My education as a woman – Joe (in which I come full circle and experience a half-assed redemption)

With this task of breaking my life into manageable pieces I’m going to start easy. This story says something about the kind of person I was. I have changed. I’d like to think it’s not because at my age I can no longer get away with the kinds of things I used to. I’d like to think I’ve changed because, with maturity I came to understand that every other life is as real and as complex as mine, and that each person’s thoughts, beliefs and feelings are as real to him/her as mine are to me. It probably took longer than it should have.

Joe is not his name, but when I think of him, my mind goes through a set of simple male names – Pete, Joe, Ted, Tom, Bill – and Joe is always the first name I think of.  I met him in a bar in Asbury Park the summer of 1967.  That would have been the summer before my senior year in college, but I had dropped out of college the year before.

I first noticed Joe when he tried to make eye contact with me while I was on the boardwalk outside the bar flirting with someone else.  He wasn’t the kind of guy I knew what to do with – that would be the kind of guy wearing jeans and a paisley shirt and long hair.  Joe had on green Army fatigues and a plain gray teeshirt and his hair was only about a quarter of an inch long, and I didn’t know anybody like that, so I avoided eye contact.  I spent hours avoiding him, but he watched and watched with wide open eyes and half a smile, and toward the end of that first night I walked up to him and said “Okay, what?” His face broke out into the widest grin I ever remember seeing.

Joe had been drafted out of college, and was in his first month of training for the Army at Fort Monmouth. He was a Private. They were sending him to Vietnam. We never had a date, we never even made plans to meet at the bar, but I was always glad to see him there. We had long, serious conversations about Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, the omnipresent Vietnam war, the anti-war movement, college majors, our lives someday – the stuff 20 year-olds talk about. We seemed to agree about a lot of things, but the big difference between us was that he was smitten and I was not. He was a virgin (I didn’t know that at the time), and I hadn’t been a virgin for more than a year.

Having long earnest conversations with Joe wasn’t the only thing I was doing that week. I was going out (and having sex) with a Lieutenant named Richard Noble who also was stationed at Fort Monmouth. At one point, I took off with a third guy to spend a night and a day in his apartment in Greenwich Village. This guy, Scott, had an Austin Healy so beat up that its engine literally fell through the floor on the New Jersey Turnpike – Scott left the engine running, picked up the engine off the road, put it back in the car and said “We can’t stop for ANYTthing between here and New York!”

Last time I saw Richard Noble was a day or so after I got back from New York. He gave me a dirty look across the bar while I was talking to Joe, and threw a quarter at me.

Detour. I have to empty the trash first. Joni Mitchell song:

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
You laugh he said you think you’re immune
Go look at your eyes they’re full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they’re only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies

He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said “Drink up now it’s getting’ on time to close”
“Richard, you haven’t really changed” I said
It’s just that now you’re romanticizing some pain that’s in your head.
You got tombs in your eyes but the songs you punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet Love so sweet

Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I’m gonna blow this damn candle out
I don’t want nobody comin’ over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase these dark café days.

But this has nothing to do with Richard, that was the last I saw of Richard. This is about Joe.  I liked Joe.  We exchanged addresses the night before I left for Harrisburg, and we wrote to each other through the end of 1967, when I realized through his letters that he was we they called “serious” about me, and stopped writing.  One of his last letters said, “Diane, I sense you are getting ready to go somewhere.  I want to go with you.”  After I stopped writing, he sent two letters a day for a while, and then I thought he gave up.

Toward the end of 1967 I was doing a lot of things. I was working and living at home with my parents in Harrisburg. I had a regular correspondence with a couple of other people – an Air Force pilot who was about to sign on for his second tour in Vietnam, a guy who was going to rabbinical school, two or three old boyfriends from high school. I hurt every single one of them, and didn’t even think about it until my thirties when I finally realized that they’d all been real people. Just like me.

Sometime in the fall of 1967, I spent a weekend with my old college roommate, and a guy I had dated who was from Harrisburg but went to a nearby college showed up and asked for me at the reception desk. It was a complete coincidence that I was there that weekend; he didn’t know I’d dropped out. His name was John (it really was) and I still think of him as “the handsomest guy in Harrisburg” – a cross between Paul Newman and Jean Paul Belmondo, but tall.

