Bath Tub Fortress

I get my best ideas sitting in a pile of water

The Lady is Crazy. We all are.

“You’re not going to BUH_LEAVE what Ma did.”

I have 10 more years than him when it comes to bearing witness to, being victim of and pondering the unbelievable things Ma does, but he may be right.

“SHIT.”   Here I am, alleged wordsmith, proven behaviorist and teacher, with a single syllable.  I look  for the appropriate cues signaling the truth of his feelings. He seems pissed and I momentarily wonder if he learned this default way of approaching the uglies  from me.  Have  I helped or further hindered my younger siblings with my ways of dealing?   I’ll  revisit my parenting skills later. Right now, it’s about our actual parent.

“She took me to the big wholesale store to stock up for college, which was kind and great of her, ya know? ‘Cause she’s laid off and poor.”

“Uh-huh”. Here I go again, the monosyllabic cavewoman of the family.

No one knows what really happened to cause Ma’s injury at work. She isn’t the same, that is for sure. But as time goes on, the entire scenario has become  a separate organism. It grows and changes and becomes its own unique entity.

“So on our way back to her house, she tells me she has to stop by that doughnut shop on E. Main to drop off some make-up products for her friend.”

I already know where this is going.

“Now, I thought on all the weird and questionable things Ma has said, done or said she was doing but I could see how this may actually be real, ya know, her taking some stuff to a friend. Since the work thing,  Ma has been cleaning around and clearing out stuff at the house. Anyway, so I think nothing of it, even when we pull up next to this tricked out SUV with rims, the works. The driver, some girl, is clearly someone Ma would never know or associate with, unless it’s her dealer.”

My heart sinks.

“Best part, Ma grabs her OWN lipstick, her own used, old, personal make-up product. I can’t do anything but stare the other way as she gets out of the car and buys drugs right in front of me.”

Sometimes, I want to punch this lady in the throat.

I debated saying something trite like “At least it’s just marijuana”. But this has nothing to do with her drug of choice and everything to do with who the hell is this person and how does she justify this?

I keep all the thoughts to myself: is it worse that my brother is old enough to reason and sift through this? What if the police came? If he was underage there may would be some investigation?  As an adult, would he be a co-conspirator? Who would they call to bail them out? Would Dad ever allow her near any of us again? Why am I thinking of all this when she clearly never even considered thinking about maybe contemplating these things?

I’ve been saying it for years: The Lady is Crazy. But it’s the most awful kind of crazy. She is personable and loving at times. She can be really funny and thoughtful. She will make dinner and do your laundry. She will be a totally normal Mother doing totally great Mother things for you. But, you never know which version of her you’re going to get: Angry and guilt-tripping, self-absorbed and juvenile, high, hyperactive super ma, or depressed and needy.

She placed herself at the center of her world a long, long, long time ago. She is completely incapable of introspective activities, of apologizing, of growing. Her own father has apologized to us, on behalf of whatever it is that causes her to be whatever she is.

Something musta made her this way, but I assure my grandfather it was not any thing he did or did not do. It’s an odd and fluid and sometimes intangible kind of crazy.

Sometimes it appears to be maybe just a quirky personality, other times it is best described as Borderline Personality Disorder.

But whatever it is, it’s awful. It’s painful and sad and problematic and unfortunate. The consequences and results of our crazy mother’s parenting style and personal choices are far-reaching and, I fear, some still  remain hidden.

There may be room for sympathy or at the least some empathy, if she had a diagnosed illness. If she were in treatment instead of total denial. If it was the kind of crazy that had her laid up in bed, depressed and dependent. If medicine and routine and support would minimize the aptly described hurricane-like storm that is our Ma.

As the eldest, I have certain obligations which, I hope and trust, have made a positive impact on my siblings. We’re all fine, well-adjusted, successful people, but still. No  one ever withheld food from or beat us. We never really questioned or doubted our security, material or otherwise. It’s far more subtle.

There isn’t much I can say to my youngest brother, but I listen and empathize. I remind him how much worse it all could have been, be.  How truly tragically some families live.  I tell him true stories from her apex of craziness, from my own friends who are crazy mothers and we manage to remember to feel grateful, even laugh.  He reminds me how well I did by him, and how I could just as easily be categorized into some genre of crazy as well.


