The house on Cornwall Avenue was two blocks from the beach. It was large and white and perfect. Out front were lilac bushes. In the back, on the driveway, we would ride our bikes and drag our red wagons and wash our sandy feet with the hose. The house had three stories, several balconies and room enough for most all of us. For kids and grandkids and friends dropping by. The neighbors had a pool, but we had the carriage house. We held birthday parties there. Fourth-of-July celebrations. It smelled of wet sand and must and sweat and memory.

We’d walk the two blocks to the beach in flip-flops, carrying fold-up chairs and coolers of water and boogie boards. Aunt Nomi would tote along peaches and plums in plastic bags and some other aunt or uncle would bring money for the ice cream man. The cousins- bolder than I- would jump waves, venturing deeper and deeper into the murky froth of the Atlantic. I, who was not-so-brave, stayed by the shore building sand castles and hunting for snail shells with my father. In the afternoon the ice cream man would ring his bell and we’d go running after him, hankering for fudgesicles and ice cream sandwiches and chocolate tacos. Our mothers would rub sunscreen onto our sandy backs as we dripped chocolate down our fronts. 

At 4:00 or 5:00 we’d start back, hopping from foot-to-foot on the hot late-afternoon sand. Our feet burned and blackened, we carried our shoes clutched in our small fists, limping our way back to the house on Cornwall Avenue.

* * *

It is perfectly possible to remember an idyllic childhood that never existed. Me, I imagine mine in Super-8 film. Like an episode of “The Wonder Years.” Like a Ford ad, circa 1972. I remember thin legs in terry cloth shorts sticking to the leather of the car. I remember the view from the back seat. My parents’ voices rising and falling musically from up front. My sister faking sick next to me. Windows down. The smell of sea-salt. Tossing quarters into the toll booth. Downtheshore. All one word.

This was where my grandparents lived. My Bubbie and Zadie*. But it was more than that. Downtheshore was my grandparents. The dark blue of the kitchen carpet. The porcelain tea sets and cat figurines in the living room. Ketzie** the cat, gray and cranky, hissing at us kids from underneath Bubbie and Zadie’s bed. Oreo cookies dipped in milk. All of us cousins, one multi-legged creature with 18 tanned arms.

Like I said: it is perfectly possible to remember an idyllic childhood that never existed.

* * *

At 78, my Bubbie is still beautiful. She no longer has the tremendous breasts of her youth. Cancer got those. And she can’t walk these days. Her feet are enormous: swollen to the size of melons, fit only for special-order shoes and thick support hose. But she retains that sexy Lauren Hutton gap between her front teeth. A killer smile. Eyes that sparkle and perfectly arched brows. An enviably thick head of hair. I want badly to be told that I look like her. I don’t, though. I am 55 years her junior but all I have over her is youth.

In my favorite photograph of my grandmother, she is 16. In profile. She is wearing a fur headpiece and staring pensively away from the camera. She is young and glamorous and she has her whole life ahead of her. She hasn’t yet been introduced to my dark and handsome grandfather. She hasn’t yet given birth to her four children. She doesn’t yet know that her beloved father has only a year to live. She doesn’t yet know that in three decades she will lose her sister- her best friend- to breast cancer. She is young and glamorous and she has her whole life ahead of her. I want badly to be told that I look like her. I don’t, though.

* * *

At 78, my Bubbie is losing her memory. This is a fact, though I choose to believe it is merely conjecture.

If we don’t use the A-word then it isn’t real.

She has good days. Days when she can reminisce with fluency about yesterday and last year and thirty years ago. Days when she cracks jokes. Days when she tries to press her jewelry on me, saying, “you like this? Take it!” She has good days and this makes it easier to forget that she has bad days too.

* * *

Bubbie and Zadie moved out of the house on Cornwall Avenue over a decade ago. The house was too big so they downsized to a small yellow box of a house five blocks from the beach. It didn’t matter much. Bubbie didn’t go to the beach anymore. Couldn’t. Some years later, they built a ramp for her wheelchair. Bubbie didn’t go to the beach anymore so neither did we. We sat on the porch and ate dried fruit from candy dishes and watched the roses grow into maturity. We still held birthday parties. Fourth-of-July celebrations. We still stopped for soft-serve at the Purple Penguin on our way home. Downtheshore.

