Wednesday, June 26, 2013

US Supremes decline to hear California's Prop 8 case which means!? Gay marriages in California to resume!!

DOMA is unconstitutional!!! Scalia is crazy!!

JUSTICE KENNEDY wrote an impassioned majority decision holding that the alleged Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional insofar as it denies same sex couples, legally married under state law, equal benefits under federal law...

...and JUSTICE SCALIA has finally shown his CRAZY colors...

Thank you Wendy Davis for your valiant filibuster of the TX bill banning abortion!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

White Noise (for Paul, 11/2003)

What do you do
when you’re cold
and alone you
turn on the wall heater
pull up gray velour sweats
and a pink tank top covered
with an old pink sweatshirt
and coat your icy feet with
fleece socks. You
cover yourself
and the chair where you sit
with a down comforter from
your bed. You drape a lambswool
shawl your mother made for herself
across your shoulders and
wrap your lonely hands
in the triangle ends. You
rent a couple of DVD movies
watch them on your laptop
tin sound on extra loud.

You drink hot ginger
tea and when the clock strikes
you shiver to your bed
blow out the faint glow
of your candles. You huddle
in flannel sheets and wrap your
little human body with
cotton and feathers. You smell
chlorine in your hair and
remember the salt on his lips
the heat he held you in
the hard muscle hold offering
the surrender you could not take.

You curl your knees, tight and soft,
into your belly and cross your
fleece coated ankles under your
bent thighs. You wrap your hands
between pillows. You breathe in
fresh air underneath your
blankets. You surrender to
the shuddering. Your
tears dry and you
start again drawing heat
from your core into
your limbs. You remember
the poetry CD playing
that very morning. The
Beats teaching you thought
emotion comes from the stomach
(not the mind). You finally
understand why the way
to a man’s heart is through
his belly. You wish for his
presence. You pray to
God to feel the ocean’s
shell pried open and
bringing the warm
trade winds.

do you do
when you’re cold and
alone. You feel the imprint of God
on your eyelids
on your soft cheeks
and the down of
your blonde body.

do you do
when you’re cold
and alone. You remember quietly
faith holding your hips and coveting
your worship. You breathe deeply
into your hair, the hot dust from the wall heater
the fresh clean of your pink sweatshirt. You
close your eyes
watch your breath. You calm
your little human body. You drift
dream, the heater spending
your long hours of work
all, night, long and
you leave it on.
You sleep.

Give Peace a Chance

I have not worked in two and one-half years.

Saying so is like admitting to being an alcoholic, or that I cheated on my wife -- neither of which is true. However, the shame of not working - working for pay - is built into my white anglo-saxon protestant genetic material.

Of course, I have worked. I've volunteered for three different organizations, done a decent job at plodding through the edit of a book I wrote about 12 years ago, and took care of a family. A small family, albeit, but yet - a family.

Giving up my legal career was like giving up something toxic:  cigarettes, whiskey, or gambling. I think that's a British way of saying "quitting," isn't it? "I've given up," when asked for a cigarette. Or fag, right?

Anyway. It has been an interesting transition, which is to say interesting in the way the Chinese might curse you by wishing you, "an interesting life."

If you are a WASP, you might understand that there is no amount of toxic that can make it all right not to work, or to be productive. My sister, Sarah, for instance, doesn't work for money, but she does home-school three of her four children, three of whom were adopted through the foster-to-adopt program of Alameda County.

Sarah and her wife, Jill, who is a Lieutenant in the Alameda Police Department, live their lives around those children. I know that Sarah is making up for our parents' complete lack of interest in parenting and martialing our many talents. I don't really understand Jill's motivation - other than to emulate her mother's strength in leaving an alcoholic man, and thereafter, her self-sacrifice as a single mother of three.

However, I also know that Sarah and I underwent a firm brow-beating as children by both of our parents, and then by our step-father, that working is the only thing one should be doing when not eating, sleeping, or shitting. I swear to whatever you believe in -- I am not exaggerating.

So, now, I've come back round to my initial parry:  I have not worked for money in two and one-half years.

What I have been doing is somewhere along the lines of this:  burnt out in flames from my last job; got a good doctor and some good meds; wound down from working 24/7; bemoaned my high salary and perks; picked up some volunteer work (because I like to offer what I have to give and because it gave me something to tell when asked "so, what are you doing now?"); worked with the Berkeley Writers' Group (awesome writers' group by the way) to edit a novel I wrote between 1999 and 2000; and tried to pull off a relationship that was doomed from Day 1.

What I continue to do "now" is a somewhat intentional review of my life thus far. If you've been reading my blog since its inception in April, you will have the details. If not, then please read up as I don't want to summarize right now.

That is another thing I am doing:  not doing. I am certainly being a good roommate, and caring for my cats and Laura's dog. However, on a more "meta" level - I am figuring out what I don't want to do and what I want to do. The former is really much easier than the latter.

When I say, "what I don't want to do," that includes old habits of mine that bring me needless suffering. I am a Buddhist - so this is important to me.  Siddartha Gautama, or The Buddha, already summarized what this means (he was big on lists and outlines - perfect for an attorney):

1. There is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by aversion (anger), desire (greed) and ignorance (self-delusion).
3. Suffering can be extinguished.
4. Suffering can be extinguished by the realization of nibbhana through the Noble Eightfold Path that includes practices and a lifestyle that, if observed, can lead you to the end of your suffering.

