Monday, December 21, 2009

May, 1997

(The following piece originally appeared in Antioch Is My Home: Community Art Project, inspired by the planned closing of Antioch College by Antioch University. Since the writing of this piece, after a prolonged and unprecedented battle, College alumni have been awarded control of the school. To learn more about Antioch College and its struggle for continuity and independence, please visit the College website or the alumni association website.)

Pasha and I sat alone on Pennell House porch. In the turning tide from quarter to trimester, new curriculum to new-new curriculum, we alone had washed ashore. Even Jeff was becalmed in his gallery on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road, and soon I would drift off to work at the Yellow Springs Public Library. Behind us, Birch Hall hung in suspended animation, doors locked and chained.

Pasha tapped his bowl against the railing and laughed. “Listen,” he said. “It’s so quiet you can hear a bowl ash across campus.” He tapped again and the metallic ring echoed back.

I walked to the east side of Pasha’s home, the former home of America’s first fully-tenured female professor, to watch the red brick of my former home light up in the afternoon sun. Eight semesters total I had lived in that concrete block—one in Pennell, one in Willett, six in Hardy—and, still more community member than alum, felt a terrible distance from the chained dormitory. I wanted to walk its halls, crunch broken glass under my feet, lie on a stained mattress in the fortress where I first felt safe among a community. Twenty feet away, I was homesick for Birch.

“It’s the Phoenix,” I promised myself. Birch would rise again, burn, and be reborn in perpetuity. Birch was eternal, indestructible.

The thefts of the future remained hidden that day: the car accident that would steal from Pasha the memory of a campus so silent you could hear the echo of an ashing bowl; the cabal that would steal from everyone who loved Antioch the security of a home to shelter kids like us in perpetuity.

Even in May, I could trace the green path where the steam tunnels melted the snow each winter. I knew how to set the showerheads for the community steams that would be impossible following the remodel, where to cut the bolt to access the roof, and why you must never, ever flush a tampon in Birch Space. I had cooked four years of meals in filthy kitchenettes, collected a pile of 11-D-2s, and cut Birch First! graffiti into the sidewalk in front of me. I had come to Yellow Springs without a sense of place; Antioch provided the roots that let me spread my branches far from home.

We did not know, that strange, silent May, what circumstance would steal, and what we would keep. We couldn’t anticipate the home, years later, nearly two thousand miles from Yellow Springs, where Pasha, Jeff, and I would keep our own Antioch traditions alive, where I would hold for Pasha the memories he had lost. We couldn’t anticipate the phone call, years later, when Jeff’s mother, who once worked in the Office of Development, and later as Al Guskin’s administrative assistant, would announce that the University was closing the College. We didn’t know what to do with that information, six months before the public announcement. Online, older alums told me to shut up about it, not to be such an innocent. Naysayers had predicted the college’s demise for years, they said. Nothing was wrong, they said.

Jeff’s mother insisted that the plan hadn’t been such a secret, that actions taken in the years prior to that still May afternoon had set it into motion. She said Guskin’s chancellorship had been one step in the preparation. She said theft of College resources by the University had been commonplace in the 90s. A conservative, not given to conspiracy theory or outrage, she merely reported what she had seen and heard.

Pasha’s parents had a wooden plaque made up for our home, which reads, “Antioch West” with our names—Jeff, Monica, Pasha—below. We wouldn’t be a little family now if we hadn’t been a big family then, if we all hadn’t been spiritually homeless, drawn to the place where we, as individuals, were included.

It was a microscopic moment, framed by the echo of metal on metal and the glint of sun on brick, in which I prepared to trade the shelter of Yellow Springs for the big, scary world, clutching the knowledge that I had found home. Antioch is a center I carry within me, a home to share with future generations who need it as much as I did. There are children today—teenagers, elementary students, preschoolers—who don’t even know of the forces working to steal their birthright. Antioch College is my home, a home to which I welcome all who seek shelter, and a shelter I weave around myself every day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

He Kissed Her First

He kissed her first. He told her he loved her first. He touched her first. She only allowed herself to follow suit because her body told her it was all right, and because he told her that he would love her forever.

Because he promised and swore, she didn’t believe the rumors. He would never lie to her, never cheat on her. He didn’t want anyone else, ever.

“Together forever,” he would say to her.

“And ever and ever,” she would answer.

They went away to college. He promised and swore that he would love her forever. In the beginning, he promised every day, on the phone. Then, he promised twice a week, then once a week. By sophomore year, it was twice a month. Then once a month, whenever she called him. He always promised to call her back, but he never did. Wrenching herself away from the tear in her heart, she suppressed her desire to hear him lie about his love and ceased contact.

Ten years later, he sent her a chatty, lighthearted email. Her success in business could now be tracked on the Internet, along with her contact information. She read between the lines, saw his unspoken plea for professional help, and returned a chatty, lighthearted email. He dropped off her radar again.

After three more years, he started leaving chatty, lighthearted comments for her on social messaging sites, but now his jokes and opinions left a bad taste in her mouth. Had he changed so much, she wondered, or had she? Would she ever have kissed him, if he hadn’t kissed her first?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harass the Serviceperson: Gameplay and Examples

In their retirement, my relatives have taken up a game I like to call “harass the serviceperson.” It has become the chief joy of their existence, one which they have elevated from a game to a way of life.

To play “harass the serviceperson,” begin with an attitude of privilege. Naturally, being wealthy and old, while not a prerequisite, makes game play smoother. You must also cultivate a complete lack of understanding of the industry in which your target serviceperson works. There are two possible opening moves. Either develop an irrational frustration over a minor problem, real or imagined, which is beyond anyone’s control, or fabricate a ridiculous or impossible request and present it as both reasonable and expected. Then find a target serviceperson—the twenty-first century, with its twenty-four hour customer hotlines, has been a great blessing for the game—and present your problem or request in the form of a non-negotiable demand.

Unless the serviceperson convinces you that you are in the wrong (unlikely if you’ve begun with the appropriate attitude) you win every time! Bonus points are added if you make the serviceperson cry, get transferred to a higher level of management, or receive undeserved free goods or services from the company in question.

My relatives are the masters of “harass the serviceperson” and play in marathon sessions to enliven their old age.

For instance, like many old people, they believe a particular Internet Service Provider is hands-down the best ISP, because it caters to those who enjoy playing this game and provides customer service reps who know how to make the game last. On one occasion, my relatives managed to stretch a single game of “harass the serviceperson” over a space of ten days. Here’s how: they signed up for a service that would deliver a report from their stock account to their inbox every evening. Following some changes on one of the sites, these emails stopped coming.

