Everybody knows my mother. Even if they've never met my mother, they know my mother. I could be at the American embassy in Moscow doing shots of vodka with an anti-propaganda documentarian from Siberia or scraping barnacles off the bottom of a Spinola Bay boat with a toothless lobsterman, and I will undoubtedly hear, "Please give your mother my love." The maid who cleans the First Lady's toilet knows my mom; the illegal Peruvian plumber knows my mom; the man who produced Charlie's Angels knew my mom. She is beloved by all gay men, who in my opinion constitute the world's most discerning judges of character. She is democratic and liberal, marched down Main Street for her beliefs, fought for civil rights, campaigned for all the Kennedy brothers, and managed to maintain democratic status in the Reagan White House. She has helped alcoholic friends get sober by walking them up and down the beaches of Cape Cod and played Monopoly on the carpet with financial tycoons. And won. She never wears makeup, but always has impeccably manicured toes. We have the exact same singular chin hair. She could invade Poland on a snorting white horse, but breaks into tears over a splinter. Her favorite lunch is sliced tomatoes on bread, deviled eggs, and iced tea. You can bribe her into anything if you can produce a hot fudge sundae. The only things my mother can cook are English muffins and crème caramel. She will choose a bath over a shower, a play over a movie, and the ocean over a pool. She has saved herself from intense pain in her life with strong, pulled-up bootstraps and terrifying organizational skills. She has the legs for tennis, the grace for skiing, and such high-arched eyebrows they could bring the Supreme Court to their knees.
My mother has Givenchy gowns she bought at a Saks sale (or for all I know, were created for her by Givenchy himself ) in the closet next to frayed evening jackets she excitedly scored at Goodwill. She doesn't believe in hedonism, loathes ostentation, and will buy boxed wine from Costco over Châteaux Margaux if it means more money for the Boston Museum. She didn't grow up in the age of private planes, Pilates instructors, and hiring Ke$ha to play at birthday parties. She finds the new world self-serving and indulgent. She constantly screams "Hello?" at her iPhone before hitting the answer button.
I have spent half my life rebelling against my upbringing, as most people do. If my mother had been a hooker, I'd be a Rhodes Scholar today. If my mother had been a Rhodes Scholar, I'd be a hooker. I was once asked by Playboy to show skin in an issue they were doing on funny women. The exciting thing for me was not that they thought it was even feasible to feature me naked in their august publication, but the exhilaration I would get from telling my mother.
"Playboy is offering me one hundred thousand dollars to pose naked," I announced gleefully. (It was actually more like ten thousand, but the money was irrelevant.)
There was one of her famous long pauses. "Well, I will pay you a hundred and ONE thousand dollars not to pose naked."
Of course, I never intended to even consider the offer, more for aesthetic reasons than out of any moral qualms: I knew what I looked like naked, and it wasn't going to sell many magazines. In any case, Phyllis Diller took my page.