Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Palladium

art by Keith Haring

He took me to the Palladium. It was the summer of 1985 and the famous old concert hall was the new Studio 54. I wore a pink strapless dress and black high top sneakers. His friend came with us. There was a huge crowd at the door. Either your name was on the list or it wasn't. If you weren't on the list, the bouncers decided whether you were Paladium material -- we stood out there for a long time, watching people go in, watching people try to pay the bouncers to get in, it seemed fairly hopeless. "Go up there, and blow smoke in the bouncer's face. Show him plenty of cleavage -- you got that, that'll get us in." So I lit a cigarette, an Egyptian cigarette in black paper with a gold filter, it was a Dunhill, the last of a carton I'd gotten from Katina's dad, he imported cigarettes, he had this warehouse down on Wall Street, filled with Dunhills and clove cigarettes from Jakarta. He gave me party colored cigarettes, gold filtered cigarettes, they were beautiful and odd, I wasn't supposed to smoke, I was a lung case, but these cigarettes were too beautiful not to smoke. So I pushed through the crowd and planted myself in front of the biggest of the two bouncers. He looked down at me, right down my dress and then I blew smoke in his face, "You, you can go in."
"And my friends?"
"How many?"
"Two, my boyfriend and his pal."
"Yeah - them too."
There were red carpeted floors, and footlights, and mirrors and the music got louder and louder as we tunneled into the old cavernous theater. We were New Wave spelunkers. There was every imaginable kind of person in there -- girls who looked like Madonna, Madonna herself might have been there, but it would have been impossible to discern her from all the impersonators. There were drag queens and boys in leather, there were aging models, and aspiring scene kids. Stockbrokers in suits on the make for girls and for boys. Gorgeous transvestites who made the drag queens look like fakers from Las Vegas. The dance floor vibrated and sweated and seized -- there was no air, none at all, just cocaine, and hashish, and champagne, and Keith Haring paintings EVERYwhere! He was the toast of the town and they had turned him loose to grafitti the whole place -- he even painted the inside of the stall doors in the bathrooms. Oh the bathrooms! A crush of girls and boys and straightening of dresses and moussing hair and more cocaine and hashish and champagne, and then in the dark corners junkies shooting up. I was like a little kid in that place -- I had never seen such humanity. It was a night city, it was a space ship, it was some sort of New Wave Ark, it was like the bar scene in Star Wars, you know the one, on the rebel planet, where they find Han Solo? And the creatures fight and a cyclops drinks some sort of boiling blue beer in the corner . . . it was like that, only on roids, completely out of proportion to anything I had ever witnessed. I was like Alice -- I had eaten the cake and now I was very, very small and the Rabbit was calling to me, only he was Boy George.
My boyfriend did lots of cocaine, and so did his friend. I didn't do any, the stuff terrified me. I just drank champaigne and smoked the rest of my Egyptians. We didn't dance much -- the dance floor was like hell, really, it seemed something like suicide to go out there. As the night wore on, we climbed high into rafters and curled up with eachother on black velvent sofas and there was lots of sex going on all around us and we just listened and absorbed and wondered if the sun was coming up.
Leaving was like falling out of a Fun House. We went out some back alley door and it slammed hard behind us, and the sun was indeed coming up. We walked to Washington Square and sat on benches in the cool steamy summer morning that the City was giving to us. We bought a joint off a big Rastafarian in a black, green, and yellow tam. We ate pancakes and scrambled eggs in some diner and then went back uptown to my boyfriend's parents apartment. It was their City apartment, they had a big house in Greenwich. We slept all day and then took the train back to Connecticut around dinner time.
He broke up with me a week later on our one month anniversary. I called him on the phone and said, "let's go out tonight."
"I can't go out." he said
"How come?" I asked.
"My front teeth fell out."
"What?!" I laughed, I thought he was kidding.
"Really! Its not funny. Its from the coke." He hung up on me. I never heard from him again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Husbands

I probably won’t be watching the much heralded new television series Men of a Certain Age, because I’ve just seen John Cassavetes’ Husbands. Made in 1970, Husbands was written and directed by Cassavetes and it stars the usual suspects, Ben Gazzara, as Harry, Peter Falk as Archie, and Cassavetes as Gus. The sunniest moment of the film is the opening, a slide show of slightly faded color snapshots of four couples laughing, drinking, smoking cigarettes in their bathing suits around a pool. It's a summer’s weekend, and you immediately know who they are: middle-class New Yorkers out on Long Island on a Saturday afternoon. If you look at the snapshots carefully you see Gene Rowland’s beautiful face flash by, its her only appearance in the movie. The women hug and play with the children. The four husbands mug for the camera, line up, flex their biceps and hold in their 40-something stomachs. They are happy in that moment. And then BAM! You’re at a funeral, one of the four husbands has died -- the priest drones, the wives weep, Ben Gazzara holds the hand of the prematurely departed’s tiny ancient mother with an angelic face that only a ninety-year old Italian Catholic woman could possess, she’s seen all of life and now, she’s burying her middle-aged son. The sky is pitch gray, the trees in the cemetery are bare and clutching, and it's that dead time somewhere in early March, just when spring should be coming, but the devil of winter holds the door shut.

Our three heroes, Gus, Archie, and Harry leave the funeral disgusted with the priest’s characterization of their friend and intent on one thing: to get drunk. As the night gets murkier with alcohol, cigars, and fear of mortality, the three friends descend into the first level of Dante’s Inferno, there is absolutely no turning back. They are of one mind, one that refuses the fact that they are Over the Hill and barreling down the far slope at a speed they can’t control. So there’s only one way to stop it, they are going to wrestle life to a stand still. Morning comes, and the story could end here, with a bad hangover and a return to suburban boredom. But nope, Harry leads the charge ino a new level by taking Archie and Gus with him into his home, where he declares he hates his wife and proceeds to beat the stuffing out of her and her mother. Archie and Gus stop Harry before he kills the women and next thing you know, Harry’s dug up his passport and announces he’s going to London.

Archie and Gus aren’t ready to go that far -- to declare a complete anarchy. They are ambiguous, so they find a way to leave without leaving, they tell Harry they’ll go to London with him, to “tuck him into bed and then come home.” Gus calls his wife, says he needs his passport, and could she call Archie’s wife and get his passport too? “I love you honey, you’re the best. Naw, we’re just going to tuck him in bed and then come home.” You imagine Gena Rowlands on the other end of the phone, and she’s got two thoughts in her head: Will he come home? and I hope he never comes home.

The unraveling continues, they are throwing down the whiskeys with lots of ice, the cigarettes keep burning. The airplane is filled with smoke, Falk awakens from the dream of their Great Escape somewhere in the middle of the flight, “Harry, I don’t know about this.” And Harry lights another cigarette and says, “Archie, we’re over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, what are you worrying about? You can’t worry over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.” Falk closes his eyes, throws back another drink.

The stewardess welcomes them to another level of the Inferno, “Bub-bye. Thank you. Bub-eye.” They walk out of the airplane into the pouring rain (no sealed ramps into the airports back then) they run across the tarmac, still wearing their black overcoats and suits from the funeral. They have no idea where they are going or what they are going to do, except find a pub and keep drinking. They are free, completely free now, nobody can find them, or stop them, not even death.

They enter an exotic world of English Women and Archie even toys with an old transvestite, he’s dancing on the edge of something deep within himself, but just at the moment the old Girl is ready to trip the light fantastic with him, he draws back violently, she keeps him in her weird grip for just a moment and then she recognizes his fear of himself, of what he might really be, and she releases him, no damage done to her fake eyelashes, its his problem, his foible. Down down down they go, never leaving each others' sides, like teenage boys, and you know they were boys together in school, they need each other to fend off the forces of evil, the forces of getting Old and Dying. They’re all in one hotel room with an odd collection of women, ordering bottles of whiskey, lots of ice, endive salads, bowls of olives, cartons of cigarettes . . . the rain isn’t stopping cause its London.

But it has to stop somewhere doesn’t it? And amazingly, but not surprisingly, Gus and Archie keep their promise. They tuck Harry in and go home. They pause in JFK airport to buy presents for the kids. And when Cassavetes arrives on foot at the end of his driveway his little girl meets him with tears, and his son, all of twelve or so, shouts at his father, “Boy are YOU in trouble! Ma get out here! Ma!”

Here’s why Men of a Certain Age will never measure up to Husbands. Because Cassavetes' depiction of the midlife crisis was never afraid of offending anyone or showing people what they are really thinking and feeling. Cassevetes and his ensemble of actors were so close to one another, they had collaborated so many times, that they were always emotionally naked with one another. Cassavetes could make them do anything in front of the camera, because he would do anything -- the give and take is explicitly apparent. So many people know Peter Falk only as Columbo, but if they would venture to see Falk in just one of Cassavetes’ films, they would see a different man, a different kind of artist, and then go back and watch an episode or two of Columbo, and they’ll see that Columbo is working on all these levels they never noticed before. Cassavetes takes method acting and tears it to shreds -- its raw and uncomfortable, its real. Hollywood was afraid of the man, because he made them look like the pastry puff they were, which is a tragedy really, not for Cassavetes, but for Hollywood.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmust

post office, market, a cold wind races across the parking lot and freezes a woman to a shopping cart, stack wood, find sticks, more sticks, more wood, feed birds--c’mas eve brunch with wonderful strangers who tell good stories about becoming murder suspects by just calling the police to report something suspicious--c’mas eve pyro gone, pyro comes home, Presents! sleep, long ride on Joe on gray c’mas morning--somebody got a chain saw for c’mas, keerrrash! woo hoo! who cuts a tree down on c’mas morning?!  joe spooks, we cross the river and forget about it--mash cranberries in pot with sugar and tangerines and my last cinnamon stick and bring to a boil, roast chicken, roast beets, roast turnips, roast carrots, roast sweet potatoes--drink prosecco, lots of prosecco, Parker Posey by the light of the fire, sleep, sleep, Snow, more snow, more snow, Boxing Day of Snow! corn bread in a little iron pan, long walk in the white woods, chicken and cranberry/orange sandwiches, cricket match in South Africa, warm people wearing funny clothes, if clothes at all, drinking beer out of measuring cups, but i dream a sofa dream and nap and nap and dream--UP! chicken stock, risotto. . . no wait, best risotto ever, Harry’s Bar Risotto with remaining roasted roots and James Coburn and Raquel Welch--fire, oh fire, good fire and dogs too tired to say anything because they have been wrestling in the snow all day.

