Saturday, November 28, 2009


I'm in a nostalgic mood. Rooting around the computer, I came across these vignettes.


"Give it back," I said to my eleven-year-old daughter.

"You got a problem?" she said, widening her eyes. "Is there a problem, Mister?"

I laughed. I loved it when she did shtick for me. She was only eleven years old, but she had a nicely developed sense of irony. She had been watching Wheel of Fortune in our bedroom when I came home, emptying my pockets onto the top of the old mahogany dresser; Danielle had hopped off the bed, lifted my wallet, and disappeared down the hall into her room with it. Taking things that belonged to adults was one of her favorite numbers; a couple of weeks earlier, she had filched a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of her friend Camilla's father's sport jacket while he was driving them back from a weekend in the country. "He shouldn't smoke," she explained to us.

"I kind of think that's his call, don't you?" I had said to her.

"I probably saved his life," she had answered. "Anyway, Camilla told me to do it."



Danielle is in a playful mood. She flops down next to me on Nancy's and my bed in East Hampton, where I’m watching the news, and snatches the remote control out of my hand. She tunes the television to MTV and slips the remote control under her butt. Then she expels air noisily through loose lips, the way a tired horse does. “How would you spell that?” she asks me. “Me and Lee and Kiki were trying to figure it out.”

“How about ‘P-T-P-T-P-T-P-T’?”

“We came up with ‘P-F-F-F-F-F,’ I don’t know why,” she says. She wheels around, facing away from the television. She puts her feet on the wall and grabs the phone, dragging it off the bedside table. It lands on the floor with a crash.

“PLEASE don’t stretch the cord out, like you did with your own phone,” I tell her.

She gives me “P-F-F-F-F-F” again, spraying my face with saliva. “Do you want me to tell you about me and Kiki’s most disgusting saliva fight?” she asks, her face lighting up at the memory. Without pausing for an answer, she launches into it. “We’re hanging out at her apartment, her mom’s around somewhere but we’re really all alone, and there’s this bowl of M & Ms, so I put a bunch of them in my mouth, and suddenly there’s Kiki giving me this Zerber on my bare arm.”
“What’s a Zerber?” I ask.

She makes a wry face at my ignorance. “A putzel,” she says, borrowing a Yiddish term from her grandparents. “So I turn around and I spit this huge soggy mass of chewed-up M & M’s right in her hair. So we both put more M & Ms in our mouths, and we’re chewing them frantically, and she’s got all these chocolate and peanuts dripping off her head. But then her mom came in. Too bad!”

Nancy comes out of the bathroom in her robe, turns off the television set and announces that she wants to go to bed. Danielle’s expression changes to wild alarm. “Nooo!” she says. She flips onto her stomach and spreadeagles herself, grabbing each corner of the mattress with a hand and digging her feet under the bottom of the mattress. She is wearing a pair of my cast-off boxer shorts and a huge ripped tee shirt that says FRANKIE SAY . . . Arm the Unemployed on it. Her long hair is wild, hanging over her face. How big she’s gotten this year! Smooth and muscular, her skin glossy; at fourteen, she is all girl, a little too much so for comfort sometimes, given her penchant for loose, skimpy clothing and sudden, animated motion.

“Let’s go, Danielle. Uppy-uppy,” says Nancy.

“I want to sleep in here with you,” says Danielle over her shoulder, mischief turning the corners of her mouth up. “It’s cold in my room.” She’s right about that; we’ve just arrived an hour before from the city to a house whose thermostat has been set at 45 degrees, and the heat hasn’t really come up yet. The only warm place is her mother’s side of the bed, with its electric mattress pad.

“Then put some clothes on,” says Nancy. “I’m cold too, and I want to get under the covers. Let’s stop before someone ends up in tears.”

But Danielle can’t stop. She lets go of the bed, grabs the top blanket and wraps herself up in it like a mummy, then starts rocking back and forth, making crooning noises. She is lying across the bed, so Nancy can’t get in. There is a riding crop lying on the dresser and I grab it and start making light, exploratory probes with it. Knowing that she’s protected by the folds of the blanket, I locate what is probably her behind and flick the end of the crop across it. “Ow!” comes her muffled voice from the depths of the blanket -- not a real exclamation, just a flat statement. Her helplessness challenges me, so I flick the whip against her again, a little harder this time. “OW!” she screams, and suddenly she is writhing free of the blanket, tears flying from her eyes as she flicks her hair away from her face. She gives me a scalding look and stomps out of her room and across the hall. She slams the door of her room behind her. I look at Nancy helplessly.

“Sometimes she just has to have a fight,” she says.

“Yeah, but I did hit her,” I answered. “It really was my fault.”

“Oh, it was your fault, all right,” says Nancy.