Bubbie and Zadie moved out of the little yellow box on North Union last year. To an apartment in a retirement community. They are in independent living. There is, however, the option for assisted living. Nursing care. But Bubbie still has good days and Zadie is still only 83 and we still have 15-year-old sand lodged in our toes and our tans haven’t faded completely. This is merely conjecture but I choose to believe it is fact. This is merely grasping at straws. But I’ll take it.

* * *

One night not too long ago, Bubbie woke Zadie up in the middle of the night. “What’s Debbie?” she asked him urgently. “What’s Debbie to me?” “She’s your daughter,” he said.

* * *

My mother doesn’t believe that there was blue carpet in the kitchen of the house on Cornwall Avenue. We ask my father. He has no recollection whatsoever. “What’s for dinner?” he asks instead. I remember it distinctly though. Blue carpet in the kitchen. It was there, I think, even if it wasn’t. Blue carpet in the kitchen downtheshore in the house on Cornwall Avenue.

 

*For those of you who aren’t Chosen- you get your Easter eggs and we get circumcision- Bubbie and Zadie are Yiddish words for “grandmother” and “grandfather.”

** Ketzie is Yiddish for cat.  Go figure.

I nearly choked on my morning oatmeal when I stumbled upon this article from the BBC.

From the article:

Pet Shop Boys reject PETA request

Pop group Pet Shop Boys have revealed they have turned down a request by animal rights group PETA to rename themselves the Rescue Shelter Boys.” PETA Europe has written to Pet Shop Boys with a request they are unable to agree to,” reads a post on the band’s official website. But the band admits the request “raises an issue worth thinking about”.

Now, I’m an amateur semantician at best, but when you first heard who sang West End Girls, did the cognitive assembly of those three words: Pet. Shop. Boys. make you rush right out to the mall and pick up a scrappy pup when you were freshly into your teen years? Did you suddenly think: “I, too, want to be a Pet Shop Boy (or Girl)” and start saving up for your very own Petland franchise? Would it have made a difference if they had been called The (almost certainly career-destroying) Rescue Shelter Boys?

No. More than likely, you spent time scratching your head, trying to figure out if it wasn’t a rip-off of One Night in Bangkok.

(It wasn’t. But it’s a good argument. Chess was released in 1984, West End Girls was first released in 1984, but to little notice. So they re-recorded the tune with a new producer and released it a second time in 1985 to wider acclaim, capturing the Number 1 spot in the UK in 1985 and in the US in 1986. But I digress…)

So with this plea, 25 years after The Pet Shop Boys first burst onto the scene and 29 years after PETA was founded, what, exactly does PETA hope to accomplish now? Shouldn’t they have seized the moment when the band first came out, like the initial outrage over Joy Division? Are they suddenly running to the forefront waving long-lost statistics of the influence of a single British technopop band’s one-hit wonder on the spike in demands for puppy mill puppies? A noticeable decline in animals adopted from the pounds across America circa 1986???

Interestingly enough, Pound Puppies also arrived in the early ’80s, and I don’t know about all you other Gen X girls out there, but didn’t you hum “Pound Puppy, you’re my one and only puppy love” almost as much as you hummed the Monchichi song?

If The Pet Shop Boys drove the angsty ’80s teen-traffic to the puppy mills, I’m certain the ‘tween girl set drove equally as much, if not more, traffic to the ASPCA to have a real, live pound puppy of your very own. Why isn’t PETA, instead, focusing on the positive influence of the Pound Puppies? Or eschewing dogs altogether and instead, touting Cabbage Patch Kids for adoption?  I mean, hell, if you want to adopt something, adopt a child – and one that grew out of a VEGETABLE GARDEN to boot, thus keeping right in line with PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk’s own ‘hippo’-cratic oath: “Therefore [animals] are not ours to use – for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or for any other reason.”

Why does PETA have to be so damn preachy and negative? Ingrid Newkirk lives in Norfolk, Virginia. Didn’t all her time spent living in the South teach her that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? But I suppose that would be inhumane to flies, so nevermind…

Now don’t get me wrong, I love animals and I sympathize with animal advocacy. I do.  I have had four animals adopted from rescue groups. I have worked with rescue groups. Hell, one of my best friends even RAN a rescue group for years and years. And I’ll confess, I like the underlying principles of PETA. I think puppy mills are bad. I think throwing bags filled with litters of kittens into the river is bad.  I think mistreating the animals used for medical advancement is bad. I think we should adopt pets from pounds, rescue shelters and directly from reputable breeders, and I think pet owners should be, above all else,responsible pet owners.

