Here’s the deal:

I want to marry you. I do. I can’t find the words to explain why, but yet at the same time I can. Am I confusing you already?

You know, it’s just you. The shape of your eyes. The way you walk. It’s because you didn’t like that song. It’s because you’re smart and like the color green. It’s because you always know what’s best. It’s because you turned me onto cheesecake.

It’s the small things.

It’s always the small things.

Here’s some things you ought to consider before you decide on marrying me: I like books and Mt. Etna. I can cook and uncork wine. I can be an asshole. I like the Beatles over the Rolling Stones. Rain over religion. I like pastrami sandwiches more than I do clam chowder. In fact, I fucking hate clam chowder.

I’m addicted to vitamins. Fish oil. Super B-Complex. Iron. Vitamin D. This dope is the protégé of whiskey and weed. I’d like to think I’ve moved up in my using career. Prettied it up a bit, you know? Out of the gutter and over the counter. But I can’t say for sure.

I prefer a quiet house. I guess you can read this as me actually saying—you guessed it—I don’t like too much drama. And, well, I don’t. I know this world sucks. I know your boss sucks. And I definitely know your sister sucks. I know. I know this. So just grab a beer. Relax. Call a hotline. Do something about it. I promise I will.

I like both cats and dogs. I like them both because, well, there’s more for me to enjoy. I’d like to see it as getting more out of the day.

I also like dresses and skirts. So I won’t hassle you when you wear one.

I really don’t like sweet breakfasts. So don’t give me waffles or pancakes any of that shit. I don’t like it. I don’t like the colors, the presentation. Reds and purples. A twirl of whipped crème. A dash of powdered sugar.

I like eggs and country ham, hash browns, and wheat toast. I’ll take a buttermilk donut if you have one in the cupboard.

And: I like you.

I also like Sunday. Because Sunday doesn’t mean Jesus or the dreaded family dinner. I like Sunday because it means football. And football means happiness. And happiness means life can be navigated better.

It means the broken A/C has us sweating like pigs. But we still have the TV and Ignatius J. Reilly on the shelf. We still have heat.

It means some are innocent, but live their days guilty.

It means your boss will always suck because he’s miserable. You’d be miserable too if you woke up in his house. We all would.

It also means your sister’s a maniac, the Devil, a horrible cook, and her constant bitching about how her world is tumbling down carries the substance and weight of a baboon fart. How she’s a married woman is fucking beyond me. Oh. Sorry. Did I just say that?

It means it’s going to rain right after you washed your car. It means we’re gonna lose a parent or two. It also means the Vikings will probably never, ever, ever, win a Super Bowl.

(Sorry, Franny.)

It means that’s all right. Everything’s going to be OK.

Trust me.

It means I love you.

So. Hey. Will you marry me?

 

 


I’m blinking nonstop. Blink, blink, blink, like a forgotten movie reel that has run out and is now flapping around and around in mindless circles. And then I’m trying hard not to blink at all, holding my eyes open until they are dry and exhausted. My mother peers down at me.

“Stop that right now,” she snaps.

She pulls my fingers away from my face then sighs deeply when I immediately start rapid-fire blinking again.

My father leans down. His mustache is black and prickly. He shaved it off a few weeks ago but my mother dropped the groceries in the driveway when she saw him so he’s growing it out again. He puts his hands on my shoulders then blinks back into my six-year old face. He stands and pats one of my mother’s stiffly crossed arms, telling her not to worry.

The problem is that I’ve recently noticed that people blink. Oh man, people blink all the time. I am blinking all the time. And now I cannot stop noticing, can’t seem to get back into normal eye rhythms. All I can do is consider over and over again how many times I am blinking per minute, count them, and then blink some more.

It turns out blinking isn’t all we do. We also breathe. In and out, all day long. Soon it’s all I can think about. I take long exaggerated breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale again. I watch other people breathe then attempt to match their pattern. My mother tells me this is unnerving. The last thing you want to cross paths with on an otherwise uneventful Sunday morning at the market is a hyperventilating seven-year old staring maniacally at your chest.

“Get a grip,” she whispers though clenched teeth. We are in an expensive restaurant downtown, me exhaling all over my lukewarm pasta. I stare at my lap and consider what I am meant to be gripping. On my mother’s lap, her napkin is folded neatly in half. There is a small lipstick smudge in one corner. One of the white linen edges is fraying a little. I watch her gently squeeze it then swiftly rip off the offending string with her free hand. She balls it up between two fingers before flicking it on the ground.

