Monday, June 3, 2013

A life...what is it? Remembering the Tuna Fish Lady

My friend died this week. Suddenly. In bed. Alone.
Don't know why.
I am guessing heart attack.
Or a reaction to medication.
She lived, she was a friend, a sister, a daughter, and a loving doggie mom.

You can google her, and all you'll get is a FB page, and some other social media nonsense. It's almost as if she was never here...?! I can't even find her blog About My Pet NYC.

She call me SOSH I called her MOSH.
Back when I was a needlepoint designer, my signature was Saschi. Her name, Mara, is supposedly from the Russian Masha.  There you go.

She lived in the same apartment in NYC for 30 years. From when Murray Hill was a joke to Murray Hill as a hot spot. So easy to get in a cab and say 30th & Third.

She was vulnerable, generous to a fault, and she lived vicariously through other people.

In these past few years, she was unhappy, desperate, angry and in horrible physical pain... if she could, I wouldn't be surprised if she'd tell us said she's relieved.

My last conversations with her were frustrating and depressing. I couldn't help...

She was at my Mother's funeral two years ago. She made quite an effort to support me, and it was appreciated.

I spent a couple of days thinking about that...but then, started telling my husband about our history, and the funny things I remember... and the love... so here we go.

Here's how I remember her - fondly.
I met her in college. My brother Bob was living in NY, went to visit his girlfriend's college in Ithaca, but she kicked him out.
My school was fairly close by, and Bob decided to visit me, stay for a while.
I lived in an all girls dorm, and we were already overcrowded. Bob found a spare mattress and slept on the floor.
I ate at the dining hall, and Bob couldn't get in. Of course, he didn't have any money, and neither did I. My roommates and I would bring him food if we could sneak it out.
In the meantime, the lounge area of my dorm had a piano. Bob spent his days serenading the girls [while I was in class] and met Mara. She was the only girl in the dorm with a refrigerator of her own. She had food. Tuna.
Mara had always been overweight, and tuna was somehow the magic diet food. Her struggle was a lifetime of Tab soda, grapefruits, and going to fat camp and Durham, NC for diet prison. She'd been reasonably successful at times, but mostly it was a huge issue that affected her life. Everything revolved around a meal.

I didn't know her, we didn't have classes together, but I met her through Bob. Funny, her roommate Lisa was supposed to me mine, and we became best friends. So, I started hanging around with Mara and Lisa more and more. They moved off campus, and I hung around their apartment.
The next year, we took classes together - theatre classes. I moved off campus, and eventually Mara lived upstairs with Lisa and two or three other women. That year, all those long island college girls had epiphanies... opened a food co-op, took in a lot of dogs, and were gay [some on a more temporary basis], except Mara. I lived downstairs in the same building. So Mara started hanging around with us. And, due to some drop-outs and shuffles, eventually moved in with us.

Mara was a carbo-holic. She'd cook and eat an entire box of pasta, or an entire bag or rice. She'd lie on her bed smoking and eating ice-cream watching her own mini TV. Her father had heart problems, her mother had cancer. One day I ran into her room with a hatchet and chopped her pack of Marlboro's in half. I asked her if she was trying to kill herself. She answered: "slowly."

But, Mara was up for anything. Costume parties, going to one of the many bars downtown. Auditioning for every play.

When it came to men, she had a penchant for black men and white trash. She had a relationship with an Ethiopian exchange student, and a blonde "townie." Neither of those went well. She hated the guy I dated and let him know. She had a crush on a school staff member. I think I knew that...but when he came over to take me out on a date...and she was PISSED. It didn't work out. Man, he was a control freak.
Mara saw me through relationships and heartaches. She listened. She advised. She commiserated. She took sides. Always a friend in need. You need sympathy? You got it. We remained friends through college.

I moved back to AZ, and afterwards to California. I followed a boy there. Mara came to visit. She was there when my brother auditioned at the Improv. She wanted to go to Disneyland. But, everyone in L.A. will tell you - EVERYONE who visits wants to go to Disneyland. I took her to Knott's instead. Now, this was right after a fat person died on a roller coaster at Magic Mountain. The bar didn't lock, and they went flying off the coaster. As we were settling in a coaster at Knott's, she asked "Am I too fat for this ride?" the kid ride operator said "We'll find out..." and off we went. She was clinging to my arm, and I told her to let go, so if she did fly off, she didn't take my arm with her. Needless to say, we survived.

My brother Bob stayed with Mara whenever he played NYC - at least before comedy clubs started paying him, and putting him up in the chuckle-condo or a hotel. When he became "more famous," she still went to every show - and after a while, he started ignoring her. She had a crush on his opening act, Eddie Brill. He wasn't interested. 

We always kept in touch, by phone, letters and my occassional trips to NYC. I always had a place to stay. A sway-back couch. I always forgot she smoked. Open window...even in frigid winters.

We took a trip to Vegas once.  She came out to AZ to visit. It was the winter. We drove up to Payson, just for fun [in the pool in the morning, in the snowy pines that afternoon]. I remember my seat belt was choking her. We flew to Vegas and I remember she put a $5 chip on a roulette # and won. We stayed in a horrible room behind the Stardust hotel. We ate at a buffet [my first time], we went downtown and she took me to dinner at Hugo's at the Four Queens. Fancy.

