Friday, January 31, 2014


                                                                Don and Mary Lewis

My grandfather and I were pen-pals from the time I was 8. Neither of us was regular about it. We might write back and forth twice a month for a while and then not at all until after the summer when we'd see each other again. His handwriting was small and exact, like type, unlike my grandmother's whose was sloppy and curvy and covered the page. (In my mind she just said "I beg your pardon!") He never wrote to me like I was a kid who couldn't possibly know what he was talking about, even though that's sometimes exactly what I was. Occasionally I'd write to him in the voice of a character, say, a person asking for a job, and he'd write back in kind, saying no, sorry, I seemed like a smart kid but I obviously had a few screws loose. Once I wrote to him pretending to be a jazz musician who played on Bleecker Street; I wrote "Hey Crazy Nannio and Cool Man GP", and after that he insisted that everyone call him by that name. But when we saw each other, he never mentioned the letters; they were our secret.

When we visited my grandparents in the summer, GP usually kept clear of all kids. He came out of his office at meal times but rarely spoke except to say "beat it" or "scram". He means it lovingly, Nana would say. Not true, he would say. There were a lot of us and he didn't like being around crowds. But then, randomly, and usually when you weren't paying attention, he'd pet your hair, or put his hand around your arm and just hold it there and study you. It was always slightly awkward, like he was a teenager put into a room with a strange creature and was trying to figure it out. He liked kids for their  honesty, but was uneasy with their capriciousness. Occasionally he'd need help with something, or feel like having company on an errand into town and Nana would say "Who wants to go with Grandpa to the library" and we'd all look at him, pleading, and he'd point to one of us and say "That one".

I was very close with my grandmother because she was easy to talk to and she paid attention to me. She laughed easily and often, and I was shy and was drawn to her. She loved being around lots of people, even if they were little and needed her to tie their shoes. Compared to her, my grandfather was quiet and mean, not mean exactly, but something that could turn if you got in his way, like a bumblebee. So I steered clear. Instead, I quizzed my grandmother about him: why doesn't he like to be around a lot of people? Because he doesn't come from a big family like I do. Where is his family? In New Jersey. Does he visit? No. Why? Because they've just lost touch. Why? Sometimes that happens. Why? Then there would be quiet for a while and we would somehow get onto another subject like how smart people always ask lots of questions.

When I got older, I continued the pen-palery with GP. I asked him questions about life and people, which he totally ignored. I asked him specific questions about my own life and about love, which he really totally ignored. I asked him about Aldous Huxley who was his friend, and he ignored that too except to say that he wasn't too bright. He addressed the letters with my initials and signed them with his: DL. Sometimes he wrote: "Deir Dre". He kept to details about his day or he told me about what he was reading, almost always history. He said history tells you everything you need to know and he'd recite some odd detail, always with the same type style handwriting on a piece of paper folded like a card. He liked getting my letters and said so; sometimes his response to me was a description of walking down the slope of his front lawn to the mail box. And that was it.


When I was growing up I knew specific details about GP: he got kicked out of boarding school, graduated early from high school, went to Amherst and got kicked out of there, eloped with my grandmother (who he knew since age 12), moved to Virginia and never spoke to his father again. He sang in a night club, worked on a tree farm and wrote for a magazine. He had 4 kids and 16 grandkids and refused to accept a penny of inheritance from his father, even though he didn't earn much money and could have used it. He lived in the desert 5 months out of the year in a house that he built himself that had no electricity or running water and was essentially a shack (my grandmother's voice again: "I beg your pardon!"), at least compared to the house where he was raised.

It's inevitable that, as you get older and surpass the ages your parents and grandparents are in your memory, you start to look at them a little differently, you start to see how they might have seen themselves, from the inside out, as opposed to these figures who cared for you, from the outside in. I always saw GP as someone who knew everything about everything, which is pretty much a decision I made when I was about 5 and never re-calibrated. But after he died, I learned another detail about him that started a shift in my view: it was a detail that set all the subsequent ones into motion. When he was 16, he walked in on his father having sex with a woman who worked for him. It was something that probably only lasted a minute and was neither completely uncommon, nor even completely unforgivable. But it was GP's father's reaction that was both of those things, because he just let his son struggle alone with the consequences (for which he took no responsibility).

