Posts Tagged ‘Under the Table Books’

Jewish Jokes Redux

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Goody, Red, and William

my grandmother Goody at a Hollywood party with Red Skelton and William Bendix

Author’s Note: Here we are nearing the end of 2019 and a few days away from my 70th birthday, and I’m happy to report that my last blog entry Telling Jokes brought several positive emails from readers. Inspired by this deluge (more than two and less than eight) of good reviews and requests for more jokes, I’ve decided to resurrect for your reading pleasure an article I posted on my blog in 2008 that was subsequently published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser and the Sacramento News & Review. I wrote Jewish Jokes while in the throes of self-publishing my collection of contemporary dharma tales Buddha In A Teacup, which has subsequently been published in paperback by Soft Skull Press (2016) and is currently available from bookstores and online as an actual book, an e-book, and an audio book.

“The truth is not ashamed of appearing contrived.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

I recently self-published a new book, and with its publication a press release was loosed upon the nation. There were several responses, one from a Jewish publication in Detroit. “Is the author Jewish? If so, we would like a review copy.”

“Funny you should mention it,” is the punch line to a well-known Jewish joke, and that’s what popped into my head when I considered this question about my racial background. Clearly, the inquiry was about ethnicity, not religion.

Jewish jokes are always funnier when told rather than written because how the joke is told is paramount. I should also note that if one is not Jewish, Jewish jokes (as opposed to anti-Jewish jokes) often make little sense and are not particularly funny. This is because Jewish jokes refer to things that non-Jews rarely know anything about.

For instance: On the first day of school, a teacher asks her Second Graders to tell about what they did over the summer. A boy stands up and says, “My name is Mike Jones. My dad and I went snorkeling and I found a really cool bird’s nest.” He sits down and a girl stands up and says, “My name is Fiona Parker. We went to Yosemite and I saw a bear, and my mom taught me how to bake cookies.” She sits down and a boy stands up and says, “My name is Jaime Goldberg and I pledge ten dollars.”

That’s the joke. It refers to the phenomenon of Jewish gatherings frequently turning into fundraisers. When my mother’s mother told me this joke, and whenever she told jokes, she began to laugh midway through the telling but without disrupting the flow of the narrative. No easy feat.

So… two Jewish guys, old friends, meet up after some years apart and reveal that they gave their respective sons the same college graduation present—a trip to Israel to get in touch with their Jewish roots. And lo and behold, while traveling in Israel, both sons became Christians. Perplexed by this double outrage, the two Jewish guys rush to the synagogue and demand an explanation from God. Thunder rumbles and God’s voice intones, “Funny you should mention it.”

That’s the joke. I will risk insulting your intelligence by explaining that God’s response implies that his Jewish son, Jesus, also became a Christian while traveling in Israel.

My grandmother Goody was born in the Detroit ghetto, the Jewish one, in 1900. Her father, an orthodox Jew, was from Poland. A cantor with a golden voice, he earned a pittance from singing in the synagogue and preparing boys for bar mitzvah, while Goody’s mother, also an orthodox Jew from Poland, kept a grocery store and was the family’s breadwinner. Goody was more formally known as Gertrude, which was an anglicized version of Golda.

Most people knew my Jewish grandfather by his nickname Casey, and more formally as Myron. Whenever I pressed him to tell me his “real” name, he would rattle off a burst of Yiddish that never failed to send Goody into gales of laughter.

I did not know of Goody and Casey’s Jewishness—or my own—until I was twelve years old. My mother, born Avis Gloria Weinstein, was, as far as my siblings and I knew, a Winton who married a Walton. I would find out much later in life that her parents changed their name from Weinstein to Winton during the depths of the Great Depression so, as Casey put it, “I could get a job and we could get a place to live.”

Twice in her childhood—in Los Angeles, no less—my mother was stoned by gangs of children when they discovered she was Jewish. Following Goody’s advice, my mother tried to hide all traces of her Jewishness and married my father, a non-Jew, who was then disowned by his parents for marrying a Jew. Oy vey.

So there I was, twelve years old, at a party at Goody and Casey’s house in Los Angeles. Goody deposited me in front of a quartet of Jewish matrons and said, “Girls, I’d like you to meet my grandson Todd,” and then she hurried away.

One of the matrons pinched my cheek and said, “What a good looking Jewish boy you are.”

Another of the matrons nodded in agreement, said something in Yiddish, and seeing my bewilderment translated, “You’ll break a thousand hearts.”

“But I’m not Jewish,” I replied. “I’m a Unitarian.”

Two of the matrons frowned, two laughed.

“You’re Avis’s boy,” said the eldest. “You’re Jewish, sweetie pie. Through and through.”

“No,” I said, emphatically. “I’m not Jewish.”

To which she replied, “They would have burned you.”

I did not get an explanation of this frightening remark from my mother, but from my father. He explained to me that in Hitler’s Germany, in accordance with Jewish matrilineal law, anyone born to a Jewish mother was considered Jewish, and thus I would have been considered a Jew and sent to a concentration camp where I would have died.

“Mom is Jewish?” I asked, stunned by the news.

“No,” said my father. “She is of Jewish origin. There’s a difference.”

For the next twenty-eight years, when asked if I was Jewish (and for some reason I was often asked) I would reply, “I am of Jewish origin on my mother’s side.”

So there’s this Catholic priest sitting in the booth, a slow day in the confession business, when in comes an old guy who puts his face up to the little window and says, “Bless me father for I have sinned. I’m eighty-years-old. I’ve been married for sixty years and never once cheated on my wife. Yesterday I met a gorgeous young woman. We went to her apartment and had fantastic sex.”

The priest considers the gravity of this sin and asks, “How long has it been since your last confession?”

The old guy says, “Oh, I’ve never confessed.”

