Thursday, June 4, 2015

Elderly Girl's secret passageway to the role of Global Icon

(Soon to be a major motion picture? The first option expired, but they've bought another.)
         (11/14/13) Can you imagine frolicking with your sisters through the endless rooms, secret passageways and tropical underworld of this neo-Byzantine castle? Can you imagine wearing anything you wanted from any of the cool boutiques inside? Isn't it like every little girl's dream come true? You may think it helps explain Elderly Girl's confidence, her splendor, her sense of freedom, style and beauty. But the truth is much more complicated.
    Elderly Girl was conceived, born and lived in the Kronstantinople Bazaar, the most splendid mall on Earth. It's hard to believe, but she was a rather stupid child. Her three big sisters were brilliant and brave -- true originals. So why was it she who became a Planetary Phenomenon? It's an epic tale that will captivate the human race forever. 

    Elderly Girl grew up in an environment of wonderment and freedom, affection and tolerance. It might therefore seem that she should be a bit more affectionate and tolerant herself, but if she were, she would just be a regular old lady, instead of the ever stunning and provocative Elderly Girl.
    Kronstantinople Bazaar, which opened in 1942, was run by the unconventional members of the Kronstantinople clan, each of whom had emigrated at the request of Elderly Girl's Russian father, Konstantin Kronstantinople, and launched some sort of entrepreneurial venture there. Talk about a family business! This was more like the Holy Roman Empire!
    Only Elderly Girl and her sisters knew that the phantasmagorical castle encompassed many hidden worlds. This was a place of such baroque mystery and playful trickery that it seemed wholly out of place in Middle America. They lived in a sort of  Arabian Nights fable.

    Kronstantinople's  200 delightful shops, cafes, spas, studios, pools, skating rink, galleries, classrooms, gymnasiums, a putting green, a community greenhouse garden and concert venues were created and managed in bazaar/bizarre style by a loving, squabbling blend of emigres: Turk, Romany, Moroccan, Russian, Italian, Swede, Greek, Portuguese, Mestizo, Jewish (both Sephardic and Ashkenazi), and a droplet of Cherokee. There was more, but it had gotten so blended in, no one could remember who was what anymore.  
    It was such a diverse family, ethnically and racially, that they were written up in National Geographic in the 1950s.
   Their mall, which had become a global attraction, reflected the richness of their blended heritage.  
    Elderly Girl, her parents and three sisters were the only members of the clan who inhabited the building. They had fourth-floor living quarters that were so dazzlingly vast and gorgeous, the children never really stopped being shocked each time they went up there.   

This trick door leads to beautiful, terrifying, hidden landscapes.
     The Bazaar was the brainchild of Elderly Girl's father, who came upon this grand structure while he was in the U.S. on a nationwide speaking tour for the Theosophical Society. It had become such a dilapidated eyesore that the city council was thrilled give him a 100-year lease for a dollar a year if he would restore and maintain it, and just get it the hell off their to-do list. 

    The marvelous story of Konstantin's Kronstantinople's youth, his studies and his love affair with his voluptuous wife, Islamina Toledano -- a Jew from Casablanca -- unfold in "Elderly Girl's lusty Dad conquered everything until he met the fiery Islamina" ( It is an epic tale, filled with history, ideas, vast ambitions and plain old hormonal fever.
    Elderly Girl's daddy was a riveting giant of a man --  a mystic, an osteopath, a psychoanalyst, a published author on the efficacy of folk medicines, and an advocate for  the revival of ancient public baths and steam rooms. His speeches around the world in the 1930s on the mind-body connection were decades ahead of the medical establishment. His sprawling spa and therapeutic salons, the "Cortex Vortex," encompassed most of Kronstantinople's third floor.
A spectacular respite for body and soul in a Cortex Vortex public bath.
    As a child, a spellbound Elderly Girl surveyed the vast, skylit mall and imagined that Scarlett O'Hara must have felt like this when she gazed upon Tara. At night, when all the visitors and relatives were gone, it acquired a dignified peacefulness.
Home Sweet Home. Not too shabby.
      The mall was the Kronstantinople girls' Magic Kingdom, their lush and steaming jungle, the hotbed of intrigue in which the strawberry-blonde foursome played the roles of glamorous spies, fearless explorers and inventive fugitives who had sworn a blood oath never to be taken alive.
    And they never were!
     Elderly Girl's big sisters devised the expansive, complex, suspense-filled and often gruesome story lines that energized their safaris into Kronstantinople's various secret worlds. She played along, honored to be included. 

    It's hard to understand this, but she wasn't very bright. Basically, she was a bimbo from Day One. Eventually, of course, she would outshine her sisters and everyone else. She would outshine the Universe!
    During all those years -- all those expeditions and safaris and methodical explorations -- the sisters never exhausted the mysteries of Kronstantinople castle. Up until the day they grew up and departed, they continued to discover secret passageways and trap doors that led them to untold territories and to breathtaking vistas of art and architecture, playworlds and dens of iniquity. It was madness -- an enchanted dream!
Each new descent led to a mind-boggling discovery.
    Some of the subterranean wonders they had once discovered -- such as the karaoke bar and the pottery studio (fully equipped, including a huge oven) -- they were never able to find again. Karaoke was totally fun -- and so was sensually shaping the revolving wet clay into pots. The way they did it was way more sexy than Demi Moore could manage many, many years later in "Ghost," (even though they laughed uncontrollably at how kind of yucky and weird it was), and they were counting on that pottery wheel to help them become expert lovers. Rats!