John showed up and I stayed out past curfew, which meant I couldn’t get back into the dorm. We spent the night in a meadow on the campus, and in the morning I took his shirt (oh! his big beautiful blue shirt) into the dorm and ironed it while he waited in the meadow.

I knew I was pregnant within a month. In December of 1967 I took the bus to Philadelphia with $600 in cash in my purse, and had an abortion somewhere in North Philadelphia. The $600 was the money I’d saved, to move to Philadelphia, get a job and my own place there. I didn’t tell John about it. He stopped by my parents’ house a few times looking for me after I’d moved, but I never saw him again.

I did move to Philadelphia in January of 1968. My parents had saved all the rent money I’d paid them for the year I lived with them after college. They gave it to me the day I left. It came to about $600.

But this is about Joe. I stopped writing to Joe in mid-December, and by the end of the month his letters were getting more desperate. He wanted to meet me somewhere, he wanted to come to Harrisburg, he wanted to see me before he went to Vietnam. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever done, but I wasn’t ready for what I thought he was offering, so I stopped writing. I didn’t know what any of them was offering, but my fear of being trapped before I’d seen or done anything was strong; I wasn’t willing to hang around long enough to find out. I made a story of it for myself so that I could live with it.

I often thought about Joe over the years, wondered if he made it out of Vietnam alive. I looked for his name in phonebooks and Googled him after the internet came along, but never found him.

Last year, I searched for his name on Facebook, and his name was there. It’s an unusual last name, so I messaged him, but nothing, he didn’t respond to my message. Three months later, I got a message from the guy with his name. It was his son, and his son was an Army Ranger, and he had just arrived in Afghanistan. We messaged back and forth for about a week, and “Joe Jr” (not really a junior, they had different middle names) suggested that I e-mail his father, who was retired and could probably use a pen-pal. After his son strongly suggested that I e-mail him, I did. Despite the fact that my initial e-mail had been kind of sheepish, I heard back from him the next day.

Original Joe and I e-mailed back and forth for about a month. He told me he’d been married and divorced twice, had three children, that his son in Afghanistan had e-mailed his daughter about me. The daughter had shown Joe my Facebook page and asked if he knew me, and he’d said “How the hell did you know about her? I liked her a lot and always wondered what became of her.” He didn’t tell them what I’d done.

After a week or two of emails, Joe started telling me things that made me want to beat the crap out of twenty year-old me, while at the same time knowing I’d done the right thing for twenty year-old me.

He told me that he’d arrived in Vietnam in April of 1968, and he had kept writing to me but not sending the letters until Thanksgiving of that year, when his fellow soldiers had ganged up on him and told him he was an idiot. He told me that I’d been his hope, that thinking we would get together after the war had kept him sane, for a while. He told me that he had been in a reconnaissance unit, and had walked the highlands with Hmong scouts, looking for Viet Cong, and calling in the artillery when they found them. He told me that it was his job to count the bodies afterward. He told me that by the end of 1968 he couldn’t eat anymore and had lost 25 pounds and was throwing up blood.

He started asking about Facetime and wondering if I knew how to set it up. I told him we could talk on the telephone, and gave him my number. He gave me his number and said I should call him, but he called me the same night. He told me what I’d been wearing the night we met. When I said “But we never even kissed!” he told me that we had, twice, but I’d been too drunk to remember it. He described the first kiss, second by second, and I felt 20 years old again.

In subsequent phone calls, he told me that when he was in Vietnam he dreamed that it was 2 AM on Christmas morning and he was sitting at the kitchen table. I was wearing a blue and gray plaid robe and cheap flip-flops, and said “Move it” which meant he should turn his chair sideways so I could sit on his lap. But then I changed my mind and started up the stairs saying “We’d better get to bed, the kids will be up early.” It was after that dream, on Thanksgiving of 1968, that his friends called him an idiot and he stopped writing to me.

He told me that he had come to Harrisburg instead of his own hometown in the summer of 1969 when he was discharged. He’d sat in the Colonial Park Diner smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee most of an afternoon, until a waitress asked what he was doing, and he told her, and she laughed at him. He’d left after that, realizing that he was “nothing to me.”

He was the embodiment of everything I’d done wrong in my twenties in my single-minded attempts to save myself from lives I didn’t want. I thought he was my chance to make good on at least one thing.