Boxing Day comes with snow . . .

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Coyote and The Bull . . . with musical accompaniment by The Three Little Steers

Its Christmas Eve in the Hundred Acre Pasture, the sun is cutting a trail for Night on the power line and the moon is considering what to wear for dinner. Coyote drives his Eldorado in a mean blur over the hill crossing the river bridge at a terrible speed and parks all akimbo at the gate. Bull ambles along the fence line to meet Coyote -- Coyote’s got a bone to pick, but Bull’s not afraid.

Coyote: Hey Man, I thought we had a deal! (slams car door for emphasis)

Bull: Hold yer fire Coyote, its Christmas.

Coyote: I don’t care if it’s Easter . . . a deal is a Deal!

Three Little Steers: doo op doo op dooooooo

Bull: You know my word is the best around here Coyote. I gotta reputation to maintain. I don’t cheat nobody.

Coyote: Don’t get High and Mighty with me Bull. I came to collect and was turned away.

Bull: You were turned away because it’s Christmas.

Coyote: It ain’t Christmas yet, that’s tomorrow.

Three Little Steers: dooo dooo dooo op deee dooooo

Bull: Don’t split hairs with me Coyote. You know better than that.

Coyote: Look Bull, I got mouths to feed. We had an arrangement . . . of course, I could go to Ellis, he’ll be happy to work with me, and you? You’ll be out in the cold.

Bull: You wouldn’t go to Ellis. Yer bluffing.

Coyote: Drove by there at lunch time today. We smoked the Peace Pipe Bull, Ellis said he wasn’t surprised you went back on yer word. If I go to Ellis, you got no protection Bull, you hear me, yer on yer own.

Bull: Ellis doesn’t produce like I do and you know that Coyote.

Coyote: He’s got two calves to your one for me tonite, BUT, I’m willing to work with you, you can change yer mind right now . . . (Coyote leans back on the hood of his car and lights a cigarette. He blows smoke rings and the last of the sun does a tango on his hood ornament, the one he got off a man in Ensenada last year during a job)

Three Little Steers: do do do dee dee do do deeeeee

Bull: Not changing my mind. You can collect on New Years and no sooner.

Coyote: I’m serious Bull, I’ll cut you loose and then yer cows will be vulnerable to every scum of the earth in the woods.

Bull: You don’t want this one Coyote, wait for the next one.

Coyote: Yer goin’ soft Bull

Three Little Steers: Deee deee doo op deee deeeeeeeeeeeee!

Bull: Nobody expected this Coyote. You hear me, nobody knew this was going to happen.

Coyote: Not only are you goin’ soft, but yer gettin’ superstitious in yer old age.

Bull: I don’t think so. Did you see her? Did you see the marking on her face?

Three Little Steers: wap wap wap da da da, yeah! wap wap wap da da da yeah!

Coyote: I was turned away Bull, your girls stopped me at the gate.

Bull: That calf that you came to collect was born with a crescent moon between her eyes.

Coyote: And . . .

Bull: when I was just a boy, my mother told me of a she-cow that would come one day with the crescent moon, Coyote, I can’t let this one go.

The Three Little Steers: ooooo yeah oooo yeah doooo op doooo op deeee op dooooooo!

Coyote: A deal’s a Deal!

Bull: I gave you two last month Coyote, and I’ll have at least three for you on New Years Day

Coyote: One a month Bull

Bull: Let’s say I give her to you . . . you cut her throat and feed her to your clan tonight. Your bellies are full for Christmas morning and then the snow begins to fall and it keeps falling and the winds blow and the trees fall and the sky stays gray and the snow buries us and the farmer can’t get his truck out here with hay and corn and my cows perish? Suppose I give her to you and the river rises and Bear that lives under the little cliff is overtaken by the water and Fox is drowned? Beaver came to me last night and said his dam was almost complete and he was sure if I let you take this one, that his dam would be washed away. I didn’t plan on a spirit being calved in my field Coyote, but there ya have it. And if you wanna go to Ellis, you go, I’ll have to take my chances.

Coyote: Yer a superstitious old bastard! Bull, just give me the calf.

Bull: I won’t. It’s Christmas and besides the Heron has a plan.

Three Little Steers: Da dum da dum daaaaa dum deeee ooooo op deeeee!

Coyote: Heron?! Is he still shootin’ up?

Bull: Listen Coyote, yer one to talk about habits!

Coyote: Bull, yer outta yer mind. This little calf ain’t the messiah, she’s yer chip! Give me the chip and the rest of yer kin are safe.

Bull: Nobody expected this Coyote, I’m sorry.

Coyote: Now yer sorry?

Three Little Steers: mmmmmmmmmmm deeeeeee mmmmmmmmmmm deeeeeeeee

The moon rises and Ellis comes over the hill in his Mustang. He parks neatly next to Coyote and gets out of the car. He lights a cigarette and straightens his bolo tie.

Ellis: Bull! Hey man! Its been a few years. Nice set up ya got here.

Bull: That was a long time ago Ellis . . .

Ellis: no hard feelings Bull.

Coyote: Just hand over the calf and its all cool Bull.

Ellis: Coyote tells me you reneged.

Bull: You know my word is true Ellis.

Ellis: and that’s why you’ve been a loser all these years Bull.

Coyote: Just hand her over Bull.

Bull: Ellis, tell him . . .

Ellis: Tell him what Bull?

Bull: what mother said

Ellis: about the girl with the crescent moon between her eyes?

Bull: yeah Ellis, tell Coyote

Coyote: wait a minute!

Three Little Steers: she said yeah yeah yeah she said yeah yeah yeah

Bull: Tell him Ellis, or I will!

Ellis: listen Coyote, if I had known this was about the girl with the crescent moon, I never woulda negotiated with ya

Coyote: Ellis? what the fuck man?

Ellis: Bull is my brother Coyote

Coyote: so?

Bull: Coyote get in yer car

Three Little Steers: deee deeee da deeee yaaa deee ya deee ay deee ayyyyy! ay!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

as long as i can count on you to be who i see through

Sewing

its not something i do more than once every other year . . . but i've decided its closest to the most peaceful mind-ordering habit i could develop. Sewing a new set of buttons on an old favorite coat this morning reminds me of the long days spent at a digitizing tablet, recording the points and curves of a river that runs down east from here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

i don't want to live on the moon . . .

We Meet For Lunch On The 21st Of December, Because Its The Holidays . . .

Place: Sushi & Thai House, Dead of Center Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Time: 12:20 pm

Weather: So overcast, you’d swear it might sleet at any minute

Players: A young Thai boy waiter who speaks no English and a bone-thin sixtiesh woman whose face is pulled tight by some unseen force--the skin of her lids is white, while the rest of her face is something Max Factor discontinued fifty years ago. She’s dressed in a tan suede pant suit, her hair is styled stiffly in what they used to call a Page Boy, and she has absolutely no idea what Please and Thank You mean. She is waiting for her friends Lucia and Sweetie. I will call her Tennessee, because she is a woman Tennessee Williams would have conjured.

Tennessee: My friends are late, do you understand me?

Thai Boy shakes his head and offers her the menu again.

Tennessee: Is it possible that three of us can share THIS?

Thai Boy: I don’t know.

Tennessee: Last time I came here, I had this, this Bento Box and it was very, very filling. I can’t eat all THAT, do you understand?

Thai Boy: I think so.

Tennessee: My friends could share it with me . . . don’t you think?

Thai Boy: I don’t know

Tennessee: You could ask.

Thai Boy picks up the menu, asks her to point to the item

Tennessee: This one, this is the one I am talkin’ about. Its far too large for me, but I think we could share it, all three of us, you ask.

Thai Boy: I don’t know.

Tennessee: Oh, its so overwhelming, your menu. I don’t want to choose something else. This is what I want, but its far too much food for me. I am certain my friends will agree to share it with me.

Thai Boy: Would you like some tea?

Tennessee: Light this candle.

Thai Boy puts the menu down and goes looking for a match.

Tennessee makes a call on her cell phone: Has Lucia left yet? She’s not here. I was expecting her at 12:30. Oh Nevermind!

Thai Boy returns and lights the candle.

Tennessee: There is no sugar on the table. Sweet and Lo, we need Sweet and Lo. Do you have Sweet and Lo?

Thai Boy goes back to the kitchen, there is much chaos, he returns with a small ochre dish filled with pink packages of Sweet and Lo.

Tennessee: The parking here is terrible. I had to walk a very long way to get here. I certainly hope my friends can find a parking space. Do you know there wasn’t one open parking space?

Thai Boy: Tea?

Tennessee: I hate to order tea before my friends arrive. What kind of tea?

Thai Boy: Jasmine, Oolong, Green . . .

Tennessee: Oh I don’t know . . . did you ask?

Thai Boy cocks his head, he’s confused.

Tennessee: about the Bento Box?

Thai Boy: I don’t know

Tennessee: Oh, go ask.

A woman dressed in red wool pants and a navy wool blazer looks in the window. Its Sweetie. She’s wearing enormous dark sunglasses despite the absence of sun. She is carrying a large paper shopping bag with a reindeer jumping the moon on its side. She’s on the phone. She waves. Practically presses her face to the glass. Tennesse: You hoo! Yes. Oh You’re here!

Sweetie comes in the door. She’s on the phone: I have to go now, I’m here, God bless us.

Tennessee: OhVer here, yoo hoo, here I am!

Sweetie: Hey, well look at you! Don’t you look darlin’!

Tennessee: Lucia is late, I knew you would get here first. The parking here is awful.

Sweetie: Really? I had no trouble. Have you been to the Nail salon? I just love them -- sweet Korean girls. I just have to go to the Lady's, excuse me . . .

Sweetie puts down her bag and disappears. Tennessee calls the Thai Boy: My friend has arrived, what kind of tea was that?

Thai Boy: Jasmine, Oolong, Green . . .

Tennessee:  We’ll have the Jasmine. Its mild isn’t it? I can’t have anything Too Strong.

Thai Boy: Yes, yes . . .

Tennessee: you didn’t light the candle

Thai Boy pulls a small box of matches from his vest pocket and lights the candle again

Tennessee: That’s much better

Sweetie returns and sits down: I forgot my lipstick. Your lipstick looks so pretty Tennessee.

