No. 1: Welcome to Fatherland

What Have I Done?

What Have I Done?

This is a picture of my father, Henry Ebel, holding me, Kathy Ebel.

Check out the look in his eyes. Those are crazy eyes, am I right? He’s glaring at me, for God’s sakes. He doesn’t know who I am or how I got there or what he did to deserve it or what the fuck he’s supposed to do about it now.

In 1970, two years after this picture was taken, my father splits. I see him occasionally until I am seven years old, and then it’s Radio Silence for the next 19 years, until I meet him again when I’m 26.

He died in 2009.

I wasn’t mentioned in his will.

By which I don’t mean “Boo-hoo, my father passed away and I got bupkus.” He didn’t acknowledge me as a next of kin whatsoever, I’m just saying is all. These facts support my interpretation of this image.  The first time I see this picture, I see it one way only.  I’m convinced it reveals a unique emotional truth.  And also, that it predicts the future.

My father was born in Berlin in 1938. He lived at Iranische Strasse 2. He fled Germany, with my grandparents and his older brother, about a year later. I know only the bullet-points of my father’s life, a generational combo-platter: Morningside Heights, Stuyvesant High School, Columbia, phi beta kappa, Ph.D, LSD, primal scream therapy.

Sure, none of us knows our fathers. But I really didn’t know mine. So from these shreds – a little ‘Punch” magazine here, a little Constant Comment tea there, a fringed suede jacket, the cover of Sgt. Pepper — I’ve hallucinated a ghostly person and a flimsy story, filtered through my hyperactive imagination, influenced by my chaotic childhood in and around New York City in the 1970’s and 80’s. I know much more about my mother’s immigrant story, and since she raised me, I’ve inflated her mythology to fill the gap left by my father’s absence. I’ve told myself I don’t really have a father, which has been easier to digest than the shards he left behind. Add a couple of decades of living on the hallucinatory fumes of this concoction and the result is a deep sense of personal disorientation.

And then one day, several months after my father’s death, I’m sitting in Video Village, the cluster of captain’s chairs arranged around a pair of monitors on a dusty, cavernous Warner Brothers sound stage in Burbank, California.

This is the set of the CBS cop show COLD CASE, where I am a staff writer overseeing my first episode for the series.    The story is about the murder of a young Russian opera star whose family defects to the United States just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She’s hot, she’s got pipes, she wants to sing American rock and roll, not the opera for which she’s been trained in a Soviet conservatory. Rejecting her father? Bucking the system? Determined to express her own voice?

It’s clear the bitch must die.

I am deep in conversation with a visiting director about something else entirely. I’m going to call him Casper Fleming. (This is not his real name.)

Casper, a talented theater and film director breaking into TV, is shadowing the director-for-hire for the duration of the shoot, and we hit it off immediately. There is something rushed and breathless about our chemistry. It’s the transplanted New Yorker thing, it’s I’m-gay-you’re-straight-let’s-fall-in-love, it’s what-are-we-doing-on-the-set-of-a-Bruckheimer-cop-show-when-we’re-both-supposed-to-be-starring-in-a-revival-of-Company. Casper and I rapidly construct a pile-up of personal and pop-cultural references and nimbly climb it.  From the top, we  survey a landscape of Sondheim lyrics, Paul Smith glasses frames, last week’s New Yorker cover, obsession with the presidential election, white anchovies, tooth bleaching, Gucci horse-bit loafers, our careers, and the offerings at craft services. Into this mix we gleefully add parallel tales of nightclubs visited in lower Manhattan between 1986 and 1992, and the freewheeling assembly of People We Have In Common that I refer to as Jewish Geography.

But when we realize that we are both First Generation, his father from Italy, mine from Germany, that’s when our bond is Crazy Glued. Of course Casper and I are destined to be here now, to change one another’s lives.

“You know,” Casper advises me, “you could probably apply for German citizenship. That’s what I did with Italy, and now I have my E.U. passport. It came in wonderfully handy when I was shooting my costume drama there.”

German citizenship.

E.U. passport.

Wonderfully handy.

So I start to poke around. And I find out about Article 116 par. 2 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Grundgesetz). It goes something like this:

“Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored.”

I decide to scrape up whatever documentation about my father and his family’s flight from Germany that I can.

I decide to see if Germany will have me back.

And this blog will monitor my progress.

At first, I think I won’t have anything to say, this experiment won’t count, unless the German government opens its pale, muscled arms to me.  Then I’ll move to Berlin with my family for a year or two to write a book about being the New Jewess in town. We’ll live in the Turkish quarter, become experts on the hip-hop scene, our son will go to the International School, he’ll make terrific new friends with villas in Croatia,  and memories of Bed, Bath and Beyond will fade from his mind.  I’ll get a job doing something for somebody, the heels of my pumps will click urgently on cobblestones slick with a November rain as I wrap my Burberry trench tighter against the chill of the evening and hurry home from the metro through pools of lamplight to our flat, a brown paper package of sausages and a Herald Tribune under my arm…shit, we might never even come back.

But then I realize, shit.  They might not want me back.

The Federal Republic of Germany might hold me at arm’s length, flashing those crazy eyes. “Who are you?” they might say. “How did you get here?” “What did we do to deserve this?” “What are we supposed to do about this now?”

But if I wait to have a story worth telling, I might miss the story I am standing in right now, in the middle of my life, at the edge of the country, in the foreign city I already live in.

Welcome to Fatherland.

