Excerpt 30

My father always reminded me of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited.

 His aloofness, detachment, even the extended trip to Central America to sketch

and paint the Mayan architecture and coastal landscapes.

My father had his blond Sebastian, too, but it was a fully realized passionate, lengthy homosexual union. Even a cold, cruel father was in the picture. My Arkansas grandfather, the gruff, unhappy cotton farmer, the son of an alcoholic, relentlessly exerted his destructive influence over the emotional component of my father’s personality.

Robert seldom mentioned his childhood, but on one rare occasion—the only time he ever visited me alone in New York, he was en route to London to meet a client—he stated matter-of-factly, “My father did everything possible to destroy my self- confidence.”

It was the only personal conversation that we ever had. We were sitting in Mme. Romaine de Lyon’s restaurant and eating asparagus omelettes by a window with white lace curtains.

Was he aware that he and my mother flawlessly performed the same act upon me?

He also described a recurring dream that he had: He and my mother were standing in the yard of his childhood home in Cotton Fields, Arkansas.

“We’ve killed someone,” he calmly stated to my mother.

I guess he felt guilty about his treatment of me, or rather his infinite indifference. It was his way to apologize, the best that he could do, under his steely emotional armor.

My father made the decision—from the beginning—to sacrifice me, in order to save himself.

There was a truly pagan element of masochism, sadism, and self-destruction to the family dance of the Smiths.

This model gave me an uncanny ability to adapt to all the selfish monsters that would confront me, want to maintain a relationship with me, or exploit me.

Another time, in August, Robert pretended to crack the ice in the backyard birdbath, as my mother watched from a window. He wanted her to take him to a psychiatric hospital.

But it was all a trick; he wanted to get her into the looney bin! They never made it there. On the way to the hospital, she grabbed the steering wheel and wrecked the car.

So my father retreated once again into his basement office with the sawhorses, pigeon holes for blueprints, and shelves lined with art books and Gore Vidal novels. He began planning his next extended escape to Monhegan island, off the coast of Maine.

 

Excerpt 29

[Music:     Twentieth Century Fox –The Doors]

 

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song, A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong; And I am Marie of Roumania.

Dorothy Parker

 

[music/Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess]

April 22, 1983

 Earth Day and Day of My Last Drink

High Falls, New Jersey

The male psychiatric nurse rifled through my small canvas bag. With a black magic marker, he wrote “Smith” on the crotch of every pair of my white lace panties. Trembling, I stood silently beside him. Would I spend the rest of my life in this god-forsaken hellhole in the wilderness of New Jersey? Would a bored psychiatrist give me a shot, so that I would become just another inmate doing the Thorazine shuffle?   Another Frances Farmer?

I have never been so scared in my whole life. I got married six months ago.

Would my husband divorce me? Would I become a homeless woman sitting beside overflowing garbage bags on the streets of New York?

I felt like an astronaut floating in space whose umbilical cord to the spaceship that would return him to Earth had just been severed.

I was instructed to wait in another room.

“Does your husband beat you?” the kind nurse asked. “No, never,” I answered with quivering lips.

“How did you get all those bruises?” she asked.

“I bumped into the furniture and fell off my bicycle.” It was true.

I was riding an old Schwinn from the Pellisades health club to my apartment building in heavy traffic after dark.

(Every alcoholic goes to a health club daily, right? I did; it was my futile attempt to exert some control over my behavior, which I hated, but could not stop.)

When I got married, I left my one shabby room in Manhattan for New Jersey. I hated New Jersey almost as much as I hated my alcoholism. Parts of New Jersey are really beautiful; I just didn’t live in any of them. Living in this congested town by the George Washington Bridge represented unequivocal failure to me. It had all the disadvantages of an overcrowded city, as well as a boring suburb with insufficient parking places. I left Frenchtown (a suburb of Memphis), Tennessee, so that I could end up in Port Lincoln, New Jersey?

Why was I traveling by bicycle? I hadn’t driven a car since I was 17 after having an almost fatal encounter with a tractor-trailer on a major east-west thoroughfare in

Memphis. When I went to Thorncliff College and lived in a dorm for four years in Westchester County, I didn’t need a car because I could take the train that runs alongside the scenic Hudson River to Grand Central Station.