“Lighten up,” my father tells her. He’s working through a piece of ham, cutting off a chunk then dipping it in his mashed potatoes before finally tacking on a single pea and popping it into his mouth.

Later they argue in their bedroom with the door not quite closed. My mother suggests we get her some help since she seems to be becoming rather eccentric and my father says she’s fine and all you’re worried about is what other people think and who gives a shit about that. My mother says how dare you I’m worried about our daughter and my father tells her to just relax which she cannot, will not, stand for. She’s not the child is what she tells him then slams the door and storms into her study.

When I’m eight I stop sleeping. Each night I shuffle into my parents’ bedroom, the sounds of my mother’s snoring leading me like a scent to her side. I nudge her gently until she makes room for me. Other nights I cross to the far side of their canopy bed where my father is sleeping on his back. He always leaves a little room at the edge so I don’t even have to rouse him. I just sneak under the covers, pushing him even further towards the middle in the process.

“This too shall pass,” my father tells my mother.

“Have anything a little less vague to offer?” she says.

My parents cannot bring themselves to lock the door, as the child psychiatrist has instructed them, but they do dutifully return me to my room most nights. I stare at my ceiling for a few minutes — it’s covered in those plastic glow-in-the-dark stars — then kick off my covers. Back in their room I now know better than to try and get in the bed. Some nights I sleep in the closet, once in the bathtub with my comforter wrapped around me like a cocoon and our old Beagle wheezing contentedly at my feet. But mostly I curl up on the floor at the foot of their bed. Here I wrap myself in the very edges of their heavy winter comforter, gently tugging it inch by inch by inch until I’ve got enough material to cover my whole tiny body. In the morning they will shiver groggily in their light cotton sheets before they realize I’ve pulled the covers almost completely off them.

On my way to the Newtown gym two weeks ago I passed a glassy-eyed trio hunkered down in a doorway with a bottle of port.  I didn’t give it much thought, but then when I was leaving the area an hour or so later I got a closer look at them. The men had moved off from the doorway, a couple of toothless harry-high pants the wrong side of fifty, staggering nose to nose, yelling and jabbing their fingers into each others’ emaciated breastbones.

‘You,’ one of them slurred, ‘you got all the fucken women in the world and what I got to know why is how you still want more.’

Slur, sob, bastard, cock, smellsock, blub.

I was wading in pain, raw and unstoppable, and its object, or subject, was a stout woman in sensible shoes sitting in a doorway, between a half-empty plastic bag and a bottle of port. But what I noticed about her were her eyes, red wet slits filled with tears.  I thought about how booze and drugs elevate our terrible human dramas to the cataclysmic and how, half a world away, a tornado in Joplin, Mo, had torn a hundred or more lives apart and I wondered how many of them had been people just like this, this lady who looked like she could be somebody’s mom, possibly was, the kind of mom who likes to sit in doorways sucking on a bottle of port and looking out at the world through crimson slits, and if a tornado ripped through Newtown this minute, how would she meet her end? Would she see it coming? Maybe it already had.

I’d be high all the time if I could get away with it. Who wouldn’t? It makes the sex good and the words flow and you can manage to kill a decade or so, but then you get a glimpse of those red wet eyes, waiting for you at the bottom of the stairs or in a doorway, or reflected from a window, just to remind you of what you can’t see coming. Who knew what tornadoes she’d lived through? So there I was in my gym gear and there she was on the steps in her sensible shoes and dirty blond hair and a rip in her shopping bag, and two old cocks fighting over what was left of her.

Whatever it was, it seemed good enough for the next guy that came around the corner. Maybe he had a few more teeth or longer hair, pants down a bit lower maybe, because she reached around and passed him the bottle, and he took a hit and passed it back and they watched the show for a while like that, mom and her geezer, never exchanging a glance, until until the boys’ finger jabs turned to throat-grabbing and something passed between mom and the guy then because she got to her feet and the geezer grabbed the bottle and they wandered off, still not a word between them, in the opposite direction to the sirens.

It was like they knew what was coming.

Whenever I see a tails-side-up penny on a sidewalk, or in a parking lot, I think of her.

Every time she spotted one, she would kick it as hard as she could.

Everybody knows that only a heads-up penny is good luck, so she kicked the tails-up pennies.

I found this to be terribly endearing, like she was kicking out at the Fates. Take that, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.

Or perhaps by kicking a penny into the heads-up position, she selflessly passed on good luck to an unsuspecting stranger. Numismatic altruism.

Whenever I see a penny on the ground now, I think of her.

