The photograph to the left (which has been cropped and can be clicked to view the full image) is one reason. I took it on 31st Street off Fifth Avenue looking north one oh-so-mysterioso night around midnight…an hour in town from Texas…a spring rain having swept through like drum brushes only moments before…still cool enough for some manhole steam, just warm enough to bring out a few optimistic short skirts and frilly dresses. God love those.

I’d like to think it captures some of the majestic monstrosity of Manhattan, which Kurt Vonnegut called Skyscraper National Park, but it’s really just an impulse shot taken in a moment of loneliness, like a lamb in a large country, as my minister father would’ve said.

Of course, everyone adores and worships New York — when we’re not hating it. But I’ve found in my wanderings that what makes a great world city, whether it’s Rome or Rio, Buenos Aires or Berlin, is often not the grandeur or the big picture stuff that gets written about and photographed endlessly; it’s the smaller, quiet things that we personally take away and make our own.

I remember once in Beijing, with literally millions of people all around, I chanced to see an old man leaned up against a wall. He grabbed a tiny frog from off the pavement — and Lord knows how that frog came to be there just then. He put it in his mouth and smiled at me. Then he opened his mouth and let the frog go. Everything else I saw there lives in the shadow of that one scene. The eye contact. The feel of that frog in my mouth. The puzzle of its being there.

Cities are puzzles — and the world’s greatest cities are revealed in the little details and passing moments. The smell of the Union Square subway station — the remnant of a Cuban cigar left smoldering on a curb — they’re part of the puzzle that’s New York for me. But here now are the five essential things that make Manhattan worth coming back to in my mind.

  1. High on my list of favorites is the rightfully famous Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue at 55th Street. This is a Midtown establishment that still delivers far beyond any tourist district standard. It has that old authentic deli atmosphere — lots of shouting and jostling, and no question that your sandwich is being prepared by human hands right on the spot. And what sandwiches! The first pastrami I ordered from there, I literally had to sit on in the bag, just to crush it down to eat without dislocating my jaw. They also do knishes, matzo ball soup, and pickles that make your eyes water. And they do good shouting, which I appreciate. But their pastrami sandwiches are simply in a class all their own.

  2. With so much great art to see in the city, whether on the acres of museum walls or the galleries of Chelsea — wherever — it seems sort of criminal to return time again to work I know well, but I can’t help it. Whenever I’m in town for a few days, I always make a pilgrimage to the Guggenheim to experience again Kandinsky’s watercolors. Seeing them close up somehow helps prepare my mind for other art and new visions. I get tuned in again to the synchronicities of the city.

    Once, coming out of a reading, with snow falling, a crazy Jamaican Rasta man cab driver pulled over for me. He had my book on his front seat.

    One late summer day on the steps of the Museum of Natural History, I was for some reason discussing with a female friend who I was trying to bed at the time, Jane Fonda’s curious insistence on portraying non-penetrative sex in the film Coming Home with Jon Voight, and how disappointed she was in researching quadriplegics to find a man whose paralysis triggered four hour erections — when who should I literally collide with but Jon Voight. What are the chances? An obscure, unlikely conversational topic, a metropolis of millions — and there’s Jon — right up in my grill (and he’s a big guy to run into).

    Kandinsky gets me synched with the coincidental magic of the place, so that I’m loose and ready when, for instance, filming rotisserie chickens spinning and spitting fat in a window on First Avenue, I suddenly turn to meet an old neighbor from College Avenue in Oakland. That kind of thing could be upsetting if unprepared psychically — especially since he did jail time and I walked.

  3. New York is of course a great city of sound — often so much so that you stop listening — and shut down. But then there are those lovely lulls in the rhythm when you momentarily hear deep into the machinery of the whole carnival, and you wake up. One of my favorite sounds in the entire world is the sensual percussion of Puerto Rican girls in very high heels click-clocking between the traffics of the traffic. I have a special admiration for their ability to outright sprint on knifepoint heels to hail a cab or catch a bus-and to never lose their composure or their balance. They are some of the hardest ass females I’ve ever encountered  — yet they are the most sincerely gracious and thankful if you hold a door open for them or pick up a package that’s been dropped. One thing they for sure don’t teach the nice white private school babes from Connecticut is how to say a simple thank-you to a stranger. Those girls just grow up to be editors for Simon & Schuster. Give me a Puerto Rican shoe store chick a long way from the Sarah Lawrence degree and the family house in the Hamptons. There will be a lot more blood in her heart and a musical smack and crackle in her walk. You can fool people with a cashmere sweater and an Upper Westside apartment. You can’t fool music — and a New York City sidewalk is where some of the most fundamental music in life is made.

  4. Growing up in a religious family, I was steadfastly steered into not causing trouble — which is of course why from an early age I’ve often felt obliged to promote whatever commotion I can. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few lessons and have structured my perversity in ever more subtle ways (police beatings will do that to you). One little form of discord I particularly enjoy stimulating concerns the chess players in Central Park.

    I don’t play a good game of chess, but I don’t play a bad game either. And my real game is finding out a bit more about who’s playing at any given time. I like to target those older Jewish guys who take it very seriously, especially the ones who insist on playing without their shirts on come the warmer weather. They may beat me — but by the time they have, I know a lot about their style and what gets their goat. Then, when they’re playing amongst themselves, I start to kibitz and lurk around, occasionally flashing some bills. It’s the “betting” money I’m holding, you see. And I always have some names from the local chess clubs to throw around.

    While they were fixated on whipping my ass, I found out the names of their kids and where they grew up. They wouldn’t remember if I was left or right handed — but I can almost tell their blood pressure. They know I can run an opening gambit. They see the money. They hear names from the city chess scene they’re familiar with. Man, you should see how I can escalate a friendly game between old friends into a pitched battle. These old-timers are so inherently competitive, behind their friendly façades, it doesn’t take much to move them like pieces on a board. Chess? I have my own kind in New York. I can make a jeweler or a tailor at a glance. If you were in retail or sales, I need five minutes to nail the main industry. Food or hospitality? Three. Wholesalers just give it up. It doesn’t take much to make these guys really believe there’s book made on them, and suddenly a quiet game (that actually wasn’t very quiet at all) can become a contest of wills and spirit that makes a sweet counterpoint to the gentle clip-clopping of the carriage horse hooves and the tinkling of the merry-go-round. Check mate.

    Someone really into the grift once told me, “The secret is always making the other party think they’ve won.” He lives in Belize now and isn’t coming back stateside any time soon, but I like applying that good advice in humbler, sillier ways. There’s twisted fun in manipulating people who think they’re smarter than you, when they don’t even know what you’re doing. A little show of cred, a flash of real money, and some research — that’s still the essence of every scam. It’s just a question of scale and intent on return. Me, I like to see proud, puffed up old men have punch ups over chessboards, not knowing how the game got away from them.

  5. If I sickly stir up some heated feelings amongst arrogant old farts, I do my atonement by supporting the city’s very fine musicians, at what are still some of the greatest clubs in the world — for jazz, anyway. I like the Lenox Lounge in Harlem and the Zinc Bar in the Village (they moved from their wonderful but very small quarters on Houston Street to great premises at 82 West 3rd Street, between Thompson and Sullivan).

    The Lenox Lounge is at 288 Lenox Avenue, or Malcolm X Boulevard at 124th and 125th. There’s a lot of history in this venue, and a lot of musical life still going down. At the Zinc Bar, you can hear phenomenal talents like Cidinho Teixeria, the Brazilian pianist, who’s a get-the-party-started-no-prisoners player if there ever was one. If you don’t have fun listening to him, better check that pulse.

    Even more commercial, somewhat cynical clubs like the Blue Note at 131 West 3rd Street or the Iridium at 1650 Broadway in Times Square, are still great places to really hear music — and they continue to draw rich talent.

    New venues keep popping up, thankfully. Such is the nature of live music. But you can’t go past B.B. King’s joint on 42nd Street. Some rather important people have a way of appearing there — and James Brown was on the way to that door when he died. We should all have such a good destination in mind when the sand’s running down.

    On my last visit, I realized, while doing book interviews, that Irma Thomas the Queen of New Orleans was playing. Six bourbons down, the latest interview done, I charged the box office. “I have to see her. I must be right down front.”

    I was told, “I’m sorry sir, we’re all sold out.”

    “You don’t understand,” I said. “I have only two weeks to live. I know all her lyrics. This is a chance for you to gain some karma credit.”

    I got my seat. Right down front. And the security dudes were very kind when I attempted to take the stage. Some of my tablemates from Westchester County were a little surprised at my doings — but that’s because they didn’t know the songs.

    The girl on the ticket desk who I’d spun the yarn to get in spotted me on the way out. “Two weeks to live, huh?”

    “Maybe three now,” I said. “Thanks.”

    “Well, you told the truth about knowing all the songs,” she said. “We heard you from here.”

    “This is New York,” I said. “If we don’t remind ourselves we’ll forget.”

    “You’re not from New York,” she said, noticing my accent.

    “Perhaps not,” I replied. “That’s why I know I’m here now.”

My office smells like old snacks.

Apparently, this is what happens when you trade your corner office for a minivan.  I really miss the old digs: the custom-ordered swivel chair; the view down 56th Street from 40 floors up; space to “think.”  And all of this guarded by an assistant who sat outside my door ready to intercept anyone who might try to enter the inner sanctum uninvited.  It was luxurious, organized…peaceful.

Here is a factual, but overly cynical report about some well-known writers I have seen or met in person. It might interest you.

*

SALMAN RUSHDIE

I saw Salman Rushdie read in Boston in summer 2008.

At that time I had limited experience with Rushdie. The only book of his I had read was Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It was assigned my freshman year of high school by a teacher everyone hated. She seemed pretty humorless and thus surprised us by assigning (and obviously liking) this “fun” book. But we didn’t end up liking Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The book involved a tap in a child’s sink from which teardrops of stories flowed. Conversations took place on magic carpet rides, and central characters included a pair of rhyming fish. The book seemed to be an inappropriate choice for seventeen-year-olds.

The Harvard bookstore sold out the church for Rushdie, and then allowed even more worshipers to stand in back. It was a hot, sweaty July afternoon. People were hot and sweaty.

Rushdie began by telling us about his new novel, The Enchantress of Florence, which is a fantastical story about—what else?—the magic of storytelling and the moving love affair of some royal princess and prince (or whatever).

“Much of the weirder stuff in this book is true, and the kind of ordinary stuff is the stuff that I’ve made up,” he said. Big laughs for that. As it turns out, people really like Salman Rushdie. People think he’s very funny. He busted out another snazzy one-liner when he told us, “I discovered to my intense delight that the Ottomans were fighting a war against Dracula. I mean actual Dracula himself, Vlad the Impaler. And the moment I realized that I could have Dracula in my novel, you know, without cheating, I thought that I’d gone to Heaven, really.” This, too, raised the roof. Rushdie cracked himself up.

Rushdie read a long section about the dashing male hero and the princess who loved him. I think. My dad fell asleep on my shoulder for part of it, and then that cute thing happened where I then fell asleep on him, my head on his head, which was on my shoulder. You know, that cute thing that happens?

I wasn’t out long. A description involving a tattoo (of a tulip) that the princely figure had on the shaft of his penis (!!) prompted me to wonder if Rushdie might be sharing an autobiographical detail. I wouldn’t be surprised; a penis tat might explain how this 62-year-old intellectual had managed to lure the objectively ‘hawt’ 37-year-old model/chef Padma Lakshmi into his bedchamber. But looks aren’t everything, and as we have learned already, Rushdie is a very funny guy. That can help.

In the Q&A, when asked to compare writing novels to a “9-5 job,” Rushdie said he has never been a writer who can get up early in the morning. “Martin Amis does that, Martin Amis gets up real early. He finishes his work by twelve noon, and spends the rest of the day playing tennis and drinking.” But who is Martin Amis?

One audience member/supplicant asked the Booker Prize Guru what he’s reading for pleasure right now. He began his reply by imitating the Italian accent of Umberto Eco (his good friend) who apparently said, “If it’s like my writing, I hate it. If it’s not like my writing, I hate it.”  More snickers for the impersonation, with the biggest laughs coming from Rushdie himself again.

His first mention was of Junot Diaz (see below!). He called Oscar Wao a “wonderful book.” Then, to everyone’s delight, he said: “I just re-read Gatsby. I hadn’t read Gatsby since I was 21, and I just couldn’t believe how good it was. Really, there isn’t a bad paragraph.”

Audience members nodded their heads vigorously, like ‘Yes, yes. Oh, so true. He’s right!’ It was funny. But I liked Gatsby too. So Salman and I could probably be friends, hang out, have a good time. Right?

