Merrill Markoe is an Emmy-winning TV writer, novelist, and humorist. I allude to one of her old essays all the time, in which she mused that all of pop culture is now oriented toward thirteen-year-old boys, or their mental equivalent. As in car chases, explosions, robots beating each other over the head, farting jokes, and so forth.
Anyway, her new book Cool, Calm, & Contentious is still funny but somewhat more serious. The first essay, “The Place, the Food, Everything Awful: The Diaries of Ronny Markoe,” concerns her mother, who gave up her career when she got married and devoted “the next forty years to seething and being resentful.”
That got my attention. Markoe diagnoses her mother with narcissistic personality disorder, a kissing cousin of borderline, i.e., my mom. Ronny Markoe was worse than my mother, but her negativity sure rings a bell. She was inclined to criticize not only her daughter, but everything, including vacation destinations, such as Venice. Markoe reads her mother’s journals after her death and discovers that she described the famous Piazza San Marco in Venice as “terribly overdecorated.” Finally, Markoe can conclude that she had no chance for a positive review when her mom panned Venice, all of France, Helsinki, and Leningrad. Giving up that hope is, ironically, a healthy step.
In the collection’s next essay, Markoe examines how Crazy Mommies create comedians. Bill Scheft, a longtime Letterman writer, offers this summary of his mother’s parenting philosophy: “You’ll get unconditional love when you do something to deserve it.”
The only thing you can do, in other words, is laugh. On Markoe’s thirthieth birthday, her mother raised a toast. “May half of all your dreams come true,” she said.
Markoe responded, “Mom, isn’t that kind of sad?”
“No,” her mom replied. “Half is a good percentage.”
You have to laugh. Let me know if any of this rings a bell.