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No. 15: Bring Your Kid To Work Day

In 2000, I move from New York City to Hollywood to seek my fortune as a screenwriter.

Shortly after arriving in town, a successful guy/girl writing team takes me to lunch at Nate & Al’s in Beverly Hills. (They’re writing partners and they’re engaged.  But then they cancel their romance and yet remain writing partners.  Recently they adapted a snarky dating book you once heard of into a big ensemble romantic comedy you’ve already forgotten.)

Over turkey burgers and garlic dill pickles, I tell them about the hopes and dreams I’ve packed into my bag of tricks for the move west.

“You have to figure it’s going to take six years,” says the guy, predicting the time span from turnip truck to career.

Six years? Um, ew.  I dicked around Park Slope for a decade, working up the gumption to own my ambition, get a drivers license, meet my husband, and leave New York City. Now  I really don’t have that kind of time.

Eight years, half-a-dozen spec TV episodes, a gig as a researcher for LAW&ORDER, a humiliating go-nowhere feature rewrite, two failed pilots and a giant pile of spectacular near misses later, I land on the CBS cop drama COLD CASE as a staff writer.

My first week on the show, I’m thrumming with somebody-pinch-me anxiety.  It’s a staff of grown-ups, a curt professional culture, with nary a Nerf hoop or a bong to be seen, like you hear about on comedies.  I’m the freshman on the varsity team in a daunting game of catch-up.

(I don’t know yet that I belong on a meat-and-potatoes cop show like a fart in church.)

I’m also getting calls from my father’s wife.  The third one, whom  I call Nancy.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, and he’s been dying for awhile.  I’ve been to Connecticut to see him, and I’ve called him on the phone.  These dramatic scenes are for another episode.

Nancy wants to know if I’m going to make it to the funeral, which she is necessarily planning.  Henry is in hospice care, declining swiftly.  Speaking very gently, she also tells me that Henry has not named me in his estate.  By which she means two things.  I will not be inheriting objects or cash from my father (he didn’t pay for shit when he was fit as a flea so it’s not a shocker), but also, he has not acknowledged me as next of kin.  But friends of Henry’s from all over are going to come to the funeral, and she thinks they will be so interested to meet me and hear what it’s like to write for television.  Nancy hopes I can be there.

I puzzle over my responsibilities and desires, summoning my inner ethicist.  Asking my showrunners for time off in my first few weeks of the job it’s taken me eight years to get?  Circulating among my father’s buddies from Columbia?  “So…do you see lots of celebrities out there in show business?” Doing posthumous PR for a guy who whited-me out of the record books? What kind of degenerate misses her father’s funeral?  Around and around I go.

I get a voicemail from Nancy.  “I have some very sad news to report,” she says.

I explain my decision to Nancy as best as I can.  The woman just lost her husband.  I don’t want to make it worse.  And yet.

I’m not going to the funeral.

“Your father loved you,” she says with a sigh.  “He just had a funny way of showing it.”  Wow. I’ve never heard this expression used as anything other than a punchline.

About two weeks later, the showrunner’s office is crammed with the COLD CASE writing staff.  We stare at a wall-sized dry-erase board, on which each character’s arc for the upcoming season is being plotted.  At the center of the discussion is the lead character Lilly Rush, the Philadelphia homicide detective portrayed skillfully by Kathryn Morris.

This season, turns out, Lilly Rush will reunite with her estranged father, Paul Cooper, who left her as a child to be raised by her alcoholic mother in a gritty neighborhood.  Rush has decided to track him down, but she’s ambivalent.  It’s one step forward and two steps back for Rush and Cooper.  But by the end of the season, they will have arrived someplace.  Not someplace treacly or resolved, but someplace.

And…discuss.

I look around the room at the team of people I have just met.  I want to be good at my job.  Am I going to turn my honors English seminar into a tacky slumber-party confessional?

Fuck yeah.  I spill the Henry Ebel story.  For a rousing conclusion, I tell the one about ordering the same thing at the diner on the day of our 19-year reunion (see the post entitled I’ll Have What He’s Having for this riveting tale).  I feel kind of dirty afterwards.  It’s a writerly version of flashing my tits.

“Where is your Dad now?” somebody asks me gently.

“He died two weeks ago,” I reply.

Looks glance around the small room.  What kind of degenerate misses her father’s funeral? “Why didn’t you say something?” somebody asks me.

“Oh, yeah, well,” I explain.

Months later, I am sitting on a Chinese restaurant set on the Warner Bros lot, huddled in a fake booth with the director, Marcos Siega, Kathryn, and Raymond Barry, who plays Paul Cooper, Rush’s father.  It’s a chilly, rainy night, exactly the weather that would drive one into a Chinese restaurant in real life.

We are rehearsing the scene in which Rush and Cooper meet for their first meal in many years, and wind up ordering the same thing.

Kathryn and Ray aren’t in costume yet.  Bundled in parkas from wardrobe and cupping hot drinks from craft services, they look more like a real estranged father and daughter ordering the same thing than they will after hair and makeup.

In 1938, my grandmother, Anna Ebel, says goodbye to her parents and brother in Berlin.  She never sees them again.

In 1938, my grandfather looks at a receding European coastline the color of porcelain, and never sees it again.

In 1975, my father drifts away and I (almost) never see him again.

When you possess genealogical records that trace your family’s presence in Berlin back to 1866, the image of a long rope, stretching through time, comes to mind.  And here come the Nazis with a big pair of stainless shears.  Snip!