I think about what a talented songwriter and musician she was.

I think about my ruined credit from using plastic to pay for our band van repairs, gasoline, and groceries. Trying to survive in a rock band full of rich girls was not easy for a poor kid with no parental parachute.

I remember them coming into the Subway where I worked, alcohol buzzed midday and having fun. They had no idea how badly I wanted to be a carefree twenty-something on a day drunk too, but nobody was paying my way.

I think about all of the time I put into our band: the hours I spent on the phone with A&R reps, booking gigs, mailing music, and hanging show posters. How I quit college one semester from a degree to go on tour, only to be kicked out by her after we finally signed a major label record deal. And how they had to hire a manager to do all the promotional work I’d been doing to get us signed because nobody else in the band could ever wake up before noon.

I think about how she organized it so that the whole band and our label rep from New York kicked me out chickenshit-style as a group, rather than having the human decency to do it one-on-one. I was the fourth person she’d fired from the band in two years, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.

I think about how I missed the chance to play at the private R.E.M. end-of-tour party in Athens, Georgia, even though I had everything to do with Mike Mills noticing our band.

I think about the time we got into such a horrible, drunken fight that we threw full beer cans at each other.

I think about the next day, when she asked me how my bathroom mirror got broken and I sarcastically laughed until I realized she really didn’t remember throwing the beer can at my head and missing. (I ducked. Seven years bad luck.)

I think about her annoying rich-kid-with-nothing-real-to-think-about ramblings. “What is the Absolute Truth?” she often pretentiously wondered aloud. “What are we doing here on the planet?” she would toss into a conversation. But most of us were tired from working a job all day here on the planet and just wanted to relax.

It was irritating to be around, to be constantly slapped in the face with someone’s existential angst. Struggling with unanswerable questions is not how I choose to live my life — that’s why I’m not religious. I don’t care who put us here, why we’re here, or where we go when we die. I’ve got bills to pay.

She had no job and her parents bought everything: her college, rent, brand new car, and musical gear. She could spare the brain space, as she had nothing to do but think about such things. Money can make a person crazy that way.

Sometimes I think about the cat she named Abby, short for Absolute Truth. She later abandoned it when she moved into an apartment that wouldn’t allow animals. I wonder what the Absolute Truth was for that poor creature.

I wonder if she’s doing drugs all of the time, and if she still thinks that when she trips on acid she’s getting in touch with her Native American heritage, as if her great, great, great-grandmother being Cherokee makes her drug-induced hallucinations “visions” instead of drug-induced hallucinations.

I think about her insane rages whenever she’d attempt to drink anything stronger than beer — when she’d become violent, uncontrollable, and even piss herself after shots of whiskey.

I wonder if she’s still ruining the lives of the people around her.

Whenever I see a penny on the ground now, I think of her.

And I kick it.





While in college, I tutored the following subjects for two years: Anatomy & Physiology, Biology (general and Advanced), and Microbiology. Yet there is one area I was never made privy to: the timeline of the umbilical cord. Going into the last weeks of childbirthing class with my wife, I suddenly find it psychologically incommoding I never learned that following labor and delivery, the umbilical cord is not cut all the way down to the bellybutton.

Yes, all the way down to the bellybutton.

Maybe you’re like me and didn’t know this.

Or maybe you aren’t.

Suddenly, I feel like the dumbest person on Planet Earth for not knowing this.

For the last 36 weeks, I have been a bit scared of having the honor of cutting my baby’s umbilical cord.

“Who needs scissors,” I told my wife when she was around 24 weeks. “I’m using my teeth. Look at these incisors.”

Then I grabbed the air with two hands as if I was holding an invisible rope and started gnawing.

Humor comforts me in times of the unknown.

Note to future dads: Your wife probably won’t find this amusing.

What if I didn’t cut far enough and my baby had an outie? I remember back in the summer days of my youth thinking that kids at the pool with outies looked funny.

Or what if I cut too close and my baby has the ultimate innie, a three-inch deep crater that will collect lint for all eternity? All this time, I’ve been terrified I would cut the umbilical cord much too close to my baby’s stomach and cause some nightmarish infection, thus subjecting my first born to weeks of antibiotic treatment and various hypoallergenic ointments 3x a day.

All because I cut the umbilical cord too close to the bellybutton.

And it would be all because of me.

Her dad.

Her hero.

The man she would grow up idolizing and compare all men to who ultimately could never measure up .

Or at least this is what I like to tell myself.

