Before there was Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, Allen’s Husbands and Wives, or even Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, there were two films which attempted to expose the reality behind so-called “perfect” marriages: John Cassavetes’ Faces (1968) and Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973).While Bergman’s film is engagingly complex in its analysis of a marital breakdown, Cassavetes’ film is brilliant in its use of camerawork to isolate various “faces” of dissatisfied men and women. In both movies, there is a lingering dissatisfaction between the main couples that causes them to each seek love elsewhere. Throughout this search for a renewal of both happiness and excitement in one’s life, the couples succeed in doing two things: perfecting their façades and simultaneously evading any heightened level of self-discovery.

One night, after my toddler twins went to sleep, I wandered aimlessly around my dining room. I looked at the dishes in the sink, the pile of unpaid bills and stacks of papers that needed my response, the unread book with testimonials of changed lives, which I’d been reading three pages at a time for a month. I surveyed my options for a moment and decided on the book – in theory, I wanted to change my life.

I went to say goodnight to my teenage daughter, who was watching The Truman Show. I stood by the couch, book in hand, and watched the movie. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the couch, book on my lap. An hour and a half later I got off the couch, picked up the book, and said goodnight. I placed the book back in its spot and stood staring at it for a long time while I considered whether I really wanted my life to change.

I am freaking right out.

The news is coming at me from so many directions, I can hardly absorb any of it. It’s like drinking water from a fire hose. As soon as one story runs, three more update, clarify, and supplement it.

And no, the subject is very likely not who you think it is.

It’s Christina Aguilera.

You see, she had too much to drink.

The award-winning writer, Ron Tanner, has a new graphic novel out called KISS ME, STRANGER.  If my life were one long vacation and I didn’t have anything else to do, I would have read this book twice in a row.  It’s that great.

Your new graphic novel, KISS ME, STRANGER, is so wonderful, strange and original, that more than any other book it reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND.  Did you intend to write something so magical, in a sense?

I greatly appreciate that you see my book that way. Yes, I wanted to create something otherworldly – mostly because that’s how children see the world. I guess you could call this is a children’s book for adults.

Love, An Inquiry

(going counterclockwise with gary percesepe)


We hate to ask.

I know. It’s OK.


So is counterclockwise a poem about divorce?

It is, among other things.


And do you love her, even so?

I do.


Is it possible to stay too long in a marriage?

Of course.


Do you know it at the time?

Not always.


Why do you stay too long?

Because you remember and because you are afraid.


Can you overcome your fear?

Not easily.


How did you do it?

Supposing that I have?


Yes.

I didn’t. I stayed too long.


But she was fine? When you left, I mean?

She was, as it turns out, but I couldn’t have known it at the time.


What is the mystery of marriage?

There is no mystery to marriage. Only questions you do not know the answers to.


So you could have left earlier and she would have been fine?

I’m not saying that. I’m not a big believer in fine, as a rule.


What do you believe in, then?

Oranges. Root beer floats. A hot bowl of pasta and a jug of water at my writing desk. The moon’s backwash hanging like a hairnet over the stadium. A ghost train lit against the snow shrouded moor.


I believe in these questions.

And the translation of all things into their opposites. Every virtue is a glittering vice. Every cup drips air, and all things are in blinding motion. Even the earth, though we forget to feel it.


Do you believe in being in love?

Not especially. Another form of narcissism, perhaps. In any case, a cultural product of the West, like capitalism. Marketed as such by the Mad Men. February 14, and so forth.


But you believe in love.

Yes, of course.


How many times have you been in love?

Four times. Each time an earthquake. Though there are different measuring systems, different orders of magnitude.


But you have loved many more?

Yes. Men, women, dogs, cities, continents, convertibles. The English word is weak.


Is there an end to love?

Yes, but we cannot know it. We love to our limit but then find that our capacity increases. We always surprise ourselves in love. The capacity to be surprised is an element of goodness.


What is love, then?

Torment & misery. A hunger. A violent upheaval. A lifting up and out of the ordinary order of things.


Should we seek it?

It seeks us. Though some are never found.


Some say love is eternal. And when a marriage fails, love is injured, perhaps fatally.

These are the ones who do not believe in their own humanity. Because marriage does not endure is no reason to hold temporality suspect. If contingency, chaos, sorrow and disorder are held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds.


Can one love too early in life?

Clearly.


What then?

Pray to endure.


Can one love too late?

Never.



It was sometime in the mid-nineties, after the last ragged, dying gasps of my foolish decision to marry at nineteen. The disco ball sparkled fragments of light romantically around the floor, where I moved slowly underneath, head pressed against the chest of my new boyfriend. A crowd of equally drunk people swayed around us in the haze. Through the speakers, Whitney Houston was singing “I Will Always Love You” in a time before reality shows would make her a laughingstock. I pushed aside the cynical part of me that was cringing at the drippy song lyrics, and just tried to enjoy the moment. We were young, it was midnight on a New Year’s Eve, and we were naked.

No, not emotionally. That’s not a metaphor or anything. We were actually naked.

He was the bass guitar player in a country-rockabilly band. I was learning to play guitar for an all-girl rock band I was joining, and I’d met him in my crowd of musician friends. His band had a standing New Year’s Eve gig at a nudist colony in Washington, Texas. They would make the drive from where we lived in Warrensburg, Missouri at the end of every year, to ring in the next one at the Live Oak Resort.