I have been at the practice of dharma - meditation, mindfulness, retreats, dharma study, etc., since about 1999. I have a solid foundation of practice when I stopped working in 2010. That's a good thing since I "lost my way" so to speak. Tripped off the path, ambled into the woods and fell into an empty well.

Where I dwell for almost three years with a woman who was not a Buddhist, and with whom I do not share core values. I let myself be a Hansel or a Gretel and followed sweet nothings all the way to the ginger-bread house. I want to emphasize that I let myself do this - for whatever reason, I chose this path.

I had a teacher remark that I might be facing one of the five fetters to realization (recall that the Buddha liked lists) - the most difficult fetter:  doubt.

Doubt is a difficult mind-state - for all of us. Doubt in yourself. Doubt in your abilities. Doubt about your relationship. We've all been there at one point or another - you may have even been in a bad enough doubt space that you relate, or empathize with what I'm saying.

I was not working for money, so I started working for love. Not as a result of love - although that had some part in all of it - but for love. As a payment for sublimating first my desires, then my needs, then my life in order to try to please another enough that she might love me. A really abysmal trade-off.

I know that this happens all the time. It seems that I've heard this story from various friends, and even strangers, over the years. However, this had never happened to me. And, it never will again. I do learn quickly; I do not doubt this strength of mine.

Ok. So, there I am in someone else's empty well - or being eaten by someone else's fears (i.e. suffering), and I finally wake up all of a sudden. Well, it took me almost a year - but when I came to a conclusion, it was like snapping awake at the wheel while driving late at night after working 14 hours.

I felt no doubt. I was with the wrong person. I was not in love with this person anymore. It was my doing, but who cares!? I'm out. Or, as my ex said to me, I'm done.

I'll tell you, that when I'm done, I'm done. My ex sort of spun around in that age-old mind fuck of come hithers and fuck yous for about 3 months - but from the moment I became aware of the mountain of doubt I'd been carrying along behind me, I let it go.

I also realized that the doubt I'd been carrying around was ages old. Some Buddhists might say aeons old. Regardless, I knew I'd dropped some deeply imbedded sadistic journalist who'd been writing my fate for far too long.

This is not to say that I am now sure of what it is that I'll be doing for the rest of my life. I've realized that my novel writing is really more important to me than my poetry. I would love to do both, but want to finish that novel I wrote all those years ago before doing anything with the poetry.

My writing gives me something to say to the inevitable (and from what I understand an indication of the American character) question "What do you do?" I can say that I am a writer.*

I have also learned that surrendering to the reality of life as I know it has been worth the sometimes horrifying, sometimes liberating ride that has been the last almost three years of not working for pay.

Also, if you feel that you must earn someone's love - or if you're finding yourself wanting someone to earn your love - then, I urge you to wake up. Just one of you waking up and becoming conscious of human equality as our birthright will break the cycle.

I broke my cycle. Now, I'm just walking (budump-bump).

I have to admit that as I've driven down the freeways of New England, visiting family, both alive and dead, my mind tries to fashion work-arounds in order to bring me back to that empty well; that gingerbread house where I might be eaten alive by the unconscious (and those with unknowable conscience).

Mindfulness techniques that I find most helpful in such situations include audible books and language lessons (I'm trying to learn Hindi in case I go to India this winter). There is no need to follow the mind down some of its worn paths; there is no need to suffer in doubt as you find your way down other paths.

In other words, I'm breaking with the WASP tradition of shaming oneself into toxic self-sacrifice. On the other hand, I'm absolutely honoring the WASP value of "waste not, want not." I'm not going to waste what I've done with my lemons - even if it's the luxury of not working for money, or better yet, not working for love.

The bottom line is best summed up by John Lennon, and which has become an American chant of political dissidence: 

All I am saying, is give peace a chance.

*I am not "now" a writer in the sense of now that I've given up a lucrative career as an attorney. I have always been a writer. I've been writing poetry and journaling since I don't know when. My first diary - the pink kind with a clasp and a tiny key - is long lost.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Time and Space (Part I)

I went to visit my cousin Meghan in Warren, Vermont. The week before I'd been to visit with her Mom, my Mom's younger sister, Janet.

On my way home from Meghan's this week, I walked into the Barnes & Noble bathroom somewhere in Springfield, Massachusetts and chose the second stall. I immediately grabbed a toilet seat cover and wiped down the seat, grabbed another to cover the seat and sat down.

For a moment, I was confused as to where I was. I sincerely believed myself to be in a B&N bathroom in CA; maybe at the Bay Street Mall in Emeryville.

It is strange how confusing space can be, even stranger how little time is a measure where memory is concerned. One can be in 10 places in a matter of minutes - when you smell a lit cigar, hear a running river, or see someone or something from your past - you exist in another time; another space.

When I was traveling across the country, I felt that the place of my disastrous relationship was receding by the mile. But, when I arrived in KC to spend time with my college mates, I realized that time is more often an illusion than not.

As I sat with Jeanne, Tracy and Beth, at some level we had never parted or separated. Our story just was put on hold until that moment of reunion. But, also, our reminiscing brought us into a time and place we hadn't been for years.

