Monday, October 29, 2007

DOAEN 6: The Bottom Line
I keep reminding myself to vist FemiMacus and write a check for the $25.00 that I owe them for last week's pedicure. Remarkably, they do not accept ATM or credit cards and I had no checks with me at the time, having finished writing all my monthly bills and since I do not subscribe to an online banking service, my last Luddite holdout because for some reason I am convinced that my account numbers will be hacked by hucksters; well, you know what I'm trying to say here. I'm feeling guilty and need to go by Park Avenue one day this week to clear both my name and reputation from the soapy registers of local manicure parlors.

"What's the big deal," you maybe ask. Black marks weigh heavily upon my personal credit record. And I can't stop being a throwback to another century when there were standards of acceptable behavior that weren't updated online every hour by the local Webmaster. Certain precepts were chiseled in stone way back then: the Ten Commandments, the golden mean about doing unto others, playing fair and square, and so forth, phrases that are broken links now to another seemingly innocent place and time. Now I keep up, subscribing to lists so I can stay abreast of new content. I also read daily cascades of email that arrive at no special hour in my ever expanding and contracting mailbox that would even overwhelm the Queen of Contractions, Martha Graham. I am on an unending treadmill that ceases only when I deliberately refuse to take my laptop along for the ride, which doesn't happen often, because I actually enjoy this electronic high.

"So what are you whining about?" you maybe ask. Well, I'm not so much whining as reflecting, which was Hamlet's big hang-up although he lacked a good Sunday morning breakfast of coffee, eggs and potatoes. It's what I do best, given my job that keeps me in front of a computer for most of the day with occasional breaks for rides on the elevator. But today isn't like that at all, Virginia. Today I'm thinking about my weekend, this unbelievable thing that has happened in my life which stands outside the doors of email. Something that has caused me to believe that love possibly can exist in this world, or that maybe I've done enough leg work and taken enough Pilates classes to know the real thing when I feel it, which is my bottom line.

To be continued (I hope).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

DOAEN 5: Creating the Links
Maybe Jerusalem needs to wait. After all, I have to request time off from work, and then there's the Oral History Association that's having its 41th Annual Meeting here in Oaktown. Downtown at the Marriott where there are apples for the picking at the front desk for the asking you get a smile and directions up the escalator to where everything's happening in a honeycomb of rooms. It's autumn in New York except it's the Bay Area and trees are shifting their color palette, and I laugh to recall when I first moved here I couldn't tell autumn from madam, but now it's obvious with light changing and Southern California burning, more than 500,000 residents being evacuated from their homes and President Bush and the Gobernator surveying the damage from private helicopters. More political spectacle. Tony from FemiMacus where I sat today getting a pedicure, my favorite part is the end when my foot becomes a candle dipped into wax, said that his twin girls are up from the University of San Diego and my daughter says that her friend from San Diego State has taken refuge in one of the UC Davis dorms. Some people say that the corporations have deliberately burned down Southern California the way New Orleans was sacrificed to the Crips & and Bloods, but I'm still witholding judgment myself, someone who subscribes to the Wall Street Journal and watches how Rupert Murdoch is needling the NY Times about their low stock evaluation and inability to balance their portfolio, someone who's been working with a web team from Chevron these last several weeks since my employer, AC Transit, is testing 22 biodiesel and gas-to-liquid fuel buses for the next six months. I get to create the links. At the Oral History workshop this afternoon on the Problem of Place in Post-Holocaust Life, Shana Penn said that in today's Poland there are Jewish Identity Crisis Hotlines for young people who are trying to connect the dots. Walking back to work from the Marriott, I passed City Hall, the second day of demonstrations against police brutality. People chanted, "No justice, no peace." There was a police officer on the opposite side of the street and I waited for the light to turn green before I crossed, despite my New York inclination to go whenever I see an opening, but I didn't want to openly flaunt his authority. But given the demonstration, I probably could've gotten away with it.

Music: Herbie Hancock, "River, the joni letters"
What's Been Happening: sending out Halloween cards to the kids of my nieces and nephews
On a Personal Level: fighting a cold
Bay Area Aerosol Heritage Assn.
the hinge generation
a foreigh tourist who speaks the language

Monday, October 15, 2007

DOAEN 4: The Harvard Moon Does Not Shine on Me
I need coverage as I duck between cars and hide from breaking news that rains over me in casualties and partial prisoner swaps. I'm roaming. From meeting to meeting I hear the same thing. It's falling apart. It's going to pieces. There's no hiding from media blab living here in corporate headquarters inside our own cubicles stocked with emergency blow-up rations for the Big One. Where we're entitled to have our own opinions, but none of the facts, which makes us stupid and fat and lazy and very monolingual. I genre to the best of my ability and try to make it work. What else can I do? That's all we can do. So I rename myself. I am now DoAnne after my blog entries which rhymes with Joanne who has a large chain of fabric stores named after her, at least here in the Bay Area where the autumn rains have arrived early and the fog sits in ruffles over the Bay like a bag of soggy potato chips that someone has spilled on the table. So I intend to repattern myself. I'm not sure what that means except I know it will require a trip to the store and that makes me happy because I've been born and bred to be a good consumer. But will the civic center hold, a question probed by Alexis de Tocqueville some time ago when Benjamin Franklin held the winning hand and the new nation didn't want to hear about it. Still doesn't. But I'm getting too old to just sit around and let the grains of sand run out, even Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz knew she had to fly with the monkies, so I vow as Big Momma of the Empty Nesters to fight for truth and justice and the Palestinian state. Then maybe to find a way as a diaspora Jew to understand the humor of a God who does this number about the "chosen people," puts us through hell for thousands of years to burn off any impurities, fixes us up in a nice little place to have Israel become as vile and intolerant as the next country. Feh! What kind of plague is this? So I spend time on the Internet fishing around for the cheapest round-trip ticket to Jerusalem and then go to the store to get a strong cup of coffee. When I see my friend sitting in the cafe, I feel better.

Music: Frank Black, "Teenager of the Year"
What's Been Happening: Monday
On a Personal Level: Coordinating daughter's birthday weekend
where the miles are
genre to the best of your ability
Harvard moon
partial prisoner swap

Saturday, October 13, 2007

DOAEN 3: Identity Theft
I sit on the couch reading books with the cats purring beneath the living room table as the dishwasher thrashes in the background, turn the page and realize I haven't watched television for a week. How long has it been? Open the refrigerator and there's several jars of pickles on the side door that face nothing else. I turn on the television, just to make sure I have the right remote attitude. Later that very same week when I realized I hadn't watched television, I bought a pair of black leather pants online and wore them for real because now I am Bad Momma of the Empty-Nesters.

Where did she come from hidden in Purdah all those years of Motherhood, which was its own special trip? But suddenly she's more recognizable, this woman who always has been my drive and my friend, who wishes to realize her obsessions through me. I feel okay about being a vehicle for someone else's obsessions. I'm a woman, aren't I? But that doesn't mean I have to like it. On the other hand I think it would be more correct to say that I have a gay relationship with myself, and like any good one (Benny Goodman), we're always working on it together. I heard growing up that if you can't love yourself, you can't really love someone else. Which has been my starting point. It's just that I haven't gotten very far.

Music playing: Dance of the Dead
What's been happening: Symposium at UC Berkeley "Continuous Bodies" performance, Space and Technology
On a Personal Level: More of the same :>}
Key Words:
call center operators
identity theft
data surveillance
sell some books from inside a trench coat

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ballad of D.Q.

The pressure was real high
with the 2.0 release,
meant to fix all bugs, or die,
tech support would have some peace.

Engineers worked day and night
studying their code,
product managers counted bytes
in pizza-eating mode.

And D.Q., the boy from Alameda,
who put start-ups on the map,
he grabbed a slice of pizza
saying, "Don't give me any crap."

Until deadlines are met,
he promised to stay in the trenches,
software QA'd, security tested,
no one sitting on the benches.

Each week D.Q. e-mailed
a variation of the old,
his message never failed:
keep all new features on hold.

Marketing never heard,
only knew what they had to know,
they'd already given their word,
the product was scheduled to go.

The hour it came for the product to ship,
a month before the big holiday purse.
"Where was D.Q? Can you believe this shit?"
Maybe he had the flu or something worse.

But let me tell you what I saw
I'll give you the entire poop,
when I took the elevator down to the 31st floor
to meet with the core technology group

There was D.Q. telling the marketing folk
to extend the deadline, or be a fool,
he slipped a skateboard beneath his coat
saying, "Good-bye. It's been real cool."

So next time you walk down Mission Street
running to catch the bus or the BART home,
the kid zipping up pavement on his feet,
could be D.Q. on the roam.

The kid who got tired of programming,
tired of deadlines, tired of being a sap,
the head geek who's surfing
on a skateboard, and never coming back.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Partners in Crime
Kids walk to school along the freeway overpass.
I drive my car beneath them going to work.

Jelly rolls of turf in a pick-up truck.
Green spikes on a brown scalp to be planted somewhere.

A bright blot outlines joggers around Lake Merritt.
Their water bottles are catching sunlight.

I can't tell anyone what you did to me last night.
How you held me close and what you whispered in my ear.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Almost an entire week has gone by since she's left for college, and today is payday with one of those virtual pieces of paper slipped beneath the door that says a certain amount of money has been deposited on my behalf into a bank account. What's important is that the money is there and not particularly how it got placed there, but even as I write those words I shudder as I hear the moral implications of my statement which sounds entirely too Machiavellian although I understand that the guy got a bad rap and his world view was actually more than the end justifying the means which is how his work has been handed down throughout the ages although his emphasis on the skill of applying morality to practical political life lesser so the case and I think of Arnold Schwartzenegger and wish him success in brokering a Northwest passage of medical insurance in the state of California particularly to further the national discourse on this issue. Last night I heard Immaculee Ilibagiza speak at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, author of "Left to Tell," story of how she survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994 by hiding in a 4 by 6 foot bathroom for 91 days with seven other women and went on to develop a profound personal relationship with God, faith, and hope for the survival of the planet in the midst of brutalizing war. Even her name with all those Is and As rolls off the English-speaking tongue like some dazzling miracle on a Cirque du Soleil scale with visceral joy and beauty, which seems to be the kind of thing us human beings respond to from the center of our beings, and there's nothing virtual about it.