Our phone conversations were long and far-ranging. I learned about his two marriages and his relentless work ethic and how his children reacted when he divorced their mother, how he’d given up his construction company after the divorce because he had custody of the children and needed to spend more time at home. I heard so many stories about his childhood and adolescence that it seemed I knew his life as well as I knew my own, and he knew mine. I knew his eight brothers and sisters by name. I knew the story of his father, who painted icons in Byzantine Catholic churches, and had fought for the Czar in World War I, and fought the Bolsheviks afterward, and come to America around 1920 with one of his brothers.

We were planning to meet halfway in Morristown, New Jersey, but that was postponed because of hurricane Sandy. After that he got very sick. He’d thought he was home free from Vietnam for almost forty years, but in his early sixties was diagnosed with ischemic heart disease – a direct result of Agent Orange in Vietnam. His heart didn’t get enough oxygen, and he was being treated at the VA hospital, taking about 12 different medications, and the medications didn’t interact well; he was always developing deficiencies that the VA took too long to address.

We continued to talk on the phone every night, except for two nights when he was hospitalized for pneumonia and didn’t have his phone or his Ipad. It got more intense between us after I realized that he could die before I ever got to see him.

There were some things we didn’t agree about. He didn’t believe in climate change. He thought the crash of 2008 was caused by environmentalists. His favorite Republican candidate for president was Rick Santorum. He thought that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice. He thought that communism was still a threat, and that the Jews had been Lenin’s secret police. He thought that we were being inundated by immigrants. You can probably guess my opinions about these things, so I’m not going to enumerate them here.

I could go on, but I won’t. In the end, Joe dumped me because I’m a godless liberal. It felt right and good.

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My education as a woman – part 1 (in which I digress)

This is not part of my education as a woman. It’s part of what I know as a human. The pieces came together over 40 or more years, and the story begs to be told.

When I was 5, Gary M took me to his father’s garage and showed me his “bird.” I told him I already knew about it because my father had one. Two years later, Gary’s sister Kay, who was 3 years older, showed me hers and told me to touch it, which I did gingerly with one finger

But I have to back up to go forward here. Probably by now even they know the story.

Gary was my age, Kay 3 years older, and they lived three houses down from ours on the main street, Pottsville Street, in a town that only had two streets. Gary and Cindy Miller, who lived across from my Weist grandparents, were my best friends. My mother went to work when I went into first grade, and after false starts with both sets of grandparents, she arranged for me to stay with Kay and Gary while she was at work.

I’d been very unhappy staying with my grandparents, who had been too careful and worried about everything. Days with them had been interminable empty hours punctuated by frustrating and mystifying events, like my grandfather cutting off the cord of my toy iron and my grandmothers forcing me to take naps. I loved staying at Kay and Gary’s house, because we could play all day and Gary’s cute friend Dennis and even cuter cousin Mike often joined us. They were nicer to me than boys usually are to girls at that age.

Gary’s mother (whom he called “Mom” – I called mine “Mommy”) was older than my mother. She had gray hair and wrinkles, and she seemed old enough to be our grandmother. But she was more fun than my grandmothers, and she was nice. I liked the lunches she made of grilled cheese sandwiches and Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup, or Cambell’s Tomato Soup (with milk). It was good.

After a couple of very happy months, I overheard my mother saying to my father, “Everybody says ‘How can you let Diane stay with ‘that family,’ but it’s the only place she’s happy, so she’s staying.” I thought the disapproval might be because Gary’s mother was so old, despite the fact that my grandparents seemed even older.

Kay and Gary had a much older sister (I’m guessing she was in her early 20s), Kat. Kat wasn’t around much, but when she was, they could spend hours torturing her. They would lock her in her room upstairs so they could listen to her shrieking in anger, or they would open the bathroom door when getting ready for a date, make fun of her routine and get her shrieking in aggravation. I never saw any normal, calm interactions among them. Kay and Gary thought their pranks were hilarious, but Kat never thought they were funny, she tried to sneak around when they all were in the house together.