The final question came from a timid young female student who asked him if he had any advice for aspiring writers. He said the best writers that he knows all began careers in their twenties and were immediately successful. All had a certain drive. “If you don’t have that real thing burning in you that makes it possible to spend twelve years trying to learn to do something without any guarantee that you’ll ever learn how to do it, um, then, it’s a problem.” Everyone laughed here, though I couldn’t quite see why. I felt this comment was very serious. He continued: “The great writers have always known why they wanted to be a writer. They’ve always known what was burning inside them that had to get said. So, if you don’t have that fire, don’t write.” There was silence. “I’m sorry, it’s brutal, but it’s a real truth. There are, you know, enough books in the world. None of us in this room could ever read all the great books that there already are to read. If you’re going to add to that mountain, it better feel necessary to you. It better feel like a book that you can’t avoid writing. And then it has a chance of adding something interesting to the mountain.”

After Salman Rushdie said this, I began to really like him. Rushdie has some good yarns to spin.

*

JUNOT DIAZ

Salman Rushdie’s appearance in July encouraged me to go to another reading sponsored by the Harvard Bookstore. This time it was in September 2008, and the writer was Junot Diaz.

The same starry-eyed bookstore employee who introduced Rushdie marched onto the stage to deliver a chain of Diaz ass-kissing that was rife with strange phrases and mispronunciations. First she told us that Oscar Wao “met, exceeded, and exploded all expectations.” The thought of “exploding expectations” made me think of those YouTube videos in which people drop a Mentos into a big 2-liter of cola and watch it explode. Would Mr. Diaz be doing that on stage today?

She went on to note that the book won the Pulitzer, which she pronounced “pew-litzer.” No matter. She hurried off and Diaz began with some jokes about being from New Jersey and therefore hating Boston. I’m from Boston. Just get to the reading, buddy!

After only a little more stalling, Diaz revealed that he would be reading from a work-in-progress, a short story entitled “Flaca,” which is a Spanish word for “skinny.”

Diaz is a great writer, but as it turns out, a poor speaker. This will sound cruel, but I’m describing these readings in a factual way, and it’s a fact that his jilted reading voice was distracting. He read the first line of the story: “I’m not going to stay… [awkward pause] …long.” There was also some stuttering and visible nervousness. Surprising from an MIT professor who probably addresses giant lecture halls every day. Is Diaz the real Oscar Wao? Of course, you’ll only get that if you’ve read the book.

In addition to the problem of his reading each sentence with the same cadence, there were some verbal stumbles, like “You stood besides me.” (Incorrect, right?) Later, he read the city’s name as “News Jersey.” That could have been a joke, though, that was over my head. Maybe New Jersey makes a lot of news

But none of that mattered; the story was terrific. It involved a guy reciting to a former lover a numbered list that recounts his memories of their relationship. One moving line that prompted sighs from the audience came when the characters have a sad, serious chat in which they agree that they could never marry each other, and then: “we fucked so we could pretend that nothing hurtful had just transpired.” The sentence was blunt and beautiful. At the same time!

Once the Q&A began, it became apparent that the author only has problems when reading aloud. Fielding questions, he was unfaltering. He was also more charming. He acknowledged his public reading problems when he joked, “I know I suffer from this utter lack of affect that makes me sound like I’m trying to be funny, but usually I’m not!” He was right in his self-analysis; he did read with a lack of affect.

The vast majority of the questions asked were about the influence and presence of Spanish in the text. These questions started to get really old.

When one cool guy in the audience (it was me) asked Diaz what books he’s currently reading for pleasure, he delivered some cloudy references, mentioning “A Book of Memories,” a novel few had heard of (evident by the dead silence when he said the title). He called it “super-duper dynamite.” People smiled and liked him for his geeky enthusiasm. Diaz is an adult comic book geek. It’s cute.

Junot Diaz is not great at reading his own work aloud, but he’s great at writing. He seems like a cool, nerdy guy.

*

There are some other “big” writers I have seen, and you can read about the vaguely interesting things that happened at those readings in Part II. The readings in Part II are also more recent. Also, Part II has a photo, so that’s exciting.

This piece would have been too long if I had not broken it into two parts. Even broken up, I am aware that each part is already too long. Oops, sorry.

Since I was a lad I’ve admired beat literature and its developers. My young mind was taken with the romantic image of Kerouac roaming the interior of the body politic, a mad sweating virus on the loose in the highway vein of Amerika, Ginsberg holy maniac,chanting, praying, exorcising a generation ruined by madness, Burroughs and Gysin, pushing the envelope, rubbing out the word, and di Prima, conjuring, straddling the magick/dream line, throwing us bits of tasty metamorsels and sumptuous subconscious feasts from the other side.

Please explain what just happened.

Everything and nothing.

As we saw from an earlier post about whether and how artists should be paid, the place where art and finance meet (assuming such a place exists) is a site of contention, frustration, and not a little cynicism. If there exists a way to make money at all, it exists in protecting and managing access to the work (assuming there’s a demand, which is a whole separate issue). One of the ways to do this is via copyright.

But copyright is a complex and contentious issue too. And perhaps ironically, many open minded, free-spirited people out there (at least, among my friend and acquaintances) have pretty, well, liberal attitudes toward copyright–both possessing them, and respecting them. There are of course “fair use” laws, and alternate ways of legally defining one’s rights and intentions about one’s work, such as creative commons, but mostly artists just ignore this kind of stuff. Also, a whole lot of artists just download movies and music (and, no doubt soon, books) illegally.

So I want to pose a couple of questions about this, to everyone, of course, but mostly to the folks who responded to the last post by saying that yes, artists definitely deserve to get paid:

1) Do you copyright your own work?

2) Do you respect other copyrights?


Over at Big Other, Roxane Gay–author, and editor at Pank Magazine–ruffles some feathers with her investigation into author payment among literary markets. That is, the lack thereof. Is exploitation too harsh a word?

At least one commenter seems to think editors are all but demonized by a readership sharing too much overlap with a community of authors wishing for publication from the same venues they’re trying (failing?) to support. It’s a contentious issue, as the comment thread suggests.

This writer has no realistic expectation that he’ll be paid for publication by smaller markets, but maintains fantasies about lucrative book contracts against all better judgment.

Is remuneration contrary to the purity of artistic ambition?


Before I moved to Madrid, I engaged in a series of heated discussions about where I should work after failing miserably at a number of low-paying jobs (My father, a professor of Chinese History, even resorted to utilizing the ancient hexagrams of the I-Ching in an attempt to new-age me into employment), I ended up applying for work at Bookstop, a large bookstore, coffee shop and hipster hang-out in the Montrose area of Houston. I had to wear a nametag, a sure sign you are about to embark on a shitty occupation.

I was put under the tutelage of a 21-year-old assistant-manager named Travis. Travis was completely bald, bitter about it, and determined to make manager “before the summer was out.” A large portion of the managerial promotion process hinged on your ability to tutor the new kids, the cashiers, the foot soldiers—in other words, the kids who didn’t care—myself and a black kid from Atlanta named Greg. My first day at work proved a relatively accurate augur of what was to come. I dutifully showed up 15 minutes before Bookstop opened (it is crucial to make a good impression on your first day of work—then you can shit the proverbial bed and it takes longer for people to notice, as people tend to hold to first impressions as a condemned inmate at San Quentin might hold his/her breath once the cyanide gas starts filtering through the vents. There’s no such thing as hopelessness!). Greg had been given the same advice, as I encountered him smoking a blunt in the parking lot on my way to the store, a converted old movie theater.

“Hey, man,” Greg chortled through thick smoke.

“Hi,” I said.

“You have a name tag—are you working here, too?”

“Yeah, it’s my first day,” I said.

“Me, too. You want to hit this bitch?”

“I shouldn’t. It’s our first day. Okay.”

“My nigga!” he said, as I took a substantial drag off of the blunt. I felt pretty proud to be called a nigga and thought about how desperately white people long to be liked by black people. It’s almost an epidemic. Anyone who says differently is lying, or mostly lying. Even white supremacists. Have you heard any white supremacist rappers? I have. The content is nauseating, but their flow is undoubtedly referential, probably to Boogie Down Productions if not Public Enemy. They just flipped the script.

Greg and I were ushered around the store by Travis. He explained something about ISBN numbers and their utility, then droned on about his self-published sci-fi novel that, once he became manager, he could insinuate into the aisles of Bookstop.

“Your book have robots in it, Travis,” asked Greg, laconically, stonedly.

“There are androids, yes,” Travis responded proudly.

“Robots can eat a dick,” offered Greg, foolishly.

“I wouldn’t expect either of you two to even remotely begin to understand the complex time/space signatures in my book and I’ll have you know, Greg, Tyler, that I can make your life extremely difficult here if you aren’t cooperative.”

“That’s bullshit, bitch,” said Greg, accurately. Greg nor I had any allegiance to the Bookstop and were both fairly intent on getting fired or quitting as soon as we had put in the requisite time to convince the parents-that-be we were responsible. Travis often tried to make our lives miserable, but it’s hard to find us when I’ve locked myself in the service elevator with a margarita and a crossword puzzle book and Greg is in his car, balling the coffee shop barrista.

James had been a friend of mine since high school and a frequent visitor to Bookstop. His stepmom had just opened an upscale jewelry and accoutrement salon down the street from the bookstore, and in her store was a margarita machine for the upscale browser (I always thought this was a good idea; I’ll buy almost anything when I’m drunk). James would help out around his stepmom’s store for a bit, then shuttle a thermos full of margarita over to me at Bookstop. We’d chat a bit, decide on evening plans, then he’d retreat back to the store as I would grab a stack of Tom Robbins and adjourn to my perch in the freight elevator. The arrangement usually worked fine, as both Greg and I would cover for each other.

Inevitably, Greg was caught balling the barrista and fired, something that put a damper on my afternoons with crossword puzzles and a half-gallon of frozen margaritas. And while with Greg’s departure the efficiency of the Bookstop machine received an unprecedented spike in productivity, my patience for the working life—at least the working at Bookstop life—ebbed dramatically.

When he wasn’t helping out at his stepmom’s store, James had the luxury of doing nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly. He was a BBQing machine. Every day by his parent’s pool, he’d throw heaps of flesh on the grill and he and a menagerie of other summer loafers would drink beer, play guitars, eat heartily and laze around the pool until everyone passed out or didn’t. It was a kind of life I’ve always aspired to, and felt I was missing a wonderful opportunity to idle around in the prime of my youth, like somebody out of Fitzgerald or at least somebody not wandering drunk around a bookstore all day.

I began, as has been the case with most if not all of my ill-fated employment endeavors to fall ill, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays—prime BBQing time.

“Uh, hi Travis. It’s Tyler. Look, I don’t know what I have. I’ve been throwing up all morning and I’ve got a fever and my head hurts and there’s a chance I may have spinal meningitis and so I’m going to stay home today.”

“Spinal meningitis? Are you going to the doctor?”

“No, I think I’m just going to try to ride it out.”

“That’s a terrible idea. You sound fine.”

“Are you saying I’m not sick?”

“Maybe. Are you not?”

“Of course I am.”

“Tyler, do you like your job?”

“Yes. I mean why? Is that some kind of threat?”

“It’s not a threat.”

“Good Christ, Travis, I feel like you’re giving me a hard time. How many times have I called in sick? It’s not like it happens all the time.”

“You’ve called in sick four times in the last two weeks. You get sick on weekends, it seems to me.”

“Well, damnit Travis. I can’t work in an environment where there’s this kind of lack of trust. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“I’m not. So are you quitting?” I thought for a moment how I would storm back into work, not giving Travis the pleasure of being done with me. I would make it to assistant manager by the end of the summer and then overtake the bald, wretched, wanton Travis as manager, overseeing his daily routine and making his life a living hell for the rest of his days at the Bookstop.

“Yeah, I think I’m quitting,” I said, knowing the aforementioned scenario was untenable and devoid of BBQ and good times. I hung up the phone, euphoric, then headed over to James’ house. Of course, I foresaw trouble in paradise, as my parents would be completely averse to the trajectory I’d chosen for myself this summer.

So, I woke up every morning at 7:30, put on my work clothes: tie, nametag, khakis and Oxford button-down and left for work. However, in this instance, work was located five blocks away at James house, where upon arrival, I’d go back to sleep on his family’s sofa until around 1:00 or 2:00, when the BBQ preparations would begin. This arrangement proved infinitely more suitable and I decided that if times ever got really tough, I could make a living by a pool, eating BBQ. I wasn’t sure from where my income would stem, but the dream must come first. The reality will inevitably fall into place, somehow.

I enjoyed travel, as anybody who never travels says they enjoy travel, but the idea of going abroad again never really drifted through my transom. The summer coming to a close, Bookstop out of the picture and a couple of parents eager to see their son do something, I found myself at an Irish pub, Kennealy’s, with James.

James and I have, since early in our friendship, been convinced that we should be famous actors. Not just actors—famous actors. Every week, James and I would sit in the brackish pub, he drinking Guinness, I drinking whiskey, and discuss how colossally talented, funny, good looking and charming we were and how it was a real shame we hadn’t yet been discovered by Hollywood. We were somewhat in awe of the fact that some director/producer had yet to approach us, telling us how talented, funny, good looking and charming we both were and wouldn’t we like to star opposite Charlize Theron in the next summer blockbuster?