“You’re a Catholic and you’ve never confessed?”

“I’m not Catholic. I’m Jewish.”

“You’re Jewish? So why are you telling me?”

“Telling you?” says the old guy. “I’m telling everybody.”

But seriously, folks, when I was forty, my life in shambles, I began therapy with a woman who literally saved my life. One day, a few months into the therapeutic process, I found myself face down on the floor of the consulting room, my body shaking uncontrollably. I had no conscious understanding of why I was so terrified, but I was absolutely scared to death. My therapist deftly touched the center of my back and said, “Right there. What’s that?”

I shouted, “I’m Jewish!”

And I knew with every fiber of my being that storm troopers were going to kick the door down and drag me away to be killed. I didn’t imagine this might happen. I didn’t think it. I knew they were coming to kill me because I had violated the great taboo and revealed I was Jewish. This taboo was implanted in me in my mother’s womb and amplified day and night through my entire childhood, though it was never spoken aloud and never known to my conscious mind.

To insure that I would never reveal this awful truth, I was also commanded from day one (through emotional osmosis) to never stand out, never succeed in a big way, and never become well-known, else questions would be asked, inquiries made, and misery and death would inevitably follow. This was how my innocent psyche was programmed.

“Is the author Jewish. If so, we would like a review copy.”

And now for a few mohel jokes.

Pronounced moil, a mohel is a person (traditionally a man) trained and anointed to perform the physical and religious procedures of circumcision that Jewish boys undergo eight days after they are born. Now please imagine a tiny woman with a sparkle in her eye, laughing until she cries, telling the following jokes.

Mohel Joke #1: So there’s this mohel with a shop in the village. In the front window he’s got a big grandfather clock. Along comes a man from out of town. He’s been wanting to get his watch fixed, and seeing the big clock in the window he enters the shop and says to the mohel, “I vant you should fix my vatch.”

“I don’t fix vatches,” says the mohel. “I’m a mohel.”

“You’re a mohel?” says the man. “So vuts vid the clock in the front vindow?”

“If you vas a mohel, vut would you have in the front vindow?”

Mohel Joke #2: So the mohel dies and leaves his widow a big box of all the foreskins he ever snipped. His bereaved wife goes to a leather shop and says to the leather smith, “I vant you should make for me a keepsake of my late husband, the mohel. I don’t care what you make, only that you should use all the skins. Understand? All of them.”

“Soitanly,” says the leather smith. “My condolences. Come beck in a veek.”

So she comes back a week later and the leather smith presents her with an elegantly crafted change purse.

“This is very nice,” she says, frowning at the little thing, “but I specifically said you should use all the skins.”

“I did,” says the leather smith. “Rub that thing a few times and it toins into a steamer trunk.”

Mohel Joke #3: Thirteen baby boys are born in the village on the same day, and eight days later, the mohel—with his operating room on the second floor of an old building—is working fast, tossing the foreskins into a box by the window. In his haste, he tosses one of the little skin rings too hard and it flies out the window and flutters down into a passing convertible, right onto the lap of a young Jewish gal on a date with her boyfriend. She picks up the foreskin and says to her suitor, “Vut is dis?”

“Try it,” he says, winking at her. “If you like it, I’ll give you a whole one.”

fin

 

Telling Jokes

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Telling Jokes

When I was seven I became interested in learning to tell jokes. My father and mother never told jokes, and the jokes I heard at school rarely appealed to me, but I was mesmerized by the way my Uncle Bob told jokes.

Uncle Bob, my father’s brother, was of great interest to me for many reasons. He was the survivor of a terrible car accident that had left most of the right side of his body paralyzed, and he moved and spoke with great effort, sometimes taking several seconds to express a single word. He was a chain smoker, and his relationship to cigarettes was endlessly fascinating to me.

To get a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket, to extract a cigarette from the pack, to get the cigarette between his lips on the functional side of his mouth, and then to light the cigarette with a lighter, was a tremendously difficult and time-consuming undertaking for Uncle Bob, an undertaking I watched with rapt attention hundreds of times.

There were so many ways he might fail at this endeavor, so many precarious moments along the treacherous course from pack to mouth to lit, yet Uncle Bob rarely failed in his efforts—his first toke of every new cigarette thrilling to me. He did it!

Along with his constant smoking, Uncle Bob was a heavy drinker and a habitué of bars where he learned many of the jokes he told us, my father and I. Many of Uncle Bob’s jokes were set in bars and involved drunks, and though I didn’t understand why his jokes were supposed to be funny, I loved the construction of his little stories: establishing the setting, introducing the main character or characters, building the story to a climax, and delivering the punch line.

I also loved Uncle Bob’s reaction to his telling of a joke. He would deliver the punch line, and then, whether anyone laughed or not, he would slowly open his mouth and emit a bellowing sound, more groan than laugh—his face turning red and his body shaking with mirth.

So about twenty years ago, I got a call from the brother of a friend who was to be the master of ceremonies at a Chamber of Commerce gala, his first time performing for a large audience. My friend had told her brother that I was not only a good joke teller, but that I could teach other people how to tell jokes. The gala was only two days away and this brother of my friend was desperate to learn a few jokes he could tell to loosen up the crowd.

For some reason his request brought to mind a series of psychiatrist jokes, which I proceeded to tell him. When he stopped laughing, he asked if I would repeat the jokes very slowly so he could write them down. I did so, and when he had the jokes written out, he told them to me. His timing was not good and he kept putting the emphasis on the wrong words, but after a half-hour of coaching, he started to get the hang of how to tell these particular jokes. I suggested he keep practicing and call me the next day, which he did. After one more telephone coaching session, he performed at the gala and got some big laughs, or so he said.

Here are the jokes I taught him in the order he delivered them.