We moved away from that town when I was 8 years old, and I only saw Kay and Gary a few times after that, but I missed them the way only and 8 year-old can. When I was about 12, my mother and father and I were talking about the old days in the small town, and Kay and Gary came up. I said, “Kat was their mother, wasn’t she?” My parents froze. My mother said, “How did you know that? No one ever talked about that. We made sure of it.” I said, “I guess I figured it out because everybody’s ages made more sense if “Mom” was Kat’s mother, and Kat was Kay and Gary’s mother.” I said, “I knew that Kay and Gary didn’t know, so I never said anything about it.”

So for maybe 30 years I knew that Kat wasn’t their sister, she was their mother. THAT was the scandal about their family that everyone disapproved of. Kat was an unwed mother, and her parents set up the whole scam about “Mom” and “Pop” and “sister Kat” to cover for her. No wonder she was kind of the alien in the family.

That still wasn’t the whole story.

I was in my 40s visiting my parents from New York, and my parents were updating me on all the local news. My father said, “Guess who I saw at the Weis Market? Gary’s father – I mean Gary’s grandfather. He’s still a nice-looking man.” My parents tried to keep the conversation moving, but I said “Wait a minute. Back up. Did you just say what I think you said?” My parents just mutely nodded.

My first best friend was the product of incest. His sister really was his mother, and his grandfather really was his father. And he, the father/grandfather did it TWICE. And Kay and Kat were probably both Katherine. The fact that you would name two separate daughters Katherine was strange, but it wasn’t the most puzzling thing.

The hardest thing to picture was “Mom” seeming to take it all in stride, seeming better adjusted than almost any grown-up I’d known. Why did she do it? Was it for love of her daughter, or of her grandchildren or of her husband? Or for all of them? Or didn’t she have a choice? Women didn’t have as many choices in the 40s when all this would have started. And how did it end?

One last thing I think about is Kay, and how she showed me her “privates” when she was 10 or 11 years old. What made her say they were pretty, and that it would feel good to touch them? Had her father/grandfather transferred his attentions to her? Did Kay get out of that house? Did Kat eventually get married? Or was there another generation after Kay and Gary?

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I’m calling this “My education as a woman.”  I’ve learned a lot, most of it useless.  I think it might be fun to write about some of it before I’m too old to remember any of it.  I don’t think I can write in this relatively public blog about all of it.  I think I can get a pass on some, but not all, of it.  It may be easier to accept and understand some things (I never became a writer or an artist, I never got married, my career didn’t use my best abilities but I was good at it) than others (some of the things I did, some of the risks I took).

If you decide to read, please remember that it’s all in the past, and that I survived.

If you’ve been a single woman for as long as I have, and you started out thinking you wanted to be a writer as I did, you will have had a lot of adventures by the time you’re my age, and a lot of them will have involved men.  I think back on my life as a “woman.”  I see a series of vignettes involving boys and men, and I see at the same time a series of same-different women, evolving, experiencing, reveling, and then slowly withdrawing and devolving. The accumulation of years and stories make a long, curved line starting from the timidity of a short, skinny four-eyes with goofy hair, through the sometimes reckless sampling of a self-assured “pretty” woman, and ending here, at age 67, closer in spirit to the thirteen year-old than to the 17-40 year-old.

Beginning in junior high school, everyone who knew anything – in my world that was teachers and writers because I didn’t know anyone who wanted to be a writer – said very clearly that if you want to write, you must experience EVERYTHING.  You must throw yourself into life, all aspects of life, without reservation, without fear of consequences, without remorse.  That was the only way you could really know enough about life to write about it.

It was an exciting prospect and gave me something to look forward to, an alternate universe that helped to move me away from the real suburban, lower-middle class world I lived in, inadequate to the popular culture of the day (late 1950s) and constrained by my own awkward, unbeautiful, self-conscious, skinny, inconsequential, skittish self.

It also was an unlikely prospect, and for years my only way of experiencing “life” was to read about it.  Thomas Wolfe, JD Salinger, Joseph Heller, DH Lawrence, the Bronte sisters (I was a lot like Jane Eyre, not so much like Catherine Earnshaw), Lord of the Flies, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, Gunter Grass, Pearl Buck, O’Neill, Mailer, Hardy, the Russians…I experienced war, poverty, absurdity, romance, evil, grace, every aspect of the human condition, all on paper.   I was too young, too homely, too timid to do any first-hand research.

