migraine + book talk = wait – where am i?

by nikki meredith

Last week, my friend Esther Wanning, writer and psychotherapist, interviewed me at the Larkspur Library for their local author series. Above is the photo my husband took of the event.

Do you see anything wrong with the photo?

The first thing that’s wrong: you can’t see Esther’s lovely face. My husband was trying to be unobtrusive and couldn’t figure a way to get her face in the photo without walking in front of the audience. Sorry Esther! (Just the first in a series of apologies to Esther in the wake of this event…)

But there’s another thing wrong: if you look closely at the face on the right, you will see a woman with migraine in her sunglass-shielded eyes.

But before I tell you about the migraine, I want your opinion. Background: The conversation Esther and I were having at the library was about my book, “The Manson Women and Me”…there’s a subtitle but I hate the subtitle so I’m not including it.

Where was I? Oh yes, I was about to ask a question. I hate to make you take sides but I am curious about this. Do you think that it was wrong that I mentioned Trump in a conversation about Charles Manson? Or, if not wrong, was it unusual, unfair, rude, and/or an exhibition of bad manners?

I didn’t say the two men were the same, exactly. I said they shared some traits, especially when it comes to the treatment of people. We’ve all seen the way Trump uses over-the-top flattery when in an ingratiating mode and infantile name-calling when he’s in a humiliation mode. That was Manson’s M.O. And then, there’s the grandiosity, the braggadocio, the vile sexism. Manson ordered murders and probably murdered people himself. I have no evidence that’s true of Trump. In spite of that, and I can’t believe I’m writing this but if, at gunpoint, I had to choose between spending an evening with Manson or an evening with Trump I would choose the former.  (No sex in either case. If the gunpoint person introduces sex into the scenario I will have to declare a mistrial and withdraw my vote. I know that’s a mixed metaphor or a mixed something but, what the hell, this is a blog.)

What I was focused on that night vis-à-vis the two men was what could be called, loosely, their hiring practices. Trump has the people he showcases, and the ones he keeps more or less in the closet. According to people who claim to know, Trump wants the people who represent him publicly to look the part: well-dressed, well-spoken and, oh, obsequious bootlickers.

I would guess that his looking-the-part crew includes: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, his former communications director, Hope Hicks and, if you go for pit bulls, his new attorney Rudy Giuliani. And who can forget the way he drooled over Dr. Ronny Jackson in his rear admiral whites — the White House physician with a few bad habits. And then we have the others: the ones he keeps or kept, more or less, in the closet. Examples: his sort-of lawyer, schlubby Michael Cohen; his first press secretary, Sean Spicer; his first chief-of-staff, Reince Prebus. (I need a judge’s ruling on how Trump designates Kelly Anne Conway? I know where I’d place her.)

Manson had his back street girls, the ones who were not as attractive, like Patricia Krenwinkel, who did a lot of the work and kept a low profile; and his front street girls, like Leslie Van Houten, a coltish beauty who he used to attract guys into the fold. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know how all of that worked in the Manson Family.

So, back to the library. I talked briefly about what the two men had in common and in a minute, I’ll tell you why talking about it was a problem (hint: someone close to me, who may or may not have been the event photographer, objected.) Truth be told, I’m not precisely sure what I said about Manson and Trump. I can’t remember because I had a migraine and I was pretty loopy. My memory isn’t just a problem at the moment when I’m trying to reconstruct what I said about Manson and Trump, it was a problem that night.  I don’t think I ever completely lost my train of thought (subject to debate) but I do know that I drifted a few times. One person who was in attendance claimed that I drifted a lot. (hint: it was the same person who didn’t like that I brought up Trump.) All I know is that every once in awhile I would look over at Esther and notice that she was quiet, and, in fact, she looked to be waiting…waiting for what? And then I noticed that she looked a little concerned. Why is she concerned? Oh shit, she’s waiting for ME to…. WHAT? Oh, it must be that she’s waiting for an answer to the question she just asked me. WHAT THE FUCK QUESTION DID SHE JUST ASK ME?

The next morning my husband mentioned that Esther had to work pretty hard to keep the train on the tracks. (You may have guessed that the problem was not only the pain in my head…it was what I grabbed from my purse at the last minute to take for the pain in my head.)  It was bumpy, I’ll grant you that. But his other complaint makes me doubt his whole take on the evening. (You may have guessed by now who it was that was doing all that objecting.) I observed, and not for the first time, that he still has a lot of Canadian in him and his inner Canadian, the little guy who is usually dormant unless hurling a puck into the net on the ice), was stirred into action when he heard me compare the two men.  He wasn’t worried that the comparison wasn’t accurate, he was worried that I would offend people who had come for a literary conversation, not a political one.

I am truly sorry that Esther had to work so hard “to keep the train on the tracks”  and, by the way, her questions were great…the ones I remember. I’m truly sorry that my behavior caused my husband to worry about whether we were in danger of losing our polite society cred but, and I’m almost afraid to admit this, I kind of enjoyed myself.

How can that be? I think I bombed. My husband didn’t use those words. All he said was “not your finest hour.”  One friend who has known me through decades of migraines, diagnosed it immediately but another friend said she thought I was simply tired. The thing is, I wasn’t tired. I was something but I wasn’t tired.

So this is one of life’s little miracles. For the past six months, I’ve been plagued by a fairly acute case of stage fright, certain that it was entirely possible that at some point in the course of promoting my book, I would have a historic melt down. Not only would the paramedics have to be summoned, they would have to use the jaws of life, to pry me from the floor, where I was locked in a fetal position. But I never collapsed, never even came close and I didn’t even experience more than what I assume is the anxiety normal people have. Maybe I did blow it at the library (and maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned Trump…I also need a ruling on that) but as I sit here thinking about it, I have a smile on my face. It is now the custom for people who are confessing embarrassing moments to say, “If I can spare even one person the anguish I suffered…” (because of anticipatory dread), it will have been worth it. If I can do it, anyone can do it and you might even have a good time!

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