Friday, May 22, 2015

IN GRASS by Fred Poole

I did not think this was following a pattern, that it was like something else, something that was known to other people and that now I, like them, knew it too. That’s not the way I was thinking now or on any of the many times I went south from our yard, across the final part of the driveway loop, past the stream of clear water that came down from a hill and went into a pipe that took it under the road to whatever was on the other side, which was a Chinese-style garden full of pathways that ended at the river. Heading south after the stream of clear water what came next was the yard of a small house next door and then through an opening of one of the many stone walls that were everywhere around here, and from the stone wall into a field with no house in it. 

I knew how it would smell before I got there and laid down on my stomach and with my eyes open, breathing air that had dried grass and leaves  and new grass and earth in it, looking right into the grass, and seeing what was there, as if looking at it this way was to see it magnified many times, an ant was walking by, a grass hopper skedaddling, and there was a lazy caterpillar, and some more ants, and sometimes a beetle. And around me the sounds of the field, soft sounds, birds mostly who would make their bird noises, and then there would be silence, and then the birds would be back. I did not see any snakes or squirrels or chipmunks but I knew they were close at hand.

I did not wonder if anyone else had ever laid down in a summer field this way to enjoy what was in the grass. Grass and some pine needles that had made their way there from the hill, and also a leaf or two. I breathed deep. This situation where I knew and it did not occur to me to ask if anyone else knew. Though wondering about what other people saw and felt, wondering how you were supposed to experience the world, which came up over and over in my head. I would hear sentimental talk on the radio about what a boy’s life was supposed to be like. And I heard the same thing later in the Cub Scouts. But in this field there was nothing about what was supposed to be. And I did not think I would ever tell anyone about my going into the field. 

I remembered it from one summer to the next. When we went away for the summer, I would check on it quickly when we got back -- over there north of our yard and the stream, and the stone wall.  My grandfather Gaga, who was a writer, talked about how things were supposed to be. So did my twin Peter, from the time we were 2 or 3 years old. And it was said he would be a writer too. But in good times -- like being belly down in the field and joining in the life that I saw there, it seemed either unimportant or liberating that I did not know what Gaga and Peter knew.

Friday, May 8, 2015


The stories I was told were probably lies:

My mother committed suicide.

I was a paskudnyak (a parasite, like a tick or a lice) or I was a choleryeh (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 sleighriding 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.


Monday, April 20, 2015

I DID AND I DIDN'T by Mel Rosenthal

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college, which was also the summer after my mother died of cancer, I worked for Good Humor. Exactly how this happened, I can’t be sure now. Someone must have suggested the idea, since I doubt that I would have thought of it on my own. In any case, I applied for and got a job as a tricycle salesman. Most of Good Humor’s business was (and presumably still is) conducted from the familiar white trucks, but I didn’t drive, and had to settle for a three-wheeled vehicle with the ice cream, popsicles, and ices in a case behind me as I pedaled along. If I recall correctly, drivers and tricyclists alike worked on commission -- your earnings were a certain percentage of your sales.

So it was that every weekday that summer I took the short bus trip from my home in suburban Orange, New Jersey, to the company’s plant/distribution center in Newark. After replenishing my supplies as necessary, I would set off in the early afternoon on my route through the city’s sticky-hot streets. I often had to traverse its hillier areas, which, what with the physical strain of constantly moving upward, could seem endless.

No matter the problems, my sense is that overall I enjoyed my summer with Good Humor. Even so it would be my only summer in their employ, I never went back. And what particularly lingers now in memory is a small incident from my very first day on the job:  I was standing by in the distribution center when someone abruptly approached and said that my mother was there to see me—my mother, then already more than two months gone. I was at once disturbed and comforted; for a moment, just a moment, I was willing to believe that it could be true. But I did not move, did not ask where. The logical explanation, of course, was mistaken identity: someone else’s mother was there to see her son. But I did and I didn’t wish to confirm this.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

DISCOURAGED by Debbie Smith

It's 1:30 pm, 9th period on a Friday in May when dismissal time is at 2:13 pm. My classroom is filled with adolescent angst and sweat from gym class the period before. Terence and Melvin always sit next to each other, even though I've separated them about thirty times so far. Terence is whispering something to Melvin and looking at me at the same time while Melvin tries desperately to hold in his laughter. Actually they're both looking at me, trying to gauge the exact moment that I will snap and send one of them out of the room so the class can at least finish the chapter of the book we are reading where we are at least twenty pages behind all the other classes simply because it's 1:30 pm on a hot Friday in May and dismissal is at 2:13 pm. They will both pull back right before my breaking point. They both know me better than my husband ever will. Neither of them wants to be kicked out, Terence because he plays on the school basketball team and can't afford any more disciplinary actions on his record.  Our principal, Mike, really DOES have it in for this kid because he's a small-time drug-dealer who probably won't graduate high school but who WILL probably graduate to be a big-time drug dealer, so right now, 8th grade, thirteen years old, king of the basketball court, right now is the absolute peak of success in Terence's existence and while he may not be the smartest kid in the room, even Terence is smart enough to know that fact.

Melvin doesn't want to be kicked out because he's secretly in love with Terence and Melvin is the only person in the room who is unaware of that fact. Also, Melvin hates feeling like he's missing out on anything. Plus they both really do like me for some reason, even though all I ever do for 42 minutes every 9th period is yell which, of course, does no good but I'm at a loss every day as to what else to do.

As I glare at them while Sasha is reading aloud from the book, Terence makes an attempt to move his seat a few inches farther away from Melvin as a peace offering to me. I've given the entire class a package of sticky notes because that's the latest educational trend we are enforcing this year. The students will mark the sticky note when they "connect" with the text in some way and stick it on the page so we can revisit the thought later as a class. I will just be glad to get the chapter finished.

As I gently correct, Sasha's oral reading, I notice that Terence's sticky notes are nowhere to be seen and his hands are conspicuously absent from view. I'm suspicious but my attention is distracted by Jackie, my favorite tiny Puerto Rican, who is throwing his copy of the book we are reading at the window. I interrupt Sasha.


"Sorry, Miss. There was a bee in the room."

All the girls scream simultaneously and try to run out of the room.

When I've finally quieted the bedlam, I notice Terence and Melvin's desks are right back where they were. I ignore them and ask Malaysia to continue reading. Only the girls volunteer to read aloud and it's May and I've given up on asking anyone else. Plus they read better and faster and now we are only ten pages behind. I'm still wondering exactly what Terence is up to since I still can't see his hands but since it's now 2:03, I'm praying it's nothing major.

We are interrupted a few more times with the office calling for students who have to leave early to make it to their track meet on time, announcements about baseball practice and numerous requests for bathroom passes. Finally, we are almost done, it's almost dismissal bell time and as we are finally on the last page, I realize what Terence has been doing this whole time. He throws about two million tiny pieces of sticky note paper over Melvin's head that he has been methodically ripping up under his desk for the last twenty-five minutes. Such attention to detail must be what makes him such a successful drug dealer.

But I can't hold back my own smile to see Melvin covered head to toe in neon pink sticky notes. They both stay behind after the bell to help me clean it up and we end our day once again.