Tennessee: I just washed my hair.

Sweetie: I’ll put lipstick on after lunch I suppose.

Tennesse: Oh there’s Lucia! Over there? How does she park that Big Car? Do you think she knows we’re in here?

Sweetie: Oh Lucia will be okay.

Tennessee: So I asked the boy if we could share this . . . its far too much food for just one person.

Sweetie: I had the Day From Hell Yesterday . . .

Tennesse: You did? Oh dear . . .

Sweetie: I had to pick the tree all by myself because Terry is out of town, you know. And then I had to explain to them how to get to our house to deliver the tree. Well, I wanted a twelve foot tree but I could only get a ten foot tree and so I was completely disappointed. You know I have 60 people coming on Christmas Eve and they expect the twelve foot tree, every year, its twelve feet high, that’s what my great room holds, but this sort of sad looking ten foot tree arrived and I decided the only way to make it bigger was to put more lights on it. Well, I had 800 lights in the attic and Evan couldn’t believe it, I was down there on the floor stringing the lights all by myself and I put just 600 lights on the bottom half of the tree and he said, “oh my god, Sweetie, you are putting waaaaay too many lights on the tree!” and I said, “Evan, will you shut up and go out to the store and buy me more lights, because that is the only thing that is going to save Christmas. We need at least 800 more lights to dress up this pathetic excuse for a tree!

Tennessee: I would say that was a day from hell, yes, poor you! Oh here’s Lucia and she has a big Christmas bag too. I just brought tokens! Tokens and y’all brought great big Christmas bags! I’m just ashamed.

Lucia: Look at you two! Stand up I want to see what you are wearing! Oh oh, Tennessee, that is the prettiest color lipstick on you!

Tennessee: I just washed my hair this morning!

Sweetie: Lucia, Tennessee was worried you wouldn’t be able to park.

Lucia: Tennessee, you just don’t know how much I love my big car. I nevah have a problem parking it!

Tennessee: Now I’m serious, we need to split this Bento Box thing three ways, I can’t eat all this food.

Lucia: You and Sweetie split something, I’m starving, I want some Terriyaki steak! and some Broccoli. I’ve been shopping allllll morning with my daughter-in-law -- sweet little mess that she is. Do you know she’s pregnant AGAIN?

Movie Dream Number 94

i was in the hospital with Tony Perkins
he was very young
thin
we walked down a blue hall which turned to icicles
Perkins turned to me and told me to sit down
and then he kissed me
people kept walking by and walking by and Perkins walked the opposite way
he pushed a man out of his way, a man wearing a blue green jumpsuit, and then
Perkins fell through the white tiles . . .

Saturday, December 18, 2010

well then, well . . .

The Jesus Lizard, Part 17 -- The Hangover

I remember very little of the night spent at Cha Creek -- between the shots of Tequila chased by Belikin beers I was in no shape to recall much. Here’s what I do remember. Cha Creek sported an open air dining room -- it had a grand thatched roof and there were long tables and for some reason I remember lots of twinkling little candles. That night was our last night with London so we toasted him at dinner and I gave him a t-shirt and a fat envelope with his tip. I don’t remember dinner, but I do remember things deteriorating after everyone over the age of 50 went to bed. Cha Creek’s owner was a big burly British expat, and I got the feeling that every night was a party for him. We all got very loud. Really loud. The lights twinkled, the tequila kept flowing, and I think the howler monkeys might have shown up with brass instruments around midnight. One of the Mayans who began the night as a waiter, ended the night as my confidante. He sat far too close to me and asked me where my husband was? I told him my Boyfriend was back in the States and that I missed him terribly. I must have told him why my Boyfriend didn’t come on the trip -- because Significant Others weren’t allowed to travel with staff back then, if he had been my Husband, it would have been all above board, but he was just a Significant Other, and that wouldn’t look right to the older, conservative folks. So he stayed behind and I was damn mad about it. Whatever else I confessed to him I have no idea. Perhaps he’s blogging about it right now, in Spanish.

At some point. Rockbottom came up to the party and told us all to shut up and go to bed. Seriously. She was in her pajamas and hiking boots, and she was flanked by two other old girls, not Jeanne of the CIA -- come to think of it, Jeanne might have been drinking with us, but don’t hold me to that. There we were, living La Dolce Vita, and Rockbottom said we were keeping her up. The Brit who owned the place laughed in her face. He told her, “This is my place and I’ll stay up as late as I want and be as loud as I want.” Well, Rockbottom and her little army turned on their heels and stomped back out into the darkness. The howler monkeys struck up a hot rendition of Miles Davis’ So What and I think I might have told Nigel, “You know, when I get back to the States, their gonna fire me for this!” The last thing I remember is the Mayan walking me back to my cabana, where he lit my oil lamp and told me good night.

Morning was a horrible shock. The Belizean sun poured into my cabana and I sat on the floor of my white stucco shower and let the water beat on my head for a good hour. I was hoping I might just be washed down the drain because I didn’t want to face the day.  We were to canoe the Macal River to San Ignacio and the thought of paddling down a river in my condition was most discouraging. Nigel rapped on my cabana door, “Wolfy! Up and At ‘Em! We’ve got to get all those canoes down to the river!”

“Yop . . . I’m coming Nigel . . . ”

“You alright?”

“I’m trying to transcend this feeling Nigel. If I can transcend then I’ll make it.”

“What?”

“Never mind Nigel. I’ll be dressed in a jiffy!”

Nigel knew damn well how sick I was. So he was having a little fun with me. We carried ten canoes with all the gear down to the water’s edge. The howlers were up in the trees, “Man, dig that girl Wolfy, she’s gonna canoe the Macal today and she ain’t got no sleep!” I looked up at the howlers and smiled, I thanked them for the good jazz the previous night, “Any time Wolfy, any time!”

The peanut gallery arrived at 9 a.m. sharp. They were full of piss and vinegar. They saw the green cast on my face and Rockbottom led the charge, “Miss Wolfy, we got absolutely no sleep last night because of your bad behavior!”

“Tell me about it Rockbottom, I think we’re in agreement for the first time in our acquaintance.” I handed her a paddle and bit my lip. There was fire in her eyes, the marquis on her brow said “Off with her head! Off with her head!”

We got everyone paired off in their canoes and Nigel put me in the front of his canoe, “There’s some extra lemonade in our canoe Wolfy, just for you, with a little hair of the dog. You sip, enjoy the ride, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

I wanted to die on that canoe trip. Really, I sipped my lemonade, paddled enough for appearances, and occasionally looked back at Nigel with a pleading gaze, “Just dump me in the water Nigel, feed me to the piranhas.” But he just smiled and told me to keep drinking my spiked lemonade.  We came upon a bat cave along the river and sat idle at the great dark entrance for lunch. Remember, caves are portals to the underworld according to the Mayans. I stared into the cave, the sun glinted off the river, Nigel told everyone of the thousands of bats that lived deep in the caverns and emerged every night. I wondered if I had seen the bats the night before . . . had the bats taken me dancing? Was that why I felt so horrible? That was it, I had been dancing with vampires all night. I was delirious. The shores of San Ignacio couldn’t come too soon.

Friday, December 17, 2010

On the Subject of Losing Your Nerve, Part Two -- SoWhat Does Riding Have To Do With Writing?

I started this blog on a dare from two friends. I obliged them, but I did it as a joke. I heard Dionne Warwick singing Do You Know The Way to San Jose on the radio and I said to myself, okay, that’s what I’ll call my blog, and I’ll write something each day mentioning the words San Jose.  I thought I was so clever. That notion lasted for exactly four posts and then? I strayed, which really is what should happen if one is following their stream of consciousness honestly. I began writing stories that were important to me. And this served two purposes: one being that I was writing down stories that had been in my head for years and two? I was distracting myself from the fact that a book I had spent four years writing was going nowhere with publishers.

Then one of my stories got noticed and I went from this being a joke and a distraction to the idea that my blog might cause me to be Discovered! Yes, I admit it! Like a beautiful girl on a stool at the counter of a roadside diner . . . Famous Hollywood Director comes in, he’s on the road from Vegas back to LA and he needs a hot dog, with sauerkraut, can he get that kind of thing in a diner in the desert? He’s going to demand it, its been a terrible week, his starlet, the girl on every billboard in America, ran off to Argentina with some polo player, and his ulcer is kiiiiiiling him, I mean killllllling him, and what he needs is the food of the gods, a New York Dog with sauerkraut, the kind his German immigrant grandmother used to stew in the kitchen for hours and hours, til the neighbors complained of the smell.

But wait, where was I going with this? OH oh, yeah, I’m the girl on the stool at the counter in the diner and Mr. Big walks in followed by no less than 8 or 9 minions and they descend upon the waitress, the one with the auburn beehive, they’ve got her surrounded, and she’s standing there holding two orders of Banana Cream Pie and she’s a little worse for wear cause she spent the night with that Goddamn Cowboy again last night, so her patience is as thin as the the rain clouds over the desert, and now she’s got these Fast Talkers demanding Sauerkraut on a Hot Dog. She doesn’t have time for them, cause the only other girl working the diner today is the New Girl, and she’s a real doozie, can’t carry a tray, can’t remember the specials, blind in one eye, can’t see past those big tits of hers that got her hired in this Godforsaken place, so its all up to the Auburn Beehive to keep the truckers from rioting and now, now she’s gotta stop the world and find some Sauerkraut for Mr. Big?!

