As I begin this official ripening process, I need to face down a major conundrum in my life. And leave it to a 1958 Rosalind Russell movie to effectively frame the issue for me.
Auntie Mame: Oh, Agnes! Here you’ve been taking my dictation for weeks and you haven’t gotten the message of my book: LIVE!
Agnes Gooch: (tepidly) Live?
Auntie Mame: Yes, LIVE! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving themselves to death!
See, here’s my deal. For years now, apparently I’ve been waiting for the right moment to start my actual life. Not consciously, mind you. I’ve been cleaning my closets and paying my taxes along with the rest of you.
Maybe it was the palm reading by that Argentinian folk singer, Nehuseniã, back in college. She took my hand, looked deeply into my eyes and said with great portent and a thick Brazilian accent, “You are an old soul. You will come to prominence later in life recreating something from the past.” Perhaps it was playing all those mothers, maids and matriarchs early in my career [I was tall. What’s your point?] That alone could have thrown me off my trajectory and into an unfulfilled ingénue loop where I’ve sat waiting for the appointed poison apple/wolf/fairy godmother to stop by and release me into adulthood.
Whatever the truth, living the “solitary life” (i.e., no kids, husband or mortgage) is not unusual in my circle here in the city. This scenario can seem poetically free or just plain sad, depending on the weather. But one thing is certain, it leaves everything up to me — the good and the bad. And since I don’t have to negotiate with anyone but myself to make changes in my life, where’s the big deal?
Given the choice [Ed. Note: Didn’t she just say that’s EXACTLY what she has?], I’d take living as Auntie Mame over Agnes Gooch. But for some reason, I keep stepping back into the Gooch’s shoes. To many — sometimes even myself — I am Auntie Mame. Extravagant, flamboyant, creative. Sixteen years ago when her daughter was born, my sister-in-law, Michelle, revealed she’d immediately cast me in that role with my newest niece, Claire. Since my nom de tante was already “Auntie Dee,” the stage was set. All right, I didn’t so much take them all on travels around the world as gift them of books to read. Educational. Enlightening. Infinitely cheaper to ship.
To others — and I head up this list — I’m Agnes Gooch, the faithful, schlumpy, diligent admin support for just about everyone’s life but my own. I used to trip over myself making sure the new co-worker felt welcome. “Help paint your apartment, neighbor, why sure!!!” More than once on the job I’ve volunteered to take over someone else’s workload just because I could. Ever vigilant in my ear was my Mom whispering, “Be quiet. Work hard. Eventually you’ll be noticed.” But that path hasn’t ended up taking me where I want to go. And I’m pretty sure by the end of her life, even my Mom would have tweaked that advice.
So, who am I? Yes, yes, we all know the answer — I’m both. I’m everybody, as are we all, Amen. I’m Mame. I’m Gooch. I’m Catwoman and Donna Reed. I’m the Flying Nun and Shirley Partridge. I’m Peggy AND Kelly Bundy. I’m even Roseanne, with and without the Barr nuts. [The iconography of my youth. Keep it moving…]
Back to my original framework, most of the time in my world, I feel like Gooch. For years, I’ve been that thirsty sponge of obedience, standing on the sidelines waiting to soak up instruction and excitement, attuned for permission to finally what? Wipe up life’s messes? Ring myself out? Well, ladies and gentlemen, as a manager I once worked with used to keen in frustration when that “one too many” of items was introduced at a team meeting:
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. This sponge is saturated!!”
More of her anon. Me, I’ve reached my tipping point. The time has come to throw down Gooch’s dictation book and whip off the Coke-bottle glasses. I intend to slip into Mame’s opera pumps and toss that ermine-trimmed cape [Figure of speech. ONLY faux.] grandly about my shoulders. I finally have an appointment with the precipice of my own womanhood and I’m not about to be late. Because, in the brilliantly absorbent words of that “femme fatale,” Agnes Gooch:
Can I have an AMEN. And… Scene.