June 20, 2010

-image-checking the queue

So my dad now has Netflix.

Now this is your basic mini cultural revolution, believe me. He once was blind but now can see kind of thing. As I’ve said before, only half-jokingly, I am Amish — Amish by association with a dad who grew up in the heart of Amish country and would be Amish if he didn’t like electricity so durned much. In his heart of hearts, he is Amish. Because my dad, at 73, is an innocent. I don’t mean this as a negative. Not at all. Never. It’s endearing to me. The thing about him that most tugs at my heart. He’s incredibly smart, but he’s just an innocent about certain things. In business, he’s been a real crackerjack, successful and still working, I might add. Yet in other ways, he’s a bit of a Walter Mitty, creating his own world where he stacks rocks in weightless, tip-to-tip formations and turns wood into delicate lacy eggs and creates flowing stained glass lamps to make you weep, doing each until he’s mastered it and moved on to the next thing to master. He’s almost a savant in certain things. The ease with which can master things. If he can see it in his mind’s eye, he can create it in reality. He never questions whether he can. He simply does.

On the other hand, the majority of mainstream culture eludes him. Movies, TV shows, texting, iPods, all of that. It’s outside of his life. Beyond him in most ways. Well, I take that back. He does have a Kindle now and ….. well, I seriously need to monitor him, I think. Check his pulse. Take blood pressure readings. Chart his intake. I’m not kidding. He’s like a little kid who’s never eaten sugar finally tasting it for the first time and discovering an instant addiction the minute it hits his tongue. No one eaaaased him into it. Nope. BAM! He tasted the Kindle and his eyes spun round like pinwheels and he was gone. Nutso. There’s a bit of a feeding frenzy going on. A teensy maniacal binge. He’s now almost conjoined with his Kindle, one with it. Clearly, the man’s forays into mainstream culture need to be monitored and I’m just the smug little prissypants to do it. You just can’t be too careful.

I mean, in The Fly that Brundle guy becomes one with a freaking house fly, making him Brundlefly, which is disgusting, and eventually Brundledead, which is tragic not to mention messy, and generally not how you want your scientific experiments to go, I imagine. So I’m just doing my due diligence as a daughter by regularly checking in with dad to make sure he’s not actually becoming one with his Kindle.

I want a dad, not Kindledad.

So he called me Friday to announce he’d signed up for Netflix. Another foray into mainstream culture — albeit a very belated one — that makes my blood click like I’m watching a little kid cross a street by himself.

The conversation goes like this:

Dad: So we got Netflix.
Me (hmm): Hey, that’s great, Dad.
Dad: Yeah. We’re queueing up all the classics.
Me: Cool.
Dad: The first one we got was Citizen Kane.
Me: (uh-oh) Oh, yeah?
Dad: Yeah. (pause) I didn’t like it.
Me: Oh? Why not?
Dad: It was boring. I didn’t get it. I mean, I got it, but I didn’t get it. Why is it such a big deal?

I explain why Citizen Kane is a big deal. He is unimpressed.

Dad: Well, okay. I just didn’t like it.
Me: That’s okay. It’s not for everyone, Dad.
Dad: But I’m supposed to like it.
Me: Oh, who cares? I mean, you like what you like.
Dad: That’s true. So we’re just going through their list of classics.

The word he fails to mention here is “indiscriminately.” He is going through the Netflix list of classics, adding them to his queue indiscriminately.

He continues.

Dad: Yeah. Midnight Cowboy is next.
Me (what??): Oh. No, Dad.
Dad: “No,” what?
Me: You won’t like that.
Dad: I won’t?
Me: NO. Trust me, Dad.
Dad: But it’s already been sent.
Me: So what? That doesn’t mean you HAVE to watch it.
Dad: Well, yeah.
Me: So don’t, okay? TRUST ME ON THIS.
Dad: But I like cowboys.

Oh, sweet baby Jesus in the manger. He’s not kidding, either.

Me: Not really about cowboys, Dad.
Dad (he will not let it go): Oh? Is it too violent or too sexual or something?
Me: Well, okay. One of the characters is a male prostitute.
Dad: Oh.
Me (laughing): You asked.
Dad: I think I’ll skip that then.
Me: Funny. That’s what I just said.
Dad: Wanna know what else is in my queue?
Me: Yes, actually. I think you’d better tell me.
Dad: Okay. Um. Rear Window.
Me: Great! Hitchcock. One of my favorites. Jimmy Stewart. Grace Kelly looking gorgeous. You’ll like it.
Dad: Blazing Saddles?

Literally, the man is rattling off movies without the slightest clue about them at all.

Me: Uhm …. not sure if you’ll like it. It’s Mel Brooks. You might think it’s stupid funny.
Dad: Okay.
Me: Try it and see.
Dad: Chinatown.
Me: Uhm ….. (incest alert, etc.) …. well …. it’s a great movie. Hmm. Try it out, Dad.
Dad: Ooh. We watched Lawrence of Arabia.
Me: Yeah? What did you think?
Dad: Well, we had to watch it in installments.
Me: Yeah. It’s long. That’s okay.
Dad: But I thought it was fantastic!
Me: Great! Yeah, I just love that movie.
Dad: Let’s see. What else is in the queue? Oh. A Clockwork Orange?
Me: No, Dad.
Dad: No?
Me: NO.

A Clockwork Orange??
The man is Amish. Not in a million, Ephraim. Good grief. He needs my hovering involvement more than he could possibly imagine.

Dad: Okay. North by Northwest?
Me: Another Hitchcock. Plus Cary Grant. Put all of Hitchcock in your queue, Dad. I think you’ll like him.
Dad: The Godfather?
Me: Well, it’s violent, Dad, but you’re a guy. You HAVE to watch The Godfather. You just do.
Dad: Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

I tell you true: He will not even catch the gay thing.

Me: Hm. Well, there’s Audrey Hepburn. Sure, Dad. You might like it.
Dad: Well, I like her.
Me: Watch it, then.
Dad: Okay. I’ll let you know how it all goes.
Me: Great. Yeah, keep me posted.

Seriously. Keep me posted, Dad.

I can’t have you watching movies all willy-nilly. I do not want Hollywood stealing your innocence at 73. Plenty of time for that when you’re older. And someone needs to be the parent around here, young man. Nothing R-rated without my approval. I mean it. I have your cell phone number and I WILL be using it.

