-- Buckle your seatbelts. Comedic actress and writer Ali Wentworth has a new book that embraces the intimate moments of her life and lets us into her crazy world. Her new book, "Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales," is a funny, honest and personal romantic comedy.
Having grown up in a family of political journalists, gone to a New England prep school and performed sketch comedy with Will Ferrell and Lisa Kudrow, Wenworth has life experiences that will have you rolling on the floor laughing.
Read an excerpt from "Ali in Wonderland" below, then check out other books in the "GMA" library.
nobody goes to the bahamas in july
There is a moment in every woman's life in which she becomes completely unzipped, demented, whacked, non compos mentis—for some it lasts minutes; for others, their entire lives. I have exemplary friends; many are CEOs of corporations or volunteers for nonprofits, almost all are meritorious mothers and ethical women. But if you gave them each a glass of pinot noir and a cushy ottoman, they would regale you with stories of the time they went bonkers.
I cracked like a Baccarat tumbler on a slate floor in Santa Monica, California, fourteen years ago. I was living at the time with a towering Jewish comedy writer named Ari. I was in awe of his deranged outlook on life and shock-jock sense of humor. He was brilliant, cynical, and wildly funny; I never tired of his monologues on everything from Britney Spears to Nazi Germany. I met him in Los Angeles, but like me, he was from the East Coast and knew what real snow looked like, as opposed to the tons of soap flakes Aaron Spelling had trucked in for his holiday party.
There was a familiarity about Ari; it was as if we'd known each other since Hebrew school (as a Protestant I've never been, but you get the gist). There's a scene in the movie Broadcast News when Albert Brooks says to Holly Hunter, "I'll meet you at the place, near the thing, where we went that time"—that was our constant dialogue.
We were ultimately better suited as naughty siblings than mates and preferred ridiculing celebrity sex tapes to making our own. We bought a house in L.A. that became a fortress against all the hardships of the Hollywood grind.
Ari spent most of his time writing and decorating the house with Moroccan antiques and twelve-foot Persian rugs. We swam in our black-bottomed granite pool and threw infamous Christmas parties. (Not at the same time.) There was always an abundance of liquor, glazed hams, spinach dip, hummus, gingerbread cookies, and a giant Christmas tree, which Ari, being Jewish, always protested against.
The party would be sprinkled with just enough celebrity to be titillating: Michael Keaton, Sandra Bernhardt, and once, the gorgeous Robin Wright. All brought by other people. For us, getting the guy who did our taxes to come was a triumph.
We would drive to San Francisco just to eat at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant with soup dumplings that melt in your mouth. We hiked canyons with our dogs, had brunch with people who were also running like frenzied rodents in the Hollywood Habitrail, and hit every Sunday-morning flea market from Orange County to Long Beach. We were slowly scaling the wall of middling success; he was churning out TV pilots and I was auditioning for everything from the cop dramas in which I would only scream, "Get down! He has a gun!" to Lifetime movies about runaway pregnant teens. Occasionally I would read for the pretty blond lead, but I would invariably receive uplifting feedback like, "She's a seven, we need a ten!" Ari bought a tiny apartment in Manhattan so we could have a safety raft when Hollywood beat us up. And get the one thing Los Angeles is incapable of producing—a decent bagel.
Any emotional hole I had, Ari would try his best to cork and spackle. He was always thoughtful; if I had to travel somewhere, flowers always awaited me. He was protective; once, when the doorbell was stuck and kept ringing and I thought it might be a killer in a hockey mask, he abruptly left work and drove home the wrong way on the 405 freeway to placate me. And if someone was rude to me, he was out for blood.
There's nothing more seductive than a man who will duel at dawn for you. Or duel any time of the day, really. Once we were traveling to New York, and the TWA representative informed us our tickets were for a later flight. He said he'd put us on the flight in coach seats. "That's impossible," Ari said, "I paid for firstclass tickets." Ari was trying to impress and had spent many miles getting these tickets.
The haughty representative sighed dramatically. "You have coach seats, sir, and even if I had first class, I have a waiting list already filled with devoted platinum TWA flyers. You acquired yours with dividend miles. I'm going to need you to go ahead and step out of the first-class line so I can help people who actually have first-class tickets."
Ari leaned his six-five frame over the ticket podium."I bought these tickets for this flight! And I'm not leaving until you honor them!"
The TWA representative looked at him with dead eyes. "Could you please leave, and take your whitetrash girlfriend with you?"
Wah? Oookkkaayyy, now he'd crossed the line. There was no reason to sling insults, and if so, why smack me? Ari looked right at the guy. "When you were a little boy playing in the sandbox with the other kids, and Timmy wanted to be president and Scooter wanted to be an astronaut, did you actually dream of one day becoming a TWA ticket representative?" He left the man completely deflated. Yes, it was mean.No, I'm not proud of how much I enjoyed it. But never in my life had anyone defended me with such tongue and dagger! And although it was demonstrative and effective, it gradually rendered me unhealthily dependent.