I wasn’t a stranger to nudity. When I was a child, my parents’ divorce took my little sister and me from Phoenix, Arizona to a farm outside of Lawrence, Kansas to live with our new stepfather. Our land was completely secluded, and our parents were reformed hippies, so we ran around naked outside in warm weather if we felt like it. Our only neighbors were the proprietors of a lesbian sprout farm that provided alfalfa and bean sprouts to local restaurants and grocery stores. They often walked around topless, and would casually squat to pee in the grass mid-sentence while we chatted with them, so they didn’t mind our nudity. For a couple of city kids, the newfound freedom in the countryside was awesome. Kids love naked time.

When my boyfriend tentatively asked me if I wanted to road trip with his band for the New Year’s Eve gig at the nudist ranch, I didn’t bat an eye. I knew the people watching would be choice. Of course I wanted to go.

As we pulled into the resort and parked the van for load-in, I was surprised to see various stages of clothing on the patrons. Some people wore clothes. Some people were naked. Some were only wearing shorts, but no shirt, as if they were getting dressed and suddenly remembered where they were. Most were wearing shoes, however, which bothered me. There is something inherently off-putting about a fully shod naked person. If you’re going to wear shoes while naked, you might as well strap on a fanny pack, or don a top hat and pair of mittens too. It just looks odd.

During the drive there, I had been briefed by my boyfriend and his band in the etiquette of bare-ass, and what to expect. They told me that nobody would be pressuring us to take off our clothes; nudity was not a requirement. “That’s cool,” I murmured casually, lest they think me uptight.

We got out of the van fully clothed. As promised, no one pointed sternly to the word “nudist” on a sign and demanded that we strip down. The band set up their instruments, sound checked, and we started drinking. Despite the nonchalant attitude we were trying to maintain about the naked people, there was definitely a nervous vibe. I knew I wasn’t the only one whose inner teenager was giggling and pointing.

The large building had been decorated for the occasion in white and silver streamers with rainbow confetti on the tables. There was a disco ball glittering in the middle, and a black velvet-covered deejay booth to one side. The champagne fountain caught my eye immediately. I had only dreamed of such glorious things up to this point in my young life. The sweet alcoholic nectar was flowing expressly for my girl-drink inebriation. Despite my free spirit upbringing, the plethora of casual naked strangers was unnerving, and I knew the champagne fountain and I would become fast friends.

The band got onstage and began to play. Naturally shy, with the boyfriend/social lifesaver now missing from my side, I took up permanent residence near the stream of liquid courage. Through the softening focus of my bubbly-dimmed awareness, I soon realized I was surrounded. The once empty recreation building was slowly filling with people. Naked people.

When you picture a nudist colony, if your mind is like mine, you might mentally hearken back to the sixties, to a time of lax inhibition and free love. You might picture young, unclothed people at one with nature, walking serenely though a field of flowers, holding hands. You might picture throngs of squirming, nubile bodies seeking pleasure from one another. You might even picture yourself in that scenario, if you are feeling sexy. What you do not picture in any imagined dreamscape full of naked people are your grandparents.

But that was what the building was full of: naked grandparents.

I was aghast to discover that my hedonistically carnal vision of what the nudist resort would be like was completely off target. I was expecting Greek gods and goddesses with bodies made of marble and supernatural sexuality on full display. Instead, I was surrounded by elderly people who might have pulled out a hard candy to offer me, if only they had pockets. I didn’t know if I was disappointed, relieved, or repulsed. Probably a combination of the three. The pressure was officially off to be attractive. Anyone with a poor body image would do well to go to a nudist camp.

With the intimidation factor lifted by the sagging skin and alcohol around me, I soon felt comfortable enough to revisit my carefree childhood by taking off my clothes. I stripped down to nothing, leaving my baggy jeans and T-shirt on a chair. Fuck it, I decided. Obviously nobody here cares if I have the body of a Victoria’s Secret model, or even a Lane Bryant model, for that matter.

Standing near the front of the stage drunk and naked, watching my boyfriend’s band play, I was soon asked to dance by one of the older men. It was a fast song, so there was no slow dancing closeness, and I accepted. I was really nervous about the slow songs, though. How would we keep the naughty bits from touching? With visions of Uncle Creepy punch lines dancing in my head, I didn’t want to explore that disturbing riddle any further.

I ended up dancing with many elderly gentlemen. As we talked, most of them seemed to feel obligated to explain to me, the outsider, why they were at the nudist ranch. Even though I never asked, or cared, they seemed determined to give me their reasons for getting naked. They told me they liked the resort because unlike in their normal lives, where they were very wealthy and powerful, nobody could determine one’s financial status without clothing. Everyone was equal when naked.

At the time, this rationalization struck me as noble. My youthfully trusting brain thought they were really neat people for valuing the social equality to be found in nudity. Now that I’m older, I realize they were probably just trying to impress the hot young chick by making sure I knew they were rich. Rather than appreciating the lack of class division, they were actually making certain I was aware of it. Unable to display shiny red sports cars and power suits, all they had left in their arsenal were words of braggadocio. They made sure the cat was out of the bag, or wrinkly old sack, as it were.

The night wore on, and the room full of nudists got more raucous. I noticed there were a few people who stood out as full-fledged extroverts, and many who were more casual. Upon meeting, some women would flirt openly, lasciviously telling me they liked the way I moved my body on the dance floor. Others would politely extend a hand in greeting, as if we were undressed ladies-who-lunch attending a fundraiser for clothing.

