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Jessica Anya Blau Archive

Jessica Anya Blau

Before My Father Was a Voluntary Mute

November 2nd, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

When I was growing up in California, my parents had a fairly loose policy of not driving me, my sister, or my brother around town. We biked to the dentist and doctor. To go anywhere else—school, the beach, the movies—we walked, rode the bus, roller skated, and hitch-hiked (the method of choice in high school).

The no driving policy was cemented sometime before my sister, Becca, went away to college, when we were both in high school together.

On that particular day, the rain was coming down like an unbroken wall of water. Becca had whined and complained, cajoling our dad to drive us to school so we wouldn’t have to walk through the rain to the bus stop (where we’d stick out our thumbs to hitch-hike). My father relented, grumbling and moaning as he picked up his car keys from the kitchen counter and walked out to the garage. He was barefoot in his threadbare blue bathrobe that reminded me of an overused, shredded tissue.

Becca pushed the garage door open from the inside, then quickly got into the front seat of the old station wagon. I sat in the back. My sister was relentlessly bossy when it came to priority seating in the car. I always thought she acted as if the family owed her for her having to put up with bird shit (from my brother’s un-caged bird who lived in our family room), clutter (covering every flat surface in the house), overflowing ashtrays (cigarettes and pot), nudity (my parents didn’t own bathing suits and always swam naked), moldy food in the refrigerator (cheeses that smelled like butt-holes) and moths flying out of the cereal boxes in the cupboard (which resulted in the aromatic branches from bay trees in the cupboards as a form of organic insecticide). What I didn’t understand in this equation was why Josh and I were owed nothing for putting up with it all.

Dad drove us all the way into school—the rain was so thick, I didn’t worry about anyone peering into the window of the station wagon and seeing that he was in his ratty bathrobe.

That afternoon when Becca and I got home from school, Dad came bounding down the stairs still in his bathrobe, hollering, “I WILL NEVER DRIVE YOU GIRLS ANYWHERE AGAIN, YOU HEAR?!” Oddly, my father often seemed inured to the little things that drove most people mad (traffic lights, rude sales clerks, finding a parking spot) but could be outraged at the things that most people didn’t think about (an orange that wasn’t perfectly ripe, the movie Fiddler on the Roof, a dog shit on the lawn). So it didn’t seem surprising that he would be ranting about having driven us to school.

“Do you know that I ran out of gas!” He bellowed.

“Where?” Becca snarled. Of course she was wondering exactly what I was wondering, and that was if our father had run out of gas near the school and if he got out of the car in the raggedy bathrobe under which he was completely naked.

“On Cathedral Oaks Road, just after I dropped you off!”

“Dad! Come on!” Becca said. I imagined my friends driving to school and passing my father loping down the road, his penis probably flopping out into the rain through the sheer flaps of his robe.

“Do you know how far I had to walk for gas!?”

The only thing between the house and the high school was acres and acres of lemon, orange, and avocado orchards. He would have had to walk toward the school, then past it, to get to a gas station.

“About a mile?” I guessed.

“Dad!” Becca said. “Did you see any of my friends? Did anyone see you walking to the gas station?” Her face was a dark stain of worry.

“How the hell do I know! It was fucking raining out! I was fucking naked under my robe!”

“We know,” I said, quietly. I was worried about my latest crush having seen my father. We had gone on only one date and I was hoping for a second.

“Dad!” My sister’s body was clenched as if she were trying to contract her entire being into one tiny, dark lump. “Why don’t you get dressed before you leave the house!? Most people do this—they put on clothes before they walk out the door.”

“I didn’t even go to work today, I was so outraged!” My father was pacing the entrance hall.

“Why didn’t you take off the wet robe?” I asked.

“I took it off and put it in the dryer, but then I was so fucking pissed off, that I just put it back on when it was dry.”

“You were too mad to get dressed?” I imagined my father working naked while he waited for the robe to dry. Would he have answered the door naked? Who knows.

“What is wrong with you!” Becca pushed past Dad and walked down the hall toward the kitchen, her giant backpack sitting on her like someone riding piggyback. I followed.

“Never again!” Dad shouted down the hall at us. “Find your own rides from now on!” I could hear his footsteps thumping up the stairs.

“It’s not like you’ve ever driven us anywhere before!” Becca shouted to the ceiling. Dad must have heard her, but he said nothing and simply slammed shut the bedroom door.