My relatives immediately called the ISP’s customer service hotline to complain. For the next hour, they happily escalated their argument, demanding that the person at the other end, who had no part in the problem, fix it. (Keep in mind, to properly play “harass the serviceperson” you must drop any notion that you could solve your own problem, for instance, in this case, by just checking the stocks yourself. Remember, privilege means you’re always right, and other people always cater to you.) The serviceperson ceded the first round by announcing that the problem was with the stock site, not the ISP, and my relatives enjoyed a nice bout of vivifying rage, which is not the purpose of the game, but a welcome side-effect, like runner’s high.

The next night, they had the same conversation with a serviceperson for the stock site, who ended the conversation by claiming the fault lay with the ISP. The night after that, they called the ISP, with the same results as the first call, and the fourth night they called the other site. If you can believe the tenacity of my family, this pattern continued for a week and a half, until the glitch was fixed and my relatives “won.”

Using the second opening gambit, they once filled an afternoon with the game. Deciding upon a financial course of action, they went into a bank. Not their bank. Not a bank they had ever done any business with. Simply a random bank they passed in the car. With no documents, they demanded that the bank officer make a change to a certain account. The bank officer insisted that this was impossible, that he could not take action without the appropriate documents, IDs, account numbers, and passwords. After working up a nice rage, my relatives left the bank, mumbling that the guy was an idiot.

Then they went into another random bank, again, one where they had never done any business. The sequence of events was the same as at the first bank, right down to their insistence that the guy was an idiot. And believe it or not (and if you’ve read this far, you’ll believe it) they repeated this performance at a third bank, after which it was almost five o’clock, and they could play some shorter rounds of “harass the serviceperson” at an early bird buffet.

Seeing the joy the game imparts to my family, I can’t wait until I’m old enough and rich enough to play.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Michael looked more like a beach bum than a professor, handsome with rugged, surfer flair. Sandy blond hair in a disarray of spikes. Hemp necklace strung with wooden beads. Worn Baja hoodie that looked as if it had been to Baja and back. His eyes crinkled in that smiling way that happens to men with the good luck or good genes to reach middle age while maintaining a youthful complexion.

So: easy to look at.

About halfway through class, the crowded room heated up, and he pulled that old Baja hoodie over his head to reveal a most gorgeous, sculpted, muscular torso, framed by a tight white undershirt. This was unfair. How was I supposed to concentrate when the professor looked like a beefcake pin-up? His pecs! His biceps! His deltoids! So vibrant! So healthy! So delicious!

Ignoring the devastating beauty, his teaching methods intrigued. Once he killed the lights, lit a candle, and asked us to meditate. Once he asked us to write about a body part, and didn’t flinch when I chose my vagina. In fact, he submitted the essay to an academic symposium, and stuck up for me when some older professors expressed horror at my subject matter.

As the semester drew to a close, Michael announced that he would be selling his worldly possessions and flying to Africa, where he would empower HIV-positive women by teaching them how to start small businesses.

Did such a perfect guy ever exist?

Somehow, I ended up helping him move out of his apartment. I couldn’t say no to him. After we had packed everything up and he gifted me with a pair of old bookcases, he offered to buy us some pizza. My head was already spinning from an afternoon of proximity to Adonis. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t sit casually with him, discussing his ambitious plans, knowing how the musculature of his chest impressed the thin cotton of his T-shirt. He hugged me goodbye and I almost cried. Oh, Michael, you were too perfect. Too handsome. Too vital.

Years later, his name jumped out at me from the byline of an article in the Trib. He must be back in the States! Expecting an account of his years in Africa, I delved into the piece.

Africa was only tangential to the essay. Rather, it was a poignant, revealing discussion of the change in his own life, over a decade earlier, when he learned that he, himself, was HIV-positive.

I read, stunned, of the miserable, shame-filled, dying man, who, through the power of modern medicine and positive thinking, had transformed himself into the strongest, loveliest, most vibrant human being to ever stand in front of a classroom. He had not always been thus. He had been, according to the writing, very sick, weak and underweight, embarrassed about his sexual orientation.

But he was so alive! How could the Michael I knew have sprung from the man described here, hiding beneath a baseball cap, wasting away in a free clinic?

It shames me, sometimes, still. My own little problems discourage me. It’s hard not to give up. I think of Michael, suffering from one of the most dreaded diseases of our age, transforming himself from a pitiful, sickly weakling to a golden god only after learning of his diagnosis, then taking his new lease on life across the ocean, to give what he could to those who had less. And then there’s me, with more advantages than most people, even in America, crying into my pillow because my carpal tunnel has taken a turn for the worse, and I can’t do push-ups anymore.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


She scribbles in a leather-bound journal, and I like to think I know just what she’s trying to say.

She’s young—perhaps not yet eighteen—and blonde, and what’s probably a great body is covered with baggy clothes. Kind of punky, oversized black pants. Chains. T-shirt advertising a band nobody ever heard of. Thick-framed nerd glasses with lenses than distort her eyes. Ugly-pretty. Like, if this were a sit-com, everyone would make fun of her as an outcast. And then, in the last scene, she’d get a makeover and everyone would mistake her for a super-model. The snooty guy would suddenly fall in love with her, but she would go for the cute but dorky guy who’d always had a crush.

I bet she’s writing about angst. How much she hates the plebians sharing this train car, how no one understands her, how she can’t wait to get away from her family. She’s dreaming of college. She’s ready to ditch her lame high school crowd and meet some mature adults.

Or else, she’s writing poetry. Overwrought poetry full of images of pain. The journal’s leather binding is dyed a rich purple. Her favorite aunt—the only one who understands her—probably gave it to her last Christmas. She eschews the commercialism of the holiday, but she loved this one gift.

I wish I could tell her that everything will be all right, that she will get a little older and life will get a lot better. I imagine we have a lot in common. When the train stops, people start shuffling around. I end up a little closer to her, but she has her back to me. The train starts up again.

She snaps the journal shut and reaches into her pocket. It’s her cell phone. “Yeah, I’m on my way,” she says in a voice far more mature than the one I imagined for her. “Had some great ideas for the website. No, no, I wrote it all down. What? No, I’ll tell you when I get there. God, I hate public transportation. This crazy old dyke was leering at me the whole ride.” She laughs at something I can’t hear. “Yeah, I don’t think so. Anyway, she’s gone now. See you in five.”

The phone goes back in her pocket and she opens the journal again. It’s not poetry. It's computer code. She’s a programmer. The train lurches and she steps back into me. She isn’t the type to apologize for that. It’s a crowded train, after all. But she does turn to see what she’s hit, and the moment my eyes catch hers, before I can say something clever about the human condition, she turns away, squeezes between two men to get closer to the door.

I realize that I am the crazy old dyke, although I am completely sane, and only twenty-eight, and only experimented with girls a couple of times in college. She gets off at the next stop. A guy my age tries to stare me down as I watch her depart. He’s starting to lose his hair, but he thinks he’s hiding that fact with a baseball cap. Probably, he played varsity football in high school, but wasn’t good enough for a college scholarship. Probably he went to his dad’s alma mater, joined the same fraternity, knocked a girl up, paid for her abortion. Now he works in a cubicle. Drinks beer afterward with the guys from his office. Lives for Monday night football.

