Back when I was a Big Deal Travel Writer, I reluctantly disembarked a perfectly lovely luxury cruise ship to take an overland tour from Naples to Monte Carlo, stopping in Rome and Florence. My traveling companion, the Actress Friend Who Gave Up, had not seen much of Italy during a post-college visit wherein she hooked up with a wealthy Venetian businessman on the plane over and never again left his villa for the duration of the trip. Me, I’d been there and done it all before—the Duomo, Michelangelo’s David, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Leaning Tower of Pisa—and would have preferred staying on the ship insisting that the two primary thrusts of my magazine cover story were chocolate desserts and onboard spa services.
The minute I saw the snub-nosed Italian motor coach I considered swimming back to the retreating vessel. I am by no means a tall person—in fact I often lie to stretch out my height while diminishing my age and weight. The unyielding seats—which I’m still convinced were made of beef jerky rather than “buttery Tuscan leather,” according to the grandiose press kit—were set so closely together that only a shriveled Neopolitan grandmother could escape severe kneecap displacement during a ride through the countryside.
Cramped into the back end of the torturous mini-bus, I eyeballed four roomy seats upfront—high-backed recliners with La-Z-Boy footrests—configured into what I can only describe as a First Class cabin. Unfortunately, a self-entitled Midwestern clan—Mom, Dad, Young Master Satan and Little Jon Benet—had claimed them from the outset like a family stake in the Klondike Gold Rush. Day after day, the Actress and I would wake up early, skip our showers, forsake breakfast and make a mad dash for the bus, only to discover the Stepfords of Akron sprawled out like residents of an upscale gated community with their toys, maps and puzzles—along with a magnetized Scrabble board and an Igloo cooler full of fruit roll-ups and juice boxes. As the day droned on, one of the evil twins would invariably whine, “Mommy, the mean lady with no husband or children is kicking the back of my seat.”
One morning we spinsters actually beat this suburban freak show to the bus and were greeted instead by “Reserved” signs scrawled in crayon and grape jelly on the coveted glamour seats. We exchanged a look, balled up the artwork and took our rightful places up front. “Shame on you girls,” the father sneered, appearing as if on cue to board his narrow-eyed brood. “We’re traveling with children.”
Even if I did grasp the whole desire to procreate, I’ll never understand why it is everybody wants to make that my problem. I mean, single girls tend to weigh ourselves down with lots of new shoes, but we don’t run around demanding preferential parking at the shopping mall like The Stroller People. I don’t claim to live a particularly balanced life, and freely admit that in a sense my work has become my family and my screenplays my children. I spend my days doting on them, feeding and nurturing my babies to maturity, hoping against hope they’ll some day stand on their own to make their mark in the world.
The other night I went to dinner with my brother, who moved away years ago to Micronesia and settled down to make a family I’ve never met. While I talked mostly about my scripts, he had a lot of fascinating things to say about his kids. One is learning to make it through the night without peeing his pants while the other may be sprouting a new tooth. I shared the news that Ashton Kutcher might want to play a character I'd based on him in my new movie. He said he'd read it, but didn't care for the ending. It’s a cheap rip-off of Risky Business, he flatly informed me, where Joe Pantoliano empties the house of its contents and sells it back piece by piece to Tom Cruise. “You should think about changing it to something more clever and original,” said he.
“Your kid can’t even get up to use the john!” I wanted to scream. “The other one gums her food!”
He stopped me short, however, with the captivating news that the baby has started to look like me. Suddenly I wanted to know more. Much more.
“She also has your personality,” he added. “Runs around in those big pink sunglasses you sent, mugging for the camera.” At this point I absolutely adored this child who once existed to me only in pixilated digital photos and the occasional QuickTime movie. Another star in the family, rejecting hometown life to pursue a career in runway modeling, ballet and opera, showing off the long legs, perfect pitch and native sense of rhythm her auntie never had! I mentally cleared my walk-in closet for her big move to Hollywood, painting the walls pink and stenciling them with tutus and toe shoes and big pink sunglasses.
My brother thinks he can hold her back—she’s a girl, after all, and his wife has her own traditions—but then they don’t share our immutable passion to perform. I know it takes a village and all that, but I gave it all up to go downtown not because I suddenly wanted to, but because I had to all along. Regardless of the direction my own life should take, there's some comfort in the notion, however remote, that this kid out there with my blood running through her might some day become a star. Maybe one day I’ll even take her to Europe, where I’ll use her to get the good seats—though my niece and I will have the good taste and breeding to leave the Igloo at home.