I had a business in the 80's. We took trips to NY. I always stayed with Mara. Kay came with us one year. I told her Mom I would take care of her 18 year old kid. She was staying with Mara while I went down the street to see my Aunt & Uncle. I got back to Mara's apartment, no Kay. She called from a bar called LIVE BAIT and said - come meet us! I ran down, caught a cab and found them. Mara had a little naughty streak.

I got married. During the days prior to the wedding, Mara was trying to be involved in every detail. To tell the truth, she was really getting on my nerves, and driving my soon to be ex-husband, Tim crazy. We asked her to back off. She did - she backed all the way off to Vegas with one of my friends and employees, Kay - only to return in the nick of time for the ceremony. I wanted her there, but as a guest, not a yente. She made new friends anyway... hanging out with the fellow smokers outside that cold December night.

She was my friend, but so distant. We kept in touch by phone. I would tell her what was going on in my life, and she would, I don't know... not listen completely? I could just see her, watching some inane program on TV, skimming a people magazine and having a smoke while we talked. So when we'd talk next, she would ask me how things were, backfilling details that weren't exactly true. Husband worked as a clerk for a judge. She told me he was the Attorney General. I would imagine she would tell her NY friends stories about me and mine... and wonder how true they were... if I tried to correct her [about details of MY life] she would say no no no... and keep going. She got things wrong about my job, my pregnancy, my daughter...So, whenever I got off the phone with her, Tim would say "How am I?"

When I was thinking of getting divorced, I decided to get away for a while. I went to NY, and Mara & I attended our college reunion. Other than her, I knew NO ONE there. It was ridiculous. There were a bunch of us "onesies" so we joined together for dinner, for drinks at the Black Oak afterwards... I was in a lot of emotional pain, and boy - Mara was the best ear - the best you could hope for in a confidante. The group played pool, Mara bought a pitcher of a beer [a first!]. One the guys wanted to go out with me afterwards... we dropped Mara off at the dorm we stayed in and off we went. That's another story, but when I got back she listened to me cry, and the next morning during breakfast pinched me hard under the table so I'd stay in control [another story for another time.]

I met and married another man. The keeper. We visited NY and Mara got to know him. More slightly fictionalized stories of Norm... always good stories, tho!

She'd humor me and let me go to a neighborhood chinese restaurant every time - so I could get fried won ton noodles. [no such thing in AZ] Norm and I humored her one morning and we went out for dim sum. It was not great, but she had a wonderful time.

I think Mara had such an empty life in some ways. She was not fulfilled at work, but never did anything about it. She had no love life after so many years trying, she gave up - although she was so full of love. She was a little too trusting and got burned a few times... once by some charming French guy who owed her a lot of money. He left art with her before departing [the earth, I think?] that she hoped upon hope was worth something. Nope.

She was a tireless fan of my brother, and wrote this on Larry' Miller's blog after he passed away:
Mara Makler says:
Thanks Larry, I found your blog through Robert’s sister Sandy. I met Robert 30 years ago when he was crashing in Sandy’s dorm. I became friends with him and am still close to his sister. I was in LA the week that Robert became a comedian at the improv. Who knew how successful he would be and how much pain he would have to overcome. He amazed me that he could take a tragedy like the death of his son and find the humor and pathos in it. I just saw the family at his mom funeral last month. I like to think that his mom has embraced him because I think he couldn’t take much more. Bobby gave hisall but itwasn’t enough. RIP Bobby, you will be missed but know that the family will be ok. Love and miss you. The tuna fish Lady!

She lost her parents when she was young, her sister not too long afterwards. Her only brother was protective, and yet critical [but for good reason]. Mara was stubborn, and... lazy. There, I said it. There is no other way to put it. I'm not just criticizing, she would have agreed.  Towards the end of her life, she was desperate, reaching out to me, to all her friends, her brother - looking for a savior. She was in a panic. Financially, emotionally, physically... she had exhausted all of her resources in one way or another. She could hardly walk. She had dental problems. She had had so many surgeries. But, her hair was always perfect, her nails... Although she had been morbidly obese, she was certainly less so toward the end. The last time I saw her, she didn't have money for food - we met in NYC with my best friend and my husband, we paid for dinner.

She supported me in all my endeavors. A little too pushy, sometimes, but hey...

She loved me. She loved my daughter, and Ally loved her, too. She loved my friend Kay. She loved my friend Bobby - athough she insisted he was gay no matter what I said [he's NOT!!!]. She loved my husband, Norm. She loved her brother and sister-in-law and her niece and nephew... and maiden aunts in Florida.

She never got over the men she loved - including celebrity crushes.

Mara took up space on earth and now she is gone. She had a neighbor she hated, a dog-walker, a crew of friends from high school. She had clients, she bought things, she made things...she was here.

She existed. I have photographs of her. I have plenty from college. She was little bo-peep for Halloween one year. My friend Sharon and I in her apartment, playing with teddy bears and pearls. A pic of the two of us in Vegas in front of a giant horse-shoe. Mara outside with the smokers at my wedding. With my daughter in Anaheim when she flew to California to go to a Highlander's convention and went to Disneyland with Ally & I [they went on the tea-cups, no spinning for me]. More.

So a woman lives - has friends, has family, co-workers, neighbors. Will she be remembered? Was her life her own? I am thinking of her today, months after her death. I am laughing, and sad and knowing she had experiences... and all of is is gone to the vapors. I still feel for her. I remember.

She was 57.

She was a devoted doggie mom to Roxie. I don't know what happened to Roxie. Sometimes, I wish I could pick up the phone and talk to her again.

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