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honing: necessary delusion

loungeact-front

If you ever come to the little town of Carmeline Creek on the far northern coast of California and do more than stop for gas, you will almost surely find your way to Mona’s, the only café/bakery in town. And if you happen to spend the night in one of the town’s several inns or at the charming Carmeline Creek Hotel, you will undoubtedly hear about honing. And should you be in town on the evening of a honing happening, we urge you to attend. Admission is free and you may leave at any time during the event. No one will mind.

What, you may ask, is honing?

In physical terms, honing is the ground floor of a stately old brick and wood building three doors down from Mona’s, most of that ground floor a large high-ceilinged room. Some honing happenings employ stages of various sizes constructed somewhere in the large room, while at other honing events a stage does not figure into the production. Lighting is an event-by-event adventure.

In terms of personnel, honing is a collective of seven principals—four women and three men—and an ever-growing number of associates. The principals are Elisha Montoya, 53, Paul Windsor, 60, Ephraim Spinoza, 73, Tivona Descartes, 69, Terence Duval, 47, Adaugo Duval, 41, and Florence Duval, 75. Paul Windsor is the only American-born member of the collective. Elisha was born in Ireland, Ephraim in Spain, Tivona in Morocco, Adaugo in Nigeria, Terence and Florence in England.

Philosophically speaking, the honing folks are ever reformulating their philosophical guidelines. The one guideline that has not changed since the collective came into being two years ago is: we meet at least once a week for supper with the intention of catching up with each other.

On this warm summer night, honing is packed—fifty-six comfortable folding chairs arrayed in front of a small stage softly lit by three spotlights suspended from the high ceiling—two armchairs arrayed on the stage a few feet apart and facing the audience. Thirty-one locals and twenty-five out-of-town visitors are sitting in the folding chairs, ten locals and eight out-of-towners standing.

At 7:23, Elisha Montoya, a graceful woman with shoulder-length reddish brown hair, steps up onto the stage to polite applause. Wearing a pale blue dress and red sandals, Elisha gazes around at the many people looking at her and says, “Though this may evolve into something reminiscent of a play, we begin with Terence and Ephraim discussing necessary delusions, or as Ephraim prefers to say: the necessity of delusion.”

“Here we are,” says Ephraim Spinoza, stepping up onto the stage as Elisha steps down.

An imposing fellow with a mop of curly gray hair, Ephraim ponders the two armchairs for a moment and chooses the slightly larger one stage left.

Terence Duval, tall and broad-shouldered with short black hair, steps up onto the stage, settles into the armchair stage right, looks out at the audience and says, “A few weeks ago we had a spirited discussion about what motivates an artist to continue working on his or her creations when there is little or no support for that work from the greater world.”

“Or,” says Ephraim, “what empowers the artist to persist in creating a work of art that may take months or years to complete with no promise of any sort of external reward?”

“Paul suggested, and I agreed,” says Terence, nodding, “that most artists come to believe that the song or story or painting or play she is creating is important and valuable, not only to the artist, but to those who might hear the song or read the story or see the painting or watch the play. Without this belief, the artist will not continue?”

“I wonder if this belief embodies the difference between an artist and an artisan,” says Ephraim, pursing his lips. “Surely the potter doesn’t need to believe each bowl she makes is valuable and important. The process is important, surely, but not each individual artifact.”

“I think we digress too soon,” says Terence, his arching of an eyebrow eliciting laughter from the audience. “Let us finish elucidating our main thesis first.”

“Ah yes,” says Ephraim, nodding in agreement. “The necessary illusion.”

“Delusion,” says Terence, laughing.

“What’s the difference?” asks Ephraim, shrugging. “Illusion. Delusion. In either case, the artist is depending on an imagined truth to engender hope.”

“I don’t think so,” says Terence, shaking his head. “I think once we have poured hours of intention into a creation, that creation becomes our energetic equal, with a will and intention distinct from our own. And with even more work, the creation becomes our energetic master, which is when we come to fully believe our creation is endowed with special power. This is what I mean by the necessary delusion, a psychic momentum that enables the artist to keep going for however long it takes to finish the work.”

“Yet so many creations are never finished,” says Ephraim, sighing. “Is this because the delusion collapses?”

Terence gazes solemnly at Ephraim—the lights fading into darkness that reigns for a few minutes before the lights grow strong again.

Ephraim and Terence have been replaced by Tivona and Adaugo—Tivona sitting in the armchair stage left, Adaugo sitting in the armchair stage right. Tivona is wearing a brown suit, white shirt, and purple bowtie, and she has a glossy red rose in her short black hair. Adaugo is wearing a billowy white blouse and a long brown skirt, the many braids of her black hair strung with blue wooden beads.

Adaugo: I disagree with everything Terence and Ephraim said. When I make a song, I don’t think the song is more important or more valuable than anything else. A song wants to be born, that’s all. So it comes to me and says, “Hey you. Sing me. Sing me over and over again. Find my parts and put them together in different ways until you know how they go together. And then I will be born and I can live in the world.” I don’t think this is a delusion. I think this is how songs come into being.

Tivona: I agree with you. But I think if we are enmeshed in the egoistic notion that what we do is important to anyone but us, we require a belief system that supports the idea of a hierarchy of value. And it is from the womb of that hierarchic belief system that the idea of necessary delusions is born.

Adaugo: Oh I want everyone to be free from feeling that anyone is more important than anyone else.

fin

Speaking of songs being born, my brand new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven has just been released into the wild wild world and you can buy copies of the actual CD with neato artwork for just five dollars from my web site. Or you can download and stream the album from iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, qobuz, YouTube, or any of your favorite music sites.

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honing: the quorum

quorom shining sea

On a cold rainy morning two days before New Year’s Eve, Elisha Montoya, a beautiful woman with reddish brown hair, stands behind the counter of Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek—the café doing a brisk business.

Elisha is the manager of Mona’s and works here five days a week from six-thirty in the morning until two in the afternoon. Her husband, Paul Windsor, seven years older than Elisha, is sitting at his customary window table having breakfast with two of the newest residents of Carmeline Creek, Tivona Descartes, sixty-seven, and her husband Ephraim Spinoza, seventy-one, arrived from Zurich, Switzerland barely a month ago.

The four of them—Ephraim, Tivona, Paul, and Elisha—have become fast friends and are on the lookout for three other people to fulfill the imperative of a dream Ephraim and Tivona had while living in Zurich, a dream they interpreted as a directive to leave Switzerland and settle in Carmeline Creek.

In that life-changing dream Ephraim said to Tivona, “Our first visitor will be one of the seven,” and Tivona replied, “And you and I are two of the seven.” And Ephraim said, “Leaving four to find.”

As it happened, Paul was the first visitor to Tivona and Ephraim’s new digs in Carmeline Creek, and three weeks later, on Christmas Eve, Tivona identified Elisha as the fourth.

And since becoming the fourth member of Ephraim and Tivona’s dream collective, Elisha has been on high alert for the fifth, though how she will recognize the fifth is a mystery to her.

“I’ll have a large oatmeal cookie, a baguette, a bran muffin, and a large cup of coffee,” says Ira Weinstein, an owlish man with black-framed glasses, his order never varying in the seven years Elisha has been serving him. “To go.”

Elisha hands Ira his bag of goodies and says, “If you had said ‘For here’ I would have anointed you the fifth.”

“The fifth what?” asks Ira, handing her the never-varying twenty-dollar bill.

“The fifth of seven,” says Elisha, handing him four dollars in change, all of which Ira puts in the tip jar as per usual.

“Seven what?” he asks, frowning quizzically.

“People,” she says, nodding. “But you never say ‘for here’ because you only come here on your way to work. And who knows where you go on weekends.”

“You’re being kind of weird this morning,” says Ira, grinning at Elisha. “And actually… I like not being sure what someone means. Doesn’t happen to me very often. Not being sure.”

“Oh it happens to me all the time,” says Elisha, laughing. “But there’s a wonderful sort of freedom in not being sure.”

“I’m late,” says Ira, giggling, “but this has been fun.”

Elisha watches Ira go out into the rain, and a brief interlude of nothing much happening precedes three people entering the café together—a man and two women, the words swashbuckling, exotic, and regal popping into Elisha’s head.

The man is tall and broad-shouldered with olive skin and longish black hair, clean-shaven with an impressive jaw, his heavy blue coat beaded with raindrops. Forty-two guesses Elisha. Fearless.

The older of the two women is nearly as tall as the man, her skin alabaster, her silvery gray hair cut in a boyish bob, her coat gray. Seventy-two guesses Elisha. Mother of the man. Fearless, too.

The younger woman is African and very pregnant, her black hair in many braids strung with yellow wooden beads, her coat magenta. Thirty-seven guesses Elisha. The man’s wife. Goddess of hope and happiness.

“Welcome to Mona’s,” says Elisha, nodding graciously to the trio. “How may I help you this morning?”

“We are famished,” says the younger woman, her particular British accent suggesting her first language is Swahili. “Dreaming of eggs and sausage and hash browns.”

“Eggs and sausage we have,” says Elisha, smiling into the woman’s huge brown eyes. “Baby potatoes, not hash browns.”

“We are saved,” says the man, his accent purely British, his arms stretched heavenward. “We’ll have piles of eggs and sausage and toast and gallons of coffee and orange juice. And then we’ll wait a bit and have lunch. What a beautiful place you have. Smells divine.”

“Just two breakfasts,” says the older woman, her accent British, too. “No eggs and such for me. Just one of these gigantic pumpkin muffins, please, and endless coffee.”

Elisha taps the keys of the cash register and says, “That will be forty-two dollars. Please find a table and we’ll find you when your food is ready. Help yourselves to coffee.”