But I also wear my great-grandmother’s mink stole when I go to the Opera and, like Lenore, had a beloved white-rabbit coat when I was a little girl.  I believe that feral and dangerous animals should be humanely euthanized, rather than left to live out their days in a cage. I’m thoroughly enjoying Claire Cameron’s ongoing and highly-entertaining TNB series: A Guide to Thinking About Urban Chickens. I would rather that scientific research be tested on rabbits and chimpanzees than on my nieces. I do.

Oh. And I eat meat. Red meat.  Often. Saignant. I think it’s why we have incisors. And why God made cows and pigs and chickens and fish taste so damn delicious.

Now, I didn’t learn these things from bands’ names. I didn’t learn to eat meatloaf from Meat Loaf, I don’t appreciate fish because of Phish (truth be known, I don’t even like Phish), I don’t love bacon toffee because I also sing along to Pigoletto, and personally speaking, I prefer rotisserie chicken to Electric Chicken.

But it doesn’t mean that, because I’m a meat-eating, fur-wearing, frequent Kittenwar website-visitor and Stupid Pet Tricks-watcher, I’m going to challenge your equal right to be up in arms about leather, orBabe, or lab rats, or Steak tartare.

So give it a rest, Ingrid.  People aren’t so impressionable that we’re going to think anything of a band’s name other than it’s just another stupid band name.

Which most of us had forgotten about.

Until now.

Thanks.

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

She was a head-injured quadriplegic at a nursing home. I took care of her sometimes. The other assistants who cared for her brought her Playgirl magazines. They’d open them up to a photo of some guy’s package. That brought a big smile to her contorting face, which was the only part of her body she could move. A former Cal Trans road worker, she had been smashed by some kind of vehicle as she stood on a Florida roadway. She couldn’t talk, only smile. She couldn’t eat except through a tube that dangled from her side. But she loved porn. You could see it in her eyes.

I had to turn her constantly to keep the sores off her body.

A head-injured man shared the room. All he could do was eat. He couldn’t move a muscle. I spoon fed him and had to massage his throat so he could swallow. I changed his diapers, took him to a shower room and hosed him off while he lay on a big blue gurney. He stared a lot. That’s all he could do. I didn’t sense any thoughts behind his eyes. I figured any kind of reasoning was hidden far behind a veil of fog so thick that his soul was in a constant winter.

His mother, whose fingernails looked like strange digging spades, would come to his room once a week and rub his head. She thought he might wake up. “He’s going to come through,” she said. Her little puffs of grey hair and big glasses hid a motherly anger.

I hung out with a couple of CNAs at the nursing home. James was a large black man who would tell me lots of Bible stories. “You know Christmas trees are in the Bible,” he said one day, then launched into the old testament tale on the topic, saying there was an evergreen, that it meant Christmas. “It’s true,” he said.

“Fool. That’s a bad word. Don’t ever call anybody a fool,” he said on another occasion. “People don’t know, but they should be afraid of that word. God will punish them.”

I was glad to be at the nursing home, far away from the clinic and the likes of the angry head-injured like Ken Svent, who would always throw his breakfast at me. He often screamed until his ribs cracked. Herman Burger also lived there. He was a six-foot, five-inch-tall gay lumberjack. He once lunged at me with his razor while trying to help him re-learn how to shave. More than once he threw a shoe at his Alaskan wilderness lover, missed, and hit a window.

My favorite head-injury victim was an old timer named Tom. He pitched in the World Series back in the 1950s and still had enough wits to show me his hand gestures for a slider and curve ball. His smashed brain could at least put together those memories. I always wondered if he made the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame

The rooms and halls of the nursing home smelled like piss. The old people in the hallways constantly pissed themselves, the floor, their rooms. The smell lingered in a cloud of human waste.

I studied in the nursing home. I read and then fed the head injured. I remember Fall months and the leaves tumbling through the air outside the windows. I remember James saying he had another story for me. “It’s about God’s covenant by fire and water,” he said. He came into the room often and saw a bit of God in there. I know he did.