I will not have your Amish eyes spinning round like pinwheels, mister.

August 19, 2009

-image-her real eye

I was six years old the day my mom seemed suddenly different to me.

This one day. This single moment.

It was a fault line that shook everything in my world for several stunned seconds. The flutter of a heavy veil showing a glimpse of face I’d never seen.

This one day. This single moment.

I was six. Just a little kid. At that age, my childish eyes saw her as one thing and one thing only: Mommy. I was busy making mud pies in the backyard. Rolling down the glossy hill across the street. Swinging on the park swings. These are the things that consumed me. I had no sense of her personhood. No concept of her “self.” Those things didn’t exist for me. I was aware only that Mommy was a blonde goddess, golden and rippling through my life like a banner. I couldn’t possibly understand that she was also a kind of hermit crab, forever scavenging new and better shells to keep her and cloak her. It confused me: the sun of her appearance, the brittleness of her heart. I wanted to bask in that sun; I wanted to live in that heart, but it wasn’t that kind of sun and it wasn’t that kind of heart. No matter what new shell she found to house her hidden self, it was never big enough to hold me, too. Yes, she clothed me, fed me, put me to bed, but she never played. Never acted silly. Never let down her guard with me or my siblings. She simply didn’t know how.

Sometimes, I would flutter about the living room in a made-up ballet, hoping to catch her eye. Her real eye. An eye that might actually see me, not that veiled eye she preferred to use. Mommy, hi! Watch! Watch me! as I wobbled like a top across our smooth cream carpet. Sometimes, sometimes, she would glance at me vaguely and say, Oh, you’re my little sunshine and I’d look, hopeful, at her golden face only to see that, no, it was that shrouded eye gazing back at me again. Not the real one. I tried so hard to find that real eye. But I was just a little kid. I didn’t know her history then. How she was slugged and beaten and struck with heavy objects her whole life until she had fled home for the blessed respite of a rigorous college education. I was only aware of being hungry for her, of always trying to be as good as good could be in the hopes of getting just a tiny extra piece of her.

Of her looking at me with love with her real eye.

She was a golden goddess and I craved her my entire childhood.

That day was a summer day. A pool day. My mom, my sister, and I wandered across the lazy street to the giant neighborhood pool to swim the day away. During the summers, I craved this pool nearly as much as I craved my mom. Entire days passed where I was not dry until bedtime. Entire nights passed where I dreamed of nothing but jumping in that pool again. Entire summers passed where my blinding yellow hair was green or bronze or shiny gold from too much chlorine. I was a fish, a dolphin, a gliding manta ray.

But what I really wanted to be was a water ballerina.

I’d seen them once, you see. At Sea World. These perfect floating creatures, these glittering eels, twirling underwater in weightless sequined circles. Their ballet was never wobbly like mine, never teetering or unsteady. Water, I decided, was the key. It smoothed out everything. Sure, the Sea World creatures were sleek and polished and didn’t wear bathing suits with pink ruffled bottoms, but I tried not to think about that. Every day in the pool, I practiced and convinced my older sister of the importance of this, too — for the sake of our future as world famous water ballerinas. Side by side we worked, pink-ruffled bottom and blue-ruffled bottom, twisting and flipping and somersaulting for hours. I thought if I could learn to arch my back and curve my foot just so, like those perfect Sea World mermaids, maybe mom would finally look at me with her real eye and be proud.

At one point that day, during this strenuous workout, I surfaced and saw her. Mrs. Parker. The fattest lady I knew. The meanest lady I knew. She was a stack of old inner tubes. She was a walrus. She terrified me. Her skin was orange like Tang. Her hair was red like flames and, on that day, stacked high in a ridiculous mountain of curlers. I heard myself starting to giggle nervously at her until my mom shot me a single warning glance from her deck chair. Mrs. Parker sashayed over to the stairs at the shallow end and dipped in a foot the size of a pot roast.

My sister and I resumed our important work. Flipping, splashing.

Mrs. Parker dangled her fat foot in the water just a few feet away.

“Stop splashing,” she commanded.

We didn’t. We couldn’t really hear her. We were half underwater.

We splashed, twirled.

“STOP splashing. You’re getting my hair wet.”

Still, we didn’t. We were busy ballerinas.


My head broke the surface just in time to hear her yelling. The rest happened so fast, all at the same time it seemed. My sister splashed closest to the walrus. Too close, too close. As she screamed, Mrs. Parker plunged a thick fist into the pool, grabbed my sister by the neck, and thrust her brown head under the water, holding her there. I huddled nearby in the water, only my eyes bulging above the surface, like a frozen little hippo. My sister’s neck was lost in that giant fist. I could see her brown hair floating around her head. I didn’t know what to do. I opened my mouth to scream, but water rushed in to drown it. Let her go! Let her go! Let my sister go! I could hear it in my head, but I couldn’t get it out. I shivered in the warm blue water.

At that same instant, I saw it. The flash of gold as my mom leapt across that deck, roaring like a wounded lion.

In a split second, a seismic second, her brittle shell shattered and I saw her real eye. An eye so raw and bitter, so full of hidden rage, that it was bound to break free somehow …. it had to …. some day. No flimsy shell could contain the universe of betrayal that burned behind that eye. A supernova of pain. It had to burst out, explode.

And this was the day.

I was terrified and I was mesmerized.


She didn’t even sound human, my mom. She roared and growled and threw herself headlong at this mound of woman twice her size. Who was this Mommy? What was that word? I started to cry big heaving sobs. My sister was being drowned. My mom was going crazy. I just wanted to be a water ballerina. I sobbed harder and peed in the pool from fear.

Then I saw her do it. My mom, my golden mom, plunged into that water, wrestled my sister up and safe, wound her arm back and slugged that orange walrus with such primal force she fell backward onto the deck shrieking in outrage.

But mom’s roar was louder.


That word. Mommy didn’t use that word.

She collapsed at the side of the pool with my sister sputtering to breathe in her arms. Then she saw me there, still trembling in the pool.

And she looked at me with her real eye.

“Tracey, get out of that pool right now.”

You obeyed that eye in an instant.

As I stumbled out of the pool, still sobbing, she grabbed me hard. It hurt how she grabbed me, but she held us, my sister and me, at the edge of that pool, tighter than I’ve ever been held in my life, tighter than I’ve ever wanted to be held.