The table the trio finds just happens to be adjacent to the table where Paul and Ephraim and Tivona are nibbling scones and drinking strong black tea and discussing the exigencies of fate. Thus when Elisha serves the goddess of hope and happiness and her two companions their breakfast and asks, “What brings you to Carmeline Creek?” and the man smiles magnanimously and says, “We’ve come to complete the quorum,” Paul and Ephraim and Tivona freeze mid-nibbling.

“Which quorum might that be?” asks Elisha, arching an eyebrow and making eye contact with Paul.

“We never know,” says the older woman, sipping her coffee. “It’s something my husband used to say whenever we arrived anywhere new and were queried as you have queried us, and my dear son carries on the tradition. This coffee is divine, by the way, which I take as yet another good omen.”

Ephraim and Tivona and Paul hold their breaths, listening intently.

“We are pilgrims,” says the younger woman, holding her coffee mug with both hands as if it is a precious chalice. “Seeking a new world. With clean air and fertile soil and friendly neighbors and a good school for the child we’re about to bring into the world.”

“Forgive me for barging in,” says Paul, barging in, “but Carmeline Creek is blessed with excellent schools. Public, yes, but they might as well be Waldorf Montessori.”

“Please barge in,” says the man, turning to Paul and extending a hand. “I’m Terence Duval. This is my wife Adaugo and my mother Florence.”

“Paul Windsor,” says Paul, gripping Terence’s hand. “This is Ephraim Spinoza and his wife Tivona Descartes, and you’ve met my wife Elisha. Welcome to Carmeline Creek.”

“We were drawn here as if by a powerful magnet,” says Florence, looking from Ephraim to Tivona to Paul. “On our way to Canada, we thought.”

“But when we drove across the bridge,” says Adaugo, her eyes sparkling, “coming from the south, and we saw the river meeting the sea, the little town nestled on the headlands, we felt we were coming home.”

At high noon on New Year’s Day, the seven gather on the beach at the mouth of Carmeline Creek, the sun playing peek-a-boo with ragged gray clouds.

They face the shining sea, standing shoulder to shoulder, no one speaking—the ocean roaring eloquent.

Now Adaugo begins to sing a lovely wordless song, and in the next moment Tivona begins to sing, too, harmonizing with Adaugo as they invent the melody together. Now Ephraim joins in, now Elisha, now Terence, now Florence, now Paul.

They sing for a long time and continue to sing as they traverse the beach and climb the stairs and walk through town to Ephraim and Tivona’s place called honing—a splendid feast awaiting them.

Fin

News Flash!

My brand new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven is here at last and you can buy copies of the CD with all the marvelous artwork for just five dollars from my web site. Think Solstice/Xmas/Hanukkah gifts. Or you can download and stream the album from Apple Music, CD Baby, Amazon, qobuz, YouTube, or any of your favorite music sites. I’m very happy to be sharing this collection of twelve new songs and hope you’ll take a listen.

 

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honing: the fourth

beach dance

On Christmas day in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California, Elisha Montoya, fifty-one, and her husband Paul Windsor, fifty-eight, make their annual walk around the town giving gifts to their friends: sturdy hot pads Elisha crocheted, jars of home-made apple sauce, and copies of Paul’s new holiday short story Naughty and Nice.

This year’s walk is especially poignant for them because this is the first Christmas since they married seven years ago that Elisha’s children Conor and Alexandra are not with them, both living in Ireland now—Conor twenty-two, Alexandra nineteen.

Elisha, who is half-Irish and half-Spanish, misses her children more than she ever imagined she would, and Paul misses them, too, though his missing them is conflated with his concern for how deeply sad Elisha is about her kids living on the other side of the world; and he blames himself a little for their leaving because he knows they were emboldened to go by their mother having a loving husband.

The last stop on their Christmas ramble is the home of Ephraim Spinoza and Tivona Descartes, very recent transplants from Switzerland.

“Come in, come in,” says Tivona, greeting Elisha and Paul on the front porch of the stately old brick and wood building she and Ephraim took possession of just three weeks ago. “Get warm by the fire.”

Tivona is sixty-seven, Moroccan, raised in France, her black hair cut short, her figure girlish, her eyes brilliantly blue. She leads Elisha and Paul through the empty downstairs space—a single large room with a very high ceiling—and up a long flight of stairs to a two-bedroom apartment where a fire is blazing in the living room hearth and Ephraim is in the kitchen cooking—Bill Evans playing on the stereo.

“Here you are,” says Ephraim, seventy-one, Spanish, with an impressive mop of gray curly hair. “I’ll open the wine.”

“Looks like you’ve lived here forever,” says Paul, gazing around the cheerful room.

“We found everything at the secondhand store,” says Tivona, taking their coats. “Now the only question is what to do with the big empty space downstairs.”

“Why do anything with it?” asks Elisha, joining Paul by the fire. “It’s lovely empty.”

“Did Paul tell you about our dream?” asks Tivona, hanging up their coats in the hall closet.

“Your quest for a magnificent seven?” says Elisha, arching an eyebrow. “He did.”

“We have not yet appended magnificent to the seven,” says Ephraim, laughing. “Or any adjective for that matter.”

“I think you are the fourth,” says Tivona, gazing at Elisha. “I love the way you think and speak.”

“I thought she was the fourth the first time we met her at Mona’s,” says Ephraim, nodding in agreement. “I was only waiting for you to think so, too.”

“Which only leaves three more to find,” says Tivona, going to the kitchen to open a bottle of wine.

“I smell garam masala and garlic and tomatos and onions,” says Elisha, standing beside Ephraim at the stove.

“A lentil stew,” says Ephraim, stirring the mélange in a large iron pot. “Inspired by the stew you served at Mona’s a few days ago. Was that your recipe?”

“My mother’s,” says Elisha, lifting the lid from a pot of jasmine rice. “Forgive me. My café habit. I’m terrible.”

“You are a great cook,” says Ephraim, speaking Spanish to her. “You may lift our lids whenever you desire.”

“Gracias,” says Elisha, Ephraim’s Spanish bringing tears to her eyes. “I don’t often hear Spanish as my mother spoke it.”

“The mother tongue,” says Ephraim, offering Elisha a taste of the stew. “They say there is nothing more profound to our senses than our mother’s voice.”

During supper, in answer to Elisha’s question about where and when Tivona and Ephraim met, Tivona says, “Paris. I was thirty-seven, so… thirty years ago. I was a lecturer in Archaeology at the Sorbonne, Ephraim was a professor there in Spanish Literature. We met at a party given by a mutual friend. And we fell in love at first sight, only he had a wife and I had a husband, so…”

“So,” says Ephraim, taking up the tale, “we were in love but would not pursue each other because neither of us was inclined to adultery. We did occasionally have lunch together in a café near the university, but spoke only of academic things and never revealed our feelings for each other, at least not in words.”

“And then seven months after we first met,” says Tivona, her eyes sparkling in the candlelight, “I came home one evening and my husband Jerome told me he had fallen in love with someone else and wanted a divorce. I was quite surprised because I had no inkling he was having an affair. Fortunately we had no children and I was ready for a change, so I agreed, and then I asked him who he had fallen in love with and he said Margot Espinosa, Ephraim’s wife.”

“Yes,” says Ephraim, swirling his wine. “Margot was confessing to me at the very moment Jerome was telling Tivona.”

“So then how long was it before you got together?” asks Paul, who was married twice before he married Elisha, both marriages ending when he learned his wives were having affairs.

“A year,” says Ephraim, gazing fondly at Tivona. “Our lunch dates became more personal and less academic, but we both wanted to be completely free from our previous mates before we embarked on a relationship. We didn’t discuss this, but we knew this was what we both wanted.”

“Then finally we did get together,” says Tivona, her eyes full of tears, “and eleven months later our daughter Simone was born. Our only child. She lives in San Francisco now, which made our decision to move here much easier.”

“What does Simone do?” asks Paul, loving the romance of their story.

“She is a film editor,” says Ephraim, smiling as he thinks of their daughter.

“And a fine musician,” says Tivona, proudly. “She plays the guitar and sings.”

   ∆

“So you are one and two, Paul is three, and I am the fourth of the seven people your dream told you to find,” says Elisha, sitting with Paul on a small sofa facing the fire and enjoying after-supper tea. “What happens when you find the seventh?”

“We don’t know,” says Ephraim, sitting in a grand old armchair. “Maybe the mystery of what to do with the room downstairs will be solved when we find the seventh or the seventh find us, but maybe not. Meanwhile, we are trusting the dream and living the days as they come.”

“What if I said I don’t want to be one of your seven?” asks Elisha, speaking to Tivona who is sitting on a big pillow near the fire.

“I don’t think it matters,” says Tivona, shaking her head. “In the dream Ephraim says, ‘Our first visitor will be one of the seven,’ and I say, ‘And you and I are two of the seven.’ And he says, ‘Leaving four to find.’ But nothing is said about any of the seven belonging to us or belonging to a collective or that any of the seven is required to do anything or even acknowledge they are one of the seven. I think it must be more about recognizing them and their recognizing us.”

“For that matter, we don’t even know if the seven are all people.” Ephraim shrugs. “They might be the four of us and a dog and a cat and a beautiful parrot, like the parrot in our dream. So perhaps the purpose of finding the seven is a way to focus our awareness as we settle into our new lives here.”

“I feel the seven are people,” says Paul, sounding quite certain. “Though I realize the dream is yours and not mine.”

“Maybe it is your dream,” says Tivona, dancing into the kitchen.

“Maybe you will find the other three,” says Ephraim, following Tivona. “And now we are going to have a special sherry we brought all the way from Zurich.”

