Categories
Uncategorized

Second Friendship Gate

So a couple months ago, Dexter Jones built a friendship gate in his back fence connecting his yard to his neighbors’ yard. Those neighbors happen to be siblings: Godfrey and Melody. And now Godfrey is one of Dexter’s best friends and Melody is Dexter’s girlfriend, though she and Dexter have yet to physically touch each other because of the dang virus going around, but they’re enjoying the suspense, if you know what I mean.

One late afternoon Dexter is weeding the broccoli patch in his burgeoning vegetable garden when someone asks, “Are those broccolis?”

Looking up and around, Dexter espies a little boy peering over the solid wood fence between Dexter’s yard and the neighboring yard to the south. The little boy is standing on something enabling him to look over the seven-feet-high fence, but Dexter can’t see what the boy is standing on.

“Yep these are broccoli plants,” says Dexter, gesturing to the big plants sporting numerous heads of broccoli. “Who are you?”

“Larry,” says the boy, frowning. “I thought broccoli grew on a tree.”

“Nope,” says Dexter, smiling. “More like a little bush. How old are you?”

“Five, but I’ll be six in three weeks,” says Larry, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. “How come you put a gate in your other fence?”

“I’m good friends with Godfrey and Melody who live back there, so we made a gate for easy visiting.” Dexter sighs happily as he thinks of Melody and how he’ll be seeing her soon for an evening visit on her patio. “Hey what are you standing on, Larry?”

“I nailed some boards to the fence,” says Larry, matter-of-factly. “Kind of like a ladder and I climb up them.”

“Why did you do that?” asks Dexter, impressed by the little boy’s inventiveness.

“To look at things,” says Larry, nodding. “I made one on each fence so I can see other things besides our yard. I like your yard the best now that you have a vegetable garden. Your beans are growing really fast and you get lots of bees and butterflies. The yard behind us is just blackberry bushes and the yard on the other side is full of junk.”

“Do you have a garden?” asks Dexter, feeling a pang of sympathy for Larry and all the children confined to their little spaces because of the dang virus.

“No, we just have a patio and a lawn,” says Larry, shaking his head. “I wish we had a vegetable garden, but my mom says she doesn’t know how to grow vegetables so we can’t have one.”

“I can help you put in a vegetable garden,” says Dexter, smiling at Larry.

“Wait a minute,” says Larry, disappearing.

“Uh oh,” says Dexter, laughing. “Now what have I done?”

What he’s done is get Larry to go get his mother who comes out into her backyard with a little ladder and stands on the third rung up so she can see over the fence into Dexter’s yard. Her name is Harriet. She’s thirty, divorced, single, works at Safeway, and would love to replace her little patch of lawn with a vegetable garden, but she knows nothing about gardening.

Dexter and Harriet chat for twenty minutes, decide they like each other, and a couple days later Dexter and Godfrey knock out seven planks in the fence between Dexter’s yard and Larry and Harriet’s yard, and they build a second friendship gate.

And just a few weeks after they build that gate, this being the height of summer, Larry harvests his first radish from his new vegetable garden and calls Dexter on the phone to make sure it’s a good time to come visit.

Dexter steps out of the shower, having just gotten home from work, answers his phone, and tells Larry to come over in ten minutes.

Larry watches the clock on the kitchen stove until ten minutes have gone by and then he rushes out into his backyard and goes through the friendship gate into Dexter’s backyard to show him the radish.

“Wow,” says Dexter, admiring the radish from several feet away. “What a beauty.”

“I know,” says Larry, gazing in wonder at the beautiful red radish. “I think maybe I have a green thumb.”

“No maybe about it,” says Dexter, imagining giving Larry a hug. “You’ve definitely got the knack, kiddo.”

Categories
Uncategorized

Dexter and Melody Go Out

the next night

On a warm afternoon in May, Dexter Jones, forty-six, gets home at five from his job of delivering packages for UPS in Springfield, Oregon, undresses in his garage, drops his uniform into the washing machine, enters his kitchen naked as a jay bird, washes his hands with great thoroughness, feeds his hungry cats Frank and Ethel, and takes a hot shower during which he washes his longish brown hair.

Now he puts on his favorite tie-dyed T-shirt featuring lots of blue and green blobs, captures his hair in a stubby ponytail, slips into comfy old blue jeans, and saunters into his kitchen to make some guacamole to have with chips and lemonade for his first official date with Melody.

Melody lives in the house directly behind Dexter’s house, their backyards connected with a friendship gate Dexter and Melody’s brother Godfrey built a few weeks ago. Melody is sixty, trim and pretty with short brown hair. A high school Home Economics teacher, Melody does an hour of yoga and takes a brisk two-mile walk every morning before she conducts her online classes for five hours, and then she takes another brisk walk when she’s done with her teaching.

Neither Melody nor Dexter has been in a relationship in several years and they were both pleasantly surprised when they found themselves desiring to maybe get into one with each other. How to create a new relationship in the midst of a deadly epidemic is a mystery to both of them, but their desire to explore the possibility trumps their reluctance, and tonight is the beginning of their experiment in dating during a pandemic.

Dexter sets up a little table on the edge of his vegetable garden about ten feet from the friendship gate and covers the table top with a green paisley tablecloth upon which he arrays two bowls of guacamole, two bowls of chips, and two glasses of lemonade. Now he places a lawn chair on either side of the table and sits down to await Melody.

While he waits, Dexter closes his eyes and thinks back over his life, recalling several other first dates. And as he watches his memories, he notices that in every previous first encounter he was so anxious about wanting the woman to like him, he never allowed himself to be who he really was. Instead, he tried to say and do things he thought the woman would like. Thus he was never genuine with these women in the beginning, never the true Dexter, so no wonder the women were all confused a few dates along when he could no longer keep up the façade and they found out he was not the person he’d been pretending to be.