Oh dear, I did it again . . . okay, I’m the girl on the stool at the counter, the stool that spins, its covered in chrome and red leather. And my elbows are on the counter, my chin is in my hands and I am staring at the back of the man who is making my grilled cheese sandwich, thinking that if I keep staring at him then my grilled cheese will be done faster. I have already finished my Coca-Cola and I’m weighing the possibility of ordering another, but the Auburn Beehive has already snarled at me, I mean WAT is her problem anyway? And I notice all these yuppies coming in the door, with cell phones sewn to their hands and their ears and they are all talking to people who aren’t in this diner, they aren’t even talking to each other, but they are in a cohesive formation which tells me they are Together, plus I saw them all get out of the stretch limo outside and I think they must think that they are Pretty Damn Important. I kick the the counter with my boots and the dust from the ranch where I work, yeah, I’m a ranch hand of sorts, I’m a girl, but I spend my mornings with cattle, cattle that just came in on trucks from Montana and Wyoming grazing lands, and they get here and I record the numbers on those tags on their ears before they go in for slaughter. Its good money, but I take a lot of shit from the cowboys, I mean those boys can’t spell, and they give me shit for not knowing every single brand that goes by me, do you know how many brands there are? Alot. So finally the man making my grilled cheese slides the spatula under that golden piece of cheese and white bread and he flips it onto a plate and turns around lookin’ for Auburn Beehive, who is surrounded by all those yuppies, chewing her gum, cocking her big old hips, and he can see that there is no way that she’s going to come and get that grilled cheese on the plate and serve it to me, the Girl At The Counter, so he brings it to me himself, “Here ya go girlie!” and I want to ask him for another Coke, but I know that would bring the whole place to a screeching halt. So I decided to suck on the ice left in my cup and eat my grilled cheese and then go home and take a nap, cause I gotta be back at work a 4 a.m. in the morning and they say we got a double shift tomorrow.

And there I am eating my grilled cheese and thinking about my nap when Mr. Big comes over. He sits on the stool next to me and he looks me up and down and hands me his card. Really! I mean doesn’t say a word and he hands me his business card and next thing I know the cook comes out of the kitchen and says, “Mr. Big! I’ve seen all your movies!”
“Yeah? Well, you got any sauerkraut in this joint?”
“Have I got Sauerkraut? I got some sauerkraut that’ll knock yer socks off!”
So Mr. Big is thrilled and he turns to me and asks me, “You like movies?”
“Yeah,” I say, “I like movies.”
“What’s yer favorite movie?” He takes off his sunglasses and looks hard at me, like I’m gonna reveal my greatest sin.
“Petrified Forest” I tell him. Straight up.

Next year comes and I’m at the Oscars with Mr. Big. I’ve just received my golden man for Best Actress and the press can’t believe I used to work in a slaughter house. That’s Hollywood for you, larger than life, truer than fiction. Or something like that.

So that’s one of the reasons I gave in to the idea of blogging, to further my career, but Mr. Big hasn’t gotten a hankering for sauerkraut. Yet.

That brings me to now -- I no longer write here to get discovered, now its a daily (well almost daily) habit, a ritual, an honor to my muse, who goes missing sometimes. And that’s where the Riding is like Writing part comes in. Its nervy for me to get on my horse and steal off into the woods alone on a cold gray day. And its nervy for me to keep writing -- sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing it, and my muse tells me Keep Writing, good muse that she is, and she gets mad at me when I tell her No, I can’t go on, I can’t do it anymore, she stomps her beautiful feet, and swings her head, and says, Damn You, Keep Writing, I’m Serious. So, I keep writing and riding, just because I have to, that’s all. I have to.

Know Your Rights . . . All Three of Them

You Have The Right To Blog . . .

Dig This

On the Subject of Losing One's Nerve

I used to hear them talk about it when I was a kid. About old timers losing their nerve. Having to take a drink or two before they got up on a horse and rode a race or a course of eight fences in the show ring. “He’s lost his Nerve, can’t ride without a flask in his pocket.” As a kid, I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand the fear of getting hurt or even the fear of embarrassing yourself. And I really couldn’t understand how someone could ride a horse while loaded. But there it was. And I would go to the races or the big horse shows and I’d see the Old Timers who had lost their nerve, slightly bent at all corners of their bodies and I watched them so carefully, as though I could see the hole in their side where the nerve had fallen out. But they’d clock around a four-foot hunter course easy as could be or end up in the winner’s circle at the end of a steeplechase, mud on their cheeks and they seemed brilliant to me, and fearless.

You don’t have to get hurt real bad to lose your nerve. All it takes maybe is one horse to put the idea in your head that he’s in charge and you’re not. Or time might just wear your nerve down, the way a river starts out all rapid and rocky and straight, but centuries go by and the river begins to meander, slow down, and widen, its just not swift anymore. Nerve can disappear so gradually that the owner has no idea that it ever left, all they know is they just don’t take the chances they used to take.

I actually remember the horse that put the first bruise on my nerve. He was a 17.2 three year old hunt prospect -- I was helping school the horse to become a gentleman’s hunter. The first thing that worried me about him was that he fell down a lot. Everywhere we took him -- fields, woods, even in the ring -- he tripped like a big stupid kid and then he’d go down on his knees and bloody his nose and leave you leaning back as far as you could in the saddle praying that his nose would stop the fall, cause who wants 1,400 pounds of dumb colt rolling over on top of you? But then one cold morning, I took him out. Snow flurries were coming down and I thought, I’ll just take the big kid out for a long hack in the fields. Well, he had other ideas. We got a couple hundred yards away from the barn, and damn if he didn’t take off his training wheels and rear straight up in the air with me and proceed to walk around on his hind legs. I was 25 years old and I had never had a horse rear with me -- I’d had them buck, take off, whirl, drop their shoulders, prop, you name it, but I never had one rear, and this fellow was so big, so tall, that when he did it, my head was up in the clouds. All I could think, was you clumsy sonofabitch, don’t fall over! I put my arms around his big old neck and just waited for him to get back down on four feet. I don’t know how long he was up there, up on his hind legs, but it was an eternity to me. And because I was so tiny, all 5 foot 4 and 98 pounds of me had no physical say in the matter. So I just waited. And waited. And finally, he came back down, and just when I thought, I think I’ll step off of this horse and take him back to the barn, UP he went again. Seemed he liked this new trick! He was quite proud of his new found talent. The snow began to fall harder, the fields were disappearing under a blanket of pure white, and I was doing circus tricks for no one to see. I made a plan, I dropped my stirrups, and just when I felt him come back down to earth again, I catapulted myself down to the ground, where I landed as pretty as Nadia Comaneci. And I took him back to the barn. I never walked back in on foot with a horse. Never. No matter what happened, I always stayed on and rode back in. But this Gentleman’s Hunter put the fear in me. Next week he was on a truck, gone. I heard some years later he ended up as a college equestrian team horse -- long legged college girls rode him day in and day out, I guess they took the rear out of him. So to speak.

I didn’t quit riding. I just quit riding that particular horse. But it was the first time a horse had ever behaved bigger than me. So I guess, the rip was there, my nerve was already leaking away.

That was twenty years ago. And some eight years ago I bought my own horse after begging, borrowing, and nearly stealing horses from anybody who would let me. I bought a half-broke three year old quarter horse named Joe. And he damn near killed me the first year I had him. We had a run in with a buck in the woods causing Joe to whirl out from under me and for a moment I was suspended in mid air, but eventually gravity took over and I hit the ground, breaking the fall with my head. My hunt cap received a rock shaped dent the size of my fist. I got a new hunt cap and got back in the saddle. And then things got even more interesting. Joe turned out to have quite a bucking ability. Something akin to Little Yellow Jacket. Finally, Joe got so adept, he rocketed me in a field far from home -- I broke a rib clean through, suffered a hematoma to my sacrum, and got a whale of a concussion. I was 39 years old and seriously considering taking up tennis. But a friend recommended I send Joe to a cowboy. I hesitated. I thought, I come from horsemen on both sides of my family, I should be able to figure this out on my own. If my mother got wind of this, she'd be ashamed of me. I had grown up riding show horses and hunt horses and race horses -- where was my bravery? Where was my gumption? Where was my God-given ability with horses? Where was my Nerve?

But I was racked up and it would be a few weeks before I could ride again. Joe stood shiny as a copper penny in the paddock, ready to do me in. So I gave in. I took him to the cowboy. When we got there, I pulled Joe off the truck and Billy The Cowboy stood back and looked Joe up and down, “Man! He’s big!” Billy, I came to find out trained cutting horses -- his barn was full of these tiny stocky quarter horses. I asked him why they were so small? “Cause I want them to look a cow right in the eye while we’re cuttin’” That made complete sense to me. Billy took Joe’s lead rope out of my hand, “He bucks?”

“Yeah, he bucks. And he can buck going up hill.”

“You don’t say." Billy looked at Joe and then back at me, "Up hill?”

“Yeah. Up hill.”

“Okay, he’s mine for the next three weeks. Don’t come here. Don’t call. Just forget about him. I’ll call you.”

And so I left. I had no idea what Billy was going to do with my horse. All I knew was that at the end of three weeks, he was going to tell me one of two things: Keep Him or Sell Him.

Billy called three weeks later, all he said was this, “Come over tomorrow. We’ll talk about your horse.” I lay in bed that night wondering what the verdict would be. I thought maybe Billy has a nice little cutting horse for me, one that doesn’t want to cut, but just Be Mine. But I couldn’t get Joe outta my mind. He was my horse. I bought him off another cowboy, a real horse dealer with a bad reputation. I saved Joe from a future life as a Reining Horse. I was going to make him just a good all round hunt horse -- some fox hunting, some hunter pacing, mostly a trusted horse I could ride off into the woods with and leave the world behind. But it was possible that Billy was going to tell me, “He’s a killer, sell him to the rodeo.”

But instead, Bill met me smiling at the barn door, with Joe, all tacked up, “He’s a real nice horse. He just needs more to do. You need to jump him. Alot. He loves to jump. If you let him jump alot, he won’t buck so much.”

Bill had spent the last three weeks riding Joe in the Hill Forest, under a big, I mean, huge western stock saddle, and Bill jumped Joe over all the fox hunting jumps in that forest. Big coops, post and rails, and this downed tree that was infamous, it had something like a 4 foot spread. I had only jumped Joe over some small cross rails, I was taking his jumping education slowly, but Billy just took him out in the woods and pointed him at anything and everything. I had this picture in my mind of Billy and Joe jumping that big tree -- Billy in his gingham shirt with the pearl snap buttons and his baseball hat, his big custom Texas boots stuck out over Joe’s shoulders, while he leaned back in the saddle, cause that’s how cowboys jump big trees and Joe jumping as high as he could jump and hoping that there was solid ground on the other side of that tree.

My horse was cured. Well, we had found his calling in life. Joe needed to get Air Time. And if I didn’t provide him with proper Air Time, that is: jumping jumps, then Joe would take it upon himself to get his own Air Time, by bucking.

