I am four years old, and the movers want to take the orange wool couch. I don't want them to take the orange wool couch. I don't know what they think they're doing or why all of our belongings are in brown cardboard boxes, but enough is enough. I sit on the couch in protest. I am a small four year old, I can't deter anyone from moving anything, but I am loud. I throw a tantrum, and, as intended, the movers stop what they're doing. My beautiful blonde mother, Marilyn, comes running from the other room and lifts me off the couch so the men can get back to work. Marilyn explains that we are moving. We are going to have a new home, without my father, Harvey, who has gone to an apartment downtown. I remember nothing else about this day except I am told later that once we arrive at the new home, a condominium in a "complex" (that's seventies for neighborhood) with 20 other identical units, I stop speaking to my mother entirely. This can't last long she is, after all, my primary family member and the only other person living in "The Condo." So when we start speaking again, probably that night, she assures me that we will always have a home together, wherever we are.
She says. "It's You and Me Against The World" citing the Helen Reddy song she's begun playing incessantly since her divorce.
A word about my mom. Marilyn Lucas (Berman Kovacs Habsburg Berman) was a child prodigy who began playing her mother's piano at the age of four and debuted with the Detroit Symphony by early adolescence. She played through college, and according to family mythology - or perhaps, her own mythology; it's hard to tell the difference - she turned down a chance to study at Juilliard out of the fear of leaving home. She lived with her parents in Detroit until marrying my father. Marilyn used to say that she wanted to be a pianist, but she "didn't want it enough". Plus, the fear of "making it in New York" was enormous. But also, for a pretty blonde, a "nice Jewish girl" in the 1950's, the Feminine Mystique was way too alluring. Marilyn used to say, "I was either going to be a pianist or Doris Day."
In 1973, she is starting over. She cuts her long yellow-blonde hair into the fashionable Mia Farrow Rosemary's Baby crop and goes to work as a publicist first for the Detroit Music Hall and then, in the fashion industry. Or, as she calls it, "the rag business." She takes me out with her single (mostly divorced) fashionista girlfriends, and she smokes Virginia Slims and drinks Campari and soda and occasionally, borrows clothes off the rack from her jobs, returning them the next day, tags intact. It's like growing up in an extended episode of "Sex and the City" - only we're in Detroit, and the Cosmos are Shirley Temples. At least, mine are.
So when she says, You and Me Against the World, it sounds okay
We live in "The Condo" for seven years. And then, Marilyn marries a bankrupt both financially and, it turns out, morally Austrian Archduke. When she introduces him to me, she says, "His family used to rule Europe, so be nice." Helen Reddy is replaced by Barry Manilow, "Ready To Take A Chance Again." which she sings along to in her palomino-colored Oldsmobile Cutlass. Right away I dislike this man, I tell my mom not to trust him. Something just feels wrong about him maybe it's the way he speaks, with his foreign accent, or dresses, in outdated and boldly colored Seventies clothes, a yellow lace shirt bought for him by his now-deceased second wife; or maybe it's the way he coos to my mother while asking that she put dinner on her credit cards instead of his. She accuses me of being "jealous" and then, urges me to work on having a relationship with him. A year after their first meeting, and after the death of my father, she marries The Archduke, and we move into his house in Libertyville, Illinois an area not particularly known for bankrupt Euro trash. Or little Jewish girls. I am ten years old. The fog is so thick the night we drive from Detroit to Libertyville, I wonder, does my mom know where she's going?
After two years of living in The Archduke's house, which my mother likes to the call "The Embassy" (She calls him "The Ayatollah", and she calls us "the hostages") we move again to the North Shore suburbs, an area made famous by John Hughes in such eighties classics as "The Breakfast Club" and "Sixteen Candles". This choice is made by Marilyn, who wants to live near other Jews, and I'm thrilled because at this point, all I really want out of life is to be cast in a John Hughes movie. I even have an agent and a "stage name" (Brooke Alison it sounds less Jewish and more appropriate for a future star of stage and screen.)
Marilyn is hoping that getting out of the Libertyville house, which her husband built with his dead second wife (who my mother has taken to calling "Rebecca" after the Daphne Du Maurier thriller) will alter the tenor of her marriage. She is an optimist. First we live in an apartment complex built around a golf course, and then a year later, we move to a townhouse near a Dairy Queen. And although I get auditions even a call-back or two there are no teen movies being made starring or even featuring Brooke Alison. When I'm sixteen, Marilyn and the Archduke contemplate a move to Florida, where the Archduke has started a business (and an extracurricular relationship). This plan is mercifully put to rest by my mom's health troubles she needs to be near her family in Detroit and her doctors in Chicago. And then, when I'm 18 years old, I leave for New York City. Forever.