Don’t know if she believed me or not, but the nurse sent me to a large room, essentially a holding pen, filled with men and women of all ages and all sizes. Each patient would be evaluated eventually and treatment–drugs and/or therapy–would begin. Being a well-bred Southerner, I attempted to make polite conversation with a muscular man, Douglas, a paranoid schizophrenic who had just been shipped over from a psycho ward in Connecticut.

He started talking about Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy… what a cool bus ride they had together.

Five minutes later, I was lying on the cold linoleum floor spitting out large chips of teeth and lots of blood. Several of the male patients came to my rescue; they pulled Douglas off of me and held him until a doctor appeared.

He drugged Douglas and escorted him into a room with a solid, gray metal door.

After his door was bolted, his bloodcurdling, scathing denunciations of me penetrated every room of that hospital.

Someone gave me an ice bag to hold on my throbbing cheek. Much of the attack is now just a blurry nightmare in my head. I was assigned to a bedroom only three doors away from his.

My skinny roommate, Melanie, sat on her bed with her knees clasped to her chin.

She looked like a praying mantis cut in two.

“Why are you here?” the frail, depressed girl asked.

“I can’t stop drinking.”

“I slashed my wrists. See?” Melanie said.

I wasn’t really expecting a coherent conversation. Melanie exhibited her bony, scarred arms. I was really trying to be calm and sympathetic, but I just wanted to escape.

“I’ve been attacked. I want to leave this place now,” I told the nurse on duty who came in to check on us.

“You’re safe now. Don’t worry. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“Please let me use your phone.” She pointed to a public telephone down the hall. I made a collect call to my husband, Joseph.

“I hate you. I really hate you. An insane man just tried to kill me. Come and get me. Now. This place is filled with certified lunatics, and that’s no exaggeration.”

Joseph replied in a stern voice, “I’ll come tomorrow morning.”

During the night, he arranged to have me transferred to another hospital, Fair Hope, in Sumac, New Jersey. (What a strange coincidence; I remembered that my parents were married in Fair Hope, Alabama—I would have named their marriage rendezvous location: No Hope. Ever. Ever. Ever.)

The following morning the Walter-Mitty type staff psychiatrist tried to convince my husband and me, as we sat in his dark-brown dreary office with worn-out leather furniture, that I should stay put.

“Out of the question,” said my 53-year-old husband in his most authoritative executive voice.

He immediately drove me to Fair Hope Hospital where I lived for one month.

A member of the cleaning staff stole my navy leather handbag–with the exquisite

brass hardware and clasp–from my closet, but other than that, the experience of living with a group of men and women, who had endured far more than their share of life’s cruelties, injustices, and tragedies, was almost an epiphany; I began to believe that a different life was possible.

During the day we had group therapy with counselors who all were recovering alcoholics and/or drug addicts. I was an oddity because I had never used drugs. Not once. Most patients in their 30s had at least experimented with every powder, pill, or injection available.

As Boris Pasternak wrote, “I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless, and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”

He was right, of course. I wish that we had met; Dr. Zhivago is one of my all- time favorites. And I’m very fond of late bloomers; Pasternak was sixty-eight when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

We ate our tasteless meals in a bland cafeteria. Only decaf coffee was available

from a large metal container, so I was really sleepy for the entire 30 days. Most of the patients were men, so my roommate, a pretty, blue-eyed blonde, around my age, and I got lots of attention. We also were among the youngest.

We were the lucky ones, who had been forced into rehab before the devastating effects of alcoholism took their toll: debilitating neuropathy, memory loss, grizzled complexions.