He smiles at me. I turn away.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Awful Woman Next Door

There’s an awful woman next door. She doesn’t live there; I think she’s visiting her grandmother, a kindly but slightly demented old lady who insists on feeding a herd of feral cats, which we have neutered, one by one, when we can get charity funding to do so. But this awful woman, she has the voice of a fishwife. She’s always shrieking at someone to do something.

There’s a man she shouts at, and a little girl, and a dog. You can always tell when she’s leaving her grandmother’s. Her voice, piercing, harsh, and loud, jars you out of whatever peace your evening might have had to offer. Usually she’s screeching for someone or something to get in the car.

If she yells at the man, he responds in a voice too low to hear. If she yells at the girl, the girl cries, but she can’t match her mother’s volume. If she yells at the dog, it goes on and on. The dog, gifted with a simple intelligence that tells him to run from that deadening noise, sets off all the other dogs in the neighborhood, but never gives away his position by barking himself.

I feel sorriest for the girl. The man committed to his path by choice, and the dog, at least, gets a nice run out of it, and a moment of the freedom. The girl lacks the agency to choose or to run, but must suffer her mother’s shrill imperatives with nothing but a tiny version of that voice with which to retaliate. Still, it’s disconcerting. There’s a clear view of their driveway from our front door. The woman isn’t physically abusing the girl, at least not in our sight. It just sounds like she is.

Eventually, she stuffs the man, the girl, and the dog into the car and drives off, leaving echoes of angry and canine wails in her wake.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Her little sister possessed something that she lacked. The girl couldn’t say, quite, what that thing was, but obviously, her sister was more acceptable. Her sister didn’t mind wearing dresses. Her sister didn’t prefer playing with boys.

Her sister did the things their parents expected her to do.

The girl didn’t do certain things because she didn’t like them. She hated how dresses looked, she hated how they felt compared to jeans, and more to the point, she hated being told to act like a lady. Wearing dresses meant you weren’t to run, jump, shout, fidget, or climb trees. Why would anyone choose to wear a dress, given the attendant restrictions? The little girl accepted the limitation of being a girl; that didn’t mean she must become a lady. It didn’t indicate any compulsory girliness. She was a case in point. If she had been meant to be a certain way—for instance, feminine—wouldn’t she just naturally feel, behave, embrace that label? And not being feminine, didn’t that mean that she wasn’t all the other things they thought she should be, and shouldn’t try to fake it?

Why would they force her to pretend to be something she so clearly wasn’t? They told her lying was wrong, and then they told her to lie to them.

When her sister came home from first grade insisting that she needed pierced ears, the girl wasn’t surprised. Of course her sister would want pierced ears. They were ladylike.

Her little sister got her ears pierced and proclaimed herself pleased with the results. Their parents asked the girl several times if she didn’t want her ears pierced too. The girl was emphatic that she didn’t. It didn’t even have anything to do with not feeling like a girl. Primarily, she despised needles in any form. So she really couldn’t see the point of having instruments of torture applied to her head in order to become more of something she wasn’t in the first place.

Her little sister had her pierced ears for a few months, long enough that she could take out the gold piercing earrings and wear whatever kind of earrings that she wanted. Their parents kept asking the girl if she didn’t really want pierced ears. The girl kept telling her parents she really didn’t want pierced ears. She didn’t care for jewelry, and she didn’t need one more thing to clean. She was, overall, scared of the process. She was not interested in suffering for beauty.

Her parents decided she would get her ears pierced.

She resisted, argued, complained, screamed. She tried logic and she tried volume. They took her to the mall anyway. She fought them all the way to the booth where they pierced ears. She cried.

Her parents said, “Don’t be a baby.” They compared her, unfavorably, to her little sister. They said even a first-grader could do it; there was nothing for her to fear. The girl repeated her objections: she didn’t want pierced ears, she didn’t like needles. Her parents reiterated their argument: she was a big girl and she needed to act like one.

They pierced her ears.

Coda: When the girl got to be a teenager, she horrified her parents by adding six more piercings, five on the left ear and one on the right, using the post of the piercing earring that had inflicted the original insult. She spaced them out over a period of years, snickering to herself as their horror mounted with each new hole.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


It happened on October 17, across the street from a haunted house, which meant I couldn’t enjoy Halloween anymore. I had screamed and screamed myself hoarse, and later, the police said they had even heard me screaming, but it was October 17, across the street from a haunted house. Screams filled the air.

Then again, I’m still here, so maybe that means I’m lucky?

Bad enough to give up horror movies, the superior thrill of autumn leaves skittering down the street in a gust of wind, the wearing of short skirts. The real tragedy, though, is giving up that youthful sense of invulnerability, the security that comes from knowing terror is something that happens to other people. Terror happened to me.

That was all more than a decade ago, and I can finally watch scary movies again: a Korean ghost tale, an adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story, some stupid modern slasher flick where gore replaces suspense and character development. Took a while to get over it, but I did. Because, seriously, what’s scary is reality. You want to scare me? Give me a Holocaust memoir. Or how about that scene in the Will Smith movie where he’s newly homeless and he and his kid are sleeping in a public bathroom? Or how about the news?

It was a mistake when I stopped loving Halloween because a crazy man did a crazy thing to me. Halloween is the antidote.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deadly Sins

The day after his thirty-ninth birthday, Louis decided to give up vice, cold turkey. How long could a man go on tempting fate? His youth had ended; mortality loomed. His bad habits were many, his indulgences excessive: a pack of cigarettes a day, an eighth of marijuana a week. Liquor was his particular weakness. It made him boisterous and funny, popular with his coworkers and women he met in bars, which resulted in frequent promiscuous sexual encounters, despite the potbelly he wore as a result of his love for fried food, sweets, and that most lethal combination of the two, doughnuts.

He would die, soon, and with agony, at this rate. It snuck up on you and—bam!—you were forty. But he wasn’t forty yet. If he could wipe the slate clean, perhaps he could elude the specter of death for a while longer.

Cigarettes were out completely, as was the weed, and the occasional hit of X or bag of mushrooms. Hard liquor was out, and he would limit himself to a single glass of wine or beer a day. Fornication was out. He would not sleep with any woman until he had dated her exclusively for at least a month, and then he would wear a condom every time. He would become a health nut, and join a gym.

For two solid weeks, he remained faithful to his new regime. Mornings, he experienced a clear-headed lack of regret he had not known since before college. Seven pounds dropped from his waist and breathing came easier. With the time and energy he used to spend in bars pursuing women, he cleaned and painted the house, repaired windows and refinished woodwork, even changed the oil and sparkplugs on the car. He felt great; he would live forever.