“A Christmas tradition,” says Tivona, clapping her hands four times. “A most delicious elixir.”

“How will we recognize the fifth, sixth, and seventh?” asks Elisha, lifting Paul’s hand to her lips.

“A certain je ne sais quoi,” says Paul, shivering as Elisha kisses the back of his hand.

“A delightful aliveness,” says Ephraim, pulling the cork from a tall green bottle.

“A pleasing complexity,” says Tivona, setting four small crystal goblets on the counter. “An ineffable sparkle.”

“I feel those things about so many people,” says Elisha, laughing.

“Then it shouldn’t take you long to find them,” says Ephraim, pouring the dark red sherry.

Fin

Breaking News! My brand new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven has just come out. You can buy copies of the CD with all the marvelous artwork for just five dollars from my web site (think Solstice/Xmas/Hanukkah gifts), or you can download and stream the album from Apple Music, CD Baby, Amazon, qobuz, YouTube, or any of your favorite music sites. I’m very excited to be sharing this collection of twelve new songs. If you give them a listen and like what you hear, please tell your music-loving friends.

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The Dream Interpreter

dream wine

Leona Mozart, forty-nine, wearing a baggy gray dress and clunky brown shoes, her long brown hair gathered and compressed into a tight bun, her face masked by large black-framed glasses, the lenses tinted gray, hesitates to knock on the door of the little white house, the voices in her head chorusing, “You stupid desperate fool.”

But misery prevails, she knocks, a dog barks from within, and a moment later she is settling into a high-backed armchair facing another high-backed armchair across a coffee table in a cozy den, a fire crackling in the hearth, a scruffy Golden Retriever sprawled on the floor at her feet, a sleek gray cat sharing the windowsill with seven potted cacti.

“Tea or coffee or water or wine?” asks Leona’s host, Herschel Steinberg, a stocky fellow in his early seventies: spiky gray hair, round-framed red glasses, brown corduroy trousers, purple sweater, green T-shirt, bare feet. “I’m having black tea.”

“I guess I won’t have anything,” says Leona, though she’d love some tea.

“Shout if you change your mind,” says Herschel, heading for the kitchen. “I won’t be long.”

Leona puts her head back, closes her eyes, and grows drowsy in the delicious warmth—the windy winter day having chilled her to the bone.

Herschel takes his own sweet time in the kitchen and returns to the cozy den with a tray bearing a blue teapot and two white mugs. He sets the tray on the coffee table and Leona opens her eyes, embarrassed to have fallen asleep.

“Sorry,” she says, blushing. “I haven’t slept very well for the last few weeks and I got cold on the walk over and your house is so toasty I… sorry.”

“Who doesn’t like a good cat nap?” says Herschel, sitting opposite her. “I brought an extra mug in case my delight in the Darjeeling makes you want some.”

“I actually would like some tea,” she says, smiling shyly at him. “Thanks.”

He meets her gaze and she looks away.

“Needs another minute or so,” he says, lifting the lid of the teapot to inspect the brew. “So… Elisha referred you. I’ve never seen you at Mona’s. How do you know Elisha?”

“Her daughter and my daughter are friends. They’re both being home-schooled and…”

“Is your daughter the marvelous Sylvia?” asks Herschel, beaming at Leona. “Now I see the resemblance. As you probably know, she and Alexandra are making a movie in which I play… wait for it… a dream interpreter.”

“You’re in one of their movies?” says Leona, frowning. “Would you please not mention to them that I came to see you?”

“I will not mention it to anyone,” says Herschel, pouring the tea. “I keep everything about my dreamers strictly confidential.”

“It’s just… I wouldn’t mind if Sylvia knew, but if she told her father…” She clears her throat. “He… it would be better if he didn’t know.”

“I understand,” says Herschel, sipping his tea. “So… you had a dream or dreams you’d like help making sense of.”

“Yes,” she says, taking a deep breath. “Dreams.”

“Well I’d love to hear them, but first I want to give you my brief disclaimer.” He arches his eyebrow. “Ready?”

“Ready,” she says, laughing at his comic expression.

“I am not a psychotherapist and I do not charge for this work. What I think a particular dream means may not be what somebody else thinks the dream means. Or put another way, what you will get from me is my personal response to what you give me. I hope I help you, but I make no promises.”

“Do you need my personal history?” asks Leona, her voice trembling. “To give you a context for the dreams?”

“No,” says Herschel, wishing she’d take off her glasses. “But I’d like to know anything you want to tell me.”

Leona squints at Herschel. “You don’t want to know about my childhood or my marriage or my… sexual history?”

“Only if you want to tell me. Your voice and how you tell your dream and the dream itself will give me plenty of information to work with.”

Leona looks at her hands. “I’m afraid to tell you my dreams.”

“So maybe this isn’t something you want to do,” says Herschel, nodding. “Or maybe we need to have a few more visits before you decide whether you want to tell me your dreams or not.”

“You mean just… visit?” She looks at him, fighting her tears. “Just… have tea and talk?”

“Yeah,” says Herschel, nodding. “Tea and talk.”

So that’s what they do. They drink tea and talk about the weather and gardening and Leona’s daughter Sylvia and cats and Leona’s job editing doctoral theses and what brought Leona and her parents to Carmeline Creek thirty-five years ago when Leona was fourteen.

And after a pleasant hour of such talk, Leona takes off her glasses and curls up in her armchair and asks, “How did you become a dream interpreter?”

“Long story,” says Herschel, getting up to put a log on the fire. “Shall I start at the beginning or cut to the chase?”

“The beginning,” she whispers, liking him more and more.

Herschel resumes his chair. “I was born in Los Angeles in 1948, Herschel Moses Steinberg, the middle of three children. My mother Naomi was a seamstress, my father David a bookkeeper. My younger brother Larry and my older sister Ruth were both excellent students and both became successful academics. I might have been an excellent student, too, except I was obsessed with playing baseball and basketball, so that’s where I put most of my energy.”

He pours himself a bit more tea. “However, despite my thousands of hours of playing those games, I did not make the basketball or baseball teams in high school, which was a source of great sorrow to me because I didn’t care about much else. Then a week before my senior year, I fell in love with Myra Liebowitz, a gorgeous brainy gal who aspired to be an actress, and my infatuation with her was so strong, I signed up for a Drama class just to be near her, and lo and behold I turned out to be a pretty good actor. I was in two plays with Myra, and miracle of miracles she fell in love with me. We got married two years after high school, had two kids, and lived unhappily together for nineteen years. We divorced when we were both thirty-eight. She remarried a year later, I remarried seven years later, divorced again after three years, married one more time after I moved here, that lasted four years, and I have been single with occasional girlfriends for seventeen years now.”

“Are you still in touch with Myra?” asks Leona, her eyes full of tears.

“Oh yes,” says Herschel, wistfully. “The children and grandchildren keep us connected. Otherwise I’m fairly certain Myra wouldn’t have anything to do with me.”

“Did she become an actress?”

“No,” says Herschel, shaking his head. “She became a legal secretary.”

“And what did you become?”

“I became many things,” he says, thinking of the dozens of jobs he’s had over the course of his life. “All preparation for becoming an interpreter of dreams.”

Leona smiles bravely and says, “Speaking of which, I’d like to tell you my dream now.”

“Please,” he says, closing his eyes to listen.

I am standing beside a fast-flowing river. I’m wearing a luxurious brown fur coat that nearly touches the ground, and my hair is down. I am neither sad nor afraid, yet I’m about to jump in the river and drown.

Now a raven wings by and makes a sound I hear as Sylvia, so I turn away from the river and go in search of her.

I enter a palace and stand at the entrance to a large ballroom where couples are waltzing to a live orchestra, the women wearing ball gowns, the men fancy suits. Now someone touches my left shoulder and I turn in that direction and behold a handsome man wearing an elegant white suit.

He bows to me and says, “May I have this dance?”

And I reply, “I cannot dance with you because I’m wearing nothing under this coat, and I cannot dance in this coat.”

“Then let’s dance naked,” he says, offering me his hand.

Now I am standing by the river again, my beautiful robe turned to rags, and I am about to throw myself into the torrent when I hear laughter and turn to see a man and woman sitting at a table under a flowering cherry tree. The woman has short brown hair and is dressed as a toreador. The man has long brown hair and is wearing a scarlet evening gown. They are drinking wine and eating grapes and talking and laughing.

The man gives me a quizzical smiles and says, “You realize, don’t you, that nothing they’ve ever told you is true.”

The woman nods in agreement and says, “Took me the longest time, but once I stopped believing them, I was free.”

“But what made you stop believing they would kill you if you tried to leave?” I ask, falling to my knees.

“Oh that’s not what I stopped believing,” says the woman, helping me to my feet. “I stopped believing I was weak and helpless and stupid, and discovered I was strong and resourceful and brilliant, and everything followed from that.”

Now I’m wading across the river, determined to reach the other side.

Herschel opens his eyes and gazes at Leona.

“I know what my dream means,” she says, unknotting her bun and giving her head a shake to loose her long brown hair. “Pretty obvious, huh? I guess I just needed to tell someone.”

“How quickly you found me out,” says Herschel, his eyes twinkling.

“May I have a glass of wine?” she asks, meeting his gaze.

“Of course,” he says, delighted she no longer fears him. “Red or white?”

“Red, please,” she says, seeing herself on the other side of the river, raising her arms to the sky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09Egsdp9DXw&list=PL7A2gJzg9TABWCexjtnwCuCksuLuxI6ma

fin

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Orange Juice and Beads

sunflower

Where in the world: Carmeline Creek, a town on the far north coast of California, population not quite a thousand

Where in Carmeline Creek: Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in town

When: Yesterday

What: I (Paul Windsor, middle-aged conversationalist) had a fascinating conversation with my friend Olaf Wickersham, recorded at the behest of my daughter Alexandra who is making movies with soundtracks composed of bits of conversations accompanied by accordion and guitar.