“I think we should probably move to LA,” I said.

“That’s a cliché. Houston is as good a place as any for us. Patience, Tyler.”

“It’s not happening for us here, dude.”

“It just takes patience. Look, did you know Matthew McConaughey met Linklater in a bar and next thing you know—BANG—he’s in Dazed and Confused.”

“Did you know Brad Pitt used to dress up like a chicken and sit in the middle of the street—Hollywood Boulevard, I think. He got discovered that way. Same with Liz Taylor,” I added.

“She dressed up like a chicken?” James asked.

“No, well, I don’t think so—maybe they found her at a mall.”

“I’m better looking than Liam Neeson,” I ventured.

“People say I look like Sean Penn.”

“You do, a little,” I lied. “You’re like Sean Penn if you were a forward for the Celtics.”

“Is it because I have a big nose?”

“Not just that. You have screen presence,” I offered, with no basis in reality.

“Thanks, man. You mean that?”

“I totally mean that.”

“Maybe we should take acting classes.”

“That’s bullshit. I think you either have it or you don’t. Brother we have it.”

“I know we do, but we need a foot in the door.” James could be so negative sometimes.

“You can only be so talented. Then you need luck,” I said, optimistically.

“Are we just unlucky?”

“Yeah, I mean I guess so, so far.”

“Did you apply for grad schools again?”

“No,” I lied again, having been rejected by everywhere. “Let’s go abroad.”

“Fuck off! Are you serious?”

“Yeah, to Madrid. I know the city.” I spent a year abroad as an undergraduate in Madrid. The junior year thing. I didn’t know the city—that too was a lie. Once I ate a meter of albondigas sandwiches at the Subway by Retiro Park, though. Albondigas means “meatballs” in Spanish. It was, and is, my favorite Spanish word. “Plus, Almodovar is there. We should go. You know I met him once”

“Is he Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?”

“Yep. He hit on me in a club.”

“How do you say ‘boner’ in Spanish,” James asked.

“Vergadura.”

“You gave Almodovar a vergadura.”

“Maybe.”

“What’s bienvenidos? I saw that on a welcome mat. Does that mean ‘welcome?’”

“That’s also boner.”

“I’m bullish on this idea, T. What about Bookstop?”

Dr. C, the owner of Bookstop, called me and asked me to come in. Travis hadn’t told him I’d quit. I felt bad. I didn’t want to have to deal with Dr. C. I liked Dr. C, and I felt terribly guilty for not tendering my resignation to his face. And fuck you, Travis. Happy fuckday to you. I hate awkward situations, especially when they involve speaking with people I’ve let down. I thought drugs would make it easier. After age 22 or so, it’s embarrassing to admit doing acid. But, I admit.

After staring at an issue of the inexplicably pink Financial Times for what seemed a minor eternity, Dr. C. ushered me into his office. Now, I’ve never “seen” anything on drugs, like some people have claimed. I’ve never seen the Led Zeppelin blimp carrying a banner that read, “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” or a swimming pool full of Draculas or the face of Heinrich Himmler in a pepperoni pizza. But Dr. C was undulating, changing form, then his features would scramble back into place. It was as if he were an image conjured up like a human Etch-a-Sketch, then shaken, then drawn anew. It didn’t help that Dr. C. had a missing eye and would occasionally, like on this occasion, refuse to wear his eye-patch. I liked him for this “fuck you” to all the staring half-wits, the insensitive cavepeople who would incessantly gaze into his oozing socket. But now, no good. Once you’ve made up your mind not to look at something, you’re tanked. And I admit.

I’m no good with “psychedelic” drugs like mushrooms and acid and that kind of stuff. I hate when people I’m around are on them and I hate to be on them. I’ve always thought of myself as someone hanging from a pretty thin thread, and all this psychedelia bilge tugs at that thread like an angry cat. I also find myself on the tail end of these “trips” sitting on a toilet somewhere trying to crap out my soul. But for some reason I have taken a lot of them. And I took a lot of them before I walked into Dr. C’s office wearing a “cape” fashioned out of a large trash bag, then started blabbering and eventually weeping about United Fruit, neocolonialism and all the trouble that “my opportunist cocksucker ancestors” had inflicted on Latin America.

“Tyler, United Fruit went out of business in the 1970s.”

“But think of all the damage they did, Dr. C, man. Think of Rigoberta Menchu!”

“That wasn’t United Fruit. I think that was a civil war in Guatemala. And what is that thing you’re wearing? Is that a trash bag?”

“It’s more of a cloak, actually. Look, I know you’re probably thinking you want to peel the skin off my face because you went through it all there in Guatemala, you know.”

“What are you talking about, Tyler? Are you okay? You look sweaty. Did you want to come in here just to talk about United Fruit. If you did, that’s fine, it’s just…”

“Oh, man. You’re from Mexico, aren’t you? Jesus Christ! I just want to say that I’m sorry. I don’t think that, you know, Guatemala and Mexico is the same thing. Cultural identity is so very, very important, especially in a growing global community. I know there are a lot of people here who think that way…I like the word “globe,” you know the way it sounds when it comes out of your mouth and then goes into the air. Do you know the song “Dark Globe,” by Syd Barett?”

“Syd who? Tyler, are you doing okay?”

“Not so great, Dr. C,” I managed to drool out, conscious that I was now on drugs, aware that I was on drugs and aware that people usually get paranoid when they’re aware they’re on drugs and that this feeling will never ever ever go away and I’m insane forever.

“What’s the problem,” he asked in his avuncular way. I had always liked Dr. C and I wanted to choose my words carefully, not insult him, not insult the institution of Bookstop.

“I’m in a pretty fucked-up dance here, Dr. C as in cottage cheese. That’s two c’s, isn’t it?

“Excuse me?” Dr. C asked, naturally.

“I meant what?”

“What?”

“Tyler, are you okay?”

“I need to get out of here.”

“Out of my office?”

“Out of everything. I want to withdraw.”

“Well, Tyler, I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the problem?”

“I just don’t fit in here?”

“Here at Bookstop?”

“Yeah, I guess. And my own skin. It feels tight.”

“Is that a metaphor?” he asked. Dr. C. loved metaphors. He had a PhD in English and used to teach at an impressive university. But, he found that he liked books more than he liked people, so he bought a bookstore. Made sense to me.

“I’m afraid not.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that, Tyler. You know you can always come back.”

“Thank you, Dr. C.”

“Tyler, take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try.”

I left work and headed back to my apartment where I had every intention of lying in a ball, drinking whiskey and listening to George Jones. I opened the door to 211 and was greeted by my roommate Tod, some of his friends, Lance Berkman, all-star first baseman for the Houston Astros, and his roommate Dave, who was standing in his underwear strumming a bass plugged into an unplugged amplifier. We all lived in the same apartment complex.

“Whoa. Dave. Nice bass guitar.“

It’s not a bass guitar—it’s a space guitar.” Dave gave me the drugs, earlier.

“Nice.”

“So nice,” Dave said, strumming his incomprehensible melody.

Dave and Lance made an interesting pair. Lance, for all I know, never did drugs (although not afraid to partake of my whiskey from time to time), was a good Christian boy and could hit a baseball farther than anyone I’ve ever seen, or at least anyone who I’ve ever been in a room on acid with. Dave, on the other hand, was enamored with Frank Zappa and any psychedelic concoction he could get his hands on. But they were often together and were, from all I could tell, extraordinarily good friends. Lance was sitting on our sofa, dipping Copenhagen and Dave stopped playing the space guitar for a moment and asked, “What’s up, man?”

“I’m dropping out.”

“Me too, dude!”

“No, I mean I’m dropping out of America.”

“Nice.”

“Why?” asked Lance Berkman.

“My skin is tight. Does it feel better to hit a home run right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right handed. Look, I’ve got to get going, y’all,” Lance said a little urgently. “Tyler, we’ll see you around, right?”

“Yeah, you’ll se me around.” Lance left the room, Tod and his guys had set up shop in the common room, reading the sheet music to Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and Dave remained strumming his space guitar, alone in his own mostly nude world. I grabbed the bottle of whiskey, went to my room, curled up in a ball and listened to George Jones for the next four hours until I was finally overcome with sleep.

What does it mean to be literate? That one’s pretty easy; it means you know how to read. What does it mean to be cultural? That one’s a little tougher; it means you know that in most situations, it’s unacceptable to put your cigarette out on a dachshund. And so what does it mean to be “culturally literate?” Many have posed this question (Harold Bloom, the Yale professor currently encased in acrylic and preserved for posterity does it a lot.), yet no one has truly come to terms with an accurate answer. My uncle Seamus once remarked that “cultural literacy is for homosexuals,” but he was urinating in a koi pond at the time, so who knows? I suggest we journey together to see if we can’t get to the core of this labyrinthine dilemma. Perhaps the most logical first step is learning how to read (I’ll wait for a few minutes)… Sweet. Our next step is to determine what exactly is “cultural.” Below are a few undeniably cultural items in the realm of architecture, literature and music. Let’s familiarize ourselves with these things, and then we can begin to get a handhold on what it means to be culturally literate.

The Eiffel Tower

Perhaps the most recognizable man-made structure in the world, The Eiffel Tower is a must-see for any culturally minded person. Completed in 1889 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution(1), the Eiffel Tower serves as a constant reminder that not everything in Paris is covered in dog feces.

The tower stands well over 1,000 feet high, something I discovered after dropping a crêpe from the observation deck while utilizing the equation Yf = -1/2gt^2 + Vot+Yo. Nestled along the Seine and overlooking the Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower strictly prohibits oral sex in the elevators (although there was no noticeable sign or warning). Also, be sure to say “bonjour” to the one-eyed dwarf who roller skates atop the structure’s antenna, drinking his own blood and reciting Ozymandias(2).  As an added frustration, Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor offers food you can’t afford. I recommend the filet de turnbot au sautoir, écrevisses et champignons à la Riche, then running away.


Ulysses

A mammoth tome, written by James Joyce and published by Sylvia Beach in its entirety in 1928, Ulysses catalogues a day in the life of one Leopold Bloom. Often cited as the cornerstone of modernist literature, Ulysses takes its name from Homer’s Odysseus, as in The Odyssey, that book you were supposed to read sophomore year but ended up huffing oven cleaner in the school parking lot most of the time.

Written in Joyce’s inimitable stream-of-consciousness style, Ulysses is an integral part of any literary aesthete’s library. In addition, the book reminds us that even though the sisters at Strake Jesuit put saltpeter in our Cheerios to keep us from masturbating, there’s really no stopping the process, even if the guilt stays with you to this day. While nobody has ever read this book, its inclusion in your book collection will ensure at least a cursory dry-hump from the intoxicated Yale co-ed you met at the “Vampire Weekend” concert last month. Be sure to look out for the last sentence in which Molly Bloom probably has an orgasm or is in the throes of Crohn’s disease. Joyce was also blind, so we can forgive him for not making a whole lot of sense (there has been speculation that Joyce wrote much of Ulysses on the back of his cat, accounting for much of the confusion within the text). The poet Ezra Pound perhaps put it best when he remarked, “Ulysses is a treat for anyone trapped under ice.”

Jazz

Often cited as the only “true American art form,” jazz music is what happens when heroin happens. First popularized in the early 20th century, jazz incorporates West African musical traditions and European stuffiness, resulting in a cacophonous mishmash that makes one feel as if his or her genitals are creeping up and slowly eating his/her belly button. A vital part of America’s long history of misguided art forms, jazz is sure to spark furious debate among people who can’t admit they sing along to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in the car when nobody is looking.

Jazz is, at its core, an interpretive medium. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and other maestros of the genre are venerated within certain musical circles much the same way the idea of a space/time continuum is venerated by physicists, even though, after a while, ruminations on the subject lead one back to the inevitable conclusion that nothing is understandable in this crazy world, especially Ugg boots. If you feel you have the mettle, give jazz a chance. When you’ve discovered it’s over your head and you’d honestly just rather sit there listening to Shakira, don’t feel bad. You can always count on her and her hips don’t lie.

I hope our maiden voyage into the unforgiving sea of cultural literacy has proved helpful. Keep in mind; this is a long journey, but a journey well-worth taking. For how are we to navigate our desires, our fears, and ourselves if we cannot navigate the world around us?

GPS is a good answer, yes

[1] More on the French Revolution can be found in Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Although, it is a far better thing if you start reading at Part III, as I this is where the nudity really kicks into high gear.

[2] There is a place that sells absinthe next to the McDonald’s on the Rue Duban.

In my worst moments, when I’m awake and shouldn’t be, when I feel as though I am merely surviving this life, I think: what am I? I don’t know what I am but I do know a little about the habits of the creature that is me. Maybe the most important duality I inhabit is that between focusing on my mind and focusing on my heart. When I’m in my mind, I’m serious, possibly a little cranky, and doing something useful like accepting my next friend on Facebook. When I’m in my heart, I’m either writing my next new poem or practicing one of my more inspired hobbies like autoerotic asphyxiation or Reiki.