“But no more,” says Dexter, sighing in relief. “From now on I speak from my heart and tell the unvarnished truth.”

“Sounds good to me,” says Melody, standing in the friendship gateway.

Dexter opens his eyes and gazes in wonder at the lovely woman in a reddish short-sleeved summer dress, barefoot, with a red rose in her short brown hair, a plate of almond-butter cookies in one hand, a small glass decanter of red wine in the other.

“Wow,” he says, mesmerized. “You are so beautiful.”

She steps through the gateway and sets the wine and cookies on the table.

“Don’t hold back, Dexter,” she says quietly. “Say what you feel and I will, too.”

He gets up from his chair. “I’ll go get a couple wine glasses. Be right back.”

Melody moves her chair a little closer to Dexter’s chair, about seven-feet away, sits down, and exhales profoundly. “Just be yourself, Mel. You’ve got nothing to prove. If he likes you, he likes you. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Better to find out sooner than later.”

Dexter returns with two small and delicate crystal wine glasses and sets them on the table next to the decanter of wine. “Got those in Venice. The one time I went to Europe. Nine years ago. Never used them until now.”

“They’re exquisite,” says Melody, her eyes filling with tears. “I never did get to Europe. Always wanted to, but never made it.”

“You might go some day,” says Dexter, his eyes filling with tears, too. “We might go together.”

“It doesn’t matter,” says Melody, smiling through her tears. “The only thing that matters is being here with you right now. Everything else is a memory or an idea. This is what’s real. And I want to tell you, need to tell you, that ever since you called two days ago and asked if I’d like to meet you here today, just the two of us, I’ve been happier than I’ve been in years and years. Just knowing you wanted to be my special friend is a great gift, Dexter. No matter what happens.”

“You have the most appealing voice I’ve ever heard,” says Dexter, feeling deeply happy. “You want to pour the wine or should I?”

“I’ll pour,” she says, removing the crystal stopper and pouring the wine into the delicate glasses. “I almost never drink alcohol, but I thought it would be fun to toast our new…” She half-frowns and half-smiles. “What are we calling this? Friendship or…”

“I like relationship,” says Dexter, reddening. “Everything it conjures up.”

“You mean sex?” she says, arching an eyebrow and raising her glass.

“Among other things,” says Dexter, raising his glass, too.

“Like what other things?”

“Like sharing time. Holding each other. Laughing together. Watching the cats goofing around. Gardening. Going on walks. Making food together. Telling each other things we don’t tell anybody else.”

“Here’s to all that,” she says, gently clinking his glass with hers. “Though I think we’ll have to wait a while before we hold each other. Until we’re ready to take the chance.”

“To all the possibilities,” he says, clinking her glass with his. “Whatever they turn out to be.”

They drink the wine and gaze at each other for a long time without speaking.

“You’re wonderful,” says Melody, the first to speak. “I’ve never wanted to kiss anybody as much as I want to kiss you.”

“I feel the same way,” says Dexter, grinning. “But in lieu of a kiss, try my guacamole.”

Melody dips one of her chips into her bowl of guacamole, and at the taste of the good green goo her eyes grow wide with delight.

Categories
Uncategorized

Friendship Gate

intersections

When Dexter and his neighbor Godfrey finish building the gate connecting their backyards, they decide to hold a celebration. Dexter invites one of his best friends, Luis, who is fifty-three, and Godfrey invites his sister Melody who just turned sixty. Dexter is forty-six, Godfrey fifty-seven. Because of the dang virus going around, four is the maximum number of people allowed for outdoor gatherings of an hour or less, and participants are asked to sit or stand at least six feet apart for however long the gathering lasts.

As it happens, Luis caught the virus, or the virus caught Luis, four months ago and he is now fully recovered. Even so, there are now multiple strains of the virus, so he is taking the same precautions as those who have not yet been infected with any of the variations on the dang bug.

Dexter is an Anglo Saxon UPS delivery person. Luis is a Chinese software designer. Melody and Godfrey are the children of Ashkenazi Jews, Melody a high school Home Economics teacher, Godfrey a spiritual counselor at the nearby Presbyterian.

The day sunny and mild, they sit in lawn chairs in a circle on Godfrey and Melody’s patio adjacent to their beautiful old farmhouse, their chairs eight feet apart. They sip lemonade and talk about life in the era of the dang virus and what they think and hope is going to happen sooner or later.

“This has to be the end of unregulated capitalism,” says Luis, a cheerful fellow with black hair and black-framed glasses. “And unless we start putting most of our resources into saving the environment and creating a comprehensive global medical system dedicated to eradicating this and other dangerous viruses, things will only get worse.”

“Capitalism used to be regulated,” says Melody, lean and pretty with short brown hair. “And medical care was excellent and inexpensive. But the super selfish guys got in after Jimmy Carter and they’ve been wrecking things ever since.”

“I think this is the start of a swift decline of civilization,” says Godfrey, tall and angular with short black hair. “Greed and selfishness and cruelty always beget decay and death. I don’t think we’ll see much positive change in our lifetimes.”

“Maybe so, maybe not,” says Luis, smiling at each of his three companions. “In any case, we need to counter the negativity and despair by becoming activist messengers of positivity and hope. Or so I believe.”

“Right on, Luis,” says Dexter, a robust fellow with brown hair caught in a stubby ponytail. “And now that the virus is better understood and proper protocols are in place, I think we should get together like this more often and encourage other people to meet like this, too. And maybe from these outdoor quartets good ideas for new and better ways of living on earth will emerge.”

“Four is my favorite number,” says Melody, smiling shyly at Dexter. “How’s your new vegetable garden doing?”