My father stuck to his promise and didn’t drive us anywhere again. It wasn’t a huge inconvenience—I only thought of it when I rode in the backseat of someone else’s parents’ car, the mothers who would pick us up from the movies at night, the dads who would drive us to the County Bowl for concerts. In fact, when I rank the oddities of my childhood this one comes out normal compared the period when my father was a voluntary mute and only communicated with us by scrawling notes on a yellow legal pad that he always carried in one hand.


Jessica Anya Blau

A Thousand Words: Smoking With an Asthmatic Baby

August 31st, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

You might remember my mother, Bonnie Blau, from the interview I did with her about a year ago.  We talked about the fact that she thinks she looks like Bruce Springsteen.  You can read that interview here.  As a follow up, here’s an interview with my mother where I ask her about one of my favorite photos.  It’s the only picture I have of me as a little kid with my mother.

Do you remember where this photo was taken?

It was taken by your dad in Watertown, Massachusetts. 

What was that time of life like for you? 

It was nice.  We lived in a nice place.  All our friends were the same age and had children the same age. And life was pretty simple.  We didn’t have any money but life was simple because taking care of kids is simple.  And everyone was in the same situation so it was one of those nice situations.  If I needed someone to take care of you, someone would come over.  And the kids could go in and out and run outside.  Although you didn’t go out much, you mostly stayed with me.  And when you went out you took off all your clothes.  You were bad.  You were good, but funny.  It was a nice time of life.  Everyone was equal.  There was one family the Dugans* that lived two houses down.  They were kind of out of place because he was an alcoholic and

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Jessica Anya Blau

TITS LIKE THAT (or, The Last Time I Saw my Grandfather)

May 26th, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

My mother gave my father a Diane Arbus photo book for his birthday the year I was ten and he was thirty-four. The entire family (Mom, Dad, my older sister, Becca, and my younger brother, Josh) gathered around and slowly waded through it, picture by picture. The pages were thick and glossy and smelled remotely of plastic. Almost all the photos were portraits—people whose entire lives seemed exposed through the simplest physical details. There was the terrorizing image of the boy holding a toy hand grenade, the stoop of the Jewish giant who stood beside his small rodent-like parents, the overly-shadowed nasal-labial folds on the middle-aged woman cradling a baby monkey whose face is identical to hers.

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Jessica Anya Blau

They Use Live Leeches. I Swear.

March 31st, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

My friend Mac Bryant almost lost his thumb.  I interviewed him while he was doped-up with pain-killers and had live leeches hanging off his flesh.  The following is all true.
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Jessica Anya Blau

Half Naked on the L.I.E.

March 16th, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

We were in my brother-in-law’s German car that my grandmother would have called “fancy.” My brother-in-law, Ike, steered with his apricot poodle perched on his forearm. Ike’s favorite CD, The Best of Air Supply, was on. Ike sang in his twangy New York accent. And I need you more than ever, and if you’ll only hold me tight, we’ll be holding on forever . . . . My husband David was in the backseat talking on his cell-phone. Our daughter, Ella, was asleep, her head dropped forward like a drunk. I was in the front seat watching the undulating ocean of jewel-colored cars that surrounded us as far as I could see. It was 95 degrees and traffic had halted.

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Jessica Anya Blau

Losing Things

March 12th, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

Scott and I met in our early twenties. We were in college, neither of us had either a phone or a television—we thought this was an interesting commonality. I rented a shabby room a couple blocks from the Berkeley campus. Scott lived in the gardeners’ quarters of an estate. There was a live-in maid there, Margot, who smoked cigarettes and played black jack. She often cooked more than was necessary for the owner of the house and then snuck down elegant meals to us. It was she who introduced me to pine nuts. (more…)


Jessica Anya Blau

The Good and the Bad of Growing Up in Southern California in the 1970s

March 2nd, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

GOOD: You are not freaked out by the human body in all its shapes and forms—you have seen so many naked people that you understand that nudity is a normal human condition.  This comes in handy when you have to help a sick hospitalized friend navigate some intimate part of her body with tubes and wires.

BAD: You know what your father’s penis looks like because he always swims naked, and when he shaves, he stands at the vanity in his bedroom, naked, with the bedroom door wide open.

