Sunday, May 20, 2007

FEARS by Sara Miot

When I was a little girl, my fears were the dark, falling and sudden loud noises. So balloons were a problem for me. Birthday parties were a mix of pleasure. Excitement and torture. Especially if there were little boys at the party. I had dreams of falling. Short sudden distances. My father worried that he had caused it, throwing me up into the air and catching me when I was a baby. Fear of the dark stayed with me for a long time. It was when I had my own babies that I finally was able to walk into a dark room without trepidation.

Maybe I was 8 years old. I had been watching television. Now this television was a work of art. It was just the tube, as it was so aptly named, which was about 12" across and lots of little tubes on a metal base, behind the big tube. I don't know if we called it the boob tube then or if that came later. But anyway, I was watching the tube and it was a science fiction story.

The tube was in a hallway, on the 3rd floor, at the top of a flight of an open stairway. At the bottom of the stairs was a door that separated us from the 2nd floor of Mikinly's meat packing Company. The ground floor was where they took the carcasses that hung from hooks, cut them up and packed them in boxes to go to restaurants. The 2nd floor was a small office and a large open space outside of the office itself, where there were huge garbage cans, as tall as I was. Sometimes there was fat from the meat, that was thrown into those cans. And then there was an open dark space, where work men went to pee. That was where the rats came out from, at night.

My bedroom door, on the 3rd floor, was opposite the head of the stairs. We would take chairs from the kitchen, which was down the other end of the hall. That was a very long hall to me at the time.

So here I am late at night. It's dark outside. My Mommy and Daddy are in the kitchen talking. I don't know where my little brother is. Maybe in bed. And I am sitting on a chair watching the tube with my back to the long hall and kitchen. The stairs going down to the 2nd floor are to my left. Behind the tube are the doors to the living room and my parents’ bedroom. And on the tube in front of me, there is a door, which is slowly opening. On the other side of the door is a flight of stairs going down to the basement and a lady’s voice is saying, "Come on up," and it's dark down the stairs and footsteps are slowly coming up the stairs. There is a man with his head down and as he reaches the top of the stairs he lifts his head up and he has three eyes. One right in the middle of his forehead and I can't move and the tube goes black.

I quietly get off my chair and walk quietly and quickly back to the kitchen where there is warm yellow light and my mother cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and my father is sitting at the dining table and I just quietly sit on one of the kitchen chairs. My father looks up and says, "Shouldn't you get ready for bed?" I just sit there. "Go on now. Get your pajamas on."

I get up and turn the corner to go down the long dark hall toward my bedroom, the one opposite the stairs going down to the 2 nd floor and the rats and my legs won't move. I go back into the kitchen. "It's dark down there," I say.

"Turn on the light," my father says. I go back out to the hall. The light is all the way down at the other end. It is a ceiling light that has a string that hangs down that I can just barely reach. Again my feet won't move. I turn back. "What's the matter?" he says.

"I'm scared," I answer and tell him about the man with three eyes.

"If you don't go and turn that light on you will not be allowed to watch any more TV." Again I try. My feet just won't move down that hall. "O.K., Missy," he says, as he comes with me, "but no more TV."

* * *

Author Bio:

Sara Miot spent most of her childhood in Manhattan where at the age of sixteen she joined the company of the New York City Ballet. Dance and choreography have remained central to her life, as well as painting. drawing and writing. Using her knowledge of the body, Sara has become a first-rate massage therapist, able to access not only the muscles of the body but also the stories and emotions they hold. She lives now in the Catskill mountains with her husband Harry.

THE HUNGER by Daniel Marshall

Adults snickered. Somehow, we knew they loved us, seemed to mean well — remembered our birthdays; but they were not in our world. They snickered about us. We couldn’t escape fast enough.

Some of the aunts on my mother’s side — the outspoken ones — snickered. My father’s siblings didn’t snicker about us, though they seemed in another world; but I do remember my uncle Rob, whom everyone loved, chuckling over an ethnic joke he’d told. They thought things were funny that made me feel uncomfortable.