I’m an American but I ain’t stupid, I know most Americans live in their minds. The reason for this dates back to a bunch of old philosophers who thought thinking was really awesome. And it was, but ask a shaman if there’s more power in the human heart than the mind. Go ahead, ask. I’ll wait. See? Everybody knows shamans don’t lie and it would be culturally insensitive and possibly even racist to think that one would. So for the love of everything good and pure, just trust me, the heart is a better place to be. Without quoting saints or any other rhetoric devices, suffice to say, you don’t feel joy with your mind now, do you?

See, for those of you who don’t know it I’m a poet. And I see a lot of dry, contrived, sober, clever poetry published online and in print. Let me break down some types of poets for you. One kind of poet is the person (usually a guy) that constantly references ancient mythology or history without adding any nuance to the myth or story. Old and new scholars and wannabe types trying to ride the coattails of someone else’s glory. Then there is the conceptual poet. This poet is devoted to style and may not even care about content. This poet has pretty good odds of getting published these days and can probably be observed at your local Starbucks.

I don’t know how many of you are poets so I don’t know how interesting this is so I won’t go on too much longer here about the different kinds of poets, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what I call the line lover. This is a person who writes essays then breaks them down into short lines. Of course it’s a poem they might say, look, it has line breaks. Then there are the poets that use words that only a tiny percentage of the population knows or cares about. They think a poem should be a puzzle, a little nightclub of exclusivity to boost up the old ego.

Poetry has many different uses and however anyone wants to use poetry is their business, but once you’re out in the world of the published you’re influencing poetry and as someone who has devoted my life to the craft, the actual craft of poetry, I’m insulted at what some people call poetry. It makes sense though. As with art, poetry is in this magical category of stuff that a whole bunch of people agree is really deep, the very study of depth itself to some people, and so, such claims are going to attract all kinds of people who simply want to think of themselves as deep.

As for the heart, emotions, and poetry, I call out to any and all poets reading this to remember and honor the reservoir of all reservoirs of creativity, that messy beating thing in your chest. There are certainly sappy, incomplete poets who go too far in the other direction and write sloppy, emotional poems that do nothing for the reader. A poet has to open his/her heart, linger in that uncomfortable, vulnerable space where poetry can happen and get a little lucky. Every venture into that zone, every word I write, is not sacred. Personally, I now publish only the very best fruits of these experiments, the distillations of my occasional successes.

My goal in writing this essay is to push all the publishing poets of the world to use their hearts a little more and their heads a little less. Poetry needs what society needs right now: genuine, powerful, well chosen words and not self-ironic, obscure, linguistic pyrotechnics. Fluff. My genuine apologies if this happens to offend anyone but I feel strongly about the craft of poetry and its future. Poetry’s everything to me, my baby, my woman, my spirit, so when you treat her badly, I feel badly. Again, emotions, but I promise it’s all worth the effort. Living in your head is just too damned easy. And in reference to what emotional, heartfelt, well crafted poetry is in my definition, yes, I know that’s subjective so please nobody write “it’s all subjective” in your comments. I know that. I’m just a poet expressing his views on poetry.

They tell me you should write about what you know. I’ve always had a problem with that. I may know some things other people don’t, but in writing that down, what good does that do me? Not much. I already know it. I want to write about things I don’t know about. I want to learn things about what I don’t think, how people I don’t know don’t act and why. Perhaps I say this because I don’t know much. I know a lot of facts about arcane things, but I already know them and I already know that nobody, unless they are short of Trivial Pursuit cards, wants to hear that kind of bilge. However, I don’t know one thing that I think will serve me well in my writing career: I don’t know how to write.

So, I reckon I’m sitting at my computer in good stead now, not knowing how to write. When I learn how to do that, I can stop writing and go on to a more noble pursuit like filming my relatives in Bakersfield, California doing their best interpretations of pro wrestling, then selling the tapes on what they like to call, the inter-tubes. If the nobility of this is called into question, I defy you to tell me that my cousin Bert leaping off the roof of his house and slamming a metal chair on the top of my younger cousin Stanley’s head is not tantamount in artistry to a Nureyev –Fonteyn showcase ofProkofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

I haven’t been able to write for as long as I can remember. Alas, I’ve always wanted too, but it never comes out quite right. It seems like everybody writes better than I do. I’ve always wanted to write a book that I’d like to read, but I’m always reading books I’d like to read, so what’s the point? You toil for years over this book, like your child. You like it when you first start raising it, feel you’ve done a bang-up job. Then, the book hits adolescence, its voice starts to crack, it wants its independence, then a car, then none of your time even though you want to give it all of your time. And finally, it flings itself into its own world and blows all your time and patience by spending its time (and still your money) on the hustling whores of the Mexican border and Quaaludes. To this, I have only one response:

It is to enact a sort of vengeful Golden Rule and to take up the qualities of your prodigal, ingrate book. Besides, all the books I would have liked to have written were written by full-blown, abject lunatics. There’s Salinger, speaking in tongues and drinking his own urine, Hemingway and Toole, blowing their minds out, Plath and her oven. Did she pre-heat that? Then Ambrose Bierce, gone without a trace. Que te vayas bien!, old boy. Where is Pynchon? And Mailer, always retching at parties and occasionally stabbing his wife. What a ship of old fools! It’s a good thing I can’t write. I see myself flinging my own feces over the rooftops of Paris, confused over the relationship between vector calculus and intransitive verbs. I swear, once I learn how to write, I never will. And who has the time to learn? There are too many distractions. This is one thing I know: How not to write.

Well, I see your point. You think I’m going to start talking about how not to write.

“But, hey,” you’ll say. “He said he didn’t want to write about things he knew about.” Then you will fold your arms contentedly and relish in my howling error. Aha! I also wrote that I didn’t know how to write, so it was okay to do so. In essence, I have canceled out both of these grandiose proclamations, and at the end of this, it will be like nothing ever happened. Nature frowns at my vacuum and smokes her first cigarette of the day, like Bette Davis…like she couldn’t give one damn. And although I’ve missed an episode of The Real World: Alpha Centauri, its like I haven’t.

One way not to write is to get an STD test. I have spent hours, days not writing because of these. If you think of all the melancholic things that could occur to your genitalia during the three or four agonizing days of waiting for the results, you really can’t be expected to do anything. However, while your wondering if your dick will drop off like an unwieldy stalactite when you’re in line for the movies, or if your partner’s vagina will gradually creep up and eat her belly button, you can think ofall the wonderful places you’d travel if faced with some harrowing disease. I decided that I would go to the south of Spain and just write. I mean, really write this time.

Now, here’s a really sly trick. Do you know that apocryphal probability of a bunch of baboons at a bunch of typewriters, who, if given long enough would eventually type out the entire works ofShakespeare? It’s something that gives writers hope.


http://www.writers-free-reference.com/baboon-at-computer.jpg

It also hints at immortality, as all faulty logic, and writing, must. Here is what you must do. If you can type, you must unlearn how to do that. Maybe turn your keyboard upside down. Then using sequences of one, two, three, four and up to, say, nine letters, type randomly, not looking at the keyboard. Then, when you have finished a few hundred pages, spell check or put the Thesaurus to your piece. Often, you will find there is no suggestion for your word. Sometimes, you will find you have actually typed a word in the lexicon, and sometimes you will find that the spell check divined the subconscious word you hammered out on the keyboard. (Note: If you try this with common penmanship, you will find yourself either cheating or your neurons will become so confused at your attempts to confuse them that your head will turn into eggs Benedict.) “kdfyfrt,” I write. I then use my computer’s thesaurus and find that “juvenile behavior” is an equivalent to “kdfyfrt.” (Seriously, try it.)

And there, I have the beginnings of Catcher in the Rye, or Lord of the Flies. I am that baboon that will succeed. Eventually. And on a side note, if you are interested in poetry, I suggest you type out a few turgid lines in your native tongue, then find a translation website and in translation, you may very well be the next Goethe, Neruda, Rimbaud, or Horace, depending on the language you select. Perhaps you translate better than you are, like Garcia-Lorca.

I want to make clear that, although I don’t know of any other treatise on how not to write, I assume that there must be a few out there. Fine. We all know that everything has already been written before and that the crucial thing is to say it better, or at least, differently. It’s like the idea of Genghis Cohen, the noted Jewish barbarian who went marauding through China slapping everybody with gefilte fish. It turns out, there is a Genghis Cohen’s restaurant at Fairfax and Melrose in LA and is also a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel, The Crying of Lot 49. But I thought of this name, independently, as I thought of the subject of writing on not writing, so be it. I wonder if anybody has done anything with The Origin of Feces, though. I must fact check. Why am I so defensive about this? Because I realize that many people must have sundry techniques for not writing, but I have found the following quite adept at keeping me away from the keyboard. That said, these are only some micro-suggestions.

The easiest way to not write is to start drinking. You may have a splash of inspiration after a few cocktails and look to put this, the framework of your magnum opus on paper. This feeling will pass. I will occasionally belly up to the keyboard after doing the same at the bar and find that while I think I can write, I still can’t (Thankfully. I would hate to learn I did something better drunk than sober, aside from falling down.). Just don’t drink whiskey. The only two things whiskey makes you want to do is fight or write. Both of these will get you into trouble. In defense of writing, though, the simian ogre at the bar ready to knock your block off doesn’t have a “delete” key. Stick with red wine and read a good book until you fall asleep. Or call up some friends and tell them how much you love and miss them. If you have no friends, watch a city council meeting on the public access channel and ask yourself why you are such a drip. Drinking is an easy out, and one determined to really not write should have salted away a number of other options. I’ll make this hasty, as writing about not writing is proving to be almost as exhausting as just writing. There’s something I didn’t know.

There is one particular flood of menstruum that dissolves the spirit and when instituted will assuage all pains related to not writing. This is called internet gambling. This is the knockout drop in the drink that keeps me alive, as Endymion. Rolled up jacks over trips, down and up, down and up. It is that kind of blessed monotony that I think keeps most people alive. And for the antsy creative type, you can really make an art out of losing money, which, I should add, has been my summer job. Losing money at the online casino. This is not as lucrative as a typical summer job, but the hours are flexible and I don’t have to talk to anybody, save my own ravaged conscious. When does anybody make or lose money on writing? Never. Writing just is as I am. Nobody can prove either postulate and only the fool might try. I have just lost $200. Really, I just did that. I sell bonds like cracker jacks and switch them like shell games. I am such a disappointment. I feel that way. Thinking, I am Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of them. Pick my story, I’ll try not to write it. Matt, the realist. Too much on about His wisdom, Son of Sirach and all that drivel. Boring. Then Mark, snot-slinging drunk and bitch of Luke, holds forth on the Sabbath and then hits the middle-of-the-road. Why not Luke, the pretty-boy, the best writer of the bunch who learned how to write and kept it short, ofsorts. And finally, John, who gives the words appeal. Writes the bestseller. The clincher. No, I am none of them. I have created no universe, I have moved no man, no woman. Damnit, I tried, though. That is all I have ever wanted to do. Like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “I tried.” There is nothing more stifling than knowing what to write and not writing it. I suppose that’s the point, though, not writing.

Maybe I’ll can it. I’m getting awfully invested about thinking about not writing. Change the ring on your phone to Dance of the Valkyries, think of titles for new books, old books. If you have that liberal guilt, see how far you can jam your thumb up your ass, while convincing yourself you’re really not that gay. Ok, then how interesting can you be? If you can see 3-D, try a hand at vector calculus. Make a sloppy Spanish tortilla. Put your brother to bed, again. And again. He’s getting old now. Memorize something. Like ketchup: Tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, onion powder, natural flavoring. I think I finally got it.

Enough. Writing, and not writing, is a brilliant ponzi scheme. You manufacture one word and the rest fall into rank. Any word engenders another, no matter how puerile, no matter how vacant. They will all, eventually, spill out in a brilliant splash of your own gore. But it is your gore. And you must believe it will withdraw from you some semblance of value. This is, of course, if you are able to write. I , of course, have a problem writing. I will sweat until my death in attempts to finish this odious trade. Until then, I can tell you only that one should never write about what one knows, one should never know what one truly feels, one should keep one’s thumb up one’s ass, constantly, in the hopes that one’s head will peer out from that unholy aperture long enough to realize that we must always try and hold our entrails, our souls out to ourselves long enough to realize that we can never, ever, learn to write. Jesus wept. I’m talking about me. But Godamnit, I try. I will try and take my TKO against the demiurge of words with grace, with nonchalance. With everything I have. I shall never write. I know that. That’s one thing I know. The thing I’ll never write about. Or not.

With the twentieth century only now starting to recede into the distance a little bit, spending a little time working out what one doesn’t believe in somehow seems to be a better use of time than deciding what one does.