Then I learn the real story: that after I cut the cord—not all of it, just some of it—a clamp is placed on the leftover upright noodle and remains clamped until a week or so later when said umbilical cord dries up and falls off.

“If you’re lucky,” our childbirth instructor said, “You’ll go to pick up your baby after a nice, long rest and you’ll see the umbilical cord lying there in the crib.”

Just lying there?

In the crib?

Like a fat earthworm that has baked in the hot sun?

Shouldn’t someone have sent out a mass e-mail to all expecting parents that along with taking your baby home, you also take home part of the umbilical cord?

Look, I’m not grossed out by this.

Actually, I am slightly.

But why is it I didn’t know this?

When I told my mom that Allison and I were expecting she didn’t tell me about the umbilical cord.

Neither did those Biology textbooks.

Then again, we never did get to the very end.

Science is sort of like history in that regard. You never get to the Civil Rights Movement or Vietnam, nor do you get to the nitty-gritty in concern to the timeline of the umbilical cord.

Whereas I’m the youngest of two children, my wife is the oldest of four. She knew this already. Maybe all women do. Maybe this tidbit of information is something all women receive when they get their ears pierced.

Allison’s youngest sibling is nine years younger than her.

“I remember when I was a kid, Emily [her sister] and I would go into the nursery each morning to see if Carrington’s umbilical cord had fallen off yet,” she said to me while we were eating some 80/20 Angus Beef hamburgers I’d cooked up.

“What do you mean you’d go in and see if the umbilical cord had fallen off?”

“It dries up.”

“What do you mean by ‘it dries up’?”

“It dries up and falls off.”

“Falls off?”

“Yeah, falls off.”

“The umbilical cord?”

“What did you think happened to it?”

“It stayed at the hospital . . . with the placenta.”

So let this be a lesson to all you expecting first-time fathers out there. When you go in the nursery to snatch up your baby for a good rocking and see what appears to be either a turd or a chewed up cigar in the crib, Red Auerbach has not returned from the dead and been watching over your baby at night. That’s your baby’s dried up umbilical cord stump.

And let this also be a lesson that I am apparently not the right man to talk to in regard to tutoring you for any Biology class, especially Anatomy & Physiology.

As for me, I guess it’s about time I get some shuteye. As the story goes, there isn’t much of that in my near future. But it’s all gravy.

Here’s to first time knowledge and dried up umbilical cord stumps.


My 90-something-year-old neighbor is almost blind. She might still see the shapes of trees and the color of them in full leaf. She might even see the blanket of the spent ones, assuming she let them pile up. She doesn’t.

Her yard man comes nearly every weekend with his trailer loaded with equipment. In December, the neighborhood trees hung on to half of their leaves—the drop is late in the South—but the ones that had fallen on her lawn met with a 200 mph windstorm. A relentless, two-hour onslaught.

Continued from my first TNB post one year ago, “In Search of the Man Chair; or, Was That Billy Corgan?: Part I

TJ MAXX IS A STORE I DESPISE with all my heart and soul yet I find myself here, walking through the automatic doors with my wife at least once per month. Ding. That is the sound the entrance makes once you step foot into the land of no return. It’s the sound of a married man being castrated, his balls clipped and left to dangle on a rack beside a pair of discounted Bill Blass dark denim blue jeans. My mom loves Bill Blass dark denim blue jeans.

A monthly venture into this discount store was in our vows two Junes ago:

“Do you solemnly swear,” the preacher began, “to accompany your wife to TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Goody’s at least once per month for as long as you shall live?”

Gulp.

There was no turning back. The women in the congregation stared at me waiting for my reply.

“I do.”

I see my dangling eggs on the same rack each time I enter. They are starting to shrivel now like sun-dried apricots; but they are not quite the color of sun-dried apricots. Those are not my balls. Those belong to John Boehner. My balls have a better and more natural tan. A brass color. PMS 7503 on the Pantone color swatch chart used by commercial print vendors. All credit is due on the color of my eggs to my Native American forefathers, particularly Charlie Meron, the 6’7” gentle giant.

But I digress…

My wife and I are here for a purpose. To buy crap we do not need at half the original price. A Rolling Stones lamp. A framed photo of a pop art Marilyn Monroe. A bronze rooster made of metal and concrete playing a saxophone. A glass jar of imported spaghetti noodles.

No, no, I fib. Someone else will be buying those items—except for the bronze rooster made of metal and concrete playing a saxophone. I bought that three years ago.

We’re here to buy new bras.

HOORAY! for pregnancy!