     Elderly Girl's parents were true bohemians. For example, they adopted a practice that has been used by several cultures throughout the ages, allowing each of their four girls to choose her own name when The Spirit filled her with the conviction that she was ready. 
When The Spirit said, "It's time," there was no ambiguity, just a downpour of certainty.
     In the meantime, they were known as Baby, Yum-Yum, Boopsie and Girl.
    ("Girl" was not a nod to the use of "Boy" in Tarzan, but rather to the sensual, soul-music usage, as in, "Hey, Girl," or "Give it to Me, Girl" or "Oh, Girl, I'd Be in Trouble if You Left Me Now," etc. If you say it right, it's a pretty cool name.)
    These "baby names" gave way over time to Larkspur, Niagra and Chassis. Girl remained Girl -- or, on occasion, Girlie -- for decades, until she realized that she was an Elderly Girl. 

    She kept her "temporary" birth name, because she was so intimidated by the overall originality and flamboyance of her sisters that she didn't dare do much of anything, including picking a name for herself, for fear of making her inadequacies all the more apparent. She sucked her thumb for comfort well into her teens.
    Now that Elderly Girl has such brilliance, such flair, such insouciance, it is hard to imagine that for many years she was terribly despondent. She felt like such a nobody! 
She was too sexy for her own  damn good!
     At least she was a creamy-dreamy masterpiece with a super-hot bod and ultra-kissable lips from the day she was born. It was intellect she lacked, and boldness and sparkle. Her sisters were geniuses! They were such startling, improbable characters, it seemed as if someone had just dreamed them up to enliven a show-offy blog. 

    One day when a seven-year-old Niagra flushed a toilet in one of the building's dozens of ornate, rosewater-scented restrooms, the wall slid aside to reveal a staircase. She summoned her sisters who, quivering with excitement, crept down about three stories worth of dark, rather moist steps, turned a corner and discovered a ballroom that no one knew existed. This was their first hint that Kronstantinople was more than met the eye.
Imagine your joy! To OWN this! To have this gilded secret!
    It blew their little-girl minds. They must be dreaming! They danced until they dropped with exhaustion. They leapt and twirled in a way that one simply isn't inspired to do in a smaller, less grandiose environment. They took a blood oath never to tell anyone about their secret. Maybe one day they would plan a surprise Grand Ball for their extended family, and people would be so stunned, they'd poop their pants. (Bear in mind, these were children, who do tend to think in such terms.)

     Quite soon after that, Larkspur was cleaning out the closet in one of her bedrooms (each girl had five bedrooms to suit her various moods) when she noticed what appeared to be a trap door. As she pulled it open, she spied a spooky underworld, dark and dripping. 
For some reason, it smelled like pecan pie down there.
     She and her sisters immediately put on their wet suits and goggles and jumped in. They swam for some time in the lukewarm waters, half-terrified, half-hysterical with excitement. And then an inexplicable heap of beauty and grotesquerie appeared:
    Was it the remnants of a lost, rather gaudy civilization? Did the original owner make his slaves, servants, whatever live down here? It was hideously intriguing.
    "Let's keep going and see if we can find a waterfall in this hellhole," Larkspur said. "My hormones are getting so dang corrosive, I need someplace to chill out." Poor dear, it seemed that puberty was imminent. Larkspur really was too young to have to deal with such things, but she would rapidly develop a real affinity for the "down there" part of herself.

    And then, as they climbed up onto dry land and continued their wanderings, they realized they really were in the belly of the Kronstantinople beast.
Why would anyone want a 9-story basement?
    Massive pipes lunged up and down and disappeared into dank walls only to reappear at some equally claustrophobic juncture. There were generators, incinerators, kiln-like apparati blazing horrifically and tanks whose gauges clacked forth in a frantic, Morse-like code. It blared and moaned down there. It gasped and gurgled and hummed and fumed. It hissed. It roared.     
Who died? Was it other little girls who did too much snooping?
    The girls' most elaborate fantasy games would be played out in this somewhat nightmarish terrain over the years. They would battle monstrous foes in their search for a fabled race of male love slaves, wearing stretchy, swashbuckling costumes in iridescent blue --  a cross between Sir Galahad and Flash Gordon. 

    At last, it seemed that Larkspur's wish might be granted: The sound of cascading water was audible.
    Around one more corner, and there it was: A waterfall illuminated by blue and green floodlights, steam billowing up like chiffon in the wind. 
Wafts of eucalyptus and spearmint filled the air.
     How long had it taken to get this far -- minutes, hours? This was a realm without time, like heaven or a gambling casino.
    The sisters, whose political sensibilities were already quite well-developed, christened it "Tyranny Falls." They would soon haul a few amenities down here -- a transistor radio, beach chairs, toiletries, towels, snacks, inflatable rafts  --  as well as an abundance of  silk trees and ferns heisted from the mall's window-dressing department.