“Pretty well,” he says, seriously smitten with her. “Lots of babies coming up, the tomatoes taking hold. And so far anyway I’m keeping ahead of the slugs and snails and sow bugs.” He blushes. “Four is my favorite number, too.”

“How’s the package delivery business?” asks Godfrey, who counsels people via telephone these days, though when the warmer weather takes hold he intends to see people outside on the church terrace.

“The package delivery business is busier than ever,” says Dexter, gazing admiringly at the friendship gate in the fence that used to keep him apart from his wonderful neighbors. “Everybody’s buying everything online now. Everything. We’re adding drivers all the time.”

“I feel so sad for the young people and the little kids,” says Melody, shrugging. “All their natural instincts thwarted.”

“Trust in the resiliency of youth,” says Luis, pointing a triumphant finger to the sky. “Trust in the inherent goodness of people.”

Dexter looks at Melody and has a vision of being in a really good relationship with her, and she looks at Dexter and imagines the same thing.

And their hearts are filled with hope.

Categories
Uncategorized

Dexter Digs Up His Lawn

sally's cactus blooms

Dexter was so looking forward to a lusty week at Happy Valley Retreat Center, but the love-in got cancelled because of the dang virus that’s going around, and going around is a humongous understatement.

So in the aftermath of that tragic cancellation, and having heard a voice while watching a cloud, a voice that might have been Dexter’s imagination but might have been the voice of the universe, AKA God, Dexter decides to follow the advice of the voice and dig up his scraggly lawn and put in a vegetable garden and plant some fruit trees.

Who is Dexter? Why should we care about him? Those are two good questions. I would even say they are essential questions. Many novels and stories and movies, especially movies, go wrong because we never get to know the main characters as people rather than archetypes, and we aren’t given good reasons to care about those characters.

Dexter is forty-six, a Caucasian American male born and raised and living in Springfield, Oregon, a UPS delivery person for thirteen years now after four years as an auto mechanic at Super Fast n’ Cheap Oil Change. Before being an oil changer he was co-owner with his mother Doris of an online 1960s memorabilia company called Quicksilver Memory Service, which Doris still has though her sales in the last twenty years haven’t amounted to much.

In the next three paragraphs I’ll try to answer the question about why you should care about Dexter. If what I tell you doesn’t ring your bell, I suggest you stop reading and do something else with your precious time. Doesn’t ring my bell, by the way, is one of Dexter’s favorite expressions, learned from his mother who uses it several times a day.

Dexter is a kind and thoughtful person who is genuinely interested in other people. He is fascinated by history and neurobiology and reads voraciously about both. He learned next to nothing in high school and did not attend college, yet his two best friends are highly educated and consider Dexter a wonderfully original thinker. One of those best friends is a middle-aged Chinese man named Luis, a microbiology software designer, and the other best friend is a forty-year-old Danish woman named Greta, a researcher for an online encyclopedia.

Painfully shy around women he finds attractive, Dexter finds most women attractive. He would love to be in a relationship, but his several attempts all ended unpleasantly, not because Dexter is a jerk, but because he grew up without any sort of model for how one goes about having a relationship, except with one’s mother.

Dexter is a sweetheart who is afraid of seeming too sweet. He loves classical music, something he got from his mother’s father who was a classical music clarinet player. He also likes music that swings, something he got from being human. He has two cats he dotes on, Frank and Ethel, and he would love to have a dog but doesn’t feel he has the time and energy after ten hours of delivering packages to give a dog the attention and exercise he or she would require. He also has a large aquarium, home to seven neon tetras. His favorite television show is the British game show 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, his favorite ethnic cuisine is Thai, and if none of that makes you care about Dexter, read no further.

However, if you are still reading, Dexter’s parents split up when Dexter was five, and though they legally had joint custody of Dexter, he spent most of his childhood with his mother Doris in her Airstream trailer in the Riverside Mobile Home Park where she still lives today.

A spry seventy-six, Doris starts every day with several cups of black coffee and reading Tarot cards for an hour or so. Thus it has been since Dexter was born. A retired bookkeeper, Doris owns three other Airstream trailers and the lots they sit on in Riverside Mobile Home Park. The rent she derives from those three mobile homes is sufficient to support her minimalist lifestyle and leave her a little extra each month to contribute to the local food bank.

She is not terribly afraid of catching the dang virus going around, but she is a little afraid, so for the time being she visits with Dexter on the phone and not in-person. She has groceries delivered to her doorstep every few days and walks her toy poodle Cream around the mobile home park for a half-hour every late morning and again in the early evening. She believes 1972 was the apex of human culture, and the décor in her Airstream, the music she listens to, the movies she watches, and the books she reads reflect that belief.

Doris raised Dexter to believe the 1960s and 70s were the golden age of humanity and he continues to believe this. He thinks of himself as a latter-day hippie. He has two extraordinary tie-dyed T-shirts, drives a faded red 1977 Volkswagen van, wears his longish brown hair in a stubby ponytail, and digs Van Morrison, though his go-to music is anything by Mendelssohn.

So here is Dexter on a cool Saturday morning in May, digging up the scraggly lawn in the little backyard of his blue two-bedroom tract home he has owned for fifteen years. Built in the late 1970s, the house is sturdy and unpretentious with a small front yard filled with rose bushes. The somewhat larger backyard is enclosed by a seven-feet-high wood fence that gives no view of the yards on either side of Dexter’s yard, or of the yard behind his yard.

Dexter barely knows his neighbors on either side of him and he knows nothing about the person or people who live in the house with the yard in back of his.

Sporting a bit of a paunch but otherwise in excellent shape from delivering packages five-days-a-week for the last thirteen years, Dexter is very much enjoying digging up the scraggly lawn, which is so scraggly there is little lawn to remove. As he turns the soil with his big shovel, the lawn remnants disappear. His plan is to dig up the whole lawn, get twenty bags of manure, dig that in, and plant some stuff.

