served me and my kids well. I hope if my kids have children, they will continue the family practice with their offspring.

SNOWY WONDERLAND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This morning, after a big snow, my back and front yards looked like a lacy, white wonderland.

So, from north central Connecticut, another piece of the same huge snowstorm!

The stream in my backyard
Another view of the stream
Front yard from family room window
Artsy view of the front yard
Backyard again

NANA VIGNETTES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first mother-in-law, Dorothy, was a complex person with strong positive traits and equally strong negative ones. Despite all of her issues, she was beloved by her whole family. She babysat all of her grandchildren, even when it meant coming to New York from Florida to stay in our house while Larry and I went on a trip. She kept up with what everyone was doing and was always encouraging and proud of everyone’s accomplishments, however small.

She told everyone how much she loved them and made sweaters and needlepoints for her kids, grandkids, and in-laws. I was close with her before her stroke and loved her dearly. She was affectionately called ‘Nana’ by everyone.

1986 – The whole family wore the sweaters Nana had knitted for each of us

When we announced our engagement, my first husband, Larry, and I went down to Florida so I could meet his Mom. When we got there, Nana took out the family photo albums and started going through them with me. There were lots of pictures of kids but none that looked remotely like Larry. I patiently waited for her to get to the interesting photos of my betrothed.

Finally, I lost interest and patience and asked her to please show me some pictures of Larry. She was puzzled. “What are you talking about?“ she asked. “These all ARE Larry!” To this day, I don’t see even a trace of the Larry I know in his childhood photos, at least until he’s around fifteen!

Larry, me and Nana in the early 1980s

As I said, Nana could be a sweet, caring, giving and supportive person with a sense of humor and a silly streak. But when her husband of 33 years, Bert, left her, she was devastated and became consumed with anger and bitterness for many years. She had been a housewife and mother for most of her adult life and in return for her dedication and devotion, she had been verbally abused and cheated on. And now, to add insult to injury, she was abandoned! Yet in her endless rantings and ravings against Bert, it seemed that the worst thing he did to her was … he left her.

We tried to tell her that she couldn’t have it both ways. He was either a wonderful husband and it was a tragedy to lose him, or he was a lout and good riddance. But for the rest of her life, even after she had a sweet and loving man as a life partner, she trashed Bert for being an abusive cheater AND for leaving her.

She was particularly obsessed and hysterical about her recent separation when she met my parents. In their first encounter with Nana, Nana talked incessantly about how horrible Bert was and then added that Larry was just like him! Very disconcerting and alarming for my parents.

My parents

As we were planning the wedding, Nana started calling all the guests from Larry’s side, threatening she’d never talk to them again if they so much as spoke to Bert at the reception. This caused so much distress to Larry’s family and family friends we almost canceled the reception entirely. We eventually decided to have the wedding party and assigned a few of Nana’s close friends to shadow her and try to rein her in.

It didn’t work.

Nana spent the entire reception telling horror stories about Bert (who was also there) to anyone who would listen, even to my family and friends. People kept coming up to my mother offering condolences on the crazy, dysfunctional family I had married into.

Nana and Sarah as an infant (1985)

Nana also tried to turn her kids against their father. Larry refused to take sides and continued his relationship with both parents. But his sister acquiesced to her mother’s demands. She didn’t talk to her father for two years. During that time she had a baby. Her father didn’t see his second grandson until the child was more than two-years-old.

Nana was a very anxious and obsessive person and a neat freak. She lived across the street from the beach in Pompano Beach, Florida, but she didn’t like her grandchildren to go to the beach. Why not?

Because they might track sand into her apartment. Larry and I took our kids to the beach anyway when they were little.

Nana and David at the beach

But then Nana had a stroke in 1993 when Sarah was eight and David was thirteen. Nana’s speech was affected and she basically had to learn how to talk and read again. Her speech was never the same and from then on she struggled to find words, a constant frustration for her.