     Heavenly Days! The girls were effervescent. Their blood was carbonated. Their cerebral cortexes and hippocampuses and amygdalas were having to so some shifting about and some consensus-building to incorporate this giddy sense of privilege that was evolving as they gorged on the banquet of this kingdom called Kronstantinople. 
    They were asking, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" more than 20 years before the "Pet Shop Boys" joined with Dusty Springfield to ask the same question in song form.
    The tropical-paradise waterfall would become one of the girls' most treasured hangouts. Elderly Girl liked to lie down by the crashing water just to be alone, pondering her inconsequentiality. Within a few years, her sisters began bringing so many boys down here for make-out sessions that they had to establish a schedule and buy a condom vending machine, from which they made a tidy profit. 
    But on that first day, they swam through the waters flowing away from the waterfall, through striking cave formations and iridescent colorations. It was so beautiful. And it was theirs!
    They soon found a lovely, placid canal, which just happened to have a little rowboat sitting there, and they were able to glide along and come upon vistas of startling beauty, like being on "The Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at Disneyland.
If they rowed long enough, they'd reach the great out of doors.
    One afternoon, just before Chassis turned twelve, her mother asked her to be a dear and fetch some marzipan and halavah from the back storeroom. (The girls' mother, Islamina, ran a bakery, a restaurant and a cooking school at Kronstantinople.)
    As Chassis moved aside bins of poppy seeds and palm sugar and marigold honey, she noticed a nob in the corner. By now, she knew better than to turn the nob by herself. Golly, just about anything could be looming back there. She delivered the desired goods to her yummy, huggable mama and went to summon her sisters.
    (Perhaps we have neglected to mention that Islamina moved about in a beguilingly lopsided way, having lost one jumbo breast to cancer a few years ago. There was an endearing Picasso-esque asymmetry in the way she held herself that was both defiant and fanciful. She loved Picasso! She avoided artifice. She wasn't ashamed of her lost breast, and anyway, the remaining one was more than large enough to be considered two.)
Islamina enjoyed the sensation of being a misaligned Picasso woman. 
    When Chassis and the others tremblingly turned the nob in the storeroom, all they could see was a metal pole. 

    Have you ever slid down a pole? It looks so slick on TV -- you just jump on and zip right down --  but it's really nerve-wracking in real life, especially when the pole goes on forever, and you're in the dark, and you're not sliding -- you pretty much have to climb down, afraid that you're going to lose your grip any minute and go tumbling into the void.
    But boy was it worth it. Chassis had had the foresight to cram a big flashlight down her blouse, and the girls made their way through what seemed to be a magnificent rain forest. The trees were so tall you couldn't see the tops. But there was no rain, and no sun! They could hear bird cries, and there were monkeys swinging around, shrieking with chimpy joy. Or maybe they were orangutans or bonobos -- who cared? The girls loved primates.

    "I want a baby monkey to take home," Girl said shyly. She wanted a little creature who needed her and looked up to her, just as she needed and looked up to her sisters. She wanted to be someone's comforter and protector. Little did she know that she would some day become essentially the Comforter-in-Chief of the Entire Female Race.
    Suddenly  the pathway changed from mossy soil to brick, and a burst of flowers appeared, surrounding a stairway. 
This is way too weird to be true. Who did this, and why? It's absurd!
     The girls ascended the stairs and found themselves standing before a large door. A sign said, "It's about time. Come on in."
    A long hallway extended before them.

    The first door they reached led to something they had been praying for practically since birth: their own indoor ski slope. They were good girls and rarely expressed a desire for anything more than all the crazy pleasures that they already had. But this was important, and now it was really happening. (Within eight years, Chassis would be on the U.S. Ski Team. Larkspur and Niagra were radically daredevilish snowboarders. Girl loved to lie down and make snow angels.)
When you were here, it was if nothing else in the world existed.
They even had their own ice hole, for when they were feeling holy.
    The four spellbound young ladies continued to explore the wonderland they had happened upon, with giggles that had aspects of fear, disbelief and total exultation. After tiptoeing down a dark side hall, they opened a door that said, "Popcorn Included." And here is what they found inside: 
It was the kind of screening room that Rock Hudson  might have!
    Who was doing this? Were they unknowingly on some drug trip? A screening room of their very own! Hundreds of movies, vintage and new, were on reels in the projection room, and not only was there a popcorn maker -- there were candy bars, too! The kind everybody loved way back then, like Big Hunk, Milk Duds, Turkish Taffy, Hot Tamales, Marshmallow Ice Cream Cones, Pez and Rocky Road. Plus: Orange Crush on draft!

    Shit! I mean, who even needs a movie with all this candy? They were so thrilled, they hugged each other, which wasn't normal for them at all.
    What could be behind the next door? Oh my lordy pants, it was a dungeon. This was going be a salvation for Larkspur, whose onset of puberty had unleashed in her some rather transgressive urges. It would work wonderfully well to help develop Larkspur's playful sadomasochistic leanings, and it would later become a major asset of the shop she would open in the mall. 
Tie me up, strap me down, beg for mercy. Where's my damn whip?
    She had been feeling for some time that a dungeon was her ideal psychological venue. She was a dungeon! She had already bought a black leather jumpsuit, mask included, at a fund-raising garage sale for the local elementary school.

     It seemed that whatever Overly Generous God had created this special world for the Kronstantinople sisters had Chassis in mind next, because what they found was the coolest jazz club ever! At last, a place to practice that was worthy of her. God, you guys, it was so pretty:
    She was already fluent in clarinet and was now enrapturing everyone with her soulful saxophone solos. The girl had a gift for tearing your heart up with her anguished crescendos. That innocent young face seemed so incongruous with the big-time grownup pain she was blowing.