He gets lost in a fantasy of going to the nursery to get manure and meeting an intriguing woman who is also buying manure and they fall in love. And just as he and this fantasy woman are about to make love, a voice says, “Gonna plant some veggies? If so, you picked a primo spot.”

Dexter looks up and around, wondering where the voice came from. This is not the same voice that might have been Dexter’s imagination or might have been the voice of God telling him to dig up his lawn. This voice came from nearby and is male and a little gravelly.

“Hello?” says Dexter. “Where are you?”

“Back here,” says the man, chuckling. “Looking at you through a knothole. Thought you’d like to know your soon-to-be-gone lawn used to be part of the commune vegetable garden back in the day. Sixties and Seventies. Before my old man sold the land to the developers. He kept three lots and the big old farmhouse and when he died he left them to me.”

Dexter leaves his shovel stuck in the ground and walks toward his back fence. The man sticks his finger through the knothole and waggles Hello.

“I’m Dexter,” says Dexter, waggling a finger at the knothole. “Who are you?”

“Godfrey Moonstone,” says the man. “My old man was Ira Levinson and my mom was Shirley Goldstein, but they legally changed their last names to Moonstone. They were hippies until I was twenty and then virtually overnight, or so it seemed, they turned into Republicans. I think of myself as a latter-day hippy.” He sighs. “But who knows what we are anymore. Things are pretty confusing now, don’t you think? With the virus and everything?”

“I’m kind of a latter-day hippy, too,” says Dexter, stopping a few feet from the back fence. “You been infected?”

“Not yet,” says Godfrey. “You?”

“Not as far as I know,” says Dexter, shaking his head. “You want a beer?”

“Love one,” says Godfrey, sweetly. “However, I’m a reformed alcoholic. Seventeen years sober.”

“Good on you, Godfrey,” says Dexter, smiling appreciatively. “Lemonade?”

“Perfecto,” says Godfrey. “How shall…”

“I’ll hand your bottle over the fence,” says Dexter.

“Cool,” says Godfrey. “I’ll get a ladder.”

“I’ll get one, too,” says Dexter.

So they stand a few rungs up on their stepladders and look at each other over the fence and drink lemonade together.

Godfrey is a tall angular man in his early fifties with olive skin and short black hair. He lives with his sister Melody who teaches online Home Economics for the currently closed high schools in Springfield and nearby Eugene. Godfrey is a spiritual counselor at the neighborhood Presbyterian, and he, too, is fascinated by history and neurobiology and reads voraciously about both.

In fact, Dexter and Godfrey have such a deep and meaningful time talking to each other over their back fence, they decide to knock out some planks and build a friendship gate.

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

 

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

honing: arrival

leaves on bench

In early November, someone from out of town leases the building three doors down from Mona’s, the only bakery and café in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California. The prospect of new tenants in the venerable old two-story building is of especial interest to Paul Windsor, a habitué of Mona’s, and his wife Elisha who is the manager of that delightful café, because they were seriously considering leasing that building themselves and opening a stationery store and tea shop on the ground floor while subletting the upstairs apartment.

The stately brick and wood building was built in 1907 and has been vacant for two years, the previous occupant a photographer named Ormsby Carfax who had an art gallery there called Watt. A middle-aged man with several cats, Ormsby exclusively displayed his own work: out-of-focus snapshots of people who came into Watt stuck with red and green thumbtacks on squares of corkboard framed with skinny sticks of driftwood.

Ormsby and his cats and snapshots held sway in the grand space for three years, having supplanted a sculptor named Darling Madison who also used the space as an art gallery: Context. Darling was there for ten years and hung paintings by local artists on her walls while using the floor space to display her sculptures, all of which were of a similar construct.

A giggly woman with graying blonde hair and two sweet mutts named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Darling impaled unpainted wooden spheres ranging in size from grapefruits to basketballs on three to five-foot lengths of rebar arising from heavy blocks of wood, thus creating bouquets of wooden spheres with rebar stems.

Amy Carlyle, the realtor in charge of leasing the building, tells Paul and Elisha that the new tenants are Ephraim Spinoza and Tivona Descartes—Ephraim Spanish, Tivona French—and they are planning to live in the upstairs apartment.

When Amy asked how they intended to use the downstairs space, Ephraim replied, “We are forever refining our concept.”

On a cold morning in mid-November, two weeks after Amy leased the building to Ephraim and Tivona, Paul leaves his house and walks the five blocks to Mona’s for his morning stint of writing and socializing. A California native of Anglo-Ashkenazi origins in his late fifties with a humble coif of gray hair, Paul is in a cheerful mood and looking forward to seeing Elisha, though they only parted two hours ago.

As he comes into view of the storefront formerly known as Watt and Context, Paul sees a large sign affixed to the outside wall above the front door: the word honing in an attractive san serif font centered on a turquoise rectangle.

During her mid-morning break, Elisha goes with Paul to look at the honing sign. A graceful woman in her early fifties with reddish brown hair, her mother Spanish, her father Irish, Elisha has been very sad of late because her children, Conor, twenty-two, and Alexandra, nineteen, recently moved to Ireland—their absence a profound shock to Elisha.

“Another one-word gallery,” she says, gazing at the honing sign. “I wonder what it is about this space that inspires such brevity.”

“Could be a last name I suppose,” says Paul, honing sounding German to him. “And maybe it will be some sort of store and not a gallery.”

Elisha sighs. “Oh I wish Alexandra and Conor were here to make a movie of this.”

“We could make one,” says Paul, putting his arm around her. “I’m getting pretty good at shooting things with my little camera. Send something to the kids for Christmas.”

“Good idea,” says Elisha, the word Christmas bringing tears to her eyes.