Fast Forward to now. Joe’s eleven years old. I can’t believe it really. And we’ve fox hunted and hunter paced and ridden miles and miles of countryside with terrific friends. I rode with one of our Whipper-Ins during the hunt a couple of springs ago, a man who doesn't care for horses much, just cares for hunting with hounds -- after a rough morning of following him through wild country, two Views (a gray fox and aa red fox), after chasing down some stray hounds, after this Whip pulled his pistol out and shot it in the air to stop the stray hounds and then looked at me and apologized, "Oh, dear, I didn't even ask if your horse minds a gun" which it turned out my horse didn't mind one bit, declared at the end of the hunt, "You know I don't care for horses much, but your horse, I would hunt him gladly." And that made me probably a little prouder of Joe than I really should be.

My nerve is at a comfortable middle-range. I don’t take the wild chances I used to, actually, I don’t really take any chances, but some friends who I grew up riding with find me to be a daredevil because I ride cross-country by myself, but I can’t imagine not being able to strike off on my own into the woods with my horse, life wouldn’t be as good really. So its all relative. I give myself a hard time sometimes for not pushing the envelope with my horse more. But I look at other riders and see they stay within a safety zone that I can’t imagine staying in. Years ago, when I had no horse of my own, I told myself all I wanted was an old polo pony to ride in a field somewhere, that would be enough for me after a childhood spent riding in countless horse shows and foxhunting, just give me a quiet old horse to hack around on and I’ll be as happy as a rabbit in a garden of lettuce. But Joe has been more than that old polo pony I dreamed of. He’s given me a gift I never thought a horse could give me -- nerve be damned.

Mona Lisa's Smile


This is my great grandmother Mabel Sanford Jennings.



She was born September 2, 1873 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
She died at the age of 43 in 1916.


That's her on the right. My grandmother
used to call this photo
"Beauty and the Beast"


She married my great grandfather Erwin Morehouse Jennings
on June 9, 1898 in Bridgeport.


She came from hatters -- and so her wedding party
was rich with hats.


She had six children with Erwin, although you only see
five here at this picnic; John, Mabel, Glover, Francis, 
Jarvis, and not yet born Austin.


Her expression in every photo is the same.
She is ever calm.
Peaceful.
Mild.
Stormless.
Tranquil.


Friday, December 10, 2010

The Starling and The Kestrel

There’s this wire that stretches down a rural road with a yellow cow pasture on both sides, and every morning the Kestrel and the Starling meet there and converse . . .

Kestrel: new calf born last night . . .

Starling: no kidding

Kestrel: handsome little cuss, stood up on his own within minutes

Starling: don’t blame him in this cold, not with Coyote watching from his Eldorado

Kestrel: yeah -- where did he get the money for that car anyway?

Starling: beats me

Kestrel: so, whad you do last night?

Starling: watched that Bill Murray movie, Lost in Transalation

Kestrel: love that movie, love Johansson’s butt

Starling: man, Kestrel, is that all you think about?

Kestrel: field mice, i think alot about field mice

Starling: that last line got me, how could they end a big Hollywood movie with a garbled last line?

Kestrel: it was supposed to be like that

Starling: it was?

Kestrel: it's a comment on their predicament, man, on the meaningless of their lives, on their isolation, shit, don’t you know anything?

Starling: i know that old lady is putting out birdseed rightabout now, she always puts out birdseed when it gets below 21 degrees

Kestrel: I could eat you, you know

Starling: yeah, but that would just be pointless


. . . that night, the moon was full and the Kestrel went into town. He sat on the big yellow illuminated clock near the court house and watched the animals light the city Christmas tree. He did his best to remember each moment of the night so he could tell Starling about it in the morning.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

a report for the observations department . . .

winter has come to the laundromat . . . up there on hwy. 70, there are folks in there, behind the steamed up windows folding flannel work shirts and carefully putting quarters in the dryers.

a woman-boy came from behind the gas station - she-he was straight as a pole, strided long in olive pants on legs like a black antelope, slightly lanky up through bent shoulders, bent toward the white cold sun in a fur hat, like the Russians wear in Red Square, but something about her-him said Paris. She-he crossed the street without looking at the yellow light and disappeared behind those shanties where i often see a fat woman calling a dirty little poodle back from the roadside.

Dream Number 72 (lucid)

Mistakes are like noses . . .

Monday, December 6, 2010

the Magpie and the Badger

Badger and Magpie occasionally meet for coffee . . .

Magpie: i once had a cell phone

Badger: was it shiny?

Magpie: of course it was shiny!

Badger: where’d you find it?

Magpie: on the seawall

Badger: did you call anyone?

Magpie: yes, yes i did

Badger: and what did they say?

Magpie: she said, “Is that you Frank?”

Badger: and did you reply?

Magpie: i did, i did! i said, “Hola!”

Badger: oh! how exciting! and then what happened?

Magpie: she said, “I thought I told you never to call me again!” and she hung up.

Badger: poor Frank

Magpie: Frank must have been a real loser

Badger: you know what?

Magpie: what Badger?

Badger: I once found an egg timer in a pile of leaves

Magpie: did it work?

Badger: i never tried it,  i don’t really care for eggs


it began to rain, the animals in the street put up their umbrellas and hurried for cover, so Magpie and Badger decided to have another cup of coffee . . .

Saturday, December 4, 2010

the wolf and the muse

there once was a wolf who wandered the woods

and there once was a muse who sat in a tree

one day the wolf strolled beneath the muse’s tree and looked up to see the muse, who was smoking a cigarette

‘what are you doing?“ asked the wolf

and the muse shrugged her shoulders and took another long drag on her cigarette

the wolf waited

finally the muse, who was very gregarious, answered, ”i am contemplating a change.“

the wolf sat on her haunches and curled her extraordinary tail around her so that it covered her delicate front paws ”what sort of change might that be?“

”what do you care?“ said the muse, and then she made many smoke rings and finally flicked her exhausted cigarette into the piney woods

”it is most important to me, muse . . . consequences you know, consequences.“ the wolf unfurled her tail and then curled it once again

”wolf, why don’t you go play with the other wolves and let me alone?“

”the other wolves don’t care for me muse“

”oh, that isn’t true, i’ve seen you, out in the meadow, catching mice and stalking caribou . . . “ the muse took another cigarette from her vest pocket and struck a match

”stalking caribou and catching mice is trivial . . . “

”i think you want me to come down out of this tree so you might devour me, wolf“

”you are a silly muse, i only want to walk to town with you and have a sandwich.“

”a sandwich?“

”yes, a sandwich . . . “

”and a cup of hot chocolate?“ the muse put her unlit cigarette back in her vest pocket and leaned down toward wolf.

”what is a sandwich without hot chocolate muse?“

”dreadfully boring wolf, dreadfully boring . . . i’ll be right down!“

it's quite possible . . .

that my muse broke up with me . . .

Friday, December 3, 2010

all i can tell you is this . . .

yesterday, i nearly collided with an eagle while driving home
he momentarily blocked the sun
and today, they are closing OTB in New York
which makes me wonder what the bookies are gonna do now

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ghost . . .

three red horses stand facing east in yellow field on the morning of december first as though they have seen a ghost

Monday, November 29, 2010

24

Twenty-four is the number of pearl onions in Julia Child's recipe for Beef Bourguignon.

Bread of Life

They thought my grandmother was having nervous breakdowns -- she was close to sixty, depressed, anorexic, sleepless, and jagged. Doctors gave her valium and sent her home. She decided to try one more doctor and he asked her, “Mabel, what do you eat?” and she answered him honestly, “Coffee for breakfast, then I muck out six or seven stalls, go to work in the shop, and if I have time, I eat a bag of Oreo’s around two or three pm, and home for dinner, maybe a hamburger or a potato.” He held her hand, I’m sure it was shaking. He ran a few tests on her and told her she was not a Nerve Case, she was Hypoglycemic and she needed to feed her affliction. By the time I moved into the house in 1969, she was much healthier and happier. She was very careful to keep sugar and white flour out of the house, something that was a task back then -- she baked her own bread because whole grain breads were not in the grocery stores. Everyone who knew my grandmother loved her bread, when people remember her today, they recall her bread. it was Oatmeal Bread, and she made four loaves a week. I still have the gigantic yellowware bowl she used to make the dough in. Her recipe was her own adaptation of James Beard’s Oatmeal Health Bread (from Beard on Bread) -- she perfected the recipe after years of experimenting. But the recipe lived in her head, she did it all by feel. A few years before she died, I asked her to write the recipe for me and do you know what? It was two pages long and I only have the first page -- the second page was lost in one of my many moves over the years I suppose, and this is one of those tiny tragedies of life.

So here’s what I have, word for word:

2 Loaves

375 degrees for 35 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup oatmeal (old fash)
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup dark molasses
tbsp yeast
about 5 - 6 cups flour (1/2 wheat 1/2 unbleached white or 2/3 wheat 1/3 unbleached white(better))
1 cup raisins (blanched for five minutes in hot water)

Put oatmeal in large bowl. Pour boiling hot water on it. Let stand til cool. Then add salt, molasses, melted butter, and yeast which has been mixed with warm water (not quite HOT more than warm), about a quarter cup of water for the yeast), finally add flour somewhere between 3 1/2 to 4 cups. You may need more or less flour but you are going to add more anyway after the 1st rising. After mixing well set to rise in a warm place about 2 hours - should rise to twice amount.

Now add balance of flour, knead on bread board as long as . . .


That’s it, that’s all I have. I have never attempted to make Mom’s Bread, because I don’t have the second page. BUT I have decided I am going to do it -- I have Beard on Bread as a Rosetta Stone of sorts, and I figure her ghost will sit on my shoulder and whisper the rest in my ear . . . I am not a baker, but my instinct tells me that I should split the dough in to two loaves after the first kneading and put it in the loaf pans to bake. Suggestions are welcome, within reason of course.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

from the deparment of observations . . .

Boogie and I like to go sometimes, and this morning we walked a road we had never walked . . . its not far from our house, and its rural, somewhat untouched on one end by modern development. The road borders a 750-acre tree farm that stretches languidly, like its from another time, along the I-85 corridor all the way to Mt. Willing Road. Desolate with its loblollies and vultures riding thermals on a cold November morning. 