For what it’s worth, here’s my five so far:

Nihi List Five

1. Boundless individual economic mobility

2. Crab sticks

3. Guy Ritchie

4. Twittering as an art form

5. Hypnotism

“It’s easy to be cynical,” people say. Does it follow then that being a nihilist is like falling off a log?

Rejecting all systems of belief or belonging on the basis of their existence, no matter how attractive or unattractive they might be?…

I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty difficult to me.

100% pure negativity has got to be pretty exhausting. How does the average nihilist get up in the morning? Do they have to set fire to the sheets to give themselves an impetus to get out of bed? (On the wrong side, obviously.)

Maybe the true nihilist never sleeps, just so he can pack the maximum amount of swingeing spite into the day.

Those same people who tend to profess a disbelief in everything also say, “do what you want as long as you’re happy”. It’s the ethics of the Knightsbridge Hippie:

Place yourself at the centre of the universe!

Choosing a position in the middle of opposing forces and seeking to balance their flow through the body is the first principle of the physical expression of the doctrine of Taoism: ‘Yang’ approximate to the tendency to disperse, and ‘yin’ to the tendency to gather.

The movements of Taoism’s physical mode of expression—the ancient art of Tai Chi—attempt to describe this circuit of equal and opposite intensities in physical space with as little entropy as possible. Yet, it’s still almost impossible not to regard the Self as the epicentre of the flux.

Bertrand Russell’s view of Taoist precepts was of a system describing, “production without possession, action without self-assertion, development without domination”. Especially now, in the age of ‘free’ content, producing anything without a specific, fixed place for it assured is to be subject to the same kind of Janus-faced condition:

The maintenance of a dedicated passion and zealous commitment to a piece of work and a blithe indifference to whether or not anyone might ever value experience of it at some time in the near (or distant) future.

As Captain Beefheart so sanguinely said (from his position as a professional musician),

“Music should be free, because from where I got it, I didn’t have to pay for it.”

Photo by Carl Van Vechten (CC)

Writing for Esquire in 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald mentioned the necessity of accommodating two equal and opposite ideas in the head at the same time (appoximate to Keats’ ideas of negative capability), commented on here by Allen Ginsberg in an interview with John Lofton from Harper’s in 1990:

“…the quality of a very great poet like Shakespeare was his ability to contain opposite ideas in the mind without an irritable reaching out after fact and reason. Meaning that that part of the mind which judges, and irritably insists on either black or white, is only a small part of the mind. The larger mind observes the contradiction, and contains those contradictions. The mind that notices that it contradicts itself is bigger than the smaller mind that is taking one side or the other.”

But doesn’t even that place the writer’s Ego at the centre of things?

Paying even scant attention to the media, it’s tempting to think that maybe all that any of us has ever been, or can ever aspire to be, is an acted upon product of economic propensities: Skills, qualifications, career choices; relationships and peers even start to seem like nothing more than signs and signifiers of an upset balance of payments, or the almighty Budget Deficit inscribed in human flesh.

Is there more to life than this, and more importantly, is anyone writing about it, now that Vonnegut, Deleuze, Guattari, David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson and J.G. Ballard are all dead?

The Occam’s Razor of Thatcherism/Reaganomics and is that it’s foolhardy to believe in anything other than yourself. But what happens when the individual realises he is no longer his own hero?

A lot of Chuck Palahniuk’s work is about the necessity of finding something larger than the self to believe in, and to hitch the wagon to, (especially ‘Fight Club’). As many contemporary writers and theorists have pointed out at length, the mind has a desire for belonging, if not a desire to be led (the source of and inherent attraction of fascism, and the psychological explanation of religion), but can anyone point me in the direction of any writers that have really addressed the problem of distortion by the writer’s Ego as the point of reference for everything?

Until we get past that, aren’t we all doomed to repeating the same literary mistakes of the last hundred years?

IMAGES: Screen grab from clip of ‘The Big Lebowski’ posted on youtube.com, all others used under CC Creative Commons licence.

You might remember from an earlier story that I gave the go-ahead for my mom’s amputation. It wasn’t THAT big a deal. It was only ONE foot. (She had two, for heaven sakes. People use prostheses all the time. No one chooses to die instead of getting a single little foot removed, right?)

My mother was always changing her mind. There are hundreds of stories about her changing her mind. How was I to know she wasn’t going to change her mind for the first time in her entire life?

 

In the ten years she lived either with us or a block from us, I took her shopping frequently. First to buy something, then to return it, then to buy it again and to return it all over again and, believe it or not, to drive back to buy it yet again. My mother even returned FOOD to the grocery store. Who returns food to the grocery store?

Once she bought a pair of pants from Talbot’s. She had them for months but decided that she no longer liked them. I drove her to return the pants. The saleslady opened the box and looked at the pants. My mother had shortened them. The saleslady looked at the cuffs and didn’t bat an eye. Talbot’s still took them back. Who knew you could alter clothes and still return them? She had shrunken to way less than five feet. Who could ever use them? A midget?


My mother was supposed to get a prosthesis. She was all set to go to physical therapy and I had hoped that she could adapt to the new “foot” with time. But regardless of what the therapist or the doctor or the nurses or I did, she refused to even try.


When this was happening, we got a postcard in the mail with a painting on the front from an Art Gallery. It was a painting by Seth Michael Forman. I brought it in to show Mom.

 

“Irene Marie! This is Daddy and me in heaven! And look! My FOOT gets to come!”

 

 

“You have to buy this painting!” she exclaimed. So I did. It’s hanging on the wall right now.

I brought the bottom three, Timothy, Lenore and Benjamin, to visit her because I was under the ridiculous delusion that she cared about her grandchildren in spite of how she behaved around them and what she said about them over the years. (The top two were away at school and couldn’t visit as often.)

 

During one visit, NANA addressed Tim:

 

“You have access to sharp objects, don’t you, Tim? Bring me some sharp scissors or a sharp paring knife so I can slit my throat, okay Tim?”

 

“Mom. This is not the way you speak to your grandchildren. Ask them about their day. What they did in school.”

 

“I don’t give a shit what they did in school, Irene Marie.”

 

“Kiss your Nana and we have to go home now.”

 

The next day I brought the bottom three back in, since obviously I was delusional. We brought store-bought get-well cards and homemade ones every day.


“Lenore, go under the sink. There are lots of poisons under the sink. Put them all in a bag and bring them to me, like a good girl. I need poisons to drink and they won’t give me any here, the bastards.”


“Kiss your Nana goodnight. We’ll visit her again soon but it’s time to go home now.”

 

The next day the bottom three brought more flowers for her bedside stand.

 

“We love you, Nana.”

 

“Benjamin, you’re the smart one. Find out Dr. Kevorkian’s phone number, write it down and give it to me tomorrow.”

 

“Nana, I don’t want to be a party to that. I know that you want me to do this so that he will help you to commit suicide with his death machine. I am not comfortable with being your accomplice in this endeavor.”


(Seriously, ask anyone, this is EXACTLY how Benjamin spoke as a little kid. Ben was practically born speaking like William Buckley. )


“Time to go home, kids, lots of homework to do tonight.”

 

Here’s a picture of Lenore and Benjamin with NANA. Tim was there but there was no more room on the bed.

 

I decided, long overdue, I’ll admit, that bringing the children was:

1. Hurting my children

and

 

2. Not helping NANA one bit.

 

So. From then on I went by myself.

 

I brought her fresh fruit every day. She loved fresh fruit. I cooked foods that she liked and brought her small portions most days because she said the food in the nursing home was intolerable. I fed her. I changed her clothes. I took her to the bathroom with her one foot. I bathed her. I washed her hair. I put rollers in her hair. I combed out her hair into a hairdo she always hated, I washed her false teeth. I tweezed the hairs that sprouted from her chin.


She was having a lot of problems in the nursing home. Her Evil Roommate was spying on her. The Evil Roommate was telling tales and making up lies. She needed to get rid of the Evil Roommate.

 

NANA had trouble telling time because recently the hands of the clock kept spinning. She needed a better clock. I brought her another clock. Oddly, that clock had the same problem with spinning hands. The hands of the clocks didn’t spin while I watched, but perhaps they spun when I wasn’t there. It was impossible for her to tell the time. It was a conspiracy against her!

 

People were stealing her clothes. All the good clothes were missing. Someone knew which of her clothes were expensive. She blamed the laundry. So I did her laundry from then on. After that, people were stealing her clean clothes from her closet while she slept.

 

Insects were crawling up the wall and over her bed. She rang the call button to complain day and night. The room was checked thoroughly and frequently, but no actual insects were found. She continued to see insects swarming everywhere. She saw them when I was with her. I swatted the wall with a towel and told her they were dead, but she continued to see them.

 

One particularly bad day, I came in and she asked for her lunch.

 

I went to fetch it.

She told me to take the damn tray away.

I did.

She told me she didn’t want that lunch.

She wanted cereal.

I went out and asked the nurse if there was any cereal. There was and I brought it back with a spoon and a bowl. She said that she could not be expected to eat her cereal without a damn tray.

I went to fetch the damn tray again.

When I returned she was pouring milk into the box.

“You don’t want to do that, MOM. Here, let me help you.”

 

I put the cereal in the bowl and poured the milk in the bowl for her.

 

She wanted more napkins, so I went to fetch them.

Then I returned.

 

She had put her false teeth in her cereal.


She was drinking the water out of her false teeth cup.

 

I took a deep breath.

 

I said, “Mom, you don’t want to be drinking that!”

 

I took her teeth out of the cereal and took the teeth cup from her hands.

 

I ran to the bathroom and rinsed them both off.

 

I ran back and in that short time she had poured the entire bowl of cereal and milk all over the nice clean clothes she had on.

 

Right on her lap.

 

“Now look what I’ve done! And this is an historic document!”

 

“Don’t you worry, Mom, I can clean that document as good as new.”

 

“Are you blind, Sara? This document is ruined!”

 

(Try to keep in mind that I am still, and have always been, Irene, and, I’m going to go out on a limb here, [pardon the pun], but I question the existence of the historic document on my mother’s lap.)

 

When NANA’S birthday came, I made an exception and brought the bottom three again. (It is obvious that I am learning disabled.)

 

It didn’t really matter, because she didn’t know who they were, thinking that Lenore was her sister-in-law, Betty, and Timothy was Tushar and Benjamin she just couldn’t recognize. I’m not sure she even saw him, hovering there trying to be helpful.

 

Not too many days after that I was just finishing up making dinner before I picked the kids up from school, when I got a call.

 

“Is this Irene Zion? This is your mother’s nursing home and you must come immediately to escort her to the hospital by ambulance.”

 

“Uh, why??”

My mother had put a plastic bag over her head and taped it around her neck with scotch tape.

 

Her roommate called the nurse on her.

 

“We don’t keep suicides here.”

 

“You can throw people out of a nursing home?”

 

The answer was an unqualified yes. (Who knew?)

 

I said I would get there as soon as I could. I still had three kids to pick up from school.

 

I brought the kids home and left them there, thinking that this was the lesser of the child abuse, leaving them alone, rather than taking them to the scene of Nana’s attempted suicide. Victor would be home in a couple of hours to watch them.

 

I drove to the nursing home. It turns out that the plastic bag my mom had placed over her head and scotch taped around her neck was one in which I had brought her fresh fruit. This would later be a bone of contention with my brother, Woody. He claimed, and still does, that her suicide attempt was entirely my fault for bringing her fruit every day in a plastic bag. I could have mentioned that I didn’t bring her the scotch tape, but I don’t think it would have helped.

 

My mom complained emphatically about her turncoat, no-good, hateful, Evil Roommate.

 

“How dare that bitch interfere with my plans! Who does she think she is anyway? She should rot in hell! Bitch has been taking notes and telling the nurses on me from the beginning!”

 

Once you try to kill yourself, no matter how ineptly, you must leave and go to the Looney Bin. So. To the Looney Bin we went.

 

When we arrived, the doctor at the admitting desk asked her some questions.

 

“What day is it?”

 

“Tuesday.” (It was not Tuesday.)

 

“Who is the President?”

“Hoover.” (Duh.)

“How old are you?”

“52.”

 

“Who is this?” (Indicating me.)

 

“I have no idea.”

 

“Why do you think that you are here?”

 

“My Evil Roommate is a bitch.”

 

“How old are you again?”

 

“97.”

 

“Would you do something for me? Subtract 7 from 100.”

 

“3.”

 

“Can you try that again? Subtract 7 from 100.”

 

“60.”

 

“Where do you live?”

 

“Baltimore.” (We were in Champaign, Illinois at the time.)

 

“How old are you?”

 

“36.”

 

It went on like this interminably. She got not one single question correct. Finally, we were about to commit her to a short stay in the Looney Bin. It did seem that she required a bit of mental help.

 

My mother called me to her side.

 

“Here, you probably want this.”