 ∆

When Paul learns that Randy Collins, a local handyman, put the honing sign up, he arranges an interview with Randy for possible inclusion in his possible documentary.

Sitting at a table in Mona’s enjoying a peach scone and a cup of coffee, Randy, red-haired and freckled, tells Paul that the sign and eight enormous black screws were shipped from Zurich to his house via UPS.

“And about ten minutes after the sign was delivered,” says Randy, sipping his coffee, “Ephraim called me and told me exactly where he wanted it to go and how to attach it. He’d had the holes pre-drilled, which was lucky for me because that sign is solid steel a half-inch thick, four-feet-wide, two-feet-high, and incredibly heavy. And here’s the weird part. They wanted me to put it up at midnight on the night of the new moon, so I had to set up two big ladders and flood lights and hire Diego to help me lift the sign up over the door and hold it in place while I sunk the screws.”

At 6:20 in the morning on December 2, a light rain falling, Elisha arrives at Mona’s to get the café ready for the daily seven o’clock opening. Mona, the owner and baker of Mona’s, is bringing forth trays of just-baked scones and cinnamon swirls from one of the ovens, while Carlos, her boyfriend and able assistant, is loading the largest of the five ovens with forty-eight loaves of French bread to be baked in time for the morning rush.

Mona, fifty-five, has curly brown hair and red-framed glasses and speaks with the faintest of Danish accents. “Did you see the honing people are moving in?” she says to Elisha. “They were unloading a little moving van when we got here this morning.”

“I offered to help them,” says Carlos, forty-four, a burly Mexican guy with raven black hair and many tattoos, “but they said they didn’t have much to unload.”

“They seem very nice,” says Mona, smiling as Elisha picks up the phone to call Paul. “And they’re definitely artists.”

“How do you know?” asks Elisha, waiting for Paul to answer.

“Everything about them,” says Mona, nodding. “Sensualists.”

“The way they dress, you know,” says Carlos, closing the oven and checking the temperature. “Casual, you know, but sophisticated. And the way they move, you know. Like they’re dancing.”

“Maybe they’re dancers,” says Elisha, hanging up the phone when she realizes Paul must be walking the dogs.

At 9:53 in the morning on that same December 2, a hard rain falling, Ephraim Spinoza, seventy-one, a handsome man with olive brown skin and dark brown eyes and an impressive mop of curly gray hair, sits at a large table in the center of the otherwise empty room formerly known as Context and Watt. He is making sketches of OPEN and CLOSED signs with a black-ink pen on a six-foot-long piece of white butcher paper. He’s wearing wire-framed glasses, a long-sleeved peach-colored shirt, black corduroy trousers, an emerald-green belt, and beautiful red shoes.

Tivona Descartes, sixty-seven, a striking Moroccan with short black hair and brilliant blue eyes, gets up from her chair next to Ephraim and goes to an east-facing window to look out at the rain. She is wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, blue jeans, and black boots.

“I love it here, my darling,” she says softly. “I loved driving across the bridge into town, how huge the waves in the bay.”

Ephraim looks up and smiles at his wife gazing out the window. “I love it here, too.”

“How lucky we are,” she says, her way of saying so a song.

“We were wise to follow our dreams,” he says, his reply a song, too.

Now someone knocks on the front door and Tivona goes to answer—several packages expected in the next few days.

“Hello,” she says, smiling at the man—Paul Windsor—on their doorstep. “I’m sorry but we are not yet open for business.”

“I didn’t think you were,” says Paul, returning her smile. “I’ve brought you a gift, apple yum my wife and I made from this year’s Goldens.” He proffers a small glass jar. “Welcome to Carmeline Creek.”

“Oh come in,” says Tivona, taking a step back to allow Paul to enter. “I am Tivona Descartes and this is my husband Ephraim Spinoza.”

“Paul Windsor,” he says, bowing to her. “My wife is Elisha Montoya, the manager of Mona’s. She can’t wait to meet you.”

“Apple yum, you say,” says Ephraim, coming to join them. “To spread on toast and put in our yogurt?”

“Or eat it right out of the jar,” says Paul, laughing. “Not too sweet, yet wonderfully sweet and gently spicy.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” says Ephraim, shaking Paul’s hand. “Come sit down. We’ll have some tea.”

“Our first visitor,” says Tivona, giving Ephraim a meaningful glance.

“A special moment,” says Ephraim, going to find another chair and put the kettle on.

“So…” says Paul, looking around the big room. “What will honing be?”

“Ah,” says Tivona, taking Paul’s hand as if they are old friends. “That is the question.”

fin

What You Do In Ireland

Categories
Uncategorized

We Might Be Friends

end of something

Volume of Greenstreet photo by Todd

Paul Windsor, late fifties, bespectacled, his longish gray hair turning white, is sitting at his customary corner table in Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California.

Something causes him to look up from reading Kate Greenstreet’s The End of Something, and his eyes are drawn to the woman with silvery hair who just took her place at the end of the short line of customers. He wonders what made him look up from the poem he was reading. Was it the words I thought we might be friends or something about this woman at the end of the line? Or both.

Paul’s wife Elisha, her long reddish brown hair in a ponytail, and Alexandra, Paul and Elisha’s seventeen-year-old daughter, her shoulder-length reddish brown hair tinted with purple, are working behind the counter, both of them wearing white dress shirts and black jeans; and this woman at the end of the line is wearing a long gray skirt and a peach-colored sweater.

He can only see the woman’s backside, but her posture and shape are familiar to him, and when she looks to her right and he glimpses her profile, he realizes this is Maureen, his first wife whom he hasn’t seen or heard from in thirty-two years.