So a guy goes to see a psychiatrist. When the hour is up, the psychiatrist says to the guy, “I think you’re crazy and should be locked up.”

And the guy says, “Hey wait a minute. I want to get a second opinion.”

And the psychiatrist says, “Okay. You’re ugly, too.”

A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office with a chicken on his head.

The psychiatrist looks at the guy and says, “What’s all this about?”

And the chicken says, “I don’t know. I woke up this morning and there he was.”

A guy goes to see a psychiatrist and says, “Doctor, my wife thinks she’s a refrigerator.”

The psychiatrist asks, “How long has this been going on?”

The guy says, “Four days and three nights.”

“Well,” says the psychiatrist, “give it another few days and if she still thinks she’s a refrigerator, bring her in and I’ll talk to her.”

“The thing is,” says the guy, “I haven’t been able to sleep and I’m going crazy.”

“You’re worried about her,” says the psychiatrist, nodding. “That’s only natural.”

‘Well, it’s not so much that,” says the guy. “It’s that she sleeps with her mouth open, and you know that little light that goes on when you open the refrigerator door? It’s on all night.”

Which reminds me of another psychiatrist joke I didn’t teach him because it wouldn’t have been appropriate for the Chamber of Commerce.

Two psychiatrists are having lunch, and one of the psychiatrists says, “So… the other day I was having breakfast with my mother and I made quite the Freudian slip.”

“Do tell,” says the other psychiatrist.

“Well… I meant to say, ‘Mom, would you pass the butter.’ But instead I said, ‘You bitch, you ruined my life!’”

fin

Speaking of funny stories, if you haven’t seen my first attempt at a music video, a kind of musical parable, here is the link to Eva Waltzing on YouTube.

Going Out Into The World

Monday, September 30th, 2019

Winter roses

Going Out Into the World: a screenplay for a short movie

The film begins with a slow fade to a close-up of a foggy mirror transected by runaway drops of water.

Now we see Margot’s blurred form behind a steamy translucent shower curtain hanging down into a claw-foot bathtub.

A woman in her forties, Margot turns off the water and reaches out from behind the shower curtain to fetch a large white towel hanging from a hook on the wall. She wraps the towel around her so she is covered from her armpits down to a few inches above her knees. She opens the shower curtain, steps out of the tub, and stands before the foggy mirror.

Using a small hand towel, she clears a patch of the mirror, her expression revealing a subtle disquiet.

“We can do this, Margot,” she says, longingly. “We can go out. With Sara’s help. We can. Please?”

The camera lingers on her reflection as she takes a deep breath and the scene dissolves to her bedroom where muted morning sunlight slants through a south-facing window.

A large framed print of Picasso’s Three Musicians is centered on the wall opposite her queen-sized bed, the linens gray, the comforter white.

Wearing a white blouse and black underwear, Margot stands at the foot of her bed and looks down at a trio of long skirts assembled there: black, brown, and red. She picks up the black skirt, muses for a moment, puts the black skirt down and takes up the red skirt as the scene dissolves to her standing in her tidy kitchen wearing the white blouse tucked into black trousers.

Margot’s two cats, a calico and a black, swirl around her bare feet.

Margot fills two small bowls with dry cat food, sets the bowls on the floor by the back door, and as her cats rush to eat, she smiles for the first time.

“Bon appetite, my darlings,” she says softly.

With slow deliberate movements, Margot fills a kettle with water and puts the kettle on the stove, opens a cupboard, and gets out a dark green teapot. She measures loose black tea into the teapot and the scene dissolves to her sitting at a small table in the dining nook of the kitchen. She sips her cup of tea and pets the black cat on her lap, the calico sitting on a nearby chair.

“Sara is coming today,” she says, speaking to her cats. “We might go to a café.” She sets her cup down and clasps her hands to suppress her panic. “But maybe not. Next week might be better because… because by then…” She frowns and shakes her head. “No. I need to go out today. I… I… it’s time. I need to.”

The doorbell sounds and Margot freezes for a moment before she picks up the black cat and sets him on the floor. Now she rises as the doorbell sounds again and the scene dissolves to Margot standing a few feet from her front door, waiting for the doorbell to sound again.

Someone knocks. “Margot? It’s Sara. Are you there?”

“I’m not feeling well,” says Margot, fighting panic. “I have a terrible headache. I think I’m coming down with something. I wouldn’t want you to catch this, Sara. I think it might have gotten into my lungs.”

Sara’s Voice: Open up, dear. I won’t catch anything.

Margot: No, I… I think it would be better if we waited another week before we go out. I’m still… I’m still… I’m not sure I can do this.

Sara’s Voice: Well whether we go out or not, you can let me in, can’t you?

Margot: You won’t be angry with me if we don’t go out?

Sara’s Voice: I will not be angry with you. I promise.

Margot opens the door and here is Sara, a woman in her thirties, her hair tied back in a ponytail. She is wearing a black jacket over a blue shirt, a black skirt that comes to her knees, and running shoes.

Margot: Come in. I’ll make a fresh pot of tea.

Sara: (entering) What about going out for tea? Like we planned?

Margot: I don’t think I’m ready, Sara. I’m sorry, I just… I’m still too afraid.

Sara: But that’s why we want to go out. So you can get over your fear.

Margot: I know, but… I’m not ready.

Sara follows Margot into the kitchen. “How about this? How about you get your shoes on and we walk to the end of the block, and if you don’t want to go any further, we’ll come back.”

Margot considers this. “We would just go to the end of the block?”

“If that’s as far as you want to go, yeah.” Sara nods pleasantly. “Just a little going out into the world, that’s all.”

“Okay,” says Margot, both excited and anxious. “I’ll get my shoes on.”

Now we have a view of the front of Margot’s house, a bungalow with a walkway leading from the front door through a garden to the sidewalk, the neighborhood composed of other small houses, the yards neatly kept.