All those frayed ends shooting out.

And the ways in which I have severed this story from myself, so that I am hanging by a thread.  Warily considering the file, bulging with evidence, that contains the cold case of my life.

On a dark and stormy night in a fake Chinese restaurant, I lean in close to hear the lines that Kathryn and Ray quietly deliver to one another as the set bustles around behind us.  I’ve never been in such close proximity to the process of acting before.

You’d think a meat-and-potatoes cop show wouldn’t have an unbearably intimate bone in its body.

But my throat constricts with emotion.

This is as close as I’ve ever come to art imitating life.

No. 28: Friday Night Lights

Shabbat Shalom, everybody.

But first, a word from our sponsor.

Yesterday, my wonderful and brilliant friend, who recently won an Emmy for her role as one of the creative geniuses behind Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog and to whom, in the spirit of my commitment to pseudonymns except in rare cases, I will refer to only as The Asian Whedon, aka Twatter Pimp, sent out a Twitter to the approximately 16 billion people who follow her, suggesting Fatherland as required reading, and it is to her that I believe I owe a significant surge in readership.  (178 people!  Fewer than the 12 million that watched my last episode of COLD CASE, but way, way more than can fit in my living room!)

So on the off-chance that some of you are swinging by Fatherland for the first time, and because it seems like as good a time as any, here’s a recap:

1)    I’m a Nice Jewish Girl from Brooklyn and its tri-state environs.  I’m applying to have my German citizenship restored through Article 116, paragraph 2 of the Federal Republic’s Basic Law.  I qualify for this because my father and grandparents, who trace their bloodline in Berlin to the 19th Century and before, fled to New York during the Third Reich, and I need to prove this to the German bureaucracy in Cologne who will consider my application.  But my father didn’t raise me, and when he died he didn’t list me as a next of kin.  So there are layers here, people.  Layers.

2)    I start this project for two reasons.

  1. I have always wanted to live and work in the E.U., at least for a stint, and if I get the German citizenship the accompanying passport might grease the bureaucratic wheel, and who knows, maybe somehow lead to opportunities to work for somebody doing something in the E.U.
  2. I’ve recently unraveled, Barton Fink style.  After the juicy contract that was supposed to launch my long-pursued TV writing career is not renewed, I spend 4 months on an unwieldy TV pilot idea that’s my first real attempt to write about myself in the context of my so-called Hollywood career. This script winds up in a drawer when what I need more than anything to compete for more work is a new TV pilot.  I realize I have no idea what I sound like anymore, and other clichés of the Hollywood experience, and I need to write my way off the ledge.  As my creative life seems to crumble, guess what’s sitting there, staring at me out of the rubble, batting its big, round eyes and begging me to take it home?  I print out the application off the website of the German consulate, and also, I start writing.

3)    It soon becomes almost embarrassingly clear that my well-reasoned drive to Get Back To Berlin is also a road into the untrammeled wilderness of My Missing Father.  I need documentation about his life to angle for my shiny new credential, but I saw him only twice after the age of 7.  Through an uncanny series of events (see No. 3: ‘Yes’ Is The New ‘No,‘ , and with help from my brother David, who’s my father’s son from his second marriage and who I meet as an adult) I discover a jaw-dropping family archive that traces my family’s journey and gives me everything I need.  (For images from the Accordian File That Changed Everything, see No. 12: The Number; No. 17: Twenty Questions For My Grandmother; No. 21: Liebe Mutter and No. 26: Shopgirls.)

4)    I click my heels three times, wake up in my little bed, and realize that not only is there no place like home (in both senses of the phrase, natch), but I’ve been there all along. 

Monday’s blog post will present, with perfect comic timing, a hilarious portrait of the nervous breakdown that forms the bedrock of Fatherland.

I know you can’t wait, but you’ll just have to Stay Tuned…and in the meantime, please enjoy the Archives, numbered for your narrative convenience.

No. 29: Tragedy Plus Time

About one year before I submit my application to the Federal Republic of Germany for restored citizenship under Article 116, paragraph 2 of the country’s Basic Law, I have the idea to do it.

The idea goes something like this: “I should apply to have my German citizenship restored and then write about it.  That’d be cool.”

So here’s the first thing I do with that idea.  You might want to get a pencil to jot this one down, if they still make pencils.  Ready?  I completely ignore and utterly reject it.

Have you ever been to a party with your spouse and spotted a person you had drunken sex with before you met your spouse?  And realized in that moment that you don’t remember his or her name, really not at all?  And then, as you watch this person from across the room and squint, moments of a long-ago, chaotic evening of debauchery flash past you, for instance, the leather vest you were wearing over a push-up bra, or, how you puked into the fan beside his or her bed in the middle of the night but were so drunk you had no idea that sour, half-digested salsa and lime-chili tortilla chips were being sprayed all over your companion as he slept?  Also, how you snuck out, even though you could only find one shoe?  And how you haven’t ever seen this person again, or thought about him or her, until now?

The kind of bionic, focused ignoring you would do in that situation is the exact method I employ to ignore my absent father.

I mean, my own idea to apply for restored German citizenship and write about it.

Right in the middle of ignoring the idea for Fatherland, I find out I’m not being asked back to COLD CASE, the CBS cop show on which I have worked very hard as a writer for a year.  “Not having your contract renewed” is a slightly more dignified way of being fired than “getting fired,” but, you know, it’s in the same ballpark.