I’d had everything going against me. I was flat-chested, and my hips were so narrow that I couldn’t hold up a skirt without suspenders until 10th grade.  I was too shy too look anyone in the eye except for my mother, father, cousins, grandparents, and two or three close friends.   I was smart, which I didn’t believe at the time; I thought I got good grades because I didn’t have anything else to do.  In the late 1950s, intelligence in a girl was something to be hidden or downplayed.  I’d had dates and boyfriends, in a way, but they were as nondescript and invisible as I was.

On dates, I’d tried to follow the script handed down to us – defer to the male, be a good listener, smile a lot, don’t be smarter than he is, make his ego a priority.   I’d never really had a good time, never connected in any meaningful way.  Nothing that I’d learned about life came into play or had any bearing on those dates.  I went on dates so I could tell my girlfriends that I’d had dates.

A big transformation began in eleventh grade.  I got contact lenses and suddenly became visible, viable. It took years for me to get used to that, and I may have spent a good 10 or 20 years testing it. But in the beginning, I just started to get better dates, with the kind of guys I used to have crushes on. I never did date anyone in my classes, though. In high school it was always somebody a year ahead, or in another school, and I went to a girls’ college. By the time I was out, it was the real 60s, not the early 60s which were really the 50s. By then it was OK, more or less, to be smart, and I was still pretty hot stuff.  I’d grown in courage, grown into myself, maybe gotten ahead of myself, but I was invincible, and it felt good.

In the end, I may have gotten so caught up in the “research” that I never put it to use the way I originally planned.

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Winter food problem

I have a problem with food.  It multiplies in my house.  The parable of the loaves and fishes would be a good anology, if there were more than one person to feed in my house.

It’s winter.  I stockpile.  At any moment, a big snowstorm could prevent me from digging out my car for a couple of days, not to mention making the twelve mile round trip to the grocery store.  I live in the woods, on a mountain, in the middle of nowhere.   I’m only two miles from the secondary road to the supermarket, but it’s a rough two miles. The road up the mountain to my complex has a 30 degree grade in many places, and once here, there are two more hills with 30 degree grades to get to my house.  At one point on the mountain road, there’s a sharp right curve with a steep climb to the right and a sheer drop to the waterfall on the left.  It’s a pretty exciting drive down, too.  I don’t have four-wheel drive.  I’ve bought a new car since moving here, but because I bought in summer, I forgot about four-wheel drive and got another Civic (other cars just feel too BIG to me).   I could go out and take a photo – but I’m not going anywhere today.  The temperature may get up to freezing today, but I’m just generally too cold to go any farther than the bird feeder, 4 feet outside my door.

So, I could be stranded, and I stockpile.  When I make something to eat, the objective is not only to feed myself, but also to get rid of some of the food.  But since I cook mostly with raw ingredients, I always produce more food than I use up.  For example, the other night I made chili.  A big can of tomatoes (that’s one down), some ground beef, dried chilies and dried beans, an onion, garlic, 2 celery stalks, parsley and oregano.  I used up about 35 ounces of food, but ended up with TWO GALLONS of chili – almost an eightfold increase!  The coup de grace was a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce which made the chili so spicy that I experienced for the first time what my friends mean when they talk about acid reflux.  I threw the last SEVEN quarts of chili down the garbage disposal last night, and my gums are still burning.

Often, when I make soup, I start out with a 3 quart pot, but the soup multiplies as ingredients are added, and I dump everything into a 5 quart pot.  But it keeps growing, and  I have to transfer it into the 8 quart pot.  It has a mind of its own.  How does 3 cups of flour and a teaspoon of yeast turn into a loaf of bread that that measures 270 cubic inches??  Go ask Alice.

Call Alice when she was just small
When the men on the chess board
Get up and tell you where to go
Go ask Alice I think she’ll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s lost her head
Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head
Feed your head

Thank you, Grace Slick.

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Four Guys

Here are four forty-five year old short poems, and a photo of the woman who wrote them.

John McLaughlin
When Jonathan made his comeback to nature,
even the leaves turned their backs on him
telling the child in Jonathan
that it was going to rain again.

Bobby Fitzgerald
Reap a grass grown of purple seed.
Tear all your pleasures from a single need.
Curry golden things for strangers.
Step around the wisdom of things.
Bury yourself alive in the live grave of the living.