    The art museum that they discovered a few minutes later would have been even more exciting had the girls realized that every painting on display had been stolen from a major American or European museum. They were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. That would have generated some eye-rolling among the girls, who found most of the works to be quite good, but certainly not "masterpieces." Many were simply pedestrian or derivative.

    On a blustery Sunday afternoon, the girls reconnoitered in one of the family quarters' many "ordinary" rooms  to plan a classified  mission in the bowels of the castle, one that would involve martial arts, secret passwords, a rather occult oath and singing in four-part harmony to ward off the terror. They had made numerous expeditions down there, looking for yet-another mind-boggling treasure (the latest was a huge ice-skating rink).

   But it was still foreboding. It dripped down there, in the dark, and there were groans and sudden gusts of heat and sulphur. 

    There were definitely animals who hid out in the nooks and crannies, and there may well be bad men as well. Men who might tickle you, or offer you a treat that your mama would find unacceptable, or comb your hair the way THEY liked it. That was what girls had to fear from men in those days.
     Niagra stood up to straighten the picture that hung over the teal loveseat, and it sprung aside. Heavenly Days, another portal into the world of agony and ecstasy. By peeking in, they could see that they would be zipping down a chute and landing god-knows-where.
That picture looks so innocent -- diabolically so!
    After a long and screaming descent, they followed a winding road that was dimly lit by ornate lampposts, which was something they had never encountered down here before. At last they entered a space that seemed designed to ease Girl's heartache at being so ordinary. 

    As soon as they saw it, her three sisters knew this would be hers and hers alone: A Throne Room. Here, she could merely sit, and she would feel that she possessed regality.  She had a domain, somewhere, over which she ruled. She had subjects, probably everywhere, who adored her. Her most cavalier pronouncement was taken with the greatest of seriousness, or would be, once she thought of something to pronounce. 
    She must rise to the occasion. She must muster her mind. She must toss the ermine mantle of grandiosity around her shoulders. And so she did. Or anyway, she tried.
It is here that the brashly original, luscious, defiant Elderly Girl persona was born.
    It was in this room, sitting erectly in this chair for hours, by herself, thinking -- week after week, year after year -- that the persona we all know today as Elderly Girl had its queenly genesis. It was not a trajectory straight upward. She faltered and despaired many times. But she always came back and sat down and continued her evolution into perhaps The Greatest Role Model of All Time. 
    The Grand Finale of her journey would require that she leave this precious sanctum and survey the world in person. Then, over the years, she would become the true, the proud, the Elderly Girl.

    Isn't it fascinating what a few props can do for you? As you may recall, Elderly Girl has already stressed to you the incredible power of visualization in making your dreams come true. Using artifacts such as a gold-encrusted throne on red velvet can help you in this process if you have limited creativity and imagination, which poor Elderly Girl certainly did. This is but one of so many life lessons that we can learn from this exemplary, pudding-smooth sweetheart.  
    God didn't throw away the mold after he made Elderly Girl. He didn't use a mold, you fool! He used his own dear (by then somewhat arthritic) hands, and then he said, "It is good," or, as we prefer to imagine: "I done good."
The four sisters often reclined in the mall's aquarium to contemplate mortality.
     The Kronstantinople sisters grew up from the late '40s to the mid-‘60s as the darlings, the cuddly pets, the stars of  the  show at the lavish mall, with nothing to fear but dandruff and nuclear war. In a sense, they had been at the helm of American history -- as expressed in its commerce, fads, rituals and cultural evolution -- for their whole lives, although they would have thought it "tight-assed'' to look at it that way.  
     Every day after school, the foursome whooped into Mama's bakery, "Puff the Magic Pastry," where a table laden with ricotta-filled cannoli, baklava, almond m'hencha, rum-maple wedges, tiramisu, coconut bursi, ekmek kadayifi , peppery pine-nut biscotti, kunafa, and sahlab -- flavored with orchid powder -- among dozens of other selections, awaited them. (What a mother! She was as sweetly flushed and floury as a master baker should be. Not once did she utter the words "Be good.'' Her only request was that her girls not be boring.)

    After their snack, the girls plopped down to do their homework and pleasure reading (from Dos Passos to Turgenev to Lorenz) (or, in Girlie’s case, from Nancy Drew to Barbara Cartlandt to "I'm OK -- You're OK'') at the cozy "Chapter and Verse Bookstore," owned by Aunt Seaside, a striking blend of Swedish and Portuguese, who was married to the coolest dude the girls had ever met.
    (Uncle Otis was a black man who owned a martial arts studio in the mall. The girls' pride at being ``part black'' -- albeit through marriage -- had never dimmed, and their tall, tightly muscled uncle had sat through many a "show-and-tell'' session over the years as all those suburban white students lined up for a chance to touch his skin and hair.)
    Then, up and down the mall, among the indulgent shoppers, they practiced their ballet, their twirly karate kicks ("higher, ladies,'' Uncle Otis was always yelling out at them), precision marching, acrobatics, interval sprinting and fencing.
Otis was a great teacher, and he sang gospel while he lunged. It was so uplifting!
       The charming little girls even worked on their synchronized swimming, minus the water, and insisted on donning swimsuits, swimcaps and noseplugs to lend authenticity to their labors.
   In the early '60s, the sisters wrote and presented "A Mall and the Right Visitors," a kung-fu satire on the Christmas season's shopping frenzy, which was praised by the newspaper as "delightful, despite its biting [and kicking] assault on materialism."
    In late afternoon, they collapsed together like peachy-gold kittens for a nap in one of the mall's many bedroom displays. Clerks swore that the sight of those four angels -- so adorably tuckered out by the thrill of mall life -- markedly increased sales of goose-down comforters and extra-puffy pillow sets.
The girls made the idea of jumping into bed, any bed, almost irresistible.
    Before dinner at Mama's "Welcome to My World" restaurant, which featured a constantly changing array of global cuisines, they picked out tomorrow's school attire at the "PruFrock Boutique." Aunt Prue (Ashkenazi with Cherokee in there somewhere) who was briefly married to a sheik and had a rather too large diamond in her nose, called them “my little publicists.” They created a market for the latest styles before they had even appeared in American Girl magazine. 
    As each new shipment of designer children's apparel from around the world arrived, the girls had thrilling dress-up parties to familiarize themselves with their choices. Could life possibly be any better?
Auntie Prue had very hip taste, making the girls renowned trendsetters.
    After dinner, Larkspur hung out with Uncle Hassan's "Savant Garde" security officers to learn the arts of stalking and surveillance, skills she was sure she would need some day. 