The front door opens and Sara emerges followed by Margot wearing a long black coat over her white blouse and black trousers. She hesitates for a moment before following Sara.

Sara reaches the sidewalk when Margot is only halfway there.

Margot stops, looks around, and says, “It’s warmer than I expected. I think I might be a bit overdressed.”

“You look fine, dear,” says Sara, smiling warmly.

“I wonder if it might rain,” says Margot, looking back at the house. “Shall we wait a bit? Have a cup of tea?”

“Doesn’t look like rain to me,” says Sara, gazing up at the sky. “Seems like a fine day for a walk. Might even sit outside at the café.”

“Oh,” says Margot, anxiously. “Outside? I was thinking of a booth inside, near the back.”

“That would be fine, too,” says Sara, nodding encouragingly. “Shall we?”

Margot hesitates, takes a deep breath, and joins Sara on the sidewalk. They walk side-by-side for a few steps before Margot stops again.

Margot: You know, Sara, I so appreciate your encouraging me, but I honestly don’t think I can do this. I think I might have a fever. Feeling a bit woozy.

Sara: Of course you can do this. You’re strong, Margot. You’re a thousand times better than you were when I first started coming to see you. We’re only just going to the café and maybe the grocery store and then we’ll come home. We’ll be back before you know it and you’ll be saying you wish we’d stayed out longer.”

Margot: I doubt that. I can’t wait to get home, and we’ve only just left.

Sara: Let’s just go to the corner and see what we want to do from there.”

Now we are on that corner watching them approach. They are small in the distance, Sara forever getting ahead of Margot and slowing down to wait for her.

Twenty feet from the corner, Margot stops again.

Margot: I can’t do this, Sara. I’m so sorry, but I have to go home.

Sara: (waits a moment before replying) Why can’t you do this?

Margot: I’m too afraid.

Sara: Of what?

Margot: Of something bad happening.

Sara: Like what?

Margot: You know.

Sara: No, I don’t.

Margot: (angrily) Yes, you do. You know very well why I’m afraid… what happened to me.

Sara: I’ve forgotten. Tell me again.

Margot: You haven’t forgotten. You’re just… baiting me.

Sara: Why would I do that?

Margot: I don’t know, but you are.

Sara: (after a moment’s silence) You know what I think? I think you’re afraid to not be afraid.

Margot: What do you mean?

Sara: I mean you’ve got a nice hermetic life, don’t you? Everything under control. Every day the same. No ups, no downs, no surprises. And no joy, because joy comes from this… what we’re doing… going out into the world, mixing it up, talking to other people, experiencing things outside of what we’re used to. You’re just afraid of losing control, not of some bogeyman.

Margot: (bitterly) There was a bogeyman, and once you’ve met him, you can’t forget him.

Sara: Speak for yourself, dear. I’ve forgotten mine, and he was every bit the brute yours was, and then some.

Margot: (stunned) You never told me.

Sara: You never asked. And why should you? I’m paid to listen to you, to encourage you, not the other way around. But I’ve reached my limit. We’re stuck, you and I. There’s nothing more I can do for you. So if you won’t walk to the corner with me, I’ll walk you home, say goodbye, and you can call your therapist and get somebody else to come around once a week. I’ve had it.

“Oh Sara,” says Margot, falling to her knees and sobbing. “I’m so sorry. Please… I don’t want anybody else. Please stay with me.”

Sara understands this is a cathartic moment for Margot, so she does not immediately go to Margot and comfort her, but rather watches Margot weep for a time before she comes close and offers her hand. “I’m here, dear. I won’t leave you.”

Margot takes the proffered hand and rises.

Now they walk on together and we hear piano music as the scene dissolves to Margot and Sara sharing a table on a café terrace, the other tables occupied by men and women, some of them talking to each other, some of them gazing at their phones as they sip tea and coffee and nibble on pastries.

The camera moves closer for an intimate view of Margot and Sara as they share a pot of tea. Margot is having a piece of pie, Sara a cookie.

Margot: Would you like to try some of my pie? It’s quite good.

Sara: I’d love a bite.

Margot passes the pie to Sara and watches with pleasure as Sara carves off a piece and puts it in her mouth.

Sara: Mmm, that is good. Want to try my cookie?

Margot: Yes, please.

Sara hands Margot the cookie. Margot breaks off a small piece, pops the piece in her mouth, and has a sip of tea.

Margot: I wonder if we could come here tomorrow. I know you’re not scheduled to come see me again until next week, but…

Sara: But what, dear?

Margot: I’d love to meet you here tomorrow. Treat you to lunch.

Sara gazes at Margot for a long moment before replying, “Shall we say noon?”

“Noon,” says Margot, nodding.

Now our view of the café terrace grows wider and wider as the scene slowly fades to darkness.

fin

And speaking of movies, you may enjoy the very first and very short music video I’ve made all by myself. Eva Waltzing

We Might Be Friends

Monday, September 16th, 2019

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?

That’s All Right, I’m Okay

Monday, September 9th, 2019

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

 

Alexandra’s Dream

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

inevitability

A few days before Christmas, Alexandra Windsor, a lovely young woman about to turn seventeen, comes to visit Herschel Steinberg in his old white house at the end of Climbing Rose Lane in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California.

Herschel is seventy-two, a dream interpreter with spiky gray hair, his accent that of a person raised in Los Angeles by Yiddish-speaking parents. He shares his house with a scruffy Golden Retriever named Lorenzo, a sleek gray cat named Zorba, and several dozen potted cacti.

Alexandra and her few-years-older brother Conor have a movie company specializing in short fictional dramas and music videos, with seven thousand subscribers to their Windsor Montoya Productions YouTube channel.