On the fifteenth day, Jim from accounting persuaded him to take a single hit off a joint. Louis thought, one toke won’t hurt. Just on the weekends. The next weekend he smoked two joints, one each day, and went to Dunkin’ Donuts after the second time.

After a month, his exercise schedule became sporadic. He still worked out, sometimes. Sometimes he had a second drink with the guys from the office. At the same time, he discovered a bakery that specialized in vegan cakes, and enrolled in a healthy vegetarian cooking class at the recreation center. There, he met Joann, a willowy blonde who whispered to him that she still, sometimes, ate red meat. With great restraint, he managed to wait ten entire days before seducing her.

Waiting was a good idea, he thought. Things with Joann heated up. He abandoned his resolutions, sort of. He ate whatever junk food he wanted, and smoked and drank whatever anyone offered him, but only when she wasn’t around. After they got married and had a baby, he didn’t indulge around his daughter, either. Louis became a secret vector of vice. He sinned only on the occasional Sunday afternoon, or when Joann took the baby to her mother’s. He made the most of the occasions, and threw the evidence in other people’s trash.

Louis lived thirty more years. At sixty-nine, he was diagnosed with cancer, terminal. Hereditary. Genetic, the doctor said. “There’s nothing you could have done differently,” the doctor assured as Louis numbered his weak resolve and his many transgressions. “It was in your DNA.”

Friday, October 23, 2009


When I first met Ty, he lived in a little row of townhouses, the first in a block of four, not far from the university. He shared the place with an alcoholic old English teacher who went around quoting Shakespeare as if he didn’t expect anyone else to understand, and smelling of piss. Everyone else in the building was a kid, early twenties max.

Ty and I took to each other like an electric cord to a wall socket. I liked his fit, and he seemed to like the way I made him feel. He got to sample all kinds of new sensations and found them agreeable. He liked my world.

His world didn’t suit me too much. The English teacher stank, and the kids in the other units threw loud parties. Plus, one night, we heard gunshots over the noise of his computer speakers. Ty and the English teacher prowled around the parking lot, but they didn’t see anything. They even called the cops, who poked around too, but they didn’t see anything either.

But then later this girl came around looking for her boyfriend. She was in tears, Ty said. She was sure something bad happened to him. And sure enough, when Ty and the English teacher went around the fence, they found a dead guy in the alley. So they were up all night with the police after all. I had already gone home, before the cops turned up the first time.

That night Ty found out from the guy in the second unit, right next to his, that we could buy weed cheap from the guy in the fourth unit, all the way at the end. It was a sweet connection, for a while. But then unit-two guy, Chad, said that unit-four guy was tweaking, and he wasn’t going to deal with him anymore. He was a disaster waiting for his fifteen minutes, Chad said, and he was going to end up dead, or in jail, or both. He didn’t want to get anywhere near unit-four guy anymore. “I think that meth-head might have shot that dude in the alley,” he said. “The dude was trying to rob him, I bet.” From the outside, you'd never guess what a skeevy place those townhouses were.

After that, Ty was persuaded to move into my place. He’s a tough guy, but he’s not bullet-proof. And anyway, I hated those townhouses.

And sure enough, a couple weeks later, we saw it on the news. Eight police cruisers outside the place, two dead bodies. “Couldn't be Chad, could it?” Ty worried, and texted him.

Chad called right back. “It wasn’t us,” he said. “It was meth-head and his girlfriend.”

“You’re gonna move out now, right?” Ty asked him.

“Hey, maybe it’s gonna be safe around here, now that he’s gone.”

He invited us to a party on Friday, but we ended up not going. We were kind of too old for that sort of thing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For the Soul

I rough-cut the onions, because I am tired, and hurried, and I don’t eat onions anyway. It’s easier to eat around big pieces. Rough-cut it all. Carrots, celery, garlic. Lots of garlic. A small red pepper, withered in the back of the fridge. Throw the lot into a big pot of water. Plenty of salt. Dill, basil, and parsley from the garden. Add a splash of olive oil; it gives vegetable soup a little meatiness, the mouth-feel of chicken soup. Chicken soup is better for you, really, but I don’t eat meat.

A bowl of broth is all I can manage. My appetite doesn’t run to so much as a Saltine. I sleep.

When I wake up, the sun is low in the west. My head doesn’t pound quite so much, but the ringing of the phone jars it anyway. “Hello?”

“Oh, god, baby, I’m so sick.” His voice drips with pathos. “I can’t breathe. I can’t move.”

Something creaks within me. “You want some soup?”

“That’s sounds great. You have some?”

A half hour later, I’m in his kitchen, short of breath, fumbling with the stove. He leans against the door, his dark hair plastered to his face with sweat.

“Too bad it’s not chicken soup,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say. “I’d make you chicken soup if I had some chicken.”

“I have some chicken.” He pulls a takeaway carton from the fridge. It’s tandoori chicken, bright pink. Why not? I cut it up, add it to the pot. “You are so good to me, baby,” he says.

Even though I don’t eat meat, I have to check, to make sure the soup is OK, and damn him if it isn’t a thousand times better this way.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


We had this crazy storm last week. They must have been all out of buckets because it was coming down in kegs, and everywhere I went people were swimming through puddles on the ground, although the air was just about wet enough to float in. “Monsoon season,” they said, laughing. The wind blew a thick cloud out of the fountain, so the plaza was twice as wet as anywhere else. Everyone’s umbrella was getting blown inside out at one certain point, like a wind corridor, just like in the Loop. When I got there, the rain penetrated my jacket, my clothes and my skin, but I just turned to one side and my umbrella was blown the right way out again.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I took Psych I and Psych II, which is where I learned about cognitive dissonance, reconciling ideas which are opposite in your mind, but I thought of sensory dissonance myself. It’s when the way something looks or sounds or feels doesn’t match up to what’s really inside it. Like, take for instance, the Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb.” Maybe you hear it on someone’s Dad’s car radio and it seems like a kind of nice song, like a song about relief after pain. But then you actually watch The Wall and you realize it’s not like that at all; it’s just the beginning of the worst freak out for this guy, and things are only going to degenerate for him.

Or like Jenny Snowden, whose acquaintance I also made in Psych I and Psych II. On the outside you never saw a more beautiful creature, her eyes so big and soft, and the way those fuzzy pink sweaters cupped her breasts and the dark opiate of her perfume it’s a wonder I learned anything at all next to that girl. You wanted to believe everything she said, that she never met anyone like you, that it was a safe time of the month, that two people could have a little fun without worrying about the consequences. But then you find out none of that is true, and that’s only the beginning of the deceit and the meanness, and things are only going to degenerate from there.