It’s kind of like “not getting your contract renewed” is sitting on “getting fired’s” lap on a folding chair next to the dugout, and they’re sharing a chilidog.

That’s how much they’re in the same ballpark.

Right after getting the news about COLD CASE, but still while I’m ignoring the idea for Fatherland, I spend four months submerged in the writing of a TV pilot that I need in order to compete for my next TV job.  My agents tell me about their other client who wrote a pilot about cannibals.  They’d like me to pull a similar idea out of my hat.  Cannibals, huh.  So I do my level best.  My TV pilot is about a young teenage girl in the suburbs who murders her mother’sabusive boyfriend with help from her own boyfriend, and the immediate fall-out of the murder.  The bright idea is that the pilot is the murder, and first season of the series follows the cover-up, the two families’ machinations and entanglement, ending with the girl’s and her boyfriend’s arrest.  When I was a teenage girl in the suburbs, a tough kid I went to high school with offers to kill my abusive stepfather on my behalf.  I am touched and flattered, but say a polite no thank you.  The kid wasn’t my boyfriend Alex Dimas, by the way (see No. 24: Dr. Bickle’s Foolproof Dual-Citizenship Diet for more about Alex), and the reason I say ‘no thank you’ to the offer of murder is because he is a good guy and I hate the idea of him getting into trouble.

Taking a stab at this pilot (Ha! Ha!) is the first time I’ve tried to mine my own life experience for a script.  But four months later I’m advised to put it in a drawer and move on.  Time is ticking, I’m unemployed, the TV writing ship is pulling away from Rotterdam harbor, I’m not on it, the wolves are at the door.

“Successful screenwriters generate four scripts a year,” one of my reps advises me.  “They’re prolific.  In this economy, nobody cares that you spent a year on COLD CASE.  You need an original pilot.  If you invest time in something that’s not working, pretty soon you’re going to be a writer that people can’t count on to produce more than once every two years.”

Actually, I’m not sure this counts as advice, although I credit the resulting rush of adrenaline for an increase in metabolism.

So anyway, my pilot takes up residence in a drawer.  I’ll either figure out how to make it work at some point or I’ll burn the desk for heat, whichever comes first.

It’s right after this pilot-into-poo moment, but still while I’m ignoring the idea for Fatherland, that I sort of slip down the rabbit hole.  Yes, sure, I’m depressed, but if your IQ is above 160 you have to be depressed, it’s a rule, and if you break it they kick you out of Mensa.  But this was a bubonic depression I had.  For many days in a row in I was so disoriented all I can do is breathe until bedtime, and occasionally be glad I can remember where the floor is.

(I’m feeling much better now, by the way.)

But right after I realize that I pretty much have no idea who I am or what I’m doing or what it all means or why, and right before I start writing Fatherland, I figure enough time has gone by (let’s say two weeks) that the tragedy of my shattering despair has started to be kind of funny.

So I write this piece, which I share with you now.  I have an idea about it, that the New Yorker will run it in the Shouts & Murmurs column.

But I’m wrong about that, because the New Yorker doesn’t want it.  It’s weird — I hear they publish anything.

I hope you’ll find me an even more reliable narrator when you learn that utter personal disintegration forms the bedrock of Fatherland.

Choose your own midlife crisis personal reinvention

 

 

Midlife is not a crisis; it’s a time of rebirth. It’s not a time to accept your death; it’s a time to accept your life—and to finally, truly live it, as you and you alone know deep in your heart it was meant to be lived.

Marianne Williamson, The Age of Miracles

 

 

You wake from itchy sleep. Disoriented, pajamas soaked, afraid. The name and origin of the sleeping form next you?  No clue.  Undoing the clever algorithm that misleads your co-workers about your age, you’re pretty sure you’re 42 years old.  Forty-three.  No…forty-two.  Yeah.  Forty-two.

The unsteady view from your bedroom balcony could be Madrid.  Or then again, Hackensack.  Phrases go splat against your mind.  Maybe they’re a way out of your rising panic?  “Bromance.”  “Biznatch.”  “Seltzer.”  No help there. Armenian house music blasts from a passing Humvee.  Right, Jesus. This is Los Feliz, the Los Angeles neighborhood.  Where you “live.”

  • The lump is your husband. If you wake him with a purr and initiate an all-night, totally nude lovemaking session, go to page 7.
  • If you drive to the Burbank airport in your pajamas, barefoot, windows down, blasting Lite FM, go to page 11.
  • If you breathe abdominally, accept yourself fully in this moment, and hear the creative power of the universe as it counsels: “Invent a collapsible pashmina made from bike short material,” turn to page 19.

PAGE 7

Congratulations on your surprise late-maternal-age baby!  Her name is Izzy!  At the dog run, she chirps like a Disney woodchuck at Shelia, a casting director for commercials!  “Facebook me,” Sheila growls, forehead immobile.  “This little hottie’s gonna make you a shit-load of money.”

  • If the distended pore on Sheila’s nose gives you an idea for a TV pilot, turn to page 22.
  • If you snatch Sheila’s pomegranate smoothie and stuff it into your baby sling, instantly turning to a satisfying life of petty crime, turn to page 29.
  • No, it’s not too late to star on Broadway, in ‘Annie,’ as Annie, goddammit!  Bleach your teeth and turn to page 37.