My travels these last few months have been physically my life in reverse. It's been like shedding an overcoat of the present and living in memory after memory - jumping from this time to that time, this place to that.
Last week, on my way to visit Aunt Janet, I stopped by the Simsbury Cemetery to check on my grandmother’s gravestone. My father had paid for her name and years of life to be etched into his father, my grandfather’s headstone. He wanted me to visit their grave site to ensure that the job had been done. 
When I got to the cemetery, where I had been only once before – with my father upon a visit to his Mother in West Hartford, I followed my instinct, and found their grave site easily. There were Henry Fairchild and Margaret Fairchild, laid to rest alongside each other under a shade tree.
My father’s parents divorced when he was in prep school; sometime in the 1950’s. Isabel, his mother, never remarried. She was an artist, preferring charcoal and watercolor. She was also a professor of art at a Connecticut State College.
Isabel was a strong and imposing presence in my childhood. My sister and I were a bit afraid of her – but she also offered us creative costumes, games and even an assembly line cookie shop at Christmas-time. However, break manners at the dinner table, and you’d be sent to the car, in the cold, until it was time to leave. Thank goodness my father brought me a blanket.
Anyway. I visited Isabel before her death and I was glad of it. She had a strange sort of short term memory dementia. Her mind was still its sharp self, but if you left the room for too long, she forgot that you’d been there before.
I’d gone with my Dad to visit. His younger sister, and my middle-namesake Jane was there. Jane had been Mommom’s primary caretaker for many years at that point. That's another story for another day.

During the visit, Dad and I went to visit Henry’s grave. We also drove to the frigid tundra of upstate New York to visit Henry’s second wife, my grandmother Margaret.
Margaret, or Marge, had been Henry’s secretary. Cliché, I know, but Marge adored Henry and put up with his moods – moods which were caused by issues of brain chemistry – issues that I inherited from him.

Our visit was interesting in the way that watching Rear Window is interesting to me. I know the story because I've watched the movie a dozen times, and the characters seem to be in real-time. But, when I really think about it, the clothing is different, the furniture, the mannerisms, the relationships are not quite right.

There is an otherwordly feel to the whole thing - because that movie was made in another world entirely. Grace Kelly wasn't even a Princess yet.

Marge’s new apartment underneath her nephew’s home was decorated with their things – mostly Henry’s things to whom she deferred to regarding most everything.

I say this not to reduce Marge in your estimation, but as a testament to her unconditional love for my grandfather because he so valued deference.
That was a bit of a dig at my Poppop, but we Fairchilds appreciate the well deserved dig. Anyway, my grandmother gave it to him without complaint.
Dad and I waited a very long time for dinner (we had a four hour drive to get back that night) and Marge kept her apartment at a brisk 80 degrees. Even so, we were all enclosed in a space-time bubble, that made me feel that Henry would pop in from a cigarette break at any time. 
When Mommom served dinner, and profusely refused our help even though she suffered from severe osteoporosis, and was bent nearly in half, both my father and I were touched straight to the bone. I had to hide tears as she served us the same ham and burnt rolls she’d always served at holidays.
That day, she tended to us like precious feathers likely to blow away without her steady care; the last remnants of her life here on Earth; the last living connection to her beloved.
On the occasion of my 40th birthday in August 2007, I had a large garden party at the little cottage where I lived in Rockridge, Oakland, California. Along with about 60 other folks, my father flew from Missouri, and my Mom came from Santa Cruz. My sister, her wife Jill and their then three children were there; and of course I was there.

It was the first time since my parents divorce that our nuclear family was whole, in one space and time. It is always a bittersweet memory. My Mom died 3 months later. It was her last public appearance.

But, my Dad did something very special for me that day. Marge had died a few months before my 40th birthday, and my father and his sister Jane inherited all of Henry’s things. My father also inherited Marge’s wedding band and engagement ring, as well as the original cigar band that Henry used to propose to Marge.
I was standing in the kitchen of my cottage getting something for someone – and he handed me a black box. Inside were Marge’s rings. He kept the cigar band, but wanted me to have her rings. He told me they might bring me luck in finding love. (And, I certainly needed it.)

I knew Marge had been all right with her death. It was, after all, the only way back to her Henry. When I sat in front of their gravestone and cried like a baby, it was both out of grief for the suffering that is inherent in life, and loss; but also, in relief that they were together again.
I was honored to be wearing Marge’s engagement ring and wedding band.
Henry’s sisters, Edna and Ruth, are buried a few gravestones away. I sat in front of them and cried like a baby as well. I should say I was still crying – but also that I continued to cry.

Ruth had a life, married, etc. But Edna had inherited the family curse – what was then known as the “circular disease,” i.e. she was bipolar. As her brother, my grandfather Henry was, and as I am.

I was crying for Great Aunt Edna, not really out of empathy, because our experience of bad brain chemistry was so different. I was crying because most of her life was spent inside an institution – that she wasn’t let out until the advent of Lithium in the late 1960's or early 1970's.
Or, so the family lore goes.
I can only thank the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals and my own stubborn and tenacious disposition – the disposition of being born of two hard-headed parents - that my life has been (relatively) "normal."
I took pictures of both gravestones and as I was walking back to my car, I sent a few in an email to my Dad. I'd accomplished my mission; the gravestone cutter had done his job. All was well.

As I was walking, I noted one gravestone, the inexpensive slab in the earth kind, with five spent metal votive candle holders turned upside down and pushed into the earth in a neat row.

They made me stop. One votive for each year that had passed since this loved one or beloved had died. I realized then that I'd forgotten to bring flowers, or a candle. I walked back and placed a rock on each gravestone -- a Jewish tradition but something I could do in remembrance.