 

She grinned a huge grin and pulled out a wadded-up fruit baggie from her pocket.

 

“You probably don’t want to leave this with me.”

 

She was giggling.

 

Giggling.

 

“I thought that they searched you when you came in, Mom.”

 

“Well I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

 

As we left her, NANA was giggling up a storm.

 

134 Comments »

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:36:17

(

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:36:56

it was not the best comment but it was the best i could do.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:06:39

Ben,
You sort of have to read two other stories first before this will make sense.
1. http://tiny.cc/gA1YR
and
2. http://tiny.cc/mkEdo
Then it will make sense.
You’re coming in late in the game here. Sort of playing with one blind eye, if you catch my drift.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:38:09

i hated nana.

thank you for publishing that awful photograph of me. thank you for providing evidence that i cannot behave appropriately in almost any situation.

i think i was high.

but ben’s dragon shirt is pretty sweet.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:10:49

Sweetheart,
I looked and looked and looked.
ALL of the photos of you with NANA are with you making horrible faces.
Every single one.
You were a teenager, so was Tim.
And later I was to learn that your, (and Tim’s) horrible behavior was due greatly to the massive use of drugs. I was a bit preoccupied at the time and totally failed at mothering.
I didn’t know you were stoned.
I thought you were reacting to a horrible situation with NANA.
I’m sorry.
I’ve tried to make up for it.
Ben’s dragon shirt was really great.

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:53:44

For a while I thought you were wearing a jean onesie in that photograph. And I was all set to laugh at you for it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 16:12:00

Lenore has always had fashion sense. She did not get it from me. I humiliate her everywhere we appear together.

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Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:30:29

and btw,
lenore, you look vampire-ish in the photo. or like a cat hissing. i love it and don’t know why you’re complaining. ) really. you look fierce and surprising and, well, pretty cool.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 16:12:35

I agree, Sara!

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Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-06-20 17:46:01

I thought that picture was pretty good. Matter of fact, I just turned to Ben and told him how much I liked it.

Lenore’s a jackass.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:42:32

also, that’s a nice new picture of you! i should know, i took it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:12:04

You are a great photographer.
You are a great writer.
You are a great sister.
You are a great daughter.
Don’t be mad.
This one hurt.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:26:06

don’t worry, i’m not mad. i don’t even know what you’re worried i’d be mad about. uh, also, i don’t think that all the drugs i did make you a bad mom. they were fun. thanks for letting me do them.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:30:58

Can we get ONE thing straight here?
I did NOT let you do them.
I was blind and stupid and so was your father.
We didn’t see what should have plain to us in front of our eyes.
Glad you had fun, but as in the scooter incident, you’re lucky to have come out alive.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:40:57

still, it was cool of you to give me the weekly allowance for my drugs. so thank you.

learn how to accept a compliment!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:57:49

You’re welcome, creepy daughter.

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:46:13

I think Dostoievski is up on cloud 101, taking down every word of this exchange.

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:47:49

Strindberg, dammit! I meant Strindberg!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 10:39:53

Uche,
I’m afraid my ignorance is apparent here. I had to look Strindberg up.
(mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!)
The write-up about him said he palled around with Soren Kierkegaard, whom I studied and loved like crazy when I got my BA in Literature of Religion. He also hung out with Hans Christian Anderson. I have probably a larger collection of fairy tales than the library here.
That pitiful thing said, I have no idea what or how he writes, so now he’s on my list so I won’t feel so ignorant next time I hear of him. What do you suggest I read first? (I need help here.)

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-20 09:11:18

Err, none of them, Irene. I still shudder at my own experience. My Dad had Strindberg’s _Inferno_ sitting around his study, and I think I was about 15 when I made the mistake of reading it. Later on, one of my friends at the University of Nigeria had the crackpot idea of staging a sort of Amos Tutuola re-interpretation of _A Ghost Sonata_. When I expressed my terror of Strindberg, he made me read it, anyway, to give him my opinion. I think after reading it (against my better judgment) I told him to go to hell and to take his damfool play with him.

I still have never seen an Ibsen play or movie adaptation because my Dad told me once that Ibsen reminds him a lot of Strindberg.

Maybe the Cliffs Notes of Strindberg would be less bleak? This might be the only time in my life I’ve suggested to anyone the Cliffs Notes version of anything, to give you an indication.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-20 13:36:49

Thanks for the honesty, Uche, I might have toiled valiantly and yet failed at reading his work.
It feels really lightening to get off the hook!

Comment by keiko |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:44:42

I always wondered about that picture in the sitting room.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:13:11

Yeah, Keiko,

It’s the painting of my dad and my mom and her foot in heaven.
For real.

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:46:28

happy ending!

nana giggling – that is nice

you see everyone nana was all right – she was just misunderstood

i wonder where she was hiding the baggie?
such a trickster our nana …..

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:17:38

I saw where she was hiding it, Lonny.
She was literally hiding it up her sleeve!
Remember how she used to tuck kleenexes up her sleeve?
Like that.
This is something that old people do. I can’t begin to understand why, but it is a fact.
I see it every Wednesday when I take Brooklyn to the Old Folks Home.
All the women have stuff tucked up their sleeves.

She was nuts, Lonny.
This was NOT a happy ending.
Besides, it’s not the ending.
It will be some time before I can tackle the rest.
I’ll give you that she certainly was a trickster, though.
Oh, yes she was.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:57:32

Nana was also always warding off our overly-enthusiastic dogs with plastic baggies squirreled up her sleeves.

Boy, she was a weirdo, wasn’t she?

I remember having one visit in the NH. I remember she was confused and surprisingly toilet-mouthed (so to speak: see “hungry sara”), considering she wasn’t the cursing kind… I do remember her using the “c” word towards an orderly. A lot of times we medical folks describe patients as “pleasantly demented” when they’re confused but really nice and sort of goofy. Nana was not a pleasantly demented lady.

As an aside, remember when you told her that Tushar and I were engaged and she said to you, “Well, it’s about time he made an honest woman out of her!” I love that story. To me, that encapsulates my image of Nana right there! ) Hee hee hee… Good thing Tushar came along to *stop my lyin’!*

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:09:35

Oh, Sara,
I had totally forgotten her “dog-away.” She’d pull that plastic bag out and shake it in front of the dogs and they just hated the noise it made and backed off. She was an all-around hater, hated kids, dogs, cats, and the list goes on.
When NANA got demented she used truly HATEFUL words. Right out in the open. No holding back.
When I was growing up she was two people. When others were around, she was the image of respectability. When it was just me there, she vented every epithet imaginable. The neighbors were spying. My friends were just after my stuff or my homework, etc. It was exhausting.
She didn’t just become demented, you see. She just suddenly started showing her crazy to everyone instead of just to me. Funnily enough, I don’t think she did this turn-about in front of my Dad or my brother. Damn, I was SO special!
Remember Marcia’s Mom? When she got Alzheimers, she just got even sweeter. Everyone loved to be around her. I sure envied Marcia her mother.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:39:10

yup, marcia’s mom was pleasantly demented. )

on the other hand, talk about aiming low: if you’re gonna be envious of someone, why not be envious of someone with a NOT demented mom?

Comment by Marybear |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:51:21

Hey, I’ve been that cat !

when my brother was crazed on crack =)

I wish I was joking =(

*hugs Lenore’s mom*

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:19:08

Thanks, Marybear,

I’m pretty sure that it would look quite similar, crack and crazy.

I hope your brother’s okay now. I really, really do.

Comment by Marybear |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:27:12

No worries Irene ,

He’s good ,that was a decade ago .
He is clean ,healthy ,and a daddy of a sweet little girl who’s name is tattooed over his heart =)

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:59:48

Marybear,
That is such wonderful news and a relief to boot!
How did he get alright? Certainly not an easy thing.

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:55:47

I’ve got nothing. Except my mom does bring food back to Publix.

Melissa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:20:25

G_D Almighty, Melissa!

You are always surprising me.
here you are looking all normal and you have weirdo family members that don’t fit with you at all.
I’m mystified.

Comment by melissa (irene’s friend) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:30:45

Oh yeah, I am so not normal, have you not figured that out yet?

Melissa

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:38:05

An inkling, Melissa, just an inkling.

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-19 17:14:20

One day I will tell you about Grandpa Harry. Ooooh boy.

Melissa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-20 04:26:13

Don’t make me wait, Melissa!

Tell me now!

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-21 10:28:36

Well you know he went to jail.

We would go to Miami Beach almost every Sunday to visit him. Most of the time his second wife would cook, she was a great cook. This one day however, he so wanted to try Swenson’s. For weeks he went on about it. Finally, we said ok. Grandpa was not too great in resturants. So we sit in a booth, my two oldest were very little at the time. We attemped to order. when Grandpa… says… THIS ICE CREAM IS MADE FROM PIG MILK… it is not kosher we need to leave NOW.
Shh.Shh. Grandpa no ice cream is made from pig milk.
YES IT IS
No Grandpa no it is not.
IT IS… I READ IT IN THE JEWISH FLORIDIAN. Which was the only paper he read.

We all know there was no such article. but we tore out of there.

One of the many things that he read in that paper. It was all there. Only thing is he was the only one that ever saw what he said he did.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-22 15:04:16

Melissa, That is so incredible!

Wonderful!

Pig milk ice cream. oh. sounds so Gooooood!

Now we hafta know why he went to jail!

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-23 16:51:18

He did NOTHING, his brother set him up. They were in some sort of business together. No, no he did not embezzle any money. No one really knows for sure. No one remembers how long he was gone for, two months, six months, two year. You would think someone in the family would know.

melissa

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:58:54

Well. That’s unpleasant.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:22:34

Kate,
Have you not been paying attention when we talk about NANA?
Wait.
Maybe we NEVER talk about NANA.
Okay, you’re off the hook.
Yup. Unpleasant as hell.
Good call.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:22:01

No, no, I’ve heard many of these stories before. But usually they’re told in short enough spurts to be funny. All together it was a little intense.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-20 04:27:47

Kate,
Parts of it were told in the family, but I never told anyone about the whole Looney Bin part before. Kids didn’t know that.

Comment by Zara |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:02:40

God, Irene, Livia Soprano should have taken lessons from your mother. How did you grow up to be so caring and kind? How hard is it to write this? I cannot imagine. I think you are so brave for sharing this with us all and you are so clever for writing something so awful in such an entertaining way. Cannot wait for the next installment, but I think I need to pour myself a stiff drink before you begin…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:26:35

Zara,
I’ve been writing about her about once every six months.
It takes that long to rearrange things enough to make SOMETHING funny in the horror.
Go up top to Ben Loory’s answer.
If you haven’t read the two before exclusively about NANA.
There are NANA parts in other stories, but these are full frontal NANA.
Go read.
It will be easier to understand.
I will never be finished telling it.
There will still be more I left out after I die.

Comment by Zara |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:50:39

I have read the other posts…and I cannot believe how terrible it must have been for you. The scissors and the cut finger story gives me nightmares…

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:12:17

Zara,
It is almost inconceivable how much more material I have on my mother alone.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:39:52

Zara,
I think Livia Soprano was my favorite character on the show. I identified so much with poor Tony in regards to his mother. She was pure evil.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:00:17

I gotta say, it might have been hard to write, but
I thought this was another funny one. You’re getting lots of doom and gloom reactions here, but if it were fiction, it’d *certainly* be funny–

Just sayin’…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:14:47

Sara,
That’s what I’m after.
I have to work on it a long time.
I try to twist things around in my mind enough so that when I tell the story, even though it is true, I can laugh at it instead of wanting to crawl into the closet and close the door.

2009-06-18 16:07:00

*hug*

I’d say more than that, but this is yours.

my humblest admiration is yours, too.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:17:32

Thanks so much, Lance.

Ask my kids. That’s another thing she couldn’t do. Never hugged my dad. Never hugged my kids. Never hugged me.
Ever.
She recoiled at the idea of being touched.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:42:34

“I don’t give a shit what they did in school, Irene Marie.”

One of my all-time favorite TNB lines.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:19:37

jmb,

It’s really funny. I kept on trying over and over, doing the same things. Isn’t that the sign of someone a bit nuts? Doing things over and over that obviously don’t work?

I KNEW she didn’t give a shit. I just WANTED her to give a shit.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:43:50

I admire people who take traumatic situations and try to find some levity,
we have to laugh or else
we’d all have fruit bags over our heads.

I never worked geri psych but I hear
it was a hoot.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:22:36

Exactly, jmb,
laugh about it or you can just go ahead and get out the scotch tape and the fruit bag.

I volunteer with my therapy dog at a nursing home.
I have to say that I stay away from the mean ones.
It’s easy to do, cause the mean ones don’t want the dog around either.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:11:03

Well you know what –
It wasnt a hoot.
It was incredibly sad and
scary
and it really
really made you re-think
euthanasia
because it scared the
hell out of you to
think you might
one day be in
their shoes.

shoe.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:03:47

jmb,
One of my old folks had really sore feet when I last saw him, before my trip to Africa and my broken ankle. When I went back he had two above the knee amputations.
My favorite blind lady up and died. The one who had me keep checking to see if the photos of her with Brooklyn were still up on her wall.
One of my ladies is totally lucid and brilliant, but her body has just given up and she spends her days in a reclining wheel chair in the hall.
Not hootful. Not hootful in the least.

