Skip to main content

The Mental Yentl: Excerpts


Excerpt 1

I come from a long line of medicated women.
During my childhood, on any given Sunday, my parents would drag us kids (my older brother, older sister, and me) into the car and drive to the ritual extended family dinner. Mom and Dad were smokers back then, and with the windows rolled up against the nasty Chicago winter, it was an unbearable one-hour commute from our house in South Shore to Division Street, where my grandparents lived above their bakery.
During these Sunday dinners, I found myself mesmerized by my loony Aunt Lill and Aunt Rose. I loved how the company of a few extra animated and histrionic women could diffuse my mother’s nutty personality. For some reason “crazy” in a group was entertaining, while one-on-one with “crazy” was just terrifying.
Though I adored these women deeply and cherished their affection, I had no intention of becoming like them. But DNA has its own agenda, and I eventually recognized a great many similarities between us. Due to my own critical thinking and obsessive drive to make sense of things, I have become a MENTAL YENTL—a student of crazy.
I can explain.
“Mental” is a fairly obvious choice—though, I admit, not terribly P.C.
It’s the word “Yentl” that I have taken liberty with. In the Barbra Streisand film Yentl, based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” Babs plays a young girl who defies tradition to become a scholar during a time when Jewish women were not allowed to read sacred texts. In my mind, a Yentl can be any female who wishes to uncover the deeper meaning of whatever it is she yearns to hold close to her soul. Therefore, today, I am a Mental Yentl, someone who lovingly studies and appreciates the fine art of wackadoodle.
I’m thinking there are many of us Mental Yentls out there.
We would be those unknowing students who spent our early lives at the feet of many neurotic masters. These matriarchs, whether they were clinically diagnosed or just quirky, loud, and vivid, guided us through our formative years while believing we would grow up to apply the mother’s lessons, cook the mother’s recipes, and marry the man of the mother’s dreams just like they had been pressured to do. And, in our efforts to do right by our familial tribes, we struggle to balance our independence and guilt as we fall in love with the right guy but marry the wrong guy, and then have babies we have no idea what to do with, only to divorce the guys we have no idea what to do with.
After that, we choose jobs outside the home, learn to cook healthier, stay single or remarry, raise our children, and then launch our children. And sadly, with but a few minutes to catch our breath, we find ourselves enduring great loss as we bury an assortment of family members, and realize the front line is gone, and it’s now our turn.
Life itself is wackadoodle.
I now sit at the head of my family’s table, and from my chair, I dedicate this collection of stories, essays, song lyrics, and general undefined mishegas* as a love letter to my families’ matriarchs “of blessed memory.” It is my intention to honor and validate the remarkable women who came to those Sunday dinners clutching their emotional baggage, knowing they would have much preferred a lovely pocketbook.
—L’dor v’dor* (From generation to generation)
*FYI As a Mental Yentl, my world of words has been infiltrated with Yiddish since I was born. Yiddish is the tongue of my people, and this expressive language has become the endearing slang of our daily vernacular.
But not everyone knows Yiddish, of course, and since it is not in my nature to stir up a dose of crazy-making, I’ve included a Yiddish glossary at the end of this book. It is my pleasure to do this for those readers who haven’t been to New York City or seen a Woody Allen or Billy Crystal movie. We here at Mental Central wouldn’t want you to aggravate yourself or get a heartburn, but rather enjoy these stories with a cookie, a lovely glass of milk, and a Glossary.
So bubeleh,* just flip to the back of this book, and in alphabetical order, you’ll find whatever it is that you don’t understand. Gezundheit*

Excerpt 2

I refuse to watch violent or scary TV shows. I just can’t seem to carve out precious free time to sit down in front of an oversized screen and watch a nightmare in living color. I can’t look at zombies with their faces missing as they drag their half-chewed-off limbs and other dripping parts through some dark and creepy parking lot, on their way to have a beer with their wacky next-door neighbors who run the local meth lab.

Those heinous and bloody scenes are not for me. I’ve discovered that one quick accidental glance at any yucky visual will subliminally plant those horrifying messages inside my brain, where they will sit dormant and quiet until some future date, when the subsequent free-floating anxiety will randomly surface and convince me that the tall and handsome dryer repairman is, in fact, an alien who’s wielding a nuclear power pack disguised as a Pringles can. He’ll offer me a Pringle, knowing full well that I can’t refuse a potato chip, and after one bite, I’ll morph into an alien girl and become his drippy love slave, as he blows up my house and kills my husband and children.

Nope, I’ll stick to watching cartoons, sitcoms, and my beloved late-night talk shows.

When it comes to my psyche, I need things easy and smooth, polite and lovely, charming and confrontation-free. I do not spend money on violent films, roller coasters, or the stock market. I'm all out of nerve. I used up my lifetime supply of bravery while raising children. I am now a lazy weenie.