The mobile homes on this road are firmly planted, nothing has been mobile about them for at least thirty years. A set of wind chimes rang in a tree near one trailer, painted dark green and encamped with four or five other small buildings, two constructed of cinder block, all painted Forest Service green . . . the chimes put me in a momentary trance, but I glanced past a collection of bird feeders into a glade with a stone fire pit where a man stood, in full camo with his back to me. He didn't move a muscle and I wondered if he was practicing some bizarre form of Tai Chi -- had he a gun, I would say he was waiting for a doe to wander through his commons . . . I pulled my dog closer to my side and walked more purposely, taking my eyes off the frozen man, and I waited for the sound of a shotgun. But it never came. Its full on hunting season here now, and I am not surprised to hear gunfire throughout the day from my own home, much of it coming from the vicinity of this road, and I imagine the neighbors are not against the idea of taking a doe or a buck at close range in the little fields that my dog and I skirted this morning. The Hari Krishnas commune just around the corner from this place, but you wouldn't know it.


Boogie and I pushed on in the crisp air, the sky absolutely water blue, not even a contrail cutting the atmosphere, and then we heard a boy's voice, distant, but somewhat panicky, "No! No no no! Stop!" and I turned to see the flash of white behind a very unkempt and sort of majestic holly bush standing in a barren field in front of a white trailer that seemed to lean to the left -- it might have been swaying with the soft November breeze, but I didn't have time to imagine the sailing of the great tin building, instead the boy's voice came again and accompanied by a milk white pit bull, the size of a mastiff, on one end of a lead and a thin black boy at the other end, being whipped back and forth with every stride of the dog, like a flag in a storm, "Nooooo!" and with this exclamation the boy's feet came out from under him and the bulldog kept on his direct line for me and my dog. For a moment, I let out all the air in my lungs and prepared for something that one cannot really prepare for, but I felt my cheeks flush and I saw the bulldog's tail was up and no hackles were raised over his great shoulders and Boogie was slack and so it was only the boy who was in trouble at this point, sliding across the yellow grass on his rear end.  The pit bull came to stop at the nose of my dog and there were genuine greetings, "Are you okay?" I asked the boy, who sat still, akimbo, now, under the economic shade of a mailbox, which seemed to sway in the breeze like its partner mobile home, the boy only nodded and leaned back in a feeble attempt to bring his dog back to him, but it was no use. The dogs began to grumble slightly, Wanna wrestle? was the utterance coming from the two of them, and so this tête-à-tête needed to end, and I was the only one strong enough to end it, so I checked Boogie and motioned to the boy to stand, "Now you take him home and we'll go our way, and it will all be okay." The boy tugged and tugged and the bulldog protested, but finally went, and we went too. And I was amused and relieved all at the same time.


Further on, there was a squeak and rush in the tree above us -- skyward, a small hawk, a Sharp-shinned hawk took a junco in its talons, catching her soft little body in cadet blue as she flew, and he swooped off with her, into the ramparts of farmed and well-spaced loblollies and my breath was taken away.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Milked

Nora opened the kitchen door and looked through the rain pouring off her roof and out to the street. The milk truck's tail lights were rounding the corner, headed for Maple Avenue, and beyond, now. She looked down and found two quarts of milk and something she had never ordered before, eggs! The milkman left her a note two weeks before,  Mrs. Pink, my brother is selling eggs now. $1.50 per dozen. His hens are reliable brown egg layers, and while many of the ladies prefer white eggs from the Food Star nowadays, I remember you mentioning that you missed the freckles on the brown eggs. I can bring you one dozen per week if like.
Nora left a note with her empty bottles the following Monday letting the Milkman know that she would very much like the eggs. She signed the note Nora, and not Mrs. Pink, and this daring informality pleased her.
"Mother?" Nora, bent to pick up the carton of eggs and her two bottles of milk, and tried to ignore her daughter calling for her. "Mother!" She placed the bottles on the kitchen table and opened the egg carton. The eggs were the color of coffee with cream and the freckles satisfied Nora, something about the eggs told her all was right with the world. Her daughter appeared in the doorway, her hair was wet and she was wearing a black cardigan sweetheart sweater with very tight dark Levis rolled up in cuffs that sat just above her bare ankles, "Mother!" she said for the third time, this time very quickly, very impatiently, so quickly, that the vowels were obliterated, only the consonants came out. 
"Yes, Natalie, what is it?
"Did you see the milkman?" 
"No, I rarely see him, you know that Natalie. Where are your shoes?"
"I can only find one. I think the dog took the other, so its probably in the yard. I thought you saw the milkman every week Mother, you talk about him like you are practically engaged."
"Oh shut up. Would you look at these eggs? Aren't they marvelous."
"They look like eggs mother, I don't know if I could describe them as marvelous. Mother!"
"What?"
"How am I going to go to school with only one shoe?"
"You can't get eggs like this in the store anymore . . . "
"Shoes? Mother, pleeeease?"
"Natalie, you are practically a grown woman, if you can't keep the dog from burying your shoes in the garden, then, well, there isn't any hope for you. Go upstairs, take a pair of my sneakers out of my closet, but I want them at the end of the day."
"Mother?"
"yes Natalie, what is it?"
"I think you should seduce the Milkman."
"Natalie!"
"You're not getting any younger, you know."
"What would your father say if he heard you talk like that?"
"Father would agree because he's dead and gone."
"You're late for school."
"Fine, if you won't seduce the Milkman, I will."
"You will not!"
"You know I could."
"You're a just a child."
"You just said I was practically a woman."

*****

The week went by slowly, Nora couldn't stop thinking about her daughter's suggestion. She had been alone for so long, she didn't even know whether she was attractive anymore. And the thought of her child leaning in the kitchen doorway making love with her eyes to the milkman was more than she could stand. What could Natalie possibly know about the art of seduction? Her experience was rather limited . . . or was it? She did find Natalie kissing the neighbor boy behind the garden shed last month, in the dark, in her pajamas and bare feet. Natalie never liked to wear shoes and this said something about the way Nora had handled her, she hadn't completely civilized her daughter. A man in the house would have solved that, Nora was sure of it, if Natalie's father hadn't died, the child would wear shoes and lower her voice. 

Monday morning came and Nora woke early, very early, what seemed like hours before the milkman would walk up her driveway, with her eggs and two quarts of milk. He would be wearing his bleached white coveralls, he would be slender, and cool, like a tall glass of milk. Nora brushed her dirty blond hair and put it up and then took it down and then put it up again. She couldn't decide what was more becoming. She pulled on stockings, black lace panties, garters, and a matching bra, these had been neatly sitting in her dresser since her Frank had died. Frank bought her lingerie all the time, so often, that Nora sometimes wondered if he might like the lingerie for himself. 

She slipped a gray shift on and deftly zipped it up the back, a skill she had learned since Frank was gone. She started to put her feet in a pair of very high heels, the ones she wore for the funeral, but she decided they were too obvious, and she opted for a pair of lower pumps, more daytime, more understated. She swiped lipstick across her ample bottom lip and puckered, then checked the mirror. Nora didn't mind what she saw in the mirror, it was the best she had seen in a while.

When she passed Natalie's room on her way down the hall, Nora saw the door was ajar and the light was on. Natalie was never up this early. Nora pushed the door open and found Natalie standing in front of her closet wearing what looked like an old satin nightgown set Frank had given Nora before Natalie was born, "Natalie! Where did you get that? Take it off immediately."
"That's what I'm hoping the milkman says." Natalie turned and coquettishly cocked her hip toward her mother.
"Young lady, go back to bed. You won't embarrass me."
"I don't have to embarrass you, you can do that all by yourself Mother. Look at you!"
"I'm going to shut this door now Natalie, go back to bed."

Nora stood by the sink as the coffee percolator burbled in the dim light. The sun was just coming up the street and she waited patiently for the milk truck to follow it. She poured her coffee and decided to take it black with no sugar, this made her feel stronger somehow. She watched Mr. Stanley warming up his car across the street, he was scraping the first frost of the year off his windshield as the exhaust from his car billowed and made its own weather in his driveway, like thunder would erupt from his garage door at any moment, followed by lightning and a summer shower. But just as Nora imagined the little storm overtaking her neighbor, the scene was obscured by the milk truck. It parked neatly and Nora saw the figure of the milkman disappear into the back of the truck to get her milk. She went to the kitchen door and opened it, she wondered what she would say. She panicked for a moment and then decided to invite him in for coffee, yes, invite him in for coffee . . .
"Mother?"
"Natalie! Go back to bed!" Natalie was standing in the kitchen, still wearing the silk gown, now with no robe, her pale skin flickering in the kitchen light. 
"I won't. I want to watch you seduce the Milkman."
"Natalie, I'm warning you." Nora turned away from her daughter and saw the milkman exiting the truck and heading up the driveway. Only, it wasn't her usual milkman, it appeared to be a milkmaid! Instead of the lanky milkman, here came a young brunette wearing a white canvas dress, a parody of sorts, Nora thought, the girl's hips swung and she looked more like a nurse than a girl delivering milk. "Good morning Mrs. Pink!"
"Oh, good morning . . . where?"
"Jim? Oh he's taken another route, but don't worry, he gave me your eggs!" The girl hopped onto the steps and handed Nora the carton of eggs and put the milk bottles at her feet. Natalie stood close behind her mother putting her chin on her shoulder, and Nora was surprised at how tall her daughter had become.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Walmart Queen

She lit the cigarette and pushed the shopping cart so that it rolled slowly and came to nest inside the cart before it and she thought how nice it was that the shopping carts fit inside one another like that, like the little set of Russian dolls her uncle gave her for Christmas when she was 12, he had just returned from Moscow, something having to do with selling the Russians air conditioning parts, which she never understood cause she thought Russia was always cold, like when she saw Doctor Zhivago it was never sunny or anything, but she was only twelve when her uncle went to Moscow, that was like eight years ago, so maybe there was something she forgot, like maybe it was air conditioning parts for the Russian army when they invaded deserts. So she turned and saw her sister was already in the car, in the driver's seat, even though she told her that there was no way she was driving, but she did it any way, cause she's a pain in the ass little sister and she just got her license and now she thinks she can just drive whenever the hell she wants to, "Tammy I told you . . . " but the windows were rolled up and so it was no use.

this . . .

is all i've got

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

tuesday morning . . .


