Big Edie: Husband #1

what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Howie was a car salesman.

“He was made for that. He was probably very successful. He was always selling. You walked in our house, he was selling to you.”

His weekends were all about baseball. He played, and then brought all the guys back to the house and years before she was Big Edie, when she was still just Lainie from the Bronx, she would feed them.

“It didn’t matter that I was cleaning the house all weekend, after working all week. He brought  them all home, and I was expected to cook for everyone.”

That’s the way things were back then, though.

“Your father wasn’t so lucky. It all changed after I read that book. The one that all the women read and it changed everything. The Feminine Mystique. All of a sudden I was like, I don’t need to do this, but I still did. I always did more than my share. But it changed everything.”

I’m not sure what it changed, other than her awareness, and when you don’t have the strength to change your situation, is changing your awareness necessarily a good thing?

But Howie was her first.

“I went to visit him on the army base, and he got me in his bunk. So, I knew I had to marry him. That’s what you did. You were a virgin until you got married. So I had to marry him. And I thought I’d get to go to Paris.”

Lainie Millstein  & Howie Steinberg

Lainie, Howie, and the Calla Lilies

She carried calla lilies as her bridal bouquet, her gown decorated with glass bugle beads from her mother’s wedding gown. Howie married Lainie from the Bronx, but kept his girlfriend in Monmouth, New Jersey. Shortly after they were married, he called and said he wouldn’t be home that night. He was spending the night with the girlfriend.

“You stay, and you straighten things out with her, or don’t come home at all. That’s what I told him.”

That marriage was annulled and I was forbidden to ever use anything from my grandmother’s satin flapper wedding gown–that gown now having been involved in two generations of marraiges that ended in infidelity and divorce. My mother has been across all across the United States and Canada. She’s cruised up to Alaska and down to Barbados. She’s been to Ireland, and Greece, and Israel.

She still has not been to Paris.

Me, Nick Flynn, and Vicodin.



Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 11.35.59 AM

Nick Flynn – from The Rumpus, February 8, 2014.

Me, on Vicodin (inspired by Nick Flynn)

I hate Vicodin. Ten years ago, at ten years sober and a day or two after some major dental work, I found myself with not one, but two full vials of Vicodin, and no memory of getting the second, of convincing a pharmacist that I’d already gone through the first in a single day when the truth was I hadn’t taken but one single pill.

That second vial? That was just in case. Just in case there was so much pain I needed to take two full vials of Vicodin before morning to stop it. Yeah, well, that was the pain from first 30 years of my life, wasn’t it?

While on the phone with a friend, I dumped both vials in the toilet. It wasn’t will power, it was willingness and surrender and I don’t know why sometimes that’s easier for one person than another. Or why sometimes it’s easier today than it was yesterday. And sometimes it’s harder today than it was yesterday.

Can I be honest?

what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Some people should not wear horizontal stripes. Or skirts. Or sleeveless tops. That color makes your skin look sallow. And that one leeches all the color out. That’s what you’re wearing? Really? That? Don’t you have a mirror at home? A full-length mirror? Short women can’t wear capri pants, but dressing all in one color is slimming. So are long skirts, or pencil skirts, or long pants. A hip belt? Really? You know that brings attention to your middle, is that really where you want people to be looking, because it’s not your best feature. Your biggest, yes, but not your best. 

That’s the voice in my head when I’m looking at your on the subway, or on the street. It’s the voice in my head when I pass my reflection in a store window, or look at myself in the mirror. It’s the voice in my head the minute I open my closet door.


How awful to grow up with that voice in your head all the time, but it’s in mine because it’s in hers and someone put it there. Maybe her Aunt Fran, the one who introduced Big Edie (before she was Big Edie, when she was still just “Lainie”) as “my niece who used to be beautiful.” Fran wasn’t exactly a beauty, but she was a hottie.

Children believe the things they’re told about themselves, they believe you when you tell them what that world is really like–your words weave themselves into the warp and weft of the cloth they’re cut from and even after you’ve long since turned to dust and dirt the pattern you wove remains.

