Saturday, October 30, 2010

Not for the Faint of Heart

This picture may not seem so scary in broad daylight, but at night, in the dark, when you are out walking the dogs by yourself and you look up and see something hanging from a tree, it's a different story. The people in my neighborhood are serious about Halloween and when I say serious, I mean as in not funny. Dead bodies hang from second story porches, body parts (possibly from actual bodies) are growing out of the garden, and someone hiding under a bush might grab your ankle when you walk through the gate.

The first year we lived here, we went trick or treating on Carroll Street (where this was filmed) and there was a tall man in a black hooded robe standing on his porch beckoning with a bony finger. I said to the kids, ooooooo haha look at that! and then Hi there neighbor! (hellodiddly odiddly) thinking that then the grim reaper would say Hey Guys it's me Bob, Happy Halloween, come on up! But he just stood there silently. I could actually hear Harry's bag trembling from his little hand. I tried to keep walking but both he and Dar had stopped and were not about to take another step. Come on guys, it's just Bob.

We looked at the figure who slowly shook his head, No.

Harry started to whimper. You go, Darla whispered. All right, I said. I walked up and said Trick or Treat in a friendly way (translation: All right you can stop now, my son is only 4 and has just pooped his pants), but Bob was fully committed. He shook his head No again and pointed to the kids. I actually had the momentary thought that maybe this wasn't Bob after all and this guy was really going to pull out a scythe.

He doesn't have any candy, kids, I said and turned quickly back towards them.

Once we were off the walk way, Harry started to cry just from the relief of getting out of a perilous situation, and he was still crying when we got to Jim's. Jim is 80, bald and wears old topsiders. He is originally from New Hampshire and is not interested in foolery. What's the matter, buddy, he asked. We explained and he chuckled, said aa Christ under his breath and walked inside his house.

Why'd he walk away? Darla asked.

Now that I was spooked, I thought for a second that maybe he went to get a rifle but he came back with two extra large snickers bars. I usually keep these for myself, he said, and he invited Harry to sit with him and hand out candy while I took Darla to a few more houses.

This is the same script we have followed every year since except that now Darla and Harry go out on their own and stop at many more houses before they end up at Jim's

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What People Do

I used to drive from Philadelphia to New York twice a week and now it seems I spend even more time in the car. My ass is flat in the same way as a round ball of clay pressed under a heavy book. I wonder what the ass of the 63 year old restaurant owner in this article looks like.
And PS, neither the photo above nor the few sentences below has much to do with the article, but it's still interesting.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sketch: Organ Transport

Part 1

We are in the desert, hot and still. Off in the distance there is a white shape. It could be vapors, it could be a mirage, it could be a white van. We go in closer. It’s a white van. On the side is a stenciled sign: Medical Transport.

There are two guys in the van; one is large, the other is wiry, but they are brothers. The wiry guy slumps over, his head on the steering wheel. The large guy sits in the passenger seat with perfect posture. He has one hand spread on each leg. He appears to be holding his breath. And sweating. The wiry guy’s name is Kenneth. The large guy is Jake. Jake speaks first.

I think it’s dead.

No it’s not.

I think it is.

We’re in the middle of the desert.

I’m aware of that Kenneth.

We would not be sitting in a dead car in the middle of the desert.

(Jake eyes him)

I’ll just try it again. (He tries it. Nothing. Just a click.) In a minute. I’ll just wait a minute. Give it some goddam time. Shit.

(Jake reaches down for a roll of paper-towels between his feet. This is not easy for a large person in a small car. He tears off a sheet and folds it neatly into quarters. He wipes the sweat off his face. He takes a deep breath before he speaks) You took it to Jiffy Lube, right?

That has nothing to do with it.

But you took it there, right? Got all the fluids checked? Water? Oil? Transmission?

(Kenneth slams his hand on the wheel) Fuck! Goddammit. Shit. Motherfucker. (He lets himself out of the car and has a full on tantrum, kicking stones, screaming, swearing. He finally picks up a handful of sand and rocks and throws it up at the sky. It showers back down on him and the van).

(From inside the van, Jake picks up his cell phone. It is ridiculously small in his hands. He dials and listens. No reception. Kenneth gets in the car. Jake clicks the phone closed and then he speaks) Let me try.

Part 2

They are walking through the desert with back-packs. Jake speaks first.

I’ll give you $20 if you can come up with a four-syllable word.

(Kenneth thinks for about 300 yards) Mo-ther fuck-er—

--That isn’t profanity.


And it has to come out naturally in the middle of the topic we are discussing. You can’t build a conversation around the word.


It will never happen.

Let’s see the twenty.

Oh I have the twenty.

Let’s see it then.