One patient had to have his arm amputated; he was drunk and waved his arm out

the car window…a truck roared by, too close. [Peer Gynt Suite 2, Op. 55]

Every night we went to an A.A. meeting. I met a woman who had watched her brother hacked to death with an ax by a stranger in her backyard; a man who was just released from jail for grand larceny and who ran a prostitution ring from his Irish bar on First Avenue (He begged me to work for him as a call girl after we were discharged from Fair Hope); a good-looking, sanguine, irreverent man in his late twenties who had spent years traveling on luxury cruise ships pretending that he was a Catholic priest and befriending and bedding older women if they bought him enough champagne; another woman stood outside with her mother and sister as her father burned to death trapped in their suburban house; a shy, thirty-two-year-old female, who was the unwanted only child of an abusive alcoholic manic-depressive mother and charming, artistic homosexual father, who found neither the time nor the energy nor psychological fortitude to protect his daughter from his wife’s violent rages and relentless cruelties.

That one was me.

[Tchaikovsky/Concert for Violin in D, op. 35]

October 6, 2000

 Friday

Port Lincoln, New Jersey 10:15 PM

The phone rang. I didn’t answer, but waited for the machine to record the  message.

It began: “This is Janet Emerald. I live next door to your mother. She’s in the Frenchtown jail. She was arrested for drunk driving after she drove her car into a restaurant.”

“She called us from jail. We’ll post her bond and take her home. Call me. 901-751-3232.”

Immediately, I called her back. Janet sounded totally in control. She explained that my mother drove her Volvo through the side of the Trafalgar Cafeteria around 5:00 PM.

Miraculously, no one was hurt!

After she rammed through one side of the dining room, she backed up and totally demolished a giant lamp pole. My 81-year-old mother’s face was bruised, but she had no other injuries. Not even her glasses were broken. (Great TV ad for Volvo!)

I had been waiting for THE EMERGENCY for years. I had predicted that only a crisis would make it possible for me to move her out of her home and into an assisted- living facility.

When I entered her house— with the help of her lawyer (because she refused to give me a key; I might steal something!—and I was afraid that she would sue me)— I was horrified.

The walls were lined with empty half-gallon plastic jugs of cheap Scotch. The handle of each jug was precisely pointed to the right. Even in the throes of alcoholism and dementia, my mother’s obsessive-compulsive nature reigned.

Cigarette butts covered the once beautiful parquet floor in the hallway that I had  frequently polished on my hands and knees when I was a child, as she glowered above me like the Colossus of Rhodes. Large black garbage bags filled every room; she never took the garbage out. But each bag was meticulously tied at the top with string. Stains in the shape of inchoate embryos covered the wooden floor and bedroom carpets upstairs. She was incontinent and had urinated everywhere. All of the toilets were stopped up and overflowing with shit. She had been using plastic buckets, which were never emptied.

The kitchen appliances were almost black with filth; the dishwasher had not been used for more than a decade. The rubber and plastic inside of it had disintegrated like the yellowed pages from an ancient library book.

My relationship with my mother had always been strained; I was terrified of her.

There had never been any kind of emotional intimacy between us: no affectionate caresses, no bedtime stories, no nicknames, no birthday parties, no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy, no hugs and kisses, no cuddling, no appearances at the camp horse show or water ballet or school spelling bee, no phone calls, no care packages…nothing–even when I was very young.

Not once in her life did she say that she loved me…liked me…that I ever did anything worthwhile…or even deserved to take up space on this planet.

Years later, she and my father boycotted my wedding and sent a neatly typed note on engraved eggshell stationery: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert R. Smith, Jr., will not attend.”

I waited for an explanation for their absence. I waited for decades, but it never  came.

My mother and I were master/slave; Hitler/Jew; shark/bloody leg; Mr. Murdstone/David Copperfield; Johan/Henrik in Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband.

 Whenever someone asked about my “Mom,” my gut reaction would have been to answer, Mom? I don’t know anyone like that. Nancy, the popinjay, the vituperative termagant, was certainly no Stella Dallas.

To my mother, every aspect of life was categorized as a bargain or overpriced.

That included me: poor Return On Investment.

I had no siblings. To visit her after I left home for college, a formal invitation was required. Christmas was the only time that I was permitted to return to my parents’ house.

If she didn’t want to see you, she wouldn’t open the door.