A Pseudonym
When rain strikes, Silverthorn
ventures out into stunned streets
to feel loneliness spring full-grown
violent with beauty
as rain streaks enemy bullets
onto his head.

Sam (I can’t remember his last name)
Sam’s feet grasped earth,
love always walked several paces behind.
Gold-dust clung to his legs
like ice cream wrappers
to the street-cleaners cuffs.

Me1968 3_edited-1

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seed pod for wordpress

There is a way of holding the breath
that suspends
precisely between life and death.
Sees neither light nor dark
encloses a blank calmness
keeps out the world’s heavy breathing.
If you could learn it
You could find your place here.
It’s like learning to love
Except that it must be done alone.

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My short, sweet drinking life

IMG_0470_1Three AM, New Year’s morning, 2014.  I can’t sleep, and it isn’t because of the excitement, or because of unruly memories.  It’s because of a piece of chocolate cake at 11:30 that was big enough to boost the morning’s and afternoon’s modest doses of caffeine, and shoot me over until dawn.  I’m doing the unthinkable – drinking a sort of Manhattan after taking Lorazepam and antihisthamines.  It’s a sort of Manhattan because I have no cherry, no bitters, and no ice (it’s winter; who needs more ice?).  What I do have is Makers Mark bourbon and Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth.  Except for a sip here and there of someone else’s wine, it’s the first drink I’ve had in a couple of years.

In high school, my parents went away for a weekend and my friend Gayle and I made dinner at my house for our boyfriends.  (Drinking was involved.)  We made spaghetti and salad and bread.  The bread was such a rock that I hurt my boyfriend’s foot when I dropped in on the floor, and the spaghetti sauce was as congealed as condensed soup because I kept adding tomato paste because it seemed too thin; my mother just cooked it down for a couple of hours, but I always thought I could think of a better way.  That night I made out with Eddie on my parents’ bed and found out that he had something at the front of him that hurt, but I wasn’t sure what it was.  The Girl Scouts were going to explain all these things to us, but I’d quit the Girl Scouts in 9th grade.

In college, we snuck into apple orchards after midnight and drank beer.  I went into my low blood sugar facsimile of catatonia, and my date went on about how I reminded him of a Bergman film, and I seemed “so deep.”  All the time I was thinking, to the extent that I could think, “I’m not saying ONE WORD to this guy.  I don’t want to be with him, and talking to him will just encourage him.”

In Philadelphia, my work friends and I threw a birthday party, or maybe it was a wedding shower, in my apartment.  Deep into the evening, my boss approached a close friend of mine and said “But how is Diane going to get home?”  I’m thinking he was probably pretty drunk, too.

Another time, I used somebody’s fiancée’s legs that were propped up on a coffee table as parallel bars, and did somersaults around them.   I had to ask about that later, because I wasn’t sure if it was a memory, or a dream.  It happened.

I didn’t throw up from 2nd grade through about the age of 28 – when I tried to go to bed (or nrf, as the keyboard would have it) while drunk, made the mistake of opening my eyes, saw the room spinning around me, and rushed to the toilet bowl to break my 21 year record.  A record that has remained unbroken to this day, chemo notwithstanding.

There were times in my 20s when I drank alone late at night, and wrote, and usually ended up calling a paramour who lived 5 states away and accusing him of things.  He later never would tell me what I had accused him of, but he held a grudge.

I never had a drinking problem but have always had low blood sugar, so alcohol just sort of dwindled down to nothing in my life, without conscious thought.  In my “drinking” days I once got drunk on the foam on top of a margharita.  The only time in my adult life that I drank with no ill side-effects was in Amsterdam – I drank plenty of Scotch, probably Chivas, got the nice buzz that everybody who doesn’t have low blood sugar talks about, and no hangover.  It must have been something about the water in Amsterdam.  (And Leif Beiderman, a Swedish guy who kissed like the grille of a 1957 Cadillac.)

At any rate, alchohol mostly vanished from my life over time.  Except for tonight – I’m writing this with a bit of a buzz which will soon turn to its characteristic catatonia – exactly what is needed to oppose a bit too much caffeine.  I probably won’t have another drink until 2016.