PAGE 37

At the Jet Blue counter, barefoot in pajamas, it’s cool that your “personality” and your “decisions” have vaporized — but man do you hate having dirty feet.  Here comes Joanne Kaplan, a mom from school.  “I had to wait for Paul to have his English muffin and go back to bed,” she whines, handing you a carry-on and a first-class ticket.  “I packed us matching tracksuits for Paris.  But once we get to Sardinia there’s a Prada outlet.”   Joanne’s smile wobbles.  “I hope we’re still doing this, babe.”

  • If you splutter, “Another decision without me? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different is what crazy people do,” storm off, circle back, dump your tracksuits on the floor, keep the bag, head for the taxi stand and realize you forgot your wallet, turn to page 33.
  • If Joanne’s buff triceps resemble gourds, turn to page 24.
  • If you have to pee, turn to page 41.

PAGE 33

Your collapsible pashmina made from bike-short material? Genius.  Screw the mob of child-labor protestors blocking your zen garden  – twelve bucks buys a lot in Manila.  Wait. It’s Oprah’s people on line two.  Oprah knotted the sleeves of her Better Sweater as per the website to create a shopping bag and a chador when she was in Dubai last weekend!  Would you share your inspirational story of personal reinvention on the show?

  • If you hiss into the phone, “Burn my number, Joanne Kaplan, I’d know the whistle of your Target rhinoplasty anywhere, a three-minute make-out at a silent auction does not bi-curious me make!” turn to page 49.
  • If, overcome by your own success, you throw up a little and realize the Better Sweater is also super absorbent, turn to page 52.
  • Fuck.  Those twinkly lights are Hackensack.  Turn to page 57, now.

THE END

Izzy’s a toddler pop star, so you practically live in the green room – it’s a freakin’ icebox. If only you had some sort of lightweight, flattering wrap that would fit in your purse.  Sometimes, you think about the past.  Sure, once in a while you woke from itchy sleep, disoriented, soaked, afraid, whatever, but at least you weren’t freezing.

If you should’ve done your junior year in Dusseldorf instead of staying on campus as an acappella groupie, go back to page 30.

*

The adorable Sardinian locals who’ve transformed your Moorish wreck into the rustic B&B that Rizzoli keeps begging you to do a coffee book about? Genius.  But if only you and Joanne could have a baby.  Sometimes, you think about the past.  Sure, occasionally you woke, scratched, freaked, dripped, whatevs.  But you were fertile.  It was an option.

If you’d trade your entire herd of heirloom peafowl this fucking second for a turkey baster packed with Sardinian swimmers, go back to page 7.  Hurry.

*

You receive the CFDA Award for Accessories Design. You loved your husband when you were broke in Los Feliz, but God, you love him even more from Annie Leibovitz’s former triple-wide townhouse on Greenwich.  How’d you reinvent yourself after forty, um, two — and build an empire?  Your message is simple, and available on Kindle. Itchy sleep? Lost your footing? Totally freaking out?  Don’t resist your profound disorientation – your authentic self is about to emerge.  But put on flip-flops before your miraculous mid-life journey begins, okay? Dirty feet are completely gross.

If you still have to pee, go back to page 41.

© 2009 Kathy Ebel

No. 34: Sylvie

Sylvie is born a year ago, in Washington, D.C.  Her dads, my friends Sal and Timothy, have just finished throwing a party for a friend in their Park Slope duplex.  When they get the call, empties and roaches (not the 6-legged kind) are still crowding the Jonathan Adler ceramics and seasonal décor.  They race down the I-95 to become a family.  And they never drink again.

When you’re a pregnant breeder, you have 40 weeks to get used to the idea.  Close to the end of your pregnancy, you feel spent, done.  You just want the baby out of your body: this biochemical resentment helps the whole birthing process along.  When you’re two gay men, all you can really do to prepare for parenthood is decorate, read the books, and pray to God that the birth mother doesn’t change her mind, which, in addition to being a woman’s prerogative, is an option that’s protected by law and has to be because it happens.  The wrenching pain of an adoption falling through is a late-term miscarriage, and it’s something that Sal and Timothy know about intimately.  And yet they must put that fear aside and keep their eyes on the road in order to get to their baby daughter.  Thirty days after bringing Sylvie home, it’s official – they are a family, bound by law.

Sylvie’s first birthday is in a few days.

On Sunday afternoon I am over at Sal and Timothy’s, in Brooklyn, drinking red wine and enjoying a selection of pastry from the dinner party they threw the night before.  Sal has been reading Fatherland religiously, and he peppers me with detailed questions that prove his reading comprehension is excellent, and also, he’s a very good friend.  “So come on,” Sal wants to know.  “Why did Anna Ebel disown you?”

“I’m really not sure,” I reply.  “I need to ask my mother.”

“So why don’t you ask her already?”

“Meh.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. “

“Ask her already, Jesus,” Sal says.

Yesterday morning, after Sunday night’s further red-wine-soaked adventures with Casper Fleming, (who, you’ll remember from No. 1: Welcome To Fatherland, is the guy who suggested that I apply to have my German citizenship restored in the first place) I ask my mother what the deal is with Anna Ebel disowning me.  She answers me.  But that’s not what I’m going to write about today.  When I do write about it, I already know that I’m going to call the entry “Yellow Menace,” and the image is going to be a vintage box of hair-dye featuring a champagne blonde.