I remember looking down from the upstairs hall window in our saltbox colonial house to see my paternal grandmother standing at the front door and ringing the doorbell. She had driven from Cotton Fields, Arkansas, about a two-hour drive. My mother refused to open the door.

My tired, old grandmother returned to her big Buick in our driveway and left.

To put me to sleep, Nancy gave me a tall glass of bourbon and 7-Up. The glass was painted with a couple dancing, dressed like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

It was the perfect metaphor for our family: To the outside world, we looked perfect.

Inside, was our own hell on earth. Robert never intervened.

###

Excerpt 22:   CHILDREN’S BOOK:  a fantasy world of whimsical creatures, who exemplify kindness, goodness, and generosity.

 

 

 

Excerpt 28

I haven’t been to Memphis in many years.

Was it Christmas 1975 when Zorba and I  staggered through the finale of our open marriage and traveled to Memphis to tell my parents that our marriage was over?

But why should I expect my parents to invite me home?

During college, I was only permitted to return home for Christmas vacation.  For the summer and other school breaks, my mother always barked: “Find someplace else to go.”

I went from cheap hotel to cheap hotel and from inappropriate man to inappropriate man.  Along with several mind-numbing office jobs and lecherous bosses.

Plane tickets were a waste of money to her, as were phone calls, ink cartridges, and postage stamps.

Excerpt 27

The one Jewish lady, Mrs. Rosebrough, on our block (and the only homeowner who had a swimming pool) had produced Tennessee Williams’s first play:   Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay in her backyard.

She became a target for the KKK, as did my parents, because they refused to participate in the Sunday marches against our new African-American neighbors, who had been moved in across the street by the NAACP. Not long afterward, a Molotov cocktail sailed through our window, and obscene and threatening phone calls were becoming a common occurrence at three in the morning.

Excerpt 26

The psychiatrist, who treated Nancy in her final year,  asked me:

“How did you ever survive?”

(Well, that is what this book is about, isn’t it?)

***

It is not always what we accomplish in life; it is what we overcome.

In the world of Destiny, there are no statistics.

***

I told the nurse that my bruises and lacerations were not from my husband.

Riding drunk on my bicycle in the dark on the highway with speeding trucks and cars…then crashing onto the sidewalk…that was the reason for my injuries.

Don’t know if she believed me or not, but the nurse sent me to a large room, essentially a holding pen, filled with men and women of all ages and all sizes. Each patient would be evaluated eventually and treatment–drugs and/or therapy–would begin. Being a well-bred Southerner, I attempted to make polite conversation with a muscular man, Douglas, a paranoid schizophrenic who had just been shipped over from a psycho ward in Connecticut.

He started talking about Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy… what a cool bus ride they had together.

Five minutes later, I was lying on the cold linoleum floor spitting out large chips of teeth and lots of blood. Several of the male patients came to my rescue; they pulled Douglas off of me and held him until a doctor appeared.

He  drugged Douglas and escorted him into a room with a solid, gray metal door. After his door was bolted, his bloodcurdling, scathing denunciations of me penetrated every room of that hospital.

Someone gave me an ice bag to hold on my throbbing cheek. Much of the attack is now just a blurry nightmare in my head.  I was assigned to a bedroom only three doors away from his.

My skinny roommate, Melanie, sat on her bed with her knees clasped to her chin. She looked like a praying mantis cut in two.

“Why are you here?” the frail, depressed girl asked.

“I can’t stop drinking.”

Excerpt 25

“All art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

My mother’s wedding night was a threesome:  My mother, father, and Joe,  an Episcopal priest, who was my father’s favorite lover. They were in Fairhope, Alabama, an artsy town on the Gulf.

No family members attended.

It was 1949.

My mother told me this when I was twelve years old. We were having dinner at Britling’s, the local cafeteria, in Memphis. I really liked their shredded carrots with raisins.

 

###

1971

Weeks later in New York City, I lost my virginity to Noah—a not nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn—on a large, heated waterbed behind blood-red padded leather doors in a closed wing of Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital on First Avenue.

I was terrified, but just wanted to get it done.

My college roommate had nicknamed me: LVOC (last virgin on campus).

