Posts Tagged ‘Under the Table Books’

honing: the quorum

Monday, December 9th, 2019

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.

 

honing: the fourth

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

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.

honing: arrival

Monday, November 18th, 2019

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

only connect

Monday, November 4th, 2019

Mary Munich

photo Mary On the Piano by Robert Smith

In my dream I am playing a beautiful black grand piano in a large restaurant, all the tables full, many of the diners listening to me. I am playing a piece entitled Love’s Body, a passionate fast-moving improvisation from my forthcoming CD lounge act in heaven. I am ecstatic as I play, the experience so moving to me, I weep as I play.

I finish the song with a lovely run of notes from low to high.

A few people applaud politely.

The elegantly dressed young man and young woman at the table nearest to me do not applaud. They seem perplexed and embarrassed by my performance.

Now a man at the back of the room rises from a table he’s sharing with three other people. He has long gray hair and a long gray beard and black-framed glasses and a big paunch. He applauds strenuously and shouts, “Bravo, bravo, bravo!”

I bow in his direction, happy to know I connected with someone out there.

 

Light Song

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

back cover

here there are no endings

only tides of change

here the path goes ever wending

through forests born of rain

 

there’s a shadow of a raven

gliding over fields of stone

life and light have found each other

we are none of us alone

 

come with me and join the dancing

add your voice to evening’s song

find a place to watch the turning

of the day to night and dawn

 

give yourself to silent wonder

shout your feelings to the sky

bless this chance to share the gift of life

never mind the reasons why

 

Sweet

Monday, October 21st, 2019

albion road for Sweet

 

There’s a light on the hill at the end of the day,

That’s as sweet as the sweet yellow rose.

I would give you this flower if only it bloomed

Any time but the golden hour.

 

There’s a song in my heart every time you are near,

That’s as sweet as the breeze off the bay.

I would sing you this song if only I knew

What the sweet breeze was trying to say.

 

Come away with me now to the top of the hill,

We will dance for the golden hour

We’ll open our hearts to the breeze off the bay

And give voice to the sweetest flower

 

Mystery Sweet

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?