One woman was going from table to table, hiking up a leg to show everyone (who didn’t ask) her recent clitoral piercing. I found it interesting that someone could be seeking attention so hard that being naked wasn’t enough; she still needed to perform a labial lambada to stand out. I happened to be close to a few different tables when she did this, each time smiling benignly on the outside, while screaming in horror on the inside. She had managed to do the impossible: making me want to un-see something even more than the wrinkled ocean of senior flesh surrounding us.

There was a younger guy maintaining a constant state of semi-erection as he tried to dance with every woman in the room. People were giggling about this, which surprised me, as I would think any form of bodily mockery would be frowned upon in such a place. I was relieved to discover that even in a room full of nudists, it was still okay to laugh at an errant boner.

One man in particular latched onto me that night, grilling me about the nature of my relationship with the boyfriend. Yet again, the explanation was given that he came to the nudist resort so that he could be naked and not judged for having so much money, blah, blah, blah. Same story as the other men, but he was pushier, shoving a business card into my unwilling hand. “Call me,” he insisted.

The band ended up drinking enough to lose most of their clothing by the end of the night. And there we were: a bunch of naked people rocking out in a Texas warehouse. The show ended before midnight, and a deejay took over, playing all of the grungy songs and romantic ballads the nineties had to offer.

This experience reinforced to me that even in a group of people who consider themselves nonconformists, there will always be the familiar personalities. The archetypes exist with or without clothing: the attention whore, the arrogant rich guy, the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, the criminal… you’ve seen the movie.

Hugging my naked boyfriend on the dance floor at midnight while Whitney serenaded us, I noted the inimitability of the odd evening. This will probably be the most unusual and interesting New Year’s Eve I ever have in my life, I thought. And so far, this has proven to be correct. But I’m not giving up. I remain hopeful that I may someday top it.


Jesse had brought a rock-hard, stained futon mattress into the marriage. It took me two years to convince him to buy a new one. In what proved to be a last attempt to save our crumbling marriage, one Saturday morning we found ourselves at one of Bushwick’s few furniture stores. Next to the elevated railroad tracks on Myrtle Avenue, across the street from where the MTA once left 50 poisoned rats to decompose on the sidewalk, royal red polyester couches competed with golden vanity tables and rococo bed frames. As we curved our way past particleboard TV stands, a beer-bellied man with a comb over approached us. The salesman swiftly led us to a mattress adorned with a royal golden pattern against a shiny black background. He praised the mattress as if it were his first-born son. There’s no better quality for the price! It’ll last ten years at least! Maybe 15, he added, sensing my doubt. A special! A real special! Just as I wondered if he was paying for the mattress to go to college, I noticed that it had inner springs.

In Germany, innersprings went out with the Kaiser, or whenever it was that they invented foam. The last time I slept on an inner spring mattress was as a child at my grandmother’s house, and the bed still reeked of mustard gas from World War I. The springs poked my back and my chest was weighed down by a two-foot thick down blanket, so heavy with feathers that I felt like Leda gang-raped by a flock of swans. My Nazi grandmother put me up in her guestroom, a large, dark, wood-paneled space cold as a morgue. After tucking me in under the suffocating blankets, she sang Guten Abend, Gute Nacht, a lullaby based on a German folk poem. Provided with roses / Covered with flowers / Studded with nails / Slip under the blanket / In the morning, God willing / You will wake again.

Despite its funereal overtones, I requested the song frequently. I felt that if I considered the possibility of never waking back up, death might spare me. Catastrophes don’t happen if cautiously considered. If I only continued obsessing about the possibility of death—my own and the death of the people around me—I might be let off the hook.

Twenty years later at the furniture store in Bushwick, Jesse and I helplessly decided on the black innerspring mattress with the golden flower pattern, the one the salesman had called his best. I can’t claim that the mattress hastened the end of my marriage, but it certainly didn’t help.

After only three months the mattress began to sag, and for the two years that followed I slept on an incline with a continuously increasing slope. At first my left leg was wedged against the wall, only one inch higher than my right leg. But over the course of the next few years, the slope’s angle gradually increased to 20 degrees. With the advancing pitch, my marriage declined.

After Jesse finally moved out, I decided to buy a new mattress, opting for a larger one this time. If I got screwed again and the mattress sagged after only a few months, at least I would have enough space to disappear into it with my future boyfriend. But disappear where, exactly? Never again between innersprings. Coils and box springs are for losers. It’s the 21st century! When I think of coils and box springs, I think of straw and fluffy little baby chicks covered with potato sacks; I think of barns and alternating sleeping shifts.

Tempurpedic™ and its Swedish, (but puzzlingly) NASA-designed memory foam technology had caught my attention long before I considered buying a new mattress. Staying up late on my saggy incline while Jesse was out getting drunk, I felt oddly reassured by Tempurpedic’s infomercials. I still felt like hanging myself, but knew that one day in the future, I would be able to rest in peace.

According to Tempurpedic™, the mattress’s visco-elastic foam completely adapts to your body contours, releasing pressure from your spine and the heavier parts of your body. “This phenomenon,” Tempurpedic™ explains, “is similar to pushing your hand into the surface of a bowl of water and feeling the water flow to fill every contour and curve of your hand, then return to its original shape once your hand is removed.” Sounded like a dream to me. Never saggy, never sore! Completely resistant to permanent change! My heavy heart floating in a bowl of water—what could be better?