After fucking, Noah complained, “I feel like I’ve been through a meat grinder.”

He had an amphetamine-addicted roommate who shared his East 24th Street apartment. Both were dental students at New York University and had easy access to  the closed wing at Bellevue, the spooky, dark,  gothic hospital for crazies.

Excerpt 24

My parents never even had medical insurance, which they considered an extravagance, until they were eligible for Medicare. They gambled…and won the health lottery, despite their decades of heavy smoking and drinking.

And when my father died, my mother gave his body to a medical school so that she wouldn’t have to pay for cremation. Afterward, she refused to accept his ashes for burial; she told the hospital to dump them in a public veterans’ grave.

 

###

Thanksgiving 1966

My father and I went to the local Holiday Inn for our Thanksgiving dinner.

My mother was indisposed, once again, because of her drinking.

We ran into Anastasia at the restaurant; she was one of my father’s loyal,  female friends. If I had looked closely, I might have seen the Trojan condoms in her Lucite handbag; Anastasia was a wealthy divorcée who got her kicks by pimping for the secret society of artistic, homosexual men in the East Memphis neighborhood.

She threw raucous, extravagant parties where handsome young men and older patrician gentlemen were introduced. Women were invited also, but they tended to be in their 50s and 60s and were oblivious to Anastasia’s lascivious machinations.

 

###

[music: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana]

November 1977

          Lovers and Other Strangers

Poor Maurice, the surgeon. He was so depressed last night because of a terrible fight that he had with his wife. She and their sixteen-year-old daughter ganged up against him.

He said his wife had lost her emotional softness ever since she published her first novel. Now she lacks compassion and patience, according to him.

What he—and, unfortunately, many men–want in marriage: cook, lover, mother, servant, nursemaid.

God forbid his wife would seek accomplishments of her own! And he was furious when he discovered that she had a lover, too. Of course, the scrofulous physician had been unfaithful to his wife on their honeymoon!

What do I remember most about him? His underwear. He always bought it in Switzerland—the softest briefs I ever touched.

###

The married English WASP who actually used a cigarette holder! He was an executive with a large advertising agency, but always an aspiring writer. His novel, The Girl Watcher, was published while we were dating.

He liked to have sex with me in sleazy motels in Westchester. His wife was an entomologist, who spent 12 hours daily studying the social organization of ant groups.

The handsome, charismatic art student who worked part-time as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art. We had sex on a couch in a bedroom, while a wild party was going  on in the host’s living room.

The skinny, Australian investment banker who said that my birth control foam smelled like Pabulum.

The much older advertising executive who liked for me to hold his penis when he peed.

The mustached Hungarian who liked for me to sit on his face.

The married uber rich Greek, tall and very slim, who picked me up in his white Rolls Royce.  After a lavish meal at La Caravelle, we returned to my apartment.  He followed me into the bedroom, but instead of approaching me for a kiss and whatever, he headed to my closet and pulled out a negligee. He then proceeded to pull the silk garment over his head!

My strict Southern upbringing held me back from so many fascinating opportunities, because the culture in which I was raised hammered [sledge hammer] in the importance of being a soft-spoken, gentle, self-effacing, well-mannered lady. And I always flourished at following the rules.

Rebellion was only possible later on in my secret life of men and questionable sexual mores.

The perfect Southern female of the ’60s and early  ’70s was a reserved lady in the living room and an enthusiastic  whore in the bedroom; I managed the duality pretty well.

 

more…

The married French radiologist, Pierre, with the severe features of a Christian Schad portrait, whose patients included many celebrities and Manhattan socialites.

Our first date was in the King Cole bar of the St. Regis Hotel. We drank champagne and kir. A very attractive young woman sat alone nearby. He invited her to join us for dinner at Gino’s restaurant on Lexington. She accepted. The dinner was just dinner. She was an actress from Los Angeles and had come to New York to work on a film. Pierre wanted a ménage à trois; but it didn’t happen. (I think she was just an expensive hooker looking for customers.)

He came over to my apartment once a week with a cheap bottle of Beaujolais, some smelly French cheese, purple grapes, and Carr’s crackers.