“Mommy …… Mommy …..” we heaved in her arms.

I don’t know what happened to Mrs. Parker in those moments mom held us tight by the pool. To this day, I don’t remember. I only remember she was gone when we finally got up to leave. In spent silence, mom collected our things, took us each by a hand, and led us across the street toward home. On the way, I stole wide-eyed glances at her face, but it was dim, guarded. She didn’t look back at me.

In our room, my sister and I shook and sobbed while we wriggled out of our wet bathing suits. At the dinner table, I looked anxiously at mom for signs of her real eye again, but the veil had fallen back into place. A new shell had been found.

She had seemed suddenly different and now she was suddenly the same.

It was temporary, this shell. I would see her real eye again many times, directed at me, but right then, that night, when she tucked me into bed with her careful veiled eye, I breathed a sigh of relief.

August 7, 2009

-image-the well of sighs

And one dawn, before she is born, he takes her to a high emerald hill. Scattered across the hilltop are wells of stone, white stones, grey stones, mossy stones. He leads her by the hand, stops to point to one, and says, This. This one is yours.

He motions her to lean in. She does, but sees only darkness.

Listen, he says.

Then she hears them. The sighs. A woman’s sighs. Breathy and full of sorrow.

I don’t understand,
she says.

Listen, he repeats.

For a moment, there is only a black silence. Then come the sobs, the shrieks, the wails. She holds her ears against them all.

She is yours, he says simply, and you are hers.

I don’t understand,
she says again.

He turns to her and searches her face for a long moment. When he is done, she knows, without knowing how she knows, what he means.

And her heart quakes. Falters.

No, she says in a panic, glancing around at the other wells. I want a different one.

She runs to the next well and leans in, straining. Silence. The next one. Silence. A third. More silence.

But these are quiet. These are still. I want one of these. Please. Please ….

He takes her trembling hand, leads her back to the first well.

You can’t hear them because they’re not for you.

As they stand gazing in, he tells her all the things that have fallen into that well. Dark things and jagged things and cold things. As he speaks she sees each one. Things that make her shiver and weep. Things that make her blood run cold.

He holds her close and says, Can’t you see? She needs you to love her. Can you try to love her?

She nods, face wet in her hands.

Come. It’s her time. She’s ready for you to be born.

May 27, 2009

-image-perpetually pink

(ed.: I cannot find part two of this post — sob! — but I’m posting it anyway, just this part, until I either find it or, gulp, rewrite it.)

It’s fifth grade. I am 10 and live in a perpetual pink haze of shyness. If someone just looks at me, I blush. If someone just talks to me, I burn. If my teacher calls on me, I want to die. Whether I know the answer or not doesn’t matter; I’d simply prefer death, thank you. At school, I sit at a “desk grouping” across from Bosco Wasco, the large-headed object of my secret yearning. Ten-year-old Bosco is the complete opposite of 10-year-old me. He’s cool, for one thing. Confident. Wears a denim jacket to school and I feel confused liking a boy in a denim jacket. In my house, there is no denim. No jeans, certainly no jackets. Denim means rebellion and we will have none of that, please. So I feel a bit panicky, discombobbled, and sad in my certainty that my twittery crush means I am flirting recklessly with The Dark Side. The road to hell is paved with denim, you know.

The first time I laid eyes on Bosco, I noticed his crew cut, “stick-up hair,” I always called it — never to anyone else, though. I thought it meant he was a bully or had recently had head lice, but no. Bosco is polite and certainly seems clean enough. He likes to joke and whenever he smiles or laughs, which is a lot, the corners of his eyes shoot crinkles like a firecracker. He talks to everybody, including me, and none of the boys talk to me. But Bosco has a magical ease. There seems to be no one he doesn’t like, no one he’s afraid to talk to or joke with. If he murmurs a joke to me in class, I’m careful not to laugh because I was born a goody-two-shoes and don’t want to get in trouble. Instead, I lower my head, smile, and quietly blush crimson, of course. A demure pink girl in love with her big-headed denim boy.

Next to Bosco sits Judy. In whatever spare moments I have between longing glances at my big-headed boy, I’m staring hard at Judy. How I am learning anything at all in 5th grade is beyond me, since my primary academic activity is staring. The teacher writes equations on the blackboard. I stare at Bosco. The teacher has us read around the room. I stare at Judy. The teacher calls on me. I burn bright red, want to die, and try to answer the question all while simultaneously staring at Bosco and Judy, if physically possible.

Judy wears large Coke-bottle glasses and looks grown up to me. Like 17. She wears a brown crocheted bag slung across her body everywhere she goes and her clothes are beige, grey, black, brown, colors of adulthood. She’s tan, so I figure she’s been places I haven’t, like outside. Or maybe around. My undying fixation, though, is with her hair. The bulk of it is a mousy mound that moves in a single lump, which is interesting, a phenomenon even, but it’s the edges of this mound that consume me. They’re fuzzy and flyaway as if the atmosphere around her head is slightly different from the rest of earth’s. I’m mesmerized by the floaty ends and check in regularly to see what they’re doing. Sticking up. Sticking out. Frowsy strands trying to break free. We’re inside, there’s no wind anywhere, and yet, her hair waves at me. It fascinates me. I cannot get past it. It has my heart almost as much as my big-headed boy.

Many times, I wonder why I don’t have anything that interesting happening on me. I have a red pleated skirt and a white puckered blouse. I have teddy bear knee socks and a baby blue headband. I have a perpetually pink face. Maybe this is interesting to someone, but I want to be interesting like Judy. She’s got it going on. Sometimes, because I am devoid of social skills, I stare too long and Judy catches me gawking. But when she does, she always smiles a smile where her eyes spark up yet her lips turn down. I stare even harder because I don’t get how she does that.

Nobody but Bosco talks to me or Judy, and he’s too much in demand by less marginal children to really hang with us, so of course, Judy and I must become friends. It’s destiny. Kids have already paired up. Grouped up. Started their sly whispering circles and their petty grade school thuggeries.

One day on the playground, Judy walks up to me. No, that’s not it. She doesn’t walk so much as lumber. She’s tall for a girl our age. Lanky. So she lumbers up to me. Wanna play tether ball, she says. I don’t, really, because I’d rather skim the edges of the ball field, singing “I Have Confidence” to myself. I don’t like to be seen doing anything with anybody in case I do it wrong. But she stares down at me and her eyes are huge and gray behind the Coke-bottle glasses and look like eyes you really shouldn’t say no to. Besides, I am 10 and perpetually pink. I don’t know how to say no even if I want to, so I say yes and die inside.