You’ll see it when the time comes.

I know plenty of four syllable words.

Don’t think about it.

You’ll see.

Part 3

They are still in the desert. Still walking. Kenneth speaks first.

Why don’t you talk to Dad?

(Jake stares at him)

Because I mean, he might have something helpful to say. He’s a good listener.

What are you talking about?

(Kenneth thinks for 50 yards) I’m talking about Dad. About why you don’t talk to him all of a sudden.

I haven’t talked to him for 15 years.


He means nothing to me. If he died tomorrow, I wouldn’t go to his funeral. I don’t like the guy. He was never in my life. He is nothing.

Ok, I get it… You’re pissed off about something.

Oh, I am.

So why don’t you voice yourself, Jake?

Because it won’t change anything. Our father is zero. A hurtful, self absorbed zero. He treated his children like stray animals.

(They walk 300 yards. Then Jake speaks)

Do you remember when you started stealing things?

When I was 11?

Yeah, then.


What did you steal?

Um, let’s see, candy, Pringles—

--That’s not what I’m talking about.

Oh, so you’re asking me a question you already know the answer to?

(Jake looks at him) I’m trying to engage you Kenneth.

Engage me? Ha, ok, all right. I hear you. What did I steal? Ok. Ah, I stole some casettes, the neighbor’s drill bits, some ah, maybe-- I don’t know I wasn’t taking inventory.

Keep talking.

Wait, hold on. In-ven-tor-y. Ha four syllables. That’s four fucking syllables, Jake. You owe me twenty bucks.

I’ll pay you when we’re done with this conversation.

That’s not the rules, Jake. I wasn’t even trying. It just came right on out.

It was a surprise.

Yes it was. (Kenneth has a good chuckle to himself) That was good. Don’t think I won’t forget the 20.

I won’t forget either. (They walk) Keep going.

What’d I steal?

Yes, what’d you steal, but also, why’d you steal it. Then. Why’d you steal it then.

You mean the money?


Look I told you I’d pay you back.

I’m not worried about it Kenneth, I know you will. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I stole it because I just wanted to have it. I think I gave it away. Some of it.

Think about it.

Oh, here we go.

Tell me.

No you tell me, Mr. Know-it-all. I don’t know why I did it. I was eleven. I didn’t think about it. I don’t think about it now.

Don’t you think you should?


Don’t you think you should examine that? Don’t you think that you need to ask yourself about that year in your life? That if you look at that particular day in your childhood when you snuck into my room, opened the drawer of my dresser, pulled out all the mismatched socks and clip-on ties, found a roll of money in a green rubber band and said to yourself: this does not belong to me, it belongs to my brother, the one person in the world I am most related to, who has always stuck up for me no matter how I annoying I am, this is my brother’s who I love, who is my hero and friend and the guy who will fetch a ball 16 times when I can’t help but throw it over his head because no one else would ever pay any attention to me, this is my brother’s but I am still going to take this MONEY ROLL ANYWAY. Don’t you think if you look at that moment that you might figure out what put you on your path what got you here right at this moment in the MIDDLE OF NO WHERE—

You don’t look so good Jake.

THINK, THINK, THINK, Kenneth. What makes a person, even a sweet pale, eleven ear old idiot cross the LINE, KENNETH. Ask yourself. What could be so strong and furious inside yourself that nothing you learned or felt in your heart could stop you from doing wrong.

You’re really pale Jake.

You don’t have to be afraid.

I’m not. Shit.

You are innocent, Kenneth.

Quit it.

Everyone does something wrong once in their life. EVERYONE. And each time it’s because what they are really saying is something simple, but difficult.


They are saying: help me.

You seriously look like you might pass out any second…Help me?


That’s what I was saying?

When I was eleven?


You think so? (Kenneth starts to laugh)

I do. Wait let’s stop for a minute. (Jake takes off his pack and squats) All you have to do is figure out why you were saying help me and then you’ll never do wrong again. You can get off this goddam path and I can get off the sideline watching it.

Well you’ve got this all figured out, Jake. I like that. I like that a lot. I like that you're on the sideline watching me. But seriously, you don't have to worry about me. I haven’t stolen anything since that time. (His voice trails off quietly. He stands in front of Jake trying to protect him a little from the blazing sun, but he is still thinking good and hard with his head down. All of a sudden his face lights up and he starts to giggle, then he whoops and hollers and jumps up and down) Hold on Jake, (he takes his pack off ) Hold the hell on a minute, (He unzips the pack and takes out a pair of Sunday shoes and some neatly folded clothes. He pulls out another small bag and unzips it. There are two bottles of water. He screams loud with his head thrown back, and then hands one to Jake) How about it? This is how I do. Yes. It. Is.(He holds out the bottle to make a toast.)