Everything you say is exactly right.
I’m scared to death.

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2009-06-18 16:45:12

Wow, so much going on there. It’s all so sad. And I’m sure it must have been hard to write about, as well. Dementia is such an awful thing to cope with.

I’m with Lance on this one. Hugs and admiration.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:24:24

Thanks, Simon,
You and Lance will make great sons-in-law.
I’m only giving Lenore up to the nicest people.

Comment by Jayne VanderVelde |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:16:51

Irene,
I love your writing. You are so open and caring. What you have been through is amazing … you are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:25:49

Hey, it’s nice to meet you, Jayne!
Welcome to my crazy world.
Come any time.

Comment by Mary Richert |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:29:58

What an incredible family. Irene, I really appreciate your willingness to lay it all out there. I love this story because even though it’s a hard one, it’s good, and you’re telling it beautifully. I love the honesty and everyone’s imperfections.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:46:05

We here at the Zion clan revel in our imperfections, Mary.
We have to, it’s where we excel.
No one’s more proud of our family lunacy than we!

2009-06-18 17:33:32

Your writing about NANA is like beautiful, perfect cotton candy…

… that’s spun from Owens-Corning Insulation.

My heart is all mangled and busted up about this one.

Boy howdy, I do love that painting, though.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:49:06

I KNOW! Right?

How in the world could that have arrived at our house just at that time?

I have NO idea what the painter had in mind, but the family knows what it really means.

(Damn, Kimberly,

“like beautiful, perfect cotton candy…

… that’s spun from Owens-Corning Insulation.”

That is great writing!)

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:58:37

Irene. It IS funny. In a gallows humor sort of way. But that’s the most effective writing, I think. Spinning tragedy into tragicomedy. It’s all the more poignant for it.

I appreciate tremendously the fact that you’re willing to share this with us! Much love-

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:50:12

Thanks, Marni,

Gallows humor is our specialty.
I imagine it couldn’t be any other way raised as I was by who I was.
My kids could have had 4 grandparents, but Victor’s dad died when Victor was 13 and his mom died before Lenore was born. My dad adored the kids, but he died more than ten years before my mother. My kids were dealt a bad hand in the grandparent department, left as they were with only NANA. Plus they had the added benefit of having her alternately living with us and living a block away, eating with us most nights and with us for every holiday.
I have to say that I resented every mother’s day because I wanted it to be MINE with MY kids, but it always about NANA. By the time she was finally gone, so were the kids, for the most part.
That still niggles at me. Mothers day was STOLEN from me by my mother.

(Seriously, Irene, suck up and let it go!) (Don’t listen, I’m lecturing myself here.)

Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
2009-06-18 18:19:44

So much to say…

1) I thought this was very funny even though it was sad and horrifying underneath. I think you can and did make it funny because you had some time away from it. As they say — “tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

2) You are an inspiration. I, too, have many ick things to work with and to a large degree I shy away from them. I want my story to be funny, not sad! But only we can make them funny, right? So what the hell am I waiting for? Thanks for the inspiration!

3) Parents don’t know when their kids are doing drugs. Unless they’re doing drugs together. )

4) The whole getting old and yelling obscenities thing really freaks me out. I hope I don’t turn into that. It seems like a very scary, sad place to be.

5) The plastic bag up the sleeve, and then scaring dogs with it, cracks me up.

6) Lenore’s comment about the allowance money also does.

Okay, looking forward to more!
Rach

2009-06-18 18:27:54

Yeah – what the hell *are* you waiting for, Rachel? We haven’t seen anything from you in AGES!!!!!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:57:32

Your new picture is HOT, Kimberly!

Kimberly the STAR!!!!!

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:04:55

Thanks so much, Rachel!
I can write about most of the kids’ stuff without batting an eye. My mother is another story. I need to start thinking about a little portion and let it rumble around in my head for a very long time before I can actually see that it was ridiculously funny. Then I can write about it.

Old people don’t always get like that. They really don’t. Most of them just get sweet and want to talk about their old memories. My friend Marcia’s Mom was always a nice person, but after she got Alzheimers, she actually got more sweet. Marcia’s kids would sit around and make up stories and ask her if she remembered them and she always did. It’s as though they were giving her a whole new stack of life stories.

I have a cousin from the invisible side of the family who has a mother with Alzheimers. She doesn’t know her husband has died. Every day she asks about him and my cousin tells her he’s dead again. I want to throttle her. Poor woman has to relive the moment of his death over and over. All she had to do was say that he’s at the hardware store. He just left to get a bite to eat and he’ll be right back. I don’t mind if people are idiots about themselves, but when it hurts others it gets my goat.

Next time you have a plastic grocery bag in your hand shake it around. It really makes an annoying noise. She invented “Dog-away.”

As far as drugs and kids go, if you haven’t read it, please read the first story I wrote here: http://tiny.cc/gQBKH
Let me know what you think.

Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
2009-06-18 18:21:12

OH — and I love that painting!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:08:22

You know, that painting gives me peace, Rachel.
I figure G_d has fixed up my mom so she’s not crazy and my dad finally gets to spent some time with someone nice for eternity.

Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
2009-06-18 18:32:47

Thanks for the ass kicking, KMW!

2009-06-18 18:42:27

It’s only ’cause I luv ya… (and your writing…)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:10:14

Being madly in love should make you want to write MORE! Get moving! I’m with Kimberly here.
(I’m sort of with Kimberly everywhere.)

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2009-06-19 08:35:26

And I can feel you with me, dear cyber-mameleh!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:05:38

I am hovering above you right now, Kimberly.

(To be read in a spooky voice.)

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-06-18 21:19:33

This is one of your more disturbing stories, real life events that had to be dealt with. You wrote a great “dark” comedy describing your mothers torturing needs.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:14:46

Ursula,

Thanks for saying the dark comedy part. I worried over whether I’d told it correctly, which in my mind, is to make people laugh at something quite horrible.

NANA was a really unsettling influence in our lives, but damn good material.

Comment by Yamona |Edit This
2009-06-18 22:01:19

I loved your piece. I laughed my head off and was torn inside at the same time. Strange ways.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:16:33

Yamona,

I love you forever!!!

That was JUST what I was going for!
Please come back to visit often, you are obviously good for my fragile ego.

2009-06-19 01:01:03

Irene, you are are so strong to have survived this mother with so much grace, humor and love. It’s constantly amazing to me how some people survive and some people don’t. You are a survivor. Thank you for being so brave as to share your painful memories AND lend an air of humor about them as well. That must be difficult. I admire you.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:21:20

That is very kind of you, Colleen,

The funny thing is that my brother was the GOLDEN CHILD for my mother. She doted on him and adored everything about him. I do not exaggerate when I say that my mother never wanted me. I know this because she told me repeatedly throughout my life. And yet, here I am doing just fine and it is as though my poor brother was just crushed under her heel. You just never know.

Comment by Henning Koch |Edit This
2009-06-19 02:18:24

Hi Irene,

You write with converted rage, that’s a great achievement, I sense massive effort there… philosophical work… NOTHING ever works to plan… does it?
Hollywood could not make this story, because there is no great ending… the ending can only be what we (you) make it… although you haven’t got to the end of this one yet.

I saw your post as I logged on to post my own… a rambling piece on Berlin… wish I had something more important to write about…

Henning

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:28:32

Henning,
I do have to admit that some stories just flow right out without a hitch and some I feel as though I am pulling endless strands of silk directly from my eyes writing as though I were a spider person. That was pretty dense. I’ll have to see if I can word that in English sometime.

I so look forward to your pieces, Henning. You ALWAYS make me laugh. You have a handle on the human condition that is unlike anyone else. I’m going to read yours as soon as I finish answering my comments. I hope you wrote a funny one this time. I could use a bit of levity.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:00:58

I’ve been thinking about what you said, that I write with converted rage.
I know in my heart that this is true, and yet no one but you has ever said anything like this.
You’re a pretty perceptive guy, Henning.

What are you doing in Berlin?
I liked your Italian stories so much!
Are you some kind of gypsy, or what?

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-06-19 02:34:27

Will you hate me if I say I was laughing hysterically at the beginning?

I now have to go back and catch the beginning segments of this story.

Both of my maternal grandparents had dementia. My grandmother’s especially destroyed me. I couldn’t visit her at the nursing home without tearing up. My brother, too. We both adored her.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:32:40

Duke,
I LOVE you for saying you were laughing hysterically. I wish it were not just the beginning, though. I tried for funny all through it.
I’m sorry about your grandparents. It is by far more heartbreaking if you were loved by and you love the person who is vanishing before your eyes.
It’s all material, Duke. That’s how I look at it.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-06-19 05:32:09

I found it all hysterical. Sad too, but Irene, you are such an amazing storyteller, you pull of the tragedy and humour with an effortlessness that is pretty rare. I love your comic timing. Genius.

A friend of the family recently lost a parent to dementia. It strikes me as the most tragic disease. Death is final, there are goodbyes and usually its quick or you can prepare for it. Dementia slowly takes the person you love away from you leaving a confused shell that doesn’t know who you are, nor cares too much.

It’s all part of the experience, the ride. Ups and downs and all that… Irene is right, it is all material. All fiction is real, all life is fiction etc etc.

Dear lord, I hope this one lands…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:18:39

You see, James,

You angered the ether in some way, but apparently now you have mollified it. Your comment appears!

Thanks for noticing the comic-tragic tone. That was what I was after, but sometimes you are too close to something to be able to see it clearly.

HBO just had a special on Dementia and Alzheimers. It was at least 5 hours long, but it scared the pants off me. The person you love disappears and is replaced by something else that you don’t know and yet you are still responsible to care for him. It can ruin the lives of the caretakers.

Thanks for hanging in there, james!

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Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:41:39

I’d never be able to write something like this, an inability to step back or strike a very fine balance.

Dementia terrifies me, the thought of it. I think my parents will be ok, my mum does all the things that are supposed to keep you mentally sharp.

Luckily its a disease that gets a lot of headlines over here, people are becoming aware of it and how you can try and keep yourself from succumbing.

I have immense respect for the people caring for their mentally diminished loved ones. I suspect I’d become angry, bitter and resentful after a time… I’m aware that its incredibly time consuming with and lacks all the rewarding that comes from physical caring.

It’s a bastard of a thing is dementia.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:06:17

James,
You think you can’t only because you are too young to have experienced it. I’m sorry, but you’ll get there, whether you want to or not.

Are you under the impression that I did not get angry and bitter and resentful?
No no no.
I USED it.
I worked it like clay.
I worked it and I worked it until it became something else.

Not for the feint of heart.
Nope.
Not for the feint of heart.

2009-06-19 05:19:08

wonderful post, irene.

and sure, lenore, go ahead and blame that photo on drugs. actually, i thought it was very sweet. if for no other reason, it further illustrates what a stone-cold fox you are these days.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:44:05

Thanks for reading, Rich.

As far as Lenore goes, that picture was the BEST one of her. She’s making even more horrible faces in the others.
“Stone-cold fox,” eh? Yup. That sounds about right.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:24:14

Also, I do love that painting.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:44:45

For the same reason I do, Kate?

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:49:39

Rarely have I seen utter bathos told with such utter grace. The painting is a very affecting touch. I wonder with what meaning it invades you when your eyes unexpectedly fall on it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:10:17

Wow, Uche, that really means a lot to me.
You are very kind.
When I see the painting, I choose to see my dad and my newly uncrazy mom and her foot all together in heaven.
Things don’t have to be true for me to believe them.

Comment by Marlene |Edit This
2009-06-19 09:10:21

Irene, should I conclude you don’t believe in assisted suicide? I do. At the end of life, the individual ought to have the possibility of choosing her ultimate destiny.
I’ll make sure Liam -my nine year old son- grants my death wishes if the time has come I feel Im not living a meaningful life. And celebrate my life in the process -if he chooses to.

Oops. here goes a picture from our trip to Cuba. Only in intention, don’t know how to attach it. It’s a mac.

Hugs,
marlene

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:13:55

Marlene,
I firmly believe in assisted suicide.
I will handle things myself if I am lucid enough to see that I am about to become a burden on my loved ones.
If not, I hope someone, anyone, slips me a mickey, so I can go down for the count.

(E mail me the photo. It’s impossible to get a photo to appear here in the comment section.)