We play tether ball. Or rather, because she’s so tall, I stand there in my knee socks and watch as the ball whizzes in hypnotic circles over my head. I raise my arms to give the appearance of effort and to make my face look like it’s red from exertion not mortification, but, really, there’s not much point on either score. I think she knows there’s not much point; she’s clearly tall enough to beat most of the boys in tether ball and I’m clearly self-conscious enough to drop dead from failure. Playing tether ball with me, the girl who just drifts around the playground or swings in the swings or occasionally plays hopscotch, can’t be the most fulfilling experience. Still, day after day, she asks me to play tether ball and day after day I say yes. As we play, she smiles at me with her turned-down smile, says encouraging things to me. “Good one” or “Nice try” and stuff like that. I think these things are strange because, frankly, I don’t do any good ones and not one of my feeble tries is nice. I wonder if she’s kidding when she says them, so I always check her face. Is she smiling? Is she gonna laugh? Should I believe her? She seems years older than I am, like a big sister, a wiser cousin. Sometimes her shoes have heels on them. Sometimes my socks have Raggedy Anns.

As time goes on, she tries talking to me a little more. What do I think of math? and What do I do after school? and What do I think of Carlyn Carnevalli? My face burns. I answer hesitantly: I hate it and I go to the park a lot and, since I am too afraid to blow it by saying I hate that Carlyn Carnevalli, she is a big fat bully, I say Well, not much. Little by little, she gently pries open my thick shell, allows me to emerge at my own slow pace. She waits for me, but I don’t know she’s waiting. She sees things about me, but I don’t know what they are.

One day, after tether ball, we lean up against the ivy-covered fence to rest. It’s hot and the ivy feels cool on my back. Out of the blue, she says I’ve kinda invented this person. I jerk my head up to look her straight in the face. I invent people too, but I don’t talk about it. Judy’s talking about it. Well, it’s not a person, really; it’s a dog. I kinda made up this dog character.

I listen and my heart is flooding over.

May 8, 2009

-image-saturday morning ritual

Every Saturday morning we go to the bookstore, My Beloved and I. It’s a little ritual we have. We go to breakfast, have some eggs benedict or strawberry waffles or good ol’ bacon and eggs, then arrive at the bookstore right as the doors open because we are anal retentive and have dibs on this certain perfect table, you see. We must hurry hurry, quick like a bunny, to “get there before all the selfish people.” This is our long-standing joke, murmured regularly to a shared secret laugh.

And every Saturday morning, I schlep the sturdy leather bag MB gave me about ten years ago, the bag that people will always ask about with a gasp and a green gleam in their eyes because they can see that it’s basically the best thing ever and they realize with a sigh what their life has been missing lo! these many years and they bemoan how unfair it is that this unworthy girl should have a bag like this and they, well, don’t. Inside this singular bag, we keep our Saturday morning things: pens, pencils, Post-its, composition books, sketch pads, scraps of papers with scraps of thoughts scribbled across them. That bag, worn and scratched and coffee-splotched and all the more striking because of it, houses most of what we are these days, what’s inside our heads. It’s not on a computer; it’s not in a journal; it’s in that bag. Right now, as we stumble around in our starting-over life, these alien days, more than anywhere else, we are present and safe in that bag.

For a few months when we first started this ritual, we became embroiled in an unspoken yet nasty territory war with an aggressive older couple we called The Jews. We fretted with each other every Saturday wondering if perhaps this was a tad racist, calling them The Jews, but they are, in fact, Jews, if the yarmulke on his head is any indication. And although our collective marital conscience remains uneasy on this point, we cannot seem to stop referring to them as The Jews, whispering it low and quavery, waiting to be turned to pillars of salt. But I must be true to what we actually call them, although you may think less of me — if possible — for the admission.

The Jews are short. He is short and squat; she is short and lean. They both wear the same thing every Saturday. He: Jeans, brown sweater, white dress shirt. She: Jeans, black sweater, black clacky boots. They have the same cropped hairstyle, although his is grey and hers is a solid dyed black. Her jeans are faded in two small circles of lighter blue, one on each skinny butt cheek and her legs bow out like a wishbone. Those thighs, I tell you, have never touched. They make me angry. She clacks hither and yon on her wishbones, gathering every gossip magazine in the place, sits down on her faded circles, and devours all the latest about Angelina or Obama or Lindsay Lohan. When she’s done, she abandons the clutter of her table and leaves the store for quick shopping fix elsewhere. Thirty minutes later, she returns with a bag — Old Navy, The Gap, Nordstrom. Every Saturday.

Through the lively art of eavesdropping, I’ve learned that he is some kind of a judge. This seems about right. I do feel judged by him. Or maybe it’s the sheer force of my own judgment bouncing back to me, although I think it’s worth mentioning that I reject this notion outright in order to still feel good about myself. His weekly entrance into the bookstore is always lopsided as he drags in a loaded leather bag with seemingly every newspaper in the world bulging and erupting from its top. He leans, he tilts. The physics of it all seem almost impossible to me. One should not carry a bag that has such a deleterious effect on one’s posture is what I always think when I see him. Or if not that exactly, something similar like Oh, brother. Eh, potato potahto. But I always notice, smug and inwardly shriveled as I am, that his bag is completely unremarkable compared to mine and, yes, I have caught him staring at my bag. And my boobs, but that’s neither here nor there.

The war with The Jews began one unfortunate Saturday morning when we sat at the table on which they apparently have forever dibs. It’s a nice table, the only one that seats four, so you can spread out and luxuriate like a cat with all your Saturday morning things. The superior features of this table had not escaped my notice. It had also not escaped my notice that The Jews camped out at that table, hogging it for themselves week after week. So when we arrived this fateful day and the big table was empty, so roomy and beckoning, yes, we sat. We sat at the big table and we liked it. A lot. No. More than that. It was like a hit of crack. We were hooked in an instant and there was no looking back now, no siree.

How could we possibly know that an ill wind was blowing from one day’s innocent squat?