And now her dad’s got me by the balls and it’s a question of doing the honorable thing or hiding on an island somewhere. I look at her and it’s like these two giant rocks colliding in my brain, her captivating beauty and her castrating bitchiness. Or two even bigger rocks: the knowledge that I’ve chosen to stick around like a stupid puppy dog simpering at its master’s feet, and the knowledge that I’ve chosen the path where dreams die.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hello, Dolly

Dolly leaned into the thin shadow under the eaves, but the red brick burned her back. The kindergarten playground had big canvas shade structures, but the upper grades had to tough it out under the desert sun with only a couple mesquite trees for shelter.

In her book, Tessa Singer was embracing her fairy heritage to vanquish the Troll of Baby’s Lake, but light reflecting off the white pages needled Dolly’s eyes. She held the book over her head, between her face and the sun. Kaya Green bumped her on purpose and Tessa Singer, fairy princess, fell into the hot dust at her feet.

Dolly rescued Tessa and went inside.

Sometimes you could sit in the lunchroom but it smelled like fish sticks and all you could hear was screaming. After a long, thoughtful drink, she noticed that the hall was empty and decided to be invisible. She walked right past the lunchroom door without the monitors seeing her, and into the courtyard, where there would be peace and quiet and shade.

The courtyard was still too hot. The benches were metal—stupid idea—but she could see into the library, where Mrs. Ketchum was rolling carts around. She tried the door and walked into another world. Mrs. Ketchum had to wear a sweater, that’s how cold the library was.

“Hello, Dolly,” Mrs. Ketchum sang. Adults always thought that was funny, but Dolly forgave Mrs. Ketchum. She did the best story time.

“It’s really, really hot out there,” Dolly said, except she knew it came out, “Ith wewee, wewee hot out thaya,” even though she’d had to go to the speech therapist twice a week since first grade.

Mrs. Ketchum’s eyes sparkled. “And what did you want in here?”

“Just to sit out of the sun and read my book.”

The librarian smiled wider, but her eyes fell in a sad, sorry way. “Go ahead,” she said. Then she went back to rolling her carts around, putting books here and there.

Dolly tried to get back to Tessa Singer and her epic battle with the troll, but they felt very far away now, even though she had almost smelled the sulfur on the troll’s breath in silent reading that morning. Mrs. Ketchum looked happy with her books. Her hair was just the yellow color that a fairy would have.

“Can I help you?” Dolly asked.

“Maybe so. I have to put books on the tables for the kinders to choose from. They’re not allowed to take them off the shelves yet. What books did you like in kindergarten?”

Dolly set Tessa Singer on the edge of the table and walked along the stacks. “Curious George,” she said. “And the one about the dragon who likes vegetables. And that book with the unicorn and the lake.”

“Good, good, good,” said Mrs. Ketchum. She knew where everything was and could just pull a book off the shelf the way you would pick your own backpack out of a pile. “How about Little Critter? Did you like those?”

When they had made all the hard cover books stand up on the tables with the paperbacks in between, Dolly said, “What else can I do?”

“Do you know Dewey Decimal System?”


Mrs. Ketchum tried, but Dolly only understood about half of it. They put some books in order. “That’s OK,” Mrs. Ketchum said. “It takes practice. But once you learn, you’ll be able to find any book, any time. Until college. Then you’ll have to learn a new system. Was that the bell?”

It was.

“Come around again sometime and I’ll show you more.”

Dolly grabbed her book and ran back to class.

“Where were you?” Mrs. Vance demanded.

“In the library, helping Mrs. Ketchum.” Forty-six eyes burned her like the sun. She pressed Tessa Singer to her chest like a shield, but then remembered what Kaya Green had said about fifth graders who read books about fairies, and she held the book behind her back instead.

“You know you’re not allowed to wander the building during recess, Dolly.” She paused long enough for Dolly to get to her seat, then tapped the desk. “You were three minutes late. You owe me three minutes of recess tomorrow. And I don’t want you bothering Mrs. Ketchum again.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009


David turns the flat black plastic over in his hands, wondering why he stays.

“Davey, are you even listening?” Lance is still sitting across from him, cables snaking from his hands. David hates being called Davey, and he’s afraid he’ll turn to stone if he looks straight on, although Lance is no Medusa. Lance is the most beautiful man he ever met, with blond hair past his ass, and cool blue eyes set in a cherubic pale face.

“It’s a monitor,” David parrots. “I slide the iPod into the dock to watch videos. I plug it into the USB port to recharge it.”

“With this cable, right. But you use this cable if you want to just plug it into a wall socket. And this one goes into your car’s cigarette lighter.”

Why would I be watching videos in the car, David wonders, but he accepts the cables, sets them to the side of his plate, dares to look into Lance’s face. He does not turn to stone. Lance squeezes his hand.

“With all the traveling you’re doing lately, Davey baby, I figured it would be easier than trying to watch on a tiny screen. Do you like it?”

David nods, squeezes Lance’s hand back, blows a kiss for good measure. Lance gave him the iPod, and the laptop, and the cell phone, and he uses them, because when your lover gives you an expensive gift, you can’t let it gather dust in the closet like you do with the ice skates your mom gave you when you turned eighteen, or the waffle iron from your aunt. He uses them, but he doesn’t like them. They are alien rocks, chunks of silicon that betray and befuddle him. Lance never asked him what he did in airports before. David used to enjoy the people watching, the invisible anonymity of airports. It used to be that everyone watched everyone in airports, while pretending to read books. Now everyone is wrapped up in cords and cables, alone in their worlds of music and movies and wifi.

He programs numbers into his cell phone, but speed dial always calls the wrong person. He stores music on his iPod, but when he hits shuffle, it only plays Lance’s techno music. Despite Lance’s best efforts, David fries his hard drive an average of once every nine months. But Lance keeps trying.

Now, Lance smiles his angelic, cupid’s bow smile, brushes the satin hair back from his face, stirs his coffee. David’s cell phone buzzes in his pocket—Lance helped him set it to vibrate—but he’s put on some weight this year, and by the time he drags it out, whoever it is has hung up without leaving a message.

“Who is it?” Lance asks. David shrugs, and Lance reaches, impatient for the device. “Unknown name, unknown number,” he says once he has it, and hands it back again.

David leaves the phone on the table. It’s too embarrassing, trying to get it back into his pocket while sitting down. “You know the theory of resistentialism?” he asks.

“Tell me.” Lance’s blue eyes sparkle, as if he’s actually interested.

“It’s the belief that machines are aware, and they’re hostile to their owners. It’s why copiers always break down when you’re in a hurry. And it’s why everything I touch malfunctions.”

Lance laughs, grabs David’s hand again and kisses his fingertips. David lifts his head, so Lance won’t see his double chin. “That again,” Lance says, laughs. “You’re crazy, Davey baby. Look, machines are machines. They do what we tell them to do. You just have to speak their language.” When he drops David’s hands, he nods at the pile of cables and technology on the table, then glances down at his iPhone, starts tapping on the screen with one hand.