Olaf is sixty-seven, tall and fit, with a shaved head and sparkling brown eyes. He usually wears black clothing and bead necklaces, sometimes one necklace, sometimes several, the beads thereon for sale.

Me: Where have you been since I saw you selling your delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice on Main Street in August?

Olaf: I left Carmeline Creek on August 31, got a ride to Oakland and took the train to Los Angeles where I spent a few days in Santa Monica with friends. Then I took the train to Chicago where I visited my sister for a week, and from there I took a boat to Canada and trained to Halifax where I spent a week trading beads and visiting friends. From Halifax I sailed to Ireland on the S.S. Merveilleux.

Me: A freighter?

Olaf: Yes, a large freighter carrying lumber. I used to work on freighters to get to Europe and back, but I stopped needing to pay for my passage that way about ten years ago. Now I go as a passenger. September is usually a good month to cross the Atlantic by boat, though I have had some harrowing trips. One never knows about the ocean.

Me: How long does the crossing take?

Olaf: Two weeks, give or take.

Me: And what do you do to while away the hours?

Olaf: Read, write letters, play guitar, carve beads, walk, exercise, and I commune with my bead collection so I know what I’ve got to trade and how much I’m likely to ask for each bead.

Me: How many beads do you carry with you?

Olaf: Varies. This last time I set sail for Europe with about a thousand beads. Arizona turquoise, amethyst, tourmaline, bone.

Me: So you were in Ireland by mid-October?

Olaf: Yeah. I have a dear friend, Irene, with a small farm outside of Arklow. I stayed with her until Christmas. I’d take the train into Dublin now and then to trade beads and go to plays and hear live music, but I mostly stayed on the farm and helped Irene. Then I took the ferry to England, got a train to France, spent a week in Paris with friends, trained to Barcelona where I visited my nephew who married into a big family there, and in February I went to Morocco and spent a week in Marrakesh and a week in Fes buying and selling and trading beads. Then I went from Morocco to Mallorca for a week, and from Mallorca I went back to Barcelona to court a woman I’d fallen in love with. She was not amenable to coming with me or having me stay with her, so I soothed my aching heart by meandering along the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece, trading beads and visiting friends along the way. Then I went to Zurich where I sold several extraordinary beads to a wealthy collector, and finished my European journey in Amsterdam from where I flew non-stop to Los Angeles. And by the middle of May… well, here I am.

Me: And that is roughly what you do every year.

Olaf: That is roughly what I’ve done every year for thirty-five years, but I’m changing my pattern this year and staying in Carmeline Creek for at least a year without going anywhere.

Me: Why the change?

Olaf: I’m ready to try a different living pattern and I’d like to live on my little acre all the days of a year to really get to know the place and see how I feel about that. I’m tired of being a vagabond, though my vagabond life has gotten more comfortable with every passing year. I suspect my inability to create a satisfying long-term relationship is connected to my unwillingness to stay in one place for long, and I would really like to be in a good long-term relationship.

Me: Will you still sell fresh-squeezed orange juice on Main Street from May to September?

Olaf: No. I gave my cart to Ruben (Olaf’s longtime employee). He and Tania have done most of the hard work these last few years, while I became more the jovial barker. Fear not, there will still be fresh-squeezed orange juice available on Main Street.

Me: How did you get started in the orange juice business?

Olaf: I was living in Los Angeles trying to make it as an actor and a musician. I shared a garage with another guy behind a cruddy house in Echo Park before that area got gentrified. I had lots of part-time gigs and sold joints to tourists in Santa Monica when marijuana was still highly illegal. Just scraping by, smoking too much dope, and occasionally auditioning for a part in a low-budget movie. Then one hot summer day, I was working on a catering crew at the mansion of a big Hollywood producer, lots of movie stars and celebrities on display, and the wife of the producer, a gorgeous Mexican fashion model, had hired a couple Mexican guys to bring their cart to her mansion and make juice for the guests. They’d been selling fresh-squeezed orange juice on the boardwalk at Venice Beach for decades. They set up right next to the barbecue, and when I saw their colorful wooden cart and how fast they cut the oranges and pressed the juice out and filled those half-pint glasses—and how happy they were—I said to myself, “I’m gonna do that.”

Me: In LA?

Olaf: No, I had to get out of LA. I was dying there.

Me: How old were you?

Olaf: Twenty-seven.

Me: So where did you go?

Olaf: Well… my younger sister, the one who now lives in Chicago, was going to college in Berkeley and lived in a commune in Oakland. So I went there, camped in her backyard, built my first cart, and started selling orange juice in Oakland. And I did really well for a couple months until I got busted for selling without a permit. Long story short, I worked farmers markets and art fairs all over the Bay Area for three years, which meant I had to have a big pickup truck to haul my cart, and what with gas and parking and insurance and rent, I hardly broke even. So I gave up for a while, went roaming around for a year or so and discovered Carmeline Creek. A few months later, I moved here, rented a shed from Dominic Andrini a block from where I set up on Main Street, sold my truck, and settled into my routine.

Me: You didn’t need your truck for hauling the oranges?

Olaf: No, I ordered my oranges through Andrini’s and they delivered right to my cart.

Me: Why Carmeline Creek?

Olaf: Why did you choose Carmeline Creek?

Me: I stumbled on the place, bought an old house for next to nothing, and here I am.

Olaf: There you go.

Me: And you made a living selling orange juice?

Olaf: On a good day I cleared three hundred dollars. Sunny summers I made enough to live and travel for a year and then some.

Me: And the beads? When did you become a bead trader?

Olaf: Ah, the beads. The short version is that when I was in my early twenties living in Santa Cruz, I had a girlfriend, Mira, the great love of my life. She made jewelry and bead necklaces and was always looking for new sources of beads. I would accompany her on her expeditions, fell in love with the bead trade, and decided to go into the business in my own idiosyncratic way. Then Mira dumped me for a man with piles of money and a mansion in Malibu, and I followed her to southern California and embarked on my struggling-actor-and-musician phase. My goal, or I should say my fantasy, was to become a huge star and win my girlfriend away from the rich guy. But that didn’t happen, and when I left LA, I got into beads again.

Me: Will you continue to trade beads while you’re living here year-round?

Olaf: Oh, yeah. People will seek me out and I’ll communicate by phone and letters with people in the trade I’ve gotten to know over the years. However, I’m rich now, so there’s no great imperative to make money. I’ll do it because I love trading beads.

Me: May I ask how you came to be rich when you were not so rich a year ago?

Olaf: I can give you the gist, but not the deep specifics.

Me: Gist is fine.

Olaf: Well… as I’m sure you can imagine, being the imaginative person you are, there are legendary beads, just as there are legendary diamonds and legendary paintings and legendary guitars worth millions of dollars. By chance I came to possess a legendary strand of beads, and after three years of extremely careful and secretive negotiations, I was able to sell that strand for what to me is a vast fortune, which is now stowed in the Carmeline Creek Credit Union earning interest more than sufficient for my simple needs.

Me: Why did it take three years of extremely careful and secretive negotiations? Why not sell the beads right away?

Olaf: Because had it been known to anyone but the very few people I negotiated with that I possessed those particular beads, I would have been dead within a week.

Me: Jesus, Olaf. Really?

Olaf: Really and truly.

Me: But why?

Olaf: (thinks for a moment) Imagine if word got around that you had a strand of beads in your house or on your person or hidden somewhere, and those beads were worth several million dollars. Would you feel safe?

Me: No, I’d put them in a safety deposit box and sell them as quick as I could.

Olaf: And how would you go about selling them?

Me: Well, I don’t know. Go to a bead trader? Put an ad in Beads Quarterly?

Olaf: Not a good idea.

Me: Why not?

Olaf: Because if more than a few trustworthy people knew you had those beads, a surprising number of powerful, resourceful, and highly unscrupulous people would try to find you and force you, in one way or another, to relinquish those beads or they would kill you.

Me: My god, Olaf, how much were they worth?

Olaf: Impossible to say. Priceless? Worthless? Only worth something because people value them? Certainly rarer than the rarest diamond.

Me: So how did you sell them?

Olaf: It was very tricky. Much trickier than selling a famous painting or a rare guitar, because the thing about beads is they aren’t Picassos or Modiglianis or Gibsons or famous diamonds once owned by the Czar. They are beads, their identities and values known to only a small number of people in the world, many of whom are not what you and I would call honorable or law-abiding.

Me: And why were these particular beads so valuable? Were they diamond-encrusted blobs of gold?

Olaf: No.

Me: Worry beads passed down from Socrates?

Olaf: (frowns curiously) What an interesting guess. And not so far off. But… no.

Me: How many beads are we talking about?

Olaf: That I can’t tell you.

Me: Why not?

Olaf: The number is indicative.

Me: But you’re safe now, so…

Olaf: Ah but the person who bought them from me will never be safe so long as he or she possesses those beads privately rather than give them to a grand art museum or the national gallery of a large and powerful nation.

Me: Oh, so they’re works of art?

Olaf: Yes, and that’s all I’ll say. But if I ever learn that those beads are in the possession of some powerful and well-known institution, I will tell you the story of how I came to possess them and how I was finally able to arrange the sale without losing my life.

Me: Okay. And congratulations. What’s on your docket for the week ahead?

Olaf: Gardening, guitar, walks on the beach, carving, and with any luck entertaining a woman friend I hope will come up from Berkeley and spend some time with me.