Dream Number 86

Location:  A Zoo, the Lion exhibit

Weather Conditions: Blinding sun

Cast:      Three teenage boys
              Three lionesses
              No movie stars
             Three teenage girls


First scene:

Three lanky boys are posing for photographs on the edge of the lion exhibit’s pool. The photographer is unseen. I am watching the boys from a pillar -- I think I must be a crow. I wonder who gave the boys permission to be in with the lions.  I imagine the lions mauling the boys, but only briefly. The lions are milling serenely around the opposite edge of their pool, only the water separates them from the boys. They are lionesses, there is no lion. The boys put their feet in the water, they are carrying their shoes. The lions pace the edge of the pool, they are considering swimming, and they seem unconcerned about the boys. One of the boys sits and puts his shoes back on. When he stands, the other two boys join him, they put their arms around each other and they leave the exhibit by way of climbing the concrete wall. One of the lions watches them leave, switches her tail, and then walks into the water of her pool, which is the color of a piece of blue candy. I watch as the other lions disappear into their dressing room, yes, dressing room, that’s what I, the crow, knew it as in the dream. There are no trees, only sky and bone white concrete and the one lion, now, wading, in the pool, up to her chin. Her tail floats.

Second scene:

The lionesses, all three of them come out of the dressing room, they have become girls, two black girls and one white girl. They are beautiful and laughing and wearing dresses and high heels and sunglasses and their teeth are particularly perfect, because after all, they are carnivores. I am still a crow, but now I am sitting on a bench made of stone, watching the girls walk past me. They are happy to be done with work for the day (as lionesses) and they are looking for the three boys.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Movie Dream Number 35

Locations :      trail on the Little River, Hillsborough, NC
                        cliff overlooking Dead Man’s Brook, Westport, CT

Cast:    Girl on Horse: me
            Horse: Joe
            Missing Woman: Katherine Hepburn
            Orange County Deputy: Randy Quaid


So the  Girl is riding her horse on the river trail, its fall, the poplar leaves are saffron, the oaks are some kind of chili powder red, and the river birches are bone white and naked, leaning over the river, where the sun is playing like a child in the bath with her toy boats. The Girl picks up a quiet gallop and is winding close to the river thinking of busting up the sharp hill ahead, but just before she gets to the base of the hill, an Orange County Sheriff Dept. cruiser comes down the hill and parks. The Girl has never seen a car in these woods, let alone a cop car. She pulls up. The door of the cruiser opens, orange lights are spinning on the roof, and this makes for a weird show in the leaves and on the river. Randy Quaid steps out of the car, he leans back, stretches, and clears his throat. The Girl and the horse stand politely, waiting, as though they have been pulled over for speeding.

Deputy:  Afternoon

The Girl: Yes, afternoon.

Deputy: Have you seen a woman riding through here today?

The Girl: No, but lots of women ride through these woods Deputy.

Deputy: Well, this woman, she’s missing. Been missing since yesterday.

The Girl: Kinda hard to lose a woman on a horse.

Deputy: I agree. But you know, there was that big storm last night.

The Girl: Yop, big storm, wouldn’t have wanted to be riding in that storm. River came up over the banks, see? (Girl points to evidence of the river over running its banks, Deputy nods)

Deputy: Well, we think she got caught in the storm, near the river . . . family’s been real worried.

The Girl: Who is the woman?

Deputy: Katherine Hepburn

The Girl: Katherine Hepburn? The movie actress?

Deputy: Yep, can you imagine an old lady like her, riding a horse out here in a storm?

The Girl: No sir, no sir.


Cut to cliff overlooking Dead Man’s Brook in CT:

The Girl is sitting on her horse, watching two boys playing far below in the brook. They are unaware of The Girl and her horse high above them. She climbs off her horse and leaves him to graze on the cliff and climbs down one side of the cliff, carefully and quietly, pretending she is an Indian. She enters a cave just below the cliff. Half in the sun and half in shadow she watches the boys. There’s a radio in the cave, a man’s voice is speaking: Katherine Hepburn and her horse were found dead in a remote valley this afternoon. It is believed they were hit by lightning in last week’s terrible storm.

The Girl leaves the cave, climbs up the rocky side of the cliff and turns back to see the boys have moved further down the brook -- they have sticks, they are fighting as though the sticks were sabers -- The Girl takes the horse’s reins in hand, and lifts herself back into the saddle. The sun is low, there are steel gray storm clouds to the east, The Girl rides home.

Monday, November 8, 2010

fantástico!!!

The Jesus Lizard -- Lists

Chan Chich, November 16, '95

Red Lord Parrot
Bat Falcon
Linneated Woodpecker
Toucan -  Collared Aracari
Euphonia - Olive Backed
Melodious Blackbird
Summer Tanager
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Clay Colored Rohen
Sulphur-Rumped Flycatcher
Magnolia Warbler
Purple Crowned Fairy
Woodcreeper
Hermit Hummingbird
Grey-Headed Tanager
Black-Headed Saltator
Woodstork
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
Fork-Tailed Flycatcher

Cactus - Devil's Guts

Laughing Falcon on the road to Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo:
Chicle/Chicleros
Quinine Tree
Snake Root
Pale-Billed Woodpecker
Vermilion Flycatcher
Leaf Cutter Ants

Horseback Ride at Chan Chich:
2 Roadside Hawks
Brocket Deer

Belize City:
Kiskadee
Frigate Birds
Fruitbats

Cockscomb:
Amazon Kingfisher
No Jaguar
Golden Olive Woodpecker
Orange-Billed Sparrow
Grey-Headed Kite
Black-Shouldered Kite
Green Honeycreeper
Red-Legged Honeycreeper
Great Tinamou

Tikal:
Peccary
Kinkajou
Red-Lored Parrot
Barred Antshrike
Grey Fox
Social Flycatcher
Red-Capped Manakin
Snail Kite

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nude In Decline

 Black Velvet by Andrew Wyeth


Tony went to the museum. He was there to see the Helga paintings. He read in Time Magazine about Mr. Wyeth dying and leaving all these paintings behind. Secret paintings of his mistress. Tony admired Mrs. Wyeth for letting the paintings go public, her calm attitude seemed to say to the world that what mattered most was her husband’s art and not his betrayal.

Tony liked museums, he didn’t necessarily like art. He liked the echo of voices in the halls, he liked the sparseness of the building, it quieted his mind. He had a lot going on in his mind all the time, and museums were one place where he could settle the nervous chatter in his head. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and despite the media frenzy over the paintings, the hall where Helga hung was almost barren of people, much like any of Mr. Wyeth’s paintings, great yellow hills in winter with only a boy in a coonskin cap and many-buttoned Civil War era wool coat to catch the wind.

It was paintings by Pollack and Jasper Johns that appealed most to Tony, he didn’t care for people in his art, much like his life, he spent most of his time alone. Alone in his apartment. Alone in the library stacks, where he found books that were falling to pieces—he would carefully place them on his cart and wheel them to the bindery in the basement of the library. There were no windows in the bindery, so Tony would lose track of time with his glue and paper cutting tools. He would assess the books. Were there pages missing? Sometimes it was possible to find replacement pages through other binderies. There was a network of people like Tony, calling, emailing, “Does anyone have pages 61 and 78 of Moby Dick?” And eventually someone would write back, “Tony, which edition? I have five different Moby Dick’s here!” Tony never threw a book away, no matter how many pages were torn or missing, because someone, somewhere, might need a page to repair their copy, a copy that could live again. It was like organ donation. The old worn books waited in a dark corner of the bindery to give life to another book far far away.

But Tony liked Helga. Who could resist her? There by the window, the sad January light of Wyeth’s Pennsylvania illuminating her Viking face. Her blond hair braided and resting on her shoulders. In one painting, she glows like a jar of summer honey, wearing nothing but a black ribbon around her neck, she reclines on her back, her face turned away, her legs crossed at the ankle softly on a dark bed . . . Tony couldn’t stop looking at the painting, because it was Helga who was providing the light in that room, the room where Wyeth painted her. This brought Tony to tears. He had never cried at the sight of a painting before, but this painting shredded him. He was witnessing Beauty. And Love.

The lady in the Museum Shoppe wrapped the book of Wyeth paintings in gray tissue paper and made small talk with Tony, something he was uncomfortable with, “They say it might snow tonight, wouldn’t that be lovely? A nice dusting for New Years.”

“Yes, I suppose it would be. But it makes things difficult.” Tony handed his credit card to the woman.

“Difficult?” She cocked her head at him and then proceeded to make the charge on his card.

“Yes, difficult.” He signed the receipt, she handed him the bag.

That night, just as the lady in the shop had predicted, a light snow began to fall. Tony looked out his window and considered staying home. But his mind was restless and his nightly drives had become the only thing to really calm him, to help him sleep. Ten-thirty came and went, and when eleven arrived, the snow began to come down harder. Tony paced and then? He decided to chance it. He rode the elevator down to the parking garage and found the place empty, just as he had hoped. He went to his car, and opened the door, and doused the interior light. Quickly, purposely, he took off his clothes. First, his shoes, then his socks, finding the asphalt floor of the garage very cold, he hurried and peeled off his sweater, his t-shirt, and then his pants and his boxer shorts. He slid into the driver’s seat and held all his clothes on his lap for a moment, and then, he folded each item and placed them on the passenger seat, finishing the pile with his shoes on top.

He started the little car, a Honda Civic, two-doors, silver, with gray interior. The heat worked quite nicely and tonight would put it to the test. He drove toward the door of the garage and the motion detector sensed him and the big doors rattled up and out he went into the snowy night. The snow was blowing and twisting and the light of the street lamps and the head lights, even the light from the windows of Tony’s neighborhood was causing a cacophony in his view. But Tony steeled himself, he knew it would only be a couple of miles before he could turn onto 21 North, and then there would be nothing but trees, and fields, and stone walls. He felt delighted by the snow, he was glad he had made the effort.

Tony had been driving naked at night for five years now. He never thought he could carry on for that many years without being caught, without being found out, but somehow, he had succeeded. It was one of the only things he felt capable at, besides binding books, but he didn’t consider himself a great book binder, he was mediocre at best, and not as careful as some binders he had met. But in driving naked, he had found something in himself, a liberation, and something akin to what others achieved in meditation, a quiet mind.

Not long after seeing the Helga paintings, Tony walked past the bulletin board near the Circulation desk, and a flyer caught his eye, Models Needed for Life Drawing Class, No Experience Necessary. Tony stopped and shifted his backpack from one shoulder to the other. And then he tore one of the tabs with a phone number off the bottom of the flyer, “Gonna try some modeling Tony?” It was Emily, from the Circulation Desk, she was tiny and blond, and she spun by Tony like top when she said this.