When The Jews arrived twenty minutes later, they stopped dead in their clacking and lopsided tracks, thoughts fairly bellowing in outraged waves across the room: What is this? Interlopers? At our table? Never! Oh, the betrayal! The hissy! The gyp of it all! Yeah, well, what of it? We felt their wrath, but we were numb with addiction. High on comfy spacious bliss. While they stood adrift and incredulous in a sea of two-seater tables, I simply bowed my head a little closer to my book, pressed my butt a little deeper in my seat.

After that — the day The Jews had to sit at a two-seater table — it was Game On.

The next Saturday, MB and I, jonesing for that table now, arrived even earlier. But, alas, The Jews did, too. So there we were, the four of us waiting for the doors to open, pointedly ignoring one another, pretending we weren’t antsy little kids jostling to see Santa first or jittery racehorses twitching in the starting gates. The air vibrated with immaturity; it shimmered with practiced blase. I have to say: I was appalled at my elders. No role models, those two. How could I possibly be the bigger person when it wasn’t being modeled for me, I ask you? And, anyway, wasn’t this the Sabbath?

Okay. Fine. Bring it, God’s Chosen People!

The doors opened. MB yanked my bag from my hands and morphed into Pac-Man. Left, right, left, razor sharp turns through the maze of shelves, into the cafe area. The Judge took a different route, but moved his legs even faster. He had to; MB towers over him. His legs are as long as The Judge is tall. The man was hell-bent, hell-bent I say, on reaching that table first. He seemed ravenous, the Tasmanian Devil. I lagged several feet back and watched the furious footwork, the dueling foolishness. For a split second, I admit, I questioned what I had become, what I had been reduced to, if this was all there is, but when I rounded that last row of shelves and saw my leather bag perched in triumph on the object of our desire — MB’s longer strides having vanquished our foe — I finally knew what mattered most:

The Table and Keeping It From Others.

For the next two months, this became our new Saturday morning ritual: a cozy breakfast together …. a pleasant drive to the bookstore ….. a casual loiter by the doors ….. an insane death match amongst grown adults over the big table in the cafe. Not a word was ever said. Not one. Ever. It was beyond words. Honestly, I marveled at our shared sense of vision, the commonality of our cause. I understood The Jews. I knew them. What they wanted, I wanted. What I wanted, they wanted. I mean, I’m not this in sync with my own family. I don’t even understand myself this well, for crying out loud. I’ve disagreed with people mid-prayer, for God’s sake. It was beautiful thing, really. Four strangers’ hearts beating in rhythm to a shared secret tune, devoted to a single mutual goal:

The Table and Keeping It From Others.

As the weeks went by, our battle plan became more involved. MB and I split up, covered the front door and the side door because they weren’t unlocked simultaneously, of course. One door always lagged every so slightly behind the other. But that didn’t matter. We had it covered. If we were pulling into the lot and The Jews were getting out of their car, it was pedal to the metal, baby. A screech of tire, a squeal of brakes. Go go go go go! I tell you, we were Special Ops. SEALS. Rangers. Something big and bad-ass and heroic, that’s for sure. Our motto was our mission: “First There.”

And, well, we were and we were and we were. For weeks, The Judge’s little feet of fury and MB’s seemingly nonchalant strides went toe to toe but the results were always the same: victory was ours.

One Saturday, though, lounging at the big table, gorged from weeks of consecutive victories, we saw something that gave us pause. A sight that caused us to rethink our ongoing mission, our newfound purpose in life. It was The Jews, dragging into the bookstore half an hour late; he, looking much more lopsided than usual; she, sounding much less clacky. They seem resigned, subdued. Was it possible the ongoing battle for the big table had broken The Jews’ spirits? Quietly, they set up at a nearby two-seater while we watched, shot one glance at each other, and knew we thought the same thing: We suck.

The triumph of selfishness lost a tiny bit of its glimmer. Who knew?

The next weekend, chastened, we arrived and saw something we hadn’t noticed before in our blood lust for the big table: in the far corner, a skinny rectangle of a table, empty and ignored. No, it wasn’t the perfect wide equality of the big table, but, still, it was just right somehow. Out of the way and private but with a view for people-watching. I mean, if a person was into that sort of thing. We looked at it, looked at each other, and knew the battle was over. MB plopped the leather bag on it and there we sat, setting up our Saturday morning things. When The Jews arrived, listless and ragged from their constant second place in this marathon of greed, we watched with secret glances as they stopped, saw the vacant big table, us at the skinny table, took it all in doubtfully, then moved in slow motion to claim what had been lost to them.

So that’s our ritual now. The cozy breakfast. The leather bag. The Saturday morning things. The skinny table for us. The big table for The Jews. This is our new detente. No words have ever been said between us.

The Judge still stares at my bag. And my boobs. But there’s only so much I can change.

December 17, 2008


I am at the bookstore the other day, sitting in the cafe area at one of those high tables, bar tables, whatever they’re called. I don’t really know. I only know my feet don’t touch the floor when I sit in the chair and yours probably wouldn’t either. I am minding my own business, because, as we all know, that is my life. Minding my own business. After a while, a woman with long silver hair and brown leather clogs sets up camp at the high table, too, with her notebook and a pen and a paperback called It’s So Hard To Love You. I decide she is New Agey, because apart from minding my own business, the only other thing that is my life, as we all know, is making snap judgments about other people. She has long silver hair and wears brown leather clogs so she is New Agey and her name is probably Gaia. After a few short moments, she quickly fills a page with splotchy dark blue notes. I am spying on her, because that, too, is my life. Minding my own business, making snap judgments, and spying. I’m also worrying about the quality of her pen because her notes look so gunky and messy, but this is none of my business. If Gaia wants to fill endless volumes with blotchy blue notes from a book called It’s So Hard To Love You, well, who am I to object? There are obviously larger issues at work for ol’ Gaia. She ignores me better than I ignore her and I try not to be offended that I am so uninteresting to her, but I also decide she is sensing my intrusive energy in her New Agey way and consciously trying to ignore me. Because I am a narcissist.

Notice me, Gaia!

Alas, I am a wellspring of hideous need which I sense she senses. Wisely, she continues to ignore me.

Along the wall, next to our bar table, is a line of bar chairs. Extras, I guess. An older man strolls up and perches on one of them, casually, cradling his coffee like a crooner with his mic, about to sing or banter with the audience. I pay attention to my work now, yes, I do, because I surely don’t want the Old Crooner to notice me noticing Gaia. His presence represses me and I resent him deeply. Oh, no. Here we go. He’s going to speak to me any minute, I sense it, in my non-New Agey way.