Without looking, he reaches his other hand out for his coffee. David admires the muscles in his forearm, the white skin and golden hair, the manicured fingernails. Lance always smells good, like a baby straight out of the bath, and his clothes don’t wrinkle, no matter how he sits. And Lance never sweats, either, or if he does, it smells like talcum powder.

Lance sputters into his mug, but even that is graceful, like blowing bubbles. “It’s cold,” he mutters, but his mutters are the warm-up scales of an opera singer. His eyes intent on the screen of his phone, he opens the microwave on the counter beside him.

David can’t take his eyes off him, the graceful arc of his arm as it whisks the coffee from the table to the microwave. Light glints off the metal spoon still resting inside the mug. David says nothing as Lance shuts the microwave door, hits the start button without ever looking up from his phone.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oleander Fence

Serle liked to joke about the boy scouts who cut their weenie-roasting switches from the wrong tree, and died. “Where’s your god now?” he would say to Terry, laughing. Her husband was not a cruel man, but rather a wonderful man with a cruel sense of humor.

They seemed artificial to her, at least here in the desert, those towering, leafy predators, dissembling with profuse flowers in red, pink, and white. She watched the workers, her upper lip trembling, as Mr. Next-Door directed the ballet of flora.

“Nothing personal,” Mr. Next-Door called across the property line. “Good fences make good neighbors, right? I figure you could use the privacy as much as we can.” And up it went, a barrier of poison leaves and lying blossoms. And you could still see through anyway. Mr. Next-Door was a retired man, in his seventies, who puttered in the garden in his boxer shorts, exposing things Terry did not want to see. Terry wouldn’t even get the mail in flannel pajamas with a belted robe on top.

The oleander fence inspired Serle to take on his own home improvement project. He built a koi pond. To Terry, the little orange koi seemed as artificial as the oleander, and they started dying right away. Serle netted them out and threw them into the alley, one by one. Why did the fish cross the road, Terry thought. When they’d all crossed over, he drained the pond, threw the lining into the alley, and declared the resulting hole a fire pit. “The smoke will keep the mosquitoes away, so we can sit outside at night,” he promised. He roasted hot dogs in it, and taught himself to barbecue over the open fire, steak and fish. Terry didn’t eat red meat.

“I roasted you a marshmallow,” Serle said, holding out a whippy stick with a brown confection melting off the end.

“Are you trying to kill me?” Terry asked, afraid. Serle just laughed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Changing Planes

When you have to change planes at 2 a.m. in Montreal, there’s a shop where you can buy Néstle’s Crunch bars and cans of Coca-Cola with the labels all in French. You want to buy Néstle’s Crunch bars and cans of Coca-Cola, but you can’t because they cost Canadian dollars, and all you have are Israeli shekels, British pounds, Dutch guilders, and also American dollars. You can’t get Canadian dollars, because it’s 2 a.m. and all the currency exchanges are closed. You don’t want Canadian dollars; you want to get back to the States. You want your eight years of junior high-high school-college French to hold a lens up to the signs so your eyes can untangle the words you ought to understand, the words that tell you how to find your airplane. You want to see the long lines at border control in O’hare and realize that there is no line before the booth marked “U.S. Passports Only.” You want to see a regular American guy look at you only once before stamping your passport and saying, “Welcome home.” You don’t want to cry with relief when he says this, but you will.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Imagine Mars was about to collide with the Earth. That’s what it looked like, I swear, coming up over the horizon. One night when I was walking back from shul with my father, I saw something so big it should have crushed us, so red you could take a bite and juice would drip down your chin.

The moon was so close I could have touched it, if my parents let me climb on the roof.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Optical Engineer

His first wife was a flight attendant, and he likes to be awakened in the middle of the night, as she once did, to a woman straddling him, pumping like a piston and squeezing like a milking machine. The typical male achieves erection four to six times throughout the night, during REM sleep, at intervals of approximately ninety minutes. More often than not I just let him pass out, work for an hour or so, and then check to see if he’s ready. Sometimes he doesn’t even realize he’s fallen asleep. He thinks he’s been making love to me the whole time. Since he drinks, it works out better this way.

So I’m not too upset when he pulls back from my advances. “I’m so sorry. I completely forgot I have work to do. There’s a meeting tomorrow. It won’t take long.” He reaches one hand past me, to the bed table, lays his fingers on a ball point pen and an old envelope, pulls the envelope apart by its seams, flattens it onto a clipboard.

He scribbles the pen around to get it going, then scrawls out a string of numbers and letters. Mostly it’s like little F subscript parenthesis one end parenthesis, little F subscript parenthesis two end parenthesis, long strings like that. There are a few Xs and Ns in there, as well, I think, and some other abuses of the alphabet.

When he’s locked up half the envelope in these inky chains, he swears. “I better do this right.”

He gets out of bed, goes to his desk, finds a fresh leaf of printer paper, and starts copying his equations. They flow without effort, the way I write when I’m deep inside a story, and he writes them with a kind of calculating love, scientific attachment. His work is huge, bigger than us.

“What happens if you make a mistake?” I ask, hanging over the back of his chair, laughing.

His pen never stops plotting its course. “Then a ten million dollar mirror turns back into sand.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009


It was, and was not, her leg.

The weight of it came and went, along with the pain, dull, prickly, sharp, an antique cactus of pain, pinning her to the rubble. She could not move her leg from the pain, but, with concentration, she could move the pain from her leg.

She would lose it, the leg. Already, she began to let it go.

The pain was not the worst part. The darkness, the strange particulate air, imbued with suffocating dust like cotton candy spun from topsoil, that might be the worst. And the creaking, the eerie, haunted-house squeal of uncertain girders wailing through the night, that might be the worst too. Or maybe the damp, creeping cold into the parts that could still move, but not very far. But then the leg would start screaming, rising up like an infidel from the desert. And she would breathe through the dirt-thick air, and push the pain back.

Far, far away, she heard other sounds, yelling and drilling, sounds her brain recognized as hopeful, rescue sounds. This was America after all, and they would reach her sooner or later and bring her back to the light. She couldn’t see the mountain that had stolen her lower limb from her, clamped down on her knee like a junkyard dog with a squirrel in its jaw. The squirrel would die, but first it would go into shock and feel nothing. Just as she could scarcely feel now. She would go up, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow. And she’d leave the punctuated pain, and the broken piece of meat, down here. Goodbye, leg, she thought. We had a good run.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sweet Sixteen

They threw her the best sweet sixteen any girl ever dreamed of, a dinner dance with fifty friends, a chocolate fountain, and an ice sculpture carved with her face except it was an angel with wings. Her parents bought her a Miata and her boyfriend gave her a gold monogram on a gold chain and everyone said she was the luckiest thing ever.

