Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Mother-Daughter Relationship At Bathurst And Ava Road

My cousin and her mother have an interesting relationship. They seem to instruct each other, one teaching the other how things ought to be. It's not so much parent-child as it is professor vs. professor. My cousin is eighteen and a freshman at Princeton. She lives in Toronto, but she goes to school in New Jersey. She wants to be a paediatric oncologist; not because she wants to help kids, but because she thinks it's a great way to meet married men. (Her favourite writer is Arthur Koestler--she likes the way he ended it "just in time.") Her mother is forty-four and a dermatologist. I love watching them argue. It's like being in an Elaine May movie.

Last week was my grandfather's eighty-fifth birthday. The party was at my cousin's house, and I walked into their oak-lined living room looking to be entertained.

They were fighting about sex.

My cousin is an attractive girl, about 5'7", slim, with black hair and a nice figure. In terms of sexual experience, she's slightly below the cast of Jarvis Street: A Musical. She comes from a very attractive, rich strain of Jewish, western-European blood. I look like I should be fiddling on someone's roof.

But there they were, these Germanic women, fighting about handjobs.

"I can't believe," my aunt said, "you can be so passionless about this."

"All I said," my cousin countered, "is that I was tired. I wanted to go to sleep."

"So you jerked him off?"

"He takes forever any other way." She paused, looking at the doorway, then at her father. "Old men are all like that."

My grandfather, a second-generation Jew who'd spent his life selling dresses, walked into the room. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Nothing, dad. Don't worry about it."

"I was talking about sex at college," my cousin said.

"Maybe I should go into the other room."

"No, stay. We're just having fun. I'm telling mom how the right thing to do when a boy wants to sleep with you is to give in just as little as possible. I've done it hundreds of times. But your daughter-in-law is a prude. She thinks she can lecture me on the ethics and aesthetics of love. Should I tell her about Schiller? You know how I wind down after an Organic Chem final? Well, we have these unisex showers in our dorm--"

"I don't want to hear this talk."

"So you're saying," my aunt said, "that you allow the boy to have what he wants? And this is what Bella Abzug's taught you?"

"Yes. Physically, mentally, it's the best thing for both of you."

"It's my experience that such a thing takes forever," my aunt said.

"A handjob?" asked my cousin.

"Goodbye!" my grandfather said, and left the room.

"Well, mom, maybe you're not doing it right."

"Please, Melanie. I went to medical school."

"I'm going to teach you."

"You're going to teach me?"

"Show me how you start."

"What would Marcuse say about your morality?"

"Marcuse was not a moral philosopher," my uncle said.

"Shut up, Alan."

"You probably hold it like a baseball bat."

My grandfather poked his head back into the room. "That's no good."

"Don't tell me how to hold a penis," my aunt said. "You don't know the things I saw during my residency."

"The first thing you have to do," started my cousin, "is cut your nails."

"I just got them done at Gee's."

"Mom, do you want me to teach you, or not?"

"Why don't we finish that discussion on Bernard Kops."

"You're so Forest Hill."

"It's zaida's birthday!"

"So zaida doesn't want to talk about handjobs? Mom, please. You're worse than the admissions advisor."

The cake had vanilla frosting. It was delicious.

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