Suddenly he makes a weird sound deep in his throat, all rasping and choking. A likely medical emergency which I choose to ignore, as any compassionate person would do. He chokes and rasps again, overplaying it if you ask me, but that darn Jesus makes me speak to him.

“You okay?”

“Oh! Yeah! Wow! I have lava throat from the coffee.”

“Oh, ow.”


We fall silent and I assume our lives will intersect no more.

I am wrong.

“Yeah. I don’t know what’s worse, lava throat from something hot or brain freeze from something cold.”

“Well, they’re both uncomfortable,” I say.

“That’s for sure.”

Silence again. Now I’m feeling some pressure to continue to chat with the Old Crooner, but not that much pressure, I guess, because I stay silent but simultaneously shift my position away from him, slyly rotating on the axis of my bum. Gaia remains serene and silver. She could help me out with the Old Crooner, you know, but she doesn’t and I just might be starting to really dislike her and her single-minded preoccupation with her So-Hard-To-Love person.

Help me, Gaia! Notice my distress!

Nope. Nothing.

You see, secretly, I always rely on the kindness of strangers and, therefore, I am usually disappointed. On the other hand, it’s fair to say that I sometimes have unreasonably high expectations of strangers and how they will help make my life easier.

But, lucky me, the Old Crooner tries to drag Gaia into the awkward social fray, all by himself. He gestures toward her book with his coffee/mic and says, “Oooh. I don’t even wanna know what that’s all about. Oooh-weee.”

Gaia just smiles at him. She just smiles. All unperturbed-like. What is going on? What is the deal here? Her serenity sickens me. Is she surrounded by invisible healing crystals? Does she have a perfect pink aura? Is she in tune with the global harmonic convergence, blahdie blah blah? Something is askew here. My inner Jesus narrows his eyes.

Still, unfazed by Gaia’s silence, the Old Crooner rambles on about her book. He seems determined to break her and, well, I’m not proud of it, but I now love him.

“Yeah. Wow. That thing there, that’s trouble, you know. It can’t be good.”

Finally, finally, Gaia’s healing crystal shield cracks a bit and she says, “Oh, well, stuff like this helps me with my work. I do energetic healing.”

BINGO! I take an inner bow, hitchin’ up my smartypants.

“Oh, yeah?” says the Old Crooner.



He seems suddenly uncomfortable with himself which seems only fair to me because I have been uncomfortable with him this entire time. He stands and shuffles a few feet to the comic book stand.

Again, silence. Gaia has retreated behind her healing crystal shield, drat her. Several seconds pass. Perhaps as many as thirty whole seconds pass in silence.

But then.

“Wow! Hahaha! Wow!” crows the Old Crooner.

I lower my head. Gaia does not move. He turns back to our high table, waving a Wonder Woman comic book in our direction, pointing to the cover image of Wonder Woman in her red-white-and-blue molded-breastplate glory.

“See this? This isn’t the Wonder Woman from when I was a kid! Look at that six-pack! Oh, brother!”

He’s standing closer to me, unfortunately, so that darn Gaia leaves me to schlep the growing social burden alone.

Gaia! What about the sisterhood of man, Gaia?

“Well, it looks like a breastplate,” I say.

“Well, maybe, but …. look at those biceps! Ohh, brother!”

“Mm-hm. She’s pretty buff.”

“Yeah! ‘Hey! Look at me, I don’t need a man!'”

She’s Wonder Woman, dude.

Not getting what he needs from me, he steps toward Gaia, who, I notice, has now obscured her silveriness in her book.

“Yeah. That’s trouble, that book.”


“Hey, I bet it’s about those people … uh, whaddya call ’em … uhm …. oh, they’re not enablers; they’re –”

” Gaia breaks in, every syllable a bullet, her tone a deathly desert. Her very voice has changed the temperature in the room. I am agog.

“Yeaah ….. co-dependent!”

Gaia stares at him, a perfect blank. The Old Crooner wavers a moment, cowed in the fixed plane of her gaze, then turns to tippytoe back toward the comic books. I decide that without invisible healing crystals or a perfect pink aura or oneness with the harmonic convergence, I must be nothing but a fickle wench because in that instant, I am deeply in love with Gaia. Turns out, nothing about the Old Crooner has escaped Gaia’s silvery notice. Maybe she noticed my distress, after all. Wanted to help. Sensed what would make the perfect moment. You know, for me. Because if it’s not all about me, then darned if I know who it IS all about.

Gaia glances at me. I can only see her eyes, their corners crinkling. I smile back, my best friendly-and-not-at-all-needy smile. Who knows what that even looks like? Who cares?

Gaia noticed me!

Uh, yes, Trace. You just keep practicing that not-at-all-needy smile.

Moment over, Gaia goes back to her book, I go back to my work, and the Old Crooner peruses a Batman comic book in silence.

And our lives intersect no more.

July 30, 2008

-image-Protected: hope is the thing

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April 7, 2008

-image-yellow haze

I learned something deeply disturbing about myself while Piper was here and I’ve been debating whether to spill it.

Well, okay. That’s a total lie. I didn’t debate it for one teensy-weensy moment. And it’s worse than being the liar I just proved myself to be.


Here it is:

I am an unfit aunt.

And before you protest, “Oh, no, Tracey; you’re a great aunt” because you guys are nice that way, hear me out. Allow me to prove my incompetence. My unfitness. My complete and utter boobery. Okay?

Piper arrived late Easter afternoon. We painted, played games, watched a movie, etc. We talked about how she wants to be a designer. “But I wouldn’t use animal fur.” Okay. Good to know. Don’t wear my chinchilla wrap around Piper. Got it.

So it’s bedtime and she’s laying her sleeping bag on the “balloon bed” (aka the inflatable mattress). Her stuffed animals are then lovingly crammed into the sack before she climbs in on top of them. She’s very ritualistic about how she crams them in, the order in which they are crammed, and precisely how she slides in on top of the poor crammed animals. I offer to help her, but she’s got a system, you see. I get out my childhood fairy tale book, the one with the cover held in place by the merest molecules of decades-old masking tape. “Wow. That’s old, Tee Tee.” “Yep. It’s from the last century,” I say in a hushed tone. She smiles and watches as I flip the huge pages to find the story I’m going to read her. One of my favorites when I was a kid.