My daughter is at college. I'm here and my memories of her are real.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Diary of an Empty Nester (DOAEN 1)
I think writing with a typewriter or a pencil when I first started was a different kind of writing for me, more physical in its sensibility, while writing with a computer is another experience eliminating a tactile energy that goes into forming words by pressing a pen to paper or by striking the hammer of a keyboard; with the computer I hear the musical sound of words in my head, which makes laptop writing a more private experience, after all it's happening within a small theater that sits a half foot away from me with few interruptions having to do with the rolling of paper on a platen, or the sharpening of a pencil, it's more about the flow of words, forming words on a screen instead of on a sheet of paper, which in some ways makes the creation of meaning more direct, faster, but how has that changed anything, a question from an empty nester at a time when I have the luxury of indulging myself in such thoughts listening to jazz playing after midnight in my living room while I lay on the couch rather than deciding what sandwiches to prepare for lunch, not that I was ever a sandwich maker because the truth is I've always found it a bother to prepare something I didn't enjoy eating so I got as far as peanut butter and jelly and then stopped, but on the other hand, writing letters was always easy, and I can remember learning language, which is what took me to forming letters like some iconography of my soul.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Third Floor Dorm
In those last several weeks you let me tell you
not to get home after midnight.
You smiled without saying anything.
We both knew it was already too late.

I brought your old clothes stored in the trunk
to Goodwill so we'd have room
to pack your things for college:
an old soccer ball, tennis shoes, a pullover,

nothing remarkable except
you removed everything from plastic bags
to reassure me you weren't throwing away stuff.
I saw there was nothing to rescue.

We needed to rent a U-haul. You didn't start packing
until I'd finished my third cup of coffee.
Your boyfriend helped. Good thing too.
By then we discovered you were on the third floor of the dorm,

as he pulled the dolly upstairs
only a few weeks before his court date
and the chance of jail time, even with a reduced sentence.
One of those stupid mistakes.

On the way outside to the commons,
you held hands with him, fingers threading.
More boxes.
We each carried our own weight.

Your boyfriend rebolted the bed higher
so you'd have more storage space.
We put on sheets. You and I looked at each other
from the corners.

Maybe tomorrow
I'll cook a pot of soup
to have for the week,
or maybe not.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I am dressed in white linen to celebrate the New Year but know that in Japan, white is the color of mourning, the color of Hiroshima, while black contains all spectrum of possibility. I am feeling brown, not shitty, but filled with the mulch of my many years, as I throw in greens, aerating myself with hope in the event that one of these days things will turn out right. I can only wonder how I smell, even though I use politically correct cosmetics that have not been tested on animals, and not really cosmetics, but more oils and lotion, and rosemary with its sharp clean scent that starches my nostrils open as I rub its essence into my scalp and touch my bush that has burned itself to a gray ash.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Moon Draught
balancing a cup of coffee
white porcelain handle
held between fingers
dappled light
from outside my patio window
in these moments before
moon disappears
and the boxcar of my day
rattles along its rails
the same way
cats meow me out of bed
for their appointed
bowl of food and fresh water

they are hungry and can do nothing
until I walk to the closet
measure a cup of food
refill their water bowl
as we both return
to our designated corners
coffee and cat food
inaugurating the day

last night the sun in the sky
appeared blood red
sinking inside a pile-up of black clouds
from fires in the south burning
around Morgan Hill
and in the north from Tahoe

there will always be fire
coffee and cat food
and then
there's that morning sun again
as I backtrack
to wanting you next to me
like a star of new shoots

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Summer of Love and Walter Lowenfels
What I remember about the radical poet, Walter Lowenfels, was his vast generosity, and commitment to the word. He wrote a book entitled, The Revolution is to be Human, a slogan which has guided my life and work. He believed that change comes from young people and nurtured those friendships throughout his lifetime, encouraging new writers at the time like Clarence Major, Marge Piercy, and Ishmael Reed. Walter also confronted the New York Times Book Review section, and wrote an editorial which was called “The White Poetry Mafia,” accusing the establishment of failing to review and publish a burgeoning group of new Black writers.

He had come from a wealthy family of butter manufacturers, but gave up the soft life to throw in his lot with the literary expatriates in Europe including Michael Fraenkel, Henry Miller and Anais Nin. Throughout his lifetime he was a member of the American Communist Party, able to reconcile his discomfort with bureaucracy with a greater commitment to change.

Visting Walter on the Hudson

Between 1966 and 1971 when I attended the City College of New York, on occasional Saturdays I’d take the railroad from Grand Central Station in New York City and visit Walter and his wife Lillian in their Peekskill, New York cottage. Once I’d arrived at the station, I’d call. In a few minutes he’d pick me up in a light blue car, almost shaking his hand loose from his wrist waving to me through the window. Then we’d drive back to the cottage where he parked between several trees, and flung open the front door. Our afternoon had begun.

For hours Walter held court in a kitchen alcove talking about different poets, anthologies he was putting together, the birds outside his window, fruit and cheese, all with equal knowledge. He was a hummingbird sampling everything within his field of energy. “Do you know this writer?” he asked. “Do you know this music?” he inquired. I sadly shook my head and accepted whatever he pushed across the table for me to examine, only able to turn a few pages before he leaped to the next subject.

Walter vibrated with palpable energy, hovering in that conversion place between matter and energy, a black beret angled over a nest of wispy grey threads that resisted encampment. He’d always serve me something to drink, lemonade or coffee, whatever was available in the kitchen, a small and narrow space which seemed to have been imported from a trailer with coffee grounds spread everywhere.

Meeting Lillian Lowenfels
His wife, Lillian, daughter of a Yiddish scholar and humorist, occasionally summoned Walter from their bedroom, or emerged herself sitting in a wheelchair. By the time I’d met Lillian, she had suffered several strokes and seemed to be held together by pillows and white cord. Her face was frozen in a permanent grimace. She always stayed for just a short time. Walter solicitously escorted her back to their bedroom. “Lillian, be careful how you move. You’ll hurt yourself.”

Lillian translated Spanish poetry and had co-edited as well as financed some of Walter’s anthologies. When he returned to the kitchen he’d point to several photographs on the piano mantle of a dark-haired siren and say, “She was so beautiful before she got sick,” as if to ask me to see beyond the woman whose body was occupied by pain.

I’d first met Walter during a Communist Party convention in New York City. During those years I’d attended so many meetings, I can’t remember the particulars, except to see a large hall with bridge tables covered in white tablecloths. It was toward the end of the summer, hopelessly hot without air conditioning. I was getting tired of speeches. I was a newly recruited youth. I wanted to be in the company of worldwide revolutionary artists who had caught my attention: Neruda, Casals, Picasso, all Pablos -- Berthold Brecht, Paul Robeson, Ben Shahn, the Hollywood 10 and many others who’d been called to testify in front of the witch-hunting McCarthy Committee including Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, and Stella Adler.

Walter was also circling the back of the hall. "Are you Lenore?" he asked, extending his hand.

Technology and Language
I’d just gotten to know Walter who was involved in editing the Cultural Commission’s publication, “Dialog Magazine,” a mash-up of the “New Masses,” which itself was modeled upon “The Masses,” published between 1911 and 1917. Walter had gotten wind of fresh blood around the Cultural Commission and always eager to befriend a young person, invited me within his circle. This was more toward the latter years of his life. (He died in 1976.) Walter was beginning to embark on a series of anthologies, excited by the success of The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest published in 1969 by Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Walter published my first poem which ended with the line, “this bioluminescence still swimming in the dark.” I was excited by the relationship between science and language. So was Walter. He wrote about it a lot in a great many of his books. From “Every Poem Is A Love Poem” included in The Portable Walter edited by Robert Gover, International Publishers, 1968:

“I am trying to break through this language to get to
Cooper-Bessemer compressors
magnetic films
without the copperbelt lining that keeps my hope
from exploding out of this typewriter,
desk, window, through the pines, down the
Little Egg Harbor River, across the
Continental Shelf...”

Or from The Poetry of My Politics, Volume 2 of My Many Lives self-published in 1968:

“My campaign against nostalgia has its base in language, i.e., to use the language of today for today’s emotions: the clean, new, scientific word, woven into the fabric of the poem so quietly the reader doesn’t sense anything but the contemporary pulse modulation. That’s the test of language – that it is alive with today’s electronics – not Ben Franklin’s kite key.”

Summer of Love
So why am I thinking of Walter?

This Labor Day Weekend past, I attended the 40th anniversary Summer of Love celebration together with 40,000 other people in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, everyone dressed in a version of the sixties, tie-dyed, tattooed, and carrying cell phones. There were clouds of a sweet-smelling substance emanating from different points from within the crowd.

Just imagine. More than 40,000 people who had streamed to the park, finding their way on public transportation or struggling with parking, babies carried on shoulders, men and women who’d been the flower children of yesteryear either as part of the Haight-Ashbury scene, a movement that put free community clinics on the map, or who had been located someplace else, and members of a younger generation now wanting to sniff the air in more ways than one; everyone hoping to reconnect with something that had been magical, to feel the spark, to be alive once again with hope. How do I know? I saw it on all of our faces. Then there was the music, lead guitarists or saxophonists from different bands, or almost fully constituted bands and by listening to them, we time traveled back to that era.

There was an ongoing effort to make the day-long celebration more than an exercise in nostalgia, people at the podium addressing a need to keep the resistance going. However, no one mentioned the word, revolution, at least none that I heard. I thought that was curious. Maybe the terrorists of the world and George Bush have co-opted that word for their own use. Or maybe we’ve become tired of hearing it.