But that Monday, in chemistry, her lab partner gave her a CD. “I heard it was your birthday,” he said, even though she had never even thought of inviting him to the party because he didn’t hang out with any of her other friends. “I’m not into, you know, conspicuous consumption. It’s cheesy, but anyway, I like weird old music. Maybe you’ll like it too.”

And there were all these songs she’d never really thought about before like “Rain on the Scarecrow” and “Downeaster’ Alexa” and they made her cry and she couldn’t understand what she was crying for, because her father was a surgeon but the next week she gave the gold monogram on a gold chain back to her boyfriend and she skipped prom and went with her lab partner to look at the stars in the back of his pickup instead and that summer they volunteered at the shelter and she decided to be a lawyer for social justice instead of a fashion designer, which her mother thought she’d be good at, or a pediatrician, which her father encouraged her to do. She thought they’d be disappointed but they said a lawyer was acceptable even though she’d never make any money in social justice, but it was her life and if she made it through law school, more power to her.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


That Monday, and every school day for the next three months, a bully they called Zombie, who wore size fourteen Nikes and had three black gaps in his lying smile, stole Greggie’s lunch money. Greggie didn’t tell anyone, because there wasn’t anyone to tell. He didn’t have a father or a big brother, or even a tough cousin. It was just him and his mom, and she worked as a colorist for minimum wage. After school and until his mom came home around seven or eight he stayed with Mrs. Freeman, this old lady in their building, and she gave him cookies and muffins and pretty much anything he wanted to eat, so he only had to be hungry between approximately one p.m. and three p.m. and Zombie gave him nightmares anyway.

But then in school they read this story about this little kid who tricked the Nazis and brought information to the French resistance and that afternoon he went down to the salon where his mom worked before he went to Mrs. Freeman’s and he stole a nail file, the metal kind. That night, under the covers, he filed his nails into claws like Wolverine.

After that, the kids gave Zombie a new nickname, which was One-Eyed Jerk, which stuck even after he didn’t have to wear the patch anymore, and even after the scars were just a few puckery white seams down one side of his face. Greggie had to go to counseling for the rest of the school year but that didn’t bother him much and no one ever bullied him anymore.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Girl Power

And then there are those of us who embrace the message and eschew the media images, who call ourselves feminists at the age of nine and play football and don’t allow boys to dictate anything. We believe we can grow up to be president. We control our own sexuality and correct old men who address us with terms of endearment. We don’t let anyone define us. We don’t get sidetracked from our ambitions. We go to college and go to graduate school and take women’s studies classes even though they’re not required. We take control at work and we don’t get married because we are more than nurturers, more than helpmeets, more than relationships. And still we look around us and see that someone needs to do the dishes, someone needs to look after the children, someone needs to make a pot of coffee, even if they’re not our dishes, our children, our caffeine cravings. And we choose to take care of it anyway.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


The moment the little sister says, “Know what? Mom broke a plate there this morning,” I realize that I have just embedded a ceramic wedge into my heel.

I cry out and hop on one foot, grabbing my ankle and plucking the chunk of dinner plate from my muscle. There is a wince of pain and then a flow of blood poxing up the floor.

The big sister, who was once so small I had to help her up onto the toilet, catches me as I fall against the medicine cabinet. I’ve taken care of these children for fourteen years, but she got big when I wasn’t looking.

“Careful there,” she says, balancing me in one arm while extracting a Band-Aid from the cabinet with the other. She is now ten inches taller than I am, so it is easier for her to reach.

She pulls my foot up onto the counter and smoothes the Band-Aid over my heel. Then she grabs at some paper towels and erases my signature from the floor.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What the Rat Said

Walking along the river, Rat saw Lion, king of the beasts, taking a swim.

“How shabby the king’s coat looks,” thought Rat.

He went along until he met Rabbit, to whom he related everything he’d seen, along with the appraisal that the king had let himself go because he was old and enfeebled and so weak that he surely wouldn’t be around much longer. Rabbit’s ears perked up when he heard this news. The next time Lion passed his burrow, instead of bowing his head, Rabbit stared, trying to ascertain how long the old king had to live.

Lion growled and bared his teeth, but Rabbit kept staring. Lion roared and stalked toward him, but Rabbit remembered that the king was old and weak and didn’t even nod. Finally, Lion leaned over Rabbit and gave him a clout on the head before tossing his mane and walking on.

When Rabbit regained his senses and licked his wounds, he thought he should let Rat know that the old king was hale and hearty as ever. So he went down to the river, found Rat, and boxed his ears.

Moral: Gossip hurts three people--the one who repeats it, the one who hears it, and the one it is about.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


It’s a normal human response, which is why you have people who see the Virgin Mary in their grilled cheese sandwich or portents in tea leaves or even just pictures in clouds. But she couldn’t turn it off.

As a little girl, she couldn’t read expressions on human faces, but she saw worlds inside every irregular surface: wood grain, the green vinyl covering the seats on the school bus, the dots on acoustic ceiling tile, tree branches, the shadows on her bedroom wall at night. She might see children playing ball, or birds chasing dogs, or snow-capped mountains, or desert islands where X-marked-the-spot to buried treasure, or genies in bottles, but often, she didn’t.

Often, especially when the lights were out or the girl was alone, she saw demons. Fang-toothed, horned monsters with hideous, child-eating grins leered down at her from wooden cabinets or up from the speckles in the sidewalk pavement. Often, she kept seeing them after she closed her eyes. Often, they seemed more real than the people she met.

As she grew older, she could control it a little better. Mostly, she didn’t see demons anymore. Mostly.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Who Am I?

He liked the girls with colored hair, the bad girls who snuck into his house at night while he was sleeping, and sometimes during the day when no one was even there. Girls who got grounded for sneaking out and climbed out the window and down a tree to sneak out again the next night.

After college, he followed one of them to Hollywood, where he spent ten years trying to make it in the industry, which never happened. He got yelled at by a lot of famous people, though.

Who am I? he wondered sometimes. For a long time, he was a guy who liked girls with colored hair. After a while, he was a guy who got yelled at by famous people.

In the end, he went home and enrolled in trade school. Then he was a carpenter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I never saw it.

The sky turned green and the clouds hung low over campus, but the only noises seemed far away. Distant winds.

Joe herded us all into the basement of the library when the weather radio gave the warning. The power went out and we had only quavering fluorescent emergency lights for the two hours he held us captive down there. Student workers, professors, townies, we were all trapped together, but we could hear Joe running around on the main floor like a pirate captain navigating his ship through a storm.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nicky's Space

Drew still blamed his mother for his brother’s death.

Every morning, he turned first to Nicky’s graduation photo. Everyone said it would be impossible for someone with Nicky’s developmental disabilities to earn a high school diploma, but Nicky had done it, which was why Drew didn’t believe that Nicky had drowned in the shower, like his mother said. Drew hadn’t been out of the house six weeks when it happened. He would always blame his mother.