(Jake looks at him and can’t help smiling) Where did you get these?

From the nurses station in the ER.

Good thinking brother.

They click bottles.

I stole them. (He puts the lid back on the water bottle and starts repacking his bag) It’s my path, Jake. It just is.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Last night I went to a PTA meeting at school because they are about to cut a few more positions in the main office and a few of the parents standing outside corralled me into going. Last year they had to pink slip some of the teachers and this spring they will have to cut a few more. Teachers. Because there is not enough money to pay them. Usually I hear about this kind of thing and I’m only half listening, but when I think about some of the big stories in the news lately: the growth of the tea party movement, bullying, the development of social networks (which some people aptly call anti-social networks) I can’t help seeing a connection to our schools. Out of 30 developed countries, the US ranks 25 in math and 21 in science. How can that be? We’re so competitive and aggressive, if people only knew about these stats, we would be ashamed, and if we were ashamed we would want to kick some ass, and if we wanted to kick some ass, we would want to come from behind and score some goals and teach our kids better so they could be #1. Or at least in the goddam running. Yes! But there’s no superbowl for schools, there’s no 24 hour talk radio station endlessly and tirelessly going over teacher plans, math concepts, historical connections, books, READING. No, there are just pink slips and budget cuts and tired people who send their kids to private school.

The one category US kids ranked highest in, was self-confidence. (In my mind I just jumped off a table saying HELL YEAH #1 and then headbutted the wall). Confidence means literally: with belief. I like that we believe in ourselves, but self-confidence without merit equals loudmouth, uneducated, bully.

Both of my Grandmothers were teachers. One of them, Mary, lived in the same town where she had taught (before I came along), and I can remember going to the grocery store or to the bank or to the beach and random people would come up to her and say Hi Mrs. Lewis, I’m So and so Biddyhoo, you were my fifth grade teacher, I’ll never forget you, and then they’d recite a poem she had forced them to memorize or recall something they had learned from her and inevitably she’d remember their name or something about them 5 minutes after they said goodbye to each other, and I remember feeling proud and slightly confused like she had an entire life before she was Nana. It’s hard to talk about how important teachers are without sounding corny or obvious. I know teachers have a hard job, I know they don’t get paid enough, I know they’re expected to teach boring and necessary things in a fascinating and exciting way, and how hard that is, I know that the best of them can make you believe in yourself, and can change your life in extraordinary ways and I know it sucks that they have to get fired because the state has a deficit problem, but what am I supposed to do about it?

I realized last night that the answer is simple: communicate. But before I can do that I need to do all the things my earliest teachers taught me, i.e. sit still and listen, keep my mind open, be curious, don’t judge, don’t be afraid, let it sink in, know that I am not entitled to an opinion, I have to earn one, think before I speak. I think there should be a national mandatory service at public school, like the Israeli Army, where you have to work there for one year. Maybe then we could get better at putting two and two together.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Choked Up

Yesterday I had a phone meeting to talk with someone about being in a webisode of some show they are doing. They mentioned they wanted to talk to me as a single mom so I took the call thinking that’s what we were going to talk about. She told me that in the show they are going to have a person ask a question and get random different people to answer it and then the original person is going to do something based on those answers. In this webisode the guy, a song writer, is going to ask people about love and then write a love song that is “real” not like the ones you hear on top 40. So as she telling me all this I got overwhelmingly and suddenly choked up. I said to her, (kind of chuckling) when you first explained this I thought you were talking about love for my children. She said uh, no, I meant romantic love.


I was completely quiet, trying to swallow and not being able to. She said (kind of chuckling) “I remember once you said you were always so busy with your kids that you don’t even have time to think about having a relationship, and we thought that was kind of funny, you could say something like that.” I still could barely talk so I just said Oh (again) but in the back of my head I thought, I only ever say that because it’s an excuse. All I want is a relationship. So, to her I say, in the shakiest voice ever, I don’t know if I want to talk about that, it’s kind of hard for me to talk about it, I wouldn’t know what to say.

And she said, that’s exactly the kind of thing we are looking for!!!

And I said, well let me think about it. And then we went on to have a 30 minute conversation about the internet and why I have a problem writing for a site: I don’t get paid, it’s just a million voices blathering at once etc and while I was talking I felt like an old librarian with 10 cats and 92 boxes of tea in the cupboard and no boyfriend ever again for the rest of my life, like one of those sad, gray women who is half giggly/ half morose. And she’s talking, a young, super smart and energetic girl who loves her family and she gets what I am feeling, but is young enough to still be enthusiastic about possibilities and I literally feel like I started the conversation as a grape and now I’m a raisin.