What I’m going to write about now is what it was like to see Sylvie, creeping around Sal and Timothy’s apartment in her pink and brown jersey separates, a pink barrette in her blonde hair and four little teeth poking from her gums.  Sylive smiles, and shrieks happily, and wants to engage with the word and tell it what’s what.  She cuddles her stuffed animal mouse, she babbles to Ethel, the dachsund.  She points to the pastry boxes on the dining room table and hollers adamantly.  She sits in her playpen and looks at a book.  She is utterly bright and alert; she is the apple of her fathers’ eyes; she is the busy, energetic heart of this busy, energetic household.  And just one year ago she was a fervent hope, a concept that could have fallen apart.

Sylvie is my guru.

I’ve been out of work since April: that’s a record-breaking seven months.  I thank God for my COLD CASE residuals and my unemployment checks.  I send out my commercial portfolio into the void: my advertising and marketing copywriting sideline, that I’ve taken for granted for years as a lucrative second income, is on life support.  The phone used to ring and on the other end was a freelance copywriting gig: now thousands of recently-laid off marketing directors wait in line ahead of me to write online content for the COUGARTOWN website.  There are mornings that I wake in dread, when I summon my faith so that I can allow the dread to pass through my spirit and out the other side.  I answer the job listings.  I write proposals for magazine pieces and fire off catchy emails to editors.  I get back in the saddle and start a new television pilot – an idea about which Madame Y, my Hollywood manager, is enthusiastic — even though the last one I attempted resides comfortably in a drawer after four months of work.  After I spend a month or so on a writing sample for a young adult novel I’ve been approached to write, the publishing company shelves the project with thanks and apologies and nary a kill fee, and I tell myself there is something valuable about writing three pointless chapters on spec – let’s see, what was that again? Oh, right – they point the way towards the authentic but commercial voice that lurks in my heart, that as we speak is finding its way out into the world and the marketplace. And in the midst of this seemingly endless sea of unemployment I allow myself to write this, now, this Fatherland thing, about pursuing restored German citizenship through Article 116, paragraph 2 of the Federal Republic’s Basic Law.

I recently showed Fatherland to Madame X, a literary agent whom I respect greatly and would hope to work with one day.  (See No. 23: The Parable of the Queen, the Croissant, and the Ant, for more.)  Fatherland has its fans, and my daily devotion, and I have never needed work more, and so, you know, I think maybe tragedy plus time equals cash.

“The writing is wonderful,” says Madame X, who gets back to me yesterday, “but I don’t see a book.”  She goes on to explain that no publisher out there would see a platform in this blog that would merit a book; even if I were to re-work what I’m doing it would still be a small sale at best.  But mostly, Fatherland reads as a personal story that hasn’t yet found a more universal thread, which is the first thing Madame X looks for when taking on a memoir.  “Doubtless that will come with the writing and development,” Madame X encourages.  She suggests I talk to other agents and reiterates her interest in the novel I started a couple of years ago, a chapter of which she’s read.  I have a rejection letter from the New Yorker framed over my desk: before I realized the project to which she refers was a novel, I thought it might be a very-long short story, and on a whim and a prayer I sent it to the Holy Grail.  “This is fantastic,” the editor wrote by hand on the pre-printed buck slip.  “You should develop this into a novel and shop it to publishers.”

Which brings me back to Sylvie.  A year ago, Sal and Timothy are racing towards her.  They know everything that can go wrong, because they’ve already experienced it.  But they have a picture in their mind of the family they are going to be.  There isn’t a long, protracted, visible pregnancy they can tote around – there’s a phone call that changes everything.  And a year later, the axis of their entire lives pivots around what had once been a prayer.

My prayer is simple: work.  But maybe not so simple: work that sounds like me, that looks like me, that points at me and calls me “Mama.”  I pray for the ability to find a universal thread that grows naturally from my voice.  That time, and writing, and development will spin this thread to rope, and the rope can tether me to shore, and I can pay my rent.

It’s possible that a year can change everything.  It’s possible that the phone can ring, and on the other end is “yes.”  I can write myself home, and make a new version of my life that a year from now will feel like it was always meant to be.  I know this much is true because a baby in striped leggings who is shrieking with laughter at the hilarity of it all proves it to me.

I open a new file on my laptop: the second chapter of my novel.  The chapter title is Bouche Noel.  In it, our heroine, Claudia Silver, attends a Christmas dinner at the home of her college roommate and her friend’s dad makes a pass at her.  She also steals cash from somebody’s wallet and sets the wheels in motion of an even bigger interpersonal disaster that will link all the characters.

Happy Birthday, Sylvie.

No. 47: Packing Slip

Thank you, Uncle Sam, thank you Peter Roth, thank you, Cold Case.  Plus a shout-out to God.  Without your seamless collaboration there would be no tax return, and with no tax return, there would be no itinerary.

Here’s how we carve up the windfall:

Thirty percent to savings.  When we’re away, I won’t be writing commercials for San Diego’s premier carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile, and natural stone retailer with warehouse prices, nor marketing proposals that tie-in organic yogurt to primetime family dramedies with robust sweepstakes packages. I’m freelance.  When I don’t work, I don’t get paid.

One percent to charity.  Every week, we tithe to a charitable organization, alternating who gets to pick.  We tend to rotate among natural disasters, political disasters, local shelters, and alma maters.

Here’s how we carve up Europe:

One week in London and Derbyshire (oldest friend in the world’s wedding);

One week in Berlin;

One day in Halberstadt, about 100 miles southwest of Berlin, seat of the Hirsches, my mother’s family, and their former metal-works factories;

One week in Western Ireland, County Galway, home to two-on-the-way-to-three generations of John’s expat sister’s sprawling family whom we haven’t seen since our honeymoon, a decade ago.