We walk toward the bra aisle and I suddenly feel uncomfortable. Breasts of all shapes and sizes and colors stare back at me from the dangling tags. I avert my eyes and do not want my wife noticing me stare at the perky, lifted breasts of strangers. I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable but I do. It’s sort of like buying my own underwear. A strange man’s package is in my face with a slight chub perfectly timed for the flash.

“Do these tighty whiteys make my penis look okay?”

“Don’t let your wife see those other guys’ weenie outlines,” Jason says, “she’ll start to compare.”

“My wife isn’t that shallow,” I tell Jason.

“Don’t think she isn’t looking.”

“Don’t make me take an extra 10mg of my medicine,” I reply, “I’ll make you vanish you son-of-a-bitch.”

“What do you think of this one?” my wife says, holding up a speckled pink and black bra.

“That’s nice,” I say.

“I really don’t want to get a bra this big,” she returns.

“It’s okay,” I say, consoling my wife.

She grabs two more bras, a white one and a black one, and we walk toward the dressing room.

There it is, in all its glory, the TJ MAXX man chair.

“Back in a minute,” my wife says.

There is a 10-to-12-year-old boy sitting across from me. He wears a white hoody that is slightly pointed at its peak, and is playing a PSP, that lucky bastard. I twiddle my thumbs. I took text messaging off my phone about eight months ago so I can’t pretend I’m checking my text messages. Actually, I can because none of these people would know any different, but I will know, so I don’t. I’ve grown to hate people who walk around with their phone in their face and in their hands at every turn.

“He looks like a little Klansman,” Jason whispers in my ear, referring to the boy. “All he needs is a Celtic cross sewn onto the breast.”

Jason’s right. He does look like a little Klansman sitting there. I imagine him in the middle of a field sitting atop a horse with a burning cross at his back and other Republicans sitting atop horses with a burning cross at their backs.

“Is Sandra coming to relieve me or not?” the slightly overweight, young black woman behind the counter says to a slightly overweight, older, redheaded white woman wearing a Santa cap. “And why do it smell like Chinese food up in here?”

It does smell like Chinese food. Day old Chinese food actually. That’s been re-heated. Broccoli and chicken and shrimp fried rice. Nothing smells worse than day old Chinese food reheated in the microwave. Not even day old Mexican.

Ironically, two Asian girls come jetting down the aisle. They are playing hide-and-go seek from their mother, I presume. They are much too old to be playing hide-and-go seek in a discount store. One looks to be about 14 and the other 12. The little Klansman never lifts his head.

“She’ll be in at 11,” the slightly overweight, older, redheaded white woman wearing a Santa cap says to the slightly overweight, young black woman behind the counter.

My wife comes out of the dressing room. “I like these,” she says, “but not this one,” holding up the black bra. “The straps sort of dig into my back.”

We walk back to the bra aisle and I say farewell to strange breasts I will see in another month or so when we go on another TJ MAXX bra-shopping venture. We make our way to checkout. The woman in front of us, with her husband in tow, picks up a pair of cheap sunglasses, tries them on, and looks at herself in the tiny mirror on the revolving rack. I see a bag of Jelly Belly jellybeans.

“I love Jelly Belly jellybeans,” Jason says.

“So did Ronald Reagan,” I tell him.

“You just had to ruin the moment for me, didn’t you?” he replies.

My wife and I exit and I hear the ding. I look back and bid my balls adieu which hang from a 50% off sales rack as “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” by Gayla Peevey begins to play.


What I\'m Working On Now

• horror movie sheep sculptures

• inflatables on water

• sand skeletals

• night fire figures & industrial effigies

• cheval-de-frises

• steeplechase grounds for huntsmen spiders, along with a family of
giant puppet figures made from piano wire & polystyrene,
foam, poultry supplies, gauze & nylon stockings full of hay

• oatmeal-textured plaster encrusted mannequin heads

• sexual ceremony boxes that look like beekeeper’s hats

• cheesecloth covered molds of limbs
and faces & exaggerated genitals

• skeleton men made of coat hangers

• complex diagrams, models & blueprints of imaginary machines,
maps, games, intelligence tests

• illuminated mental illness manuscripts and talismans
of luminous casual revelation and continuous apocalypse

How nervous is that?

I love my office. It calls to me. The sleepy glow of the computer is a beacon as I go about my household chores. It’s in a hallway and yes I can think of better locations. But for now it’s an okay space.  Tempting to put down my basket of laundry to check my email or jot down an idea, to sneak away from the family, glass of wine in hand, to reread a passage.