Have we become jaded? Do we no longer believe that change can happen, or is that kind of thing only reserved for Hillary Clinton being elected president?

As for Walter, I miss his courage. I miss his ability to constantly reinvent his work and play with language. I miss his insistence on being relevant and honest about love and politics.

Today I know he’d be involved with computers, zipping along on a high-speed connection to the Internet, exploring new metaphors and keeping his light burning in face of humanity’s ongoing war with itself. I think if he was around he’d explore the meaning of this new global consciousness, how we are serving up each others culture and language through a medium that concentrates the world into a gateway that moves as we move through our lives.

In a world of literary dog-eat-dog, Walter helped anyone who was dedicated to the Word.

He heaped food on me, the first thing any young writer needs, the first thing anyone needs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Empty Nest
Everyone's asking about my empty nest and how it came to be
After 25 years of raising kids, this is what's in front of me –
a condo with a futon, a cable TV, a computer on DSL,
a kitchen with granite counter top and a litter box with its special smell.

I'm not saying I'm lonely, or want my kids to move back in.
I'm not saying the clock's ticking louder than it's ever been.
I'm not saying I expect to hear a good morning from down the hall.
I'm not saying I can't stand the quiet.
No, I'm not saying that at all.

This place has been good to my family,
not like my last roost upon a hill,
where I stayed up in a plum tree
hosing water on the evening fire drill.

Now the sirens in my life are over,
no more red lights at a cross-walk.
First things first have become second.
Tomatoes are ripening, time for sauce.

Time to build another nest, my last baby gone,
it won't be fancy, but near a stream,
one that I'm betting my last feather on,
betting my last feather on.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Party at Leona Canyon
Flowers with whiskers mewl through the night,
dance with leaves and by ten they're real tight.

Some wear latex to fish for a catch,
some want money to buy an eye patch.

Some turn around and say squeeze my chin,
pick up a rock and say stuff again.

I was there when they crept to the stream,
closed their eyes and scrolled through their dreams.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

U.S. Soldier With Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome, Post Iraq
Deeper down the tubes there's an out-of-box experience,
a self-healing fiber optic ring that offers more response time
to whatever microbrew ales you ought to be in pixels.

They removed guns pointed at our heads because
we were from the same country where the weapons were manufactured,
not because she was so good at polishing her lip with a thumbnail.

The algebra of justice knows nothing about triangulation,
only tit for tat and how we waited all night for day
as we recited bed-time stories for the dead.

God told Oprah he didn't want to pretend he's something he's not,
said his favorite team is the Purple Cobras
and his favorite hangout a little airplane hanger in Missouri,

the same place where dead bees once turned honey into sunlight
and where people now double-park for coffee or run in to get
dry cleaning and where I remain in the country of my jet lag

not knowing where I am, but knowing at the same turntable,
this has not been a good day for love or socially acceptable
narcotics. I'm in your time zone now, baby. Bad credit, no problema.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Winterwren Spring
Manzanita and red madrone
where a reflection of water flickers
on granite rock covered in its own mossy screen
for an afternoon showing of Newt Time
with catamarans of water striders floating above
the stars two newts undulating their tails around each other
throwing burbly kisses beneath a trickling stream;

now I have no idea what they're doing but I can guess
it's X-rated and none of my business
the sun shifts and the pool sinks into darkness
in these Days and Lives of my fifties
when I'll not keep my private parts to myself
finding new oils to rub the insides of my insides down with
for no audience.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Song of the Rip Tide

You ripped songs from my heart,
and copied them over to yours.

I've heard how you set them to play all.
Don't you know that's not legal?

You're not playing fair with me.
Everyone I've known always leaves.

Don't leave me now.
See me standing on the corner

with my laptop in my backpack?
Don't leave me now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Only in nothingness there is unity.
Here the off-ramp loops around.

Only beneath a glass does a butterfly
become a sepulcher of wings.

Only in the quiet of my living room
does night air breathe pagan song.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ode to Norma Leftwich

Norma, you who dared tell me what to do and knew I'd listen,
girlfriend of 50 years since the first day of second grade
when you tapped me on the shoulder to borrow a pencil
and I gave you one with an eraser.

You were a half head taller than me with three braids,
one that reached out of your forehead and over an eyebrow
you could arch into a Whitestone Bridge
whenever we needed to make a quick exit.

You were half a parallelogram and I was your other half
creating each other from the stones of our youth,
writing our names on the sidewalk in pastel chalk
washed away in thunderstorms and smelling of clean pavement.

We held hands on the subway,
rode to Manhattan and discovered ourselves in the Egyptian Room
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, far from
the polluted shores of the Bronx River, by Hunts Point Avenue
filled with the smell of the Cafe Bustelo plant and the stench of garbage.

Your father was a probation officer on the Grand Concourse
who became the first Black Senator from New York State.
My Dad made arch supports in a shop near Bellevue Hospital.
Let's face it. If you'd been white we would've never met
to sun ourselves on Orchard Beach throughout the summer
until no one could tell the difference.

We stayed in each other's sight, looked around corners
and noticed what was there before making a move.
You gave me your birthstone ring before we parted for high school
and told me to never forget you,
Norma, who, like me, said goodbye to everyone whose eyes
were closed before they could be opened.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lulu's Story
Some kids have mobiles. I’d look up at the world through bars. What Grandmother did was to find an extra refrigerator shelf from a junk shop and put it over my bed like a lid. She said she didn’t want me to fall out.

The shelf had not been well cleaned by the junk store owner. Yellow bits of dried goop dripped down toward me like so many stalactites, crusted over with ancient droppings from another place and time. It was like living in my own apartment building, above me was my Grandmother’s drawer of underwear, below me, her sweaters. From the time I was around three months old I stared at a refrigerator shelf after my mother, Hilda, had dropped me off at Grandmother’s house for good.

Once I learned how to sit up, I could see my Grandmother's bed that was without the same bars which covered my own sleeping quarters; however, a strangely shaped bag attached to a long-nosed tail was draped across her headboard.

There was nothing on her bed I could see that resembled a blanket, which next to the refrigerator shelf was the other constant in my life, a piece of green cotton hemmed in by a darker moss green satin with a coolness that I liked to rub against my gums. The room consisted primarily of her bed, a lamp table, and the chest of drawers, the floor covered in brown linoleum-looking tile that faded around the edge of the room to white.

Of course, back then I didn’t have words for these things—they were sensations and feelings, a conviction about stripes, which is how everything appeared as I lay on my back.

My vision was segmented; I reconstructed pieces—a dress hanging from the closet door looked like flagged swatches of blue and white. The goop on the shelf, probably freeze-dried orange juice, gave me something to look at, a texture that moved whenever I blinked my eyes, whereas the plaster cracks in my Grandmother’s bedroom ceiling never changed. There was also the white moon of her washbasin, always on the floor, and the lace doilies that hung over a chest of drawers. I carefully studied the crocheted pattern that wrapped itself into petals, but it was the refrigerator shelf that captured my attention mostly because it shared my existence the way nothing else in my Grandmother’s room did. I clutched the blanket to my side and reached out with my fingers, and tried to touch the bars.

I always knew that I wanted to make music--if I could find a way for the waxy orange and the brown crusts to make sounds, they would keep me company while Grandmother sat on the toilet in the bathroom until I heard the water gurgle and the lid fall down, two sounds that signaled her appearance above me. When I looked up, there she was through the grille. She bent down toward me and removed the shelf. I saw her full face now, flesh dug deep into a trench of wrinkles that moved from the corners of her hazel eyes toward her chin, the line of her lips snaked upward trying to camouflage a mouth. But nothing about the refrigerator bars had prepared me to understand how some event in my Grandmother’s life had caused those two halves of her lips to break apart.

Whenever she held me I knew it was to feed me, but the refrigerator bars gave me love. Whenever she shook the green blanket over me at night it was to keep me warm, but the refrigerator bars gave me comfort. Whenever she called my name, “Lulu, Lulu,” it was to get my attention, but she didn’t hear the sound of my name washing over itself. She was too busy covering herself with liquids and creams, tickling smells that caused my brown hairs to stand up and cast shadows along the length of my arm; her lamp table was covered with bottles, jars, tubes, and faces in photographs whose names she'd intone to herself in a quiet prayer, Moishe, Leah.

Sometimes Grandmother’d pick me up, bounce me around several times, and wait for a response that I wasn't able to give, like a doll whom you expect to cry “Mama, Mama,” when you push a button on its back. I wanted to please her and smiled. I can remember her eyes softening as she pulled me closer. Mostly all she’d say was, “I’mprotactingudarklink.” Then she’d put me down and walk away. After she left, I sucked on my hands and fingers and they tasted good.

Later I discovered my feet that propelled themselves upward from my hip sockets and lunged forward. One day as I lay on my back, my toes were wild bandits pressed against the cold metal; I couldn’t stop moving them until I actually balanced the refrigerator grille on the soles of my feet, and watched the metal shelf turn around, spin, then drop, clink on the tiled floor. I was so happy, my feet touched and rubbed against each other. I heard them squeak. I hugged their softness. I told myself, “Lulu, remember this.”

It was Chanel who remembered. She was the girl inside my head Chanel. She always knew I wanted to make music. She’s the reason I’m being interviewed today on satellite hookup. I’ve waited to tell my story because it took a lifetime to understand the shape of my desire.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Since the moon humbled herself

Since the moon humbled herself to rule by night
The universe decreed that when she comes forth,
stars shall come forth with her,
and when she goes in, they shall go in with her.

Tonight stars have taken a break.
They have been replaced by sound.
I hear breath and cars below.
I go no where. I turn inside my hollow.

Moon and her consorts are mist.
Striated bands of Jupiter are blue.
Other planets are at ease
for they have their own round moons.