    Niagra worked on her "History of Guerrilla Warfare in Iambic Pentameter'' for awhile, and then put on some boxing gloves and sparred with Uncle Otis while he taught t'ai chi and judo. 
    Chassis took a lesson in accordion or cello, depending on her mood, at Cousin Ouzi's "Make A Note Of It" music shop. Her burgeoning mastery of the clarinet and sax had made her a connoisseur of the intricate layers and flavors of emotion that various instruments can produce. She hoped some day to invent a brand new instrument that would join the venerable panoply of these creations that bring such pleasure to life.
    Without the inspired goading of her sisters, Girl didn't know what to do with herself. After her requisite two hours meditating in the Throne Room, she often painted her toenails at Grandfather's "Leave it to Cleaver" cutlery shop or sat in on consultations at "Heaven Can't Wait," the nation's first comprehensive suicide-planning service, owned by her Aunt Daphne, whose "The Etiquette of Self-Destruction'' had become an international publishing phenomenon. (Getting ready to die seemed like such a satisfying pastime, it was too bad one could only do it once.)
     Girl should have spent her time taking notes on her three sisters' achievements and adventures instead of following along like a pathetic mascot. She could have written runaway best-selling biographies of each of them.

    At closing time, the Kronstantinople girls went up to the fourth floor of their fabulous home, where there were dozens of bedrooms, boudoirs, lavish bathing options and closets filled with unimaginably cute pajamas. They said their prayers ("If you can't pray something amusing, don't pray anything at all,'' Mama admonished) and all were asleep almost instantly.
Each bedroom had a staircase to the tower, where they could view the landscape and the night sky.
    When you walked in the door of the Kronstantinople emporium, you might think you were in Zanzibar or Istanbul. Amid all the tasteful, modern boutiques were Old World storefronts flowing over with products which, at that time, had never been available in America before: barrels of brightly hued spices, fresh ginger, herbs, legumes, truffles, richly colored infused oils and vinegars, dried figs, tamarind, olives, sauces, rare nuts, intoxicating roasted coffee beans, condiments and bottled delicacies from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia that were so pretty people bought them just to display them in their kitchens. 
    There was a vast selection of imported pastas (So many shapes and colors! Bellisimmo!), dried beans and grains, including many unknown here such as couscous, amaranth, kamut, triticale and buckwheat..
    There were beautiful greens, squash, root vegetables, fresh fennel, Nopalitos (a tender, edible cactus) varicolored lettuces, heirloom tomatoes, vivid peppers, sweet onions and wreaths of garlic. There were prickly pears, key limes, blood oranges, papaya, mango, kiwi, plantains, berries, and lovely pastel melons. There were fruits we have no name for from tropical paradises around the world.

    This was back in the day when "vegetables" in America meant canned peas and iceberg lettuce, and fruit was a flavorless, genetically denatured red delicious apple or a flaccid "cling peach" canned in syrup. "Pasta" in those days meant canned Chef Boyardee ravioli. Nobody even knew that coffee could be anything but an instant powder. "Asian food" meant Chun King Chow Mein. What a primitive country! 
The word for "barf!" in Italian is rimettere.
    Americans had a pathetic soft white material they called "bread." What an abomination! (Sometimes they dipped it in gray-brown slop known as "gravy.") At last they would be introduced to big, brown crusty loaves that had beauty, flavor and texture. You broke off a chunk and you chewed something substantial!
    The stuff these backward people called cheese -- Velveeta and "American cheese" -- was NOT CHEESE. Making real cheese, which has character and depth, is a nuanced art form. It takes time. It takes terroir. And you can't "whiz" real cheese out of an aerosol can! Good god, you people! How could you have gone so far astray?
It may be easy, but it's not cheese.
     They drank a liquid entitled "Tang," which was intended as a substitute for orange juice. Why? One cannot comprehend the motivation to drink a chemical solution when oranges themselves are so delightful and wholesome and right there in the orange grove.