Next time I pass through the Hartford area, I will bring a red geranium plant and plant it in front of Henry and Marge's grave my Dad told me those were his Dad's favorites. And what were Henry's favorites would be Marge's favorite as well.

I might bring a chamomile plant and plant that in front of Ethel and Ruth's gravestone. Something to soothe the spirit of my Aunt Ruth.

May they both all rest in peace.

I finally made my way back to my car and wiped my face with Kleenex, covered my red eyes with my sunglasses and drove to the local Starbucks.

A Starbucks that was fashioned in a Revolutionary War tavern.

Gotta’ love capitalism.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lita Rising, Chapter Ten: First Saturday

Susan woke up with the birds, as Homer always said. It was Saturday morning, and she turned toward her husband but his side of the bed was still squared away; barely mussed and tucked in. The sight startled Susan and it took a few moments for the confusion to drift away. To remember that she was very much alone in their bed.

My bed.

She turned her back and stared out the bay window. Her eyelashes felt like acupuncture needles stuck in one long raised blister. 

Susan focused on the buzz of hummingbird wings flitting nervously around the coral bells and red salvia growing outside the bedroom windows. A little farther out was the song of some yellow-rumped warblers.

For a moment, it was possible to relax into sound; to feel the clean cotton sheets snuggled around her body. They were white with little pink flowers. They were new. So was the yellow quilt she’d gotten at the Lodi Target store.

The striped sheets Homer died in were folded neatly in a decorative box she’d also picked up at the Target. On top of the sheets was a small lock of his hair between one of his money clips, and a post-it note from last Saturday morning. On the yellow note were her husband's last words:  "I can’t talk no more."

Susan took in a deep breath and then let it out. It was time to get moving. It was Homer’s memorial today. Family only, and simple. They’d go spread his ashes by his favorite fishing hole, and then come back to the house for a potluck supper.

Even so, Susan continued to stay wrapped in her new sheets, feeling like a loose oak leaf still attached to the branch in winter, just waiting to fall to solid ground. She’d been shaky like this since the day after Homer’s passing.

My first Saturday.

A week earlier, she'd held her dead husband’s head and kissed the skin stretched over his bony forehead. She'd regretted it immediately. It had felt thin and reptile-like under her lips.

Afterwards, the professionals took over the details. Thanks be to God, Susan thought then, and repeated to herself now. It had been so nice not to deal with any of death’s aftermath. It only took the Neptune Society about five hours to reach the house.

They came in two black vans, and brought a gurney and a maroon colored body bag. She’d watched them carefully wrap Homer’s body in that body bag, and then wheel his cocooned body out to one of the vans. Followed them out and watching the red taillights of those black vans dapple through the leaves.

Susan had stood in that spot until the memory of the tail-lights’ red glow began to disperse into the sounds around her.

The Neptune Society took Homer’s remains for cremation, and she’d picked up the box of ashes yesterday in Lodi. That’s when she stopped by the Target. It was bright and she felt anonymous. No one in that store knew anything about her or that she was shaking inside.

Of course, her tremors weren’t anything permanent, like some sort of Parkinsons or something. Susan felt more like an animal now than she ever had, including those first few months with Homer,that freight train of lust.

Her body was so afraid, her senses overloaded by the inevitable failure of Homer’s cancer-ridden body, the emergency catheter insertion, the bed sores, the bad smells of rot and death. His dead body. Most of all, though, most of what kept the fear in her veins was the sound of Homer’s gurgling breath on the morning of his death. It went on and on, for at least two hours. Or, so it seemed.

The hospice nurse reassured her that he wasn’t in any kind of pain, that the morphine kept him from really experiencing these last few hours in any sort of corporal way. But that sound, that gurgling kept looping in her head.

Susan shuddered from the tips of her toes to the top of her scalp. She wouldn’t let anyone she loved hear that sound when her time came.

The bright lights and unruly sounds of children at the Target store drowned the gurgling out for a bit. Maybe that’s why she’d walked around and around, filling her red shopping cart.

After hospice left, taking their morphine with them, the home nursing services came in, taking all the medical equipment away, leaving holes in the living room and bedroom. She hadn’t done anything about putting things back to right. She wasn’t even sure she’d do it today. It was only family coming. And that nice attorney, Steve Howell.

"Pigfuckers." Susan covered her mouth, surprised at herself, but the memory of the deposition the week before Homer died made her spitting angry. Homer had definitely finished his part of the lawsuit, anyway.

In fact he’d gone out in a blaze of glory, blasting those smug attorneys to smithereens with his moral strength and all those job records he’d kept. She heard Steve tell Homer that she’d be set for life, not to worry about his Susan.

And, that, as they say, was that. Homer’d gone from being alive to being dead overnight. Well, that’s how it seemed. Susan knew she’d been wrapped up in his decline, unable to really see its downward spiral in any sort of real way. Like kittens. You didn’t notice they were full-on cats until they were.

The anger was enough finally to get up and out of bed. Standing, Susan slipped into a cozy yellow robe over her pink nightgown, but left her feet bare. It was already beginning to show signs of a warm day.

Besides, she’d gotten herself a fancy pedicure at the beauty parlor by the Target when she’d gone into town. Her feet looked pretty and soft, with a silvery white polish sparkling on her toes.

Padding her way into the kitchen, Susan brewed a pot of strong coffee and got her French Vanilla creamer from the fridge. There was also a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass at the ready, thanks to Tommy.