Once again I have nothing,
nothing but the back light.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

To Mischa on Her Graduation from High School,
June 3, 2007

What can I say my earthquake girl
who's about to put your first long leg behind you
yeah, I can't believe it's happened so fast,
that's what we parents all say...

You grew up with your cheeks smeared with oatmeal
played with Barbies wanted to do arts and crafts
on the kitchen table, but never to pull out weeds in the backyard,
smothered your cat Curtains with kisses, went from tap-dancing
to swimming to acrobatics where you hated the splits
until you found soccer and stayed constant, covered your entire bed
with stickers from the drug-store, stole nail polish from Long's
and did hard time in the back room on a white stool, turned orator
on Martin Luther King Day and won a medal.

We went everywhere did everything together threw frisbees
and played with ball paddles near Joaquin Miller Park,
swam in Robert's Pool, fed ducks at Lake Merritt,
camped by a stream at Mt Lassen and saw the earth steam
through its nostrils. You let me take you to the museum
until you got old enough to like clothing better...
I'd already watched you tuck red hyacinths
behind your ear before you could
look into a mirror and know who was there.

We had birthday parties and made a witch's cake with
disgusting jello brains,
every Halloween you became someone else
and collected bags of candy
that I let you keep for a day as a dental preventative,
the beginning of my being mean and weird.

I stood with you on the bima at your bat mitzvah,
and how we both washed up
at a new place and helped each other to dry off,
how you started to babysit, wore braces
until you got them removed,
then started to drive and work at a job
where you were making money to pay
for your own clothing, felt your heart rupture
for the first time and found out again what it meant to cry.

We drove through Death Valley to look at wildflowers
and slept in the car to hide from the wind,
and in these last several years I've watched you
wield a lacrosse cradle in your firm hand,
away to Mexico to speak in another tongue,
fall in love again, fill out college applications until you are standing
at a place where I will always be for you, but cannot follow.

Remember the things I've tried to teach you in my own weird way,
to celebrate who you are and to choose to be with people who can
celebrate with you. Work hard. Make the world
a better place. Life is filled with memories,
each a jewel on a golden strand. Wear them all well.

Monday, May 21, 2007

8Soliloquy Between Closed and Open

I go to the living room
where the tv glares,
and decide whether to turn it off,

or choose a book to read,
when I hear a knock
that disrupts the surface of the door.

Here's a portal leading to the kitty litter box
then to a geranium shining
in full red bloom.

I've been dealt worse.
Shut up, girl.
Just open the door.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Freedom of Speech

7. Peace Process

Person 1: You said you were going to park your car over there and you didn't. Why do we even bother having these discussions?
Person 2: I don't remember saying that. You must be confusing me with someone else.
Person 3: Anywhere you get Linux clusters you're going to see scalable distributed storage systems.
Person 1: I absolutely remember your saying that.
Person 2: But I have to dodge baseballs flying over the fence from the playground.
Person 3: You can never outsource strategy.
Person 1: That's not the point. You agreed and now you're going back on your word.
Person 2: It's something you wanted me to agree to. There's a big difference. I never really agreed.
Person 3: The Incas had no wheel, no arch and no system of writing. But they knew how to twist and braid countless miles of grasses and slender branches into ropes--sometimes as thick as a wrestler's waist.
Person 1: If you come to a table, you sit down.
Person 2: This is not my day.
Person 3: Stand-up routines hover at the brink of comedy.
Person 1: Now you're talking nonsense.
Person 2: I don't see why I can't use your driveway. It's big enough, and you only have one car. The kids always come out of the playground and leave wads of gum stuck to my windshield.
Person 3: I 'm very appreciative of all the supportive mail and comments!
Person 1: Move your parking problem somewhere else, and stop making it my problem!
Person 2: I've lived here longer than you...burned trees in my fireplace that were growing where your driveway is now.
Person 3: The Product Management role will go away entirely and make it easier to drive data directly to the developers.
Person 1. Does that give you parking rights?
Person 2: I have street cred.

(A baseball comes flying from across the street and bounces in the middle of the three persons. Person 2 catches the ball and throws it back.)

Person 1: You've got a strong arm.
Person 2: I didn't get it from lifting weights in the backyard.
Person 3: Scientists introduced a machine that can read human intentions.
Person 1: Now you're trying to screw with me.
Person 2: I'm so sick of this.
Person 3: Ich w√ľnsche Sie schlecht.
Person 1: I think the homeowners association would like to know the facts.
Person 2: Go ahead! It says in the rules that driveways are to be shared between two cars of differing license plates and colors.
Person 3: To hell with the homeowner's association!
Person 1: What did you say?
Person 2: Who asked you?
Person 3: I want to fix up my car with tinted windows, a stereo system, and a statue of Mary on the dashboard.

(Another baseball comes flying from across the street and bounces in the middle of the three persons. Person 1 catches the ball and throws it back.)

Person 1: Who knows what they're going to throw over here next.
Person 2: That's what I've been trying to tell you! Right now it's baseballs, but you have no idea what they're capable of. Why do you think I want to park here? Believe me, it's not out of love.
Person 3: The Java posse invited him talk at the user conference scheduled for next month at the Simian Ranch.
Person 1: I've seen what they can do.
Person 2: I'm getting nervous. Yesterday the police were giving hardened criminals tours of our neighborhood. One of the cops said that this place is so ghetto, even the wire fences are rusted.
Person 3: A skeleton with techno brats under the nightstick was offed in theatrical portions with their protein guns set on glue.
Person 1: I'm not surprised.
Person 2: You wonder what this world is coming to.
Person 3: Parking labels.
Person 1: A forced settlement?
Person 2: What are you trying to say?
Person 3: Alternate side of the street parking.
Person 1: Just like that?
Person 2: Cool your bootheels in the freezer department, fella. Now what are we going to talk about?
Person 3: May I interest you in a Rolex? Old-school, I know, but damned stylish with the right laptop.

(Opens his coat to reveal many watches. Another baseball comes flying from across the street. Person 1 & 2 started chase Person 3 into the school yard.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Freedom of Speech

6. Take-out!

Person 1: (Standing in front of a microphone.) Go on. Say anything you want. This is a free country.
Person 2: (remains silent.)
Person 1: The first thing that pops into your head. It's only a rehearsal.
Person 2: (remains silent)
Person 1: Really. Just open your mouth and say anything. Anything you want.
Person 2. (opens his mouth and makes a brief sound.)
Person 1: Good. That was a start.
Person 2: (Steps in front of the microphone and taps it several times.)
Person 1: After not meeting for a year, the General Assembly will want to hear what you have to say. Go ahead. Take a practice shot.
Person 2: (Holds the microphone and makes another sound. Then steps away.)
Person 1: A sound is good. Words are vibrations. Just open your mouth and start wailing.
Person 2: I.......
Person 1: C'mon, buddy. It's almost lunch-time. I wanna get myself something to eat before the crowd rolls in.
Person 2:
Person 1: You're gonna do fine. You've got alot of support. People died so you could stand behind this podium. And three of them were my buddies, all operatives. Guys with families.
Person 2: Thank you.
Person 1: They'll all be applauding, hooting their heads off, jumping up and down to see how your shit is tucked inside your pants.
Person 2: It's good to be here today.
Person 1: You're on a roll. Now show 'em who's boss!
Person 2: Ppppplease be seated.
Person 1: Oh, they'll like that. Shows courtesy, a hospitality. Nice touch. Of course we all know about that sort of thing, hospitality. We just take less time to do it. We like 'em in and out, you know what I mean? But then we bring gifts. Give out hats at the main gate. Jeans aren't as big as they once were. Manufacturing's gone to the dogs, I mean abroad.
Person 2: I see.
Person 1: Gee, I'm hungry. I wish there was some take-out around here.
Person 2: Take out?
Person 1: You go to a restaurant, put in an order and then take it out. You dig? So you don't have to sit around in some joint. It saves time. Even better, you call on the phone first, put in your order, and then arrive and pay. Take-out...Okay, so let's hear the rest of it. You know what to say.
Person 2: I've never spoken in public before.
Person 1: Oh Mary, Jesus, Joseph. Never spoken in public before? And this is the guy we put on the hot seat! Those idiots down at headquarters really need to have their heads examined. And three guys killed, tell me what for?
Person 2: You volunteered to be my coach.
Person 1: Coach, right. Let's get back to it.
Person 2: You were going to help with my speech.
Person 1: Put one word in front of the other and try not to trip. That's the secret. Exude confidence. Why do you think we have so many actors back in the States turned politicos? People love someone who's walked down the red carpet. Get your licorice stick in gear.
Person 2: Like this? (Adopts a stance.) Or this? (Adopts another stance.)
Person 1: Fine, fine. But it's how you sound that's important. You ever heard about the talkies?
Person 2: (Shakes his head.)
Person 1: I have to teach you everything. That's before the movies, they had these silent film stars batting their eyelashes. Once the talkies came in, they had to sound like something. And you've got to sound like something. You've got to convince people you're not just another American puppet. You've got to show 'em you believe in free speech!
Person 2: But what if the bride has moved inside my house without a proposal? How do I know if I can trust her?
Person 1: This is no kind of wedding shit. Deal with your personal life somewhere's else. Free speech man, that's what people have died for.
Person 2: I'm already married.
Person 1: Then what are we talking about?
Person 2: So my mouth is free to speak?
Person 1: You betcha.
Person 2: It seems, my self-enamored sir, you are the one who likes to do all the talking.
Person 1: (No response.)
Person 2: Or did you want to order a certain kind of speech? Something upbeat, sprinkled with a few jokes to ignore the obvious facts?
Person 1: Don't be ridiculous! You know what we need! A call to the opposing forces to cooperate with us on the ground. How many times must I go over this?
Person 2: Take out!