Me: By the way, Alexandra has started a movie company. Perhaps you would like to do some acting in one or more of our upcoming films.

Olaf: I would love to. I always wanted to be an actor, you know.

      fin

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The Movie Biz

firewood wall

My fourteen-year-old daughter Alexandra has launched a movie company, Windsor Montoya Productions, and I have agreed to work for her as an idea person, writer, actor, and caterer’s assistant. Elisha, Alexandra’s mother, has also joined the company as an idea person, actor, continuity maven, and caterer. Conor, Alexandra’s older brother, will be an idea person, writer, actor, art director, cinematographer, sound tech, and editor. Sylvia Espinosa, Alexandra’s best friend, who is fifteen, will be an idea person, actor, writer, and co-director of the movies. Alexandra will be the producer, co-director, and head of operations.

I thought interviewing Delia Krantz, who is ninety-six with lots of show biz experience, would be a fun way to help launch the new movie company. To that end, Alexandra and Conor and Sylvia and I meet with Delia at Mona’s—the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek. Elisha is working the counter during the interview and is able to hear most of what Delia says. Conor is also recording the interview with a brand new super duper Balzini microphone plugged into his laptop so we can access the interview in the future.

Delia was born in Chicago in the 1920s and worked as the personal assistant to seven different movie producers in Hollywood in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s before moving to Carmeline Creek twenty-eight years ago. She lives in a cottage a block from the beach at the north end of town with her dachshunds Greta and Harpo.

Alexandra: Did you know Marilyn Monroe?

Delia: I did not know her, but I met her a few times when I was working for Mel Katz. Mel wanted Marilyn for the femme fatale in a cowboy remake of The Three Musketeers. If she’d said Yes the movie would have gotten made, but because the original part for Marilyn wasn’t big enough for her, Mel had his writers expand her role, and when they did, the script fell apart.

Alexandra: What’s a femme fatale?

Delia: A dangerously attractive woman.

Sylvia: What did you do for your job when you were assisting those movie producers?

Delia: I made all their appointments, attended most of their meetings, took notes during the meetings, typed up the notes, called people and gave them good news and bad news and no news. Things like that. I was on the phone constantly, juggling appointments and dealing with a thousand details. As Jerome Purcell said, I was his adjunct brain. I took dictation, wrote letters, made lunch and dinner reservations, arranged for transportation, and a million other things.

Conor: Who was Jerome Purcell?

Delia: He was one of the biggest movie producers in the world in the early seventies. He made Totally Goofing Around, Crazy Insane Killers, and You Gotta Be Kidding, to name a few.

Alexandra: I’ve never heard of those movies. Should we watch them to get ideas?

Delia: No. Watch Frank Capra movies. Watch Kate Hepburn. Watch Neil Simon. Watch Truffaut and Alec Guinness and Jimmy Stewart and the Marx Brothers.

Sylvia: Do you ever watch YouTube videos?

Delia: Sometimes. People send me links to videos of dogs and cats, but why would I watch videos of dogs when I have dogs? I mostly watch detective shows and old movies and British game shows. I’m addicted to Would I Lie To You, and truth be told, I’m still in love with Humphrey Bogart.

Alexandra: We watched The Maltese Falcon a few weeks ago.

Delia: Did you like it?

Alexandra: Kind of, but I didn’t really understand what was happening and it was kind of scary, though it wasn’t violent or anything, just creepy, especially that one guy.

Delia: Peter Lorre. It’s a confusing story. Verges on Kafka by today’s standards. You’d like the movies Bogie made with Lauren Bacall. Talk about chemistry.

Alexandra: Would you like to hear the idea for our first movie?

Delia: Love to. And by the way, Alexandra, I think it’s marvelous you’re getting into the movie business. You remind me so much of Mary Martin.

Conor: Who was she?

Delia: Who was Mary Martin? She was Peter Pan on television. In the 50s. Live. Every year. With Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. Rogers and Hammerstein wrote The Sound of Music for her. She was the original Maria. A genius.

Alexandra: And I remind you of her?

Delia: In so many ways. Now tell me about your movie.

Alexandra: Okay. So… it’s about a man who goes on a walk, and he’s just walking along. Maybe he has a little dog on a leash. We’re not sure about the dog yet. Anyway, he keeps going by weird things and the things keep getting weirder and weirder, only he doesn’t seem to notice them. He’s just going along and maybe whistling.

Delia: Like what kind of weird things?

Alexandra: Well… we haven’t thought of them all yet, but the first thing will be a person holding a little balloon and hovering a few feet off the ground.

Sylvia: The second thing will be a cat sitting at the bottom of a tree and there will be dog up in the tree. You know, like a reversal of the usual dog on the ground, cat in the tree scenario.

Delia: And the man doesn’t notice these things?

Alexandra: No, he’s just walking along whistling.

Delia: Speaking of Kafka.

Alexandra: Who was Kafka?

Delia: He wrote a story about a man who turns into a cockroach. Dark depressing unsolvable emotional conundrums.

Alexandra: Oh. Well our movie won’t be dark and depressing. It will be funny because the man never notices these strange things no matter how weird they are.

Delia: Why do we care about this man?

Alexandra: What do you mean?

Delia: As Boris Zverev used to say, if we don’t care about the main characters, why should anybody care about the movie? And so he always tried to give us reasons to care about a person? To like them.

Conor: To identify with them.

Delia: (touches her nose) Exactly.

Conor: So maybe if we saw this man for a minute or two before he goes on his walk, and he talks to his cat or sings along to the radio while he makes breakfast or…

Delia: Yes. Humanize him, as Boris used to say.

Sylvia: Who was Boris?

Delia: Boris Zverev was the go-to script doctor in the 1960s. He saved a hundred movies from certain failure.

Alexandra: Do you have any other advice to help us with our movies?

Delia: You need a good story, to quote Frank Capra.

Conor: What makes a story good?

Delia: As Bernard Fuchs used to say… Bernard was a brilliant writer way back when… a good story involves interesting people trying to overcome an external challenge or challenges that also represent inner dilemmas. The only way the character or characters can successfully solve the mystery or win the battle or transcend the challenge is to go through some sort of internal transformation that can then be expressed on the outside. People love stories of transformation.

Alexandra: So once you have a good story, then what?

Delia: Then you have to write a good script, which means you have to have interesting, believable characters saying and doing interesting and endearing things, overcoming difficulties, falling in love, and keeping the audience wondering what’s going to happen next, all the way to the surprising and satisfying ending.

Alexandra: Do people always have to fall in love for a script to be good?’

Delia: In one way or another. The falling in love doesn’t have to be romantic, but who doesn’t like a good romance? It all goes back to creating a story and characters the audience can identify with, so we root for them to succeed. They, in a sense, are versions of us.

Conor: I think movies have changed since you were in the business. Not that what you’re telling us isn’t helpful, but movies now are more about imagery and sound and action. The story isn’t so important anymore.

Delia: (shrugs) If that’s what you like, but people will always love a good story. That will never change. It’s in our genes to love stories. (muses) May I give you a little history lesson about movies?

Conor: Yes. Please.

Alexandra: (excited) You know what we could do? We could make a movie about Delia teaching us how to make movies.

Sylvia: Yeah, and we would try to do what she tells us and fail hilariously.

Conor: A tragic comedy.

Delia: Who would play me? Don’t tell me. Me?

Alexandra: Of course! Who else?

Conor: So… the history lesson.

Delia: Okay, so in the beginning there was no sound in movies. Everything had to be conveyed with the setting and very obvious situations in which characters, archetypal characters, acted with their bodies and their faces and the occasional dialogue card. So just from looking at them you knew who was the villain, who was the victim, who was nice, who was bad. Their actions and facial expressions told the story. Then in the 1930s when sound arrived and actors could talk, most of the first screenwriters were recruited from among playwrights, people writing for the stage. And so most of the first movies were, by and large, plays or vaudeville acts turned into movies. Hence the term screenplay. A play for the screen. Now the thing about a play is, you’re limited to action taking place on a stage with one or two sets. That’s it. So those writers were very good at writing interesting dialogue because that’s what made for a good play. Movies don’t depend so much on dialogue, but dialogue is still extremely important. As is good acting. But there is a fundamental truth about plays and movies that has never changed. Which is… we learn the most about the people in the movie or the play by what they do, not by what they say. If a person walks by a person floating in the air and doesn’t notice them, we learn that the person walking by is not very observant and this influences how we think about him. In other words, actions speak louder than words. So I would say when you write your scripts, be aware of the non-verbal messages being conveyed by what people do.

Conor: Maybe the guy doesn’t notice anything because he’s lost in his own thoughts and he’s trained himself not to notice things because everything in his world is so weird.

Alexandra: Or maybe he does notice the person floating and the dog and cat reversal, but he doesn’t think it’s weird because everything in his reality is weird.

Delia: What happens at the end?

Conor: He goes by one last weird thing and we fade out.

Delia: No transformation?

Conor: We don’t know.

Delia: I don’t see the point.

Alexandra: It’s about how weirdness is normal now. What used to seem crazy is just how things are now and the man just accepts it.

Delia: Oh. So there’s no story. It’s what we used to call an experimental film. You’re trying out ideas to learn how to use the medium.

Conor: No, there’s a story. It’s about how life is now. People being oblivious to how weird everything is.

Delia: I guess that’s kind of a story. In an abstract way. Speaking of Kafka.

Alexandra: You’ve given us a lot to think about, Delia. Thank you so much.