“Um, noooo, its for a friend Emily.”

"Ohhh Kaaayy!" Emily saluted Tony and disappeared into the back of the Circulation department, where all the books patiently waited to be reshelved.

Tony folded the little piece of paper in his hand and put it in his shirt pocket. He was horrified that Emily had seen him take the number. She was the kind of girl he wished he could talk to, just talk to, perhaps over a sandwich and a Coke, but never in a million years. All he could muster was calling her on the interlibrary phone to tell her he had some books ready to be reshelved and could she send a student to pick them up? Sometimes Emily came to the bindery herself to pick up the books, and it was always most uncomfortable. She came in one afternoon when he was making a box. He made boxes frequently, boxes for books, and sometimes for the Periodical librarians, they loved to put things in boxes. His boxes were very precise and colorful. The library gave him a healthy budget for quality papers and archival glue, and he took advantage of this to procure excellent box making materials. Emily noticed the red box he was making for a book in Special Collections, ”Oh, what a marvelous box! I didn’t know you made all the boxes.“ Tony shifted in his seat, he felt his cheeks flush.

"I do, but not all the boxes."

"Would you make a box for me?"

"I, I, I suppose so, what kind of box do you need?"

"Oh a box for cards on my desk. Oh! And a matching box for all my pencils! I collect pencils you know. People leave them all over the library. Here’s my newest pencil." Emily took the pencil that was resting neatly behind her left ear and held it under the lamp of Tony’s desk, it was a transparent pencil, filled with water and a plastic Orca floating inside -- it said Sea World on one side in turquoise blue letters, "This might be the best pencil yet!" She said putting it back behind her ear.

Tony made two boxes for Emily and when they were done he gave them to one of her student shelvers to deliver. Emily sent him an email to thank him for the boxes and he never deleted the message. He kept it in a special folder he named Emily.

The little piece of paper with the number sat on Tony’s kitchen table by the bowl of sugar for quite some time before he got the nerve to call. A very brusk man answered the phone, "Yes, hello!"

"Hello, I’m calling about the flyer, um, for models for the life drawing class."

"Yes, well, we don’t need anyone anymore." Tony was relieved to hear this, but then the man paused and didn’t say good bye, instead, he went on, "But wait, are you a man?"

"Well, yes, yes I am."

"We only have women! We need a man for the class! What's your name?"

"Tony, Tony Gray. But, but I’m afraid I don’t have a very good build."

"Oh, that’s not necessary, we want all body types. As long as you can take off your clothes and sit still."

"I think I can do that." Tony panicked as he said this, he suddenly realized what he was signing up for.

"We can’t pay you very much, thirty dollars per class, maybe. The students contribute to your pay."

"Oh, that will be fine, um, when . . ."

"Tomorrow night, 7:45, Studio B in the Arts Center, do you know how to get here?"

"Yes, yes I know where that is." Tony hung up the phone. His only hope was that he would know no one in the class.

Tony drove far into the country that night, farther than he had ever driven on Highway 21. He stopped near a field only a few miles from the state line. There was more snow, piled high on the sides of the road, making high banks, he found a place to pull off and cut his headlights. He sat there with the little engine of the Honda whirring like a sewing machine. The stars were so numerous that he almost thought it was snowing again. He looked down at his naked body, pale and fat and torrid in the dim light reflecting off the dash board, "Helga, what do I do Helga?" But no one answered him.

*********

Tony hadn’t eaten all day, and he felt slightly faint when he arrived at Studio B. But he thought it better to faint from low blood sugar than to become nauseous and hurl in front of everyone in the class, "Tony? Are you Tony?" It was Tom, the instructor. Tony was struck by Tom’s lanky stature, he seemed to be seven feet tall, but perhaps it was the lack of food that made Tony feel as though he were sinking. "You are right on time, my students will be getting here soon. The dressing room is over there, just Take It Off! As we like to say, and settle into any comfortable position you like. First timers find it easiest to sit in the chair."

"Yes, uh, yes, sitting in the chair will be fine. Almost like sitting in a car." Tony felt as though his feet were frozen to the floor.

"What? Oh, yes, I suppose, if you find sitting in a car to be comfortable, then, yes, imagine you are sitting in a car. Naked, oh dear, how funny is that?" Tom began laughing and Tony tried to laugh with him, "You know, I hear, there are people who do that."

"Excuse me?"

"Weirdos, who drive around naked, flashing people, that kind of thing." Tom winked and laughed, "What a world, eh, Tony?"

"Uh, yes, hrmm, yes." Tony nodded and turned, he pushed the black velvet curtain back on the dressing room and took a deep breath. He decided to become Helga for the night, it was his only chance of surviving, to Be Helga. As he undressed, he heard the voices of students as they came in the studio. It became apparent that most of the voices were women. Tony folded his clothes and piled them on the small ottoman in the dressing room. He piled them just liked he piled them on the seat of his car, with his loafers on top. I am Helga tonight, I am Helga, driving her car, he told himself and pushed back the curtain of the dressing room, feeling as though he were a magician stepping onto the stage, but amazingly his audience didn’t seem to care. They were all occupied with preparing their easels and charcoals and inks and gossip. Tony made the walk across the room to the stuffed red chair in the center as though he were invisible. It was not unlike the feeling he had while driving in his car naked at night, traffic all around him, but no one aware of him, and his lack of clothing. He lowered himself in the chair and wondered how many models had sat in this chair, this made him slightly uneasy, he hoped they were clean, he didn’t care for dirty people. He crossed his legs and put one arm up on the chair, as though it were the open window of his Honda. Tom began the class, "Good evening everyone, our model tonight is Tony."

"Hello Tony!" They all shouted. Tony couldn’t reply, all he could do was nod his head, I’m Helga, I’m Helga, I’m driving my car.

The night ended, Tony dressed and the students left, all except one woman. Tom was critiquing her rendering of Tony. Tony heard her say one thing to Tom as he went out the door, "I’m going to call it Nude in Decline!" And there was much laughter. Tony never went back.

Spring came and with it budget cuts at the library. There were long memos regarding changes to be made, belts to be tightened.. Acquisitions would be mercilessly cut, student staff would be reduced, and for the first time ever, the library would be closed on Mondays. Tony was told to make do with the papers and materials he had purchased in the previous quarter. No more archival glue or fine handmade papers for binding, and the Periodical Department would have to do with the boxes they already had, no more box making until further notice. Staff birthday parties would be postponed and the Library Display Committee would be discontinued. Morale was low. But Emily remained spunky and suggested they send postcards to patrons asking them to donate new Bestsellers and magazine subscriptions to the Periodicals Department. Emily would go places Tony thought—some day, she might be mayor, or at least on the City Council, she was just made to lead.

All this stress caused Tony to drive more. Driving naked was the only thing that kept him centered these days. He wondered if he might lose his job, he kept telling himself he wouldn’t, because they needed to fix the old books, what with no new books coming in. But there were some, some in high places, the Librarians with PhDs, who didn’t care for Tony. He was just a paper sewing guy, they would see a way to outsource his work, he was certain of it. So he took to the road, and he considered, now that his Mondays were free, the possibility of driving naked in the daylight. This would be quite risky, but he had not seen 21 North with the sun upon its fields and trees and stone walls. He was tired of guessing whether there were cows in the fields. And better yet, horses! He knew that he could drive up there, out of the city, unnoticed and unfettered by clothes. He came up with a plan.

Monday came and Tony took the elevator down to the garage. There were people about and the door was open to the street as it was on weekdays, he would not be able to undress here. He would have to drive out of the city. But he did remove his shoes and his socks. And he took off his sweater. He was tempted to take off his shirt, but the Security Guard was watching him. Tony started the car and quickly scooted out onto the city streets. He was very anxious to undress, the red lights seemed to last far too long, but finally he turned on to 21 and at the first mile marker, he pulled off the road, under a large maple tree that was exploding in green. The sun was brilliant and unlike Mr. Wyeth’s paintings, the fields were not covered in Painters Gray and barren frost, they were offering up crocuses and periwinkle. Tony had a hell of a time getting his pants off without getting out of the car, and he wondered how he could improve his plan. But, finally, he was relieved of all his clothes and they sat neatly folded on the passenger seat. He started up the car and stepped on the gas. In the light of day, he found a turn he had never taken, Bedlam Lake Turnkpike. He had only seen the lake on a map. Today, he would drive to its shores, and perhaps, take a swim?

The turnpike was wide and smooth, Tony rolled down his windows and took in the air which smelled of hemlock . . . the lake shores were thick with the bluish pines that made him think of Christmas with their oily smell. A sign directed Tony to detour, and Tony obliged and turned onto a gravel road, he was oblivious to any worries. The Honda rattled and clanged along the little road, the road got narrower and narrower. And finally it came to a picnic area, with a small beach looking out on the lake. Tony parked the car and listened. There was nothing, not a sound. A crow cawed. That was it. Tony fell asleep with the sun pouring in his windshield.

"Tony! Tony is that you?" Tony woke with a start. There was a soft rain falling and the sun was sinking into the other side of the lake. A woman was calling his name. It was Emily! She was with her boyfriend in his Range Rover. Tony sat up, consciousness was coming to him now, how long have I been asleep? He looked down at himself and then back toward the Rover. Emily opened her door and called again, "Hey Tony! Fancy meeting you up here at the lake!" She began striding toward his car.

"Oh oh, Emily!" Tony started the car, he needed to get away, but the Honda choked at his turning of the key, please please start!

"Mel and I came up for a hike with the dogs, want to come with us?" She kept approaching, the dogs followed her out of the Rover, they came running to Tony’s car, big dogs, Golden Retrievers, they jumped on the car, practically in the window. "Hey you guys! Get off Tony’s car!!!! Sorry Tony, they’re so obnoxious!" Tony turned the key again. Nothing. The car was dead. He must have left the radio on. Emily came closer. The dogs were snuffling and reaching for Tony. He didn’t like dogs, Never had. He pushed at them, but they only became more excited. Emily was almost upon him, she looked so pretty in her hiking boots and a flowered dress. Her blond hair was in braids, she looked like Helga. There was nothing he could do, except wait for her.