Leave the Building Quickly: True Storiesby Cynthia Kaplan
Cynthia Kaplan, acclaimed author of Why I'm Like This, once again casts her gimlet eye upon the current state of her affairs. Also of your affairs, and some other people's affairs as well. Journey with her as she humiliates herself in a variety of locales and fearlessly takes on all the important issues of the day—including her family, intelligent/em>
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Cynthia Kaplan, acclaimed author of Why I'm Like This, once again casts her gimlet eye upon the current state of her affairs. Also of your affairs, and some other people's affairs as well. Journey with her as she humiliates herself in a variety of locales and fearlessly takes on all the important issues of the day—including her family, intelligent design, Narnia, and New England's deer population.
Leave the Building Quickly is a hilarious, moving, bitingly honest, take-no-prisoners incursion into the kind of real-life daily circumstances that inspire us to crouch in the linen closet at three in the morning. But that's okay because Kaplan's there, too. And she's brought snacks.
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Leave the Building Quickly
By the time I was in college, I viewed family vacations as the thing you did because you weren't in greater demand elsewhere. Being seen with my family at any kind of recreational event was a reminder to me that I had no boyfriend and a dubious social life, or, in later years, was perhaps on the make for a rich widower. I felt simultaneously like a baby and an old maid.
I had friends whose family vacations were like Olympic trials with no drug testing. Their siblings were their best drinking partners, and their parents skied or sailed or whatever with them during the day, but were usually too drunk by cocktail hour to care what their children were up to in the evenings. My parents hardly drank, wouldn't know a wedel from a schuss, and my brother and I had a cordial relationship based upon our mutual disdain for our parents and a shared appreciation for the book Chariots of the Gods.
During our middle school years, my brother and I were shipped off on the occasional weekend to the Otis Ridge Ski School in Massachusetts, a frigid purgatory where I spent the entire time trying to avoid the unfortunate fate of the little girl in John Cheever's story "The Hartleys," who gets into a deadly tussle with a rope tow. Guess who wins. Later, during high school, our family made three futile attempts to stage ski vacations. The first was rained out, and the second ended before it began when I contracted mononucleosis, better known as "the kissing disease," a seeming impossibility, due to the fact that nobody had, as far as I could tell, ever kissed me. The last attemptcame to an abrupt conclusion when my brother fell and broke his wrist, and my mother, having spent a morning paralyzed with fear on the bunny slope, declared herself "done." Yearly visits to the grandparents in Florida resumed.
It is important to stress that there was nothing inherently wrong with our family. We had loving and involved parents and a comfortable home. Perhaps they were a little too involved, although now that I'm a parent I am convinced there is no such thing. Looking back, it seems the problem with our family was that it offered us too vivid a reflection of ourselves. In my mind, the word "family" somehow evolved into a synonym for "uncool." Neither my brother nor I could have been characterized during our youth as cool. At our high school, the pinnacle of cool was achieved one Halloween by a couple of jocks who showed up at a costume party with aluminum pots on their heads. That I myself was at this party was not in any way a testament to my popularity. I didn't even know what the guys with the pots on their heads were supposed to be until someone told me. My senior year, I had a graduation costume party and two girls came dressed in all white, each with a drinking straw sticking straight up from the top of her head. I didn't know what they were supposed to be and when I was told, I still didn't get it.
Our parents weren't cool, either. They weren't dorky or frumpy or embarrassing in any way—they just weren't cool. In fact, the things that made them great parents—their generosity, their concern, the fact that they didn't get too bombed to pick us up from parties on weekends—were exactly the things that cool parents weren't. Cool parents let you wear wedgies despite their correlation to broken ankles, they let you affix those velvet posters of castles to your walls with Scotch tape, and they had no idea where you were at ten o'clock. They were too absorbed in their own lives to be overly involved in the details of yours. Perhaps, had my brother and I been more subversive, perhaps if we'd actually staged surreptitious little adventures during our family time, it would have been redeemed. The most reactionary thing we ever did was mime to each other across the dinner table the various- forms of suicide, a time-honored diversion which I'm sure still engages thousands of siblings worldwide. I'd pretend to throw back a handful of pills with a gulp of water, and my brother, in response, would mime hanging from a noose. This would continue until we'd exhausted the more farfetched possibilities, such as mixing combustible fluids in invisible beakers and dying of ennui.
Of course, now that my brother and I both have spouses and children, our parents have acquired a new identity. They're still not cool, but that's not a problem, since they are not so much our parents anymore as our children's grandparents. Like our ancestors before us, we have spawned a buffer generation. Although I'd already padded the relationship several years earlier by marrying well. My parents definitely like my husband more than they like me. For one thing, he plays golf with my dad, and for another, he's not a bitch.
Did I just mention my spouse? I believe I did. Did I say that he came with his own family? Also true. A family totally unlike mine. A family of avid golfers and skiers, fond of traveling the country together in search of places to avidly golf and ski. They had a vacation home in Vermont and spent a good portion of their winters traveling back and forth between it and Westchester. In one car. When I joined their clan, I suppose I half expected all this madness to stop, in deference to me.
I have actually been on several vacations with my husband's family. My mother-in-law loves her family and she loves to travel. Put the two together and, well, you can just imagine. Wait, you don't have to, because I'll tell you. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, because I'm not—my mother-in-law is one of the most generous people on earth—I dreaded these vacations for weeks, if not months, before they took place. Once again, there is nothing inherently wrong with David's immediate family. They are smart, fun-loving, outdoorsy people and I can't say enough nice things about them, I really can't. And that's because it's not them. It's me. In the three years I saw a therapist we just never got around to family vacations.Leave the Building Quickly
True Stories. Copyright © by Cynthia Kaplan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Writer and actress Cynthia Kaplan's essays have been published in many newspapers, magazines, and anthologies, and she is the author of the collection Why I'm Like This. She has appeared in clubs, theaters, and on film, but never on Law & Order. She lives in New York City with her husband and children.
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