Is it true that affairs are common in everyone's families, in the history of relationships? My guess is probably. Infidelity is not so odd; it just encourages odd behavior. It's not the thing, but how you deal with the thing: that's what you study in history. When I was little I always thought of GP as the guy in the other room, the one we had to tip-toe around. Then later I thought of him as a bad-ass, the cool guy who did what he wanted and told people he didn't like to go fuck themselves. But I think both of those things are off, and I did him a dis-service to idealize him and not see him as he was: a sweet and curious kid, unprepared for the capriciousness of others.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The House In My Head

At least half the people in my family are anti-social. I don't know if it's genetic or we are all shy, or we all were raised by people who said it was okay to stop talking or not come out for dinner. But every once in a while I get a picture of one of these houses in my head and nothing else seems more comfortable


The first thing I think of when I look at these places is: how peaceful and calm. The second thing I think of is how long it would take before things got scary. I wonder about the stars at night, the creak of the floorboard when I put my feet on the floor, playing music really loud, and the smell of the air. I wonder if I would argue with the person I went there with, or get annoyed if he kept sniffling aggressively instead of blowing his nose. I wonder if I would dream about city streets, or whether or not I would miss my neighbors. I wonder if this person and I would not speak much or if conversations would pour out of us. I wonder if we would get sad or worried or have sleepless nights, or if the only complicated thing would be in getting there.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Imaginary Circle

My neighbor just bought a new Audi. And don’t ask me if it’s a PQ7 or ST 5000 because I don’t know. It’s black and it’s shiny and it’s parked in front of my house. I stand in front of it and it is so shiny I can see myself. Not only can I see myself, but in my reflection I look like a super model. I am wearing a bikini and high heels; and my hair, which is suddenly full and wavy and also shiny, is blowing in the wind. I am saying: Do not, under any circumstances, fuck with me. In real life I am standing on the side-walk, in my jams, holding a bag of dog poop in one hand and a coffee in the other. I take a step in closer towards the other me. The beautiful round titties turn into pinwheels and she/I  says/say: Take one more step and I will suck you right in. I’ll suck you right in to my vagina like a giant hoover.


“Oh yeah... my new car. I got it yesterday.” My neighbor sneaks up behind me. I love my neighbor. We have lived next to each other for 10 years, have helped each other in the middle of the night. My kids walk into her house like it is their own. I have heard her having loud sex with her girlfriend on more than one occasion. And it’s fine. Whatever. Hey. But shit, this car. Enough is a goddam nough.

“It’s nice,” I say.
“Yeah”, she says, “You should get one”.
“Yeah, right”, I say. I try to imagine myself in such a car. I’d like to say I could imagine it easily but, in a million years, I still couldn’t. It's not my style. I don't-- you know--it's not me. “I'm getting a Maserati”, I say.
Of course you are, she says.
"I'm not kidding", I say. “If I’m going to say fuck you while I drive around, at least I want to say it with an Italian accent”. 

We have a chuckle. Then she goes her way. I go mine. Vaffanculo! I honestly, from all the truth in the bottom of my heart, could care less about cars. I mean I can appreciate one that looks nice, and I wish I had a clean one, but seriously, it’s a car. It doesn’t matter. But it’s weird in Los Angeles, it matters. Your car represents you. Someone explained it to me once like this: in other cities you have an imaginary circle around you that protects you in crowds, city streets, whatever. You let certain people into your circle, you let them get close if you want, but most of them you keep out; you still interact, but you keep most of them at a distance, even if it's just two feet. In LA, your imaginary circle is your car. So instead of relying on your manner to help you navigate social interactions you rely on things.

Is this too lofty? I don’t know. I think no matter where you are, your car represents you. So does the place you live. And your shoes. And your toothbrush. And your wallet. And the inside of your refrigerator. You just have to make sure all those things are in agreement.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An Oldie: The Source of Inappropriate

There used to be a super 8 movie of my Grandfather suffocating a "baby" in a basinette with a teddy bear. We would watch it at family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and all fight over who the baby was. That's me! No it's me! No, me!

"Who was it, Don?" Nana would say, getting in on the action.
"It was little Billy MacReady", GP would say without looking up from his book. Always it was a different name. "He wouldn't stop crying".