Ari proposed in a castle in Ireland. Yes, a castle, a fortress with stone arches and buttresses that offered weekend tours. He was a man of extremes. We were in Paris when he shocked me with the news that we were taking a weekend excursion. And with a snap, we were on Aer Lingus, heading to Dublin. The bastion was down a long and hilly road dotted with sheep and dandelions. We had our choice of any of the twenty-four bedrooms, as he had rented the whole damn thing. We scurried down one hallway to the next, inspecting the Chinese bedroom, the red lacquer bedroom, the yellow English garden bedroom, and so on.
We decided on an ivy wallpapered room that overlooked a leprechaun green meadow. In the evening the butler poured us champagne in front of a roaring fire. Dinner was served at a long oak banquet table with an ensemble of forks and a festival of sparkling wineglasses. (Ari had flown in a chef from Paris. Naturally.) And then, after a sampling of sorbets, he got down and produced the box. A sparkling emerald ring was placed on my left hand. It felt heavy, in every sense of the word. The whole thing was so spectacular, fantastical, and overwhelming. All this for me? Any girl would feel the luck of the Irish and be Riverdancing from the dungeon to the tower, but something was amiss. It was as if I were watching it all on TV and yelling,"You go girl!" to the woman played by me.
When we returned to L.A., we were bombarded with congratulations and happy wishes. And as the weeks went on, Ari started to float dates and honeymoon destinations. I wasn't the girl who bought all the Brides magazines and tore out photos of bouquets and earmarked pages with colored tabs in Martha Stewart books. I found fault with all possible wedding locations. We couldn't do Martha's Vineyard, my sister had been married there; Manhattan was too busy; Hawaii, too far; London, too cold; Napa, too obvious; Wyoming, too anti-Semitic; and everywhere else was just too . . . wrong. It would be juvenile to chalk this behavior up to being a child of divorce; I didn't have Kramer vs. Kramer night terrors and had nothing against the institution of marriage. I just couldn't set a date. Or find a place. Or choose a dress. Like a pacifist in a fighter jet, I couldn't pull the trigger.
I started sleeping fourteen, then sixteen hours a day. I couldn't muster the strength to shower, let alone shave my legs. I stopped returning anyone's calls and ate dry cereal in bed. If someone rang the doorbell, I would scream obscenities out the window like the old lady whose apartment door the police have to finally break down, only to find hundreds of stray dogs eating the remains of Twinkie wrappers.
One Sunday afternoon I finally mustered up my courage. Seated next to Ari on the white linen couch he had presented to me (festooned with a red ribbon) on the day we moved in together, I explained that I had been feeling apathetic and needed to figure out why. Even my rendition of the perfunctory "It's not you, it's me" speech was listless. In fact, I didn't want to be with me; why the hell did he?
I rented a house overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica. The noted documentary filmmaker who owned it was in England interviewing serial killers; with its weather-beaten windowpanes and porches, a mishmash of ceramic pots and plants, and shag rugs doused in coffee and wine stains, it had a timeless appeal. The house begged to blare Joni Mitchell and smelled of huevos rancheros. It gave me the urge to compost.
The only upside to being slightly depressed, for me anyway, is that I lose weight. I don't binge-eat like my friend Polly, who when given any piece of upsetting news will drown herself in a box of White Castle burgers. I just don't eat. That summer I smoked and smoked and smoked, and then, because I turned into an insomniac, I smoked more and at weird hours.
Ari sent me funny news articles or left interior design books and trinkets at my door. I could tell he was anxious for this period of disengagement to be over. And was kind at a time when he should have been asking for back rent, in every sense of the word.
I started blending smoothies (something people who are emotionally constipated do), beach power walking (without the Nike gear), and even had a couple dates. And by dates I mean I went out for a drink with an acquaintance, and if they even tried to hold my hand I would scream rape. I wore bohemian shirts and cropped jeans and bought only organic food. I tried Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, Rolfing and Reiki. Acupuncture, hot stones, Mayan wraps, and algae masks. I drank holistic ointments. I wrote in a leather journal, tried to meditate (which was difficult with Jerry Springer on), and read Rilke. Like every white person with dreadlocks and a pierced tongue I saw at the farmer's market, I had become another soul searching for cilantro and myself.
After a month, communication with Ari became sporadic. And when we did speak, he was cryptic about his life or hinted that he couldn't talk because "someone else was there." Suddenly, his detachment from me wasn't sitting well. Yes, I know, I left him, but he was supposed to take to his bed for years until I figured out what I wanted. For me, absence had made the heart grow frantic.