Her husband’s cousin, at 36, was much younger than they were, but he and Susan had always had a strange bond. Susan liked Tommy, and Tommy liked Susan. Just one of those rare friendships that never needed a starter switch.

She hadn’t called him to tell him of Homer’s passing. She’d called only one person, Homer’s mother. The word spread from there, and by Monday afternoon, a small memorial had already been planned. She’d been glad not to be involved in any of it. She couldn’t have participated in anything as normal as planning. Not right now.

It didn’t surprise her when Tommy’d shown up early Tuesday morning in his 1970’s white VW van, carrying his guitar and a few bottles of Jim Beam. She’d brewed some fresh coffee, and made them both a delicious Irish coffee with Kool-Whip.

She’d been doing it every morning since, and probably would until Tommy left. Of course, Susan was danged sure Tommy drank a lot more in a day than a shot in his morning coffee, but she didn’t think that was any of her business.

Besides, he wasn’t a mean drunk. Nope, Tommy had the blessing of the bard, and charm oozed from his bones, drunk or sober.

Tommy was double dip Irish-American. Homer and his sister, Clodagh, Tommy’s Mother, were from Irish Leggetts, although most were Scottish. Tommy’s father had been of the Irish Cheshires, although most Cheshires were English. His, therefore, was a family of black sheep Irish.

Both families were genetically wired with the double edged sword of whiskey and music. Tommy was a true Irish soul, unlike his younger brother Seamus who was just a little too mean-spirited for her liking.

"Probably got the English short stick," Homer used to say. She’d thought it wasn’t anything so fancy. Their father was a violent drunk who’d disappeared-after putting Clodagh in the hospital. The boys had been young, maybe 8 and 9 years old.

Hope he brings his Bodhran. Seamus redeemed himself every once in a while on his Irish drum. She had to give him that.

Tommy shuffled into the kitchen. "Speak of the devil hisself!" 

"Shhhh…" whispered Tommy, pointing to his head, and then pointing to the whiskey before sitting on one of the stools at that kitchen’s center island. He lit a cigarette, using a coffee saucer for an ashtray. She hadn’t asked him not to, not that he’d thought to ask permission.

It was warm and all the windows were open, including the French doors that opened into the back yard.

"Good day for fishing," Tommy said, wanting to acknowledge the memorial. He’d never been one for direct communication. Especially about unpleasant things, but that’s why he was there. No use ignoring the obvious.

Susan just looked up and nodded her head a bit, a Mona Lisa smile on her wide mouth. She’d already whipped up two perfect Irish coffees, complete with an excessive dollop of Kool-Whip.

She sat down on a stool across from Tommy and they drank in companionable silence, the warblers still singing, and a lone woodpecker offering percussion close by. There also seemed to be a rather large murder of ravens cawing in the tops of a few giant sequoias lining their property.

My property, she reminded herself.

One of Tommy’s legs was restless, shaking out some constant, internal river of rhythm. Soon enough, Susan knew, he’d go find his guitar, sit on the picnic table in the back yard, smoke cigarettes, drink whiskey and sing sad songs for hours. Some Irish ballads, maybe a little Van Morrison, and some songs by a guy named Tom Waits.

The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. Susan didn’t immediately get up to answer it. Homer always picked up on the second ring, like clockwork. That ring was an unwanted reminder that he wouldn’t never do it again. She was suddenly furious.

Susan sucked in her breath hard and reached over to the phone and hit the green button,


"Good morning, Susan." It was Homer’s attorney. His voice was so pleasant, no fake-ass sadness everyone else seemed to think was polite these days.

"Steve, what a nice surprise." She meant it. "Are you headed up?"

"Sure am."

"Well, Mom told me she put you down for desert. Hope it wasn’t much trouble."

"Not at all. I picked up a couple of fresh baked pies from my favorite bakery. Hope you don’t mind I didn’t make ‘em myself."

Susan almost smiled. "I wouldn’t have expected that, Steve. I think your talents lie outside the kitchen. Maybe in the dining room…" She heard a genuine laugh come through the phone. Susan had a gift with the G-rated double entendres.

"That would be correct! Hey, I think I’ll be there around noon. If it’s too early, I’ll…"

"Not at all. Our cousin Tommy’s here. You two can sip whiskey and keep each other company while I get things ready. He’s outside playing his guitar." As an afterthought, she said, "He’s got a band. Says he’s sort of famous down your way."

"Tommy Cheshire?"

"Yes!" Susan was honestly surprised, but pleased that a big-shot lawyer would know about Tommy. "Yes, that’s right, the Crazy Cats they call themselves."

"I know the band well, Susan. They’re one of my favorites. You know, they’re on the verge of breaking out of the Bay Area bar circuit. Exciting time for them."

"Yup, all we been hearing from him for some months now. Something about a gig at the Viper. Whatever that is. Sounds like a biker bar to me."

Susan was actually smiling now. They’d thought Tommy was spinning tales, desperate to avoid the facts of life, his bright star finally fading under the weight of lost dreams and all that Jim Beam.

So cool! thought Steve, sitting up high in his Chevy truck, smiling along with Susan. "Well, tell him that sounds like a fine plan. I’ll see you both soon."

"Yup, ok, Steve. See you soon!"

Susan hung up and drifted out toward the sound of Tommy’s guitar. She stood beside the picnic table, looking out over the trees sloping down behind the house. It was a beautiful view on a beautiful day. All at once, her smile melted into the hot burst under her breastbone as tears started down her face.