And we’re back

It seems I momentarily forgot who I am.

I could feel and see myself start to slip, almost like the outer rim of my body was sand and dust and particulates that just sort of drifted out and away from me. I noticed but I figured it was more like a sloughing of no-longer-useful bits of me. I saw it as growth, as change, as necessary. I welcomed it. I like becoming something stronger, someone better.

But there was something odd about it. Nothing was filling in the gaps, nothing that I could hear or feel.

And then I got the lay-off from a dream job and that is when large chunks of me just crumbled. I took it hard. I earned that job, I wanted it, I needed it. Those kids need me.  At first I was blown away with the offer but shortly thereafter I realized, I KNEW I deserved the opportunity. And that was huge for me. I thought  “All the hard work, the risks, the challenge, the accomplishments – everything I had ever done in school and employment had prepared me for this exact position, with these kids, in my new place of residence.”  I jumped right in. It was the hardest week of work I have ever experienced and I saw the faults, I saw what was happening. But, like I said – it was exactly what I wanted and exactly what they needed. Then, POOF. Gone.

In one week’s time all the pride and motivation and hope  simply sunk and fell away. I won’t lie to you. I was bitter.

All I want(ed) is to fill my fridge with local yummy food, have a fund aside for when the dog needs something, the means to travel to PA and see my family, to go to work and bust my ass and receive appropriate recognition and compensation. I know, I know, don’t we all? Also not the point.

I had those things within my grasp and by no fault of my own, those dreams and wonderful things were gone, at least for the near future.

I felt that the control I have over my existence was seriously compromised. I felt hopeless. I wondered if THIS was what I deserved, if this is just how life will be for me – constant struggle with no break. I felt like a loser. For lack of a more articulate phrase, I felt totally fucked.

How do I eat? Winter is coming and I have no oil or money saved! What if the dog gets sick? What if I get sick? Car repairs? FOOD? What do I do? How will I make it through this?   I know Wal-Mart and McDonald’s are always hiring, but REALLY? Is this what I spent so much time getting past surviving to living to do? Go right back to simple survival?

My ego shudders at the thought of working the fryolator at a major corporate fast food chain. It’s the truth.

These are some of the externalities of   THE RECESSION or THE NEW WORLD, the unforeseen costs. Doing work you believe in is a luxury item. I can’t afford to hold out for a job I love or believe in or that upholds to my opinions and morals. I no longer have the luxury of being a philosopher or intelligentsia.    I need to eat, stay warm, stay safe.

I’ve studied economics and biology and ecology and I know what I have to do: WHATEVER THE FUCK IT TAKES.

The past month is  hunting for work, but not just any work. Work that is full-time, with benefits and salary and security. Work that taps into my skills as behaviorist/educator/manager/leader/care-giver.  I want a professional career. I want out of this poverty. I want to do well and do good.

And as the daunting task continues, I ask myself  WHY? Why are these the jobs I am looking for? Why are these the ones I want?

Besides the obvious, it all comes down to security. I want to know. I have always been like this and I am sure it stems from a dark and confused place. This need to know is what makes me a great scientist and behavior specialist but it makes me crazy. It is this demand for a guarantee that I’ll be okay that keeps me awake at night and isolated from my friends. It is this rigid prerequisite that holds me still in an uncharacteristic fearful state of half-living.

And here we arrive to where I forgot who I am.

I forgot how strong I am, how this current situation is nothing compared to . . . .

I forgot how loved and cared for I am – I will never be homeless or on the streets or starving! Never! Why? Because I have a supportive and amazing and generous and kind group of people who believe in me and will never let me fall that hard.

I forgot that I have already made a difference in the lives of children, for families, in my own life – that my compassion and dedication has already served so many and it will continue to. It does now. I have students who remember me, thank me, come back to me, seek me out.

I forgot that my experience is luxurious compared to so many others. I have so much. SO. MUCH.  I’ll get more, soon enough.

I forgot that I am smart and capable and I will navigate through this. I am self-sufficient and independent, and not for nothing – I have made poverty look pretty good. Come over and eat – you’ll see.

