Wednesday, December 24, 2008

THROUGH THE WINDOWS OF A PONTIAC ~ Things Were Different Then by Sarvananda Bluestone

The old Pontiac got us around all over, Ma and me. It was Bessie, a third member of the family when Ma and I were on the road. Bessie had a ribbed metal stripe down her hood that ended with a small silver bust of Chief Pontiac. He protected us, too. We were on the road a lot during the War. Ma’s right arm was my safety belt and I never had to worry when she was driving. Never.

Seemed like there were no men around then. Daddy and Ma’s brother Siddy were all off to fight the War. But that doctor who set my broken ankle when I ran into the curb—he was still around. I tried to talk to him while it was hurting so. He was busy talking to the pretty nurse. Ma really lit into him and told him that Daddy was a doctor fighting a war and that he could at least pay attention to a hurting little boy. I felt much better then even with a broken ankle.

Was it only four years? It seemed like forever. I was two when Daddy went away. I was six when he came back.

Bessie had a broken horn. Every time she would go over a bump she would beep. Ma had taken a course on fixing cars. She knew everything about cars. But she couldn’t get a part to fix Bessie’s horn since it was the War. So Ma tried to keep away from bumps and would smile her “I’m sorry” smile at the angry faced men who turned around in their seats when we did go over a bump. When they saw Ma they didn’t look angry any more. People said she was very pretty like a movie star. But she was my mom.

When the war stopped everybody was beeping their horns. We didn’t have to worry about bumps any more.

We traveled all over before Daddy came home. We traveled to Mary Land to visit a friend of Ma, named Jamie, who worked for a super court judge named Stone. I liked that since my name was a stone, too.

Ma called Mary Land the “South”. She told me that while were there in “The South” I couldn’t sing “John Brown’s Body.” She was real serious about that. “John Brown’s Body” was my favorite song then. I didn’t understand. Why couldn’t I sing a song.

Maybe you weren’t supposed to sing around court things. Maybe it was like that time when Ma had to pay for a ticket in a traffic court. There were millions of people there. Then a man came out and everybody stood up. So I started to sing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do when everybody stood up?

Everybody started laughing. All the people started laughing. Even Ma. But the man who had made everybody stand up got real angry and red in the face and started yelling at people. And everybody got quiet. I don’t know why they were laughing or why he got mad. I was singing and people were laughing. Why did he get mad? I thought he was mad at me and Ma put her arm around me. Nobody else was mad at me. I guess you weren’t supposed to sing or laugh in court things.

Ma didn’t sing much in the car. We talked a lot. About everything. I think that during the War I saw the side of Ma’s face more than I saw the front of it. Seems like that.

It all changed when Daddy came back. He did most of the driving. And when it was just me and him we would sing a lot. I loved singing with Daddy. “I’ve Got Sixpence.” “Someone’s in the Kitchen With Dinah.” Fee Fie fiddly oh it was so much fun. I didn’t have to think of what to say. We just sang. It was harder to talk to Daddy than to sing with him. When we talked I worried that I would say the wrong thing. I never worried about that with Ma.

The cars changed. Ma got a beat up old Ford and Daddy got a brand new green Desoto with hydromatic drive. It really looked fancy but in winter it would get stuck at the bottom of our hill and Ma would have to go down with her old Ford and push Daddy’s car up.

Wherever we drove—Ma and I or Daddy and I or Ma and Daddy. and I—it would take forever. When we went from Yorktown Heights to Grandma and Grandpa in the Bronx it took forever. And then we were there. When we drove from Yorktown to Brewster to visit Daddy’s best friend, Bob Elliot and his family, it took forever. And then we were there. And Daddy would talk doctor talk with Bob and I would play with Janie and Jonny Elliot..

The roads seemed longer then and the endless trips seemed to go both slow and fast. In all those years the whole world seemed to go racing in front of me as it zipped past the windows of our cars.

I WANT TO STAY: I WANT TO GO by F. Marcya Edison

I want to stay….I feel sexy (my daddy liked sexy)….

We merge, we melt, we fuse, we sex…. not inhibited by familiarity, not complicated or diffused by a knowing of personalities…I love when you talk dirty…you take me higher….we role play, we have fairy tale sex, not roommate sex, as Bill and I would have all those years later…

I want to stay… you’re so beautiful to look at, with your thick Scottish brows and dark wavy hair that caresses the strong musculature at the nape of your neck...
I get lost in your voice – the deep timbre, the North England accent and cadence… I never liked my name, except when you say it….those few times that you say it…

I want to stay…for the excitement, the charge, the anticipation, the eerie psychic bonding, the ecstatic realization—sometimes after many months-- of my obsessive longings…

I want to stay….to wade in the bitter-sweet aching hunger for something I can never truly have or really know. You are a spiritual exercise for me…..

I want to go…from the masochism, the emotional sadism, the chronic yearning, the degradation, the piercing sadness, the ultimate loneliness in the prolonged down time/dead time without you…the emptiness of nothing in the absence of something.

I want to go…from the pain, the ache in the heart, the suffering, the sly elusiveness, the arguably cruel manipulation ….the promise of so much and the delivery of so little.

I want to go….from the consuming frustration…and then… again…
a crumb, tossed by you – I gorge on it for a fleeting eternity…..And, so, the cycle repeats…(I am unable to move on; to seek love , affection, nurture, to be cared for…to feel normal.)

I want to go…let me go, let me loose, unclutch me – no, Don’t, I want to stay – it’s enough – no, it’s not, it’s not enough – I want more – I deserve more - I want to go; I want to stay…

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

THE RIDGES by Billy Herman

Ridges stand above the highway on either side heading down to the lake basin, and for the first time ever I take them in stride. They don’t dwarf me. That’s not what I am – a humorous little dwarf. I am bright. As bright as her at least.

The people who live in the houses up in the ridges don’t lead lives any more mystical than mine. And for the first time I realize they don’t.

Alyssa has her arm wrapped around my waist and I am showing her a children’s book I wrote just for her. But as much as she is getting it, she’s still not getting it. And how long does it take to see that love is one thing and sex is another? And you can’t have one without the other. And the ridges high as they are, and come on they’re not the Rockies where I’ve been, nor the Himalayas. They’re not the fucking Himalayas. Justified rage. The story is about you and me but you’ll never get it. I can’t admit I’ll never get to the Himalayas, or Uganda where she told me she took rolls and rolls of photographs. The story is about you and me. I simply love you like the donut loves the blueberry.

I stop the car on the right side of the white line and ceremoniously eat a blueberry donut and wash it down with a cup of coffee, and declare victory over the ridges. You’re not that high that I couldn’t just walk up there in a short time. And the people who live in the special houses – most of them are pretty boring because most people are pretty boring no matter where they dwell. But I always found you to be very exciting, even as you tell me I am some kind of humorous dwarf.

I’m destroying a house on the ridge. I am smashing it up like a vandal. I am so angry that you don’t love me and you never will.

Here we are where you came from. Mystic Connecticut with its wealth and ocean breezes. I’m in a manicured bookstore, and am thrilled at the new paperback editions of the James Bond series by Ian Fleming. The covers are fantastic with a beautiful sexy half clad woman on each one. A dozen or so fairy tales he wrote while he was drunk to impress who? There’s a lot of money being thrown around. I just gave up that lifestyle of getting a little drunk and flirting with the cover girl. All kinds of adventures. The pristine blue tide. The heights.