I start each day hoping that the following twelve to sixteen hours will be worry- and chaos-free. But then I always seem to encounter random and silly aggravations that throw me into an antagonizing downward spiral, from which only red Twizzlers, M&M’s, or pharmaceuticals can save me.

For instance, I’m entirely unable to tolerate any clothing that feels—even slightly—scratchy. I must wear my socks and underpants inside out, as I suffer from extreme tactile sensitivity. In recent years, I have found that many people have this same problem.

As a shopper and consumer, my nutty physical comfort issues are a challenge. Thankfully, I’ve discovered the perfect bra for me. I’ve worn the same style for years. I love it, know it, need it, want it, and I’m willing to pay the sixty-three dollars, plus tax, for it.

One day, it was time to refresh my supply, and I planned a nice outing to the mall to visit the one store that carries my brand. After an hour of frustration and inefficient foraging in the lingerie section, I panicked. I couldn’t find my bra anywhere on the racks. (Oooh, snap! Oooh, pardon the double pun! )

I cornered the buxom saleslady. “What happened to Wacoal #3205? I’ve been wearing the same model for nine years. I can’t find it anywhere!”

She shook her head. “I don’t know what they were thinking, but they’ve discontinued some of their best sellers. Everyone is in a snit over this, me included.” The saleslady pointed to her own significant chestal area to show solidarity.

She motioned me over to another rack, loaded with a different brand, and pointed to several bras. “Here try these. They might work for you like the old Wacoals. Let me know what you think.”

I searched for my size among these foreign-looking bras. After grabbing three possibilities, I headed for the dressing room.

I angrily tossed my purse on the floor, took off my coat, and began the tortuous trying-on process. One bra’s straps weren’t stretchy enough for a comfortable wear. Another bra’s underwire gouged me so high in the armpit that I couldn’t put my arms down at my sides. The last bra I had chosen had a four-inch band around the back and with a row of five hook fasteners. What the hell—this was my mother’s bra!

“How you doin’, honey?” the saleswoman shouted over the fitting room door.

“Not good.”

“Oh dear, let me see what I can come up with.” She sounded pathetic.

For the next thirty minutes, I stood in front of the mirror, slowly sinking into a despair I hadn’t felt since the last time I went through this—nine years ago. Bra after bra after bra, the saleslady proceeded to bring me everything in her department that had potential, but nothing fit—nothing worked. Finally, I could take no more. I put on my clothes, thanked the frazzled woman, and left the lingerie department.

I headed down the escalator to the first-floor makeup department to pick up a lipstick, hoping to salvage this shopping trip. I’d been wearing MAC’s SeaSheer for an eternity. It was the perfect lip cover for me, with just the right pigment and level of glossy sheen, without being too oily or heavy. MAC products are pricey, so I had finished up every last drop by scooping out the remnants of lipstick with my fingernail and schmearing it on my lips.

When I say there was nothing left in the tube, believe me, even a bobby pin couldn’t glean a thing.

“Hi, can I get a new SeaSheer, please?” I handed my empty tube of lipstick to the twentysomething beauty by the shelves of beautiful MAC products. Dressed in a short black skirt, black sweater, black tights, black shoes, and black hair, the only color she was sporting was on her face. Nice touch.

She took the tube and immediately frowned. “They stopped making this a while back. Let’s find you a new color!”

“I’m sorry, what was that?” I stared at her.

“Follow me.” She motioned at a display case. “We have tons of wonderful new shades and textures!”

Her perky attitude was gonna kill me.

“Seriously?” It was sinking in. “I have to start all over?”

“You’ll be fine! Come on, it’ll be fun!”


This is what I wanted to say: “No, it will not be fun. I don’t give a lab rat’s ass about beautiful new shades. I want what I want, I want what I had, and I don’t want to hear about anything new or anything discontinued. I have just spent an unsuccessful hour in a dressing room hoisting my girls every which way, and now you want me to be flexible and open to change—to go with the cosmetic flow? What happened to retail therapy? There is no therapy here, only issues. There is only hell now. It appears that I have discovered that there is, indeed, a hell right here in Nordstrom—which, by the way, I have always considered to be the Mecca of Retail Heaven. Until now. Peace out, bitches.”

Thank goodness, this rant was only a silent thought bubble floating above my head. Otherwise, mall security might have gotten involved. I plucked my empty SeaSheer lipstick tube out of her hands and did my best nice-lady impression:

“Thanks, darling, but today’s not a good day. I’m in a rush, but I’ll be back.”

Never. ~~

And then there’s my tea.

I have a tea that I love. It’s called Lipton’s Gentle Orange, and it’s delightful. It’s herbal, caffeine-free, and not expensive. I’ve been drinking it for years.

Lately, Lipton’s Gentle Orange has been very hard to find. Certain stores won’t stock it, while other stores had only one box, abandoned behind the more current flavors.

Of course, everyone suggested that I go online and just order the damn tea already, instead of chasing around town and complaining loudly. They were right. I found my tea on Lipton’s official website and ordered a case that contained twelve boxes of tea with twenty teabags per box. Score one for the pushy geeks who shop online.