(Person 1 signals to the back of the auditorium. Two guards come and drag Person 1 away from the microphone. Another officer approaches Person 2 with a pizza box. He sits down and opens it, and begins to eat.)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Freedom of Speech

5. Online Daters

Man: Drive?
Woman: Stretch.
Man: Walk?
Woman: Catch.
Man: Bike?
Woman: Sit.
Man: Go.
Woman: No!
Man: Yes.
Woman: Stay.
Man: Huh?
Woman: Eat?
Man: Ball.
Woman: Play.
Man: In.
Woman: Now?
Man: Right.
Woman: Rain.
Man: Stain.
Woman: Shirt.
Man: Pants.
Woman: Plaque.
Man: Huh?
Woman: Sweet.
Man: Swing.
Woman: Sue
Man: Mike.
Woman: Meant.
Man: Ann?
Woman: Lynn.
Man: Meet.
Woman: New.
Man: Tree.
Woman: Climb.
Man: Swing.
Woman: Waltz.
Man: Split.
Woman: Huh?
Man: More.
Woman: (Says nothing.)
Man: Big.
Woman: Room.
Man: Pain.
Woman: Drain?
Man: More.
Woman: Gee.
Man: Whiz.
Woman: Kid.
Man: Man.
Woman: Nice.
Man: Splice.
Woman: Two?
Man: Help.
Woman: Kelp.
Man: Sea.
Woman: Free.
Man: Gone.
Woman: Pawn?
Man: New.
Woman: Try.
Man: Work.
Woman: Time.
Man: Ahhhhhhhhhh!
Woman: Ahhhhhhhhhh?
Man: (Says nothing.)
Woman: Mouth.
Man: Word.
Woman: Last.
Man: Ahhhhhhhhhh!
Woman: Ohhhhhhhhhh!
Man: Yes.
Woman: More?
Man: Bahhhhhhhhhh!
Woman: Bahhhhhhhhhh?
Man: Bahhhhhhhhhh!
Woman: Pooooooow!
Man: Doooooooooo!
Woman: Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Man: Briiiiiiiiiinnnnng!
Woman: Loooooooooose!
Man: More.
Man: No.
Woman: Puuuuusssssh!
Man. Good.
Woman: I
Man: Love
Woman: It
Man: When
Woman: You
Man: Talk
Woman: To
Man: Me
Woman: Like
Man: Thaaaaattttt!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Freedom of Speech

4. Lost on the Street

Man: Say, lady. The light is red.
Woman: What has that to do with me?
Man: If you like your life.
Woman: You don't know anything about my life.
Man: The light is red, and there's a lot of traffic. See those cars? How 'bout waiting for the green?
Woman: You one of those do-gooders? One of those people who stick their nosey where they shouldn't gosey? I've seen plenty like you. Tell 'em from a mile away. Sir, soup's on, but we ain't got no oyster crackers, and I'm meaning to get some at the Rite-Aide over yonder. Got me a coupon right here. (She pats her breast pocket and pulls out a toothpick.)
Man: You far-sighted or hard of hearing or what?
Woman: Can't you understand what I'm saying to you, sonny?
Man: If you want to kill yourself at the corner of Broadway and East 14th, I suppose it's as good a place as any. Sure. Why not?
Woman: I can stick this right in your eye right now. (Challenges him to a duel with the toothpick.)
Man: You got a nice toothpick there. First class.
Woman: Aarf! Aarf! And for your information, I've got 10 more where this one came from in my pocket. Dum-de-dum. I thought you were more bright.
Man: I saw a man last week who threw himself under the bus wearing his backpack. The bus driver missed him by this much. Heck, if I wanted to commit suicide, I'd just take a bunch of pills and go to bed with my magazines.
Woman: A suicide pact with your magazines? Pity the magazines and kill the editors. What's wrong, darling? You seem like such a nice young man.
Man: The light's green now.
Woman: I don't want to go.
Man: Not me either.
Woman: I'm going! Fooled ya!
Man: Actually, I'm waiting for the bus.
Woman: Going to the post office?
Man: Uh, no.
Woman: David Letterman, I'm stuck on you.
Man: Not going for the green light?
Woman: Gold. See how my nippples are like bronze medals. (Heaves out a breast from her white blouse.) I would've put them in first place myself.
Man: Ma'dam, put that thing away!

(The bus pulls up, and the driver exits for a smoke. A few passengers, including the Man, get on board. Woman looks at the green light. Boards the bus . Sits down in the empty seat next to the Man.)

Man: Back so soon?
Woman: I forgot.
Man: were undressing in public.
Woman: It was a worm that slipped away.
Man: ...something about oyster crackers in your soup.
Woman: That's perfectly ridiculous.
Man: You were crossing the street to the Ride-Aide.
Woman: C'mon. You sure you're not making this up?
Man: Look lady. I have my own problems.
Woman: It was aspic.
Man: Maybe a Pop Tart? A gallon of Gatorade?
Woman: Early onset of oblong aspic.
Man: Drugstores don't carry aspic. Maybe in a specialty gourmet store, but you're not going to find one in this neighborhood. I think your best bet is to find some gelatin--stir it around with a spoon in hot water and let it dissolve.
Woman: They say I'm losing my mind.
Man: Who's they?
Woman: Dr. Drake.
Man: The TV doctor? I think I know him.
Woman: Poor thing. Are you losing your mind, too? Or have you caught mad cowboy disease, and the docs can't do anything about it for four more years?
Man: They think it's an advanced cancer. But they're not sure. The doctors want me to take another test.

(The bus driver re-enters the bus and starts the engine.)

Woman: I'm losing my keys, and the ones I have don't fit anymore.
Man: They say memory's the second thing to go.
Woman: The first?
Man: No one knows the score anymore.
Woman: Look at that guy sitting in front drinking water. Can you guess how much a bottle costs ?
Man: I've got a coupon in my pocket for water. Here, you take it.
Woman: A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow...
Man: I guess this is where I transfer. (Gets up to exit.)
Woman: (Takes the coupon.) Excuse me, blubber-nose. Do I know you?

(Man exits from the bus. Woman stuffs the coupon in her pocket and moves to the empty seat next to the man drinking a bottle of water. The driver pulls out from the stop.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Freedom of Speech

3. Conversation Under Water

Scuba 1: Fish can only hide behind each other.
Scuba 2: Glub, glub.
Scuba 3: Blub.
Scuba 1: Don't you guys have anything to say?
Scuba 2: Glub, glub.
Scuba 3: Blub.
Scuba 1: I said, (louder) fish can only hide behind each other.
Scuba 2: Oh.
Scuba 3: Oh.
Scuba 1. Don't you guys have anything else to say beside, "Glub, blub, and Oh?"
Scuba 2: Glub, glub.
Scuba 3: Blub.
Scuba 1: The Big One's gonna come and sweep us away. Oxygen tanks will sink to the bottom. Hoses will float to the top with just a red pool to mark our dive.
Scuba 2: I told you we shouldn't take him along. Now he's going to start crying in the middle of the ocean.
Scuba 3: Salt tears.
Scuba 1: In the end, we're gonna get our just desserts.
Scuba 2: Honey money!
Scuba 3. Shark alert.
Scuba 1: You see what I mean! (Starts swimming away.)
Scuba 2: No, you fool. Stay put.
Scuba 3: There's more accessories in numbers.
Scuba 1: He's touching my hand. He's gonna eat me.
Scuba 2: Just pretend like you don't see him.
Scuba 3: Stop bubbling.
Scuba 1: Gee. Thanks. That was close.
Scuba 2: The shark's gone.
Scuba 3: Don't worry. Remember your position in the food chain.
Scuba 1: That's what I'm afraid of.
Scuba 2: Dang! I don't believe we're having this conversation.
Scuba 3: We're not, really.

(A shark swims past them again. They hold hands and tread water.)

Scuba 1: The skin of my teeth.
Scuba 2: No, not me.
Scuba 3: Sort of.
Scuba 1: Look at all these shipwrecks below us! Scientists want to dig; developers build.
Scuba 2: Fish gotta fly.
Scuba 3: Make mine a job at the permit office. That's what I call steady employment.
Scuba 1: I don't know how much longer I can keep rescuing this muck from the past. Dredging up columns, buildings, cities. And what good does it do?
Scuba 2: Don't sweat it....
Scuba 3. We get paid.
Scuba 1: To spend most of our lives under water.
Scuba 2: What's his beef now?
Scuba 3: Call it diver's dipsey.
Scuba 1: Diver's dipsey?
Scuba 2: Glub, blub, blub.
Scuba 3: Glub, blub, blub.
Scuba 1: Just take up space and breathe.
Scuba 2: Natch. I'm doing what I do best.
Scuba 3: Hose to hose and belly to belly.
Scuba 1: Don't tank now! Here comes the Great White!
Scuba 2: I don't see a thing.
Scuba 3: You're hallucinating. You're crazy.
Scuba 1: No, no. Turn around and look in front of you. God, I've never seen such big teeth.
Scuba 2: Don't move!
Scuba 3: Je le n'existe pas.
Scuba 1: Philosophy won't help you now.
Scuba 2: Holy Abalone!

(The Great White Shark swallows them. Oxygen tanks sink to the bottom. Air hoses float to the top. I forgot to mention the red pool.)

Scuba 1: I think we nailed it this time.
Scuba 2: Shark emergency preparedness training.
Scuba 3: Man, that was the best. Gave me a rush.
Scuba 1: My elevator's going through the top floor.
Scuba 2: Mr. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Scuba 3: Right.
Scuba 1: Right.
Scuba 2: That was our best time.
Scuba 3: It was also the worst time.
Scuba 1: No way.
Scuba 2: Gotcha.