Herschel recently starred in one of Alexandra and Conor’s movies, an eleven-minute film called The Dream Interpreter, in which he played a character indistinguishable from the actual Herschel. The movie is by far the most successful Windsor Montoya movie to date (over 10,000 views) and Alexandra and Conor are eager to make another movie with Herschel.

Alexandra and Herschel sit in high-backed armchairs in Herschel’s cozy den, facing each other across a coffee table, a fire crackling in the hearth, scruffy Lorenzo sprawled on the floor at Alexandra’s feet and sleek Humphrey curled up in Herschel’s lap.

Sipping lemon verbena tea and brainstorming about possible plots for the next movie featuring Herschel, Alexandra says, “What if I play the part of someone who tells you her dream, which we dramatize, and then you interpret the dream.”

“I like that idea,” says Herschel, sipping his tea. “Now we just have to invent a compelling dream and an equally compelling interpretation.”

“Actually I had a dream last night that might work,” says Alexandra, frowning. “It was kind of a nightmare, but… shall I tell it to you?”

“Yes, please,” says Herschel, closing his eyes to listen.

I’m in a car on a highway with a bunch of people who are much older than I am, and we’re stuck in a traffic jam. We’re really crammed into the car, and I can barely breathe, so I decide to get out, which means I have to climb over a man and a woman to get to the door, and as I climb over them, the woman says, “We’re so sorry. By the time we realized what was happening, it was too late to change the way we did things.”

I get out of the car and see the traffic jam stretches out of sight in either direction. The trees on either side of the highway are dying and the air is full of smoke.

I wander away from the highway into a deserted city and come to an intersection where a few people are sitting around a small campfire. A young man looks at me and says, “It’s not safe here. We won’t be able to protect you. Sorry.”

“Where is it safe?” I ask, wondering what I need protection from.

“I don’t know,” he says, shaking his head. “Everything’s been destroyed.”

Now darkness is falling and I’m running through a neighborhood of old houses. I see a faint light in the window of one of the houses, and though I’m afraid of what might be in the house, I knock on the front door. The door opens and a woman gestures for me to come in.

I follow her down a hallway to a dimly lit room where a dozen women are packing backpacks with food and clothing and books. Two of the women are teenagers like me, the rest are in their twenties and thirties, except one woman who might be sixty and seems to be the leader.

She looks at me and asks, “Are you strong?”

“I am,” I say, meeting her gaze.

“Can you fight?” she asks, putting her hand on my shoulder.

“Yes,” I say, nodding. “If I have to.”

“The packs are heavy,” she says, pointing to the one she wants me to carry, “but we’ll need everything we’re bringing with us.”

Now we’re walking fast through the city with the packs on our backs.

The woman walking beside me says, “God I hope the boat’s there.”

We come around a corner and encounter four men blocking our way. One of them has a gun, but rather than run away, we overwhelm them and kill them. I don’t do the killing, but I’m standing beside a woman when she stabs one of the men in the heart.

We arrive at a pier guarded by two men and two women with guns. They recognize our leader and allow us onto the pier where we board a large sailing ship. When we are safely aboard, the two men and two women who were guarding the pier come onto the boat, too, and we sail away into the darkness.

A young woman approaches me and says, “Come with me. I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping.”

I ask her, “Do you know where we’re going?”

“To northeastern Greenland,” she says, nodding solemnly. “God willing.”

Herschel opens his eyes and says, “I’m sorry, too, Alexandra, that I didn’t do more to try to change things before it was too late.”

“Do you think it is too late?” she asks, frowning. “To save the earth.”

“Oh the earth will be fine,” says Herschel, wistfully. “But human society may soon come crashing down as the climate wobbles further and further out of balance. And the saddest thing is that we knew better, yet refused to change. We opted for convenience and ruined everything. And I really am sorry, my dear.”

“So you think my dream is literal. Not symbolic?”

“I think you saw the possible future,” says Herschel, his eyes full of tears. “And if you did, I hope with all my heart there is a place for you on that boat.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtldtL7PJXY&list=PL7A2gJzg9TABWCexjtnwCuCksuLuxI6ma

What Are Dreams?

Monday, August 26th, 2019

what are dreams?

On a rainy morning in November, Alberto Puerto Vallarta, Paul Windsor, and Herschel Steinberg share a table in Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California.

Alberto is seventy-four, a performance artist with wavy black hair turning gray, Paul Windsor is fifty-nine, a writer and musician with short wiry gray hair, and Herschel Steinberg is seventy-two, a dream interpreter with spiky gray hair.

Alberto: I was walking the dogs on the beach yesterday and it came to me that maybe the purpose of dreams is to balance the mundane with the fantastic, the fantastic with the mundane.

Paul: Not sure what you mean.

Alberto: If you have a boring life, your dreams will be exciting. If you have an exciting life, your dreams will be about feeding your cat or doing the dishes. Maybe the psyche needs to maintain an equilibrium of…

Herschel: Excitement and mundanity?

Paul: I would think just the opposite, that an exciting life would give rise to exciting dreams, a dull life to dull dreams.

Herschel: It’s an interesting idea. Psychic equilibrium. After all, we need the right amount of salt to function properly. Not too much, not too little. The same is true of sugar, exercise, affection. Maybe dreams provide psychic sustenance, and different kinds of dreams provide different kinds of stimulation for proper neural functioning.

Paul: I think dreaming is the way our subconscious tells our conscious mind the truth, tells us things we’re unwilling to accept when we’re awake.

Herschel: Are we unwilling to accept them or simply unaware of them?

Paul: Might seem like we’re unaware, but we’re really unwilling.

Alberto: Which might be another way the mind is attempting to reach psychic equilibrium.

Herschel: I think dreams are the way we tell stories to ourselves, stories with messages that can help us if only we can decipher what those messages are.