His immediate impulse is to sneak out of the café before Maureen can recognize him, but the impulse passes and he closes his eyes and remembers the moment he met her—the opening night of a group show at the Hawkins Gallery in San Jose. His friend George had four paintings in the show and Paul was there out of loyalty to George. Maureen was gallery hopping with her friend Lisa who knew George and came to give George a congratulatory hug. George introduced Lisa to Paul, and Lisa gave Paul a hug, too. Then Lisa said, “This is my amazing friend Maureen,” and Paul and asked, “What’s so amazing about you?” And Maureen said, “Take me home and I’ll show you.”

Paul opens his eyes and sees Maureen at the counter talking to Elisha; and he feels gut punched, which is how he felt every time Maureen confessed her latest infidelity to him. They married a month after they met, separated after a year, divorced a few months after that.

Maureen pays for her bag of pastries and turns to leave; and Paul sees her face clearly for the first time and realizes this is not Maureen.

He puts down The End of Something, opens his notebook, and writes Maureen was constantly unfaithful because deceiving me made life more exciting for her. She never expressed the slightest interest in my writing or music, yet I invited her to live with me, married her, went deep into debt buying her a new car and expensive clothing and taking her out to trendy restaurants. Why did I do that when I knew from the beginning she cared nothing for me? Was it because she was beautiful and I never thought a beautiful woman would ever want to be with me?

The café door opens and the woman who is not Maureen enters again. She buys a cup of coffee and a cinnamon swirl and looks for a place to sit—all the seats taken except one at Paul’s table.

“Would you mind if I sit with you?” she asks, her voice identical to Maureen’s voice.

“No, please,” he says, thinking maybe this is Maureen transformed by thirty more years of life.

“Thank you,” she says, sitting down with a weary sigh. “I tried to get my daughter and her friend to come in, but they have no interest in leaving the car.” She shrugs. “We’re driving to Portland via the coast because it’s so beautiful, right? But they won’t get out of the fucking car. Pardon my French.”

“How old is your daughter?” asks Paul, imagining a surly teenager.

“Thirty,” says the woman, nodding dolefully. “Going on twelve. My fault. Should have kicked her out long ago, but…” She glances at The End of Something. “That any good? Mystery?”

“Poetry,” says Paul, certain now the woman is not Maureen.

“Wow,” says the woman, wistfully. “Poetry. Boy does that take me back.”

“To where and when?” asks Paul, wondering why he thought this woman was Maureen, when she is nothing like Maureen.

“To Santa Cruz a million years ago when I used to get really stoned and read Emily Dickinson.” She smiles, remembering. “Heaven.”

“Would you like me to read you one of these poems?”

“Here?” she says, glancing around the room. “Now?”

“Yeah,” says Paul, laughing. “My wife is the manager and she encourages the out-loud reading of poetry.”

“Okay,” says the woman, blushing. “But tell me your name first.”

“Paul Windsor,” he says, loving that she blushed at the thought of being read to by a stranger in a café. “What’s your name?”

“Victoria,” she says, taking off her sweater and revealing a shimmering sleeveless red shirt and tattooed arms—mermaids and unicorns—and a necklace of turquoise stones.

“I did not expect tattoos,” says Paul, gazing in wonder at her.

“Oh I used to be a super hippy,” she says, remembering those halcyon days. “Before I got pregnant and had to get real.” She winks at him. “You know what I mean.”

“Not sure I do,” he says, imagining her as a young woman smoking a joint and reading Emily Dickinson, the words amazing her.

“Yes, you do,” she says, bitterly. “To pay the bills. When mommy and daddy wouldn’t anymore. Right?”

“Right,” he says, nodding. “I see what you mean.”

“Is the poem sad?” she asks, biting her lower lip. “The one you want to read me?”

“No,” he says, opening the book. “Not sad.”

69. BLACK SNOW

I thought we might be friends. Or we were friends but

who we turned out to be was disappointing.

 

She walks to the corner of the field. One of those cold

bright days you remember from childhood.

 

The past, nothing.

New people, nothing.

 

She sees him but she doesn’t know him.

She’s wearing his coat.

Victoria purses her lips and says, “I like that poem.” She sighs. “A lot. Would you read it again, please?”

He reads the poem again, slower this time.

She nods. “I feel like that all the time now. Like I’m outside what’s going on. Like when I’m driving my daughter and her friend and they’re plugged into their phones and I look out at the hills and the sky and the clouds and the ocean and I think how beautiful it is, and they’re not even aware of it, and I’m just driving through it, driving them through it to some motel on the way to some hotel in Portland where they’ll go to some dance club and take Ecstasy and then we’ll drive back to Palo Alto the fast ugly way. For what? Like the poem says. The past, nothing. New people, nothing. Why do I live like this? It’s like I’m only half-alive. I should sell everything and get a place around here. Near the wild ocean. Have a garden and a cat and volunteer somewhere. Help people. I’ve got enough money. Let my daughter take care of herself, though I don’t think she can.”

A silence falls between them.

Victoria tears off a big chunk of her cinnamon swirl, dips the chunk in her coffee, and puts the drenched chunk in her mouth, her eyelids fluttering with pleasure at the marriage of bitter and sweet.

fin

Kate Greenstreet reading her poem 69. Black Snow

Todd reading his poem Why Now?

Categories
Uncategorized

That’s All Right, I’m Okay

1980 Todd

Author’s Note: I wrote the short story That’s All Right, I’m Okay in 1980 when I was thirty-one and performing my stories and songs in cafés and small theatres. The title is a takeoff on the book I’m Okay, You’re Okay a layman’s guide to transactional analysis published in 1967 and wildly popular in the 1970s.

On my way to a bistro to perform That’s All Right, I’m Okay for the first time, I expected the story would get a few laughs, but nothing prepared me for the continuous and mounting hilarity the story ignited in that first audience and in many audiences thereafter. Holding for laughs, the ten-minute story became a fifteen-minute giggle fest and elicited countless suggestions that I memorize the story and perform it as a stand-up routine—something I was not inclined to do.