I knew I couldn’t afford a $2000 Tempurpedic™ mattress, so I tried to satisfy myself by taking the announcer’s advice and calling for an information kit. The package that arrived a few days later contained a video—which I never watched—and a memory foam sample the size of a teeny-tiny pillow, just big enough for my cat to rest her teeny-tiny head on. I briefly considered ordering enough 10 square inch foam samples to build my own mattress, but abandoned the idea after Tempurpedic™ kept bombarding me with intimidating brochures. The envelopes read like little death threats: “Open this envelope right now, Sabine Heinlein! This is your last chance!” What would’ve happened if I had ordered a few hundred samples! (Or if I wouldn’t have opened the envelope.) Covered with flowers, Studded with nails, Slip under the blanket… I wanted to burn those thick brochures, but instead started to use them to line my pet rabbit’s litter box.

Mr. Rabbit has certain preferences when it comes to his litter: It mustn’t be too soft, it has to be highly absorbent, and God forbid if I don’t arrange it neatly. My rabbit and I had both come to appreciate the thickness of the Sunday Times, but we were thankful for the little extra absorbance the generous mailings from the Tempurpedic™ folks provided. That is, until he began acting a little nervous. Was it the aggressive tone of their pitches? Or dreams of drowning in space-age foam? Whatever the case, I went back to using just the Times.

Rather than purchasing the Tempurpedic™ with funds I clearly don’t have, I decided to follow a more modest route and visit Sleepy’s. I entered my first Sleepy’s in Midtown Manhattan through an elevator that took me up to the show room on the second floor. Strangely, the worst thing about buying a new mattress isn’t the wealth of choices; it is the mattress salesmen.

Of all the salesmen I encountered on my mattress crusade, I liked this first one the very best. He did the store’s name some credit for he was actually asleep when I arrived. If he had been peacefully snoozing on one of the memory foam mattresses it would have clenched my choice. Unfortunately it was his office chair he was snoring on. Being a considerate shopper, I sneaked back out of the store on tippy toes. From there I went to another Sleepy’s just a few blocks down.

“Welcome to Sleepy’s! My name is Steve,” a wide-awake young professional greeted me. He asked what I was looking for and swiftly led me to one of his cheaper memory foam mattresses. He urged me to lie down. But naptime was over when I told him that I didn’t need a foundation because I already had one. “How high is your foundation?” he wanted to know. I pointed about three feet off the ground. His eyes widened with incredulity

“Noooo! That’s too high!”

“It’s worked for me so far,” I responded.

“But how you gonna get up there?” What did he mean by that? I’m not obese, I wasn’t using crutches. My feet and hands are beautifully shaped, if I may say so.

“I jump,” I said. He shook his head in disbelief and asked what I was keeping under my bed, a question I found a bit inappropriate. Who knows what some people keep underneath their mattresses? The space under one’s bed is nobody’s business. It is reserved for nightmarish creatures, undeclared earnings, useless crap and sometimes bunny rabbits. Before I could respond he added, “Drawers?”

“No drawers,” I said. “It is a hollow wooden structure. I store things underneath. Anything I don’t need on a daily basis. Suitcases, my ironing board, a surfboard.” I lied. I don’t have an ironing board or a surfboard, but I wanted to say something that made me sound neat and athletic. I also wanted to spare him the details about a rabbit who considers that space his own kingdom and turns into a monster if anyone reaches under the bed without knocking first. I proudly added: “I built it myself,” which clearly had the opposite effect I intended. I detected pity and deep sympathy in his eyes.

I quickly realized that it was hard to endure any mattress salesman for more than 10 minutes at a time. I decided to expand my research territory. After all, like 7-11’s in the rest of the country, Sleepy’s lurks on every corner in New York.

But before I moved on I noted down the first three conclusions as follows:

1. There are numerous companies producing memory foam mattresses for less than $2000, and they all have slightly incestuous names like Posturepedic, Therapedic, Posturetemp, etc. etc.

2. What the memory foam does is always the same; what varies is its thickness and the thickness of the supporting conventional foam layer underneath.

3. Mattress salesmen are curious people, sometimes asleep, sometimes awake.

The next Sleepy’s was located only a couple of blocks west. Again, a clean-cut gentleman rushed towards. “Welcome to Sleepy’s. My name is Jerry. How can I help you?” I briefly explained my situation, and he unexpectedly informed me that it was Father’s Day. “Really?” I said wondering what that had to do with my choice of mattress. He continued, “For our Father’s Day Sale everything is 30% off.” Father’s Day Sale! Noticing my skepticism, Jerry added, “And since you are my first customer today, you can get this mattress here for—” He punched the big keys of his old-fashioned calculator. “For $750, taxes and delivery included.” He looked up from his calculations with the eagerness of a child at Christmas. His excitement lessened when he saw that I was still not completely convinced. Where was I? On a souk in Marrakech? I was once forced to buy a carpet on a street market there. What started as a friendly negotiation ended with a knife on my ex-boyfriend’s neck. Ever since then, special, special offers make me very, very suspicious. But the mattress salesman had another trick up his sleeve: “If you leave a $25 deposit today, we will hold this offer for you for 60 days. Your $25 are fully refundable if you decide not to buy the mattress.”