It’s called Donkeyskin.

Now ….

As much as I remember loving this story, I seem to have forgotten, in the yellow haze of age, some basic truths about the story of Donkeyskin.

The first of which being the fact that, as the story progresses, a donkey skin plays a pivotal part.

The second one being the fact that the title of the story, DONKEYSKIN, writ large above the story in a huge decorative font, might have offered the reader a clue as to the first fact.

However, it would appear that the yellow haze of age has also taken with it things like reading comprehension because I sit there and look at the title of the story, the title that basically screams DONKEYSKIN!! and do not comprehend what that could possibly mean or imply. I can’t say that I didn’t see it — the yellow haze of age hasn’t taken that yet — but it just didn’t register. It was a blip, a dot, a non-issue.

I forge ahead, eager to share a childhood favorite with my niece.

The basic setup for Donkeyskin is this: Handsome king and beautiful queen have a beautiful daughter and a magic donkey that poos gold. The beautiful queen falls deathly ill, and in a final beautifully bitchy act, makes the handsome king promise never to marry again unless he finds a woman as beautiful and virtuous as she. Beautiful queen dies happy — haha! — because she knows he will never ever find a woman like her. All manipulative and perfect and such.

So I’m reading along and ….. oh.


Guess what?

Seems the handsome king searches far and wide for a replacement wife who matches the dead wife’s criteria. He comes up with bupkis.

So… as the story goes …. the lonely king decides … and I’d forgotten this through the yellow haze of age ….

“The only princess fairer and better than his late wife was his own daughter.”

Yep. You heard it. Fairy-tale incest. Awesome, Tee Tee.

But do I, Tee Tee, stop reading at this hint of possible fairy-tale incest?


No, I do not.

“He told his daughter that he would marry her, since she alone met with the conditions of his promise.”

Piper stares up at me from the balloon bed, blue eyes huge and shocked and I don’t like this look. Make it go away. That’s the look for later, when she finds out about Santa; that’s not the look for here and now, for me, Tee Tee. She opens her mouth and starts to whisper, ” But, Tee Tee ….” I interrupt her, laugh gamely, and talk fast. “Oh, haha. Isn’t that silly? He can’t marry his daughter, can he? Haha.” Yes. Haha. Silly incest.

And in the corner of my mind where my common sense naps contentedly, I hear a faint alarm, a bell of warning, a dim gong gonging to rouse that sleeping part of me, but it snoozes on, dreaming of Christmas bells and pie. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Tee Tee.”

Meanwhile back in our looming Greek tragedy, the princess begs and begs her father to forget the idea, but he will not be swayed because he is a hideous perv. The Lilac Fairy, her godmother naturally, comes up with an idea to buy some time.

“Tell him to get you a dress the color of the weather before you give him an answer.”

He does so.

“Ask for a dress the color of the moon.”

She gets one.

“Uh, now …. demand a dress the color of the sun.”

And, voila, new dress.

So while the royal wardrobe grows bigger and bigger, I just keep reading because, well, I’m in it now, aren’t I? Fairy-tale incest is imminent, Piper’s eyes are bulging, and I’m determined to make them look normal again somehow. I mean, I can’t send her back to my sister looking like this. Like Tee Tee’s is a house of horrors that turns little girls into Marty Feldman, even though that’s exactly what it is at the moment. But it’s gonna be better. Somehow. The sun’ll come out tomorrow, I’m sure. If I just keep reading. Betcher bottom doll … ar

The princess, even with all her gorgeous new duds, is frantic. Her pervy father will not relent because he is such a big fat perv. So The Lilac Fairy — no real genius so far, frankly — offers another idea.

“Now we must ask him something really hard. Demand the skin of his dear famous donkey who gives him all his gold.”

And here is where my plan — my ill-advised but well-intentioned plan — to de-bulge my niece’s eyes goes terribly horribly awry.

“The king thought it a queer wish but he did not hesitate. The donkey was killed and its skin brought to the unhappy princess.”

Holy animal abuse, Batman!

I glance down at my future no-fur designer and watch her whole face scrunch up, harginger of an approaching storm of tears. Oh, no. No. Make it go away, Tee Tee. Make it go away now. In that sleepy corner of my mind, the dim gong gongs louder and common sense rouses for a moment. I look down at her face and hear myself say — finally — “Uhm, sweetie, do you want to stop the story now?”

From deep in the furrow of her face comes a shaky, “No, Tee Tee. I want to hear how it ends.”

You know, this is so great. Singlehandedly, I have created the perfect nighty-nite moment for a 7-year-old girl: Fairy-tale incest, animal fur used as clothing, imminent tears. Just the ingredients necessary for a deep sleep full of nothing but sweet dreams.

I am reminded how much I loathe myself.

Maybe I can mitigate the damages with some saucy, age-appropriate banter, I think, but I am discombobbled by yellow haze and snoozy judgment and bad timing and the whole venture falls completely flat, like this:

“Pipey, wouldn’t it be cool if instead leaving piles of dog poo in the backyard, Hawkeye left piles of gold? That would be kinda neat, huh?”

“But Tee Tee, if it came from his bottom, I don’t think I’d like that very much.”

Good point. Shut up, Tee Tee, for the love of God. Just finish the whole squalid tale.

It basically goes like this: The Lilac Fairly urges the princess to leave, wrapped in the donkey skin. “All your dresses will follow you underground in a trunk.” (Of course. That’s where all my gowns are.) “Tap this wand when you want them.” So the princess wanders aimlessly, filthy in her donkey skin, until she finds a job cleaning pigsties. She works hard and lives in a hovel on the farm. One day, she passes a pond, sees her reflection and is disgusted at the sight. Back in her hut, she taps the wand and is immediately splendid again in her weather-colored dress. Just then, a handsome nosy prince happens by the farm. He passes the rickety shack, stares through the keyhole — as anyone would do in this situation — and falls immediately in love. He goes home and becomes lovesick and bedridden over the vision of Donkeyskin. “Mother,” he croaks, “have Donkeyskin make me a cake. Maybe that will help.” (Smart lad. Cake helps everything.) The cake is made, but, oops, a tiny delicate ring is left behind in the cake. Prince almost chokes on the thing. “Send for all the women in the kingdom!” (This sounds … familiar …) Donkeyskin shows up, hiding her glory under the grungy skin. She’s teased at court until the ring …. ta da! … fits perfectly. With a shake of her lovely shoulders, the donkey skin slips off and the princess is resplendent again in a sun-colored dress. The prince falls to his knees and begs her to marry him. At the wedding, Donkeyskin’s father arrives with a new “sensible” wife, having been forced, I guess, to choose from the dregs of society left to him after his daughter’s departure. Still, he’s delighted to find his daughter alive, gives her his blessing, and everyone is happy, happy, happy!