We’re feeling pretty good right now here in the woods on the first day of 2014.  After the first drink, I cut some cheddar cheese (to coat the stomach, you know – better late than blah blah blah), and Sophie has joined me to share the cheese.  I may be at this point insentient enough to try going to bed again.

The point of this post is that I might still be a virgin if it had not been for alcohol.  Let that be a lesson.

And all you artists, writers, photographers, and general sources of light in the world, gather your forces for 2014 and make it a great one.

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Dream poem

hardware objects

In this dream I am alone listening to the words.
The world narrates itself to me at night.
Words unfurl their perfect formulae,
sharper than lightning and as smooth as stones.
Awake, I can’t remember them,
but they have made a dark constellation in me,
an intersecting reality

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bark 2

There are four teak tables on my deck that have been exposed to 24 years of sun, wind, rain and snow.  They’ve never been cleaned – I’ve never cleaned them.  I meant to clean them this summer in the open air on the deck – soap them, scrub them with stiff brushes, hose off, soap again, scrape, hose off, let them dry, then sand and oil them.

The summer of 2013 was inhospitable in Northwestern Connecticut.  It rained for two months straight, then went into the high 80s and 90s for the rest of the summer

So, this summer, I never turned on the outside water, which requires stooping around in the crawl space, careful not to kick up or knock down or crack my head on pipes, electrical wiring and beams, to find the lever (or is it a wheel?) that turns the water on.   I didn’t bring the umbrella up from the crawl space, and I didn’t sit on the deck.  When it’s 80 degrees here, it’s 100 degrees on my deck, but even that temperature and 7 hours a day of full sun don’t dissipate the mosquitos.

I put off cleaning the tables until next year.

Today, because I was procrastinating other household chores, I brought two of the tables inside for an experiment.  I spread a tarp, got out sandpaper and the vacuum cleaner, and mixed up a cleaning solution from vinegar and grapeseed oil.

Half an hour into sanding – top, sides, underneath – I began seeing the original wood.  I could sand for a long time and there would still be a lot of wood in that table.

It’s kind of a miracle, to be able to sand away so much wood and still have so much wood left.

It’s kind of like life.

But then I start to think too much.

  • Wood doesn’t regenerate after it’s cut from the tree.
  • Trees grow back thicker when they’re pruned.
  • A tree will generate a small bud which will grow into a limb when pruned in the right place.
  • A tree won’t regrow bark.
  • A tree’s new limb won’t grow in the place where the old one came off.
  • Only one percent of a tree’s volume is made up of living cells – just under the bark, in buds, leaves and root tips.
  • All of the human body is made of living cells.
  • The human body regenerates, cell by cell, a thousand times, until it doesn’t.
  • Which parts of the body are bark, and which parts are cambium?
  • Maybe we’re lucky we don’t regenerate limbs – arms growing out of our ears, legs sticking sideways off our hips.

What does it mean?  There must be a relationship among all of these physical, natural facts.

Oh crap, don’t think too much!  You’re too old to figure it out.  It’s been a long, long time since you believed you could find a formula that would explain all of life.  (You who hated math…)

What you do know is that you lost all your leaves and a big chunk of bark and most of your leaves grew back.

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We were damaged

kennedy coins

November 22, 1963 was a Friday, like today.  We’re minutes away from the 50th anniversary of that day.  That day and the next 3 days we watched TV, and tried to comprehend.  Every chronological event of those 3 days moved us further into incomprehension.

The president has been shot, the president has died, Walter Cronkite taking off his glasses, the catch in his voice, the swearing in on the plane of a new president with a southern accent.

The casket, the widow behind a veil, the rotunda, the mourners.

The movie theater, the dead policeman, the small sandy-haired guy with a black eye and a Russian wife, the grunt when he was shot.

The flag-draped casket, the horses, the drums, the widow, the brothers, the street, the salute.

We lost a president that day, but had no comprehension of how much we had lost, and how much more we were going to lose.

I’ve tried to write about this, but all I can bring is nouns, names.  I don’t know if Kennedy and his brother and Martin Luther King could have saved us from what was to come, but I know we became more vulnerable.

John.  Martin. Bobby.  Malcom

Michael, Andrew and James

Selma, Vietnam Mai Lai, Cambodia

Cuba Iran Chile Nicaragua Iraq Afghanistan

Civil rights voter rights gerrymandering filibusters

 TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.


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