Your arm is not around my waist anymore. I am a man alone on the side of the highway. I wish I didn’t care where you were but I do.

The great adviser has said that there is no you and me. Is it past the time in history where a slightly stoned man can write a few solid fairy tales and get on the map?

After the ridges comes the descent into the lake basin. Where the hell are you inside? The old super-successful martini guzzler got all that fame and success and then he just died.

Alyssa came out of the pristine blue waves and ocean breezes. The cruelest and meanest person I will ever meet. I’ve taken a shower and put on my best clothes. I have decided to do something else with my life that’s not controlled by terror.

Monday, August 18, 2008


For many years, I’ve had daydreams of a place where I could simply enjoy life and the world around me completely free of all commitments, tasks, or obligations, even, or perhaps most of all, those tasks or commitments I’ve assumed freely and voluntarily, out of active interest and desire, such as the very writing workshop in which this present piece was first conceived. Obviously, I wouldn’t have been in the eminent and distinguished company of the fellow writers with whom I shared it if I hadn’t wanted to be. And yet, at the same time, such freely chosen activities tend inevitably and against my will to take on the character of duties externally imposed, and thus become bothersome and resented.

So it was, for example, that early that afternoon, as I walked through lovely green surroundings to the post office of semi-rural Willow where I live, I was equally conscious of my pleasure in those surroundings and of finding that pleasure diluted by thoughts about having to complete this piece, not to mention other worries and concerns. And so, by no means for the first time, I experienced a futile yearning for a pure and unmixed — a magical — joy.

I’ve sometimes toyed with the idea of disappearing for an extended period, six months, say, or perhaps even a year. Not physically — I’d still be based geographically in the same white clapboard, shingle-roofed cottage I now occupy, in its setting of tall trees, rather ragtag front lawn, and the shallow brook along the eastern side of the property that heavy downpours occasionally transform into a small, swiftly flowing river. The disappearance would be, rather, from the sphere of social involvement and obligation, a social vanishing that would leave me free to wholeheartedly enjoy the natural world, striding through the magic of a sun-blazed afternoon or a moonlit night.

Monday, July 14, 2008

THE HAIR CUT by M. Maines

I have been feeling overwhelmingly happy lately. At eight a.m. on Saturday, after a run, I felt a rush of zestfulness which had been absent in previous weeks. When excitedly debating if I should plant the marigolds first, or perhaps plot the herb garden, but either way, I’ll wear that pretty new dress, I treasured the sensation as a testimony that things are going well.

Within the impulsive sequence of fulfilling my desires, I chose to cut my hair. I biked up to Washington St to get the style I had been lusting of for weeks. A man that hated the cold sculpted my black mane quickly, and with confidence. It was an asymmetrical shape, short on one side, long on the other. There is a small gradient of bangs off to the left. I left feeling beautiful. A man was standing on the corner. He says, “Couldn’t ask for better weather.” I thought he was flattering me.

My friend Torin, who is the most talented within my circle of friends, had the same cut several months before. On her, it looked good, coy, established her as a force to be reckoned with. I like the look on me because it is whimsical and playful. I like it because I am doing something that I want. I also know, immediately, that a line has been drawn in the sand, for my boss will not like it.

That night, in front of the mirror on my dresser, I consider chopping off the long and pretty pieces. I practice posturing my hair just so, hoping that if I kept my head still, she wouldn’t even notice. The easiest thing would be to find the scissors now, but the action seems too sorrowful.

When I entered the building on Monday morning, I see my employer’s eyes registering me; her lips are still. Her position is clear. The mothers took a few days to respond. Julie, who is always wearing tennis shoes and glasses, said it looked like someone forgot to finish the cut, but the one side looked cute. Carry, the most emotional of the moms, said it looked youthful. Teresa, who is moody and formal, said it looked interesting after requesting that I move my head from side to side.

I’ve become insecure. I ask Maddie, a four year old, if it looks funny or if she likes it. Maddie, who is horrified by mistakes, says I should grow it out long because it looks very funny. I’ve been ducking over the children’s waist high mirrors, checking out my own black stripe. When I look at myself, though, I only see something that seems sweet, sensual, perfect to me. I’ll just indulge for this week, I argue to myself.

These young children are saddled with norms in a way that frightens me. I work at a pre-school. There, they all know that long hair is more socially desirable. Iris, who is sly and playful, draws herself with long rapunzel hair, and tells other people she will have long hair again soon.

I can’t imagine myself with long hair, for my hair becomes a wild stallion, a beast, and inside its cage of tangled locks, I am constantly frustrated. It is odd to me how hair becomes this site of female status positioning. I think of the younger populations I know, my social groups at the potlucks, who can acknowledge that this hair cut is relevant, rite of permission and acceptance, but of how limited that acceptance, how finite.
My fickleness irritates me. I dislike this weakness of whispering questions to these small humans, of trying to comfort myself.

When I am at home, eating a Popsicle on a hot day at our new kitchen table, I start to think that they are probably correct, my hair cut is unprofessional, or worse, unattractive. But, at this point, the mildly aggressive boundary setting feels like a challenge. I have always considered myself a radical because I like the exhilaration of going against the grain. When my sister had cancer, my mother cut her long silken black locks into a something crude, something short. When my mother died, I wanted to shave my head as a sign of unity, but my father wouldn’t allow it. I could have used my own hand to buzz the strands, but perhaps I’ve always been the sort who paid too much attention to the rules.

Friday, July 11, 2008

THE CZECHS by Alice Jaffee

When I think of the essence of Czech culture, this song comes to mind: “Aproc Bychom Se Netesili.” It’s from Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride.” Full of optimism, joy, playfulness and always a hint of sex in this quite humorous opera.

So I wanted to tell you how I first came, yes, to hate it. I mean the whole opera. It was a weekday. Oh, yes, back when I was ten or so. I heard that we are going to the movies, to the big “Imperato Cinema,” to see a film of “The Bartered Bride.” The enterprising proprietor greeted us royally, counted the eight heads of the Bondy family, then the friends of ours who were always welcome to come -- Max Brettschneider, always, Hilda Eckstein, Erika Grohman and others. Cheaper by the dozen, so to speak. He usually came up with a reasonable price and put us into one of the front rows.

I had made up my mind I was going to sleep this one out. I was tired from extra gym activity. Just so tired. Alas, this one was much too noisy for my plan. Every time I could catch a little snooze – boing! Another loud, loud aria. Mingled with this malaise was the piano teacher’s verdict that I was tone deaf and could not be considered to become a student. To hell with all that classical music. I did like the “Schlaggers,” the popular hits like “Schon ist die Liebe in Haffen” and other schmaltz.

Many, many years later, in Woodstock, in fact, I woke up one morning and decided to listen to Smetana’s opera with unbiased ears. (It would be interesting to know what brought it on.) No one owned a copy of it – so, I went out to order one. It took weeks before it arrived. I loved it, loved it, loved it! – And this aforementioned song (aria) is now almost a mantra of mine. It translates “Why shouldn’t we be happy, since God granted us health!” The right to be happy, joyful, despite adversities, ours or others’. The Czechs really were that way.

One of my father’s tenants in the four-story building we lived in – a family – was a totally Czech family. The man never spoke German. His name was Suchy – which translates simply as “dry.” Dry he was, almost sour in temperament. He was a tax collector to boot!