The fact that my office is in a hallway may have something to do with why I also like to work in cafes. I love the anonymous crawl space at the edge of a crowd, the kind of concentration possible in chaos. But not if the music is rubbish, not if it’s one of those places that specializes in babyccinos or 423 varieties of muffin holes.  I have my favorite joints based on the pure grunt of the joe, the quality of the music and/or whether or not they are friendly to dogs. There’s a place up the road called Scrambled, where the lesbians churn out nothing but pitch-perfect espresso, brilliant breakfasts and non-stop tunes. And another, a slightly longer walk away, where there are tables outside and a big bowl of water for the dog.

But in the end, and hallway or not, it’s my office that calls to me. I love that first kiss of my fingers on keyboard. Don Quixote cheers me on from a small set of drawers I picked up at a garage sale. The Don is a present from my kids and is one of my most precious possessions. My prized collection of City Lights Pocket Books—Kerouac, Ginsberg— is stacked on a shelf above him. Oh there is a cactus, and my speakers, and CDs and pictures and maps.  A pile of papers I shuffle from a pile labeled ‘In’ to a pile labeled ‘File’ and back again. A grape vine that snakes its way past my windows. I can step outside onto the back steps and look up at the clock tower of the Petersham Town Hall, where Baz Luhrmann filmed Strictly Ballroom. And at my feet, the dog.

Across three continents and over a dozen years, I remember all my offices. In San Diego it was a tiny patch of space off the end of my daughter’s change table. She was in the car with me when I drove to deliver the first piece of writing I was ever paid for. In Christchurch, a cold corner room I shared with my husband. In Sydney, a fabulous sunroom I had all to myself in the bowels of a sprawling Victorian pile on the harbor foreshore. And now this cluttered little passageway that is stifling in summer and too cold in winter and from which I can hear my son on his bass and my daughter on the phone and the neighbors playing Mahjong and through which my better half may wonder at any time, oh, looking for his reciprocating saw or trumpet mute… a space which I can and do make into a room of my very own.

Shades

It’s six o’clock in the morning, way too early for me. I’m not used to not seeing the sun yet. I wore sunglasses when I left the house, but it’s too dark for them. So now I’m wearing the sunglasses tucked behind my shirt collar, because the sun will come up soon. It’s my dog Dunkin’s first walk and so he poops. We’re on our way to the parking garage, and so he poops in front of the highrise condo tower. As always. When I stoop to collect the poop with my hand in a blue plastic bag, my sunglasses slide out from my shirt collar. Onto the poop. It’s too early in the morning to be angry. Or to laugh. I stare at the glasses sitting on the poop and think about abandoning them. But I do like them, I’ve had them for ten years.

Confession

I didn’t want a dog. I really didn’t. I wanted one when I was six, seven, eight, nine, and ten years old. My mother didn’t budge. Because of the germs. The slobber. The dirt under the paws. Because I was at school all day.

Dunkin fell in love with Sanaz, my wife. He’s okay with me, but it took him two years to be okay with me. It took me two years to be okay with him. Maybe longer. When he’s alone with me he looks depressed.

We have an understanding now. We both understand that I will never match up with my wife. It’s our little joke. I’m happiest when, before falling asleep, I can hear him snore.

Smell

Dogs can smell death on people. Even Hemingway knew that and put it in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Whenever Dunkin avoids me or won’t come close, I get nervous.

 

Belt

When we got Dunkin he was already four years old. When we moved to L.A. he wouldn’t come near my closet. I would open the closet and he would leave the room. It took me a month, two months to realize the closet was the place where I hung my belt. My pants have been sliding down ever since.

 

L.A.

In Michigan, he was just a dog. In L.A. people come up to touch them. They ask his breed. His age. They run their fingers through his fur. Women coo, smile as though he’s been winking at them. They ask to be photographed with him. They forget about me while I’m taking their picture.

Chinook

The first three years my wife and I had our dog, we believed him to be a mutt. That’s what they told us at the Humane Society on Cherry Road in the Michigan backwater. Part German Shepherd, part Golden Retriever. Tan and white. He was found in Detroit under a bridge, ribs showing through his coat, keeping a dead dog company. I loved that story as much as our actual dog.

Dunkin is well-trained, well-behaved, timid and patient. How did he get away? How did he get this way? He’s so perfect, it was good to know he was a mutt. Smarter than the fancy dogs. A dog not for shows but for daily use.

But now we’ve learned he’s a pure-bred. A rare breed at that. In 1981, there were only 23 Chinooks left.