We met in an elevator in the office building where both of us worked, when he complimented my black fedora with the wide brim. He liked to spank me, lightly and playfully, and talk dirty simultaneously.

______________________________________________________________

 

The South African psychiatrist whose fingernails were always dirty because he rode his bicycle everywhere and kept it well oiled. He thought I desperately needed him because of my unsavory childhood. We met on the street when he almost ran over me.

 

The Italian who always giggled before and after sex. He gargled his snot and rinsed his teeth at meals with coffee. That was a very short-term relationship.

 

The loquacious Jewish art director who airbrushed photos for multinational cosmetic companies. He liked for me to wear a black garter belt and long silk stockings. He called me his Egon Schiele woman.  We met in front of Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy” at the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street.

The Jewish-Russian taxi driver who became a wealthy sportswear manufacturer. One night he invited his best friend to join us in bed. I dated both of them, and several times the three of us went to bed together. We practiced sixty-nine as though we were characters in Fellini’s Satyricon (which had been produced in 1969).

The Irish man whose immense fingers looked like Polish sausage—large Kielbasa.

The Swiss doctor whose wife had died from breast cancer when she was in her 30s. He sent their three children to live with the grandparents in Geneva. His favorite companion was his adorable black Labrador, Othello, who sat at the dinner table with us. Othello loved bread and cheese.

The  Israeli who was also in the clothing business. A garmento as we call them in New York. Every summer, he  sent his wife and children to Israel for an extended vacation, so that he could chase women in Manhattan.  On Monday nights, he always played poker with some friends, except when I was available.

The West Point jock who remained unhappily married for 30 years until his neighbors in Greenwich, Connecticut, started getting divorced; he then believed divorce was socially acceptable. A very sweet man and wonderful lover. He loved to go to piano bars and dance.

I hated piano bars and dancing, but if I drank enough vodka stingers  and cognac, I had dancing feet that wouldn’t quit, and the following day I would have the  blisters to prove it.

Excerpt 23

2002

I had been waiting for THE EMERGENCY for years. I had predicted that only a crisis would make it possible for me to move her out of her home and into an assisted-living facility.
When I entered her house– with the help of her lawyer (because she refused to give me a key; I might steal something!—and I was afraid that she would sue me)– I was horrified.
The walls were lined with empty half-gallon plastic jugs of cheap Scotch. The handle of each jug was precisely pointed to the right. Even in the throes of alcoholism and dementia, my mother’s obsessive-compulsive nature reigned. Cigarette butts covered the once beautiful parquet floor in the hallway that I had frequently polished on my hands and knees when I was a child, as she glowered above me like the Colossus of Rhodes. Large black garbage bags filled every room; she never took the garbage out. But each bag was meticulously tied at the top with string. Stains in the shape of inchoate embryos covered the wooden floor and bedroom carpets upstairs. She was incontinent and had urinated everywhere. All of the toilets were stopped up and overflowing with shit. She had been using plastic buckets, which were never emptied. The kitchen appliances were almost black with filth; the dishwasher had not been used for more than a decade. The rubber and plastic inside of it had disintegrated like the yellowed pages from an ancient library book.

My relationship with my mother had always been strained; I was terrified of her. There had never been any kind of emotional intimacy between us: no affectionate caresses, no bedtime stories, no nicknames, no birthday parties, no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy, no hugs and kisses, no cuddling, no appearances at the camp horse show or water ballet or school spelling bee, no phone calls, no care packages…nothing–even when I was very young.
Years later, she and my father boycotted my wedding and sent a neatly typed note on engraved eggshell stationery: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert R. Smith, Jr., will not attend.”
I waited for an explanation for their absence. I waited for decades, but it never came.

 

 2006

 Joseph has diffuse Lewy dementia—like Alzheimer’s  combined with Parkinson’s.

This morning,  he cried in the hospital. He was hospitalized for pneumonia. His disease makes it almost impossible for him to swallow.

He cried because he thought I had been kidnapped. My heart is breaking. All the bad memories disappear, and I feel nothing but overwhelming love and compassion. I want to take away his fear, his illness, his discomfort. Make his life all Chateau Margaux and Mozart conducted by Toscanini.