Mrs. Suchova, on the other hand, made up mightily for all his shortcomings in social graces. In her presence one felt joyful. Her beautiful lips always about to break into a smile, her shiny black hair -- I remember it so well – was pinned back softly over the ears and the bright rhinestone barrettes met in the middle of the back of her head. Her bella donna eyes twinkled at you amid the milk-white skin of her face. She just seemed to enjoy the sexual innuendos that came her way. They surely had a contrasting balancing act. A playful and lusty pat on her backside was enough of a signal to exit.

Before I let them recede into my memory bank, I want to recall the great cleanliness and warmth of their home and the love she had for their son, Prender, who also never learned German. Paradoxically, my kid brother, Ruben, and Prender went to Czech school together. At this time it was deemed better to avoid German schools. Ruben spoke Czech to him.

Some of my favorite people were the peddlers. They would come after the workers left around 6pm. They would come by appointment. Some three or four of them. Buying men’s and women’s socks, women’s silk and wool stockings, men’s elegant white-on-white shawls made of rayon (“baum wolle”). The men just spoke Czech during the great exchange of energy – gusto and goods. My father, Sam Bondy, as all Czech Jews, spoke a condescending Czech – a noblesse oblige gesture. I don’t know if Pappa was aware of it.

When I saw them coming I quickly ensconced myself in a corner of the second floor at the big oak table where the show was about to begin. My mother appeared with the best Meinl coffee, her delectable pastries generously heaped. The precious gold-rimmed china already in place, the ones reserved for fine company. Nobody told me to leave. I endured all the off-color jokes and boasting about sexual conquests in the countryside while selling their wares. I liked the sparkle in their eyes and their joy of being royalty for the day. They praised Pappa to each other: “Faynovy clovek,” “What a refined man.”

Deep down Sam Bondy actually identified with them. Pappa was born into great poverty in the poorest of the poor neighborhoods on the southside of Chicago’s stockyards. His mother of noble Kohn birth in desperation sent her undernourished older son to Catholic parochial school solely because of the hot lunches – mama mia! He liked mingling with working people. He rose above them. His was an Horatio Alger story.

I liked when the peddler clients had made their purchases. They would finally turn to me and say something like, “Little girl, when you grow up and get married, don’t skimp on food. Skimp on other things, but eat healthy. Promise.” They said it to me in broken German. I must say I kept that promise.

Both my mother and father were skilled salespeople. Pappa had this ability I sometimes see on the Home Shopping Network where you can be seduced into feeling privileged to part with your money so gratefully for the honor of being the potential owner of this remarkable “gem” they are so lovingly stroking.

When the colorful men left they had tears in their eyes out of gratitude. Magic, n’est ce pas?

Another Czech personality I fondly remember – alas, her name I no longer remember – was our Czech teacher at school. She was so typically Czech. Darkish blond hair, blue eyes, robust health. She had this ambition to instill in us Germans a love for this Slavic language. There was this play (I think she had authored it) about the circus. She wore eccentric, theatrical skirts and blouses, definitely a thespian, a real Bohemian. I loved her. I remember all those talking circus animals and then there was Ferdinande and Jacobe – hopelessly in love with the same girl. She just could not reach those German schildren. They, alas, felt strangely aloof, subconsciously superior. Well, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

The play never came to be performed, but I had learned my part of the talking horse diligently. I very much suspect she never got much support from the school principal who regarded the Czechs an inferior minority. What an incredible chutzpah that was! Here was this newly established country – democratic to a fault. This Sudeten region was unfortunately a stronghold of a close Hitler ally named Conrad Henlein who delivered the Sudeten Germans to Hitler. Chamberlain’s shortsightedness made the rape possible. German culture was so entrenched. From the Austro-Hungarian empire – Yisgadal veyisgadash.

Deep down I must have identified with the injustice vis a vis the Czechs who were not treated as equals, as I was not by my family.

The saving grace is that the precious city of Prague with all its splendor was saved from destruction. American youths go there now to luxuriate in the coffee houses and find themselves in this sunny land of splendid democracy – Pravda Vitezi – the truth wins.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I’ve always been a very friendly, exuberant, positive person. Usually, when I am thrown into a group situation, I am the cheerleader or the MC or some other not-so-invisible role. At various times in my life, I have attempted to tone myself down and be less visible, but usually this quiet state only lasts for a short while. Whatever I am doing—I try to get into it with gusto.

And so, when my wife asked me to attend the Unity Church in Austin, TX with her, I did so quite willingly—even though it was a bit out of my comfort zone—being a very ethnic, unmistakable Jew.

Fortunately, this particular church was very into singing—which was perfect for me, since I love to sing. I took up my hymnal like a regular and very soon was exuberantly singing along with my Christian brethren, in a strong loud voice, as if I had been coming there for years.

Everyone was incredibly friendly at the Unity Church in Austin, Texas. Maybe it was because it was Texas or maybe it was because it was a “New Age” church. But, whatever it was, the people were very friendly and very gracious. They were friendly and gracious in the morning when we arrived. They were friendly and gracious at the place where the minister stopped and told everyone to greet the people around them, and they were friendly and gracious at the hospitality table after the service. That is—everyone but this one tall, very WASPs looking man who was there all the time. Whenever he saw me, he turned and went the other way. I tried to reach out to him, but to no avail. He was always snubbing me and sat as far away from my as possible. Obviously, he knew I was Jewish and he was an anti-semitic, Nazi bastard. So, I stopped trying to win him over and just snubbed him back. After all, this guy was, perhaps, the biggest asshole on the face of the earth, so why should I keep trying?

This went on for weeks and weeks. I told everyone I knew about the sour, anti-semite at the Unity Church. He became the laughing stock at my dinner table on several occasions.

Then on Sunday, the minister must have seen me glaring at him. She came up to me and said, “Bennett, do you have a problem with Ed Johnson?”

“No,” I said, “he has a problem with me. I think he’s anti-semitic.”

She looked amused.
“No, I’m sure that is not right. Ed is a very liberal, egalitarian man. He is the head of our interfaith committee that works closely with the area synagogues. I know you are mistaken.”

I was taken back. I was sure he was anti-semitic, Nazi—but maybe I was wrong. But, he still is a very unpleasant fellow—and I told the minister as much. She wouldn’t let it go. She said, “Bennett, please do me and you a favor. Go over to Ed and ask him what’s the problem.”

So, I swallowed my pride and saddled over to the ex-Nazi. I asked if we could have a few private words. He obliged. We stepped aside to where no one else could hear. I told him that I had felt snubbed and disrespected by him and that everyone in the church had been so friendly to me except him and asked him if he had a problem with me.

He paused a minute to collect himself and spoke slowly. “Bennett," he said (I was surprised he even knew my name), when I come to church, it is to put myself in a quiet, meditative state. I love to sink into the quite grace of the beautiful building and the beautiful hymns. It is very disconcerting for me to be anywhere near you in church. You belt out the hymns like they are Broadway musical numbers. You don’t try at all to blend in, but instead, sing as loudly and exuberantly as you can. I hate it. It throws me off. You have a right to sing as you please, so I never said anything—but, I try to get as far away from you as I can—so I can have my own spiritual experience—and not yours. I am sorry I never said anything, but I am a quiet man and I don’t like conflict. I hope you understand.