Every day is Father’s Day for a measly $25! Or at least for the next 60 days. And of course after that there will be Easter, then Chanukah, then Labor Day, then Christmas, then Memorial Day, then Mother’s Day, then Kwanza and then, once again, Father’s Day (not necessarily in that order, though). What it boils down to is that you could be getting your fucking mattress any day for a reasonable price; and on those rare days that celebrate no special occasion you would be paying far too much.

After some fretting from me and some reassuring talk from Jerry, I laid down the deposit and decided to sleep on it. My old coils and the mattress salesmen had worn me out, and I simply didn’t have the patience left to make a choice. The next day I returned to Sleepy’s, where I encountered yet another mattress salesman. Where did Jerry go? “I laid down a deposit for a mattress, but I have one more question…” I started. “Yeah, what is it?” the new salesman growled as he pulled up my file. “Oh, nothing.” I gave up and handed my credit card over. The man, who never introduced himself, continued to sigh and moan.

I felt appropriately sleepy when I got back home.

There was a voicemail waiting for me from Sleepy’s. “Hi!” the salesman said cheerfully. “My name is Paul. I wanted to thank you for shopping with Sleepy’s, the mattress professionals. If you have a moment give me a call back and let me know how you experienced shopping at Sleepy’s.”

I apologize for not calling you back, Paul, but your mattress professionals exhausted me. But if you must know, Paul, I really like my new mattress. It is as comfy as a bowl of water, as a cloud, as… I’m sorry, but I’ve run out of metaphors for the moment. I need to lie down and rest.

Epilogue: Paul wasn’t the only one who made an effort to keep in touch. A few days into my new mattress experience I received more mail from Tempurpedic™. Hesitantly, I opened the envelope. “I hope you’ll understand why I’m so disappointed,” Dany began despairingly. (Dany made it sound like I had promised her love but then, with no warning, kicked her out of bed.) Evidently she is so disappointed because I have not yet bought my Tempurpedic™ mattress. She helpfully lists what might be jeopardizing our once promising relationship:

1. Inadequate description of the advantages of Tempurpedic™ mattresses.

2. Misunderstanding over the money-back-guaranty.

3. Insufficient communication about Tempurpedic™’s real affordability.

A fourth possibility never occurred to her: I had been cuckolding her with some mattress salesmen.

Mattress professionals are eloquent, utterly persistent, yet vulnerable people. Dany, Paul, Jerry and Steve, this is to all of you: Live your life on or under your own mattress, be it visco-elastic, box spring or latex. As for me, I have to go find the right pillow to rest my tired head on.

Your work is often defined as “dark” or “sardonic;” describe for us, please, your attitude towards life as it pertains to the way you write.

I don’t think it’s a well-adjusted person who chooses to spend a lot of time trying to communicate in the way we artists do. There’s the latent fear of being misunderstood, hence the codification of our most basic commonalities along with the most personal of personal subjects; there’s the delusions of grandeur from which a lot of us suffer, which gives us the gall it takes to make exhibition; there’s, then, the product – which often fails in one sense or another when placed under criticism…that being said, I don’t believe that my work is “dark,” and though “sardonic” has a nicer connotation, I don’t really think it’s that, either. The rigor, the monotony, the banality, the evil – these are aspects of ourselves and lives that make us (or, well, me) most feel the need to be identified as real and human and alive; the joys, the passions, the satisfactions – these are simple luxuries, like respites, like hideaways we can turn to when the proverbial ‘shit’ gets too, proverbially, ‘heavy.’


Maybe that was a loaded question; tell us your favorite color?

Oh. Well, you know when, how, sometimes at sunset when the sky is an orange or a pink or a red – it usually only happens in the warmer months – and it’s, like, the WHOLE sky is that color and you look around and everything sort of has that tint to it? As if the very AIR was that color? That’s my favorite color. And cerulean.


What are a couple lessons you learned as a child that you find yourself applying as an adult?

The only person you can really trust is yourself. And always wipe front-to-back.


To whom would you rather be giving this interview, and why?

Aw, jeeze. Jon Stewart; but, I’d really just be flirting with him, as opposed to answering questions thoughtfully. Or Terry Gross; if I’m going for exposure to a like-minded audience. But, really – Gina Kaufmann; a friend and fellow writer (though her skill and technical knowledge far surpass my own)…she asks interesting questions. WAY more interesting than these.


What would you have named your daughter, had she been a boy instead?

Her father had picked the boy name, and I the girl; he picked Eugene Rolla, family names. But, had I been able to pick the boy’s name, it probably would have been Jack (after my maternal grandfather) or Llewellyn (Welsh; “lion-like”).


We’ve heard that you are a stay-at-home mother; how is this good or bad for your writing?

Of course, I’d rather not write about being a mom; in this respect it is bad…’mom poems’ are often so ham-fisted and cliché, that it’s hard to want to try to do them, though I certainly have tried. It’s good, in that there is a lot to think about, analyze, apply…a few times, I’ve found myself apologizing to my daughter, in poems, for the way the world is.


Complain about something, big or small, that affects your everyday life

Fucking MONEY! I mean, OHMYGOD, right? SHIT! I HATE it! And then, it’s not just money, but the PRICES on everything. I’m sure this may be amusing for some who’ve obtained their education and career already, and don’t have to particularly worry about it…


Everybody likes to bitch; so now, endorse or exalt something that affects your everyday life.