I was picking lint off the sun-faded couch when I decided to check the messages on the answering machine in our New York apartment. Well, realistically, Ari's messages. But I had created the password. And people might be trying to reach me. People who didn't know we'd broken up. There could be messages from doctors with important medical results, or maybe that store had finally received the python cowboy boots I ordered. Or I could have simply been curious for clues about Ari's well-being. Let's face it: women are just better detectives than men. I had a friend who sat on a bench with a thermos of coffee all night watching the entrance of her boyfriend's building because she had a hunch he was cheating on her. She didn't see anything; he hadn't cheated, and she felt imbecilic. But she didn't regret her ludicrous behavior; after all, her mind was eased by the charade. What woman hasn't riffled through her man's e-mails, checked out his ex-girlfriend's Facebook page, or tested him with swabs for STDs while he slept? I called the New York answering machine, punched in the password, and this is what I heard (after a recording about a Filene's basement liquidation sale): "Afternoon sir! This is Veronica from Bahamian Charters! I just wanted to confirm your private charter this weekend for you and your wife!"
I felt like a Chihuahua after the neighborhood bully lit the firecracker in its ass. I started hyperventilating. For a second I thought I was going to black out, and smash through the coffee table like Sean Young in No Way Out. But then I realized that I couldn't die because I had just been served too much drama to sort out. What the hell was he doing in the Bahamas? It seemed like such a non sequitur. He had no connection to that island—or any other island, for that matter; he freckled and burned! And a private charter? What was a private charter? Was it a plane or a boat or a school? Was he continuing his education in a nonsectarian community-based public school? If it was a plane, why was it private? It sounded so sneaky and immoral. And who the f*** was this wife? I was the wife! The would-have-been wife! The could-have-been wife! No way could he be serious about anyone so soon! It had only been six weeks!... I racked my brain. Was it the writer's assistant who dressed like a prostitute? The platinum blond dog walker who always loitered to talk to him in the driveway? My mind was a Jackson Pollock of minuscule women's faces. I started to cry, which quickly escalated into screaming and wailing. I was unraveling at high speed. Like the evil Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark whose face melts off after he witnessesthe opening of the ark. It felt just like that.
I grabbed the phone, concentrated long enough to stop my fingers from shaking, and dialed my mother. I needed to hear the voice I had been connected with since I was prenatal. A voice that was stronger and more resilient than my own. My mother, Muffie.
When she answered, I couldn't speak; I just gave out a primal, guttural howl.
"What's going on?" Her voice was calm, but I noted concern in her inflection. I tried to muster the lucidity to explain. I screamed about the Bahamas and the voice mail, the other woman, the deceit, my mistake, my regret, my fear, then more about the mystery girl and how I had destroyed my life. I shuddered and shook and nearly suffocated on my inhales, like a toddler whose lollipop has been snatched from its mouth. My cheeks were soaked in tears and snot and saliva.
After an eternity of emotional unwinding, I decided to let my mother speak. She had always been the voice of reason, the fixer, the cleaner, the person who knew how to take hold of the reins and drive the carriage home.
She sighed. "Sweetheart," she began in her smooth, assuring voice, and then she took a long pause. "Nobody goes to the Bahamas in July!"
Yes, my mother's name is Muffie, but don't let the name fool you. She doesn't wear headbands and Belgian loafers; she doesn't winter in Palm Beach or summer in Vineyard Haven. She doesn't have any needlepoint pillows with inane sayings like, "Dogs are just children in fur coats," and she doesn't collect porcelain figurines. The name Muffie itself conjures up a plethora of stereotypes that I can eradicate with two simple statements: one, she doesn't drink; and two, there is no more money. Sure, years ago great-great grandparents invested well in Ford Motor Company and Standard Oil and relatives were able to live in style and skate through an economic downturn, but those days are gone. The money has since been invested badly, embezzled by greedy spouses, or drunk away. The only visible trace of any WASP heritage is the name. And the lineage. And the ethics, theology, and ideology. And the fact that she was raised in Boston, went to boarding school and Smith, and twice married men from Harvard. Plus, she's never peed in the shower.
This Muffie, my mother, is strong and determined. "Balls!" said the Queen. "If I had them I'd be King!" She has worked her whole life and during any down time wrote a book, started a company, or curated an exhibit about the women who formed this country. And in her spare time cleaned out a garage or had a yard sale on the hottest day in Maine or drove ten hours to Cape Cod with four screaming kids. If anyonewere to write the "I know how to have it all, find balance, live a fulfilling life, lose weight, aha moment chicken soup, live your best life on ten dollars a day" book, it's Muffie.
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.