Delia: You’re welcome, sweetheart. I’m very happy you asked me. I enjoyed remembering some of the people I knew so long ago, hearing their voices again.

fin

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The Tuner

the tuner

My daughter Alexandra, who is fourteen, recently announced she is launching a movie company, Windsor Montoya Productions, and would like me to work for her. She has already hired her mother Elisha, her brother Conor, and Sylvia Espinosa, her best friend. Pay will be deferred until our movies become popular on YouTube and someone gives us the money to make a big-budget movie. I do not question her visions of the future, but before I make my decision about joining the movie company, I have asked her to clarify what she imagines my role in her movie-making process will be, and she is currently composing my job description.

In the meantime, I continue to arrive at Mona’s—the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek—every day circa 10 AM, greet my wife Elisha (she who works at the counter) with a suggestive wink, claim my customary window table, go to the counter and flirt with Elisha, return to my table with muffin and tea, write, socialize, and depart Mona’s for home and walking the dogs circa 1 PM.

Today in Mona’s, while awaiting Alexandra’s elucidation of her vision of my niche in her movie company, I am joined by my good friend Zorro Blackbird, who also happens to be our piano tuner and the accordion player in the jazzy folk trio Romantic Twaddle. I am the guitarist in that trio, Elisha our ukulele player, and we all sing. We play every Friday evening at Mona’s from eight to ten when Zorro is in town. Alexandra says she intends to use Romantic Twaddle’s music in some of her movies and may even make a few movies about Romantic Twaddle.

Zorro, fifty-three, is a burly five-foot-eight with olive skin and long black hair. He has been out of town for the last two months touring with Bailey Jones, and because I’m on a kick these days of interviewing my favorite people, I take this opportunity to interview Zorro and record our conversation in my Notebook #4: Drawings and Overheard Dialogue.

Paul: Were you born with the name Zorro Blackbird?

Zorro: I was. My mother is Wailaki, my father Pomo. My father loved the Zorro television show from the 1950s, so they named me Zorro. My three sisters are named after the goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, and Venus.

Paul: What inspired you to become an accordion player?

Zorro: I started playing ukulele when I was five and took up the guitar when I was seven. When I was ten, I heard a man playing the accordion at the county fair and thought it was the most beautiful music I’d ever heard. On the way home from the fair, my mother told me she played the accordion before she had kids and she still had her accordion. When we got home, she got the beautiful old thing out of her closet and said if I promised to practice every day, she would give me lessons.

Paul: Do you play accordion with Bailey when you tour with her?

Zorro: No. She’s a solo act all the way. She doesn’t even have other people play on her albums. My job is to keep her two guitars perfectly tuned throughout her performances.

Paul: Are you onstage with her?

Zorro: I’m on and off. After her first song, I come on and she gives me her guitar and I give her the second one. Then while she’s playing her second tune, I’m offstage tuning the first guitar, and so on. I wear black clothes and come and go like a shadow.

Paul: Why doesn’t she tune her own guitars?

Zorro: She’s not good at tuning when she’s performing and she gets extremely frustrated when she can’t get the tuning exactly right. So rather than drive herself and her audiences crazy, she has me tune for her.

Paul: How did she find you?

Zorro: Her previous tuner is an old friend of mine, Rufus Strunk, the fiddle player, and he recommended me. I went down to Berkeley and met with her, she tried me out at a gig in San Francisco, and I’ve been tuning for her ever since. Five years now. She tours twice a year and each tour lasts two months. I’ve been to England and Europe with her three times and all over America and Canada many times.

Paul: Any end in sight?

Zorro: Well… the guy she’s currently involved with thinks he can do the tuning, so she might give him a try. We’ll see.

Paul: You sound doubtful.

Zorro: I don’t think he can do it. But love is blind and time will tell.

Paul: What will she do if he hands her a guitar that’s not perfectly tuned?

Zorro: She’ll fire him and then call me and beg me to come finish the tour. (laughs) Probably offer me a big raise.

Paul: Will you go?

Zorro: Oh yeah, if she asks me. Her next tour starts in four months, and unless I find a gig I like better, you bet I’ll go. She pays me two thousand dollars per show, and we do about forty-five shows each tour.

Paul: Will it ruin her relationship with this guy if he can’t tune her guitars properly?

Zorro: I’ll be very surprised if she hasn’t dumped him before the next tour. But if not, she’ll dump him the first show he screws up, which will very likely be the first show. I know it seems like tuning guitars should be easy, but to tune those guitars exactly as she wants them, twenty times each concert, you have to have an impeccable ear and a delicate touch and not be intimidated by the magnitude of the situation. 2800 people in Carnegie Hall? That kinda thing. Every night.

Paul: Is she difficult to work with?

Zorro: Not for me. But she’s a perfectionist, and when people don’t give her what she needs, she can be… difficult.

Paul: Does Ellen [Zorro’s wife] go on tour with you?

Zorro: No. She’s happy to stay home making her art and taking care of the grandkids, and… it’s good for us to be apart now and then. We’ve been married for thirty years and we have a tendency to get very ingrown. And we’re always happy to see each other when I get home, so…

Paul: What do you do during all the hours between shows on a tour?

Zorro: We’re travelling, we’re checking into hotels, we’re setting up, we’re doing sound checks, eating, sleeping, and I accompany Bailey when she does television and radio interviews, which she does a lot. There’s not much down time. It’s a very intense two months. She’s not just famous. She’s a cultural icon.

Paul: I hope you won’t be offended, but I’ve never really understood her appeal. What do you think it is about her that makes so many people love her?

Zorro: I’m not offended. Taste is subjective. I’ve actually thought quite a lot about why so many people love her.

Paul: What have you come up with?

Zorro: Well… her voice is not powerful, but it’s warm and appealing and nobody else sounds like her. She’s very down to earth, and I think lots of people prefer singers they can identify with, you know, singers with voices that aren’t spectacular. She doesn’t intimidate anyone, yet she sings beautifully. And when she performs she seems vulnerable and very honest and very funny, too. People laugh their heads off at her shows. She’s a wisp of a woman singing songs full of longing. A sweet voice and a well-played guitar. One reviewer called her the queen of quiet angst, but I don’t think angst is the right word. I think the word is melancholy, the good kind. She makes people cry, and people like to cry.

Paul: So what are you gonna do between now and the next tour?

Zorro: Tune pianos. Play music with you and Elisha. Work in the garden, babysit the grandkids, go on some adventures with Ellen, come here for coffee, talk to you, go to the beach. See what comes my way.

Paul: Have you written any new songs of late?

Zorro: Not for a long time, and that’s an interesting thing about touring with Bailey. My songwriting stops, though I take along notebooks and a guitar and I think I’ll write poems and new songs, but nothing ever comes when I’m on tour with her. And then I get home and after a couple months the melodies start to come again and then I’m on tour again and the flow stops.

Paul: Why do you think that happens?

Zorro: I know why it happens.

Paul: Why?

Zorro: Because being her tuner uses the same creative energy that would otherwise go into my own work. I know that sounds crazy. After all, I’m just tuning her guitars during her concerts. But when I’m on tour with her, my entire focus is on facilitating her creative expression. And to do my job well, I have to give her everything I’ve got or the guitars won’t sound right. They just won’t. I can’t tell you why, but it’s true.

Paul: And you’re okay with all your creative energy going to help her? At the expense of your own creativity?

Zorro: You know, Paul, helping her is creative, and I love helping her. I love hearing her play those guitars for thousands of enraptured people. I love coming and going on the stage like a shadow. I love bringing those strings into perfect tune with each other. I love hearing how well they sound with her voice, and I love knowing she is empowered by what I do for her.

 fin

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Alberto Puerto Vallarta

balancing

My son Conor, who is seventeen, is intrigued by systems. In an earlier draft of this story, I wrote, “My stepson Conor is passionate about the interconnectedness of the myriad parts composing complex processes.” When I showed Conor that draft, he said, “I’d rather be your son who is intrigued by systems.”

A few weeks ago, Conor made an exquisite pen and ink drawing, eighteen-inches-wide and fourteen-inches-tall, of me sitting at my customary table in Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek. With enviable self-confidence and a knack for making money from his art, Conor framed the drawing, displayed the work on the wall at Mona’s, and sold the blessed thing for three hundred dollars to an art collector from San Francisco.

In the drawing, I am wearing a gray dress shirt tucked into darker gray pants, my gray hair short and multi-directional, my reading glasses round-framed, and I seem to be smiling ever-so-slightly as I write in one of my five notebooks.

My four other notebooks are stacked beside my old leather briefcase, and next to the stack of notebooks is a half-eaten muffin on a white plate. Adjacent to the muffin is a large white mug, the contents of which are indiscernible. The pen I’m writing with is long and skinny and has an extremely fine point.

In a white space two-inches tall and eighteen-inches-wide at the bottom of the drawing, in Conor’s small-but-easy-to-read print are the following two paragraphs.

May 7, 10:43 AM. Carmeline Creek, California. Paul Windsor sitting at southwest window table in Mona’s bakery. Briefcase: brown leather, handmade in Oaxaca, circa 1976. Pen: Staedtler triplus fineliner, black ink. Five notebooks. Paul is writing in Notebook #1: Poetry (Strathmore Sketch, fine tooth surface, 100 sheets, 9 in. x 12 in. 60 lb.) Notebook #2: Prose (Strathmore Sketch, recycled paper, 100 sheets, 5.5 in. x 8.5 in 60 lb.) Notebook #3: Song Lyrics (Aquabee Super Deluxe Sketch, Excellent Tooth, 60 sheets, 6 in. x 6 in. 93 lb.) Notebook #4: Drawings and Overheard Dialogue (Strathmore Sketch, fine tooth surface, 100 sheets, 9 in. x 12 in. 60 lb.) Notebook #5: Ideas & Miscellaneous. (National Brand, Narrow Ruled Eye-Ease Paper, 80 sheets, 7.75”. x 5”)

Paul arrives at Mona’s every day circa 10 AM, greets his wife Elisha (counterperson) with jaunty wave, claims customary table, unpacks briefcase, goes to counter, effects British, French, German, or Serbian accent, pretends not to know Elisha, flirts with her. Elisha mimics Paul’s accent and responds to his flirtation with humorous non sequiturs. Paul returns to customary table with muffin and tea, writes, socializes, writes, departs Mona’s circa 1 PM (kisses Elisha goodbye if she’s not too busy.)

couple

Notebook #4: Drawings and Overheard Dialogue also contains snippets of conversations I have with friends, and I thought you might enjoy one of my exchanges with a fellow denizen of Mona’s, Alberto Puerto Vallarta.