I grew up in a world of stereotypes. It was their world, and at first mine — a world of debate and differences, of enemies and of struggle for recognition and survival. We learned from them that we faced discrimination. Their world was a world of ideologies and positions, of apologetics and demonstration, unlike today’s world of cultures and personality types, of dialogue and sharing.

Sisters snickered about us behind their hands, black books, teaching materials -- their long black rosaries dangling by their sides, fixed at the tops to their black leather belts. Their starchy stiff, arching veils weaved and bobbed as they turned to speak with each other.

I was hungry for affection, tenderness, seriousness, respect. My friends were serious about stickball, wrestling, ring-a-lev-io — except for Bill Benson who was willing to go along with anything, but liked most to sit on a stoop doing nothing. My sister liked him; girls were unpredictable. We boys did things together and did not talk intimately, unless talking about grades counts as intimacy.

We ourselves snickered at what we thought was obvious, was common sense. Although we knew what it was to cry and feel sad, still our clowns and enemies were less than human to us. We didn’t think of them crying as we did. They were always dressed, as far as we were concerned, and never went to sleep — Yankees and Giants, Germans and Japanese, Protestants and Communists. Our enemies were always menacing.

It seemed to me, in high school and college, that students interested in sports or alcohol were among those peers who tended most to snicker, and I drifted away from them. Their world did not feel interesting. I felt uncomfortable with cliques. I wanted to be part of every group, to try everything. Never snicker, I thought.

People I most respected, liked, and admired didn’t snicker; they respected others. Maybe they had areas of weakness, but they could also be tender. It seemed to me that people snickered and disparaged when feeling weak. Though they might protest, “All in good fun!”, to me it didn’t feel like fun.

Sarcasm was worse than snickering. Sometimes my mother laughed a sepulchral, mocking laugh, emanating from her mouth but not from her eyes, bespeaking anger, disparagement, exasperation, manipulation — not humor at all. “Lighten up! Laugh!” she would say, at those times, about something I took seriously. Our second eighth grade teacher scolded the class girls for “making cow eyes at the boys.” I wished some would make cow eyes at me! A later public relative of this manipulative humor was the smug, wry, sardonic wit of William F. Buckley and Rush Limbaugh, from them descending rapidly through the incivilities of the Bob Grants, Steve Maltzbergs, and Sean Hannity’s, the dissembling snidenesses of George Bush, and the ferocity of Dick Cheney into bitterly polarized cliquishness and factionalism.

Whatever my experience of all this was, I did not have coherent knowledge of my tendencies and feelings; but I feared terribly to be disparaged. I was hungry for affection, love, adventure, beauty, knowledge, and activity. Not all the food in the world could satisfy my hunger.

* * *


Daniel Marshall is a writer and a pilgrim. A Brooklyn native, he lived in Berkeley when Berkeley was the center of the universe, has apple picked in New Hampshire and orange picked in Florida, was deeply involved with the Catholic Worker and is now underground, working as a college librarian in Manhattan. He lives in Harlem with his wife Dee and is always searching for community, communion and the reflection of Christ's spirit in the real world.

Friday, May 11, 2007

WITHOUT AN ANSWER by Rosalyn Clark

It seemed to me that most of my life, my long life, a lift of 84 years, so many times, when people have said stupid, mundane things, prejudiced talk, insensitive talk, that all these many years I was “without an answer.”

Maybe some time later, after an asinine conversation, with a friend or a neighbor, or with a person at work, I might then think of an answer, but it was too late. Oh, how many jobs I have had where the patrons were rude and I had no answer.

But as I entered my 80th year, I began to notice a change, a transformation was talking place. Now I am always “with an answer.”

Why, just the other day, sitting and knitting a blanket for my great-granddaughter at the Wool Co. in Woodstock, a young woman came in, a stranger, and sits down to knot near me. She now says to me, “Oh, how nice it is to see someone your age being so busy.”