Alberto: Are all dreams symbolic?

Herschel: Not necessarily. I have one client who has dreams he says are indistinguishable from his waking life.

Paul: Maybe he’s attained a perfect equilibrium between the fantastic and the mundane.

Alberto: I wonder if his waking life is both fantastic and mundane.

Herschel: Well… in a way everyone’s life is both fantastic and mundane, and depending on our state of mind, the mundane can be fantastic.

Alberto: So true.

Paul: I often dream I’m trying to get somewhere, but I never quite reach my goal. And by often, I mean almost all my dreams are about being diverted or obstructed from some destination, and yet I don’t feel I’m being obstructed in my waking life.

Alberto: Are people obstructing you in your dreams or is it things getting in your way?

Paul: Usually people. I’m often trying to reach a stage so I can perform. Tell a story or play the piano. But I don’t ever reach the stage because there’s always someone in the way who wants to talk to me or show me something, or there’s a huge mob blocking my way.

Alberto: I used to have those kinds of dreams before I began performing regularly. When did you last perform?

Paul: Three years ago.

Alberto: Aha.

Herschel: Aha what?

Alberto: Perhaps these dreams spring from his subconscious desire to perform, and his conscious self is the obstruction. As long as he doesn’t perform, his dreams will be about not being able to.

Paul: But I have no desire to perform again.

Alberto: Or so you think when you’re awake.

Herschel: A client once recounted to me an incredible dream that she had over the course of several consecutive nights, a saga of epic proportions involving huge battles and complicated love affairs and long journeys and countless brushes with death, all of which she remembered in fantastic detail. And at the end of this monumental odyssey, she arrived at an animal shelter where she chose two kittens and took them home.

Alberto: So did she go in her waking life to an animal shelter and get two kittens?

Herschel: Two kittens and a puppy.

Paul: And was that the end of her epic dreams?

Herschel: No, but ever after in her dreams, she was accompanied by two lions and a wolf.

Alberto: She found spirit allies to accompany her in both the dream world and the waking world.

Herschel: I think so.

Paul: Last night I dreamt I was at a party trying to get to a table laden with guacamole and chips and shrimp on skewers, but I could never get to the table because I was waylaid by one person after another.

Alberto: What finally happened?

Paul: I woke up, went to the kitchen, ate a banana, and went back to bed.

Alberto: I would have made guacamole.

Paul: We had no avocados.

Herschel: Dreams are often full of things we want and things we don’t want. Things we have and things we don’t have. Much like life.

Alberto: I think dreams are every bit as real as so-called waking reality.

Herschel: Yes, and isn’t it wonderful how often we dream of being in this lovely café together?

Paul: Shall I order us some guacamole and chips and a plate of spicy prawns?

Alberto: So sayeth your dream. And should anyone obstruct you on your way to place the order, I will come to your aid.

Herschel: I will too, Paul. In this dream no one will stop you from attaining your heart’s desire.

fin

 

The Dream Interpreter

Monday, August 19th, 2019

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

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The Brick Wall

Monday, August 12th, 2019

the brick wall

An avowed atheist, James is sixty-seven and has lived in Seattle for fifty years. A fastidious dresser and vain of his appearance, James bristles whenever he hears the words spiritual, astrology, mystical, God, karma or anything suggesting life might be more than a purely mechanistic crapshoot.

James’s first marriage produced Andrew, forty two, a massage therapist. Andrew’s mother Claire divorced James when Andrew was five, and James didn’t see much of Andrew after the divorce until Andrew moved to nearby Vashon Island fifteen years ago. Thereafter James visited Andrew and his wife Cecily and their children Zeke and Maru several times a year until three years ago when James called Andrew the worst sort of idiot.

James was visiting Andrew and Cecily and Zeke and Maru at their house on Vashon Island, and Andrew was showing James the large labyrinth they created at the heart of their two-acre orchard and garden—the labyrinth’s path, based on the famous labyrinth at Chartres, delineated by large rocks and perennial herbs.

Andrew told James that since he began walking the winding path to the center of the labyrinth every day, he no longer suffered from the excruciating headaches that had plagued him since childhood. That was when James called Andrew the worst sort of idiot, after which Andrew decided to stop making an effort to connect with his father.

Three months into his second marriage, when James’s wife Rose was pregnant with Electra, who is now thirty-six, Rose told James she’d dreamt their child was a girl and believed the dream prophetic.

To which James responded, “You can’t be serious.”

“Of course I’m serious,” said Rose, frowning at him. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because,” said James, snarling at her, “anyone who believes a dream is prophetic is dangerously delusional. Prophecies are wishful-thinking nonsense.”

From that moment on, Rose no longer trusted James and they divorced when Electra was two. James has only seen Electra twice since then, both times for lunch when Electra came to Seattle for conferences having to do with dance therapy, a field in which she is well-known. Electra sends James a Christmas card every year, which prompts James to send her a check for five hundred dollars, which inevitably brings an effusive letter from Electra; and that is where James always ends the back-and-forth because he knows Electra is a Buddhist, which he considers a form of organized idiocy, and he doesn’t want to put himself in a position where he will feel compelled to tell Electra what he thinks of her religious affiliation.

After divorcing Rose, James did not marry again for thirty years, though he did have several short-lived entanglements, none of which produced children. He has been married to his current wife, Leslie, for eleven months. Leslie is fifty-eight and an ardent atheist. She delights in finding articles and videos that she and James categorize as spiritual balderdash; and until recently she would seek James out several times a day to share the latest proof she’d found of how incredibly ignorant and misguided most other people are.

Leslie and James married shortly after they both retired—Leslie an accountant, James a lawyer—and they are quite wealthy. They live in a large old house they bought in an upscale neighborhood in Seattle and have spent much of their brief marriage travelling around Europe celebrating the ends of the careers they never enjoyed. And everywhere they went in Europe, they visited cathedrals and temples and holy places they contemptuously referred to as relics of mass ignorance.