    And the limp so-called olives these people ate from a bottle were nothing like the freshly brine-cured, meaty olives right off the tree. Those little "sausages" in CANS (how dare they use the name Vienna?) and that ground-up pork vomit known as Spam -- which is admittedly a good name for it -- made Real People from Actual Countries With Pride and History just sick to contemplate.
    What was it about America that had them dumping a bunch of bona fide EDIBLES into some sort of contraption that would TOTALLY DENATURE them, stripping them of all nutritional and sensual value, and the RECONFIGURING them into hideous amalgamations that seemed expressly designed to be addictive and to damage the human body? 
    Americans made such appalling stuff they called food, that there was actually a legal case made in which food was blamed for criminal behavior: The infamous "Twinkie Defense." 
The Twinkie itself was indefensible on any grounds, except for profitability.
    America did not seem rich to the Kronstantinoples. It seemed disadvantaged and backward. They would fix that.
    The atmosphere of Kronstantinople's food vendors was joyous, as in, "We are here to share with you the things we love."


    "The disquieting and the delightful hang out at the Kronstantinople Bazaar,'' People magazine had declared a few years back. "The Kronstantinoples are a real-life Addams Family -- minus the macabre.'' Since the girls were forbidden to watch television until they finished high school, they assumed the reference was to the New Yorker cartoonist and were all quite flattered. 
    The article described how Larkspur, when she was fourteen, had taken an unlocked Mercedes 230SL for a joyride after reading in Playboy that it "handles like the woman of your dreams.'' 
Larkspur decided what she really wanted was a woman.
    The owner and cops were so amused by this explanation that no charges were filed, but Larkspur had promptly declared herself a lesbian. This was such a bold and politically correct move that a disconsolate Girl could think of no way to remain in her sister's league -- except, perhaps, by burning herself at the stake.

    As they grew into their late teens and early twenties, the girls evolved in lovely ways. Larkspur, a sex fiend with a degree ("for the hell of it") in civil engineering, owned the Mask-o-chism shop ("costumery for creative intimate encounters"`). She was finding ever-more-exhilarating ways to put the dungeon downstairs to "respectful" use, with "clear, mutually agreed upon boundaries."
Larkspur regarded role-playing as good, clean fun.
     She had a stomp-around, outta-my-face, blow-your-wad attitude that had kept the Kronstantinople girls on the giggling brink of delinquency for most of their lives and had led to controversial lecturing stints on "Constructive Sociopathy'' and "The Myth of Maturity.''  She had about a hundred tattoos, and exploring them all was like going to an art museum.

    Sweet-tempered but pathologically morbid Niagra created the fabulously tribal Phoka-man studio (named after the Phokas of eastern Malawi), which specialized in African "pokings" or  "mutilation art." It was hard to believe that such a gentle person as Niagra could slice, yank and grotesquely clamp the skin of her customers, which she did with a barely concealed grimace, but the end result was art, and anyway, they asked for it. She also sold exquisite African fabric and sculpture.
Scarification can look pretty cool, but you go through hell to get there.
     Niagra had begun writing a term paper about the history of self-mutilation several years ago, but it had evolved into a multi-volume encyclopedia, complete with some of the most gruesome pictures you'd ever want to see. She had just returned to Kronstantinople after a year as a U.S. military academy's first-ever poet-in-residence. It had made her despise the military mindset more than ever. Talk about mutilation! Those guys were fucked up!

    Chassis, a onetime champion gymnast whose album, "Rodeo Clarinet,'' had just hit Billboard's country-western and jazz charts (an historic first), owned "Intellect, Y'all," a large, comfy salon that provided free resources for intellectual development. There was a computer lab, in which young and old could experiment with various "brain exercise" products. Chassis gave chess lessons every afternoon at no charge, and was immensely gratified by the transformation this had made in the lives of "underprivileged" children. 
Chassis loved children, as long as they were other people's children.
    She also hosted stimulating lectures with guest speakers that were designed to expand the horizons of her audiences. These lectures had become so popular that they were broadcast live from the vast Kronstantinople auditorium on the local NPR affiliate. Her business was entirely nonprofit. 

    Poor Girlie, our eventual Elderly Girl,  had once been crowned Miss Monster-Car Rally, but she'd had to do some things she wasn't very proud of even to gain that distinction. She didn't know what to do with herself.  How does one compete with sisters such as hers?
    It seemed that her progress in the Throne Room was unbearably slow, even though she did slide, hike and swim to it every afternoon for an exhausting session of visualization, meditation and free-association. 
    Aunties Patina and Patella, the lisping twin owners of the "Shower Me" bath boutique, had provided her with the most cozy robe, towels and lotions to make her comfortable after her arduous journey. She wrapped a baby-blue terry-cloth turban around her damp hair and pretended it was an intimidating headdress as she sat magisterially on the Throne.
    She had become increasingly despondent about how to live a productive life until the "Throne" effect kicked in. She was about ready to throw in the towel.  

    Then one day she saw a commercial that seemed to have been sent directly by God into her TV.
    "Are you ready to throw in the towel?" the pitchman said, pointing directly at her. "Step up to an exciting, rewarding career in dental hygienics! In just four short weeks, you will be filling the world with beautiful smiles!"
What a heartwarming way to earn a living! Or not!
     How could anyone feel bad about that? What a noble calling, our airhead of a heroine surmised.
    She paid several thousand dollars for the class. Then she plunged with great hope into her new career, picturing a world filled with healthy, happy smiles that her craftsmanship had enabled.