I forgot what my dear friend Lisa told me years ago, about the temporary state of things, how skewed my sense of time is.

I forgot how amazing and beautiful it is to just be here, now.

I forgot I can do anything.

After all, I am me:     a LaBove. A survivor.

It’s that time of year again

it IS that time of year again. No, not school startings. No, not the back to reality after summer, because, well, because technically it is still summer.

Nope. Today is the day I dedicate to James Wiley Nelson and the things that drive me nutty as I try to wrap my head around them and the things I learn about life, all because of his death.

So many things are exactly the same: the sun shines. the world turns. the deficit increases. the wars wage. And me, I am mostly the same but no, something is different. I have earned another year’s worth of life. I live alone with my dog in a new state in a little section of a farmhouse and my yard is definitely bigger. I have more fresh vegetables than I know what to do with. I am a different beast these recent months, more myself than ever before. Stronger. Smarter. Simpler.

I am still alive, still pondering and wondering and exploring and self-absorbed in the most humble and well-intentioned ways.

I am still sad. I am still crying. I am still wishing things weren’t so, that life always seemed magical and awesome, that I wasn’t an existentialist by no choice of my own, that I was surrounded by my family, physically, and not just in my mind and heart.

I still feel frustration and that certain pang and shot of pain and want to know: Dear Parents, why didn’t you give us a life together when we were small and young and dependent on you for family ties?

I still transport. I time travel. I go back, and I expect I will, always, this day. Just can’t seem to help it.

Today, this year, this anniversary of the passing of my cousin Jimmy is most certainly and notably different.

Today my tears are not for him, for the tragedy, for the violence, for the injustice, for the all-the-things-he-will-never-do.

I cry for me, for us, for you, for those who loved him and never knew him.

I cry for the past. For all the things out of my control.

The only way I have come to know him is with his passing.

It is through Jimmy’s death I have become a better person and as nice as that is, I much rather would have found my spirituality through some other catalyst.  The reunion of my generation within my family started when we commemorated Jimmy and buried him and I am grateful for that opportunity, but really? There was no other way?

And I cry the hardest when I recall the last conversation I remember:

I was 13 but I see myself as I was when I was 7. It was my Bat Mitzvah and we both stood on opposite sides of the entry doors to Beth Or Synagogue, looking outside at nothing. He probably saw it all.

I am fairly certain I was only mimicking him.

My body was so tight with the hope he would say something. My head stiff, watching him from the corner of my eyes for how to be like him: so separate from the hum and chatter and social graces and comraderies happening in the hall.

So stoic and cool and unattached.

So free.

I asked him “Are you alive?”

To which he replied “Last time I checked . . . ”

I hope you feel sun on your face and thank it. I hope you recall with fondness the things and places and people that have been with you since the beginning and will never leave you, even in death. I hope you love unconditionally. I hope you give every single moment and day and week and month and year your all. I hope you are self-less. I hope you take today to be peaceful and content and wonderful.

TxT 4: We are on to something …. even if it would probably get us fired

December 8, 2010: Mr. R. Ferri and Ms. Magentic Meredith chat with some really really smart kids at DMS.

He has a big head but not in an unsightly way. Even with the bowl cut and sort of triangle-heart shaped face and big goofy eyes – he still manages to be a cute kid. like a walking lollipop asking really really good questions.

I was in my usual attire – white lab coat – and it doesn’t take a genius of a homo sapien to say

‘hey scientist’

With a flit of his little fifth grade hand, not in a condescending or rude way, our conversation began.

‘hey scientist, I have a science question.’

This is after a comrade of his didn’t ask a science question or any question at all now that I recall – and she originally led me to believe she had a question. She just wanted some validation that her science teacher was awesome or awful, I forget…

So I let the kid know he can ask away and I never regretted not thinking twice or really sizing the kid up when he asks

‘what is the meaning of life?’

And he was serious. And I answered

‘that’s not really a science question. But we can talk existentialism’

And his pal claims I made that word up(!) As I turn my back to write it down for the budding existentialist.

I ask him if he sees an important word within that monstrosity and he looks long enough I know he tried as I underline


And he nods.