I was dumbfounded. There was nothing I could say. I thanked him for his honesty. Later, I told my wife I was too ashamed to ever go back to the church again, but she wouldn’t let me off the hook.

For weeks after that, friends would ask me about the anti-semitic Nazi at the Unity Church—hoping to get more funny diatribes—so, the shame continued.

I did go back to the church and got to know Ed better. I stopped singing like I had something to prove and, instead, sang with everyone else. Ed and I eventually became friends. He is a wonderful man.

And I am, perhaps, the biggest asshole on the face of the earth. Actually, it was an important life lesson. Since then, every time I meet someone who pisses me off and seems vile to me—I think about Ed. It usually turns out that the person who pissed me off, really isn’t very nice—but now, I first look for the good—instead of quickly writing someone off. It works a lot better that way. And, oh yes, I sing a lot quieter, too.

THE CITY by Ruth Berg

There is a parking space in front of MOMA...on the south side of 53rd. Jim is clever...he easily backs into the small space. The old Volvo even has a bit of room to maneuver....I’m not sure why Karen and Jim kept the car when they moved back to the city but if you are as clever with parking as Jim, a car is a great convenience. I open the back car door and step out onto the sidewalk. There is a Sabrette street-stand next to the sidewalk. I can smell the onions, the sauerkraut. The aroma tempts me; I haven’t had a Sabrette hot dog in years. Across the street, I can see vendors with make-shift stands selling leather handbags and large swaths of cotton material from Africa. Fifty-Third Street has changed... no longer the pristine street I once knew so alive with vendors and tourist

We walk to Sixth Ave. (Avenue of The Americas...the powers that be tried to change the name during remained Sixth) Turning north, we cross 54th St. where I lived with my dog Hambone in a narrow room, cooking on a hot plate. I went to sleep to the sounds of cool jazz vibrating the floor coming up from Jimmy Ryan’s Club below and the club’s neon sign outside my window casting shadow patterns on the ceiling and the rhythmic drum beat from the strip joint across the street as the ladies bumped and grinded.

We continue up Sixth, cross 55th St. There is the Warwick Hotel. There use to be a drugstore tucked in with the hotel. Don and I would meet for coffee there. In her late years, I can see that Old Lady Warwick has fancied herself up...doorman and all. We cross Sixth and continue walking up to 56th St. turn left. I do not recognize anything on this street...for a year I took acting classes in a building on the north side...and across the street was Jerry’s where after class we gathered ( Ina, Barbara, Marty, Tony....Don would join us.) We’d each have a stein of draft beer trying to appear world weary with our cigarettes and sit for hours discussing acting, auditions, agents. One of us would have seen a fellow student in a Broadway show, declare that he/she was the only actor who was believable, who said his one line “ Dinner is served, Madam.” with such conviction that it delegated all others on stage to a role of ham emoters. Tony drove a cab, heavy Brooklyn accent, knew he would be a star. Now when I go to see any DeNiro or Scorsese or Coppulo movies, I search for Tony’s face in the background where the extras are. We all thought opportunity was around the corner: something marvelous was to happen; just turn the corner. I often wonder are there young people still coming into the city with the same dreams, ambitions, the same innocence that we had. I hope there are. How could our futures fail us? Jerry’s is now a sleek glass building.

On the north side of 56th, there is a French restaurant with tables outside. A lone man is seated at one of the tables...inside there appears to be no one. I think of the hole-in-the wall French bakery with three tiny tables where we had breakfast this morning. It is on First Avenue at 110th St. A constant flow of customers...Karen says they sell out 2 hours before noon. I understand why. I had a croissant that when I bit into it I was covered by tissue paper thin flakes of crust. The man sitting here at this restaurant seems embarrassed. Has he already ordered? Who didn’t show up? We walk on. Two doors further is the Thai restaurant; we enter. Howard is seated at a back table. The restaurant is already crowded, tables pushed close together. We maneuver to the back table...I’ve met Howard before....a brief meeting. I know he has been engaged 4 times...different women...but never made it to the altar. I don’t know whether he broke off the engagements or they did. We sit. I think Karen must have said something to Howard about my having pursued the theatre in the past because he immediately begins asking me where I had performed, for whom. In other words, he wants a resume. I am not a particularly secretive person except....this is one of the excepts.. I become vague....I ask him if he had pursued theatre. He says “No but I could have. I was in a High School production of “Our Town” and everyone raved about my performance...I probably would have been quite successful if I had pursued it. Everyone who saw the performance said so”. I ask “Did you enjoy the work?” His face becomes blank. He says “I really was outstanding.”At that moment the waiter appears for our orders. I have a salad with an exotic alien dressing that makes my taste buds dance. After dinner we hurry back to MOMA for the Korean film. Rushing along 6th, breathless and unsteady on my feet, memories from the past, of times when I stepped out with a clipped pace in high heels...3 blocks in less than a ½ minute..

The film is weird...I can not recall the film maker’s name .its gone into a memory box only to reappear another time unexpected. But I can close my eyes and the images of the mist shrouded lake appear, the woman rowing the boat, the man stripping off the sides of a large fish for sushi then throwing the live fish back into the water, its raw sides bleeding, exposed.


My discontent seems to be directly related to my impatience, frustration and general none acceptance of how things stand at a certain time. Not that this is the only time I feel discontent, just that these are usually present as well.

Diliala would definitely be a huge memory of discontent. Not that I started out that way. In the beginning we were drinking buddies. She stayed with me at my place in Brooklyn and I stayed with her family in Milano. We had a lot of good times together although they are really hazy. The discontent started when we got married. A decision made over sake in Avenue A Sushi on Avenue A. No surprise there I would Imagine.

It is one of those situations that happened purely from impaired judgment on both of our parts. When two people get together and both make a disclosure that they are an asshole in a relationship it is a sure sign to me today that there will be problems. Then, however, I was completely out of my mind in my alcoholism. In my mind we would get married and have a fairy tale ending. Everything would just work out perfectly. Ah, delusions.

Everything did change, it just got worse. My drinking partner changed. All of a sudden she was nursing her beers, I would end up drinking almost 3 to 1 to her. Then she would tell all our peers look at my drunken asshole husband. Which I played the part of very well. I would get nasty, bitter and paranoid.

A fun drunk I was not. At least not anymore. Fights, miscommunication, expectations from both of us. For so long we had been on the same page, we understood each other. Now it seemed like we were reading two different books. We never resolved anything, it all just lingered and festered. The discontent hurt feelings grew until the alcohol wouldn't even erase the pain.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

IT'S MINE, ALL MINE by Sarvananda Bluestone

“Why do you collect erasers?” Mrs. Belisle, the baby sitter, asked me. I was nine.

“Gesell says that I am going through a collecting phase.” That’s what Ma had told me. She was a devout reader of Arnold Gesell. Fact is that I was always collecting.

I have been collecting as long as I can remember. First, and always, it was records and books. I remember carefully handling the twelve inch very breakable 78 RPM records that constituted the “Lonesome Train”. I was four. I had learned to write my first name. Two years later, when my father returned from the War, he taught me how to write my last name. I still have the album, containing four records; with my name carefully and clearly printed on the inside cover. I never broke a record until I was an adult. Then I got careless. The long playing records that supplanted the seventy-eights were unbreakable. I had thirty years to get careless. I put the “Lonesome Train” in a collection of records on the floor and accidentally kicked it. It was thirty-four years after I had received the album.