    But after a couple of weeks, dental duties were giving her the terminal “icks.”  Membranes and secretions! Passageways leading god-knew-where and gooey folds hiding god-knew-what! Slimy pink (at best) tongues like lusty dolphins nuzzling her fingers. Oh please! It looked like "Journey to the Center of the Earth'' in there. No soap had been Zestful enough to suds away her shudder. People are precious, but that doesn't mean you have to be slopping about in their openings. 
    It hurt Girl's feelings to give up so easily, but really: She was on the verge of wretching the whole time. That would have been terribly rude, and maybe someone would have sued her for inflicting emotional pain. Isn't that conceivable in this litigious day and age?

   Listlessly, she schlepped around and slept around during her remaining teenage years, hoping to make a name for herself, which she did, becoming known (fondly and respectfully) as "the lay of the land.''
    Her eagerness to please inflated her doll-like, dream-girl self into a floral vapor. It was clear that she had made vacuity delectable, which was "no small feet (her diary congratulated her) in this doggie-dog world.''

    Men were such treasures; they were constantly rescuing her from one predicament or another, asking her to pose in one filmy outfit or another, showering her with gifts and gallantry. Ecstatically helpless, she proclaimed her gratitude a breathy voice, like Marilyn Monroe. 
    The only men she had ever truly, madly and in that tingly way loved were Kojak and Issac Hayes, but she respected them too much to have a carnal relationship with them, even in her sleep. 
My god, ladies -- what a cozy lap he had!
    Oh those blissful lap-sitting dreams -- her cheek pressed against their hot, hairless heads. She wore bitsy skirts and called them "Daddy." With them she was as safe as a human being can be.

    (Sex seemed like such an incongruous thing to do with someone you liked. A hooded stranger or a rabid doberman might be nice, though. Maybe that's why Larkspur's shop did such a phenomenal business. Sex, after all, is role-playing, in both its highest and lowest form, is it not? Or not? )
    Coincidentally (or not), her daddy had gotten tired of being told he looked like Stalin, so he had shaved his head several years ago. 
"Daddy, you don't look anything like Stalin!"
    That, perhaps, explained Elderly Girl's weakness for bald men. So that wasn't like some repressed incestuous thing, was it? She used to sit in her Daddy's lap, and he would hold and stroke her, and kiss her hair, and her sadness would just fly right out the window. So was her yearning for bald men with laps some terrible regressive perversion or something? Things were all so complicated, especially if you thought about them.

    Oh my heck, she was thinking about them! That was progress! Maybe the Throne Room was finally having its desired effect.
    How might she expedite this process? It occurred to her that
Auntie Kiwi,  proprietress of Herbalissimo, might have some suggestions. She was getting ready to fly off to Zanzibar, Usulutan, Belize, and a bunch of other places that sounded more like perfumes or mixed drinks than countries, to squat among the flora and gather skirtsfull of obscure herbal curatives. 
     Going into that shop had always given Girl a woozy visual overload. There were so many vitamins! So many minerals! So many barks and berries, blossoms and roots, seeds and sprouts! So many extracts and distillations, immersibles and emulsions, pills and powders!  
    Auntie Kiwi, a Gypsy-Italian blend, knew just what to recommend for a comprehensive overhaul of Girl's mind and body.    

    "A regimen to purge your body of toxins, to neutralize bacteria, fungi and viruses, to shock the neurotransmitters into action, and stimulate the connections in the prefrontal cortex,'' she said. "Blessed thistle, goat's rue and hemp agrimony. Curled dock, dog rose, quack grass, nasturtium and yarrow. Three particularly potent Indian cathartics: May Apple, Jalap and the 'sacred bark,' Cascara Sagrada. Invigorating purifiers whose names are cutely appropriate to you: Coltsfoot, Spring Adonis, wild dovewing root, eagle vine and everlasting flower. Plus a famed quartet of cleansers, antiseptics, carminatives and disinfectants, respectively: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.''

    This was so many capsules to take every day that Girl didn't know if she could stand it.
    "You can stand it," Kiwi said sternly, throwing in a very bad Assyrian expletive -- "Khol Ikhreh!" -- for emphasis. She had learned to swear in so many languages, it made you wonder about her priorities.
    "Get serious, Girl. People go through a lot worse shit than this to get their acts together."
    Girl was taken aback. No one had ever spoken sternly to her before. Perhaps they should have. This kick in the butt was going to propel her forward with renewed purpose.
    She resolved to dispense with the Throne Room. Bye-bye, my gold-and-velvet bassinet. It had done its job. She had begun having what are generally regarded as "thoughts," which was surprisingly enjoyable. Several people had offhandedly remarked (to her surprise) that she had displayed "insight" on a particular subject. She began having teensy tendrils of flutter in her brain that suggested she was about to develop true character and perhaps even a philosophy of life.

    She knew what must be done. She packed Aunt Kiwi's capsulized herbs into her Annie Oakley lunchbox from elementary school (she still loved it, OK?),  along with six pairs of underpants, a big wad of hundred-dollar bills, a little blue jar of Noxema (moisturize, ladies!) and some Chapstick.  
Girl would love this forever, no matter how elderly she became.
     She vanished into the mist. At least that is how she chooses to remember it. She strode into the unknown with her hair, as usual, billowing beautifully. Her muscled arms, her flat tummy, those lips that screamed "Kiss me!!" came along for the ride as she trekked around the world (or was it just around the state? It's kind of blurry.) (It couldn't have been around the block, could it? Because she seems to recall tropical birds and the Tower of Pisa. Oh, and Machu Pichu. Or was this just stuff she saw on PBS? Damn those magic mushrooms she swiped from Daddy's bathroom.) (Anyway, it was a big-time adventure that took, like, forever and was a life-altering experience) (And she did need all the underpants, which must count for something).