A few days ago, while undertaking a radical cleaning of my office/studio, I came upon an old yellowed copy of That’s All Right, I’m Okay and read the opus for the first time in nearly forty years. Filled with hope that you will enjoy this fictional time capsule of American pop psychology in the 1970s and early 1980s, I present That’s All Right, I’m Okay in all its original naiveté.

That’s All Right, I’m Okay

A friend called this morning and said, “I’m just so confused. Could you recommend a therapy?”

“What am I?” I snapped, surprised at my anger, “a crisis prevention unit?”

“Well, no,” she said, abashed, “it’s just that you’ve done so much more than anyone I know and I thought…”

Which, when I looked at it quasi-objectively an hour or so later, was true. Not recently, but over the years starting in 1968, I had tried dozens of group, individual, pop, hip, self-realization, self-realignment, self-hypnosis, self-congratulatory, etc. ad nauseam therapies. They all, save for good old “talkin’ to the shrink”, made me mad, frustrated, and ultimately depressed. Talkin’ to the shrink just made me depressed, which wasn’t the shrink’s fault. I was just a very depressed person.

I am not, as of this writing, depressed anymore. When I tell you how I got un-depressed, you’ll probably roll your eyes, shift uncomfortably in your seat and think, “Oh God, how trite.”

But here’s the story.

I was just beginning eight weeks of Anger Actualization Therapy with Angela Brustein. “I’m studying with” was how we phrased it in 1978, not “I’m groping for anything and this Jewish gal has a big living room and studied for a few months with some Hungarian cuckoo and might know something, maybe.”

Angela was forty-seven and recently divorced from her stockbroker husband. She was a leotard-wearing beanpole with a wonderful crinkly smile. She was the slowest moving skinny person I’ve ever known. She was, she told us at our first session, “removed totally from the sexual rat race.” When I asked her what she meant by this, she said something about non-specific orgasms—a perpetual energy release that made sleep unnecessary and sex meaningless. However, she said erotic asexuality was her own trip and only related to Anger Actualization in that it freed her from any sexual bias. This seemed a contradiction to me, but the other members of the group were glaring at me, so I shut up.

We did some standard touchy-feely-get-to-know-each-other exercises and then we did some straightforward Encounter Group razzmatazz to find out what our problems were, or as Angela put it, ‘what they seem to be.” Once we actualized our anger we would know what they were.

Then after we discovered that most of us were cowardly, spoiled, overeducated, under-experienced babies, frustrated and depressed about our inability to be “really great individuals” (read Creative Geniuses), we set out to actualize our anger about ourselves. We would see our anger, be with our anger, understand our anger, and then either be free of our anger or not free of our anger. The choice, Angela said, was ours.

I eventually wound up in the middle of the “containment circle” lying on my back feeling my anger (or my imagination) crushing me. I couldn’t breath. Angela had to break in, and with the help of three other people, lift me into a standing position before I suffocated. Angela was shook up. She’d never seen such a high level choke-off. She’d heard of them, but had never seen one until mine. She claimed that if she hadn’t intervened, my repressed anger might have killed me.

So I was in a state of panic when I left Angela’s house and stumbled to my Toyota station wagon where a woman from my class awaited me. I had only gotten to know a few people from my groups outside, and I was always surprised when someone took the initiative to get to know me socially.

Her name was Sharon, and if you can believe it, her middle name was Rose. She was a few years younger than I, early thirties, and she had that way about her that suggested she’d teethed on encounter techniques and knew every trick in the transactional book. Her piercing blue eyes suggested a background in Destiny Control and her posture was pure Ida Rolf, enhanced by a couple years of Tai Chi. Her deep tan spoke of weekends at Esalen and her smile was unmistakably the result of long sessions on a biofeedback machine.

She was also, to me, incredibly threatening. I had nearly killed myself with unreleased anger, and she had witnessed my near-death. I was shaky, frightened, recently divorced, and just coming off three months of Silva, having utterly failed to control anything resembling a mind. I was bereft, a therapy junky, while she was full to bursting, a super-absorbent being, who, like the Blob, grew larger and stronger with everything she consumed.

However, she did not resemble a blob. No, she had a figure that men, actualized or not, went crazy over. And she was moving that body toward me like the best dancer in my African Movement class. I was both nauseated and mesmerized. I felt I might have a Primal at any moment or at least a mini-regress. I was certainly not prepared for what transpired.

We went to the beach and shared two six-packs of Budweiser, she gave me the best backrub I’ve ever had and then she told me she really liked me. She actually said, “I really like you.” And I said, trying to be totally honest, that I didn’t really know her or trust her, but that I enjoyed what I had experienced with her so far.

She laughed at me. She sneered at me, too, but the main thing was, she laughed at me. Then she handed me a card and left without giving me a hug, which in those days was very uncool.

In my car, I read her card.

Sharon Rose Moore

Working Person

442 Cottage Place

478-8711

‘So’ I thought, ‘she’s a Work Advocate.’

I’d taken a Work Motivation seminar a couple years before in conjunction with a Life Involvement workshop, and I’d heard people using the phrases, “I’m a working person. My person is working.” This, I assumed was Sharon’s current attack posture and I was disappointed. The beer and the beach, especially the beer (and so much of it) had really thrown me for a loop. I hadn’t run into anything like that in my thirteen years on the circuit. Beaches, yes, but six twelve-ounce beers? Each? So I’d gotten excited and then had my hopes dashed because her card (Self-Definition cards were all the rage) seemed so behind the times. I was reminded of going to Seattle in 1976 and finding EST was just catching on there—how sad that made me.

But even so, I called Sharon the minute I got home. I was still drunker than I’d ever been after a good Rebirthing, and despite her not hugging me, and her clunky Working Person card, I felt drawn to her. I wanted to find out what she thought she knew about me.