Tommy heard her start to cry which made his own eyes well up. He couldn’t bring himself to open his mouth or move to her side to offer some comfort. Can’t even pull out something nice for Susan, can you. Selfish fuck...

Tommy sighed as he rolled his head around his neck. When he came up rightside, he knew what he could do. He’d play her favorite song, only this time it wasn’t just wistful, it was a good-bye.

I am stretched on your grave

and I'll lie here forever

If you hands were in mine

I'd be sure they would not sever

My apple tree, my brightness,

It's time we were together

For I smell by the Earth

And I'm worn by the weather...

He thought she’d understand, and she did. Sitting down next to Tommy on the picnic table, Susan picked up the whiskey bottle and poured a little on the ground.

"Here’s to you, Homer Leggett, the love of my life. I’ll see you in heaven."

She took a small sip and handed the bottle to Tommy, who followed Susan’s lead, pouring a small amount on the ground,

"Here’s to a fine man, a fine man," and then took a rather more substantial drag from the bottle.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


with co-opted trees
of light and candy canes
adrift in my sea
finding no tribe
I list endlessly on Your horizon
in the best costumes
can buy,

the stage like a world overgrown, nothing
but faulty logic and subtle devices
earning Your right to
push me hold
me, even longer
love’s red rocks smoldering
stone heavy configurations in my belly
through my breath. Your
ear-splitting turning away

I am but a good costume
layered deep with years of feathers
and tar, my desire
an ostentatious mother
bedecked and bejeweled she wheels her chariot
all metal and broken
glistening with urine
and spreading her vile, rolling
rust. I am alone
on this planet stepping over
human feces
at my feet. But where
do I step
over me?

This is my creation
times one side of a front page
I write on what’s at hand in my floppy hat
and my imperfection, I write here
a love letter
to a white flag
woven of stronger stuff
than I welcomed You
to wave.

~2005 (ish)

Thursday, June 6, 2013, I saw the bed in which Emily Dickinson died...

I am on the road again. Yesterday, I left my cozy little respite at Laura's place and turned onto 84E and headed to my 12th state:  Connecticut.

I was born in Connecticut, in Hartford, the city of insurance. My parents and my older sister Sarah took me home to East Granby where we lived in relative stability until "the divorce." I was about 8 or 9 years old. It's vague; a blurry photograph.

The divorce was weird, but we never saw Dad anyway, so it was actually nice to be able to expect to spend time on a routine basis. And, Mom was dating all these guys and seemed happier than before the divorce. Of course, we met all of the men except the boring dentist.

The boyfriend I really liked was named Bill. He was a lot younger than my Mom (36 at the time) cool and talked to me like I was a person. I also remember that he once rubbed Vick's Vapor Rub on my chest when I was really sick. I mean, really! My parents never nursed us when we were sick. They went to work.

My sister and I were true "latch-key" kids. My Mom went to work at Lord & Taylor when I was three. I had a babysitter, Mrs. Johnson, and spent my Mom's work hours with her until I was six years old. At that point, the story goes, my parents couldn't afford the full-time babysitter so I didn't go to Mrs. Johnson's anymore.

So, my 10-year old sister became my babysitter. In other words, I had no babysitter. Sarah couldn't be bothered, and several times locked me in a closet so she could go out to play and not worry about me.

Despite the lack of parental supervision, I still felt like I had a home. Our red house with its black shutters is drawn with indelible ink. Forever

It is now sort of an ugly light blue.

I know some products of a broken home consider the divorce a seminal moment, i.e. "before" vs. "after" the divorce. For me, though, it was actually "before" Mom left us and "after" Mom left us.

 Before Mom left for California, I lived in my house with my mean big sister and my cat, Graykey (as in "the gray kitty" in baby English). Mom came in and out and occasionally Dad made an appearance. But, in a fundamental way, I had a family and a home - however dysfunctional.

My Mom died in 2007. I really miss my Mom. She was an amazing mother to her two grown daughters, and a completely devoted grandmother to my sister's first three children. Shabria didn't come into our family until shortly before Mom died. I think they met once or twice. I'm sure Mom would have adored her, too.

A wonderful thing happened when Sarah had her first child, Elijah. One day, my Mom, my sister, Eli and I were hanging out at Sarah's. Eli was about 8 months maybe? Anyway, Mom suddenly told us that she never realized how much she'd missed out on when we were kids. She was sorry that she'd not been there for us. Sorry that she missed out on raising her children.

I didn't know what to do. My Mom did not express her feelings very often. This is not to say that she wasn't a warm woman - she was. She was easy on the mind, patient and a great listener. Everyone loved my Mom.

In fact, my ex-girlfriend Laura from law school - the woman who is sheltering me right now - ended a years' long silence (we had a fight and neither of us would give) because she saw that my Mom had died (on FB of course). This ultimately led to our reconciliation as friends, and another try at a romantic relationship in 2008 and 2009.

I think that Sarah and I both went and hugged my Mom after her declaration of love and contrition. I don't really remember the specifics, but it was a super sweet moment for all of us, with little Eli rolling and laughing at our feet.

However, back in the day when my Mom left my sister and me in Connecticut to chase after a man all the way to Northern California, I was left without a mother and a home. I was 11 years old.

I was dropped off at my father's house in Glastonbury, Connecticut where he lived with my first (of three) stepmothers, Hercy. My sister was shipped out to my father's alma mater prep school, Kent. This was the summer between 6th and 7th grades.