Alberto, a renowned performance artist, is seventy-four, his wavy black hair turning gray. He is handsome and fit and reminds older people of the actor Omar Sharif. His performances include poetry, monologues, improvised scenes, dance, and songs. He speaks English with a pleasing Spanish accent, and his voice is so resonant, he often sounds as if he is singing when he is merely speaking.

Paul: Were you born with the last name Puerto Vallarta?

Alberto: No, I was born Alberto Gomez. In El Paso, Texas. My mother and father came across the border from Ciudad Juárez to have me in an American hospital so I would be born an American citizen. My mother was very clever. She waited until just a few minutes before she was about to give birth before entering the emergency room so they couldn’t turn in good conscience her away.

Paul: So…

Alberto: So you’ve heard of the artist Judy Chicago. When I was in my twenties, I was working as a bricklayer in Fresno. We were at the university there for a couple weeks putting in a big brick terrace surrounded by a low brick wall. One day on my lunch break I wandered over to the art department and came to a big studio where Judy Chicago was teaching a painting class. I was mesmerized. She was strong and funny and everything she said interested me. I secretly fancied myself an artist who had yet to make art because I didn’t have the time or the money or some excuse like that. I watched her for twenty minutes and then went back to my bricklaying. A little later one of the art students walked by and I asked her who the teacher was and she said, ‘Judy Chicago. She’s famous.’ And in that very moment, I heard the name Alberto Puerto Vallarta, which is where my mother was born, so I decided that would be my name from then on.

Paul: How did you go from bricklaying to performance art?

Alberto: I went from bricklaying to being a sculptor. A couple years after my encounter with Judy Chicago, I moved to Los Angeles and we were building a brick wall around a big estate in Beverly Hills, me and Diego Ruiz. Great guy. One day these three guys show up with a big metal sculpture in the back of a flatbed truck, a blatant Calder knockoff, and then the artist shows up. Delmore Rexroth. The three guys do something to piss him off, he throws a fit, and the three guys leave. Delmore sees me and Diego and asks us to help him install the piece. When we finish, he asks me if I want to work for him.

Paul: What did you do for Delmore?

Alberto: (laughs) I made Calder knockoffs and he put his name on them and sold them to rich people. He was in Europe and New York a lot of the time, you know, schmoozing with rich people who thought he was a great artist, and while he was gone I’d spend a few hours every day working on my own art, smaller pieces, about the size of chairs. Fanciful things. Copper and bronze tubing. Strange creatures and surreal furniture. When I had seven pieces I liked, I showed pictures of them to the curator of a gallery that showed sculptures and she put me in a group show. All seven pieces sold the first night and she offered me a solo show. I quit working for Delmore, used the garage of the house I was renting with two other guys as my studio, and at the opening of my solo show, my friend Ricardo played guitar and I improvised a speech and danced with my sculptures. They were all somewhat kinetic and the people went crazy and Alberto Puerto Vallarta became a star.

Paul: Fast-forward fifty years. Your last show was about parenting. What was the genesis of that?

Alberto: I had three children, one with my first wife, two with Carmen (Alberto’s second and current wife). My first wife felt oppressed by motherhood, whereas Carmen loved being a mother, and our children profoundly reflected their mothers’ attitudes. My kids with Carmen were happy and got along very well with other people, but Lola, you know, she was so dependent on me for approval and love that until she had some good therapy when she was in her forties, she had a difficult time relating to women, and all her close friends were men.

Paul: How did you learn to parent?

Alberto: Oh from my parents. Also from taking care of my younger brother and cousins. My parents were very calm people, so I was calm, too. And once I was walking and talking, they treated me as their emotional and intellectual equal, even if I didn’t yet know everything they wanted me to know. They taught me to love and respect my elders, to do my chores, to do what was necessary for the good of the family, and they were very patient with me. My mother was excellent at explaining things to me, and both my parents celebrated my uniqueness. And they allowed me to try on all sorts of identities so long as I met my obligations to la familia. And that’s how I raised my kids. So, to answer your original question about my show, I wanted to talk about the damage being done to our children and families and communities by the way many children are being raised in America today.

Paul: What would you say is the hardest thing about parenting?

Alberto: I don’t think in terms of hard or easy. I think a parent has to take care of the child with love and consistency so when the child begins to develop the skills and confidence for self-care, love and consistency are ingrained in them. And then comes the transition phase where the child needs to be given more and more responsibility for taking care of herself and taking care of other people. That’s a big thing missing today. Taking care of other people. Taking care of the old ones who need help, the younger ones who need help, the sick and the hurt. Whoever needs care. And at the same time, the child’s uniqueness needs to be celebrated, along with everyone else’s uniqueness. Equality. You know. In this society, the media and the social system ingrain in people the idea that life is a hierarchy. We’re told we’re better than some people, not as good as other people, and we’re told winning is a virtue and losing is a shame, that some people are stupid, some are smart, some good, some bad. My children grew up knowing everyone has value and no one is less than anyone else. It’s not hard to teach that if you start right away, if you build that truth into the learning of language and in the development of social skills, but most parents don’t do that now. Everything is about superficially aggrandizing the individual while actually compressing their individuality into little boxes.

Paul: How did you handle your kids’ teenage years?

Alberto: What do you mean?

Paul: Well… their need to rebel, to break away from you… all that.

Alberto: There’s no need to rebel if you haven’t been enslaved.

Paul: But surely you disciplined them.

Alberto: Discipline, sure. But never punishment. You can’t accomplish very much without discipline, but punishment is never helpful, never productive. You can shower a child with love without spoiling him, and you can deny a kid something, some crap food or a smart phone or staying up too late without it being a punishment.

Paul: How do you do that?

Alberto: You honor their intelligence and present everything in the larger context of family and community and what’s good for them. The worst thing a parent can do is impose rules and limitations without thoroughly discussing the complicated reasons for those rules. Language! Look at Conor and Alexandra. They are far more sophisticated than most adults. Why? Because their mother raised them as her intellectual and emotional peers. She did not infantilize them, which is what is happening now more than ever because our culture, our books and movies and everything is aimed at the infant mind, or at best the adolescent.

Paul: You mentioned smart phones. What…

Alberto: Listen, there is so much proof that these things are poison for the developing brain, there shouldn’t even be a discussion. Do you let your three-year-old smoke cigarettes? But this is what the parents are doing now. Handing these phones to babies. I see it all the time. The little child in the stroller fusses, the mother or father hands the child the phone. Silence. Brain captured and it can’t form properly. This has been proven in countless rigorous studies. It should be a serious crime to give a child a portable computer before their brain is fully formed. It’s insanity on a massive scale, and it creates people who don’t know how to relate to each other, people detached from reality and separated from the miracle of life. I feel so sad about it.

Paul: Do you have a smart phone?

Alberto: Yes, I do. They took away all the pay phones and the camera on my phone is very good.

Paul: Yet you think these phones are poison.

Alberto: For the developing mind, yes. My mind is well developed and I mostly use my phone as a phone and camera.

Paul: And you make videos that people watch on their phones.

Alberto: Yes, I am entwined with the cultural matrix as it is currently manifesting. Before there was an internet and videos, I was only known to people who saw my shows or read about me in reviews. And now millions of people watch my performances on their phones and pads and computers. I want to connect with other people, and this is one of the ways I connect.

Paul: You don’t feel you’re part of the poison?

Alberto: I feel I am part of everything.

fin

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Promise of Joy

joy bread

I live in a small town. I won’t tell you the name of the town because I don’t want swarms of people descending upon us to get a look at me. I’m kidding, of course. Why would anyone, let alone swarms of people, want to get a look at me after reading this story? And how would they know what I look like? Am I a woman or a man? Old or young? Unless I tell you, you’ll never know.

On the other hand, there is only one bakery in our town, and this is a story about that bakery, so if I were to mention the name of this town and someone reads this story and wants to get a look at me, he or she could go to the bakery where I almost always sit at the same table every day for approximately the same three hours. Thus if I were to tell you which table and what time of day, you would know where to find me, unless you’re reading this story a hundred years from now when I’m no longer alive, barring incredible advances in medical science.

You may wonder why I don’t always sit at the same table in the bakery if I’m such a creature of habit. I can explain in two words. These two words are not verbs or adjectives, but a person’s name. Pedro Steinberg. Are names words? Of course they are. They are proper nouns. As it happens, I would never use the word proper to describe Pedro Steinberg, yet his two names are unquestionably proper nouns. How ironic. Indeed, everything about Pedro Steinberg strikes me as ironic. What were his parents thinking? Pedro is a middle-aged Jewish man born to Jewish parents named Ira and Ruth, descendants of Polish Jews. Why did Ira and Ruth name him Pedro? Why not Peter or Ira or Fritz? Perhaps they were being ironic. Or perhaps, for reasons we can only guess at, they fell in love with the name Pedro and decided there could be no better moniker for their son.