(They all start laughing. Barb, the Shark Woman, takes off her shark head and joins the divers for a bottle of water on the pier.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Freedom of Speech

2. Conversation On Line

Person 1: The line is longer than it was last weekend but shorter than it was two days ago.
Person 2: However, it’s much longer than the tail of a fox.
Cashier: Paper or plastic?
Person 1: I believe, my dear Madame, you’ve been standing in line for too long.
Person 2: (She has various thoughts, but none of them concrete.)
Cashier: Sunday grocery shopping at the Bowl.
Person 1: Autumn in New York.
Person 2. Are you from the east coast?
Cashier: Roll ‘em, roll ‘em.
Person 1: I guess you could say that.
Person 2: (Laughs.) I’m glad I did.
Cashier: (To someone else in line.) D’you need help out?
Person 1: I’ve got errands to run.
Person 2: Bub, maybe they’re running you.
Cashier: Paper or plastic?
Person 1: In an hour, you’ll be sorry you said that.
Person 2: In an hour, I won’t be looking at your sorry face.
Cashier: Sunday grocery shopping
Person 1: I think the line is shorter than it was last weekend, but longer than the one from here to the parking lot.
Person 2: You know, that’s the first intelligent thing I've heard. Suddenly, I'm feeling very attached to you.
Cashier: (To someone else in line.) D’you need help out?
Person 1: Thanks. We could be dating online.
Person 2: Nothing like a beautiful day.
Cashier: Roll ‘em, roll ‘em.
Person 1: Nothing can’t be like anything else.
Person 2. A beautiful day is serene.
Cashier: Like Sunday grocery shopping.
Person 1: Now we’re getting some where.
Person 2: We?
Cashier: Paper or plastic?
Person 1: Who asked you?

(Shopping carts of persons one and two move closer to the cash register. Person 1 is eye-to-eye with the credit card entry machine.)

Cashier: I'm a person you have to reckon with.
Person 1: That's to be seen.
Person 2: (from behind) One word singes another.
Cashier: Did you find everything all right?
Person 1: Oranges, apples, a baguette with seeds, vegetables in an assortment of green guises, organic and otherwise.
Person 2: Don't beget. You're holding up the line.
Cashier: I asked if he found everything all right. We're supposed to ask. If I don't, I could get the coboots from the manager.
Person 1: For example, this carrot. Springy, good color, nice carrot shape.
Person 2: I agree. The Internet totally sucks. Shop here to satisfy all your erotic needs.
Cashier: Aisle?
Person 1: (Doesn't say anything.)
Person 2: Oh, Bobbie.
Cashier: Do you two know each other?
Person 1: Paper, please.

(A youngster rides his tricycle up and down the aisles delivering newspapers. Someone in line catches a paper and starts reading it.)

Cashier: The line is getting shorter the longer we keep talking.
Person 1: Then we should keep talking.
Person 2: As long as we can agree.
Cashier: The line is getting shorter as to the number of actual people, however, their shopping carts appear more full. That's the way I see it.
Person 1: You're a force to be reckoned with.
Person 2: Sunday grocery shopping.
Cashier: Sunday grocery shopping.
Person 1: Roll 'em, roll 'em.
Person 2: D'you need help out?

(Persons 1 & 2 wheel their carts out to the parking lot together as the Cashier ducks behind the Girl Scout Coookie table for a quick smoke. The Manager watches. You scratch your head.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

To Be an American Jew in the 21st Century

To be an American Jew in the 21st century
is to be offered a choice. If we decide to look aft
and watch our children drown at the mall
as the path of centuries warps
from spirit to thing, our homes collection plates
for eating fruit with the luscious bloom of preservatives,
then we forfeit the generations.

If we choose not to remain silent,
but urge daredom, even at the water's short fringe
where the sand is suffused black, there
to sketch out the face of peace,
a mouth, a nose, an ear,
repeating our desire like a song of syllables.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Freedom of Speech

1. Conversation on the Air Plane

Aisle seat: I wish the place would take off.
Window: Cranberry juice.
Middle: (Shuts off his cellphone and music plays "I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane.")
Aisle seat: Water for me without a cup.
Window: You're curious.
Middle: Look out.

The captain steps into the aisle with a deck of cards and introduces himself. He says his wife thinks that he his handsome. Passsengers lift their heads to see what she sees in him.

Aisle seat: We're not at the bottom of the deep blue sea.
Window: Au contraire.
Middle: Everyone knows about the Wright Brothers.
Aisle seat: This airline is a money shaker.
Window: Of course it does.
Middle: How d'you know?
Aisle seat: We're sitting in our seats. We're buckled in. How come?
Window: I like reading the Journal and counting my investments.
Middle: A person has to be able to count. Case in point.
Aisle seat: (Takes a swig from a water bottle and puts it on the tray table in an upright position.)
Window: We fill our seats like a repetitive stress injury.
Middle: Hey, give me a good AA meeting any day of the week. I'll go.
Aisle seat: My husband was.
Window: Madam?
Middle: A carbuncle grows in Brooklyn. But that's not where I'm headed.
Aisle seat: Let's hope we fly right and straighten up.
Window: None of my business. But I still like Mary Blige.
Middle: And you, sir, have no predecessors?

(An airplane attendant announces that the crew is getting ready for take-off and everyone assumes a 45 degree angle.)

Aisle seat: I'm feeling sick.
Window: You can't.
Middle: You can't feel sick.
Aisle seat: But I do.
Window: There are no air bags.
Middle: They went the way of watercress in salad.
Aisle seat: Which?
Window: The airlines cut corners and made doilies. So you can't be sick. You can use the bathroom. You're in the aisle. Take advantage of your position.
Aisle seat: What are you insinuating?
Window: (Opens a laptop and starts tapping on the keys.)
Middle: Quite, quite. Appreciate the things you have in life. One day leads to others. Enormously.
Aisle seat: When did the airlines stop providing air bags? I'm going to ring the bell.
Window: You're in no position to do that.
Middle: And you?
Aisle seat: Please don't answer a question with a question. That's what my kids do.
Window: I might be a kid at heart. Or just a kid. You'll never know.
Middle: Answer the question, man.
Aisle seat: I don't understand how the air bags could have disappeared, vanished, with none of us noticing. how could something like that happen overnight without the tea boiling over? It upsets me. It sets me on edge. I suddenly feel very tense.
Window: These things happen. Not a lot of us get sick anymore and if we do, we want a health plan.
Middle: A non-smoking flight that turns over a new leaf without a single bud? Scary.

(The captain announces that the plane has just climbed to 10,000 feet, and that it is still climbing.)

Aisle seat: I asked for water.
Window: Thanks.
Middle: Someone's got to pop the question.
Aisle seat: Do I look like a Fulfillment Prophet Center?
Window: That would be my job. But I still like to paint.
Middle: Depends how you look.
Aisle seat: Fundamentally.
Window: Don't choke up on the honey peanuts now.
Middle: Consider the lack of food. Since 9/11, no one wants to eat on airplanes.
Aisle seat: Not, nottie. Before 9 /11, they still served food in the air corridors.
Window: Oh, of course in the beginning, it was about attracting the most customers. But now everything's fallen off the margin.
Middle: Make mine margarine. But really...
Aisle seat: So what you're saying is ...
Window: Exactly.
Middle: More like we all hated airplane food. But there wasn't a critical mass at air traffic control. So they kept serving boxes.
Aisle seat: Then there was the vegetarian option.
Window: Even so...
Middle: Until one day, meals were gone. We'd reached the vanishing point, and quickly did an Einstein. Did any of us care? No, we wondered why we'd hadn't thought of it sooner. Not eating made sense. It was like a national holiday without a day off.
Aisle seat: Change can be good when it comes in small bills.

(The pilot announces that he's turned off the "Fasten Your Seatbelt Sign." He asks for volunteers to help clean up the popcorn in the aisles.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Caterpillar

I listened to you listening around the dinner table when we visited Aunt Clara whom you wrote about in your letters to your young wife, my mother-to-be, Olga, about her stuck-up sister who hardly drove to the Bronx because she and her husband, Jack, worried about their car parked outside being broken into; but we always went there and you were polite and blotted your mouth with a napkin, and listened to Aunt Clara describe her work with B'nai Brith, and Uncle Jack who liked being involved so he could get more business, and let them talk about planting trees along a boulevard in Jerusalem, making the Holy Land into a Suburbia; azaleas and rose bushes grew in their backyard, gladiolas, flaming torches.

We lived in the Bronx in the Hunts Point Section that drooped into the Bronx River where they later built an addition to the Fulton Fish Market behind P.S. 48 where I went to elementary school. The block was the street but Israel was another country. I knew about it, a place where the Jews in Europe went after World War II, hugging the edge of a boat in striped pajamas. I could take a subway to Manhattan and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I could take a bus from Pelham Bay Park and go to Orchard Beach. I walked there once from the subway station and a strange man followed me along the rushes to the beach. My mother never knew.

My cousins were much older than I and had braces that shone like the Star of Bethlehem. They wore organza dresses to their proms and had proms. There was an attic in their house with boxes that smelled of mothballs. Uncle Jack took pictures of us at every holiday with a 16 millimeter camera and showed them on a white screen in the basement that had a shuffleboard court painted on the smooth cement floor. We used “pucks” to play the game. They had a bar. During the summer Aunt Clara sometimes served us dinner in an enclosed porch where I could see the fireflies and drink orange soda from tall aluminum glasses that were purple and green. Once she gave me a book as a present.

My father worked six days a week in his shop near Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. Then he worked five days a week like everyone else and on Saturday morning went to Orchard Beach to do acrobatics with his Hungarian friends. When my parents had their 25th wedding anniversary we celebrated in Aunt Clara and Uncle Jack’s basement where my parents’ friends drove and parked far from the house so Olga and Marty wouldn’t get wise to what was happening. Everyone shouted “surprise” when they came down the stairs. It was their silver anniversary. Platters braided in silver handles shone in white tissue paper.

Our apartment needed to be dusted every Saturday morning. There were cockroaches in the kitchen, babies that my mother squashed when they rushed out from beneath the dials of the stove, and sang her song about "Poor Little Fly Upon the Wall." We had linoleum, not floors. My Aunt Clara and Uncle Jack visited Israel. They went on vacations. During the winter, they flew to Florida and brought back alligator purses. To close mine, I had to press hard against the alligator's mouth. I never could make it close.