And this transformed woman answers her right back. “I beg your pardon, I am not a woman who keeps busy, I have passions in my life, which I work on constantly. I have been a serious artist for most of my life, a drummer and a Poet for about 14 years, now I am part of a Memoir writing group for two years and this class has inspired me to have a portfolio on my computer of my stories.”

And the young woman, this stranger, replies, “That is great. I have just sold my business in Saugerties and now I am reinventing myself.”

From then on we just sit quietly and knit away.

THE GIFT by Chris Howard

I shopped in a small boutique in a neighboring town that I tend to shy away from. A store that was highly recommended by a woman I trust in these matters who also has a daughter, although one that is much older now. I was determined to find something personal, something other than the clothes and books that my wife would certainly be showering her with, going in intent on finding some sort of jewelry that she might like, maybe something with her birth stone, as I’d done once before, only this time I couldn’t come up with the mineral.

The place was tiny but every inch of wall and transparent shelf was stuffed with merchandise. Glass cases lined the narrow space, and there were others, free standing, leaving just enough room for someone my size to pass through, all of which were decorated and draped with necklaces and pins and earrings and other trinkets. I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume, unable to focus on any one object.

I must have wandered from the door to the back of the store half a dozen times before spotting the small collection of sculpted fairies on one of the shelves. They were all quite intricate with delicate looking butterfly wings and tiny arms and legs, beautifully proportioned, none more than a few inches tall. Some rode frogs and dragonflies, while others flew on their own. The one that I was constantly drawn back to hovered over a bouquet of white daffodils, suspended by a fine brass rod that sprang from the center of the flowers. The dress reminded me of one of the costumes that my daughter still likes to wear around the house from time to time, although, being the last to enter double digits, her fondness for this may begin to fade. I bobbed and weaved a little, trying to read the price tag that I guessed would be on the bottom. Without my glasses and the angle being as acute as it was, I could see only a white blur on the base, finding any text impossible to discern. I was silently vacillating, it looked pricey, I didn’t have the money for such an expensive gift.

The woman on the phone (the only other person in the store) couldn’t help but notice my somewhat bizarre behavior and asked if there was anything I’d like to see a little closer. I pointed to the little statue as she unlocked the case and slid the glass door to one side. There were so many other objects surrounding the piece that I shied away from trying to remove it myself, asking if she wouldn’t mind. Everything in there looked fragile and it was all the way in the back, behind the others. Reaching into that case with my own clumsy fingers could have caused this afternoon excursion to be extremely costly.

As it turned out there was no price on the bottom at all so she had to do a little research to find out what the damages were going to be. I decided while she was in the back room that I would buy it regardless of the cost, sort of, at least if it didn’t exceed a hundred, scouting the counter in her absence, hoping to reassure myself that there was a credit card machine available. Although she is the youngest of the three, we are the ones with the most history, she being the only one that ever spent time with me during the two years of isolation and legal affairs.

I was relieved at the thirty two dollar price tag, figuring they’re probably cast in China or Vietnam or India or one of the other nations that are slowly putting the bloated, selfish, over consuming, arrogant and unionized U. S. out of business. It was nicely made though, exquisite really; I wasn’t overly concerned about its country of origin, only the little girl it was intended for.

I got back to the office, wrote a short note on the card that I’d picked up on the way, added a little bubble wrap and covered the box in brown paper, addressing it appropriately, and being certain to write “fragile” in enough places that it would be seen regardless of orientation, gaining just a small amount of comfort while understanding the futility of this exercise. The whole operation felt a little strange as this would be the first time that I would be mailing one of my children a birthday present. I suppose it’s something I’m going to have to get used to.

The email came late Saturday although I didn’t pick it up until Sunday afternoon. It was a short thank you note from my daughter sent through my wife’s address; she hasn’t gotten one of her own yet. She told me that she really liked the fairy but wanted to know why it was two days late and added that she was still mad at me for leaving. She will never be permitted to express her own feelings, always being influenced by the will of her mother. I was relieved and almost exhilarated to receive the note, despite the negative aspect, knowing how much courage it took for her to even ask if it would be all right to send it.