His name is T.C. and I immediately think of my wonderful godson with the same name and same curiosity and brightness – (for the record, MY T will always be above any other kids really, honestly, the same way I think on my siblings and E and K)

I told him and wrote for him too on the same paper Kierkegaard and Man’s Search For Meaning,

And the change in his eyes when I mention the book by Viktor Frankl, he lets me know he recognizes this

And shares “My Mom read this”

And I say “that’s cool. You should read it too.’

And I add his name and his friend’s name and the girl who I talked cellular biology with earlier and her sister – all those 5th graders sitting there awesome and I had no idea….. thought I’d nothing left to say to them after the last 8 weeks of teaching them science……..

But this was different. I wasn’t mad sciencing. I was just being there with them. These little people asking amazing questions.

And it was time to collect my class and really mad science, and imagine my absolute delight when T.C. comes and finds me and asks to come to class and I say

‘YES!’ and when he returns and the 7th graders make a fuss I say

‘back off! T.C. is my homeboy’

And we go to the class room.

We meet Mr. R. Ferri on the way(!!), as planned for wonderful wednesdays,

And he catches me up on teacher world and the trouble of being a real person outside of a classroom and we even linger as the kids look on, probably totally intrigued but it’s time

And I impulsively start off class hard ass. Then I tell my kids

“we are making slime today but I don’t really feel like teaching you what I am supposed to, so how about you all can ask questions of Mr. Ferri and I and we can kill a little bit of time.”

Yes, I said this aloud to a group of students. and it worked,

Because T, my homegirl from previous years (and posts) asks first

‘what is the similarity between math and science?”

And well, isn’t this just perfect because Mr. R. Ferri is a fantastic mathematics teacher! And a poet! And a musician! And a deep young man with so, so much to give,

And I say

“how about you start?”

I know rich well and have much love for him.

And he started by asking them

‘Okay, so before there was language, did we communicate?’

And the divide between those that agree and those that disagree is a chorus of garbled opposition.

I interrupt on cue with my hands moving up and down and ask ‘so you only communicate with words?’

And we are back ladies and gentlemen.

Mr. R. Ferri continues with his example that if science came first, math was another way of saying it.

And we used gravity as an example – the hypothesis that all things fall and certain speed whatever can be explained in numbers and that is proof that an idea is a fact – when the numbers keep adding up and adding up.

And then somehow Pythagoreans came up … I think T.C., yes, of course,

He asked ‘when did science start? Who started it?’

And I said we are all scientists – asking questions about how stuff works is science  before cell phones and mp3s and satellites there were just people hanging around a fire asking questions about stuff and sharing it.

And what was it, another brilliance from my colleague ….. How did Mr. R. Ferri respond ?

With conviction and confidence in a place vague enough as to be without personal opinion but plenty of passion and honesty that he answered the best he could, gave the kids what they really need.

An honest conversation with adults they trust and know care.

To be continued …….

Dear Readers, Please Forgive Me, It’s been more than 4 weeks since my last post

And for those of you who noticed consistency in the frequencies of postings,

for those of you who know me personally and know that I write as much as I talk or breathe and

more than I eat or sleep MUST be thinking …

Gee, where IS that Labovey?

And that is quite the question:

Where am I?

I am at the picnic table in the dining area of the hut

it is green and slopes down on one side which is tolerable unless you

forgot to remember this and are

eating with the plate not quite positioned so that

there is rocking between managing tonight’s dinner with mismatched utensils into reasonable bites .

I am in the smallest state of the union, the ocean state, the place that is just shy of being awesome.

mostly because no one ever leaves here. ever.

I am halfway in my brain and halfway into the world.

I am in a place of reflection and pre-revolution.

I am where I am.

It’s where I was when I was 8 and I asked ‘what else is there?’

I am where I was when I was 16 and started writing about the uglies of life, of my life and tried sorting through chaos to make something that sort of resembled

normalcy or

stability or

understanding or


I am where I was 5 years ago when I took on mastering all things CELLULAR BIOLOGY and ECOLOGY and EVOLUTION as the best way to understand the uglies and beauties and nasties and awe-somes

and possibilities of balance and things tangible and

other stuff aloof.