I’d like to end this run with…”priceless.”

But that would be a lie.

Here’s what I’ve done so far to prepare for our trip:

Had a conversation with my immediate boss at the multinational media conglomerate that recently got bought where I have worked since November as a copywriter.  Regarding my pending three-week absence, he lands somewhere on the spectrum between neutral and affable, although he does chuckle and say: “Nice life.”  He has worked for his older brother at the same company for 17 years.  I offer to get rigged with Skype when we’re in Ireland and work some parttime hours so they don’t totally sink without me slash to increase the odds that I will have a job to come back to.  Although I have been offered a staff position at the multinational media conglomerate that recently got bought (see No. 45: A Net Will Appear), I have also been asked to sign some sort of intellectual property agreement.  My powerhouse attorney has advised that I review the document in advance, since there are a variety of these out there and I will want to see exactly what I am signing away, and for how long, and if possible, what pre-existing conditions of the creative variety I can lobby to have exempted.  Since having requested a look at said document, I have never heard another word from Human Resources Barbie.

Presented travel dates to Clyde’s second-grade teacher and discussed.

Attempted confirmation that the dates for the gifted test for which Clyde has been recommended don’t conflict.  Had a momentary clutch about the possibility that our trip will mess with his testing.  Recognized that people who pursue chapters of their parenting overseas might be advised to detach emotionally from American educational bureaucracy.  Reminded myself that neither Leonardo DaVinci nor Stephen Sondheim took the Raven gifted test administered by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Booked plane tickets, Los Angeles-London-Dublin-Los Angeles.

Researched intra-European flights.  The flights are like five bucks and the taxes, surcharges, and baggage fees are one point two million.

Looked at dresses online for rehearsal dinner and wedding of oldest friend in the world who is getting married in Derbyshire in late May, the event that precipitated our Get Here Now mindset.

Received email from oldest friend with the caveat that “since you are family, you will be expected to muck in.”  Pondered the meaning of “muck in.”  British for “shovel horse poo wearing wellies?”  British for “tramp merrily over the heather, then gather at cheerful cottage hearth for carbo load wearing wellies?” British for “expect to incorporate wellies into your wedding outfit?”

Mourned potential loss of rehearsal dinner outfit concept, which had been Trina Turk black jersey jumpsuit.  “It sounds disco,” John said when I pitched him the outfit in the car.  “I don’t think Derbyshire is disco.”

But disco is my life.

Realized that getting dressed for country weddings is easy if you’re John and Clyde.  You wear jeans, a good sports jacket and a dress shirt, and you’re done.  You can even tuck your jeans into your wellies and it’s adorable.  “You can wear the same thing,” John suggests.  “Jeans and wellies?” I reply, deadpan but horrified.  “Sure,” John says.

I just stare at him.

Seriously considered emailing one of my fashion heroes, Andrea Linett, editor at Lucky magazine, for heartfelt style advice.

Renewed Clyde’s passport and confirmed that ours haven’t expired.

Wondered about luggage.  For fifteen years we have traveled with an ever-expanding pile of L.L. Bean monogrammed duffel bags.  I think a trio of trim wheelies may be upon us.  Or, God forbid, state of the art backpacks?

Actually emailed Andrea Linett.

Researched Berlin holiday flats, cool hotels, and neighborhoods.  Found what looks like a beautiful place in Tiergarten.  Put down a cash deposit.

Wondered about walking shoes, cute sneakers, jersey dresses, something for the plane, where we’re going to do grocery shopping, if I’m going to hit the gay bars for just one night or do a gallery hop with my young, distant, cool, Israeli photographer cousin who lives in Berlin whom I’ve never met, or what.

Published blog post shamelessly trawling for a Shabbat dinner invite.  (See No. 46:  An Open Letter Slash Personal Ad to the Progressive Jewish Expat Community of Berlin).

Emailed the book agent in London who likes this blog.  Emailed the magazine editor in Berlin who responded cordially to my inquiry.  Emailed the expat Rabbi who was at Columbia when I was.  Emailed the friend of the magazine editor who bought my most recent piece, who lives and works and is Jewish in Berlin.

Emailed my brother David our dates.

Wondered how that would go, incorporating David into the mix, whether having my father’s son from his second marriage along for this first pilgrimage would dilute, distract, or otherwise upset the apple cart of traveling to Germany with my mother, who is, after all, my half-brother’s father’s first wife.  Wondered how the fact that John and I don’t party much these days will dovetail with David’s youthful joie de vivre.

Disco was my life.

Heard back from David that the dates don’t work for him.

Imagined another trip to Berlin, just me and David.  This time in a hotel, this time leaving for dinner at 10 PM.

Just a smidge of disco.

Told our dear friends from Brooklyn, Sal and Timothy (See No. 34: Sylvie) that they are welcome to stay in our home as a family while we’re away.  Sal is currently in Los Angeles, producing a high-maintenance reality show franchise of which John is an incongruous fan.  Timothy is holding down the fort in Park Slope, solo parenting Sylvie.  They are considering becoming Los Angeles expats.

Wondered if I need to finally bite the bullet and get a new showerhead if Sal, Timothy and Sylvie are going to be staying here.  If Sal were Janet Jackson, he’d have a fresh toilet seat installed in every hotel suite on his world tour.