We didn't live in Port Chester where we could drive to Playland near Rye Beach and go on rides, especially The Caterpillar whose skin blew open with a hot burst of air and then covered us on the next curve in bluish silk. Israel was like Port Chester, far away from me but related. We didn't talk about Israel at family gatherings because we wanted to get along. I listened to my father listening. He didn't know how to make money with his strong hands; he was always the bottom man, holding up pyramids of acrobats. Other people depended upon him and he found a balance between what he wanted, and what he could live with.

I wanted him to have more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

New Grimmerling Start

Around the start of Spring 2007, an incident occurred in Oakland, California that appeared on the front page in the newspaper for several days. The newspaper reflected the increduality of a woman’s close family and friends who witnessed her being gunned down and killed by an abusive husband in front of a church where she’d arrived as usual for Sunday morning service. But even more than the horror of watching this happen, there was a disbelief about how this had happened at all.

Day after day, the newspaper painted the portrait of a 40 year-old woman who was loving, hardworking, and professional. People recounted how she always wore sleek hairdos and dressed to impress. Newspapers reported that she was confident, assertive, and worked two jobs. As a real estate agent, she’d personally managed to acquire six homes.

A friend described her by saying, “She was like a Rolls Royce…All you needed to do was look at her and you knew that she had class.”

Her friends also remembered a deeply religious woman who carried scriptures in her purse and sometimes shared a reading if another co-worker was having a bad day. But few knew that she hid a secret. Court records showed that for two decades she'd struggled with domestic violence. There was a shocking gap between her success in the world and the reality of her home life. Following the arrest of her husband and an emotional funeral, a question rose up from the newsprint and the community—how could such a smart and driven woman remain in such an abusive relationship?

For several days I read these reports and cut out the articles, placing them on a corner of my desk until I realized that I was responding to certain similarities within my own story. Of course, my situation was much less extreme, but this woman’s death raised familiar questions. How do so many of us, particularly women, manage to function in physically and psychologically damaging relationships without getting the help we need? And how can the people who are closest to us not realize the issues that we are struggling with?

Unlike the woman in the news reports, I did not struggle with domestic violence. Instead I lived with ongoing verbal abuse for more than two decades from a man whose life was controlled by alcohol and childhood wounds that he was unable to heal.

From the outside, our relationship looked like love. But for years, I began my day by wrestling with the issue of my marriage. Should I leave or should I stay? Those thoughts preoccupied me. They drained energy and caused me to withdraw into myself. After finally reaching a point where I was unable to retreat further, I left my husband who died shortly afterward. In grieving for him and our lost lives together, I also began a journey to understand why I choose to remain in an unhealthy marriage. Why did I do it? Was it because of the children? Was it because I was afraid?

I think the crux of my issue was that for me there was no real choice. I had built a trap from materials that I didn’t even understand, materials that are not available at the supermarket or lumberyard. They were more intricate and cunning and fabricated out of my own being and needs, wrapped together with invisible threads and as such, I was unable to recognize or to speak of them to others. Or maybe it’s more accurate to speak of them as swaddling clothes, a family cocoon that shaped me into having certain expectations of what was comfortable and familiar, which I then sought to recreate in my primary relationships. I also believe that I was bequeathed certain gifts, which as an adult, allowed me to reach toward more understanding, the way the fairies at Rose Red’s birth each granted her a certain strength or curse. As she matured, those positive and negative gifts helped to cancel each other out.

I’m not sure that my life could have unfolded in any other way because how could I as a child be conscious about my own upbringing? I also think different children probably respond differently to the same circumstances, part of the nature or nurture argument, but having to do in this instance with a kind of learning that shapes how we make choices and then live with them.

Growing up, there was something deep within myself which I needed to heal. I needed to spring myself free from my own trap, but even with the intervention of counseling and drug programs, I was unable to do so. Self-help books took me walking step-by-step, but it was not where I needed to go. Clinical psychology books put me to sleep in front of the television. I was unable to recognize myself in literature from Alcoholics Anonymous. Like the woman in the newspaper story, I’d built an outside shell to keep the truth not just from others, but from myself.

I’d graduated with an MA degree in Creative Writing and worked for years as a technical writer, periodically changing jobs for reasons of advancement, but also with a nagging sensation about wanting to change something more basic. I participated as a PTA member, went on field trips, volunteered in different organizations, and served on synagogue committees. I continued to layer my inner disquiet with a layer of normalcy. But the veneer clouded. After my husband died, I wasn’t sure how to rearrange the shattered pieces of my life, or if they should be rearranged at all. I only knew I needed to recognize my own truth.

So I set out to write this book. I didn’t want it to be a story of blame. There was so much I loved about my husband who was also the father of my children. I wanted the book to be a personal story that didn’t draw upon the clinical language of dysfunctional families. To heal myself, I needed to return to that place where as a writer I'd first encountered story, which was within the fairytale. I think the idea of being asleep for a very long time and then waking up has great power, or in being assigned a seemingly insurmountable task in order to achieve greater understanding. Both stories are universal.

I also wanted to offer others who are close to those who are locked inside their own traps, a metaphorical notion of how to intervene. Most of all, I wanted to give thanks for the time that has been allotted to me to explore and understand my own journey as I now begin to wake up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reflections on the Holocaust

The Holocaust is a word that makes me feel cold, a picture of some nuclear winter stretching into oblivion. To me it’s always sounded like the death of everything, an evil spirit with green blazing eyes ripping the earth into open mass graves. But this wasn’t a Halloween costume that appeared once a year; it was something that happened to the Jewish people, my people. The Holocaust made me understand that I was Jewish. Someone could want to kill me because I was Jewish. I had olive skin with dark hair and brown eyes and my lips were thick and I was chubby from bread dipped into the gravies of Friday night pot roast dinners. I wasn’t like the blond and blue-eyed kids who appeared on the back of cereal boxes, society’s chosen who were always smiling with white teeth.

The Holocaust was a word that was not uttered in my house, maybe for fear that its power would gather like a tornado and blast our glass windows into shards. I heard references to the Holocaust at home, never at school, in snippets of conversation regarding FDR’s awareness of the concentration camps, and the English trying to turn the Jewish refugees away from entering Israel.

I’d also met Shaddie and Irving whom my Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Harry from Brooklyn had rescued from the concentration camps. Shaddie surprised me with her blue eyes and curly blonde hair and Irving, a gold tooth that gleamed when he smiled. He worked in New York City’s jewelry district on 47th Street and wore what I thought looked like some kind of small telescope in his eye when he examined diamonds. They both spoke with thick Hungarian accents. My Aunt Jeanette told me that Shaddie had escaped the Nazis when she was 16 by hiding beneath a hay mound and holding her breath. I practiced holding my breath. One summer they came to New Hampshire where we stayed for a few weeks to escape the New York City heat, and the polio epidemic. I saw blue numbers tattooed on their forearms, uneven numbers that leaned in two directions no more than one-half inch tall. My Aunt Jeanette, an artist who twisted her voluminous hair into a knot that was held in place by long bobbie pins which she dug into her scalp, said that Shaddie and Irving were thinking of getting plastic surgery to remove them.

“Why?” I asked. I was probably around six or seven years old.

“So they won’t be reminded of what happened.”

Shaddie and Irving didn’t talk much to me, probably because I was a child. Later, they had a baby, a little girl with those same blue eyes and blonde ringlets who laughed all the time. I didn’t know anything about the Holocaust. Together with Shaddie, Irving, and their daughter, those memories faded. I became older and left New York City where I imagined that the walls of brick apartment buildings had absorbed stories of the millions who had perished.

Shortly after I arrived on the West Coast, I decided that I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust, perhaps to put down roots as a Jew who was living in a new place. I read books written by survivors, and located cinemas where I watched sepia skeletons cry out in striped pajamas before being shot to death. I kept reading until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Somewhere I understood that my very existence was a miracle because I was Jewish. I was one of survivors who lived to light candles, to dedicate myself to understanding how humanity had the capability for such terrible cruelty. But it was almost impossible for me to allow into my consciousness; it was like trying to imagine infinity or God.

In the end, the Holocaust was a pile of shoes, a mountain of discarded clothing, green fields growing on mass graves.

I was Jewish. My pores exuded centuries of prayer. I knew that wasn’t enough.
The Piecework Of Being A First-Generation American Jew

“My Dear Cucie Olga,” my father, Martin Weiss pencils in a four-page letter dated August 8, 1939 when my mother is vacationing in Mountaindale , New York with her mother and my oldest sister, Elaine, who is eight months old. A quick check on the Internet tells me that Mountaindale was a vacation hamlet in the lower Catskill Mountains, which offered boating and other amenities to working class families who were seeking a respite from the intense heat of New York City ’s summers. My father writes to my mother of more incoming business at his arch supports store in the Bronx , and a sore shoulder which is keeping him from playing soccer. In another letter exactly one week later, written this time with a fountain pen in graceful broad sweeps that I recognize in my own handwriting, he gives her another business accounting and soothes my mother about a family matter involving my Aunt Clara, her sister, and Uncle Jack.

My father talks about playing billiards in my mother’s absence, soccer training at Starlight Park and a new bridge table. He reassures her that he is not losing big money at cards, something that Clara and Jack seem to have insinuated. He writes, “I wish peoples would mind their own darn business and not make the other feel miserable just so that they can hear themselves talk.” He ends by teasing, “You got some nerve not to write me anything about the baby, wait I’ll fix you for that.”

The letters, contained in a plastic bag in a green box at the bottom of my closet and my fading memories are what I have salvaged of my parents. They died within 15 months of each other when I was in my early twenties, more than 30 years ago, too young for me to have known them as an adult, and at a time in my life when I was necessarily distancing myself from them as to make my own way in the world, much as my daughter is doing now. I am the same age as my mother when she died.