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-06-19 09:16:14

It must have taken a huge effort her whole life to try to keep the craziness somewhat under control until dementia took over and she couldn’t control it any more. I wonder why she chose you to reveal it to when you were growing up. I don’t understand why people do these things to their children.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:21:57

Marcia,
I don’t think my mother could hold herself together if she couldn’t vent her crazy somehow.
I was there. I was helpless. I thought everyone grew up like that.
My dad and brother knew she was sensitive and wanted to be left alone all the time and that she frequently lost her temper and threw things.
But, again. My brother thought that was what was normal.
My dad was barely ever there and when he was he just wanted peace at any cost.
When the crazy broke out of it’s boundaries, it was all over for her.

Comment by Megan DiLullo |Edit This
2009-06-19 09:51:59

Thanks for writing this Mama Zion. You are a great example of bravery and a extremely kind-hearted person.

Big love to you.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:25:22

Megan,
Don’t be fooled.
I kill ants with a vengeance.
I stomp on cockroaches.
I throw snails in the ocean.
I yell invectives at drivers who annoy me, from the safety of my closed car.
I’m not so good.

(But thanks for the love. I can always use love.)

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-06-19 10:29:06

First – great new pic. Love it.

Second – SUCH a sad story. I am so sorry you had to go through that.

Third – Why is it that old people think other people are stealing their clothes in those places? My grandma went through this exact same paranoia. Why would ANYONE want to steal clothes that smell of incontinence? It makes no sense whatsoever.

Fourth – Lenore was definitely high in that pic. No doubt in my mind.

( :

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:36:22

Erika Rae,

That picture was my life for a very long time. (shudders all around)
It’s not only my sad story. Thousands, (millions?) of people go through living with crazy all the time. It leaves a heaviness in your chest that never goes away.

I DON’T KNOW! She was adamant that her stupid size less than zero clothes were being stolen and sold on some black market.
She would complain to the nurses that I hadn’t visited in months when I had just left her room an hour before.
and on and on and on.
G_d will it be good to finally get this all out of my head and on paper, so to speak.

Yeah. I know. Tim was too. ALL the time. In school, during school, at home. Victor and I were total idiots. We can see it now, but except as a cautionary tale for other parents, what good does that do?

Thankfully, in spite of us, they turned out just fine.
Miracles happen.
My only explanation.

Comment by George |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:43:09

I was not a witness to all of this but to some of it, and it was true. Sadly, growing old is not for sissies.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 16:16:21

Taking care of a demented parent did not spare you, either, did it, George?
You did it with a grace I don’t think I could have managed.
You are a good guy.

Comment by Ben |Edit This
2009-06-20 17:27:44

I didn’t hate Nana, but I hated most of the time I spent with her.

She always had those horrid chocolates that looked like smashed, white or green, hersey’s kisses. Seeing as how candy was all that mattered, I judged people by the candy they provided. Nana wasn’t much good on that level.

I never knew hot nuts she was, though. I never paid much attention, though, so it is almost certainly my fault.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 04:33:45

Ben,
She DID have horrible taste in candy. I couldn’t eat it either.
I never thought about it before, but it makes total sense that you would have judged people by the candy they provided.
(And, that, kiddo, is a very strange thing.)
You mean to say that you didn’t know she was nuts because you didn’t pay any attention to her, right? If that’s what you meant, I’m really glad. You escaped the worst then.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-06-20 18:15:13

I remember this being a creepy time. Having to visit as often as we did was not cool, Mom.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 04:50:08

In hindsight, Tim, I completely agree with you. It was creepy and it was not fair to subject you and Lenore and Ben to her craziness. I feel really bad about it.
I even felt bad about it at the time, but I was under the illusion that seeing you three would lift her spirits.
I was beside myself, virtually. I felt so much responsibility to make her want to live that I pulled out all the stops. You three were not stops I should have pulled out. I should have realized that it wouldn’t help her and would hurt you. I should have. I know that.
But I didn’t up to this point.
The part that follows this you know nothing about. At least you can allow me that. I’m a slow learner, but I did learn eventually.
I can only say I’m sorry.
I wish there were more I could offer.

Comment by josie |Edit This
2009-06-21 10:03:07

No regrets, mama…. no regrets.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 14:47:06

Oh Josie. How do you do the no regrets thing?

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Comment by josie |Edit This
2009-06-21 10:01:35

That was painful to read.
It really hurt to giggle.
But the raw truth is radiantly beautiful.

Thanks for writing these stories Irene. What you give here on the page is like a tonic for the souls of many…

And I like the grape flavor.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 14:50:06

Josie,

If it helps anyone I would be pleased.
It is certainly raw truth.
My soul has been coughing a dry burning cough for years.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-06-22 02:46:10

midget is perjorative.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-22 05:36:23

ksw,

Don’t I know it.
I’ve given up on being politically correct. it’s too exhausting to keep up with the rules.

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2009-06-22 09:28:11

Life is usually more interesting than fiction. You have proven that over and over again with the stories you have shared about your life and family. Keep writting!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-22 12:31:11

Thanks, Amy.
Non-fiction rocks!

Comment by Yamona |Edit This
2009-06-22 21:01:27

I work for an Indian newspaper actually. I wish we had more writers like you. I guess the good ones here escape into writing novels and fiction. I’m quite enjoying the comments between your family, the conversations really. It feels like voyeurism though, snooping into your ‘family matters’. But then again, this is a public forum. I love the painting too. Somehow, the quirkiness makes me think this should be a short film. It scared me though, this short story. I’ll visit again, for sure, not just to fluff your fragile ego, but for my own amusement.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-23 02:47:49

Thanks, Yamona!

To really get a taste of the family chronicle you should read my stories from the first on, which, oddly, means the last one upwards.

I have to say that I really enjoy the comments also. They’re half the fun.
(And none of us would be writing if we didn’t want it to be read. Therefore not voyeurism.)

My grandhildren are half Indian. Maybe I can write for your newspaper.

Comment by Pat Gray |Edit This
2009-06-23 18:23:23

Irene
I always get such a kick out of your stories. I always thought my family was nuts but yours always seems to top any of our stories. Great story! Great writing! Great imagination – but I am not sure you imagined any of it (all true)! Keep it up! It is always so much fun to read!!

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-24 05:09:44

Well, Pat, although I think I do have a fair to middling imagination, this here stuff is 100% true.
Crazy-ass true.
Certifiable true.
My life in words.

Comment by the kayak lady |Edit This
2009-06-24 14:30:00

irene,

you are getting braver to write about NANA and all the craziness. it is an entertaining and disturbing story. makes me think my mother is way normal and that i am a fortunate girl to be born into the family i picked to be born into this time around.

keep me linked for more stories…..

mary )

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-24 15:47:49

Heck, Kayak lady,
How did you get to PICK?
That is totally not fair.
Plus you live to be a million years old and still lucid and feisty in your family.
I want some of that!

Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-06-24 18:15:33

Awesome stories / dialogue / everything!

I’m ready for round 2.

Also, I’m going to have some fresh fruit, sans baggie.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-25 06:55:22

Aaron,

The bags are good for lots of things though, like packaging up messy garbage and picking up poopy when you walk your dog, etc.

I think the danger lies in the scotch tape.

I think there should be a warning on scotch tape:

WARNING: Do not use scotch tape to tape a fruit baggie around your neck for the purpose of suicide. This could result in suicide.

Comment by Ruthie |Edit This
2009-06-30 12:29:37

I was exhausted just reading about all the care you gave your mother. It is too, too bad that she was too looney to appreciate any of it. And to have to hear such a mean comment from your brother, ugh! and double ugh! You get a gold star from me for being an incredible daughter.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-03 13:03:16

It is so easy to see why I love you, Ruthie!

Since nearly every interview with Sean Penn immediately notes that he lights cigarettes with the regularity of old women on prune juice, Sean Penn lit his third cigarette before our interview had begun. He spent that time gazing at me as if I were some sort of fantastic form of quartz. He is, and will always be, one of Hollywood’s foremost geologists, digging up jewels of roles, which he then polishes like a rock tumbler. He lit a cigarette before finishing the other one and smoked the two simultaneously. Soon, he was smoking fifteen cigarettes at the same time. He put on his sunglasses, took them off, and put them on again. It’s a useless actor’s ploy, and he was being ironic, I’m sure of it.

The first thing that really nailed it was “Constantinople.” The word comes toward the end of Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop and when I pronounced it for the first time, finally, I think that lit the candle. Droplets spilled from the ducts of my parents and mine as we closed the book and then perhaps I was offered some fried chicken. A simple exchange of values, my inchoate literacy for a bucket of Popeye’s extra crispy. It has always been that way for me; chicken for literature. Madame Bovary and I shared a bucket in bed until Rodolphe burst in with a revolver. But that is later.

I flounder on what to include. After Hop on Pop, I think I rode the Seuss wave dressed in a Marmaloot suit, scrambling Horton’s eggs and devouring the oeuvre. Then a snag. There is no real transition from Seuss to anything. Maybe Finnegan’s Wake, or some of the more obscure Borges stuff, but that doesn’t really do it either, does it? And thus, my literacy was stifled for a rather large quantity of years, as Good Night Moon and its cohorts never really did it for me. However, I did look at covers of books during these dark ages.

Those god-damned Hardy Boys, with their blue bindings and images on their covers depicting all sorts of scenes of mystery, intrigue and adventure. So alluring to the youngster, all the while not giving a tinker’s fuck to the fact that I can’t read you, man! And so I waited. I can’t quite remember the time when I first opened up one of these Hardy Boys books, but I remember it was a little anti-climactic. Isaac, one of my associates had apparently been devouring all this Hardy Boys nonsense for a while. I was accused of being a tyro in the sphere of the Hardy Boys and felt I ought to compensate by attending the book fair and enlisting my mother to buy around 10 of these books because one must catch up to one’s fellows. They still sit on my bookshelf, and I still am only able to look at the covers. I’ll bet they’re not bad, though.

My next endeavor into literature, I suppose would be the series of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. These books are responsible for my current literary bankruptcy. Now, I am sure I am not the only one to abandon the whimsical “chance” happenings in these vile books, but I am quite certain that their resonance has stayed with me longer than the average anybody. I remember distinctly one of these books. The main character, presumably I, am stuck in some kind of Orwellian nightmare of totalitarian regimes and faux Nazis that continue to kill my family and hook me up to some kind of brainwashing mechanism. Well, this tried my patience, as every adventure I “chose” enlisted me in the same odious situation. At wit’s end, I wrote my own “adventure” on the back jacket cover that had me blow-torching some futuristic Reichstag and wandering in a field with the love interest of the story who never actually appeared except in my addendum on the back cover. I still look for her in bars and sundry houses of ill repute. I can see her. Is it wrong that I continue to put her age at around twelve? Eat your heart out Humbert.

When I woke from this, it seems I spent my days treading Vaseline in a sea of warped sexuality (not so different from now, at this very instant). A Separate Piece (Peace?), To Kill A Mockingbird, Catcher in The Rye. These works are what I remember from my early adolescence. Alas, all I really seemed to absorb in my sexually quiescent stage was how much Scout would enjoy a good romp in the back of the courtroom. Hell, at this stage, I would have fucked Holden, Stradlater, Phineas, Gene, Jem, Gregory Peck (he is Atticus) as quick as the crack of dawn–given the opportunity. I think at some point around this time I also read The Jungle by Sinclair, but all that did was switch me from hot dogs to corn dogs for a semester. The Jesuits really know how to put a scare in you.

And then it gets interesting. I am sitting on a hammock in Fortaleza, Brazil with summer reading (high school) in my hand. It is this atrocity called Madame Bovary. Flaubert? Flaubert? Sounds like some kind of ice cream that you should set on fire. I guess it still does. But he introduced me to my literary fait accompli. Falling in love with heroines. No, but bad love. That faded love in aurora, thrice before the cock crows. Yes–hanging from the fig tree. Holy Thursday love. Dead love. And Emma Bovary is my first, my last–my alpha and omega. And then the credit card debt. I spoke to her. And she spoke back. Our knowledge of each other made us complicit. And she adores my jejune reflections on life and art. And her blood sings in her veins like the very river of milk.

It is not I that negotiates these grotesque self-deceptions. It is literature. It is Emma Bovary, with her “heavens torn open…and passion… spilt everywhere” that beguile me. I suppose when I open the novel and “go” I go. This is why I don’t wander around with Catcher in The Rye in my pocket. I have no inclination to assassinate anybody. Not yet. And Salinger’s shibboleth is one I don’t feel like speaking. I choose Emma. And Anna. And Brett Ashley. And Natasha Rostov. And Molly. And all those maenads hovering around Nightwood. It is the most erotic thing since considering balling the Aramaic legions and a vixen from every Ivy League school simultaneously. Horrific, yet undeniable. And necessary?

Then there is now, today. Literature aside, I try and brush up on my Portuguese. There she is, Paula. She sits with Gustavo, ordering a cervezinhas na praixa. If I can get him out of the picture, I have a chance. Hell, last night I swindled Portnoy’s “Monkey” into bed with Emma. I have so much more reading to do. I really do. But this is where I am. I am looking at the cover of Don Quixote. I wonder if Dulcinea needs a drink.