I needed—I wanted—I craved. These were the feelings connected to collecting. When I was little and heard the fairy tales that had kings in the counting houses counting out their gold I understood what they were doing. I didn’t have gold, but I knew the feeling. It was an old friend.

People were uncertain. They could come and go. They could come back and die. They never stood still. Friends would return every summer to Journey’s End-or not. But I could go over my things—my collections. They always would be there. They were mine for keeps. They were mine forever.

“I wish Ma and I would never die.” It was a mantra that I began I think when I was eight. Daddy was dying. I was sitting on the hill at Tally Ho Music Camp. It was only about eight miles from Journey’s End and we would go to their Sunday concerts. I sat on the hill on a blanket with some of the other kids as the music floated up the hill.

“I wish Ma and I would never die. I wish Ma and I would never die. I wish….

When Daddy died I added my brother, Paul. He was a pest but I did not want to lose him.

“I wish Ma, Paul and I would never die. I wish Ma, Paul and I would never die…”

Then I was nine and soon we moved from our twelve room mansion on the hill in Yorktown Heights—the house with the winding driveway and orchard and four door heated garage with an apartment above it. We moved from Yorktown and my friends and the house where Daddy had died. We moved into a two room apartment on Six West Ninety-Sixth Street in New York City. Ma decided to send me to Walden School, the only private school I ever attended where they let the students do anything they wanted. I spent most of my time running up and down the halls with my two friends, screaming at the top of my lungs.

It was the worst year of my life.

“I wish Ma, Paul and I would never die. I wish Ma, Paul and I would never die…”

It was the year that I went to see Stella Chess, a psychiatrist, who helped me to anchor myself in the swirling world.

One bright spot was that every day after school, I raced down to Woolworth’s. I would think about that every day during school. That was all I looked forward to and learned how to count the minutes until the end of school. I raced down to Woolworth’s and bought a little pad of loose-leaf notebook paper. It was always the same size.

I never got the notebook that the loose-leaf paper went into. And I never made a single mark with pen or pencil upon the blank sheets. I just collected pad after pad after pad. Soon I had collected a little stack of blank paper.

Ralph had come into my life. I hated him at first. Soon I revered him.

“I wish that Ma, Paul, Ralph and I never die. I wish that Ma, Paul, Ralph and I never die.”

When I started to teach my collecting continued. I had my own income. When I was married to Heather I managed to subscribe to seventy-five periodicals. Some of them were quarterly and some of them were weekly. I actually kept up with them and took notes—until the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966. Then I fell behind.

Heather had an ectoptic pregnancy. It came on so suddenly. She almost died. I never realized that I loved her until then.

“I wish that Ma, Paul, Ralph, Heather and I never die…..”

By the time I left Heather and married Marci, later to be Premrup, the periodicals were taking over the house. They spilled out of my study and started to flow down the stairs like some academic version of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” When my five year old stepson, Jason, went careening down the stairs on some slick periodicals, Marci gave me a choice. “It’s either us or the magazines.” I made a major cut back on my magazines.

By now the list of people had come to include my daughter Julie Anne, later to be Hira. Right after she was born I would tiptoe into the room where her crib was and make sure that the cat, Phoebe, wasn’t sitting on her face. I would bend down and feel the gentle breath coming from that very small mouth.

I don’t think I ever included Marci in my list of people. I know I never included Marci. It was one thing to pretend that I loved her. It was quite another to include her in my prayers. And I never included my stepsons in my silent entreaties. This was one place where I was absolutely true to my fears and my love. I started to shorten my mantra to two letters: OX. I would simply repeat OX, OX, OX. OX.

I don’t remember when I stopped the mantra. I think it was after I had become a disciple of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. There was a period where I even had lost my fear of flying. The Master constantly spoke of the fear of death. For a while it began to recede.

The collections continued. With Heather I collected pot. Each purchase was put away in a little plastic box with an appropriate name. I got some grass from Justin Taylor in Vermont and called it “Vermont Justice”. The names were creative and the collection grew. When I went to grow some of my own from the seeds, I sprouted almost a hundred different plants. Not one of them survived except for a feeble little plant that was so weak I wasn’t even sure it was marijuana.

By the time I left to go to Rajneeshpuram in 1981 I had amassed three hundred cartons of books and records. That was my last major move. Before I left for the Ranch I had divested myself of all but my collection of poetry which I sent to Oregon before me.


When Ma died one of the greatest fears of my life had come to pass.

I still collected. I have collected books, software, tarot decks, crystals.

“OX. OX. OX. OX.”

I constantly fear for my daughter and my grand daughter. When she bought a Mini-Cooper I freaked out—internally. When she tells me that she is going to ride her bike to school with Lucy on the back, I swallow my fear. I no longer repeat the mantra. I stopped that long ago. I just worry and hope. At least now I can do Reiki. But I still collect. There is sureness there.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

LANDSCAPE by Daniel Marshall

I’ve always liked women. I mean, of course I like women sexually; but besides that I’ve usually found women more interesting to be with than men—there are distinctions!

Today, I’m standing at the elevator, and there are already two men there waiting. This one, who’s tall and dark, like Wilt Chamberlain but not so tall, and missing his upper front teeth brings me into the conversation, which I think is very sweet and courteous of him. I catch the drift of it—like the two of them have been speaking Creole or Jamaican, and he’s bringing it down to me.

He’s apologetic. “You see,” he says, “we’re talking about strip clubs, and he don’t want to say that he was there, because you’re here.”

And the other interjects, “I think everyone’s got sexual thoughts!” I look at him, and he says it again. “I think everyone’s got sexual thoughts!”

“Absolutely!” I say. And they both look very relieved about me. “I mean, you’ve read the Gospels—the Bible, right?”

“Yeah! Yeah!”
They’re in familiar territory, nodding vigorously; and I say, “It’s always interested me how forgiving Jesus is of sexual sins—even the woman caught in adultery. Now, adultery is a pretty terrible thing, because someone gets hurt!” Vigorous nods. “Yet, He just forgives her easily; but the Pharisees He has no use for. They’re actually killing people, greedy, with their righteousness! Hot-blooded sins He forgives easily; but cold-blooded ones He detests! We’re supposed to deal with sex reasonably; but if we don’t … [I think what word I want to say. They’re chuckling, “Ha, ha!”] …, it’s forgivable.”

I didn’t mean that greed isn’t forgivable—like “the sin against the Holy Spirit”, and what that is! Oh, well, it’ll have to do; it’s out there.

The younger one can hardly contain himself: “Sex is necessary,” he blurts, “so there can be people!”

That was more interesting than most talks with men, but what I mean is, I like women sexually—that is, some women, if they’re into it, but besides that I just like being with them more than men. With women, it’s more getting into each other, grooving together.

With men …; I mean, take my brothers—they argue. We’re Irish and shy; and that’s how we show love! Men want to argue, or say nothing, or talk about sports, or fucking women. Yuck! Women are more subtle.

Except, women talk I can’t stand! I really can’t! When the women in my family get together … they’re off here, off there. My linear male mind wants to scream! “Stick to the point! Who is that person, and that one; and I don’t care anyway! And if you can’t remember his aunt’s maiden name, drop it, please, and just keep on with the story!”