Sadly, since returning from Europe a month ago, James and Leslie have entered a new phase of their relationship, one in which they do not enjoy each other’s company and spend most of their time in separate rooms—Leslie smoking pot and drinking bourbon and playing online Scrabble, James drinking wine and watching brainy British games shows on YouTube.

At the height of their marital discord, James has a lucid dream in which an old man with long white hair and wearing a sackcloth robe tells James that there is an ancient doorway in the basement leading to a mystical labyrinth.

The morning after, James finds Leslie in the kitchen and says to her, “I had a vivid blast of brain gibberish last night. This old man, a kind of Socrates, said there’s a doorway in the basement leading to a labyrinth and…”

“Oh that’s just mental garbage,” says Leslie, making strong coffee to combat her hangover. “About your stupid son dumping you because you exposed the idiocy of his fantasy that his hippie dippy labyrinth was curing his headaches.”

James winces. “I wish you wouldn’t call Andrew stupid. You’ve never even met him.”

“You call him stupid all the time,” says Leslie, glaring at James. “And I haven’t met him because he doesn’t want to have anything to do with you because you called him an idiot for thinking his stupid labyrinth cured his headaches. I’m only quoting you, so if you don’t want me calling him stupid, you stop calling him stupid, though why you suddenly feel the need to defend a magical-thinking moron, I can’t imagine?”

“No, no, you’re right,” says James, nodding emphatically. “Delusional dreamer raised by his delusional mother.”

Which might have been the end of James thinking about his dream except he can’t resist doing what the old man in the dream told him to do, which is go down into the basement and examine the brick wall adjacent to the furnace, where, according to the old man, he will discern a continuous crack in the mortar of the bricks, a crack delineating the shape of a large door.

How the old man in James’s dream knew about this crack is an irritating mystery to James because he, James, knew nothing about a crack delineating a door. So how, James wonders, did that knowledge get into his brain to be translated into brain gibberish?

James had only been in the basement two times prior to having the dream, once when he and Leslie were considering buying the place, and once when he peeked in while a plumber was installing a new hot water heater. Neither time did he notice there was a brick wall adjacent to the furnace, but when he went down to see if the dream information might be true, he found there is a brick wall and there is a continuous crack in the mortar outlining what may or may not be a hidden door.

So now what? The old man in the dream said, “Remove the bricks and reveal the ancient door needing no key to open. Upon passing through this portal you will enter a mystical labyrinth guiding you to what you’ve been seeking your whole life.”

James wishes he could talk to someone about his dream, someone who could explain the meaning of the dream and why the dream was so incredibly vivid and real seeming. He doesn’t believe the dream could possibly be prophetic, though the door-delineating crack in the mortar is definitely there.

The truth is, James has no friends; and Leslie, he is certain, will think he’s a complete idiot for giving the dream a second thought, so…

James barely sleeps for the next two days, after which he and Leslie have a horrific screaming fight and she decides to go visit her mother in Palm Springs for a couple weeks. She packs four suitcases, which seems excessive to James, says she’ll be in touch, and takes a cab to the airport.

That night James falls into a sodden sleep that lasts until late morning when he has another dream in which the old white-haired man appears and says, “The labyrinth awaits you, James. The time is now. Remove the bricks and reveal the door.”

James wakes from the dream shaking with fright.

“What is this shit?” he growls, flinging back the covers and getting out of bed. “I don’t believe in this shit.”

He’s in the kitchen making a pot of coffee when the phone rings.

Thinking this must be Leslie calling to apologize for accusing him of being a heartless misanthrope, James picks up the phone and says gruffly, “Hello.”

“Hey Dad, it’s Andrew. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he says, derisively. “Why do you ask? After three years of not talking to me.”

“I had a dream about you this morning,” says Andrew, speaking softly. “You were stuck somewhere. In a basement or a cave and I thought… maybe you needed help with something or…”

“You think your dream was real?” says James, gritting his teeth to keep from shouting.

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, pausing. “Maybe it was just my subconscious prodding me to call you. I’ve been thinking about you lately and…”

“About what a rotten asshole I am?”

“No, I was thinking about how I wish you could spend some time with the kids. Zeke is fourteen and Maru is twelve going on seventeen and… they ask about you all the time.”

“You still have that stupid labyrinth?” says James, unable to quell his vitriol.

“Yes, we still have the labyrinth,” says Andrew, sighing. “I won’t keep you any longer, Dad.”

“Wait, wait.” James clears his throat. “Um… there actually is something you could help me with.”

“What’s that?” asks Andrew, his voice full of kindness.

“Well… it’s funny you should mention a basement because I’ve got kind of a mystery going on in mine, and… maybe you could help me solve it.”

“Is it plumbing or…”

“No, it’s, uh… I think there might be a door behind the brick wall down there, and I’m… I… I’d like to find out.”

“Sounds fun,” says Andrew, laughing. “Can I bring the kids?”

“If you want,” says James, shrugging painfully. “Um… when would you like to come?”

“How about this afternoon? We’ll catch the next ferry and… maybe we could spend the night if you have room or…”

“Yeah, fine. We’ll get pizza or something.”

They stand before the brick wall in the basement—James, Andrew, Zeke, and Maru.

“What makes you think there’s a door behind there?” asks Zeke, his deep voice revealing traces of his mother’s British accent.

Zeke’s reddish brown hair falls to his broad shoulders and he is dressed similarly to his father and sister—a denim shirt and jeans and sneakers.

“The crack in the mortar,” says James, squinting at the bricks. “See it? Delineates the shape of a door.”