His last words to me in the nursing home were:

“Stop petting me like a fucking dog.”

I had been gently caressing his forehead and forearm. That was the dementia talking, I know. Perhaps,  he understood that death was near and raged against the universe.

He obediently followed Dylan Thomas’s dictum: “Do not go gently into that dark night.”

He was cremated. His remains were mailed to me. I received them this morning in a sturdy white box, certified mail, return receipt requested.

Joseph,   I will play Mozart’s Don Giovanni all weekend in your memory. It was one of your favorites. I will mute the television, but  will occasionally glance at the screen  in case of another terrorist attack.

I love you, Joseph. You saved my life. You were The Good Father. You adored me before and after  all of  The Troubles. You protected me against my mother…the first person ever to do that.

I will love you forever. Your spirit  will be with me until the day I die. Farewell, my love.

 

Children’s Book: Fantasy Friends on Furlough [copyrighted]

SAOLA
Saola, shmayala…hard to pronounce.

When she jumped on the scale, she was more than an ounce.

Nevertheless, she remained quite rare,

Almost as much as cities with clean air.

She lived in hot Vietnam

With her long, pointy horns,

She avoided all thorns.

Some called her a saola.

But her dream was to be an adorable koala.
So furry and cute,

Wrapped around a tree branch,

Almost a glove.
Ready for a bear hug

And oodles of love.

 

MR. FLUKE FISH

It wasn’t a fluke or kind of rebuke

When Mr. Fluke Fish

Fell in the blackstrap molasses

‘Cause of the stress in

Shopping for his 3D glasses.

You see his eyes are up here

And across over there….

 

YOGA FROG
The yoga frog stuck out his tongue

In order to eat tasty morsels of young…Quail eggs!

No legs, he begs!

Just meat juicy and sweet

To make my parts so flexible and neat.
And please remove this spaghetti!

He cried to the dragonfly, who

Was hoping for calm

But instead got confetti

When he flew through the shredder

On the desk with the teddy.

Oh my! What a mess! Bear hair!

What a pair: The frog and the dragonfly

Searching the sky

Looking for, hoping for yum-yum pumpkin pie.

But instead in their eyes

Fell rays of moonlight.

They said it felt good.

Then bid all a good night.
PEGASUS
It was raining cats and dogs (but no icky, sticky frogs)

[literal drawing/puppies and kittens]…(Ostrich and worm are covering their heads)

As Ollie and Winton cuddle together

And say with relief, Oh, what a bother!

Could have been falling on us those fat hogs

With a whine and a holler !

And a snoutful of fodder…
Pegasus was showing off his shiny shoes to Norse, the horse, and

PlumPie, the horsefly, and

MaggieMead, the centipede (who really needed lots of shoes!).

Oyvay!

To polish all those shoes took three hours and a half!

Enough time for a cow to give birth to a calf!

 

TEA TIME

The Germanic gerbil [wearing little Valkyrie  hat w/upturned horns]

And the Balkan bat

Met together for tea

In their nondescript flat.

Too sweet, said the gerbil

With a throaty, loud gurgle!

Too hot, said the bat

With a big, bad splat!

So they went out together

In worrisome weather

To search for a drink,

The color of ink….

 

Bad Boy Bear

Bad boy bear had really pretty hair.

He lured shiny new things

Into his glamorous lair.

Where sometimes he robbed them

Or used them as objects

And sometimes as subjects for his

Contemporary art,

Which was not very smart

Because the slick lawyers

Were hiding in rooms

With cell phones and videos to

Ensnare the bad boy bear

With really pretty hair.

 

Gulo, the Wolverine

Gulo so sleek and furry

With pearly whites…

The predatory wolverine

Can be quite scary and oh so mean!

He prowls Alaska on long-nailed paws

With agility and grace.

He kills and hunts

At his very own pace.

Pity the poor rabbit

Who was wearing the lace!