I would say: At dusk, the crops’ silhouettes held to the sky like herons cemented into the earth, leaves flapping feebly in the Northern California wind, unable to lift themselves from the forthcoming hands of the Morning Pickers, and the watchful green eyes of Lady Wanda—I would say that, but I was likely stoned.It’s just as likely, the crops didn’t look like herons at all, there was no wind, and it may not have even been dusk.It could have been morning.It could have been afternoon.Having worked on a medical marijuana farm, filling six notebooks with scrbblings of varying degrees of sense, and engaging in the attendant and standard subcultural vices, I have made of myself an unreliable narrator.

The Germans amuse me.  The Berlin Zoo, for the second time in as many years, witnessed a living, breathing, supposedly intelligent human being circumvent the security surrounding the polar bear enclosure.  To call this Darwinism is not only obvious, but an understatement.  This is stupidity on a brave new level.

Not to mention, it makes Hitler’s whole “the Germans are the Master Race” argument look more than a little off.

But back to the jumper.  For starters, if you haven’t seen the story, this woman didn’t simply fall over a ledge.  To even get to the ledge she had to first climb over another fence and through a brier patch full of thorny bushes.  Only then could she jump into the moat full of polar bears.  I wish I could say that this was a case of writer’s embellishment on my part, but there are pictures.

And she’s the second one.  The guy last year justified his jaunt into A POLAR BEAR ENCLOSURE, by saying that one of the bears “looked lonely”.  That transcends any dictionary definition of stupid.  Both of these people, that guy and the fat lady from this week, must have been possessed.  That’s what I have to believe if I am going to retain any hope or faith in humanity as a whole.  I have to assume that they were manipulated by some God or devil or puppet master type person like David H. Lawrence’s character in Heroes.  It could only be for the amusement of some higher being like in Jason and the Argonauts.

NOBODY does that on purpose.

Do they?

I admire the people that tossed life rings down to this tubby pile of bear food.  They are better people than I am.  I couldn’t have done it.  I can’t throw anything straight while I’m laughing, and I definitely would have been laughing.  She jumped into a bear cage.  It’s not the 100 Acre Woods.  They don’t live in trees and chase balloons and eat honey with their pig friends and that little gay kid.  They are real life bears.  They eat people.  Raaaarrrrrr!  Her, and the Grizzly Man, and that lady on the Russian talk show they keep replaying on Real TV…

Diving into a pool full of wild animals will come back to bite you in the ass every time.  Pun intended.

The Berlin Zoo said that it has no intention of making changes to the existing security measures at the display, and they shouldn’t.  If you’re going to lock up animals in the first place, your only job is to make sure that the animals can’t get out.  People getting in should never be an issue.  If it is, they’re only doing us a favor.  Why doesn’t this happen more often in the United States?  With the government picking up the tab for just about everything lately, we could do with a little population control.  112th trimester abortions for those not smart enough to run with the rest of the herd…

If I sound negative, it’s because I truly cannot get over the fact that these people willing attempt to swim with polar bears during feeding time.  The funniest part of it all was that the Berlin police issued the woman a citation for trespassing.  That should stop her the next time she thinks about jumping in a cage with live bears.  As if the fang shaped holes in her ass cheek won’t be deterrent enough, they wrote her a ticket…  Hey lady.  Quit your bleeding and sign here on the line.

Her punishment is the fact that she has to walk through this world with an IQ lower than some hockey scores.  Let her walk away, and say a silent prayer that the bear managed to bite through her ovaries.  The rest of us don’t need her stupid little babies running around our planet.

I know this… I will never not pull for the bear when these kinds of things happen.


I kicked my last dope habit in federal prison and I can tell you, there’s nothing romantic about it. Whatever you might imagine the experience to be will probably not be far off the mark. Picture hellish monotony, cramps that never vanish, months of sleeplessness and of course, that special craving. Making art out of this experience is difficult. My own recollection of the episode is dank and foul. As Dante said of his Inferno, death is hardly more bitter.

There’s that age-old question: If you could be anyone in the world, real or fictional, who would you be?

I still don’t have an answer.

Maybe Jon Stewart or Wolverine.

LeBron James or Trey Parker.

Alvin York?

Joe Biden?