Fucking CARS! I mean, OHMYGOD, right? SHIT! I LOVE ‘em! I rode the buses in Kansas City (our only method of mass-transit) for a couple years in my early 20’s; I remember waiting for the #57 to arrive at 5:30 in the morning, hung over, in the winter, and watching everyone in their cars drive by, thinking to myself ‘please, please…I don’t even need a nice one. any shitbox is better than this…’ as kind of a prayer – except I don’t really believe in the “power” of prayer. I’ve had 5 cars, including the one I drive now – all of them endearing, in their own shitbox way.


Spare us the Mom-answer, but let us in on your highest achievement to date.

Hmm, well…probably getting divorced. There is no real need to mention that there’s a lot of bad history and bad decisions tied up in the resolution of Splitting Up…but I did, anyway.


Describe your most delicious moment of Schadenfruede.

Speaking of getting divorced…! A few weeks after the argument which was fatal to my marriage, my ex wrecked his Chevy S-10 in a drunk driving accident  (no one was hurt!) – the second offense in two years, which renders him license-less for a mandatory year. But…maybe that felt like vindication…? No, no. Definitely Schadenfreude (that would be a good band name).



My divorce sent me spinning. But not necessarily in a bad way.

Before January of this year, I harbored the illusion that the life I was living was a life I would basically live until the day I died. I would be married to the woman who mothered my children, I would write novels, and I would participate yearly in some sort of male demon-exorcising ritual—I’d run a marathon, or climb Mt. Hood, or spend a week at Cycle Oregon with my brothers. The stability made me happy, even if the marriage was quarrelsome and the novels a financial sinkhole. I was a respectable American citizen.

Monk Quixote

By Reno J. Romero

Memoir

We were at some hotel somewhere in the Inland Empire. We were in bed, post-coital, and passing a bottle of Pinot back and forth and watching the Top 100 Hard Rock tunes on VH1. The wine had me a little loopy and throughout the show I kept saying things like: “Oh, I saw those dudes in concert. They had dry-ice, stacks of amps, and all that rock bullshit. But they sucked big ones.” Or: “I saw those fuckers at some dive in San Bernardino. Oh yeah, man. You betcha. I was all jacked up on whiskey and dating some chick who had pretty brown eyes and bunions.”

Shauna looked at me like she always did: like I was crazy. Then Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” blasted across the screen.

“Don’t tell me,” she said, pursing up her beautiful lips. “You saw those guys at some back yard party and you whipped out your junk in front of Dee Snider.”

“I did see them in concert. But not in some back yard party. And Dee Snider didn’t see my junk. Long Beach Arena. They opened up for Iron Maiden on Maiden’s World Slavery Tour. And guess what? They rocked! Check this out. I was smoking pot with my cousin and his buddies before the show and one of his friends had an epileptic seizure. None of us knew what the hell was happening. So, while he twisted on the ground we started walking away. Not a cool thing to do. But he scared the living shit out of us. A few minutes later he was fine. It was weird.”

“Jesus Christ,” she said, shaking her head. “You guys walked away?”

“Hey, we were like fifteen! And stoned! How were we supposed to know what an epileptic seizure was? We thought he was dying. And we had weed on us. It was a bust if the coppers showed. We were holding, babe.”

“You guys suck.”

“We were fifteen!”

I proceeded to tell Shauna how Maiden were gods that night. How they consumed me. How I knew every song and sang every word. How the stage changed numerous times. How Eddie came charging out during “Running Free” as a beautiful tattered mummy. How they were filming and recording the shows for their upcoming live album that would be called Live After Death. How I was there to hear Bruce Dickinson give the famous line: “Scream for me Long Beach!” How when I walked into the arena a giant Union Jack was hanging and illuminated in glorious heavy metal light.

“They’re here,” I remember telling my cousin. “Maiden is here.”

That night Shauna and me polished off a couple of bottles of wine and I told her more rock tales. Of me seeing Korn with around fifty other people way before they made it big. Of me working for Metallica. Of me seeing Steve Vai in Hollywood and it was probably the best performance I ever saw. Of me seeing Ice Cube in the early 90s and rocking the fuck out. Of me seeing Sublime playing a back yard party in the California desert.

“Those were the days, Shauna Poo,” I said in a cheesy I’m-above-it-all-now tone. “But not anymore. There was a time it was greasy open-face burgers, naughty sluts, and whiskey. Now, it’s wine, refined company, and stinky cheese.”

“Oh, please,” she said, rolling over and leaving me with the TV, my heavy metal memories, and a bottle of wine with one good pull left.

The next day I met up with some friends from Vegas in Huntington Beach. We were old friends from our wilder single days. Fast forward a few years, a few job changes and divorces, and there we were single again. Men in their forties looking for some trouble in Orange County.

There was a celebratory yet anxious feeling in the air for we were all making drastic changes in our lives. James’ divorce was about wrapped up. Tucker was going into rehab for digging on heroin and benzos too much. Joey just filed for a divorce. Corey was going back home to Vegas, quit his job, dump his girlfriend of nine years, and then move to Oregon to take care of his father who was dying of cancer.

And then me. The last year I was on the road for work or pleasure and I found myself in the company of strange men and women, strange towns, and strange highways. What was at first romantic was in the end completely exhausting and made me a little crazy. I was tired of waking up in dank hotel rooms, in my truck, or sleeping on the floor in dilapidated homes that I was fixing.

