The temperature being suddenly very low, I am hibernating. On this Friday night, I made myself dinner, brushed the cats, and watched Charlie Rose, which is, incidentally, excellent hibernation television.
Charlie’s guest tonight was Alan Alda, who was talking up his new memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Other Things I’ve Learned. This was quite a treat, because I adore Alan Alda. Adore him. Seriously, just looking at the man makes me happy.
Alda was, I confess, my first love--or, more accurately, Hawkeye was. Mind you, the character I fell in love with wasn’t the Hawkeye of the later M*A*S*H* episodes, who was sensitive and good and almost unbearably earnest. No, the Hawkeye I loved beyond words was the early Hawkeye: the one who drank too much and slept with all the nurses and laughed like a hyena at the slightest provocation. You know, the bad Hawkeye. Hawkeye when he was a still a manwhore.
In any case, I settled in for the interview with a bag of potato chips and listened as Alda told lively stories about growing up in the burlesque houses his father worked for, his early training in improv, and his many years in the theatre, all the while thinking that he’s still quite handsome for a man of almost seventy.
Then, Rose asked him about his mother.
It turns out that Alda’s mother was a paranoid schizophrenic, and that she figures prominently in his memoir. As he spoke about her, I leaned forward on the couch, hanging on his every word. I recognized them all: no one in the family talked about it... she suffered, we all suffered... I didn’t tell my friends for years...
Finally, he said this: “I remember trying to figure out what was reality—real reality—and what was her reality.” I thought, instantly: he knows. I may have even said it out loud. “He knows”. He knows what it’s like to grow up with a crazy mother. Not a little bit crazy, as he put it. As I’ve put it. “Psychotic.”
Hawkeye Pierce knows what it means to tell people that your mother is psychotic.
When the interview ended, I went searching for reviews of Alda’s book online and came across a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle. From the article:
"For many years, frustrated with his mother's delusions and outbursts, Alda avoided contact with her. 'I did try to take care of her as much as I could, and in her later life I really took on that responsibility in a personal way,' he says. He doesn't feel remorse over those distances, because 'I don't think I caused her any pain by that and anyway, that was the only response I could have had.'"
So, it’s okay. I mean, if Alan-fucking-Alda couldn’t figure out how to remain close to his schizophrenic mother, then it must truly be impossible. Right?