It’s as if what you thought was your daily coffee mug turns out to be a Ming vase. What do you do with it now, and what do you use for drinking coffee?

He seems worth more, I like saying ‘Chinook’ and explaining the New Hampshire origins of the breed. We’ve wasted so much time of our time together already.


The lyre-leaved sage emerged with vigor the following spring. A true perennial, it returned in the same place it had been planted, and then some. Several descendants appeared nearby. They announced themselves in rosette bursts of dark green leaves alive with purpled veins. Started by seeds, I thought. Happy ones. Within weeks, tall stalks—dotted with rows of pale blue-violet blossoms—grew straight up from the leafy centers. Each flower had a triangular yawn with a wide protruding lower lip and thin top one. Noticing the sage’s effortless replication and early color among the other sleepy perennials, I let them sprout forth.

Davis Schneiderman took the quiz.

Davis Schneiderman played the game.

Davis Schneiderman took the ‘what psychedelic-era pop song crossed with a washed-up sci-fi character are you?” quiz. Answer: Tomorrow Never Knows Mr Spock…

 

We have two fish ponds: one inside, in an atrium, which holds six to seven hundred gallons of water and a larger one outside in the yard containing three to four thousand gallons of water.

This is a snapshot of some of the atrium koi several years ago. (We didn’t have “Pretty Blue” or his siblings at this time.)

Here are a few pictures of our outside pond with some of the fish and some of their babies:

 

 

The above picture is the outside fish’s babies.  There are zillions.

We just found out that our suicidal koi are not unique. Koi actually are known for leaping out of their enclosures, because they love to jump and they don’t have the sense to crawl with their little fins back into the water. We got some pretty, but different, fish for the atrium, since attrition was decimating the atrium pond. We toyed with trying to catch the remaining koi and putting them in the larger outside pond. They would have been happier and safer in terms of jumping out there, but there were other problems involved. First of all, it is supremely difficult to catch fish in a net. I know you don’t believe that, but you should just try it sometime. Fish don’t do much, but they are extraordinarily good at defensive swimming. The second problem is that koi swim at the top of the water and are brightly colored so that they are easily spotted by hungry fish-eating birds. The birds here in Miami Beach use our pond like a sushi bar. Here is a photo of a Giant Egret, one of our frequent diners:

There are also Great Blue Herons.

and Cormorants

Our back yard is their favorite hangout.

We started adding different species of fish in the atrium; fish that would be satisfied with their lot in life and had no thoughts of suicide or Olympic-style leaping.

After a while, we noticed that one fish at a time would become lethargic and spend more and more time sitting on the bottom, looking depressed.  We didn’t think it was a good sign for fish to sit on the bottom of the pond.  We tried to think of something to put in the atrium pool that would be fun for them. We already had a fountain and oxygen bubblers that they had always seemed to enjoy. Then, one at a time, some of the newer fish started spending some time on their sides, but then they would shake themselves off and start swimming again. We were mystified.

Then the fish that were doing the sidestroke started also moving with the flow of the water from the fountain, before, again, shaking themselves off and swimming again.

After a time, the sidestrokers would, one at a time, do their final swim and lie on their sides and give up the ghost.

We decided to try to put one of the side stroking fish outside in the big pond. Perhaps the new fish needed to be out in a bigger world and would thrive outside.

The next day, another fish in the atrium started doing the sidestroke. Victor scooped him up in a Tupperware and set him down on the table. The light happened to be on. The water was teeming with tiny pale green, almost clear creatures with tiny little legs and two tiny little eyes. When we looked at the fish, the poor little guy was crawling with these creatures.

Then we realized we had made a big mistake. When we had put the first sidestroker into the big outside pond, we introduced whatever these little creatures were into a pond alive with hundreds of fish.

Uh oh.

We researched it. We had fish lice. “Well, at least the fish lice isn’t bothering the koi,” Victor said. The next morning, “Pretty Blue,” our biggest blue koi was floating and getting pale. (Another thing we have learned is that when fish die, they quickly lose their beautiful color. I wonder if that happens to people….) We were distraught. Naturally it was Friday, as you all know everything bad happens on the weekend when you can’t get any help. We went to every fish-related store we could find in Miami and none of them had the required medicine to put in the water.

Victor found what we needed on the web and we ordered tons of it, but it’s past the middle of the week and none of it has arrived as of yet, even though we paid for rushed delivery.

If you don’t know what fish lice are, let me show you a YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10DfVPYJ0jg

Keep in mind that this is a YouTube of one fish louse. Imagine thousands. Picture them crawling all over our beautiful fish like the slimy alien creatures that they are.