I was dizzy.

I was cold.

I was sore.

I was all messed up.

So, I was going on a spiritual retreat of sorts to get my bearings. I was disappearing in some posh part of L.A, chop off all of my hair, eat better, run longer, listen to my heart and not my addictive mind, store away my truck and my “material” junk and go monk. Everyone saw it coming so when I made the announcement to the few that I wanted in the know it came as no surprise.

That night me and the gang had a nice dinner and got blind drunk. We ate piles of fish tacos, lobster enchiladas, rice and beans, ceviche, and craziness. Throughout that night we had weird silences, odd moments of realizing what was happening to us. At one point we were all living in Vegas, had wives, our better careers, homes, and now we were all going opposite directions for different reasons.

We were leaving our past for something else. What that was I don’t think any of us had a clue. Life was throwing punches, kicking us around. But we were game even though there was a hint of uncertainty in our voices. Over the table we joked that we weren’t dead, that we had our college degrees, a snatch of cheap talent, a kick-ass CD collection, a chick on the side of the stage named Jennifer, Christy, Angie, and dicks that still worked.

And we had each other.

We’d all been friends for over twenty years.

It wasn’t all that bad.

The next morning I woke up with my head thumping. Bodies stirred on the floor and it smelled like a drunk tank. I started my retreat that day. My check-in time was 2pm. Shauna was driving in from Riverside to take me in.

“You ready, baby?” she asked over the phone.

“I’m ready.”

Corey was already up and reading the copy of Don Quixote I bought him. One by one we hopped in the shower to wash off the cigarettes, vodka, rum and sand, which was painted over us. We looked and smelled horribly. James, who drank twice as much as all of us, was still passed out, his ass curiously raised in the air.

“We ought to field fuck him,” Tucker said. “What do you say, Reno?”

“Absolutely. I’m horny,” I said, making my way to James.

“He does have a nice ass,” Joey observed.

“I’m first!” Corey yelled. “Hold him down!”

James turned over quickly, his eyes red and shot out.

“You sick bastards! Get away from me!”

“We’ll be gentle, honey!”

“Please, James! I’m lonely!”

“Get the hell away from me!”

Field fucking is a Marine Corps activity whereby a Marine (one who’s been an asshole as of late) is held in the doggie position and his brotherhood takes turns dry fucking him. A very communal ceremony.

James wanted nothing to do with this ceremony.

Sissy.

“Wow, James. That hurts. We thought you loved us?”

“Fuck you.”

We went for breakfast at some quaint little diner—the ones with colorful pies spinning in a glass fixture. The waitress was cute. California blond with nice straight teeth, a button nose, and a good sense of humor. We were feeling a bit giddy from the night’s shenanigans and told her how crazy our lives were.

“Did you know this dude is going crazy? You bet! Loony! Right in front of your pretty eyes!”

“And this guy loves heroin. Well, he’s addicted to everything. Donuts. Cigarettes. Spam. Isn’t that just peachy?”

“Well, this guy is divorcing his wife and she’s taking all his shit! His screwdrivers. His chones. His dignity!”

“So wait a minute,” she said chuckling. “One of you is going crazy. One is addicted to heroin and like three of you are dumping your women? You guys look normal, but you’re all screwed up.”

“Why yes. Yes we are.”

Shauna showed up and we said our goodbyes. No tears. Just hugs and firm handshakes. Tucker would be gone for at least three months. James would have to pick up the pieces, find his dignity somewhere in the pale Vegas desert. So would Joey. And Corey would be in Oregon for as long as it would take. Me, I’d be gone at least two months, come out of the wilderness and say hello, and then would probably disappear again.

That’s what my heart was telling me.

“Time to go monk, eh?” Shauna said as we drove into a beautiful L.A day.

“Time to go monk.”

Dear Gloria circa August 2000,

I am writing from the future. Ten years ahead in fact.

I’ve seen all the movies and read all the cautionary tales that warn about the negative effects altering the past could and most likely would have on the future, so I want to be really careful here. It’s important that I impart a few words of advice, but, though there are aspects of my life today that I would love to undo, there are many aspects that I wouldn’t change for the world. I have no desire to try to alter your path. I wouldn’t wish any of your choices be different. My goal here isn’t to warn you against doing what I’ve already done, but to arm you with tools that I’ve only just begun to collect and use.

He leaves his imprint on me still, six years later.

Laundry for instance.

I still toss socks and underwear in a pile, to be folded last. I still tie long socks into a knot rather than roll them in a ball since rolling them in a ball stretches out the elastic.

As I posted earlier this month, I’m going through a divorce. One of the interesting corollaries to my divorce is that, in general, it’s brought me closer to male acquaintances, friends, and siblings, while further from their female counterparts. My male friends seemed to get how to behave naturally, while I’ve wanted, at times, to knock on woman-skulls to see if anybody was home. Here’s what men seem to know that women don’t about how to treat a man going through a divorce:

On June 8th, 2004, Venus transited the sun for the first time since 1882. It’s going to happen again on June 5th-6th, 2012, and then not again until 2117. So don’t miss the next one.

I’m standing across the street from the nun’s house and wondering if the copper beech tree that people come from all over to admire has laid a branch or sheaf of leaves so much in the way that my wife, whom I’m about to leave (though she does not know this yet) won’t be able to see Venus transiting the sun in the short time she’s willing to devote to observation.