The point of the guy on the webisode, that love songs on the radio are generic and don't speak (sing) for the average person is something I disagree with anyway. Aren't love songs supposed to be as corny and (as Harry says) annoying as possible and have little to do with every day life?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Back To The World

There are worse things than being stuck half a mile underground for 69 days with 33 other people in a pitch-black 90-degree hole, not knowing if 85 million tons of rock and earth are going to slam down on top of you at any given moment, but not many. I think I’ve been so distracted by this story because I’m curious about a person’s emotional survival skills. I mean everyone has had deadlines hanging over his head but not like that or in those conditions. I’m curious to know what they talked about, if there were any disagreements or grudges. My hunch is No. In those conditions everything is boiled down to a minimum. You can’t even really freak out or get depressed; anything that is detrimental to your survival has to be erased. Maybe that’s why we’re riveted; we want to see these survivors, these super-humans. Look at them. They made it.

Addendum: Take a look at this.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I met and interviewed Josh Stieber last year after I found his site online. He was in middle school when 9/11 happened and made the decision to join the army as soon as he was old enough. Five years later, a month after he graduated from high school he was in training camp, and was deployed a few months after that. A year later, he finished his second tour of duty and decided to become a conscientious objector. I don't know why his story rang such a loud bell in my head, but it did. The few times we met I couldn't help harping on him about how he was so completely focused and devoted to one thing and then he had a realization about it and turned in the complete opposite direction. I needed to understand how he was able to do this. Everyone of us has gone through different spells of devotion to something that turns out differently from what we first imagined, but usually we manage to somehow justify our actions, sometimes for a long while. He never has any answers for me, not specific ones, and I suspect he thinks I'm a bit odd to keep asking. But I like to check up on him from time to time and see where he is. Check his schedule and if he's in your town, invite him to speak at your school or at your library. He has some amazing stories and so does his friend Conor Curran who is touring with him now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ass Burger

It’s weird that the facebook guy is anti-social. I wonder if he was a child now, if someone would tell his mother that he has Asberger’s. If she would have quiet conversations with his teacher in the hallway outside of the classroom, and sit at the park watching him lie in the grass while other kids jump over him. If she would feel sad and defensive about him, and a little self-righteous. And curse herself for getting him vaccinated.

When Dar and Harry hear someone use the term Asberger’s, they fall on the ground laughing. “That’s the best word ever!” Harry says, “I want an asberger”."With fries." It is just a word. A label. The wikipedia definition has a photo of a kid staring at some plastic puzzle pieces on a table and says, “People with Asberger’s often display intense interests, such as this boy’s fascination with molecular biology”. Shouldn’t that be called an extreme order, not a disorder, or at least, cause for celebration?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Connected By A Story

I read this post this morning here .

There was an announcement about a bike rider being struck and killed in Florida. The victim, whose name was Neil Smith, was 48 years old and a dishwasher at the Crab Shack. This news prompted someone to write in: " A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead", which prompted Andrew Meacham to write about Neil, which prompted Austin Kleon to post it on his blog, which prompted Zan McQuade to post it on hers which prompted me to post it on mine, which hopefully will prompt you to tell someone else.

To Neil.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What it Smells Like

My friend gave me some special aromatherapy oil for my birthday. There’s a whole little ceremony you have to do to get the scent going; it involves fire and water and a glass/ceramic receptacle. This particular aroma is for prosperity and I have to say that once it starts to spread through my living-room: the lavendar, sandlewood, patchouli, coppertone smell, I honestly do feel like one of those Egyptian Queens who sits in a throne carried through the streets by 4 well-defined young guys wearing nothing but flip-flops and a small well-placed piece of cloth.

An Argument for Giving it More Time

It really does take about 40 seconds for me to be attracted to someone. Or not. And that’s weird because if you asked me I would say that physical attraction, though important, is not at the top of the list. But 40 seconds isn’t the amount of time it takes to see physical beauty it’s the amount of time it takes to run through the timeline of the evolution of the relationship. For example once I was talking to a policeman and at the same instant I said “Oh. Handsome.” a voice in the back of my head screamed NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, and while outwardly I talked and giggled and flirted, inwardly I imagined that he probably had a motor boat docked in Marina Del Ray and it would be romantic to sit under the stars on a warm night but as soon as we got married it would get dull, and then he’d use the boat as an escape from me and the kids and we’d argue about it and one night our fight would get especially heated and he would throw his cell phone at me, only I would duck and it would hit our toddler straight in the face. And things would never be the same after that.

Then outwardly I would say “Ok thanks so much”, and walk away and never think of him again.

Still, and maybe this is obvious and un-necessary to say, not a single one of my imagined scenarios has ever been correct.