The mantra around our house is: “If any survive, the medicine should clear this right up!”

I wish I hadn’t named them all. Victor warned me not to get so attached, but he’s all talk. He was devoted to them too. In fact, he’s the one who named “Pretty Blue.”

We are hopeful that the fish lice poison comes before we leave for our vacation. I get itchy just thinking of the creepy things sucking the life out of our sweet fish. There’s definitely still time for it to arrive since we don’t leave for a week. We did pay for rushed delivery!

 

Authors note: If you notice in a week or so that I am not commenting on the wonderful stories up on TNB, please do not feel slighted. We will be away for almost four weeks with very limited Internet access. I will be with you in spirit, and I can say with certainty that I appreciate, applaud and am shocked to pieces by everything that you all are about to write, (except maybe the sports and music pieces, for which I am profoundly sorry for not understanding.)



Violence was always the way we remembered each other.

My father was the sting from a belt-buckle, a sting that feels thick and sharp at the same time. He went with me through my day. In school, I used to press my thumbs along the bruises underneath my clothes. I couldn’t forget the pain, so I made it my vicious little thrill.

Evenings after the evenings he’d come home to find that I’d spilled the milk or laughed too loud or looked at my mother the wrong way he was always sorry. He brought me paper to draw on and the pencils “that skinny kid at the art store said were the best kind”. He brought me books from the adult section of the library because I was too smart for “kiddie shit.” He brought me ice cream and he let me eat it in bed.

Though I was already the biggest girl in my class, I felt small beside the leonine heft of his body. I was always as safe as his regard for me at any given moment. I know this now. As a child, all I felt was the strength in his hands. His blunt fingers settled hesitantly along the back of my head, unsure how to move through a child’s hair.

Sometimes he read to me, his cigarette-leathered voice leading the boy Arthur to the sword in the stone. Sometimes, he insisted I read to him. The musk of his tobacco, dry cherry and damp wood, filled the bedroom. He murmured his approval when I read the hard words correctly.

When my ice cream melted on the sheets, I’d brace myself for the sharp exhale that preceded a slap—he had to supply the very air his hand would cut through—but he just sighed.

Still, annoyance flickered through his affection like a serpent through the grass. His hand fell to the small of my back; he pressed his knuckles through my nightgown. Not hard, but hard enough.

When I first saw you, you were shuffling down the aisle of a crowded train, pausing every few seats to check in—

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I…”

I’ll admit to feeling a prick of annoyance (not another one), but it passed on realizing your compromised condition—a slight allover tremor, eyes milky with age. You were lost, and without assistance. When you got to where I was, it was time to step out. Thinking fast—Myrtle… Myrtle Avenue?—I said I could help you; I reached for your arm, and you gave it to me. As we stood together on the platform, I asked you for more, for anything. But all you could give was “Myrtle,” plus a few extras like “want” and “need,” conjuring an image of Myrtle not as place but as woman pined for. I consulted a subway map anyway, a matrix of colored strings to confuse the spriest of us. Pointing out various neighborhoods Myrtle Avenue traverses, I looked for signs—an affirming nod, flicker of recognition: home. None came. Instead, a new word, faint but there: “Lewis, Lewis and Myrtle.” Energized, I trailed a finger, inching east, and… Lewis. Lewis Avenue: a mere three complicated train transfers away. Daunted on your behalf, I did my best to explain the complexity of what awaited should you attempt again the train, next asking softly if you had money for a cab home. You were keeping up well enough, because you pulled out a billfold, which you opened and held open for me, revealing a brave sad emptiness. I told you it was okay, I could pay for your ride, and you followed me silently, slowly up the stairs and out into the circus that is downtown Brooklyn during rush hour. As you waited somewhere at my back, I watched cab after cab clear the intersection, every last one taken. An irrational desperation crept steadily in, erasing relationship woes, that problem at work, until the only thing left to care about was getting you out of all this. I chanced a quick look behind—your face, that impossible read—and a second later a yellow car was slowing at the curb. I filled in the driver, paying in advance, in approximate, and he gave you a kind smile, understanding. “We’ll getcha there.” You took some time getting situated, organizing your tired bones in that backseat, and I stood there wondering about so much… Your solemn “thank you” caught me unawares, struck deep, though I don’t believe it changed anything important.

Years out, certain evenings when I’m feeling lost, lived up, I take to Brooklyn’s quieter streets and think of you and our exchange. I hope you made it home alright,

home to your Myrtle.