One morning, the image of Nicky’s lopsided grin under his mortarboard foremost in his mind, Drew created a MySpace page for his dead brother. He updated it regularly with information about Down’s Syndrome, resources for struggling families, and memorial letters to Nicky, so no one could ever forget. He tried to friend his mom but she wouldn’t add him back. So, he set up a gmail account in Nicky’s name, which he used to send her birthday, Christmas, and mother’s day greetings.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Strength in Numbers

We had to unionize.

After the terror, some had forgotten the old ways, but our family had always been workers, and we knew the power of collective bargaining, knew we had to band together to find our place in the new world. Many things broke down in the days after the comet. The dead rose from the grave, feasted on the flesh of the living, and smashed through the social order. For weeks, there was chaos, fear.

But zombies are simple and mindless. It wasn’t that long before they were controlled, made docile. The process was no different than breaking an animal. And when they were put to work rebuilding, we cheered.

Ten years on, the zombies threaten us in a different way. Who will pay us to toil and carry, when a few undead abominations can do the labor of more men in less time? They work for rotting meat! My brothers and I would starve.

We had to unionize.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It’s supposed to free the human heart. That’s what they say. Everyone has secrets, sometimes silly, sometimes terrifying, but they never rest easy. They leech out into the soul. And you can write them down, and share them with the world, and you are cleansed. That’s what they say.

I have secrets, some silly, some terrifying. I compose the postcards in my mind, choosing my words like a poet, each carrying its perfect weight. I imagine the images, the ransom-note letters, but I do not cut up magazines or produce paste. The secrets stay where they are.

Shame is the stickiest glue.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Red Flags

Despite—or perhaps due to—my education and experience, I did not want to believe. On the days you asked, “Do you think I’m mentally ill?” I tempered my answer, ignored the flags, stroked your ego.

Flag: all the times you laughed wildly at nothing at all, then denied laughing when I wondered what was so funny.

Flag: all the times you gave me the silent treatment, eventually admitting that you were mad about something that happened six months ago and wasn’t really a big deal.

Flag: all the times you sexually harassed my roommate after being repeatedly asked to leave him alone, then told him to toughen up, plus, all the other men you sexually harassed.

Flag: all the times you reported that everyone hated you, even though everyone said they liked you, and all the people you couldn’t get along with, even though they were your friends.

Maybe I’m not a subtle person. Because it took a banner: your forty-five minute audio file explaining why I was a racist, classist, evil, oppressive bitch who never said I was proud of you, and why you never wanted me to talk to you again, because our seventeen-year friendship had run its course.

For the record: I’ve always been proud of you. I know I said it many times. And for the record: yes, I’m sorry to say, I think you’re mentally ill. I wish I could have said it before.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Edge of Town

Eleventh Street makes a T where it hits KL Avenue, and foamy green retention ponds bask on all three sides. They’re real vigorous, verdant, vital little wetlands, throbbing with life. Colonies of cattails grow erect near the shore. The water beckons with banks of water lilies, their petals spread open wide to the sky.

A blue heron might stand sentry at the far end of the biggest pond, where a cast of ten thousand frogs performs dinner theater every night. At dusk, knobby brown groundhogs sprout like peanuts from the grass. Turtles crawl up from the pond too. They all have yellow racing stripes up their head and neck, and they come in all sizes: some like your fist, some like serving dishes. Some like serving dishes in more ways than one, because they try to cross the street. They’re flattened, the texture of their shells cracked like ancient leather. The little claws never look dead. They’d grab the end of a stick if you poked them.

I saw the driver of a boxy white van stop in time for one big turtle. The passenger jumped out, stood still in the first moment she looked down at the ponderous reptile in its sodden velvet mantle of algae. Then she slipped her fingers underneath and, with arms outstretched, carried the turtle to the other side of Eleventh Street, where it had urgent business: a busy day of eating, mating, and vegetating by the water’s edge as it collected the sun’s energy like an auspicious tessalating solar panel.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


She descends from the attic room like the Prague Golem: encrusted with clay, prepared to defend her domain from blasphemers.

On landings and shelves, floors and counters, at attention on every horizontal surface of the big house, her own golems stand sentry. Serpentine vases, delicate pots, improbable jars, and the most extraordinary, ambitious vessels of stoneware and earthenware guard the mantels and lintels. She drags herself through a labyrinth of exquisite pottery, a city of Seussian sensibility and Lilliputian proportion.

“I don’t have anything,” she tells the telephone, and listens for only a moment before arguing, “It’s not good enough to show. I don’t have any gallery quality pieces right now.”

From her phone, in the mailbox, over email, the demands weave a stifling blanket. Requests for artwork form the warp; demands for payment, the woof. “I don’t sell anything that doesn’t represent the best of my artistic talent.” On her way back to the atelier stairs, her heels catch on the handle of a tall urn, its workmanship rivaling the greatest of the Ming artisans. It wobbles, steadies. She twists her mouth at it, at its thousand siblings, offensive to her eyes. “Piece of crap,” she mutters, and returns to the workshop to try again.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


We do not curse the circumstance, the o’clock of the morning or the failing of caffeine or amphetamine or pneumatic anti-lock brakes. We do not praise the response, of paramedic or emergency room surgeon or rehab nurse. We do not question the result, a thing growing slowly as a crystal, following a pattern smashed, completing the matrix described by the forgotten past.

There was a man, thus. There was a truck, even so. There was a breaking, followed by a building up. This is theory.

There is a slamming of doors, a throwing of pill bottles, pain that dribbles out under cover of veiled insult and suicidal ideation. There are days of hugs and kisses and apologies, and nights of why and what’s the point. This is reality.

New Format

Funny thing, the Internet.

This blog has been defunct for over a year, and yet it averages a dozen hits a day. Approximately 50% of you are looking for information about "flash fiction," "micro fiction," and "short-shorts." That's OK. I wrote that little essay defining these terms myself. My master's degree in fiction wasn't completely useless! Approximately 50% of you are here because you have Googled "wrestling erections." That's OK, too, My buddy Comrade Kevin wrote the (very short) book on that. Sometimes, terribly straight young men find themselves in a state of tumescence while wrestling. From my understanding, it's a not uncommon occurrence. If you are worried about getting a hard-on during wrestling practice, worry no more. It's perfectly normal!

I'm a hermit who lives under a rock, and maintaining an active community of writers writing for love may have been beyond my ability. But here's this blog, and here's me.

Possibly, I'll forget all about it in a day or so. But maybe Raincoat Flashers has a spark of life in it.

I'm dispensing with the writing prompts and the contest aspect. I'm a-gonna post my flash fiction here. Do you write flash fiction? Send it along and if I like it, I'll publish it too. Want to talk about books, writing, publishing, education? You can contact me at