We all gasped and sat up and looked at each other. Little heads turning from one cousin to another, hiding smiles, feigning shock. We'd look to Nana who was sadly shaking her head as if to say, "It had to be done". Occasionally she would say, Oh I hate this one, this is horrible, Don! Turn it off! and she was such a good actress I couldn't tell if she was playing along or if she really meant it. Either way, we'd all yell, No, No, Leave it on. Leave it on. Tiny little voices, pleading and adamant.

There was another movie of GP pretending to drown in the pond down the road from their house. Wearing blue jeans and no shirt, he hurled himself into the water with a running start. Then something grabbed his leg and he got pulled under. He battled it. Punching and splashing. Splashing and flailing. Finally, weakened, he drifted under the water; his open hand like a final scream was the last thing to disappear.

Yaaaaaaaaaaay, we all clapped at the beauty of it, and also because GP was a grump sometimes, and he deserved it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Before You Wreck Yourself

"Oh my god MOM!" This, from Morgan when I walked into the room.
Camel toe like a mo-fo.
“What? ” I looked down, “ I mean. Can you please not say Camel toe like a mofo? Show some respect". 
You better chiggity check yourself.
Is it --? (sigh) I thought I looked good.
From the back and 100 feet away.
Come on.
Mom, you’re supposed to wear them down on your hips.
But then my belly shows and I look like a sad old bag mourning my youth.
Stop fishing for compliments.
I'm not.
I‘m going to the gym, not to a hula contest.
Good one, Mom. Fix your pants. Let's go.
I started laughing, “I don’t even know what a hula contest is. But I am definitely not going to one." I couldn't stop laughing. I had to brace my hand on the side of the couch. I couldn't stop.


In the mall I am walking behind my younger children, totally distracted and confused by everything. I feel like a retarded cousin.
"MOM!" this, from Darla, who at 15, is the sniper of the bunch. "You can't say retarded!"
It means SLOW. I'm slow! Jesus.
It's offensive.
And I said it in my head anyway, to myself.
You're mumbling.
"I absolutely was not mumbling." She lets it drop and then I start to question myself. I look ahead and Darla and Harry have their heads together giggling and whispering at my expense. It's strange to realize that you are being watched by the people you thought you were watching.

Monday, January 20, 2014


I think the reason Martin was such a great speech-giver was in his delivery. His speeches were like songs, and so we remember not only the words, but the emotions, his and our own, that accompanied them. Doesn't he look like he's singing here?

I know I post this every year, but I like that quote at the end.

I was listening to someone on the radio talking about Dr. King yesterday and was surprised to learn that he made up (on the spot!) the last part of his most famous speech; I also learned the following:

-More people in the world recognize and can identify the I Have A Dream speech than any other.
-He was born with the name Michael but his father changed it to Martin Luther when he was 5.
-He went to college when he was 15.
-He sang with his church choir at the premier of Gone With the Wind.
-He was (and still is) the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
-He was stabbed in the chest at a book signing in Harlem and almost died 10 years before his assassination.
-At the time, the March on Washington was the biggest gathering of protesters in history.

All I'm saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

When The Rock Came Sailing Through The Window: A Sketch

When the rock came sailing through the window,  Mr. Bevins had been talking about what Hamlet meant when he asked if it was easier to play him  than it was to play a flute. I was just about to understand it.  It was just beginning to make sense, and then I heard glass shattering and the rock rolled up between two seats in the front. We all watched it spin across the floor like a grenade until it finally stopped. Cy Kerr yelled out Holy Shit, and Mr. Bevins told him to sit down, “Is everyone okay?” his voice was high and quick. He was freaked. I remember that. His face was red.

When the rock came sailing through the window, John Fraybeck had his foot on the back of my chair.  He had been jiggling his leg on and off all morning. Every time I turned around to tell him to fucking quit it, he looked at me with such honest surprise I knew he didn’t know what he was doing. He was just a body that couldn’t contain itself. The only thing that could get him to stop was the sound of violence, but even then he was only steadying himself.

When the rock came sailing through the window, I remember it was grey outside. On and off grey it was.  The heat from the furnace came in blasts and then made a banging sound like a hammer against a metal pipe. I could smell Sheila Bouras. She smelled like BO and onions. She was tall and had no idea that one day she would be beautiful. She sat in her chair like a giant question mark.

