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Family & Friends: Personal Indulgences No. 4

When I was growing up, my mother pointed out to me that, among my aunts, uncles, and myriad cousins (along with any spouses and offspring that had accreted to them), the ones that I liked best invariably had the “worst” personalities, moral characters, and behavioral track records. At least according to the standards of our petit-bourgeois world. This was true, but not entirely true. My absolute all-time favorite family member, my mom’s elder sister, Ann, was a saint–all self-effacing and genuine sweetness and tenderness. I adored her and named my daughter after her. I still cherish her memory and talk about her to my daughter’s daughters, my grands. But I digress.

Once I got considerably older, I noticed how many of my closest friends (a majority of them artistic types like me) were “peculiar,” as my mother would have put it–vulnerable, even fragile creatures, given to unconventional behavior because they recognized norms only grudgingly as they went about their business of making the world continually new. I was happy, at this point, to discover what Morison Cousins, the great designer of Tupperware, said: “People who are the most interesting are often neurotic. The ones with good sense almost lose their allure.”

© 2007 Tobi Tobias


  1. Jeannette Andersen says

    This is a wonderful heartwarming piece. [Sent December 19, 2007. –Ed.]

  2. Charlotte Christensen says

    Hoping to be among your neurotic friends. I do not want to loose my allure. [Sent November 20, 2007. –Ed.]

  3. Reva Cooper says

    These are lovely essays, on the personal angles at which we each see the world. And it’s nice to get to know you better.
    I have a copy of your book “Obsessed by Dress,” too, which I relate to a lot –part of a collection of style books I started several years ago–mostly works (except for the film “Funny Face,” which I have completely loved ever since I first saw it when I was 10 years old. It is glamour, love, Paris, dance, charm, everything good rolled into one, and it’s a part of the collection too, and I’ve probably seen it over 40 times by now) taking apart the matter of fashion, and also about people who have their own unique style, and–fashion be damned–they look terrific.
    Your articles about “odd” family and your first passion for dance reminded me of my two great-aunts, my grandmother’s sisters, who were unmarried and lived together in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and who introduced me to the arts in New York City. I grew up in Brooklyn, way before it was sexy, and longed to live in that magical, glamorous kingdom across the bridge and did, finally, after college graduation. But at this time, they represented one of my few opportunities to visit. I don’t think such types would exist today; Aunt Dorothy the Career Girl, who traveled to Europe in prop planes in the 1950s, was secretary to (my goodness) the great accident-insurance lawyer Harry Lipsig (my mother once told me in a hushed voice that she made “over $100 dollars a week!”), and who died at age 52 of a very rare disease, just as she was about to be married for the first time. Then there was her older sister Fanny, who lived a much more limited life. Aunt Fanny would always chide me on my table manners and other etiquette, and was true to form of every stereotype you’ve ever seen of old maids–except she loved the female roller derby. Now you may (or may not) remember those very tough women racers–they’d push each other out of the way, curse with every word going, etc. We used to go to Madison Square Garden to see them, and the race was also projected on a big screen so you could read their lips: “Get outta my way, you #!***!!###***!!!” Aunt Fanny would get so excited when they came to town, and she would sit there formally during the races, occasionally looking over and saying in the same Use-Your-Fork voice, “Isn’t this wonderful?”
    However, both were complete arts-goers–subscribers to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, the New York City Opera, the New York Philhamonic, etc. And they took me first, when I was about 5 or 6, to the NYCB–I guess they considered dance the easiest for a child to take in. Then we went to the international dance companies at the City Center, and the great Marcel Marceau every year, and so on. They were much more interesting than the other neurotic relatives, whose obsession was usually about fixing the car or who was going to serve the next course at the Passover Seder.
    Anyhow, I look forward to reading more of your Personal Indulgences (and your reviews, of course, too). [Sent November 18, 2007. –Ed.]

  4. Christopher Caines says

    Nice piece. [Sent November 18, 2007. –Ed.]

  5. Marc Salz says

    As members of the British parliament would say: “Hear! Hear!”. [Sent November 18, 2007. –Ed.]

  6. Jane Remer says

    As my dad would have said in his best Yiddish, “Gut gezuct” (well-said). [Sent November 18, 2007. –Ed.]

  7. I’m getting a good chuckle from this essay, Tobi! I think I know only “abnormal” people or have been lucky enough or smart enough to weed out the supposedly “normal.”
    Reading your words, I realize that, from my youngest years, I have been an observer of performers–the official ones and the decidedly unofficial ones, like the characters within and around my family and school. Some of these folks certainly taught me what divahood and flamboyance look like. So, today, I know it when I see it! Good training for a dance and performance critic!
    Oh, one more thing. Recently, I found myself reflexively responding to something my wife said by claiming, “But I’m normal!” I think she’s still laughing.
    Thanks for the memories!

  8. I enjoyed this post. Of course the most interesting people, with all their faults, are the ones we like best. It is certainly true for me. They are, after all, the most human. As Mark Twain says, “Go to Heaven for the scenery, Hell for the company.”

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