In any case, Pedro sometimes commandeers my usual table before I get to the bakery at ten every morning, but only sometimes because most mornings he stays in bed or lolls around in his pajamas until well past ten, so he and I rarely compete for the table in question, a corner table adjacent to a window. Given there are only two corner tables adjacent to windows in the bakery, someone trying to guess my identity from this story could now narrow my identity down to at most four people.

But I’ll go you one better. My table is in the southeast corner. Therefore, should you come looking for me between ten and one at the bakery, and you know north from south and east from west, you will be able to narrow your search down to me or Pedro Steinberg or the people with whom we are sharing the table. I, however, am not chubby, the person I usually share my table with is chubby, and Pedro is mucho chubby and rarely shares the table with anyone, so there I’ll be if I tell you the name of our town.

By now you may be wondering: where is this story going? Or maybe you’re merely enjoying the way I’m easing into the tale and you aren’t greatly attached to where the story is going so long as the telling continues to please you. Or maybe you stopped reading after the second or third paragraph, rendering these words mere symbols waiting to be deciphered. Imagine a woman standing on a sidewalk watching a man walking away and no longer listening to what she is trying to tell him. She calls after him, but her voice falters and she falls silent.

The bakery of which I write is called Mona’s. This commercial footprint, to use a bit of architectural lingo, has had seven different tenants in the last fourteen years, and for five of those fourteen years, the footprint was vacant. The reason for this track record, so to speak, is that none of the tenants prior to the current tenant, Mona Castelli, were able turn a profit here, and Mona was on the verge of closing up shop, too, until something quite remarkable happened.

The footprint’s décor changed with each new bakery, the menu changed, business hours fluctuated from proprietor to proprietor, staff turned over countless times, prices went up and up, booths came and went and came again, chairs were comfortable, uncomfortable, sort of comfortable, too comfortable, wobbly, not wobbly. Cats were allowed, then disallowed, then allowed, then disallowed, and are now allowed again.

The name of the bakery has changed seven times. My favorite name was Il Trogolo, which is Italian for The Trough. Unfortunately, the owner of Il Trogolo and the baker she hired routinely overused cinnamon, and whoever made their coffee had a penchant for bitterness, so…

There are currently twelve tables and two booths in the large and not-quite-square rectangular footprint that is Mona’s, with a maximum occupancy of fifty-four. The walls are white and decorated with a constantly changing show of photographs and paintings by local artists. The unisex bathroom is large and clean, the pale blue bathroom walls adorned with three movie posters for goofy French comedies made in the 1990s. Hours of business are 7 AM to 5:30 PM, Sunday through Thursday, and 7 AM to 10 PM Friday and Saturday.

Mona’s baked goods are yummy, not too cinnamony, the coffee is excellent, there are numerous gluten-free and vegan comestibles available along with many gluten-rich and non-vegan edibles, the lighting is good, the chairs are comfortable but not too comfortable, and on the face of it, one wouldn’t have thought Mona’s needed a remarkable happenstance to survive and thrive, except…

From April through October our coastal town is a thriving tourist destination. And though it is also true that virtually all of the 977 year-round residents of Carmeline Creek enjoy patronizing Mona’s, when the rainy cold winter settles in on the far north coast of California, tourists rarely venture here; and the 977, few of whom possess trogolos of cash, were not buying enough baked goods and coffee to keep Mona’s afloat.

Yes, things looked dire, and we locals were girding our loins, so to speak, for yet another incarnation of our beloved bakery to close when…

I was just settling down at my usual table in the nearly empty cafe, a hard December rain pelting the windows and obscuring my view of Philomena’s Bay where huge breakers were crashing onto the beach at the mouth of Carmeline Creek. A steaming latte in a handsome green bowl awaited my lips, and a raisin and walnut muffin awaited my mandibles, when the tubular chimes hanging on the front door sounded with the entrance of a woman in her mid-forties with reddish brown hair accompanied by a boy verging on teenagery with similarly reddish brown hair and a girl a few years younger than the boy with light brown hair verging on blonde.

The moment I saw this woman and boy and girl, I thought Danish Irish Spanish Morocco Algeria.

The woman, solemnly lovely, approached the counter where Mona was lost in a trance of despondency about the impending closure of her bakery.

“Hello,” said the woman to Mona, with an accent both Irish and Spanish. “My name is Elisha Montoya. This is my son Conor and my daughter Alexandra. I see you have an apartment for rent upstairs. May we take a look? Also, should you be hiring, I’m looking for a job and have lots of experience as a cook and baker and waitress. I’d be happy to work for you for a week without pay to give you an idea of what I might do for you.”

Mona, who has long curly brown hair and wears large red-framed glasses and always appears to be perplexed, though she isn’t, gazed at Elisha for a long moment and said, “I can show you the apartment, though I’m not the landlord. And as it happens, my baker and counterperson both just found other jobs because, barring a miracle, I’ll be closing this place in two weeks, but… sure, I’ll give you a try.”

Which is how Elisha and Conor and Alexandra came to live above the bakery, and Elisha came to work in the bakery, and how two weeks later Mona did not close the bakery because business had picked up considerably since the coming of Elisha and the addition to menu of Elisha’s creamy potato and turnip soup, hearty Irish stew, spicy chai, delectable basil and cheese bread sticks, falafels, and hummus made with just the right amount of garlic.

Curiosity about Elisha and her children certainly played a part in the sizeable increase in patronage at Mona’s for the first week, and the new food items were undeniably a big hit with locals who have few affordable dining choices outside of cooking at home; but as a daily denizen of the bakery, I can assure you that the decisive factor in Mona’s turnaround was the change in the atmosphere, the new vibe that took hold here with the advent of Elisha and her children.

How to describe this new vibe? I’m currently at work on a quartet of poems inspired by my desire to elucidate this new tonality, and I’m also composing an upbeat dance tune fueled by the transformation of Mona’s geist, but until those poems are finished and the dance tune is second nature to my guitar-playing fingers, I think what happened when Rex Abernathy came into Mona’s a few mornings ago captures the Elisha Effect better than anything.

Rex Abernathy is seventy-eight-years-old, a former lumberjack. Rex, as my mother used to say about nearly everyone, is a piece of work. My mother used that expression to characterize people she thought were unusual and/or challenging in one way or another; and that’s how I’m using the expression for Rex, with an emphasis on challenging.

I’ve known Rex for seventeen years, and even before his wife Effie died seven years ago, Rex was a grim person who maintained a steadfast disinterest in other people, whereas Effie was a reflexively friendly person and genuinely interested in the lives of others. After Effie died, Rex ceased speaking to anyone other than his two dogs—he always has two. When one of his dogs dies, he immediately gets another from the animal shelter; and for all his grimness, Rex treats his dogs well and they adore him.

Eventually people in town stopped saying hello to Rex because when they did say hello, Rex would either ignore them or glare at them as if to say, “Don’t ever do that again.”

Every day for those seven years after Effie died, Rex drove to town with his dogs in his old pickup from his place a few miles up Carmeline Creek Road to get his mail at the post office, buy groceries, and pick up a loaf of bread at the bakery. He never uttered a word to anyone in the post office, even if he had a package to pick up. He would wait stone-faced for either Robin or Joe to bring him the package; and not once did he say thanks. Nor would he speak to anyone in the grocery store.

In the bakery, rather than speak, he would point; and because he always only got a loaf of bread, his pointing sufficed; and not once did he leave a tip.

That’s how things were with Rex for seven years, and I thought that’s how things would be with Rex until the day he died—the lonely man grim and silent and keeping everyone at bay with his palpable sorrow and simmering rage.

A few days ago—one year and four months after Elisha and Conor and Alexandra moved into the apartment above Mona’s and Elisha became the cook and baker and sometimes counterperson at Mona’s, and Elisha’s children started working at Mona’s, too—I’m sitting at the table where I almost always sit, enjoying a cup of potato and turnip soup accompanied by three still-warm-from-the-oven basil and cheese breadsticks, having earlier in my sojourn at Mona’s enjoyed a latte and a delicious pumpkin muffin, when Rex Abernathy comes in from the blustery day, the last day of March.

And I notice Rex is not wearing the filthy tattered orange coat over a frayed plaid shirt tucked into greasy trousers he wore religiously for the last seven years. No, he is wearing a clean teal dress shirt tucked into brown corduroy trousers. Nor is he wearing the beat-up Giants baseball hat that is synonymous in our town with Rex Abernathy. Instead, he is hatless and has combed his thinning white hair, trimmed his mustache, and shaved his usually stubbly cheeks and chin.

He does not glare around the room as if looking for a fight, but rather gazes around the sunny bakery and smiles at a large black and white photograph of Elisha’s daughter Alexandra standing in the open doorway of the bakery holding a contented tabby cat in her arms—the photograph taken by Elisha’s son Conor.

Rex steps up to the counter and smiles at Mona, who seems nearly as surprised as I am by the dramatic changes in Rex’s dress and demeanor.

Mona smiles tentatively and asks, “What can I get you today, Rex?”

At which moment, Elisha looks up from peeling potatoes with Alexandra at the big table in the kitchen and says, “Oh hey, Rex. We saved you some stew. Come sit with us.”

Rex bows politely to Mona and ambles into the kitchen where he sits on a stool next to Alexandra, who looks at Rex and says, “I wanted the last of that stew, but Mama said she was saving it for you.”

Now Elisha sets a big bowl of yesterday’s Irish stew on the table in front of Rex, along with a blue cloth napkin, a large silver spoon, and a big white mug full of hot black coffee, and Rex says as tenderly as I’ve ever heard anyone say anything, “Oh gosh, Elisha, there’s plenty here for Alexandra to have some, too.”

       fin