“Wow,” says Maru, nearly as tall as her brother, her blonde hair in a long braid. “How did you even see it?” She practically puts her nose on the bricks to study the crack. “You have great eyes, Grandpa.”

“I had a dream,” says James, his throat constricting, “in which an old man told me it was there. So I came and looked and there it was.”

“Really?” says Zeke, beaming at his grandfather. “That’s like Maru dreaming about going to visit the Andersons, which we never used to do, and they…” He looks at his sister. “You tell.”

“So in my dream,” says Maru, smiling rapturously at James, “I rode my bike over to Mrs. Anderson’s farm, though in real life Mrs. Anderson used to yell at us not to pick the blackberries on the road in front of her farm. But in my dream she invited me in for pie and said she wanted to give me a present, and when I told Mom the dream she said I should go over there in case the dream was prophetic even though I’ve always been afraid of Mrs. Anderson and they have this huge Black Lab who barks ferociously, but Zeke said he’d come with me, so we rode our bikes over there and their dog was totally friendly and Mrs. Anderson invited us in only she didn’t give us pie but tea and cookies and then she asked if we were looking for a puppy, which we were, and her dog had just had a litter and we got two of them. Tillie and Molly. Half-Labs, half-Golden Retrievers, and they’re the best dogs ever.”

“What a fortunate coincidence,” says James, forcing a smile.

“Just like the crack in the mortar,” says Zeke, tapping the brick wall. “A fortunate coincidence.”

“Why is the crack fortunate?” asks James, glowering at Zeke.

“Because it got you to invite us to come visit,” says Zeke, smiling at his grandfather. “Right?”

“I suggest,” says Andrew, winking at Zeke, “that we remove a few of these bricks, see if we find anything resembling a door, and if not, we put the bricks back. But if there is a door, we’ll remove the rest of the bricks. To that end, I’ve brought a ceramic-cutting blade for my saw, so if you will all now don your earplugs I’ll have a go at this.”

Earplugs inserted, James and Zeke and Maru stand back and watch Andrew expertly cut around a block of eight bricks that may or may not be concealing an ancient door.

The cut completed, Zeke and Maru wield chisels and hammers and pry bars, and a section of an old wooden door is revealed.

“That’s definitely a door,” says Andrew, nodding. “Shall we continue?”

“Wait,” says James, his heart aching. “How could it lead anywhere? The outer basement wall is only four feet away. Even if the door opens, there would just be a little gap and then we’d come to the wall. Right?”

“Unless there’s a stairway,” says Maru, nodding eagerly. “Leading down to a room full of treasure.”

“Did the old man in your dream say anything else?” asks Andrew, smiling quizzically at his father.

“Yes,” says James, feeling more vulnerable than he can ever remember feeling. “He said this was a doorway to a labyrinth.”

“Really?” says Andrew, arching his eyebrow. “Did he say if it was a stupid labyrinth or a smart labyrinth?”

“I’m sorry I said that to you,” says James, gazing earnestly at his son. “Will you forgive me?”

“I have,” says Andrew, nodding. “That’s why we’re here.”

“So shall we take away the rest of the bricks?” asks Maru, looking from her father to her grandfather. “See if we find a labyrinth?”

“He said it was a mystical labyrinth,” says James, smiling through his tears at his grandchildren. “Whatever that is.”

They remove the rest of the bricks and open the ancient door that needs no key, and sure enough there is a stairway descending into darkness.

So down they go, flashlights blazing.

fin

The Angel

Monday, August 5th, 2019

angels

On an early morning in August, Derek drives to the beach at the mouth of Big River for the very low tide. He wades across the wide shallow river to the sandbar and crosses the vast expanse of sand to the edge of the sea; and as he’s watching the breakers crash onto the sand, a man appears beside him. The man is about Derek’s age, late sixties, dressed as Derek is in shorts and a T-shirt, stubbly beard, shining eyes, sweet smile.

“Hey,” says the man, speaking quietly. “How you doing?”

“Hanging in there,” says Derek, which is how he’s been feeling for a long time now, hanging by a thread.

“I hear you,” says the man, nodding. “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure,” says Derek, wondering if the man is going to talk about Jesus or ask for money.

The man takes a deep breath and says, “You’re a healer. Maybe you already knew that, but I thought it might help you if I said it to you. You’re a healer. You heal yourself and you heal others.”

Derek laughs in surprise and says, “Oh I’ll bet you say that to everybody.”

“I don’t, actually,” says the man, laughing, too. “I think that about everybody, but I rarely say it out loud. But when I saw you…” He shrugs. “I just had to. It’s true, you know.”

“I believe you,” says Derek, looking way. “I mean… I want to believe you.”

“But why not believe me? What’s in the way of believing you’re a healer?”

“Well… I’ve been feeling pretty fucked up for a long time now, and by fucked up I mean… not much good to anybody including myself.”

“I know how you feel,” says the man, nodding sympathetically. “I felt that way for years. Decades. But when I realized I was a healer, and I mean when I really accepted that I was a healer and not just hoping to be one, I saw that feeling fucked up was something I could work with, something I could dig down into and find what I needed to heal myself.”

“This is my quest,” says Derek, starting to cry.

The man puts his hand on Derek’s shoulder and keeps it there until Derek stops crying.

You’re the healer,” says Derek, looking at him.

“You and me both, buddy.”

Time passes and they part ways and Derek gets lost in his thoughts and when he finally comes back to the present, the sand bar is shrinking fast and he has to swim across the river to reach the shore.

Back at his truck, Derek is wiping the sand off his feet when a woman and her young son walk by and the boy looks at Derek and asks, “Did you see any whales out there?”

“No whales,” says Derek, smiling at the boy. “But the clouds are spectacular today.”

And the boy looks up at the sky, and his eyes grow wide, and he says, “Oh wow. They are.”

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