You know that point in understanding something when the fog is clearing and it’s almost like you are remembering; you almost have to stand still as things come into focus. That’s what it felt like. When the rock came sailing through the window, I knew it was you. I remembered in quick succession: your mouth when you spoke, your arm as I held onto it, and the snow coming down so hard we couldn’t see.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Unresolved pain, can I help you.
Unresolved pain can--
No I mean, I this Dominoes?
No babe it's not.
Oh...sorry I, I think I dialed the...
Nope, you didn't.
No I did.
You were re-routed.
You tell me.
I just--
Don't be confused, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.
I really don't though.
Think about it.
I can honestly say I really have no--
It's usually something in childhood, but that's just-
You're serious.
As a crime scene.
I don't know who you are but--
Yeah you do actually.
Can you just reconnect me to-
Whatever that thing is in there? You're bigger than that. Don't let it define you--
You should write a fucking book.
Oh! Here she goes. She's up! She's swingin'.
Come on baby don't get mad, I'm just playing.
This is not some stupid joke.
You're right. Don't cry.
I want this to work.
It will. Be patient.
How do you know?
I just do.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunday Devotional

Thoughts for the day:

I took a full week off all phone, texting, emailing, blog-writing, IM-ing, facebooking, twittering and going down a swirling black vortex of internet surfing. Okay that's a full and complete lie; I didn't stop any of those things; even for a pretend second, in fact all of those things may have even taken up 65% of my waking time and that's a lot because I also visited new schools, worked, had a few fights, had my car break down twice, went to the gym every day, stole a pair of sneakers from the lost and found, fixed a clogged sink, replaced a light bulb standing on top of a chair on top of a table, went to basketball practice and did about 25 piles of laundry. But I didn't post last week and just wanted you to think that it was for noble reasons. It wasn't. I swirled down the black vortex. I lived and I swirled.

When I was home over the holidays my mom watched me texting on my phone and said "You're like a teenager on that thing", to which I responded "Psshh. Sorry. This is for work." though what I should have said was Yes I am like a teenager. I am fully, completely and in every avenue of my life right now, like a teenager. I'm stuck here in this weird place that is real and virtually real and imaginarily real and well, not real.

You know, I have to say something, I really hate reading the diary-entry style of blog post. I can't help feeling like I'm stuck in some strangers house, where the host goes on and on about what she had for dinner and the various digestive situations that followed. Really. I try to make this a little more than just that; I mean I started writing a blog basically as an exercise to make myself write every day, something with a beginning, middle, and end that's complete once I hit post, something that's the opposite of writing a script. I didn't want it to be a diary. But of course it is. Usually I try to keep up the fourth wall; I show you what I want you to see, but sometimes that's not possible.

My best friend would argue that it's never possible. She says I have a problem with showing my hand/saying inappropriate things/saying the wrong thing which she refers to as shitting the bed. I always thought she was referring specifically to my behavior in meetings where we try to get people to give us money, and I've always sort of secretly known this was a compliment: Even I don't know what I'm going to say! It might be stupid and wrong and inappropriate, but it could just as likely be fantastic and charming and golden. That's a beautiful thing. Isn't it?

So after this week I decided I'm trying to figure out a way to exercise a little more self control and work on my bed-shitting, in life as in this blog: I'm not going to write a diary style entry just to fill space. I'm not going to write about the internet or how confusing/distracting/like a bump of a drug it is to live with one hand on my iphone. Or I mean, I'm only going to do it on Sundays.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Devotional Constitutional

Soldier: A Freestyle from MuseBK on Vimeo.

I never knew that the word "constitutional" (aside from "of the constitution" or "inherent") means specifically, a daily walk, which is a good thing to do instead of going to church.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014: Push Pull and Tear

Here's some slogans that me and some teens thought of last night while bowling:

Don't Be Mean It's 2014
Check out The Scene it's 2014
Smack your ween it's 2014 (who said that?)
Say What Ya Mean it's 2014.
Go ahead, your turn.
And PS I kicked everyone's butt in bowling (everyone under the age of 6) but I think I might need a wheelchair for the next two days.
Cheers! Here's to singing in your mother's living room, crying in your car at random moments, and true love forever.