She was terse with me on the phone. She said, “I’ve gotta get up at six tomorrow, so I can’t get together with you tonight. Maybe tomorrow after work we could go for a pizza or something.”

I agreed to this, hung up, put on some whale music, did some Feldenkreis, and then put two and two together. Beer and pizza. She must be into Social Programming. Emulation of the working class! Why hadn’t I seen it before? This really depressed me. My god, Social Programmings (Soprogs) had been all the rage in 1971 and painfully passé by 1973. I’d heard a few splinter groups had survived, but in California? It was hard to believe, but I couldn’t come up with any other explanation.

I drove to her house the next night with a heavy heart. She lived in a little bungalow (eerily cute) not far from the beach. A large rosebush grew beside the front door and was covered with spectacular red blooms.

She was wearing a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt, black with orange lettering, blue jeans and sandals. Her long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail and she looked terrific. She said, “Lemme get my purse,” and I flinched as visions of working class blah-blah filled my head. How could I have been so stupid?

We went to a pizza parlor and drank beer, ate too much pepperoni, and then went bowling. My Polarity masseuse would have just died to see me flinging the ball so violently down the alley. My yoga teacher would have made me roll the balls first with my right hand, then with my left. But I said to myself, “Hey! Life is for living!” So I just bowled and drank beer and let Sharon sit on my lap whenever she got a strike. And I sat on her lap, too, the one time I got a strike.

Then I took her home and at her door she kissed me tenderly and I had to ask her, I just had to, what exactly she was into. She stiffened, looked hurt, and slapped me across the face. I was stunned. I hadn’t been hit like that since a Psychodrama intensive in 1969.

“What’d I do?” I asked, excited by her boldness.

“You keep not seeing me!” she cried, hopelessly. “You only see yourself.”

Now I’d heard that maybe a thousand times over the past thirteen years, but it had never been said so passionately by a person with such believable tears in her eyes.

“I… I hear your anger,” I said.

She slugged me.

“I feel your anger,” I said.

“Bullshit,” she said, shaking her head. “You don’t feel anything.”

“That’s not true,” I said, though my Achilles Heel had always been my deep-seated fear that I was really an insensitive creep, and she had my hit Achilles right through my Birkenstocks.

“Why don’t you just say you’re sorry?” she said, pleading with me.

But that went against everything I’d learned at the Getting Free of Guilt retreats I’d gone to every year from 1973 to 1978. To say I was sorry would be to admit to my own sorriness, which had almost killed me at Angela’s. I began to tremble. I felt so tired and ineffective, as if I’d just gone through a weekend Encounter Group marathon. I wanted more than anything to say what I really felt, but I wasn’t sure I could because I’d had my feelings described to me (for me) so many times I no longer knew how to describe them in my own words. With words I thought up.

“Well?” she said, her eyes bright with anger.

“Well… I’d like to go to bed with you,” I said, hardly believing I was speaking those words. I braced myself for another slap across the face or a fist in my stomach. But none came.

“Okay,” she said, unlocking her door, “but don’t you dare try to analyze any of this.”

So I tried not to try, but it was no good. The effort involved in not trying was just too much. I collapsed on her sofa and blubbered.

“What’s wrong,” she asked, sitting beside me and putting her arms around me.

“You’re a Sensualist, aren’t you?” I said.

“Please don’t,” she said, tensing again.

“There’s a reason for this,” I said.

“Yeah, I like you,” she said, urgently. “Especially when you touch me and make me laugh and don’t act so icky delicate like you’re some kind of sensitivity barometer.”

“But we’re all sensitivity barometers,” I said. “Why the Rogerians believe…”

“Fuck the Rogerians,” she said, grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me. “We’ve got too much real work to do!”

“You’re really into work, aren’t you?” I said suspiciously. “Don’t you know that women feel the need to overwork because of the incessant guilt trips laid on them for centuries by the Patriarchy and…”

She took off her clothes. All of them. And then she began to undress me. I was speechless, and then I, too, was naked.

“I like it when you say what you want,” she said, embracing me. “The rest is just mental masturbation.”

“Nothing wrong with masturbation,” I retorted. “Loving yourself is the first step toward…”

And then I saw what a fool I was and had been for most of my life. Yes, right then, with a wonderful woman offering to make love with me, I was still talking instead of loving. I thought of Thumper in Bambi saying, “If you don’t have something nice to say…”

So I shut up and we made love. And afterward, before we made love again, we talked about the dumbest things we’d come across in our twenty-five combined years of therapizing. Our all time favorites were: the Santa Cruz Dip where you were lowered up to your nostrils in a tub full of olive oil for twenty minutes before taking a sauna, Henry Boller’s Taxi Talk where you have a psychiatric session in a taxi cab and the cab driver interrupts and makes comments, and Michael Smertz’s Meditation Counseling where you and your partner meditate in the presence of a mediating meditator who analyzes the quality of your auras and makes suggestions on how to improve your relationship.

Which brings me to the present. Sharon and I lived together for two years and then we split up. We are not still good friends. I was very sad for a long time after we broke up, but eventually I came out of my sorrow and I’m feeling pretty good these days.

So what am I trying to say? That all I needed was beer, pizza, and sex to feel good? No. What I’m saying is that I needed to be honest, to work hard at whatever I was doing, and to really care about other people. Along with plenty of beer, pizza, and sex.

Oh God, how trite! Squirm, squirm.

But that’s what I told my lovely friend who called this morning and asked me to recommend a therapy. If my kitchen clock is accurate, she should be here any minute. The pizza has been ordered, the fridge is full of beer, and my heart, as someone once said, is full of hope.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6nE-AZYqvE&list=PL7A2gJzg9TABWCexjtnwCuCksuLuxI6ma