The stroke sent Nana’s OCD into the stratosphere. Now she had to leave the house at least a half hour earlier than necessary wherever she went to make sure she wouldn’t be late. She would literally get hysterical if everyone else wasn’t ready to leave on her schedule. She became convinced that no amount of showering in the pool area could wash all the sand off the grandchildren. From then on, we all stopped going to the beach and just spent time at the condo’s pool.

Nana with Sarah at around 1 1/2 years old

One Passover at her house, we were reading through the service in the Haggadah. Suddenly Nana got up and started vacuuming under and around the table because she saw some crumbs on the floor. We tried to get her to stop and sit down with us to finish the service, but we finally gave up. We just shouted our portions of the Haggadah we could be heard over the vacuum cleaner.

Another of Nana’s quirks was avoiding handprints on her walls. All four grandchildren remember constantly being yelled at, throughout their childhoods, “Don’t touch the walls!” When Nana died, David and I went down to Florida to help empty her condo and get her estate in order. We took pictures of David with his hands on the walls and sent them to the three other grandchildren!

Nana with Larry at her 75th birthday party

When she turned 75, Larry and I gave her a party and I wrote a poem for her, which she framed and kept prominently displayed along with the numerous family photos in her condo.

I still miss her unconditional love and her enthusiasm for everything I did. Her daughter and grandchildren also miss her and when we get together we fondly tell stories about her.

Despite her flaws, she left a legacy of love, affection and warm memories.

“FAMOUS FATHER GIRL” – By ELLIN CURLEY

I just read a memoir by Jamie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s oldest child and I absolutely loved the book!

The central characters are fascinating and complex as well as endlessly entertaining and the circle of friends is mostly famous people who are colorful and fun to read about.

Bernstein with the very young Jamie

Friends of my mother’s, the Coopers, lived in the same Park Avenue building in New York City as the Bernsteins for over a decade and became friends with the Bernstein family.

The oldest Cooper child, still a friend of mine today, was Jamie’s age and played with her for many years. I grew up hearing stories about the Bernstein family through the Coopers, so I feel a connection to them, however tenuous.

Helen Cooper in 1979

One of the stories I heard had to do with an incident at the Bernstein pool in Fairfield, CT. The middle Cooper child heard the word ‘gay’ from one of the adults and went up to another adult and asked him what gay meant. Leonard Bernstein was gay but lived a straight, family life for decades before coming out of the closet. That was necessary during the forties and fifties, and even the sixties, if you wanted to have a significant career. This story takes place during the closeted years.

The adult who the child approached thought it would be funny to tell the curious little girl to go ask Leonard what ‘gay’ was, so she did. Apparently, she got a paean about what wonderful, creative people gay men were and how glorious it was to be gay.

I’m sure this elicited lots of laughter around the pool that day.

The Bernstein’s Fairfield pool patio

Getting back to the book, the main reason it resonated so much with me is that Jamie and my childhoods had a lot in common. I’m only three years older than Jamie and we both grew up Jewish in New York City at the same time. Jamie was only half Jewish, but the Jewish half, Leonard, was strongly Jewish, at least culturally.

We both lived on Park Avenue in the same Upper East Side neighborhood and went to prominent private schools in the city. We both spent summers and some weekends at our second home in Fairfield County, Connecticut – Jamie in the town of Fairfield and me in nearby Easton. Our mothers were both beautiful and fashionable former actresses who entertained often and impeccably.

Jamie at a Bernstein rehearsal

However, the major experience that I shared with Jamie, was living in the shadow of a famous father. The title of Jamie’s memoir is “Famous Father Girl,” a nickname given to her by someone in her grade school class.

My father was not as universally well-known, but in our social circles and in the social science fields, he was a celebrity. Kids at my school knew that my father was an intellectual giant and he was spoken of with respect and awe by their parents, many of whom were psychiatrists, like my father.

My father

Jamie’s mother used to excuse Leonard’s excesses and eccentricities by telling her kids that this is what comes with ‘genius’, and my mother did the same thing. We had to forgive a lot of character flaws and social missteps because my father was a genius.