Is there something wrong with me for preferring women’s company? Maybe I should get more men friends. I melt when women smile.
My male counselor has a beautiful smile every time—like a Cheshire cat. He was a monk twenty years ago and just walked away. I used to wonder whether he was homosexual. I don’t think so; but it doesn’t matter to me. I love him very much.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

THE GRIEF PROJECT by Suzanne Bachner

VERONICA: I have a project I want to write with you.

SUE: With me?

VERONICA: I have a kernel. The kernel of an idea and I want to collaborate with you.

SUE: I just got rid of a bad Hollywood writing partner. I don’t want to work with someone else. Like that.

VERONICA: Well, really, I want you to write it. It’s about my father. Sort of.

SUE: I love your Dad.

VERONICA: I know you do. That’s why I wanted you to write it.

SUE: Isn’t it too soon? After his death?

VERONICA: I like to say passing.

SUE: I’m sorry, passing. Isn’t it too soon after his passing? To do a project. I mean, for you.

VERONICA: Just meet me. And we’ll talk about it.

SUE (to AUDIENCE): I meet her at a super trendy overpriced health food restaurant in West Hollywood. We sit outside. She drinks iced tea and watches me eat. (to VERONICA) What’s your kernel?

VERONICA: My kernel is this: it’s a short film. It’s called “Visiting Hours.”

SUE: Nice title.

VERONICA: I know. I thought you’d like it. It would be a showcase for me. I’d be the star.

SUE: I thought you said it was to honor your father.

VERONICA: It is. The credits are going to say “In Loving Memory” and all that.

SUE: Okay. Your Dad used to call me Sue “The Bach” Bachner. And I used to call him Charles “The Chuck” Goldfarb. I think he liked that.

VERONICA: That’s why I want you to write this. I thought of you first. I want you to write it and for Kenneth and I to produce it, and he can have a small role in it if there is one, but that’s not important and I’ll star in it.

SUE: I’ve really had pretty bad writer’s block since the divorce.

VERONICA: Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry to hear that.

SUE: And honestly, Veronica, the last time you and Kenneth said you’d produce something, Patrick and I ended up producing it.

VERONICA: That’s just how it worked out. If you really want to move forward, you shouldn’t dwell on the past. I mean, if I were you, I wouldn’t even mention your husband’s name.

SUE: Ex-husband.

VERONICA: You know what I mean. I told Kenneth not to be friends with him anymore.

SUE: They were really close. I told everyone—you included—that I didn’t have a problem with people being friends with him. We’re in a very small community. I would have preferred that Wendy hadn’t slept with him—

VERONICA: Totally breaking the girl rule.

SUE: Yes, but I didn’t want all these other relationships to be casualties just because we split up.

VERONICA: You’re too nice.

SUE: I don’t think so.

VERONICA: You know, your divorce was really tough on me.

SUE: I’m sorry.

VERONICA: It really triggered me.

SUE: Are you worried about you and Kenneth?

VERONICA: Not at all. We’re golden. It just brought up a lot of issues I have because of my parents divorcing when I was six and feeling completely scared and abandoned and rejected and blamed.

SUE: Well, I might have tried harder to work things out with Patrick if I had known this would be so hard on you.

VERONICA: Thanks. Can I taste that?

SUE: Sure. Take some. Let’s get you a plate.

VERONICA: Oh, no. I just want a nibble. No, no fork. I’ll use my fingers.

SUE: You’re like a little bunny.

VERONICA: Kenneth thinks it’s cute.
(VERONICA looks at her Blackberry.)

SUE: Do you have somewhere to be?

VERONICA: No, it’s not that. I just thought that we were going to talk about the project, and not about your problems. I mean, I’m more than happy to talk about that at another time.

SUE: Oh, okay. So you penciled me into today with an agenda.

VERONICA: Exactly. A very worthy agenda. I think you’re the person to write this short.

SUE: Maybe not now. I told you when we first talked…

VERONICA: Let me tell you the kernel.

SUE: Ah, yes, the infamous kernel.

VERONICA: I think you’re going to want to write it once you hear the kernel.

SUE: Okay. Tell me the kernel.

VERONICA: Okay. A woman—me—slips into a coma, maybe she has some kind of tragic accident, I don’t know, we can figure this out. But the short mostly takes place in a hospital—so that way we’re only dealing with basically one location—and this beautiful young woman is in a coma in this hospital and she’s visited by all these random people in her life—the bagel guy she sees every morning, her manicurist, her yoga instructor, her doorman, as well as her family and friends, but it’s the everyday people, salt of the earth kind of regular people who we wouldn’t expect to visit her at all. Those visits, those people, are the heart of the film. And it’s called “Visiting Hours.”

SUE: Yes, you mentioned that.

VERONICA: What do you think?

SUE: Woman in coma gets visited in the hospital by bagel guy.

VERONICA: Yes, basically. In a nutshell. And all the visits are really short and snappy, so we can film them in like half a day and maybe get celebrities or well-known character actors to make cameos. We can draw on the vast pool of talent that Kenneth and I have collaborated with over these past years of being working actors in the business. Like maybe even Eli Wallach would do it.

SUE: Be the bagel guy?

VERONICA: I don’t know. Or something else. What do you think?

SUE: I can’t see Eli Wallach as the bagel guy.

VERONICA: Never mind that.

SUE: So what happens? What happens in the story?

VERONICA: What do you mean what happens? I told you what happens.

SUE: You gave me a kernel.

VERONICA: I said I was giving you a kernel. That’s why I came to you. So that you can figure it out. I just want to act. I just want a project. And I want you to write it.

SUE: Well, I like all the little people coming to visit her and having this connection.

VERONICA: That’s right. A connection.

SUE: I told you that the only people I’m friends with in LA are people outside the business—like my dry cleaner Serge and the lady who works there, Angie. They’re the only real people in LA.

VERONICA: You could put Serge in. Maybe Eli could play Serge.

SUE: But something dramatic has to happen.

VERONICA: I knew you’d be into this.

SUE: Well, right now there isn’t really a story.

VERONICA: I know. It’s a kernel.

SUE: A good short has to have a twist. What if people from her past and people from her future start visiting her too. Like her unborn children. Since she’s dying prematurely.

VERONICA: Oh, that would be interesting.

SUE: I couldn’t tell you exactly what would happen. I’d have to work on it.

VERONICA: I know. That’s what I had in mind.

SUE: Kenneth could play her husband.

VERONICA: He doesn’t really have to be in it. He may want to direct it. But I told him he had to use his own money to finance it if he wants to direct it.

SUE: Well, “it” doesn’t exist yet. But that would be fun. He must have some money from all those sitcoms, right? I know he’s always wanted to direct. And this one’s for Charles, right?

VERONICA: Oh, yeah.

SUE: I just have to question something.

VERONICA: Go ahead. I’m not attached to anything.

SUE: Well, if you want this as a vehicle for yourself, you may not get a lot of mileage out of playing a woman who’s in a coma for the whole film.


SUE: And it’s a little movie of the week, the coma thing. If we’re creating a film to honor your Dad, why don’t we tackle the matter at hand?

VERONICA: What do you mean?

SUE: I think she should have cancer. Like your Dad.

VERONICA: I don’t know.

SUE: When my parents had cancer and I thought I would lose them, all I wanted to do was take their place, be the one who was sick. That helplessness to me is the visiting hours experience. Why don’t we make a movie about that?

VERONICA: So you’re going to write it?

SUE: Yes. (To AUDIENCE.) And I did.