I am where I was in May when I graduated and decided

one day at a time it is then …..’

I am in the places where I stored away the original uglies –

places buried in the names of salvation and preservation of self and simple survival

places long forgotten after the years distracting myself with

pursuits of knowledge and

analyses of rebellion and

talkings with anyone using the frontal lobe too and

blue-eyed funk and

rock-and-roll says it better than I can … and

being swept up in romance feels better than …..


friends will help save the world too and we could be, like, an army


I can help with other people’s uglies


anything to avoid staring my ugly monster right square in its faces.

And I am in places I had imagined

and seen others be

and thought about going to

at least visiting for a bit-

places where both feet are on the ground

where all the clichés

and bits of advice start

to assemble into

a palatable conglomerate

of stuff

that fits into my head

and even my heart




I am where words take shape into action

I am exactly where I need to be

right on time

where I have been steadily getting to:

The place where Survival grows into Living

Living The Life I was and am meant to live




So Please Forgive me for leaving you temporarily

(this is my apologetic and sympathetic face ->)



for forgetting all about my self-imposed obligation to stimulate your brain and pluck at the strings to your heart and  hopefully make you feel something you never have or haven’t in a while.

Please trust my absence has been well spent.  This sort of work is hard and scary and amazing and can only make my words stronger and therefore this secret little world where I am a wordsmith becomes even more magical.

See you soon

Another One Bites The Dust

I haven’t lived many places. But if it were up to me, I would live close enough to a train to feel its effects every day or night. Perhaps it’s a leftover sentiment from my childhood home in PA where even at 2 ½ blocks from the station I could hear its steady and predictable movements north and south, especially late at night. There was something comforting in the dark loneliness as I was young and thought I must be the only person up at this hour besides the train and its inhabitants. I didn’t dream of where it was going because I knew where it was headed and where it was coming from. it was the same train I used to escape from my cesspool suburban town, to head dead center into the source of the mess.

I didn’t dream or imagine fantastical experiences for its passengers. This had nothing to do with them. The comfort was in the solitude and the erroneous thoughts of a young insomniac still thinking the world was hers for the taking. As far as I was concerned, that train moaned and chugged and sped and slowed all for me. No one but me and the train knew anything about what happens late at night, when you imagine everyone else pleasantly slumbering with loved ones and dreaming dreams for the content and complacent. No, me and the train were different. There was nothing complacent or content. There was a drive to move. To take others with you, even for just a moment. To jut and sway and roll and have your own very special cadence. No, me and the train were the only ones who understood one another. We were soul mates.

This may lead you to believe I grew up to be a train conductor or at least a commuter.

No, I am neither. But I do still have my train.

The train that lives parallel to me now is much closer. It lives right behind the adjacent red brick building separated by mine by an alley wide enough to drive through without the worry of losing your side mirrors. The building was once a beer brewing facility and this is one thing that inspires gratitude that my landlord is an idiot with no vision: he left the industrial building alone. Maybe too alone since the heating doesn’t work, there are missing panes in the floor to ceiling windows, and it’s fairly certain that the toilet doesn’t quite work effectively after the previous tenants flushed bags of crack or coke or dope or whatever. (honest, true life right here)

The train that moves out back also travels north and south but only a few times a day, not the regularly scheduled commuter rail of PA. No, this train I have never been on, has never inspired me to climb aboard. Mostly because it just moves and it doesn’t stop to pick up even a fraction of the all the workers and commuters and students, not even a small demographic of the 1 million people living in the smallest state of America. Progress.

Despite its limited schedule this train and its progress along the track is enough to knock bits of brick dust off the exposed walls and onto my floor. I would love to have the bed against the brick wall and facing west but then I would have to pick out dust bits and brick parts from my eyes and my hair and my mouth maybe, if I happen to have a bit of a stuff and forget to breathe with my nose and not my mouth. There is something slightly organic about this experience every night but you should see the brick pieces! Some could cause some serious damage! Especially if my eyes or mouth happen to be open at that precise moment where some brick parts jump wall! I mean, it’s practically downright dangerous!

So the bed is against the plain boring normal sheet rock wall. Boring.