Wondered if any of the six international magazines that optioned my last piece are going to run it and pay me.  Sometime between now and June 1 would be ideal, thanks.

Wondered about trench coats.  Accepted that this is likely not the moment for the custom Burberry with the monogrammed lining, ordered on Brompton Street as I have always dreamed.  Wondered when that moment will land.  Tried to open my heart to the new Land’s End “Canvas” line.

Wondered about safe deposit boxes.  We have never had one.  They run in my family and have great significance to Fatherland (See No. 12: The Number).

My mother has a light touch when she calls me on the phone.

“I’m just wondering so I handle it appropriately,” she prefaces diplomatically.

“What, if anything,” she inquires, “have you explained to Clyde about the Holocaust?”

And that’s when I remember.

No. 59: Das Ende

Shortly after I decide to visit my father’s grave – having experiencing the actual spiritual imperative to visit it – I realize I have no idea where he’s buried.  I reach out to my brother David and he promptly sends me the address of the cemetery in Connecticut.  I’m headed to the east coast with Clyde for a week to see family, and I determine that somewhere in there I’ll duck away for a solo day trip to make my pilgrimage.

It’s when I’m driving to one of our favorite local joints, Elena’s Restaurant in Glendale, and I glance up at the imposing gates and manicured acreage of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, that I realize I have no idea where exactly my father is buried.  If the West Hartford cemetery is a big, sprawling place like this one, I could spent the better part of the day trawling for my father’s final resting place.

I call my father’s widow, Nancy, and explain my intention, and ask for her help.

Four years earlier, in the spring of 2008, I have just started writing on the CBS cop show Cold Case when Henry dies.  This is the job that I perceive as the brass ring, based on the story I tell myself about who I am supposed to be.  (See No.15: Bring Your Kid To Work Day.)  When my father dies, I am sitting on a sofa in an executive producer’s office staring at a story being mapped out on a white board about a driven, compartmentalized homicide detective and her estranged relationship with her father. Nancy dearly wants me to attend Henry’s funeral, to meet his remaining Columbia pals. It makes me so mad.  The “it” being the idea of asking my boss for time off from work in the first weeks of a big new job and coughing up a plane ticket and hauling east to serve as an ambassador of my father’s non existent role to people I have never met.  The “it” being answering ridiculous questions about Hollywood.  The “it” being making my father, whose failures frighten me, look like a success.  How can I be dignified and mature when I am so, so, so, so flippin’ mad?

So I play the card of my own father story to gain entry into the creative process and professional culture at hand, while simultaneously deciding to skip the funeral.

Months later, on set, I randomly meet Casper Fleming, the visiting director who puts the idea of restored German citizenship into my head.  (See No. 1: Welcome To Fatherland.) My contract on the show is not renewed.  I begin to lose my grip.  (See No. 29: Tragedy Plus Time.) I wonder if this is how my crazy, dead father felt.  I’m pretty sure it is.  I realize I can no more do what everybody around me is telling me to do if I want to compete for my next job in television than fly to the moon.  I pick up the 50-page novella I had begun some time before.  I look at the encouraging rejection letter from the New Yorker framed over my desk.  I get a job as a copywriter at half the salary I earned as a network television staff writer.  (See No. 42: A Cup of Ambition.) I begin the process of pursuing restored German citizenship under Article 116 paragraph 2 of the Grundgesetz.  I start this blog.  I write the novel, which sells at auction in February of this year to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Along the way, many times, I picture my escape to Berlin.  Huh?  Escape To Berlin?  Who am I, Mel Brooks meets The Sartorialist?  (I wish.)  It takes me time, practice, and lots of writing to understand that fantasy belongs in my life’s work as a writer, but takes me out of my actual life.  But by the time I become an actual German citizen, the intense fantasy has muted.  Yes, I can imagine myself living in Berlin.  My dream-house is an industrial building that’s been converted into a residence, and if you’re into that shit, the eastside of Berlin is the joint.  I would certainly like to visit Berlin again ASAP.  I would like Berlin to be a familiar point on my dial, an option, an actual neighborhood of my actual life, the way New York City and London and Cape Cod and New Paltz, New York are.  But the thing is, I am alive here, now, and what my now looks like is me sitting on my big red sofa in my little Los Angeles living room on a bright October morning wearing Roberta Freymann pajamas and reading glasses.  I’m a late bloomer with a debut novel coming out in June.

For those of you who have followed this blog over the years and cheered me on, thank you: this is my last post. I’m especially grateful to the readers from around the world who have shared their own experiences of grappling with the idea and the reality of restored German citizenship.  24,000 views!  I’m no Julie and Julia.  But I’m grateful for the time you’ve spent with my story.  I know you have many choices of pop culture diversions, and, like me, you may have a limited budget for entertainment.  But if you have the inclination, please pre-order my debut, Claudia Silver to the Rescue, on Amazon.  Act now and save 34-percent!  You are all also invited to visit my new website at kathyebel.com to find out more about the book.  I’m especially psyched about the playlist on the site, which sets the tone in music.  If you have the free app Spottify, you’re in.

So…

…Nancy kindly agrees to meet me in West Hartford for lunch on the day of my visit.  She will escort me to my father’s gravesite, then leave me there alone to have my time with him.  When did I have in mind?   I put out the ideal date, one that was chosen for my convenience.

“Oh,” Nancy says after a moment, “Henry would be so pleased that you’re able to come on July fifth.”

“Really? Why?” I ask.

“It’s his birthday,” she replies.