It’s a vise. Once that gripping machine opens and shuts down again there is no escape. First comes the enticement to get in, but then comes the engulfing, the swallowing whole. Just try to be my friend, that’s it, try and keep trying and once you do become my friend try to get away. You cannot, there’s a possessiveness such of which you cannot imagine.

Margie was very smart, and both her parents were doctors – pediatricians. She had a brother Arnold and younger sister Susie. I think her name was Susie. Everyone called Marjorie Samuels “Margie,” although to me she was far too mature – even at fourteen – to be called Margie.

Whatever possessed her to want to be my friend? I don’t know. I had nothing to offer her. She didn’t take French, she took Latin. I couldn’t help her out with French and I didn’t take Latin. I struggled with algebra and it’s quite possible she wanted to help me out. Whatever it was, she did have the courage to approach me; or was it compassion or worse yet, pity, that moved her to reach out to me?

I simply do not recall the details of the circumstances that brought us together. I was quite the loner during my freshman year at Presque Isle High School. She was kind and we laughed a lot. I think she genuinely enjoyed my company. I could be funny at times. Sometimes, even when I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was funny, I guess. I was just different than many of the other kids Margie knew. For one thing, I was bi-lingual and I’d come from a very different world than Margie and her friends knew. I’d never been in Girl Scouts or to a summer camp. But I knew and loved the woods. I’d never even learned how to swim because both my parents didn’t know how and taught me well to fear the water.

Margie could swim and ski and was very athletic. In gym class I was a total klutz. I feared the horse, the trampoline; I couldn’t somersault. Nothing that required my turning upside down was achievable for me. Playing volley ball was disastrous. I was a mess – a self-conscious unplugged kid, who was so out of sync that I must have appeared to everyone a pitiful waif.
But, Margie persisted and so for a brief time we became friends.

One day I invited her to my place. I think she’d wanted to see where I lived. At that time, I lived on Academy Street. I had seen her home, the big spacious white house that was located just at the corner of the University property and right off south Main Street as you head out of town. The University, a branch of the University of Maine located in Orono, was referred to as UMPI – University of Maine Presque Isle. The property was a rambling hilly stretch peppered with traditional looking academic brick buildings with white columns.

The Samuels house was a large almost mansion-sized white house with dark blue shutters. It was carpeted inside except for the spacious kitchen. It felt oddly stifling throughout the rest of the house and this feeling pounced on my sensibilities. Maybe all was not right with this family. Later, Marjorie shared with me that one of her uncles had committed suicide. Wow! This was a very different world than I had known.
I was honored that she felt she could share this information with me.

So, on this particular day after school we walked to my place, the dark, dingy little hole-in-the-wall apartment on Academy Street. Dad was not home and Mom was still working. I think Mom had left some baked brownies on the kitchen counter – so Margie and I had milk and brownies. We talked and then she got up to leave.

“Must you go now?”

“Yes,” she said. “I have to get home.” She put her coat and scarf and hat on and her gloves, took her book bag and headed for the door.

“Don’t leave, please, not yet. Please, Marjorie, don’t go.” And I threw myself between her and the door.

“DeAnn! I have to go home!” And her look became very serious.

I panicked. “No! Don’t go. Not yet.” I hugged the door.

“DeAnn, get away from the door, I’m leaving!”
I saw fear in the eyes behind her glasses. I stepped aside. She opened the door and left.

Monday, February 18, 2008

OCTOBER by RoseMarie Navarra

I pull out of the Barnes and Noble parking lot on to Route 9 North — cars weaving in and out of lanes, people cutting me off, traffic lights every few yards. I’m trying to have a day without complaining — something I heard from the TV in the other room while I was putting on makeup in the bathroom this morning. Somebody had written a book about the incredible benefits derived when one stops complaining. They said to try it for one day and see what happens.

I get to the ramp to the bridge and of course I’m surrounded by people driving for the first time, people who find it impossible to exit one ramp and enter another without numerous sudden stops and starts; people who had someone else take their driving tests, people who apparently need medication, people who couldn’t pass an IQ test (obviously not required for a driving license)… people who make it necessary for me to give them looks of pure hatred while I curse their mothers, their sexual practices, their body parts. Would this be complaining, I wonder?

I begin to hate myself for these thoughts, but I’m fed up…and I guess I failed the stupid day without complaining thing. The heater in my car is broken; I have two bad tires and a splitting headache from the two espressos I had in Barnes & Noble, not to mention Jack, my late husband’s second cousin, who pretended not to see me in the Barnes & Noble CafĂ©. He wouldn’t want to have to express his sympathies for my loss – what would be in it for him? Who would there be to admire his charm and wit and marvel at his intellect? Okay, I have to admit I pretended not to see him too – I didn’t want to have to pretend he isn’t a pompous idiot and that his posing and preening doesn’t curdle my guts. I hate people who make me act like that.

So finally on the ramp that took twelve minutes to get on, I am about to cross the river to the other county – the one I have moved to now that Jerry is gone.… ( I can’t explain why.) It is late afternoon in early October and as I turn and enter the bridge – there they are – the mountains –glorious this fall. I think of our walks along the river, through woods and mountain trails—how we would walk and talk so quietly, not to disturb the day, not to tempt the fates. The beauty of the mountains takes away my breath, while at the same time I can’t bear to look at them. I don’t know why I have to live another October without you. Oh winter come…freeze me over.

BESSIE by Bob Brader

Bessie is the lady that lives with Memmy, my great grandmother. They are about the same age and I have known her since I was born. Memmy and Bessie lived right next door to each other; there is a small walkway between the two houses. Memmy slept on Bessie’s couch downstairs and Bessie slept upstairs. I would go over to their house before school, from kindergarten to fourth grade. I would get to Bessie’s house and knock on the door. As soon as Memmy would answer it, I would run upstairs to sleep with Bessie in her room. It was warm and comforting. I would get to sleep for another two hours until I had to go to school. Bessie was my angel. She would even put cream on my rear end if my father had woken me up with his belt that morning.

One day I was jumping on the couch, a favorite pastime of mine at that age, to the total dismay of Bessie.

“Will you please stop jumping?”



“Where’s my puzzle?”

“It’s next door, your cousin Tracey was playing with it.”

“I want my puzzle.”

“It’s icy out there, I’m not going to get it.”

I stopped jumping.
“Fine, I just have to get my boots on.”

I turned on the TV and started watching “Underdog”. After the show Bessie still had not returned from next door. I looked out the door window and could see Bessie lying on the walkway; my puzzle was thrown all over the place, why was Bessie sleeping? Then I saw her rise and a streak of fear ran through my body, the white frost hair on the back of her head had now turned red, droplets of blood on her face, her arm has blood on it.

What happened to Bessie and why does she scare me? I was petrified that she was coming to get me to hurt me just like my dad does, she doesn’t love me anymore. I locked the door and hid behind the couch, I didn’t want her to find me. She must have had a key in her pocket because she got in the door. I held my breath behind the couch. I didn’t make a sound. Bessie went upstairs, and I ran out of the house as fast as I could. I went over to a friend’s place and waited.

When I came back, Memmy had come home and Bessie had been taken to the doctor. I went upstairs to Bessie’s room and saw the blood on her pillow and all of the fear came back. From that day on, I was scared to be with Bessie, even scared to be around her at times. I have no idea why this scared me so much or why I was so paralyzed by it, but I will always feel the guilt of my inaction.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The stories I was told were probably lies:

My mother committed suicide.