I can understand why superstars are surrounded by apologists and enablers because I grew up with that dynamic. In fact, my father was absolved of almost all paternal obligations and responsibilities, including talking to his child on a regular basis. At least Leonard Bernstein interacted with his kids, played with them and talked to them all the time when he was around.

Both of our fathers spent a lot of time teaching their children about their fields of expertise. Jamie learned about all styles of music at an early age and I knew about psychology, sociology, anthropology, as well as history and archeology (a favorite topic of my father’s) while still in elementary school. Both of our fathers were also hard acts to follow and we spent our young lives trying not to disappoint our larger than life parents.

Jamie tried to write and sing music for many years and I felt the need to excel academically, at least through college. I got a life, finally, in law school and stopped trying to be at the top of the class, which was a great relief. I’m sure Jamie shared my lifelong feeling of not measuring up in some significant way.

Bernstein’s famous TV series

Ironically, both Jamie and I found our voice and our passion in our thirties by becoming mothers. Years later Jamie found a true career running educational music programs based on her father’s Young People’s Concerts. I found myself in my father’s adjunct career – writer.

He published seven books over the years and numerous professional articles, which I helped my mother edit from the time I was fifteen. I publish blog posts and have the scripts I write with my husband performed by our audio theater group.

Jamie and her book cover

So Jamie and I each took something from our mothers and something from our fathers and later in life, came up with our own mix, creating satisfying lives for ourselves.

SOLVING TWO FAMILY MYSTERIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

We’ve had two family ‘mysteries’ that involved genetics and inheritance of traits. The first involved my first husband, Larry, and his blood type. He always said that his dog tag from the army (Texas and Vietnam postings in the early 1970s) listed his blood type as O – the universal donor.

Normally blood type is at most a not very interesting fact about a person, but it became an issue when my second child, Sarah, was born. I don’t know why it didn’t come up when my first child was born, but it just didn’t.

The OB-GYN who delivered Sarah came in after her birth to talk to us about our new daughter’s health. As part of her report, she mentioned that Sarah’s blood type was AB positive. I am type A and Larry suddenly realized as type O, you can’t get an AB child. Not from an A parent and an O parent. He started to get upset.

Sarah’s birth announcement

The doctor pulled me aside and furtively asked me if I wanted her to pursue the issue. She was politely asking if the child could have a father other than Larry. I told her emphatically that the child was Larry’s and asked her to please do everything she could to find the obvious error as quickly as possible.

Larry, Sarah and I all had our blood drawn for testing. It was very tense between Larry and me while we were waiting for the results. I knew that Larry was the father but he believed that he couldn’t be, so what should have been a glorious day for us turned out to be strained, at best.

Larry and Sarah when she first came home from the hospital

Thank goodness the test results came back quickly. I was confirmed as type A, Sarah was confirmed as type AB positive and Larry turned out to be AB positive too, just like his daughter. The army had made a serious error. Larry’s blood type was listed as the universal donor type instead of the universal recipient type. So if they had ever asked him to donate blood, he could have killed someone with an incompatible transfusion!

Larry was shocked that the military had made such a serious error but he was greatly relieved. In fact, both of our kids have their father’s blood type. So, marital crisis averted!

Another picture of Larry and a newborn Sarah

The other genetic mystery we had in our family was my son, David’s, left-handedness. David was an eight-week Preemie and was part of a study of Preemie development at New York Hospital. A researcher came to our house once a month during David’s first year of life and gave him a battery of behavioral and motor development tests.

He was about a month behind in most things but he was way ahead on one – favoring one hand over the other. That usually doesn’t happen till the end of the first year, but from the time David could reach for things, he strongly favored his left hand.

My mother, me and David when he was an infant

The developmental testers were surprised and so was the family since being left-handed is genetic and no one in either family was left-handed. We quizzed every family member on both sides but David still remained a mystery. Then one day, when David was about one and a half or two years old, my mother was playing with him and the topic of his left-handedness came up again.