    The first thing that hit her on her trek was this grand phenomenon known as freedom. Leaving family and home behind, she was on her own for the first time in her 21 years, and it was immediately exhilarating. A revelation! She felt like a brand new person, filled with both light and de-light. Autonomy, my god! It was like being the star of an extravaganza that she would write as she went along. She looked at everything and everyone as if she had just been cured of blindness. She could have cried, the tumult was so poignant.
    It appeared that she hadn't realized how much she knew -- or  how competent, bold and perceptive she could be -- until she tumbled out of the Kronstantinople womb. This was indeed a birth! She could do anything  and go anywhere she wished, answerable to no one. No one had any idea where she was. She could go to Rome, or take a little float down the Nile. 
The Nile is so restorative this time of year, don't you find?
     She could try a slice of Wonder Bread with Cheez Whiz on it, which had never been tolerated  in the gastronomically pure Kronstantinople environment. She could also choose not to, out of unmitigated disgust, which she did.

    She streamed through crowds of fellow human beings on apparati that were called "sidewalks," and she was flooded with a blissful duality: She felt like one of them, and she felt separate. She felt brave, majestic and observant, yet she felt humble. 
    She sensed that these people needed help -- in dressing, in grooming, in comporting themselves, in fiscal discipline, and in refraining from gluttony -- but still there was a tenderness in her toward these poor beasts. They seemed tired and rather anxious. And, frankly, not terribly bright. A rather rash judgment for a lifelong bimbo to make.
    One day, she was hiking Kilimanjaro, or some really large hill, and it dawned upon her that low self-esteem has a flip side: arrogance. Over the years, she would also conclude that self-hatred is at the core of most egomania. 

    She wasn't becoming an arrogant egomaniac, exactly -- she was simply transitioning into the role of Most Splendid, Lavishly Luscious and Hilariously Brilliant Person on Earth. This was not just an adventure: It was a job. It came with a heavy mantle. She was defending your freedom just as truly as if she were a four-star general, squatting inside a bunker in Afghanistan. 
    In fact, she wasn't just defending your freedom -- she was having to remind you constantly that you had it. Be free! Do it your way!
    Hers became a life devoted to helping others -- in between bouts of utter despair (in bed for days, crying for no reason) and explosions of self-indulgent high-handedness. Every once in awhile, her vanity (how could she not be spellbound by her own beauty?) and irritability/impatience/intolerance got in the way of her compassion, but we believe it is fair to say that she has earned a reputation for saintliness, albeit not in the conventional sense. She has devoted her life to humankind. Elderly Girl would tear the peaches and cream right off her face and give it to a disfigured burn victim if it were medically feasible (which fortunately it isn't).

Barbara Walters will do whatever kissing-up
is needed to get her "must-have" guests.
    Elderly Girl's only complaint is the constant harassment by the media. Her explosive worldwide fame has created a mounting hunger for her "back story." And you know what that means: Paparazzi zooming in as she enjoys a bit of nude moon-bathing on the balcony. Sleazebags rummaging through her trash and climbing her trees for a peek into her maroon velvet boudoir. There are even private investigators paid by the tabloids to plumb every shred of her history, from her birth certificate (you'll never find it, assholes!) to this very moment. 
God, you media people are so damned tiresome. Just leave me alone!
    On the answering machine are obsequious pleas for an exclusive interview from Diane, Katy, Barbara, and that Nancy girl from "Entertainment Tonight." (Why not Tavis Smiley? He at least knows how to engage in a respectful, intelligent give-and-take.)

     She worked for years to become the Elderly Girl we know today. In fact, she is still working at it, even as the "girl" part of her fades, ever so slowly (thank goodness) away. She remains, as ever, at your service.

IF THIS REALLY DOES BECOME A MOVIE, who do you think should play Elderly Girl? Suggestions are being gratefully accepted. 
UPDATE Jan. 8, 2014: Frontrunners are Kim Cattrall, Nicolette Sheridan, Vanessa Williams and Angelina Jolie. 

    When Elderly Girl visited Paris, in the 1890s, she changed that "hole of putrefaction" forever, with her joie de vivre and casual insouciance (and her carrot strip "cigarettes").

    The Kronstantionple epic began with the passionate, exotic lives of Elderly Girl's parents -- her Cossack/Mongolian father and Moroccan Jewish mother -- who met in Paris. 
    Their brilliance and passion created both a family and an empire. It required special seed, indeed, to sprout into the fragrant flower we know fondly as Elderly Girl.

And who else could turn aging into a sexy new fad? Our elderly brothers and sisters will soon be regarded as the hippest generation on the Planet (

Have you heard the news? Elderly Girl has defended your freedom by seducing Mitt Romney and ending his campaign!

"I want to be alone."
    Elderly Girl has flown the coop. She needed space. She wanted her own place. Frankly, we're surprised she hung out in this gaudy, clamorous venue for as long as she did, surrounded by ordinary people, slapstick theorizing, chronic diseases and confounding issues.
    She has ensconced herself in a new domain, "The Elderly Girl Experience" (,where her autonomy and solitude can be protected.