I was a paskudnyab (a parasite, like a tick or a louse)


I was a kholerya (which is cholera – a basically incurable, fatal case of diarrhea).

My mother was turning over in her grave to see my behavior.

If I didn’t behave I’d be sent to live in an orphanage or a home for bad girls. There I’d see what it was like to have not enough to eat, and no shoes, and I’d be cold, with not enough blankets at night, and I couldn’t get out of there – there’d be bars on the windows and the doors would be locked.

Then I’d appreciate all I had.

I would have to scrub floors and wash clothes and hang them outside, even in the freezing cold, and there would be no school, and no sleigh-riding in winter, and no swimming in summer.

And then I’d realize how fortunate I was now.

And my mother committed suicide because she was so unhappy.

And it was all lies.


ANNE by Billy Herman

1980 was the year that I thought Anne Rayburn in a red bathing suit was all that. And funny enough I still think that. Anne had formed a big ego and had strong opinions.

Unfortunately when I saw her up there in Lake Placid it was among the most confused, panic-stricken times of my life.

It took me a long time to calm down and focus. It took about six years. Then Anne finally called me but all she could talk about was herself. Goodbye I said, and she said goodbye and I thought I heard some of that old emotion in her voice, but she never called again and I never called her.

I mixed Anne up with young love. I thought she and it were the same thing. And oh how different is young love from the life I lead now.

There are people I am sure I will never hear from or even hear about again. They are the people who inflicted tremendous hurt on me. But Anne? Innocent or guilty I got it as anguish, then it calmed down and she became for many years Anne Rayburn in a red bathing suit, both of us about 22 years old, me a dropout and she just graduated from Potsdam State about to go to music school in Michigan.

Four years later I am a zombie and a failure. Two or three psychotic episodes behind me, two or three more to go. Desperate, on the wrong medication. I show up at her door in San Francisco, where she is again succeeding, about to get her master’s degree in music. And she hates me. She hates my desperation and neediness, my extreme depression. We are now both about 26.

She called me one last time about three years later, we were both about 29, and all she could do was talk about herself, innocent or guilty.

I confused her with young love. She called to put me down because she figured out I wasn’t a loser. That I could go through a lot of shit and still come out on top, and she didn’t want me to pull it off. She seemed to have it all but it was very important to her that I didn’t recover. Innocent or guilty.

Anne Rayburn in a red bathing suit. A manic reaction. The red glows in the summer sun.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


As a kid, I tended to be socially backward, out of touch with the Code of Boyhood, that amalgam of bravado and inchoate sophistication with which American males aged roughly eight to twelve typically confront the world. I was clearly atypical. For one thing, I performed well in school -- not necessarily a fatal flaw, if it was accompanied by, say, strong athletic skills in the playground. In my case, however, it was definitely not so accompanied, which left me vulnerable to the charge of being a “brain,” or, even less flatteringly, a “grind.”

I don’t wish to exaggerate my social problems. Certainly I had friends I palled around with, whose homes I visited and who visited my home. It was just that I was often made to feel, subtly or not so
subtly, an outsider — that there was a final measure of intimacy and confidence to which I was never admitted.

One basic tenet of the Code, of course, is a willingness to fight, to physically “stand up for yourself” if the occasion requires. But in this respect as well, I failed to measure up, shamefully failed; I was timid and terribly afraid of getting hurt. There was one day I recall in particular when with no provocation at all I was challenged to a fight. The challenger was a tough-looking, wiry, black-haired kid whom I’d only just met, and he was plainly acting not in anger but rather out of principle, fulfilling a solemn obligation under the Code of putting a new acquaintance to the test of a fistfight as a necessary preliminary to friendship, or at least continued acquaintance. I didn’t want to fight, didn’t want to get hurt or to hurt him. But there seemed no viable way of getting out of it, so we did mix it up briefly. He was in fact physically smaller than I, and I could probably have won the contest if it had gone to any sort of conclusion. As it was, although I held my own for as long as it lasted, I broke it off after a couple of minutes. I ended by feeling that I could and should have kept going, and had probably, though he said nothing, failed the test in the other kid’s eyes.

GROUNDLESS by Judith Benatar

Anthony’s was located about ten miles outside my hometown but not far from a larger, neighboring town on a curving backwoods road on the side of a hill. Decades later, the road would be straightened to make way for bigger and better destinations. But Anthony’s was a hangout to aspire to then, especially if you were underage and in search of adventure. The place had long been a fixture among an older, cooler, and occasionally dangerous clientele. Things happened there. As it turned out, Anthony’s pizza was so good that sometimes a group of us would use it as an excuse to get permission to go there after basketball or football games, where we would order a pie, listen to music on the huge, multicolored juke box, soak up the mystique, and try on adult gestures and expressions for flavor and size. A few of my braver classmates would smoke cigarettes and lie about their ages for a couple of drafts.

I had been there a few times with some of the kids I knew, always shy and self-conscious, tripping over myself in the intentional darkness of the place, having to pee really bad but dreading the sour stench and sticky floor, grimy toilet, and fetid breath of the leering men who deliberately got in my way, before I reached the bathroom door. There was a small dance floor, though, and the music at Anthony’s was always great. That glorious juke box seemed to cast the promise of romance into the low-ceilinged room, and the sawdust they put down fresh every day shifted patterns under slow dancing feet and bodies pressed into rhythmic carnal pleasure. We’d sit at a corner table and pretend indifference, casting furtive glimpses at people we might like to emulate, imagining ourselves older on a sultry night out.

It must have been a few years later, probably sometime just before high school graduation, that I somehow found myself at Anthony’s alone. I know I must have at least borrowed my parents’ car and driven myself there, but it was so unlike me, so out of character to do such a thing, take such a real risk, that I am at a loss to remember the circumstances or what I was thinking.

Anthony’s was jammed that night, as usual, the music loud, the liquid flowing. Nobody seemed to notice me at first in the half-light, and since I was shy, I had a knack for melting into the shadows. As I watched the goings-on, I suddenly found myself thinking of Cinderella pretending to be The Princess of Pots and Pans, and Melina Mercouri, a deep-voiced, sexy actress I had recently seen playing a wild and independent spirit who took on the world with a throaty laugh.

Right then and there, I made a conscious decision to put on an emotional disguise. I would look like I harbored an important, inner mystery and smile just a little bit with my hidden knowledge, personal strength, and quiet allure. To my considerable surprise, it worked right away. The bartender served me a vodka and tonic without asking for an ID, pleased to be of service. I took my drink and stood near a support pillar at the edge of the dance floor, sipping the alcohol, staring meaningfully now and then into the ice and lime, and beginning to enjoy immensely the persona I was taking on.

A much older man came up and asked me to dance. He moved well and was comfortable with himself. “Where are you from?” he asked, after a while.

“Further than you would know,” I said back, enigmatically.

“Maybe you should move here,” he suggested. “There’s no one like you for miles around, I can tell you, honey.”

“That a fact?” I responded.

By the end of the evening, I had danced with at least six different guys and had the time of my life, and for just a little while, I was the undisputed queen of Anthony’s Pizza. Eventually, my bladder insisted I call it a night – after all, mysterious queens don’t gag on sour smells, walk on sticky floors, or even think about grimy backwoods toilets.