Eight months later, I went back to my favorite tea’s website to order more, but there was no more. Lipton had discontinued Gentle Orange. They make something called raspberry-mango-butterfly-chamomile-lemon-flavored tea. They offer a tangerine-mango-rosehip-beeswax-zinger-flavored tea. They boast about their most popular orange-mango-passionfruit-jasmine-free-range-green-hay-flavored tea, but they have discontinued my Gentle Orange. I have vowed to forsake Lipton brand tea altogether. I have reached the end of my teabag string rope.~~

Thankfully, not every day threatens to be a shit-outta-luck day. Once in a very great while, I consciously notice the absence of heartache and crap. These are the moments in time where I stop and recognize that life has sent me an easy day.


I was scheduled to fly from New York City, back home to Columbus, Ohio. Travel days carry a high risk of mayhem, but instead, this day contained a magical crazy-free journey.

On this day, my plane did NOT carry any children. Not a one. No one whimpered, screamed, or whined. No stinky overdue diapers wafted down the aisles. Also missing were adolescents with their annoying cell phones, yackety-yakking at offensive volumes and listening to headphones cranked so high you could play Name That Tune from across the aisle.

On this flight home, every passenger enjoyed the lovely quiet. We were just a bunch of exhausted, weary, hungover weekend travelers who all fell asleep at the same time and woke up just as we were preparing to land. The stewardess marveled at how no one had asked her for a beverage. For her, this was a career first. She called our plane “The Flying Nap.”

It is on days like this that I’m totally enamored with life. ~~


One day in late winter, I ran inside a department store to wait out a pelting icy rain storm. Wet and aggravated, I turned to see a sale table full of winter sweaters. There, on top of a messy pile of cardigans and pullovers, I noticed the most magnificent taupe wool tunic, marked down to the equivalent of almost free. I bolted to the dressing room to try it on, whispering tiny prayers that the sweater would look halfway decent on me since it would be a bargain at twice the marked-down price. Designed with a deep V neck, the sweater had sleeves that easily rolled up and stayed up, and the length in the back was perfect. From behind, it hid a myriad of sins. I looked smashing in it. But more importantly, I had stumbled upon the rarest of fashion items—a discounted, itch-free wool sweater.

When I got home, I discovered that my last-minute, discounted top looked both sporty with pants and elegant with skirts. This new purchase soon became my first choice, go-to garment, one that I continued to wear and adore for at least a decade. Life again, had sent me a nice day, complete with a nice bonus.~~


While on tour, I noticed that a large-busted musician friend was wearing a sports bra, and she looked very . . . well, let’s just say, “put together” under her T-shirt. She had issues with large-sized synthetic and delicate foundations, and had decided to stick with sports bras. She went on and on about this sports bra’s comfort and durability, and I was sold.

Returning home after the tour, I immediately shifted my focus from the expensive department-store lingerie racks to Title Nine—my favorite catalog of women’s athletic clothing. There, among the pages of skinny, active women in running shoes and yoga pants, I found a plethora of bras. I ordered a few different styles and tried them on in the privacy of my bedroom. I easily chose the best one for me, and then ordered a ridiculous number of them. Some for now and, of course, many for later.

The catalog rated each bra by how well your “girls” stayed put, and my favorite had received the top award—five dumbbells, the best of the best. This bra guarantees that if I were shot out of a cannon, my breasts and I would painlessly arrive at our destination in precisely the proper order.

And now, I’m good to go. I’m also good to run, dance, bounce, and hopefully, shut up about my boobs already.~~

As a citizen of the planet, I am aware of how life throws real sorrow and serious heartbreak at frightening speeds. It’s during those moments you will find me, as a devoted family member, on the front lines with the best of them, ready to serve and shield my loved ones, body and soul, from all things dreadful. When I am needed, I am there in full frontal preparedness. And I will not be whining, pulling, or yanking at my clothing, because I will be dressed in seam- and tag-free underwear. Every day must start out as an easy day.

The rest of that day is not up to me.



I wake up in the morning with a sleepy face

I gotta drag my butt to join the human race

First I’m gonna meditate—set my pace

Right into one easy day

I throw back the covers, my feet hit the floor

I sit for awhile until I’m sure

I’m ready for the craziness outside my door

I search for one easy day


One easy day, one easy day

How lovely it would be to live trouble-free

For one easy day

In my easy day, we’re all kind and patient

I keep my big mouth shut, no misbehaving

Everyone I meet, they’re also navigatin’

Toward one easy day

Then I make a phone call, and it goes right through

A human says “Hello, what can I do for you?”

I get to say my peace, that’s all I wanted to do

Oh, that’s one easy day


What if you had a day—no one got in your face

No one ticked you off to put you in your place

I think I’ll step aside and let the rats all race

And give them an easy day

What if we all woke up and there was no war

No more hungry children, suffering, poor

We can’t be the only ones asking for—