I turned 12 that summer. My birthday is August 9 and my father had dragged me out to a summer "camp" on some island in Maine that could only be reached by sea-plane. It was owned by his friends, The Bacons. My father and Hercy flew the plane and I sat in the little back seat.

I think they made a cake and sang Happy Birthday to me after dinner on my birthday. I might have received gifts. I don't remember. The only thing I remember was that I spent a long time that  evening locked in the bathroom trying to figure out how to avoid telling anyone in the other room that I'd just gotten my first period.

I knew all about the curse - or Aunt Flow. Sarah is almost four years older than I am so I read those little pink books from her 6th grade Health class when I was in the 2nd grade. Mom was never shy about body stuff - it was the practical, physical realm and she was pretty comfortable with all of it.

So, I was not shocked. I was not afraid. I was just mortified that the only people within who knew how many miles, were all strangers in their late 30's - including my father. There I was washing out undies and -- did you see this one coming -- my white shorts, just like my Mom and big sister before me. But, they were not with me and I didn't know what to do next.

Ultimately, I had to peek my head out of the door and get Hercy's attention. Fortunately, she had some pads (dear universe: these were never a great idea), and didn't tell anyone else.

Hercy was an odd duck who worshipped Ayn Rand and who probably married my father just because he was an architect. She was also smart and discreet. After all, she'd managed a torrid affair with a married man for a long time before his wife found out.

Interesting that the usurper (my father's mother's monicker) was the one there for me when I "became a woman," and not my Mom.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, I was on the road again...

I also drove into my 13th state yesterday as well, Massachusetts.  I'm visiting my Mom's younger sister, Janet, for a few days. She lives in Northampton, MS, which seems to be a great place - there are universities and colleges all around (Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, University of Massachusetts, etc.).

There is also the birthplace of Emily Dickinson. When my Aunt Janet suggested we go to the Emily Dickinson homestead museum in Amherst, I was stunned. I had no idea I was so close to the place where my poetry muse had been born.

Emily Dickinson gave me poetry and gave me to poetry. There was no way I was not going to that museum. And, so, today, I saw the bed in which Emily Dickinson died.

This is one of two known photographs of Emily Dickinson. She is on the left. This photograph has only been found recently, and it has taken several years to authenticate. The only other image of Emily is a portrait painted by a traveling artist when she was a child.

The homestead museum is the house Emily was born in and lived in until she was about 10 years old. She didn't move into the house that looked out on the town's cemetary until that time. (Her father repurchased the homestead when Emily was in her 20's.) They don't have a lot of Emily's personal effects - or the desk where she wrote her poetry. There is a museum in Harvard that has all that. I will get there eventually.

Even so, Emily still lived in the upper right (as in stage right) corner of that house -- and the museum did have the bed in which Emily died. When the docent lead the other tour goers out of her bedroom, I lingered long enough to reach out and touch the dark wood of the twin-sized sleigh type bed.

When we returned to the initial exhibit room after the tour, I just stood there staring at the few original drafts Emily wrote in her heavily right-slanted script. I couldn't move.

As any poet will tell you, we all have our own system or method of editing. For instance, all my poems get transcribed into a software program I have for writing.  When I edit, I block and copy the original on top of the original and then edit. I do the same thing with each successive edits.

Emily's system was right there on the originals. She used + signs in front of words or phrases to refer to footnotes where she listed alternative words or phrases.

It was thrilling - yes, thrilling with goose bumps and all - to see these "variants." I was tracing over Emily's process of writing; absorbing her attention to the details of a word's relative meaning within the structure/intention of one poem.

There is a 3-volume set of her poetry that includes all the word/phrase variants. It's $140, but someday, I will buy that set and pour over it like molasses.

There are some obvious reasons why I relate to Emily's poetry:  she was interested in nature and botany, and held an ongoing conversation with mortality. She also had a similar dearth of parenting as I experienced growing up.

This is what Emily had to say of her parents:

“My mother does not care for thought, and father - too busy with his briefs to notice what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not to read them, because he fears they joggle the mind.” 

Even so, her father seemed to consider his children's needs - he even got Emily a Newfoundland in her teens who kept her company into her 30's.

Emily had this to say upon her mother's death -

"The dear Mother that could not walk, has flown. It never occurred to us that she had not Limbs, she had Wings—-and she soared from us unexpectedly as a summoned Bird—-"

These words make me feel as though Emily must have come to some sort of understanding with or about her Mom. They also make me feel a bit closer to Emily.

As the years passed, and I grew up, my Mom grew up as well. By the time she died, she was a supportive parent to both Sarah and I, and someone we could talk with and rely upon to give her ever so pragmatic advice.

I think that because of her presence in my life for so many more years than her absence, the "before" and "after" that now fills my heart with grief and gratitude are those days before November 5, 2007, and these sometimes endless days after.

I hope that Emily has rested in peace all of these decades gone by, and perhaps has had the honor of sitting with my Mom and sipping on a cup of dark hot chocolate.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Starbucks of Pot: Flipboard, Pocket and The Randomly Intentional

Finding a new app can be some serious junky fun. Right now, I'm in that joy of new discovery phase with Flipboard.

I'm not a regular web-surfer. I have friends who do that for me, and send me links to funny cat videos, interesting articles, or the latest game or app for my iPhone. So, for me, Flipboard is sort of a revelation. I am now an official web-surfer.