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Jessica Anya Blau

No One Will Remember if You Stick It In Your Butt

January 9th, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

I often use events that happened to me in real life as the basis for my fiction.  In my novel, THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES, I took memories from many years of my childhood and condensed them into one crazy summer where the grown-ups swim naked and smoke pot, and the kids try to figure out how they fit in to the naked-swimming, pot-smoking life.  So far, no one in my family has been hurt by what I’ve written.  I’ve discovered that most people don’t remember many of the things that have happened to them, so they simply don’t recognize themselves when they’ve been fictionalized. I am now calling this lack of memory of one’s past The Keychain Effect.  Here’s why:

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Jessica Anya Blau

Next They’ll Charge for Air Sickness Bags and Make You Buy Tokens for the Toilet

January 3rd, 2009
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

Air travel stories are like dreams—they’re only interesting if you’re in them.  This information should be one of those things people tell you at some turning point in life: your Bar Mitzvah, your coming out ball, your wedding day.

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Jessica Anya Blau

I Had Three Guys and They Were All Named John

December 15th, 2008
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

So, I was home last Saturday and I heard this ruckus in the walls.  It sounded like something with very sharp nails scrambling around.  In fact, it sounded like my dog, Pippa.  I called for Pippa, she came.  

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Jessica Anya Blau

Motherhood and Celebrity Penises

October 3rd, 2008
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

One question I am often asked by readers of my novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, is “Have your daughters read it?!”  The question is always asked in a way that demands at least one exclamation point, as the novel is full of sex and has some mild drug use. The answer is one daughter has read it, the other has not.  I’m not too worried about it—it’s a novel, it’s fiction.  What I worry about more is blogging—the real world, my real world and my kids’ easy access to it.  With that in mind, I shall proceed anyway to tell you about one of my experiences with a celebrity penis.

I once spent a weekend in Los Angeles with a somewhat-famous, male, sex-symbolish celebrity

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Jessica Anya Blau

My Mother Thinks She Looks Like Bruce Springsteen

September 13th, 2008
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

I met my mother when I was born. Since then she has progressed from a dress-sewing, dinner-cooking, hair in a high-bun housewife, to a nude swimming, pot-smoking artist to a grey-haired lady who thinks old age is an embarrassment to be treated like some hideous debilitating disease. The one thing that has remained constant in my mother is that she reads a couple novels a week (she keeps one upstairs and one downstairs and reads the one on the floor she’s on), is an intense thinker and critic and is brutally honest refusing to bullshit even for the sake of social nice-nice at a cocktail party. The following is an interview with my mother that took place over the phone on Sunday, August 7th, 2008. I was in Baltimore, Maryland where I live. She was in Santa Barbara, California where she lives.

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Jessica Anya Blau

Smells Like Limburger to Me

September 5th, 2008
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

A couple weeks ago I read at the In the Flesh Erotic Reading Series at the Happy Endings Lounge in New York.  I posted it on my webpages but I didn’t tell my friends and family as I didn’t want anyone to feel obliged to hear me read AGAIN (they all went to my June reading in New York), and, I thought they might be sick of me anyway after the passel of self-promotional emails I’d been sending all summer.  In the end my cousin Dave from New York and my editor Kate, from Harper Collins went with me to the reading.

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Jessica Anya Blau

Whatever You Do, Don’t Stick it in Your Mouth

August 27th, 2008
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD -

In my previous post, I revealed one of the most embarrassing things that has ever happened to me.  Here is another embarrassment (the list is endless, as the only thing I am sure of in my life is the fact that I will repeatedly humiliate myself!):

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Jessica Anya Blau

Vomiting While Naked and More!

August 15th, 2008
by Jessica Anya Blau

BALTIMORE, MD-

In Vladimir Nabokov’s short story, “Signs and Symbols,” the narrator says of one character that, “Living did mean accepting the loss of one joy after another, not even joys in her case—mere possibilities of improvement.” I have always found that line to be profoundly depressing and if you’re reading this, I wish with all my heart that your life is not an acceptance of the loss of one joy after another.

My own life, I have realized, can partially be characterized by the acceptance of one embarrassment after another. I have decided to chronicle these embarrassments (the list will never end as long as I am alive and participating in the world) starting with the Blue Ribbon for the Most Embarrassing Thing Ever:

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