Phew. Dodged that fairy-tale incest bullet. Let’s never speak of it again.

“I’m glad the king didn’t marry his daughter, Tee Tee,” comes the somber little voice.


“Yeah, me too.”

Then she brightens and changes the subject.

“Know what, Tee Tee? I think those dresses sounded really beautiful.”

And a 7-year-old saves the day.

“Yeah, me too, sweetie.”

Thank God for the resilience of kids because, frankly, I’m totally traumatized.

November 22, 2006

-image-the pie god

I wrote this two years ago, right before Thanksgiving. (And The Wretched Obli.) You know, it’s funny; this year I only have to bring rolls.

So, this is a rerun, but a holiday rerun.


So my mom called a few weeks ago to ask me to bring dessert for Thanksgiving:

Mom: Bring that thing you made a few years ago.

Me: What thing?

Mom: Hmm … well, it was good.

Me: Okaaay. What was it?

Mom: Well, I thought YOU’D remember.

Me: Hmm. Well, Mom, I just have no idea …… how do you remember it but you don’t remember what it WAS?

Mom: Well, how could you make something you don’t remember?

Which one of us was Costello in this roundy-round conversation??

Mom: Just bring the thing. You’ll figure it out. Bye.


What the heck was “THE THING”?

I ruminated. I asked my siblings. I scoured my cookbooks. Pointless. Nothing jumped out as “THE THING.” (And, let’s face it, how good could it have been if no one even remembered it?) I was definitely becoming stressed. Finally, My Beloved spoke the soul-stirring, freedom-giving words, “Why are you trying to remember something that no one else remembers? Just make a new ‘thing.'”

As I looked at MB, glowing like that angel from that stupid angel show, the dessert-darkened clouds in my mind lifted and the spirit of Betty Crocker spoke to me, echoing MB’s words of liberty: “Make a new ‘thing.'”

I was, indeed, “Touched by an Angel.”

So … onto the new “thing.” What to make? I ruminated. I asked my siblings. I scoured my cookbooks. Nothing. The angel glow faded and MB looked eerily human again. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I resorted to searching online for something … anything. I soon discovered blessed salvation in the form of a recipe for “Black-Bottom Chocolate Cream Pie.” It all seemed so simple. Chocolate cookie crust. Chocolate cream filling. And topping. Creamy, homemade, chocolate deliciousness. Anyone could do it.

So last night was a quaint scene of cheery holiday baking. Everything was going fine. Frankly, I thought I was doing an excellent job. Chocolate cream filling completed, I began the traditional taste tests. Hmmm …. it seemed just …. okay-ish.

I thought the cream filling was not living up to its creamy potential.

I thought the cream filling could be richer.

I thought the cream filling could taste better.

And, clearly, I thought I was the one to fix it. My heart swelled. My mission was clear.

Certain that my baking prowess could save this pie, I began adding a little of this, a pinch of that, too much of something else. I was mad with power and high on chocolate. I glanced at my reflection in the window and startled at the chocolate-covered person staring back at me. Undeterred, I kept creating. I had become …. the pie god.

And you know, even after I knew I had killed it, I kept going, like a doctor trying to revive a long-gone patient until someone finally takes the paddles away. Beholding this trauma scene, My Beloved surveyed the damage, approached me, and gently but firmly took away my spoons. “Let it go,” he urged. I looked down at my dead pie. It was jiggly, pathetic, and pale in death, the sickly color of a MacDonald’s chocolate milkshake. No death with dignity for this confection. It suddenly dawned on me that I had spent that extra 45 minutes, fiddling, fiddling, all to create …. Jello. Jello, which takes 5 minutes to make. Jello, which comes in convenient Snak-Paks in the grocery store aisle and tastes much better than my homemade pie of death. Right now, my poor pie sits in the fridge, mournfully awaiting proper burial. Somewhere, Bill Cosby is laughing, scooping his damn JELL-O in dainty spoonfuls.

Shaddup, Bill. Your sweaters suck.

And in my oven as I write this post is Dessert No. 2: “Caramel Apple Spice Cake.”

My NEW new thing. Hope I don’t kill it, too.

(Anyway …. have a Happy Thanksgiving, all!)

October 12, 2006


He is bald. Has a beer belly. Wears a red wife-beater T-shirt. His chest hair is ropy and tangled. His back hair is ropy and tangled. The wife beater T-shirt doesn’t actually fit, but rests loosely atop this tangle. He’s a giant Brillo pad draped in cotton. And right now, he’s at the condiment stand, muttering to himself, having a half-and-half emergency. From my perch at the bar, I see this — this wiry, mumbly dairy product crisis. I don’t have a drink up, so I amble over to assist. I am at his side, inches from his side. He turns towards me. And as his body turns towards me, with the tangles and the ropes, the T-shirt loosely shifts the other way.

“Oh, hey — can I help — oh –“

I just stop like that, mid-sentence, mid-thought, mid-everything. Because I am now eye to eye with IT. And I mean, eye to EYE with IT. His giant, naked nipple. His totally proactive nipple. His extremely cab-forward nipple. And for the briefest moment, I am speaking to IT. Because — oh, sweet Lord — it is right there. In my face. Having slipped the lazy bonds of that absurd and pointless T-shirt. It is watching me, I swear, this fleshy, prying eyeball. Maybe reading my thoughts. I am suddenly self-conscious. He, on the other hand, is not. Not at ALL. He is utterly nonchalant that his nipple is a huge sentient wine cork that watches people and reads their thoughts. I am officially freaked. I make my mind a blank and fumble my way through his dairy crisis.

“Oh, haha. Look. The lid was in the wrong position. All right. Thereyougo!”

Quickly, I turn to scurry back to the bar. And I still feel it. Watching me. Reading my thoughts. I scurry a little faster, hide behind the espresso machine, pull myself a double shot, and pray for IT to leave.

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