The bathroom also has one brick wall. Out of appreciation for nature and simple curiosity and zest for experimentation, when some spider set its web in the corner of the brick wall and boring wall behind the inefficient drug clogged toilet I let him be.

I warned my manfriend that I was keeping them, the webs,  for a reason, and he had already assumed so. (he also preserved the bird’s nest in the garage for me, what a dear)

I was curious what sort of spider it was that had constructed such a sturdy web because over almost 12 months time that web collected and trapped nothing but falling brick dust! And stayed in tact! Now I thought to myself,

I could capture this spider and make myself the last pair of thigh highs I will ever need!

No rips or tears!

Never again being dainty and careful and thoughtful when pulling on my hosiery because they were indestructible!

No replacing for the winter when hibernation size arrives, no obnoxious smell of clear polish to prevent the run at the heel from galloping straight up the back of my legs!

I thought to myself,

Gee, I could even capture the spider, mate him or her and set up a small factory of spiders (humanely treated, of course) to spin their webs and make a whole line of stylish and indestructible panty hoses!



But it seems I waited too long because after all this time and admiration, the webs finally succumbed to all the bits of brick and falling rock.

Your Epidermis Is Showing

I have never been to Portland, Maine, or anywhere in Maine actually. Call me judgmental and/or delusional, but when I think of Maine all I see is a giant lobster struggling to shovel his dingy out of the snow.

Really, this is what I imagine.

And the lobster is shoveling out his dingy so he can go lumberjacking. I know this because he is wearing flannel, red suspenders, a hat that covers his ears and is carrying a maul along with his snow shovel.

So imagine my surprise when a friend told me about the 24-year-old man who covered himself in gasoline before walking out of his second story apartment, crossing the street and igniting himself in front of a statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on the west side of Monument Square in downtown Portland, ME.


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Scratched: The First Love Letter In Years

It’s been recommended to me to let the past go, to leave the yester days where they are. And for those of you with poor spatial skills, they are behind me. Of course unless I am obsessing again. Can’t ignore that itch.

Must. Scratch.

My shrink mentions it during our discussions on existential crises. The importance of letting some things go.

I am sure someone really wise and really dead said it a really long time ago.

Friends have made the recommendation. And I get it, I do. I hear all of you.

My father is the loudest voice from this perspective.       But who listens to everything their Dad says? I mean, maybe it’s just me emulating my man friend’s tendency of half listening, I don’t know, or left over teenage rebellion?

Let it go.

I don’t disagree with this. I don’t. I really. don’t. It’s just a bit more complicated than that. Than just letting go.

I mean, what exactly does letting go mean, really?



drop it.

I see it like this: letting go is a mandatory, self-preserving act when the perseveration interferes with the quality of life. Whatever thought or feeling or person has no answer, no solution, no reconciliation, then it’s time to let that shit go.

If what we are holding on to is limiting perspective, is a source of stress, that’s one thing.

But there is a whole nother thing in searching for truth. for roots.

In having reasonable questions that can just maybe at some point in time be answered. Maybe not immediately and not easily.

But I have had this itch, this itch about where I come from, where my family came from, what that means when it comes to me.



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TxT: part 3; I sometimes give advice to students

Oh man, I can’t believe THIS one.

Kept my promise yesterday and arrived at my school early so I could hang with my lil muffins since they aren’t allowed in my class because they are too big and little ones stormed the registration office. For the record, this is not complaining.

You may recall from part 2: Uncle Buck of Teaching that a student told me I was the Best Science Teacher & I am so accustomed to this sort of irrational reaction that I quickly dismiss such absurdities. Well, there is one thing that I am not really accustomed to and in all honesty kind of freaks me out: when kids see me and light up and say my name and look at me like I am something cool and then circle around me and berate me with questions.

I think it’s my pompadour and lab coat.

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Tortured by tutelage, part 2: The Uncle Buck of Teaching

Way back on September 3 I debuted the first of a series “Tortured by tutelage”

New Rule #1 for me:  check a synonym for its own meaning before using it under the tout of “expanding my vocabulary”.


And so today I give you part 2: The Uncle Buck of Teaching

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