 

Celestial Cat and Dutiful Dog

Celestial cat and dutiful dog

Live with the morose Mrs. Bog

At the edge of a clearing

Not within hearing

Of the fire station

Whose bells and alarms keep the

Neighbors free from flickering harms.

Celestial cat loves Dutiful Dog.

You should see her put her puddy-cat

Paws on Dutiful’s jaws.

Looks like happy dog

Is getting a massage on his maws!

 

Touchy Toucan

Touchy toucan was quick to give you a peck with her beak.

“Think before you speak,” she squawked,

“Or you might dread the consequences.

The words you spout

That all come out

Can cause unnecessary harm

And will alarm those who don’t understand

And are too shy to take a stand.”

So be polite.

Avoid a fight.

Try to cultivate wisdom

Instead of a schism.

 

Doughty Dodo Bird

Doughty dodo bird was so determined.

The ermine looked up at her and asked,

“You never give up…what’s up with that?”

The dodo replied, “My dreams are big, and I

Don’t give a fig about those who tell me,

‘No, your aspirations are silly, and you will fail

Willy nilly.’

Don’t don’t tell me what I can do.

My plan is to fool you too!

I will soon succeed and

Fulfill my need to

Be the very best that I can be.”

 

Purple Pumpkin

Purple pumpkin was perplexed by the

Hex on the local barn.

“Why am I purple?” she purred like a kitten.

“Because you are special, the color of yarn.

One day in the future, the sweetest girl will

Twirl her horsehair paintbrush across a large canvas.

Then you will rise above ordinary lumpkin

And be transformed into an immortal pumpkin,”

Said the wise fairy who lived in the aerie.

 

Palomino Puma

Palomino puma was super sleek and fast.

Had the habit of chasing rude and rowdy Ruby the rabbit.

After too many races and both out of breath,

They agreed to stop hating and start contemplating what a

Peaceful life could be.

Just then, interrupted by a friendly, but fearsome, flea who said,

“Let’s all live together with Peace

As our goal…

So never again must we hide in a hole.

 

Flaky Flamino

Flaky flamingo was such a fussbudget

And so irresponsible.

Never did what he said he would do.

Never told quite the truth.

Was always late and appeared at the

Gate with another excuse.

“Boo-hoo Boo-hoo,”  he cried.

Well, the other critters said, “Enough is enough,”

And old flaky flamingo ended up fried

In a dish of ointments ‘cause of all the delays

On his way to appointments.                     

                                                                                                        [excerpts continue below]                                                                                 

 

Excerpt 20

I’ve always had an affinity for foreigners. When it comes to men, I’m the poster girl for cultural diversity. (After all, John Wayne had three Latino wives!)

Probably, because I know everything there is to know about Southern WASP culture, and much of it is not very pretty.

London

[music: Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise]

We met on Bayswater Road.

“Hello, are you English?” the handsome Greek young man asked with a seductive accent.

“I like your hairs.”  (Yes, he cutely said hairs.)

He looked exactly like Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago, and I instantly wanted to be his Lara.

(The people I grew up with in Memphis, Tennessee, would choke on their Corky’s barbecue if they knew how many men I dated who had picked me up on the street, at an airport, on a bus, or beside a swimming pool. But never ever in a bar; standards must be maintained!)

“No, American,” I answered.

 

Excerpt 19

When I was a counselor-in-training, it was my job to clean all the toilets in camp. It took hours. Lye, water, and mops were my weapons against an onslaught of urine, feces, and menstrual blood. Additionally, I was responsible for scrubbing the floors of the infirmary and the apartment where the Wagners lived. Mrs. Wagner, with wrinkled, sun-splotched hands on hips, supervised and critiqued my cleaning.

Also, it was my responsibility to shovel coal into the outdoor furnace several times a day to provide intermittent hot water for the group showers.

Today, I love luxury more than anything. I am a sybarite whose religion is hedonism.

“Rather than a tale of greed,” writes Alain de Botton, “the history of luxury goods may more accurately be read as a record of emotional trauma. The legacy of those who have felt pressured by the disdain of others is the perceived need to add an extraordinary amount to one’s bare self in order to signal that one also may lay a claim to love.”