Over the years I have pieced together my knowledge of my parents through random family stories although not much is available there either. The one remaining family member of both my mother and father’s generation, is my Aunt Elsie, my father’s sister who soon will be 97, and has not chosen to share much about the family history save references to her “poor mother” who kept the family together, four brothers, and herself, a girl who learned the hard lessons of survival well enough through the family’s immigration from Hungary in between World Wars to make security and accumulation of money the top priority in her life. As a result, she like her mother, Bertha, often rescued her brothers and their families financially, and wasn’t shy about reminding them of her generosity. Graciousness has never been one of her strong traits.

But this is not about Elsie or my parents or my Aunt Clara and Uncle Jack, for that matter. It’s more about my own sense of being Jewish, what I learned in my home, and how I have carried that into my own life. It’s about the piecework of being a first-generation American Jew, how I construct my identity as a 21st century American Jew living in the United States . There isn’t much available documented history at my fingertips. By the time I was born, both sets of grandparents had died. But I preserve the scraps of what has been left to me.

My father arrived in this country when he was 11 from Hungary and my sister Elaine tells me he had his bar mitzvah here. I have a copy of his steerage papers from Ellis Island . My mother’s family was from Budapest, but as the youngest, she was born in New York City. She graduated from New Utrecht High School. My father had been accepted to Stuyvesant High School, but had to leave in the second half of his senior year to help the family as his father had just died and only his older brother, Sol, was available to help support the family. At one point before my mother met my father, she worked as a milliner, affixing fruit to the brim of hats. In preparing to become his town’s next Rabbi, my father had studied midrash (interpretation of Jewish Biblical text) at an early age in Hungary, but later rejected the observant Jewish life and became active with the Hungarian-American social clubs, at that time hotbeds of radicalism. It was sometime during the Depression that he became involved with the Communist Party helping to organize the Painter’s Union. At one point he chose to leave and travel the rails, spending time in Cleveland because of a confrontation at a New York City demonstration where a police officer possibly was killed by a falling brick.

I do not speak the language of my parents’ origin. My parents discouraged our learning Hungarian, since it was their private adult language that they used to shield us from their conversations. My father knew Yiddish but spoke it infrequently with his mother when she was alive. I can recall my mother saying how Yiddish was “too Jewish,” dismissing this with a downward sweep of her hand. Likewise, we didn’t eat herring or lox at home, foods associated with Ashkenazi Jews, but they put their store on Hungarian stuffed cabbage and Chicken Paprikas, two dishes including my mother’s wonderful yeast cakes, which always gilded our kitchen table together with a pot of Maxwell’s House coffee. On the other hand, my two older sisters and I, Elaine and Nancy, were always aware of being Jewish, something that was associated with holiday celebrations and family gatherings. We were secular Jews.
There is much I don’t know and so much I’ve had to intimate.

I don’t recall my parents discussing the Holocaust except to allude to the fact that my Great Aunt Jeanette and her husband, Harry who ran a shoe store in Brooklyn, had helped some surviving relatives move to Israel and to New York City. Today I have no idea who these relatives are although Elaine, who is 10 years older than I, visited these Israeli cousins in 1963, but since then, we have mostly lost contact. Something was so terribly cut off for us. A generation died and a canyon of silence replaced their deaths. My parents didn’t want to talk about their experience. Instead, they were about the business of making a new life, burying old pains, and assimilating into a new culture.

My father’s father worked in the United States as a waiter, and it is rumored that he ran liquor during prohibition. For years, my father worked six days a week. My mother joined him at the shop after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and then lived for five more years. It took all their strength to make a new life in this country. On his deathbed my father said, “I raised three girls and sent them all to college.” I believe he felt this was his greatest achievement. I think my mother who died a year after him, also of cancer, would’ve concurred.

The legacy that my sisters and I received from them was a strong sense about celebrating life. Whenever I hear L’chaim (to life) I associate this Jewish toast with my parents. I believe they chose life so that they and we could live and thrive. My parents expressed this in their love. They cared deeply for each other, always hugging and teasing. My father’s pet name for my mother was, “Toots,” and my mother simply called my father “Marty,” with a certain demur blush. My father thought my mother was beautiful and told her so frequently.

He gave my sisters and I a healthy sense of our bodies, an athlete who as a young man won the “all American Hungarian Goalie” prize, also an amateur gymnast and acrobat, who taught us to do shoulder stands or caught us in the air from the time we could walk. “Stand up tall,” he’d admonish me as I’d approach him to do a “birdie” where he’d catch me at my hips and swing me over his head so I could see the beach umbrellas and the ocean washing up on the shore. He’d coach me, “Here’s the rhythm. One-Two-Three-Jump!”

As a kid I didn’t think there was anything unique about acrobatics, but was aware that we always drew a crowd around our beach blanket. I assumed that this is what we did together. Occasionally, even my mother would get up from her beach chair; dust off sand from her legs, and do a shoulder stand on my father’s knees to prove that she could still point her toes better than any one in the family. “Watch!” she’d announce. Not only could she do shoulder stands, but my mother enjoyed reading poetry. Every poem that she’d memorized from her youth regardless of who had written it was by “Robert Louis Stevenson.”

My friends joined us on the beach and also watched as we paraded through our repertoire of “tricks,” being encouraged by my father to join us. It was only as an adult did I appreciate the gift he’d given us: to take joy in our bodies and to be comfortable with physicality, which I believe was unique in his generation. My parents were progressive in ways I didn’t totally understand. I knew something of my father’s radical background, but by the time I was an adolescent, year round he worked hard in his shop and then went to the beach on the weekends. As I became more politically involved during the sixties, he occasionally took the subway with me to Union Square for Labor Day rallies, waving to a few older men in the crowd whom he recognized from the old days.

While my mother strictly kept her eye on us, she also encouraged her daughters to get an education and lead independent lives, but was more conflicted when I didn’t wish to follow her own projection of what my life should become--a teacher so I could enjoy my “summers off with your children and a husband.” As an adult, I now understand that this probably was as far as she was able to see. As a child, I craved for her to have more vision.

Most of all what I appreciate is that my parents didn’t stand in the way of my developing an important friendship from the time I was in second grade throughout middle school with my friend Norma who lived several blocks away. Norma and I grew up in each other’s households. Every morning for years, I knocked on her door so we could walk to school together. We visited all the New York City museums, and once on my birthday, head down to Times Square before the area had become sanitized and saw “Midnight Cowboy” not understanding the odd squirming in the seats around us. Norma is Black and I am white and the fact that my and her parents did not stand in the way of our growing up together during a time when interracial friendships were not the norm and still are not -- was another gift which Norma and I to this day celebrate.

We attended New York City public schools and each one of our teachers was Jewish. The schools shut down during Jewish High Holydays. Albert Shanker reigned as the president of the teachers union. Through my political activity and books, I learned about a radical Jewish history of organizers in the garment industry, about the women in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the formation of the AFL-CIO, the Wobblies, the Haymarket Square Riots, the Spanish Civil War, and somewhere I heard about the Freiheit, the radical Yiddish newspaper of the left. Curse words were never used at home, at least not in English. We went to hear the Weavers at Carnegie Hall. I heard about Jewish comics like Mort Sahl and Groucho Marx who we watched on television. My parents admired Albert Einstein; Karl Marx was not mentioned in the same breath. I think my mother had become disillusioned with politics because she felt it caused dissension. Maybe she remembered when my father had to go “underground” during their early years together. Maybe the McCarthy period had put fear into their hearts as they watched “blacklisted” men unable to provide for their families. I know that somewhere there was a line for them between whatever progressive ideas they harbored and the ability to take care of their immediate family, and when one began to impinge on the other, it was time to redress priorities. Part of this may have been my mother’s overriding influence, and my father always a dutiful husband, bowed to her wishes. Always choose life. As a result, I think of them more as being conservative than radical. I don’t envision that if given a choice, either of them would’ve died for principle. I think they believed in the strength of compromise.

I also have to believe that growing up in Hungary, my father who had helped to protect the younger Jewish boys from getting beat up by the Gentiles and was known as one of the Mordecai or wolf brothers, had been shaped liked many youth of his generation by the Jewish Labor Bund founded in 1897 and which had atheistic, anti-Zionist and socialist trends. He was a forward thinking man whose radicalism became tempered by his adult experience, but I believe that he never stopped dreaming of a world where each person’s potential could be realized. I can remember as a young girl asking him if he believed in God. He seemed shocked that I would ask him such a question, swallowed hard, and said “No.” But when he was dying, he admonished us to “never forget you are Jewish.” Until the very end, he and my mother continued to help people who were low on cash, food or clothes, especially where he worked in Manhattan . Once as a little girl, I remember walking in the Bowery in New York ’s Lower East Side and my father stopping to give money to a man who’d approached him on the street.

“Why do you bother, Marty?” asked my mother when we got out of range. “He’s only going to use it for drink.”

My father shrugged. “I know,” he said. “But he’s been forced to ask.”

During the sixties, I had conversations with him about politics. “According to Marx’s class analysis you’re not a worker,” I announced.

“I’m not?”

“No,” I patiently explained. “You’re a member of the petit bourgeoisie.”

“That’s not true.” I could tell that I’d upset him. “I go to work every day.”

But I wasn’t attending a Marxist study group in Manhattan twice a week for nothing. “That’s not possible. You possess your own means of production.”

“What kind of crap are you talking?”

That was the only time I can remember him getting upset with me, except when I announced that I wasn’t going to finish college, and instead become a full-time political activist.

“Over my dead body.” We never discussed the subject again. Both he and my mother highly valued education and wanted to be sure that I got one.

So who were my parents? At this point they are mist, gone for so long and never present as I’ve walked through my own life cycles; they didn’t have the opportunity of knowing their grandchildren, never saw me age and become more tempered in my own beliefs, and I will face my own old age not having the experience of walking that path first with them. But what they did give me feels at its core essentially Jewish: a reliance on family and love to create stability in this flawed world and by choosing life to also choose to make this flawed place better because for them and for me there is no other choice.