Suddenly a light went off in my mother’s brain. “Oh my God!” she said. “I forgot that I was born left-handed!”

My favorite photo of my mom and David

In 1916, when my mother was born, being left-handed was not considered to be a good thing. It was a ‘problem’ that had to be ‘fixed’ to make the child ‘normal’ and like the majority of the population. When Mom was of school age, she was forced to use her right hand instead of her left.

This was so traumatic for her, as well as being neurologically challenging, that she developed a stutter. A ‘psychologist’ of the day told my grandmother to cure Mom’s stutter by smacking her in the face every time she stuttered. This barbaric tactic eventually worked and Mom grew up to be a right-handed adult with no stutter.

My mom as a two-year-old in 1918

But the experience so scarred her that she buried the memory. Even a year of talking about David’s inexplicable left-handedness didn’t trigger her memory. I don’t know what finally did, but now we know that David inherited something directly from his grandmother.

Another family mystery solved!

REMY’S DADDY ISSUES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Our two-and-a-half-year-old rescue dog, Remy, is a Daddy’s girl.

Remy

She shows her love for Tom in a variety of ways, some endearing and some annoying. For example, when we go upstairs to bed, Remy immediately lies down smack in the middle of Tom’s ‘spot’ on the bed and won’t budge. She follows Tom with her eyes and wags her tail, but no amount of Tom’s cajoling or commanding will get her to move. When Tom gets into bed, he has to physically push her out of the way to make room for himself.

Remy sleeping with Tom

Remy has problems with her anal glands (if you don’t know about dogs’ anal glands, you’re lucky) and she has to go to the vet every three weeks to have them cleaned out. That’s a lot of vet visits!

Remy pawing at Tom

Originally I took her myself, but she would sit bolt upright in the car and cry, howl, whine and scream for the entire half hour ride. It was unnerving and probably not pleasant for her either.

Then I got the idea to have Tom come with us on our torturous rides to see if it calmed Remy down. It was miraculous.

With Tom in the car, Remy was quiet and even lay down peacefully and closed her eyes, so now Tom is stuck going to the vet with her every three weeks.

Tom and Remy cuddling

Another weird expression of affection comes every morning right after breakfast when Remy starts to jump around, wag her tail expectantly and bark at Tom as if she wants him to do something. But when he goes into the backyard with her, she just sits on the steps and looks at him.

Occasionally she’ll run around with him for maybe a minute and then run back inside. We can’t figure out what she wants Tom to do, but whatever it is, she doesn’t want the same thing from me.

Remy with Tom driving the boat

In the same vein, when I’m getting the dogs’ dinner ready, Remy will go up to Tom and bark and whine and jump on him and paw him. I always feed the dogs, never Tom, so why she is pestering him while I’m actually preparing her food, is another mystery. But it’s always all about Tom.

Remy and Tom communing

One other unique token of love happens when Tom gets out of the shower. Remy obsessively licks his legs while he brushes his teeth. I think it’s funny – she may be attempting to groom him.

Tom finds it disconcerting though and tries to get her to stop. While she may give me a few perfunctory licks when I get out of the shower, it’s nothing like her devotion to Tom’s legs. I adore Remy but I have to admit that she has something special with Tom. I actually feel good about that because the dog we lost before we got Remy, Lucky, was also more Tom’s dog. Tom missed that bond.

Remy kissing Tom

Our other dog, Lexi, is my shadow, who thinks her job in life is to protect me from errant squirrels, cars on the road and especially the cleaning lady with the vacuum cleaner. She loves Tom but is clearly ‘my’ dog.

Remy and Lexi

Remy does have an independent streak. Lexi is always on the sofa with us but Remy sometimes disappears while we’re watching TV. Lexi is always on the bed with us, but Remy sometimes goes off on her own. It’s nice that she feels secure enough to do her own thing, but it’s also nice that she shows us how loved we are – especially Tom.