Flipboard has done a few things for me. First, I am now more overtly aware of the endless nature of the www. It is a black hole through which all of Earth's sentient beings have fallen. Second, as ridiculous as this sounds in 2013, it is so much fun to surf the internet!

Each Flipboard square o' internet site spills out crumbs into a forest of topic. It is guiltless permission to indulge your short attention span. To gorge on dopamine. To excise all boredom from existence.

And then! Full stop. You find cake. You want to eat the cake. Only one tap away is the cake. The nibbhana. The source wherefrom the crumbs did fall.

I realize I've mixed up fairytales, cautionary tales and metaphors, but that's sort of what web surfing is all about, isn't it? It is both completely random and completely intentional.

This morning, I was flipping along and got caught by a hook on Slate. I almost missed it, there, stuffed under a full upper-fold size photo of a McDonald's Big Mac (CEO claiming to eat at McDonald's everyday. right.).

However, the story was right up my alley, combining an inherent commentary on capitilism and marijuana. It was called, "The Starbucks of Pot." I had to read this one so I tapped the link, and there it was, a full article on discussing Jamen Shively's "...plans to open chain stores offering a uniform, high-end product that satisfies America's craving for a mild buzz...'Yes, we are Big Marijuana,' Shively, 45, brazenly told reporters..."

Shively actually told reporters that he is going to establish " industry that does not exist yet." (Id.)  OMGLMFAO!  Where the hell has he been for the last 50 years? Anyway, I digress.

Mind you, there is a long list in the "Content" section of Flipboard and it is easy to get carried away and just add and add sites until the pages of square-inched websites turns into a vast field of grids that you can flip through with no hope of ever focusing on anything whatsoever.

And, this is where anxiety starts to settle into the back of your mind.

You start to realize that you are not actually floating in a stream of soothing soundbites of information. In fact, your biological mother-board of a brain over-heats in its vain attempts to synthesize and categorize everything you see, hear and read on the www. Like it could!

Couldn't it? Shouldn't it?

No! But don't you worry, don't you fret! "Pocket" is here! Ahhh....Pocket. My savior. My redeemer. Hit the little weird symbol for share (which reminds me of one of those wooden chemistry sets) and voila! Anxiety abated.

On the other hand, Pocket is just another layer of Flipboard. Inside my Pocket is a growing grid of square-inched articles and photographs and videos -- these square-inched items may scroll instead of flip, but here comes that sneaky whir of anxiety again...

The black hole issue is a bit more personal. There are hundreds and thousands of internet sites and bloggers out there who are sharing information, insight and commentary. This is the marketplace of ideas that I spoke of in my prior blog post (May 24, 2013, Response to Alon Shalev and the Detractors of the Melting Pot).

Turkey explodes in a tornado of demonstrations - over a park? Huh? There are any number of first-hand accounts coming out live over the internet. You can get your answers immediately. For eg., my friend Alon again:

I want to be a part of all that is good about the internet. I want to dive into the melting pot soup that is the WORLD. All sentient beings on Earth obstensibly have access to the internet - or will at some point in the future. If there is a future for humanity (not cynical, just realistic at this point - see myriad internet commentary, book reviews and articles related to over-population and capitalism's unique ability to morph with the needs of the times, i.e. how to deal with too many humans with too few resources).

Half of what I save into my Pocket are reference items:  movies, restaurants, cultural events to check out. The other half are brainy and stimulate a very primal need inside of me to investigate the state of humanity as it relates to humanity.

I mean to use "relates" as a transitive verb - what humanity is or will become as a result of creating a world-wide melting pot, or marketplace, of ideas and cultures. The idea that woke me up in elementary school and told me to join in the frey - to maintain my absurdly curious mind and apply it tenaciously to every being and everything. This marketplace of ides that is the very foundation of this grand democratic experiment commonly referred to as the United States of America (whether or not that experiment is failing is not a topic of discussion in this blog post).

I also mean to use "relates" as an instranstive verb - the relationship that is being established between humanity and itself - as it starts speaking to itself, looking at itself. The unique opportunity that is the www for each of us to know the world not just through our own unique aperture and perspective, but also through anyone else's unique aperture and perspective.

This seeking of mine on the internet - starting with email in the early 1990's (that's when I started on Hotmail) to the moment and modality in which I currently reside -- Flipboard, Pocket, Blogspot -- has been random. You know, you get lost trying to find Havaianas flip-flops on-line but it leads to an article about Castro which teaches you something about revolution.

This time, a friend points me in the direction of a cool new app like Flipboard - an internet surfing tool - and my natural and abundant curiosity (just ask my friends how many times I say "why" per day) gets to flipping and tapping and Pocketing and reading and watching what is happening all over the world in billions of minds everywhere.

Curiosity is said to kill the cat - but what if the cat needs to be killed (I'm not suggesting cats should be killed - I have two as the name of my blog and the photo avitar clearly shows). Perhaps curiosity can kill ignorance, complacency, lethargy and stagnation? What if that is true?

I am, in a random manner, leading myself through a maze of facts and perspectives that lead me to a point of critical mass inside my mind--an "aha" moment where I know what I want to share with you - you being humanity and me being humanity when we are all part of a world wide web.

Alas, there usually comes a point when the 100% absorption rate of a new app bottoms out, and then disappears. Almost as fast as it appeared. The Velveteen app icon will get thrown into the woods of lost memory to make room for another app.

Maybe Flipboard and Pocket will go that way, but I will have learned something new - not just new facts or ideas - but about what makes me groove in this world. And, that is ireplaceable.