I got her to leave her coffee and makeup to see something she has little interest in except that she’s heard about it on the TV. But I know it will go down well with her friends if she can say she’s seen it, because they know she’s married to a guy who does stuff they never heard of.

They will shake their heads, Wow, how about that. You actually saw it.

I was surprised that she agreed, because seeing Venus transit the sun is only interesting if you know why it was important historically. Like in the eighteenth century. And I know she won’t ask me to explain it to her. She and her friends like to know the names of things, whatever they are, but that’s it. I’ve been coming to terms with being the person whose activities are noted, but are not worthy of inquiry, and the final result of that coming-to-terms-with is that I’m going to leave.

While I’m setting up the tripod and leveling my theodolite I realize I’m sorry I asked her to come out and look. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe setting up something to use as a defense when things get rough, as they’re going to?

Will I find myself saying, Well, I showed you the transit of Venus, which proves I am not a mean and nasty man?

I haven’t had my theodolite out of its case in years because there’s no work for it, except once I used it to level a brick patio. Talk about overkill. In the old days I shot the sun with it; long before GPS I did latitude and longitude by measuring the sun’s altitude and azimuth at noon, looking through the darkgreen sunfilter. I’m remembering the first time I screwed it to the eyepiece and wondered if I should test it first, realized what the hell could I test it on except the sun, and quickly swung the theodolite around and up and looked. And didn’t burn out my retina, and saw the sun’s disk moving. Except of course it wasn’t actually moving, as it won’t actually be moving this morning, although Venus will be.

She knows my theodolite is very old and is probably wondering if there’s any danger. She’s got to be thinking that if I look first she should be OK, unless I shut my eye, meaning to trick her into burning hers out. I know how she thinks: be sure he looks first.

I’m thinking about how Captain Cook, James Cook, sailed to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus on June 3rd, 1769, so that astronomers could work out how far it was to the sun. Other telescopes would be looking from Europe. Parallax. It was all about parallax.

In the modern vernacular, it was a ballsy thing Cook did: sail from England into 17 degrees South, 149 degrees West counting on clear skies and a solid viewing platform on the precise day and time he needed them. Joseph Banks drew observing plans marked with the appropriate words Zenith and Nadir.

Cook and Green observed the exterior ingress to the sun’s limb at 9 hours 21 minutes local time, and exterior egress at 15 hours 29 minutes, also local time. This is only the third transit of Venus since then. I know all this because I looked it up last night. I liked encountering new usages of ingress and egress. I knew the technical usage of zenith but not of nadir, a fine coincidence considering that my nadir appears to be now, local time, and my exterior egress will probably be next month, also local time.

I look through the eyepiece at the sun, which is not obscured by the copper beech, and as usual do not burn out my retina. The sun’s disk nearly fills the field of view. I force myself to scan the whole field looking for a dark spot moving, which is hard, because the sun itself is moving relative to all the dust and dirt, the spidery fungus, inside the theodolite.

But it’s all good. It feels like the old days. I’m juggling three levels of perception, four if I count that the eyepiece is an inverting one. But since I don’t know whether Venus is transiting the sun’s top or bottom, I don’t have to worry about inversion. The sun looks the same right side up or upside down. Ah, slow movement. That’s it.

“Here,” I say, stepping away, “Go ahead and look. It’s that little dot towards the top, which is really the bottom.”

She says, “What?”

I say, “It’s an inverting eyepiece.”

She says, “What the hell is that?”

“Upside down,” I say, “Nevermind, just look for the little black dot moving.”

“Jesus,” she says, “I have to go to work. You said this would be quick and there are who knows how many little black dots.”

“Yes, but only one is moving.”

“I don’t see it. What a waste of time. I’ll catch it on TV tonight, they probably have a better whatever than this one.”

“Fine.”

I pick up the theodolite and its heavy tripod and pack it down the corner where there’s a better view. While I’m setting up again her car hisses by. I don’t wave.

Here it’s good, a clear sightline. I should have come here first, but the lure of looking for Venus up the nun’s passageway was too great.

All in focus again, very nice, the dot’s moving. Venus. I step away from the theodolite to take in the entire scene. Has anybody in the entire history of the world ever observed the transit of Venus on a sidewalk before a famous Frank Lloyd Wright house? No. Surely no. Might anyone care? Again no, and no one except me cares about the nun’s passage business either.

A woman walking her dog comes up the street and gives me a quizzical look, which is reasonable since presumably she’s not used to seeing a guy out at 7 AM standing at a painted wooden tripod looking towards the sun through what only sort of looks like a telescope.

“Transit of Venus,” I say, “If you’d like to look you may. It’s quite safe. And it’s transiting the top it looks like, but it’s really the lower part of the sun because this has an inverting eyepiece.”

“Oh,” she says, “So maybe I should stand on my head to look.”

We laugh. The dog barks.

I wonder who she is. She’s pretty and has no wedding band but I don’t hold onto that thought because I can feel myself and my theodolite already in motion in my own great Southern Ocean, tacking, sailing away from nuns, copper beech, corner, wife.

I’m getting a divorce.I know, I know, it’s horrible, just terrible, let’s all look at the floor and tell me how sorry you are for me, while I mumble “I’m fine.The kids are doing well.I’m taking care of myself.”