Scene: Looking through photos I’ve taken of Big Edie, me, the cats, everything.
Big Edie: Can I tell you something?
Me: Can I stop you? Seriously, is there anyway to stop you?
Big Edie: Yes. No….No, I have to be honest. That shirt you’re wearing? I hate it.
Me: Thanks, Ma.
Big Edie: Really, it’s terrible, I don’t like it. I hate it. I tell you when you look good; this doesn’t look good. I hate that shirt. I’m just being honest.
Me: That’s not honest, Ma, that’s just mean.  No one asked you what you thought.
Big Edie: Well, I hate it.

Be careful what you say to children, they repeat what they hear.


Big Edie: points to a photo: Oh I like that picture, I look good there.
Me: That’s me, ma.
Big Edie: Oh.  This one, then? We both look good. It’s a selfie of the Edies. One with a little me, and lots of her.
Me: Yeah, we look good.
Big Edie: But honestly, I hate that shirt, you should get rid of it. What? I have to be honest. You want me to be honest, don’t you?

I want to say, No Ma. I don’t.  That’s what I’d say if I was being perfectly honest.

1957 Rambler Rebel

what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Scene: I am 19, Big Edie on my break up with my boyfriend, Bobby, who we both thought was “the one.”

Big Edie: I feel sorry for the men in your life. You take the nice ones and twist their minds, and you take the crazy ones and push them right over the edge.

rambler 1957 custom

Scene: Thirty years later, she is 79 and finally found a good one for herself, and we’d talk about the men in her life. And I’d realize which side of the family I inherited my broken picker from. But there’s a no return policy on the original factory-installed parts for this 1957 model. Not the broken picker, the shoddy brakes, or my busted speedometer. I went too fast, in the wrong direction, with no idea how to slow down. For thousands of miles and hundreds of years.

I don’t tell her he wasn’t “the one,” at all, he wasn’t even “one of the good ones.” He was simply one in a long line of bullets I would dodge, playing with crazy too often, just a little too close to the edge.

I’ve installed a super-sized rear view mirror so it’s a little easier to see the roads I’ve traveled, where I’ve been, the places I’m leaving. And every once in a while I pull over, and leave a little more luggage by the side of the road.


it’s only folk music, but we like it

what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Scene: The waiting room of yet another doctor’s office — “it might be nothing, but might be something.” Big Edie had popped an Ativan on the way over, for the claustrophobia of the MRI. She’d stared at the pill before swallowing it. It was small. Smaller than the Valium she usually gets for these things. Now, she flips through an issue of AARP Magazine, and stops on a photo of Stevie Nicks.


Big Edie: I don’t know any of people they’re talking about. They write for people in their 60s, not real old people.

Me:  You know him (Michael Caine), and him (Superman). (silence)  Today’s Mick Jagger’s birthday. He’s 70. Thirteen years younger than you, and 14 years old than me. You know him.

Big Edie:  He’s ugly.

Me He is.

Big Edie:  I don’t like this pill. What is it? The other one made me feel silly. Especially if I take two.

Me:  It’s for anxiety, Ma.

Big Edie:  I’m not anxious.

Me: Because you took the pill.

Big Edie:  Oh. He’s so ugly. How can anyone like him? I like Bruce Springsteen. (silence) He’s like the old folk singers. He likes the good charities. And he’s manly.  He is. He’s so…manly. (silence) I like the other pill better. And Lyle Lovett. I like Lyle Lovett.


Lyle Lovett. Bruce Springsteen. Peter, Paul & Mary. It’s all a left-wing, folk-singing, peace-marching, blue-collar musical salad for her. I don’t ask how she knows Lyle Lovett or Springsteen. Those questions are invariable met with, “I know stuff.” And she does, she knows Bruce is manly, Lyle is not, Mick is ugly, and Valium is more fun than Ativan.



a hand full of oregano

what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Scene: Big Edie’s 91 year old beau’s birthday dinner. With his family.

Big Edie: You were a handful. You sold that thing. In a bag. But it wasn’t, it was something else.

Me:  When I sold vitamins in junior high, to kids who thought they were Seconals and Nembutals?

Big Edie:  No. In a bag. A spice.

Me: The crystal meth, that I said was cocaine?

Big Edie: No!! In a bag…Oregano!!! You sold oregano and said it was…

Me: Pot? No. I never sold pot.

Big Edie: I know. You sold Oregano.